The wave of Arab unrest that began with the Tunisian revolution reached Syria on March 15, 2011, when residents of a small southern city took to the streets to protest the torture of students who had put up anti-government graffiti. The government responded with heavy-handed force, and demonstrations quickly spread across much of the country.
What cannot be ignored, though, is the fact that ISIS has spelled out India’s name as one of its prime targets outside Iraq, Syria, and the Levant. Ignoring the ISIS will only be at our own peril.
President Bashar al-Assad, a British-trained doctor who inherited Syria’s harsh dictatorship from his father, Hafez al-Assad, at first wavered between force and hints of reform. But in April 2011, just days after lifting the country’s decades-old state of emergency, he set off the first of what became a series of withering crackdowns, sending tanks into restive cities as security forces opened fire on demonstrators. In retrospect, the attacks appeared calculated to turn peaceful protests violent, to justify an escalation of force.
Neither the government violence nor Mr. Assad’s offers of political reform — rejected as shams by protest leaders — have brought an end to the unrest. Similarly, the protesters have not been able to overcome direct assault by the military’s armed forces or to seize and hold significant chunks of territory.
In the summer of 2011, as the crackdown dragged on, thousands of soldiers defected and began launching attacks against the government, bringing the country to what the United Nations in December called the verge of civil war. An opposition government in exile was formed, the Syrian National Council, but the council’s internal divisions have kept Western and Arab governments from recognizing it as such. The opposition remains a fractious collection of political groups, longtime exiles, grass-roots organizers and armed militants, divided along ideological, ethnic or sectarian lines.
The conflict is complicated by Syria’s ethnic divisions. The Assads and much of the nation’s elite, especially the military, belong to the Alawite sect, a minority in a mostly Sunni country. While the Assad government has the advantage of crushing firepower and units of loyal, elite troops, the insurgents should not be underestimated. They are highly motivated and, over time, demographics should tip in their favor. Alawites constitute about 12 percent of the 23 million Syrians. Sunni Muslims, the opposition’s backbone, make up about 75 percent of the population.
From bases in refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border, the flow of weapons, medical supplies and money increased.
The United States and countries around the world condemned President Assad, who many had hoped would soften his father’s ironhanded regime. Criticism has also come from unlikely quarters, like Syria’s neighbors, Jordan and Turkey, and the Arab League. Syria was expelled from the Arab League after it agreed to a peace plan only to step up attacks on protesters. In late 2011 and early 2012, Syria agreed to allow league observers into the country. But their presence did nothing to slow the violence.
In February 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution condemning President Assad’s unbridled crackdown on the uprising, but China and Russia, Syria’s traditional patron, blocked all efforts for stronger Security Council action.
Tensions have also spilled over borders into Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, and fears have increased with evidence that Al Qaeda was behind a rise in suicide bombings in 2012.
By the summer of 2012, the conflict had greatly increased in tempo and violence on all sides, as advocacy groups estimated that about 400 died in June 2011 and more than 3,000 people in June 2012. According to estimates from the United Nations, the conflict has left more than 10,000 dead, thousands more displaced. The Syrian government has waged an unrelenting campaign of arrests that has snared tens of thousands of people.
In cities throughout Syria, including the capital, Damascus, and the largest city, Aleppo, the opposition had coalesced around armed groups identifying themselves as elements of the Free Syrian Army. From bases in refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border, the flow of weapons, medical supplies and money increased.
Since the summer of 2012, rebel commanders on the ground in Syria have begun to coordinate tactically in order to plan operations and combine resources.
As the conflict has continued without resolution, Syrians involved in the struggle say it is becoming more radicalized: homegrown Muslim jihadists, as well as small groups of fighters from Al Qaeda, have been taking a more prominent role and demanding a say in running the resistance.
Recent months have witnessed the emergence of larger, more organized and better-armed Syrian militant organizations pushing an agenda based on jihad, the concept that they have a divine mandate to fight. Even less-zealous resistance groups are adopting a pronounced Islamic aura because it attracts more financing.
