Syria & Iran: diplomacy and covert operations

Posted on | april 28, 2011 | 1 Comment

Israel, the US, Israel, and some EU nations would love for Syria to undergo regime change, but not for the right reasons as many democratically-minded people wish. The interest of US, Israel and EU is to keep the Middle East weak and divided, and its assets sold at low prices through western corporations.

Syria’s domestic situation has indeed turned tragic and loss of life seems to be continuing without any kind of compromise in the offing between Assad’s regime and protesters. Demonstrations have spread in ‘mixed areas’ like Dara’a with a Sunni-Alawite population. It now seems this is a national uprising that involves all sects and ethnic groups including Kurds who demand citizenship and basic freedoms, like using their own language. Too little too late as far as many people’s reaction to Assad’s reform proposals. But is this a genuine Syrian uprising free of Western influences, and if not, are we likely to see another Libyan situation in the Middle East?

Syria adamantly opposed the US invasion of Iraq and made no secret about it. In 2005, president Bush authorized funds for the political opposition to Assad’s regime. Obama has continued the same policy toward Syria while pursuing a diplomacy of rapprochement at more official levels. Wikileaks has provided information showing that US intelligence became aware in 2009 that Syrian intelligence knew of the two-tiered US foreign policy toward Damascus – one intended to improve relations and the other to undercut the regime through covert channels by working with opposition groups.

When Bush authorized the CIA to run a massive ‘information war’ called the Democracy Fund ($50 million initially) against Iran, it did the same for Syria and Lebanon. Because Israel considers Syria more significant geo-politically, so does the US, especially considering the antagonistic history between Damascus and Washington for most of the last half century. In April 2011, as Syria finds itself in a terrible social uprising, the Western media is trying to project the image that Assad’s Syria is isolated.

First, nations do not ‘like’ each other, they have tangible interests and negotiate at various levels from trade and defense, to tourism and cultural issues. Second, Syria and Turkey have a very good relationship at various levels, largely because in Turkey a number of businesspeople come from the ranks of the military (old guard Kemalist) who have interests in the Syrian market. Turkey wants a resolution to the social uprising because it too has a Kurdish minority and dissident elements that could be encouraged by the Syrian demonstrations. CIA chief Leon Panetta discussed the Syrian issue with Turkish intelligence, given Ankara’s concern about possible spillover impact in the Kurdish areas.

Third, Syria supported Iran during the war against Iraq, something that initially alienated a few of the Arab nations, but as Saddam Hussein was becoming unpopular this too was not a major issue. The US has warned Iran not to intervene in Syria, while Iran is denying involvement and is accusing the US and West of psychological warfare.

Fourth, Syria has a historic relationship with Lebanon that is sort of a patron-client one, but generally one of harmonious co-existence. Lebanon is concerned that instability in Syria has economic repercussions and political instability with a possible spillover effect.

Fifth, Syria has generally had a good relationship with Egypt going back to the days of Nasser, but that too has had its ups and downs even with Nasser. There have been anti-Assad demonstrations in Cairo and it is only natural that the post-Mubarak regime would support the demonstrators in Syria.

Sixth, Syria has fairly normal relations with Iraq, after foreign minister Walid Muallem visited Iraq in 2006 and the two countries exchanged ambassadors. Syria also has fairly cordial relations with Jordan, largely improved after the First Gulf War. Syria has not had good relations with Saudi Arabia, especially after the assassination of Rafik al Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister in 2005.

A wealthy businessman with joint Saudi-Lebanese citizenship, Hariri enjoyed a close ties to Riyadh’s ruling house. In the last two years, however, Syrian-Saudi relations have improved. None of this means that Syria’s neighbors would not do their utmost to see regime change in Damascus, and the weakening of Syria, which entails the strength of those still standing, namely Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and of course Israel that would love nothing more than to have not just a weak Syria but weak Arab neighbors. Meanwhile, the world is observing that the US and its NATO allies are silent on regime for Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, while democracy and freedom are cited as the only reasons justifying foreign intervention in Libya and Syria.

Some time ago, I wrote in a posting for WAIS that the US was preparing to go after Syria. At that time, the reaction I received was that there was nothing in the news about such moves. Today, the news is a bit clearer. US is consulting with EU about imposing sanctions on Syria. Sanctions is the first move, as it was in Libya. What follows depends on how events unfold on the ground. If Syria is next after Libya for US-EU intervention, the goal is as CIA chief Panetta discussed, to bring down Assad so that the Saudi regime is spared. What follows is Iran as the next most significant target.

The US has been allegedly funding Mujahedeen-e Khalq Organization, or MEK, whose goal is to overthrow the current Iranian regime. Although the US has listed MEK as a terrorist group, it has provided substantial funding to the organization in order to destabilize Iran. EU governments, including UK, have also had a supportive relationship with MEK, although they too recognize that it has a long history of ‘terrorism’, bringing into question of Western support for terrorism in the war against terrorism.

Western overt and covert intervention intended to determine the balance of power in the Middle East will backfire as it has with the aimless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that contributed to the current US recession and downsizing of the economy and middle class living standards. Meanwhile, China continues to march forward with economic growth, probably replacing the US as the world’s preeminent economic power in five years according to the IMF.

There are those who believe that if the US and its NATO allies continue down the road of destabilizing regimes and/or intervening in internal affairs, it is not entirely implausible for a war to start at the regional level and escalate into a large one, with China and Russia on one side and the US and its allies on the other. I am a bit more optimistic and give more credit to the Chinese and the Russians than other analysts, but for how long and where will the line be drawn if the US is unwilling to place limitations on its own global reach?

AUTHOR: Jon Kofas
E-MAIL: jonkofas [at]


One Response to “Syria & Iran: diplomacy and covert operations”

  1. ali
    april 28th, 2011 @ 16:19

    MEK never received any financial aid from any government including US. You have been misinformed.

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