The situation in Syria: Then and Now
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 25 Aug , 2014

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.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anant Mishra

is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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