The Role of Non State Actors
The Free Syrian Army
Fragmentation and disorganization have plagued Syria’s armed opposition since peaceful protestors took up arms in December 2011 and began forming rebel groups under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army. A lack of unity has made cooperation and coordination difficult on the battlefield and has limited the effectiveness of rebel operations. Since the summer of 2012, rebel commanders on the ground in Syria have begun to coordinate tactically in order to plan operations and combine resources. This cooperation has facilitated many important offensives and rebels have taken control of the majority of the eastern portion of the country, overrunning their first provincial capital in March 2013 with the capture of al- Raqqa city. However, rebels have been unable to capitalize on these successes, and fighting has largely stalemated along current battlefronts particularly in the key areas of Aleppo, Homs and Damascus.
In order to overcome the current military stalemate, the opposition needs to develop an operational level headquarters that can designate campaign priorities, task units to support priority missions, and resource these units with the proper equipment to execute their missions. Recently, the opposition has established a new national military structure that may grow to serve this purpose. On December 7, 2012, rebel leaders from across Syria announced the election of a new 30- member unified command structure called the Supreme Joint Military Command Council, known as the Supreme Military Command (SMC). The Supreme Military Command improves upon previous attempts at armed opposition unification through higher integration of disparate rebel groups and enhanced communication, which suggest that it could prove to be an enduring security institution.
As the SMC develops its institutional capacity, its ability to assert greater authority will likely depend on its transactional legitimacy and its ability to distribute critical resources to rebel-held communities.
The SMC includes all of Syria’s most important opposition field commanders, and its authority is based on the power and influence of these rebel leaders. Its legitimacy is derived from the bottom-up, rather than top-down, and it has no institutional legitimacy apart from the legitimacy of the commanders associated with the council. Thus, the SMC is not structurally cohesive, and its ability to enforce command and control is dependent on the cooperation of each of its members. The incorporation of rebel networks has resulted in chains of command that are not uniform across the five fronts, with each sub-unit retaining their own unique authority structures.
The SMC’s primary function to date has been to serve as a platform for coordination. Regardless of the limits of its current command and control, the SMC has played an important role in syncing rebel operations with several notable successes. It has allowed for greater opportunities for collaboration and coordination among the disparate rebel groups operating in Syria. As the SMC develops its institutional capacity, its ability to assert greater authority will likely depend on its transactional legitimacy and its ability to distribute critical resources to rebel-held communities.
To date, disparate sources of funding have significantly handicapped the rebels’ ability to unite and consolidate authority on a national level. Although private sources of funding will likely continue outside the parameters of the SMC, uniting the support channels of rebels’ main state sponsors will be fundamental to ensuring the legitimacy of the new organization. The ability to provide resources and material support to its sub-units is the determining factor in whether or not the SMC will be able to unite rebel forces under its command and establish a level of command and control.
The SMC has the potential to serve as a check on radicalization and help to assert a moderate authority in Syria. If the SMC can create enough incentives for moderation it will likely be able to marginalize the most radical elements within its structure. To this end, the SMC has recognized the importance of the inclusion of some of the more radical forces, while still drawing a red line at the inclusion of forces that seek the destruction of a Syrian state, such as jihadist groups like Jabhat Nusra.
The impact of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has been felt not just on the battlefield, where the regime now has momentum in many areas, but also in Lebanon where growing sectarian tensions have undermined security and stability.
Ultimately, even if the SMC only serves as a mechanism for greater cooperation and coordination, it is a significant development in that it has united the efforts of rebel commanders across Syria. It is the first attempt at unity that incorporates important commanders from all Syrian provinces and has enough legitimacy on the ground to even begin the process of building a structure capable of providing a national-level chain of command. Syria’s state security apparatus will collapse as the Assad regime finishes its transformation into a militia-like entity. The Supreme Military Command is currently the only organization that could serve to fill the security vacuum left by this transformation. As the Syrian opposition begins to build a transitional government, the SMC could create a framework for rebuilding Syria’s security and governing institutions if properly supported.
The SMC’s ability to act as a basis for a national defense institution will be an important component in filling the power vacuum left by Assad’s fall and will aid in a secure and stable Syria. There remain a number of critical obstacles ahead for the SMC. They include the incorporation of existing command networks, which will have an impact on command and control and resource allocation; mitigating the strength of extremist groups; and managing disparate sources of financing. Overcoming these obstacles will be difficult, especially as the nature of the conflict transforms and the sectarian polarization makes it more challenging to create a strong military institution and professional armed force. Although the SMC must do its part internally to overcome these obstacles, its success will largely depend on greater international support and access to more resources.
Hezbollah’s deepening involvement in Syria is one of the most important factors of the conflict in 2013 and 2014. Since the beginning of 2013, Hezbollah fighters have operated openly and in significant numbers across the border alongside their Syrian and Iraqi counterparts. They have enabled the regime to regain control of rebel-held areas in central Syria and have improved the effectiveness of pro-regime forces. The impact of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has been felt not just on the battlefield, where the regime now has momentum in many areas, but also in Lebanon where growing sectarian tensions have undermined security and stability.
Hezbollah steadily increased involvement in Syria is two-fold. First it heavily focused on the Syrian border areas with Lebanon, as a preemptive war against terrorism. It maintained that Lebanon could not afford to have terrorist havens on its border that would threaten Lebanon’s national security. And since the Lebanese state is unwilling to tackle this threat, Hezbollah had no other choice but to intervene. Second, Hezbollah sought to prevent the fulfillment of the declared Israeli wish of “weakening Iran and Hezbollah itself”.
During the battle of the strategic border city of Qusayr in May last year Hezbollah did suffer losses and some setbacks early on before taking the city, along with the Syrian army.
What is the situation today?
Today Israeli military officials express concern of how Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has enhanced the movement’s combat experience and will actually make it a more formidable foe in any future conflict. Indeed, Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is its first experience in infantry battle fighting on foreign turf, compared to the 2006 war against Israel where Hezbollah fighters confronted the Israeli military from their own Lebanese turf.
What more is that the movement has shown a remarkable capability in adapting and improving its military tactics in the battles that have been waged in Syria’s main border areas with Lebanon. During the battle of the strategic border city of Qusayr in May last year Hezbollah did suffer losses and some setbacks early on before taking the city, along with the Syrian army.
In one of the more recent battles in the strategic border region of Qalamoun Hezbollah, along with the Syrian army swiftly seized control of the city of Yabrud, known as the biggest haven of the armed opposition, after months of military planning within just a few days and suffered very few losses in the process. It also goes without saying of course that Hezbollah (and Iran) will have a lot more influence in Syria now then was the case before the eruption of the crisis in Syria. Indeed, instead of breaking Syria off of Iran and Hezbollah, the crisis may very well end up enhancing these ties.
This is why Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah appeared more convinced and confident than ever in his last speech in which he said that our mistake was that “we were late to enter Syria”.
The Muslim Brotherhood
The SMB was established in 1945-46 by Mustafa as-Sibai as a branch of Hassan al- Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Though favoring the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria, it participated in parliamentary elections after the country gained independence in 1946 (winning 4 seats in 1947, 3 seats in 1949, 5 seats in 1954, and 10 seats in 1961) and even had ministers in two governments.
The proliferation of popular protests across the Arab world during 2011 changed much. When initial calls for demonstrations in Syria in February fell flat, the SMB remained cautious in its statements about the regime.
In July 2010, the General Council of the SMB gathered in Istanbul and elected Muhammad Riad al-Shaqfa to succeed Bayanouni as supervisor general. Many expected Shaqfa to take a less compromising position toward Assad as he was from Hama and had played an active role in the SMB insurrection before leaving Syria in the late 1970s. His deputy, Muhammad Farouq Tayfor, is also from Hama and also took part in armed struggle during the 1970s. A month after being elected, however, the new general supervisor affirmed that the SMB would continue to suspend opposition activities against the Syrian regime.
After Shaqfa’s election, Muhammad Said Hawwa, son of the former SMB leader Said Hawwa (d. 1989), wrote a letter to the Brotherhood outlining a “road map” to rebuild its relations with the regime. He argued that in order to end this historical crisis, the SMB must “handle the consequences of its historical, political, philosophical, and military mistakes” and “the leaders who were involved in the past historical mistakes should give up all their posts since they led the SMB into the dark tunnel.” He stressed that the SMB should accept the regime’s offer to allow the return of some individuals without blood on their hands. Given the present political situation and the declining influence of the SMB, it should not expect more. Hawwa also noted that certain Muslim Brotherhood leaders demanded the impossible and attempted to impose their own conditions as if they were the victors. Instead, they should accept the regime’s offers as a starting point for negotiations between the two and later on expand them to include more SMB demands.
This view was endorsed by Kamal al-Halbawi, a London-based Muslim scholar and former SMB spokesman, who wrote an article in al- Quds al-Arabi calling on the new SMB leadership to work toward ending its historic dispute with the Assad regime. He urged the SMB to go back to working within Syrian social institutions, rather than letting new generations bear the brunt of a feud in which they had no part.
A more significant influence on Shaqfa’s thinking was the SMB’s increasingly close relations with Turkey’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), which also enjoyed warm ties with Assad. According to Shaqfa, there were several mediation attempts between them and the Syrian regime, but they all failed due to the regime’s refusal to fully lift restrictions on the SMB. “Bashar is softer than his father, and he talks to mediators… but he always says ‘now we are busy,'” remarked Shaqfa. “We would like the Turkish government to intervene to solve the problems,” he said in October 2010. In a November 2010 interview, Shaqfa said that the SMB was even willing to stop calling itself the Muslim Brotherhood if allowed to go back “home” and if the regime met its long- standing conditions.
The proliferation of popular protests across the Arab world during 2011 changed much. When initial calls for demonstrations in Syria in February fell flat, the SMB remained cautious in its statements about the regime. By March, however, the contagion had hit Syria with a vengeance, and its streets swelled with citizens calling for freedom and democracy. The regime accused the SMB of collaboration with Western countries in steering these demonstrations and fomenting armed attacks against the security forces.
Unlike other rebel groups in Syria, ISIS is seen to be working towards an Islamic emirate that straddles Syria and Iraq.
Though the SMB openly declared its support for the protests, it denied responsibility for organizing them. The demonstrations “are not led by the SMB or any other party or group,” said Shaqfa. “We are supporters, not creators. The voice of the street is a spokesperson for itself,” explained SMB spokesman Zuhair Salim. The SMB might have been willing to reconcile with Assad had the Syrian president been willing to abolish Law No. 49 and lift other restrictions on the movement’s activities, but no such concessions were forthcoming. “If I go back to Syria, I could be arrested,” Shaqfa complained in June. Worldwide support for the uprisings and Assad’s recalcitrance led the SMB to fall back on its old demand for the toppling of the regime. Although Salim said that the Brotherhood “would consider dialogue with the Assad government, under certain conditions, if the violence against protesters were to stop,” he was surely aware that the Syrian president could not end the repression without inviting a tsunami of mass mobilization against the regime.
In October 2011, a Syrian National Council, comprising seven opposition factions including the SMB, was formed in Istanbul. Elected as council leader, Ghalioun reassured that there was no real chance of an Islamist takeover since the SMB’s thirty-year-long exile had deprived it of a solid domestic base.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)
ISIS was formed in April 2013 and grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It has since been disavowed by al-Qaeda, but become one of the main jihadist groups fighting government forces in Syria and is making military gains in Iraq.
The final “S” in the acronym ISIS stems from the Arabic word “al-Sham”. This can mean the Levant, Syria or even Damascus but in the context of the global jihad it refers to the Levant.
Its precise size is unclear but it is thought to include thousands of fighters, including many foreign jihadists. Correspondents say it appears to be surpassing al-Qaeda as the world’s most dangerous jihadist group.
The organisation is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Little is known about him, but it is believed he was born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971 and joined the insurgency that erupted in Iraq soon after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Rear-Admiral Bob Burke says that if the sea is fairly calm it should take about 60 days of round-the-clock processing to neutralize the chemical agents…
ISIS claims to have fighters from the UK, France, Germany and other European countries, as well as the US, the Arab world and the Caucasus. Unlike other rebel groups in Syria, ISIS is seen to be working towards an Islamic emirate that straddles Syria and Iraq.The group has seen considerable military success. In March 2013, it took over the Syrian city of Raqqa – the first provincial capital to fall under rebel control.
In January 2014, it capitalised on growing tension between Iraq’s Sunni minority and Shia-led government by taking control of the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah, in the western province of Anbar.
It also seized large sections of the provincial capital, Ramadi, and has a presence in a number of towns near the Turkish and Syrian borders.
Chemical Weapons: The Current Situation
SYRIA’S response to the UN-set deadlines to remove its chemical weapons from the country has never been easy to read. At first, it co-operated. Then it appeared to stall, triggering concerns that as the regime became more confident of prevailing in the civil war, it would drag its feet. Those fears now seem to have been exaggerated. Though the complex and difficult process, overseen by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), of transporting toxic material from some 23 sites through a war-torn country to the port of Latakia has gone in fits and starts, the target for getting all the most dangerous stuff onto waiting cargo ships by April 27th may now be met.
On April 22nd the OPCW declared that 86.5% of all chemicals and 88.7% of the most deadly “Priority 1” substances on a revised list, such as sulphur mustard and precursors for sarin, a nerve gas, had been boarded and removed. Since early April six consignments have been delivered to Latakia, a “significant acceleration”, according to the OPCW, after a long gap when very little had happened.
The use of chlorine gas is hard to prove. It is not banned under the CWC and it does not linger, making the extraction of evidence from soil samples almost impossible. That is one reason why no signatory to the convention has asked the OPCW to investigate.
The next destination for the chemicals is a container terminal at Gioia Tauro in southern Italy, from where most of it will transfer to an American ship, the MV Cape Ray, which is equipped with two mobile hydrolysis units for neutralizing the stuff. The Cape Ray, now in Spain, will then head for international waters with a ten-country security escort, and begin its work.
Rear-Admiral Bob Burke, director of American naval operations in Europe and Africa, says that if the sea is fairly calm it should take about 60 days of round-the-clock processing to neutralize the chemical agents, making it just possible that the June 30th deadline for destroying all Syria’s chemical weapons would be met.
Some worries linger, however. The first is continuing disagreement between Syria and the OPCW over the destruction of production and storage sites. All the weapons-producing equipment inside has been smashed, but the Syrians are arguing only for “destruction by inactivation”, which means just locking some doors. But Michael Luhan of the OPCW says that while there is no definition for destruction of such structures in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), in OPCW “common law” it has come to mean “taken down to the foundations”. A compromise may be possible, but there is a danger of setting a bad precedent.
Second, Dina Esfandiary of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London says that a mechanism for future “challenge” inspections, something OPCW has never previously done, will be needed if Syria is to be certified as entirely free of chemical weapons. It remains possible that the regime has hidden stocks, which on past form it might use—and then blame the rebels for. The status of one chemical-weapons site, in an area the regime claims is too dangerous for removal operations, remains “unresolved”, says Mr Luhan.
Reports earlier this month that helicopters dropped bombs filled with industrial chlorine gas on the rebel-held village of Kfar Zita, injuring and terrifying dozens of civilians, suggest that the regime has not changed its ways. The attack was reported as a rebel atrocity on Syrian TV before it had even happened.
The use of chlorine gas is hard to prove. It is not banned under the CWC and it does not linger, making the extraction of evidence from soil samples almost impossible. That is one reason why no signatory to the convention has asked the OPCW to investigate. However, if use with intent to maim or kill could be established, it would be a clear breach of the convention.
A further requirement of the convention is that signatories give a full history of their chemical-weapons program, accounting for the scientists who worked on it and other countries that may have assisted it (in Syria’s case, probably Russia and Egypt). There are doubts that with the architect of the programme still in power, the regime would reveal anything that might incriminate it in the killing of more than 1,000 people by sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on April 21st last year, a war crime for which it still denies all responsibility.
It is unconscionable that a humanitarian catastrophe of this scale is unfolding before our eyes with no meaningful progress to stop the bloodshed.
The Humanitarian Crisis
Syria’s armed conflict escalated as the government intensified its attacks and began using increasingly deadly and indiscriminate weapons, culminating in a chemical weapons attack on the Damascus countryside on August 21, 2013. Government forces and pro- government militias also continued to torture detainees and commit executions. Armed opposition forces, including a growing number of pro-opposition foreign fighters, also carried out serious abuses including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, executions, kidnapping, and torture. The spread and intensification of fighting led to a dire humanitarian crisis with millions internally displaced or seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
The country now leads the world in forced displacement, with more than 9 million people uprooted as a result of the conflict.
The total number of displaced people is comprised of over 2.5 million refugees who are living in neighbouring countries and 6.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Syria, according to the UNHCR. The number of people uprooted — half of which are children — equals 40 percent of the country’s pre-war population.
In crossing the 9 million mark, experts believe that Syria has overtaken Afghanistan as the world’s leader in forcibly displaced persons.
“It is unconscionable that a humanitarian catastrophe of this scale is unfolding before our eyes with no meaningful progress to stop the bloodshed,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “No effort should be spared to forge peace. And no effort spared to ease the suffering of the innocent people caught up in the conflict and forced from their homes, communities, jobs and schools.
It is unconscionable that a humanitarian catastrophe of this scale is unfolding before our eyes with no meaningful progress to stop the bloodshed.
The Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition, whose leaders are outside Syria, maintains a provisional government for rebel-held areas based in Istanbul.
The unresolved conflict will see the number of displaced people rapidly rise in 2014, the U.N.-Arab League peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi warned Thursday. And fragile peace talks could be suspended if the Syrian government goes ahead with holding an election that would all but guarantee a new presidential term for Bashar-Al Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 44 years.
“There is, to my knowledge, no official declaration yet in Damascus that this election is going to take place, but there are a lot of activities that seem to indicate that there is an election,” Brahimi told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council.
“If there is an election,” he said, “then my suspicion is that the opposition, all the oppositions, will probably not be interested in talking to the government.” A Western diplomat inside Brahimi’s closed-door briefing for the Security Council said Brahimi told its 15 member nations that he doubted another 7-year term for Assad would put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.
Assad has not yet announced whether he will stand for a third term in defiance of a collection of divergent rebel groups fighting to overthrow him and Western leaders who have demanded he abandon power to help end Syria’s civil war. But in state-controlled parts of the capital, preparations for his candidacy are unmistakable.
Syria’s parliament has set residency rules for presidential candidates, state media said on Friday, a move that would bar many of Assad’s foes who live in exile.
No one in the opposition has announced an intention to challenge Assad in elections that are due to be held by July. Many have lived outside of Syria since before the revolt began in March 2011, and more left in the ensuing security crackdown.
The Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition, whose leaders are outside Syria, maintains a provisional government for rebel-held areas based in Istanbul.
Two rounds of peace talks mediated by Brahimi in Geneva earlier this year failed to bring the sides closer to agreement on a transitional government or a halt to the fighting that has killed more than 146,000 people.
Response to the Crisis
The League of Arab States
The League of Arab States (LAS) initially stressed that it would not take unilateral action in response to the crisis. However, after nearly nine months of violence against civilians, the League introduced a peace plan, which called on the government to halt violence, release prisoners, allow for media access and remove military presence from civilian areas. When the government failed to uphold the plan in spite of its initial agreement to do so, the League suspended Syria’s membership on 12 November 2011 and imposed economic sanctions on 27 November 2011. On 19 December, Syria signed a peace deal, mandating an Arab League mission to observe and report on the crisis, but the League suspended the mission on 29 January 2012 due to “critical” conditions in the country.
ISIS has global ambitions which include carving out an Islamic World Dominion. India will be a prime threat in the achievement of these ambitions.
The League then encouraged the Security Council to take further action and appointed a Joint Special Envoy with the UN to facilitate a political solution to the crisis. In November 2012 the League, alongside the Gulf Cooperation Council, recognized the National Coalition of the Syrian Opposition, an opposition organization formed that same month from various opposition groups in order to have a more inclusive and representative model, as the “the legitimate representative and main interlocutor with the Arab League and GCC”. The Coalition officially took Syria’s seat at the summit of the Arab League in March 2013. On 28 August 2013, the Arab League blamed the Syrian government for the chemical attack of 21 August and urged the international community to take action to deter further chemical weapons use on 2 September 2013.
The European Union
The European Union (EU) imposed economic sanctions, including an arms embargo, visa ban and asset freeze, against the Syrian regime in May 2011, and has heightened the sanctions periodically since then. In November 2012 the EU recognized the National Coalition of the Syrian Opposition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, and subsequently released a statement calling for Assad to step down to allow for political transition in January 2013. In March 2013 the EU foreign ministers modified these sanctions, making it possible for European governments to bypass the ban on providing “non-lethal” supplies to the opposition.
On 28 May 2013, the European States effectively ended the arms embargo on the opposition in Syria and opened up the possibility to arm anti-government rebels while upholding the arms embargo on the Assad government. Only the United Kingdom and France have expressed the possibility of sending arms, while the majority of the remaining EU member-states are worried that further militarization will only fuel more violence. On 15 March 2014, EU High Representative, Ashton, expressed her concern about reports which “confirmed the regime’s indiscriminate use of murder, torture, rape, hostage-taking, and sexual violence. These are crimes against humanity, war crimes and blatant breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law.”
Impact on India
At first look it may seem that apart from concerns over fate of the nationals in Iraq, India is not at immediate threat from the ISIS. The group only seems keen on carving out a caliphate along the Iraqi-Syrian border and in the Middle East. A closer look, however, reveals that the threat is a more imminent one. ISIS has global ambitions which include carving out an Islamic World Dominion. India will be a prime threat in the achievement of these ambitions.
In its recently released world map of the planned dominion areas, ISIS also marks out parts of north-west India.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi addressed jihadists the world over and said, “Muslims’ rights are forcibly seized in China, India, Palestine, Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Caucasus, Sham (the Levant), Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Ahvaz, Iran, Pakistan, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco, in the East and in the West. Prisoners are moaning and crying for help. Orphans and widows are complaining of their plight. Women who have lost their children are weeping. Masajid (plural of masjid) are desecrated and sanctities are violated… Terrify the enemies of Allah and seek death in the places where you expect to find it. Your brothers, on every piece of this earth, are waiting for you to rescue them”. The address explicitly mentions India as one of the prime targets of the ISIS.
In its recently released world map of the planned dominion areas, ISIS also marks out parts of north-west India. The outfit plan to include many north-western provinces of our country including parts of Gujarat in the planned Islamic caliphate of Khorasan that ISIS aims to achieve.
Is India Prepared?
India is agreeably distant in the scope of the militant outfit’s ambitions. What cannot be ignored, though, is the fact that ISIS has spelled out India’s name as one of its prime targets outside Iraq, Syria, and the Levant. Ignoring the ISIS will only be at our own peril. India has already faced the painful consequences of terrorist attacks by Lashkar-e-Taiba, south Asia’s most active terrorist outfit that shares ISIS’ ambitions of establishing an Islamic state. The ISIS caliph’s call for all jihadists from across the world to join them does not bode well for our nation. India’s threat could well be greatest from the Indian jihadists fighting alongside the ISIS.
National Actor Response
Russia and China attracted significant criticism from Arab and Western leaders for their economic, political and military ties to Syria, and because they vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions which had included language citing the responsibility of the Assad government. Separately, Russia made attempts at unilateral diplomacy with a view to put pressure on the Assad regime to limit its military actions against civilians and allow for some sort of political transition, and in December 2012 publically acknowledged that the Assad regime may well be losing control of the country. In early May 2013, Russia announced its plans to hold a Syria peace conference together with the United States to broker a peace agreement and in September helped forge a deal on Syria’s chemical weapons.
Though Lebanon had an official policy of disassociation in the Syrian conflict, the influx of refugees and increased cross-border fire from Syria has threatened to embroil the country in its neighbor’s crisis.
Turkey’s border with Syria has seen skirmishes and shelling since July 2012, and in October, five Turkish civilians were killed by Syrian mortar fire, which Turkey responded to with proportional arms. In February 2013, an explosion on the Syrian- Turkish border killed at least 13 people, putting further strain on the deteriorating relationship between the two. After another instance of car bombs on the border in May
2013, killing 43, Turkey warned it would take all steps necessary to protect itself. Though NATO had originally stated it would not intervene in the Syrian crisis, the Organization placed patriot missiles on Turkey’s border with Syria in January 2013 to defend against external attack, at the request of the Turkish government. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary general, had previously warned the Syrian government on 3 December 2012 that the international community would not stand by if the Assad regime unleashed chemical warfare against the Syrian people. On 24 January 2014, Turkish armed forces fired on ISIL positions in northern Syria.
Fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels in the Golan Heights has meanwhile challenged the decades-long ceasefire between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights and complicated the operations of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), charged with monitoring the accord. After two abductions of UNDOF peacekeepers in March and May 2013, the UN has had to contend with troop-contributing countries (TCCs) withdrawing their peacekeepers from UNDOF out of concern for their safety. The mission’s mandate has been renewed every six months and currently runs until 30 June 2014.
Though Lebanon had an official policy of disassociation in the Syrian conflict, the influx of refugees and increased cross-border fire from Syria has threatened to embroil the country in its neighbor’s crisis. The announced entry of Lebanese political and military group Hezbollah and their key role in helping the Syrian government re- take the town of Qusayr in June 2013 and Yahbroud in 2014 demonstrates how the Syrian crisis is slowly devolving into a full- scale regional crisis.
As the conflict wears on, without distinctive action from international organizations, several national actors have also increased their support to the Syrian opposition politically, economically and militarily. The Free Syrian Army received a steady stream of non-military assistance and then non-lethal military equipment and funding from several governments, including the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, beginning in June 2012. Meanwhile, the Assad regime receives continued support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.