Syria: A litmus test for the region
In the wake of the Arab League’s embargo against Syria, a new period is ahead for the Baathist regime. Syria proved that it would be the toughest test yet for the Arab Spring; now it has reached the point of no return.
Despite all Western polices over the last five or six years that attempted to isolate the Bashar al-Assad regime, it has tried to survive through the assistance of Turkey.
Turkey handed Syria a rope – Erdoğan visited many times and Davutoğlu visited 61 times – to extricate itself from the chaos; however, al-Assad has wrapped the rope around his neck.
What is happening in Syria is sad for the Middle East; nevertheless, these events are also an ironic example of a political litmus test. They have turned regional political positions upside down in the course of just one year.
The current circumstances of the Syrian opposition are exactly the same as those of the current Iraqi administration eight years ago. The same Iraqi actors – who were exposed to massacres under Saddam’s Baathist rule, complained about Syria in the post-occupation period, and even demanded that Turkey mediate when the tension increased – today support the al-Assad regime.
On the other hand, Iran was criticized for remaining silent in response to the Hama massacre committed during the first years of the Islamic Revolution; now, it has failed the second Hama test. Iran fought the longest and bloodiest war of the 20th century with another Baathist regime. Today, it considers the survival of the Syrian regime a “national interest.”
Non-state actors such as Hezbollah and Hamas – also called the “axis of resistance” in the Middle East – are also being tested. Hezbollah, in particular, has turned a blind eye toward the massacres committed by al-Assad’s Baathist regime and has demanded his regime’s survival, causing people to question Hezbollah’s legitimacy and the popularity it earned in its 30-year struggle against Israel.
Hamas, meanwhile, is under intense pressure and is struggling to get out of the Syrian swamp without delay. Ironically, these actors were harmed more by taking the Baathist side in the last few months than they were by Israel in 30 years.
Israel clearly expressed its discomfort with the Egyptian revolution, the tipping point in the Arab Spring. Israel had built its plans according to “a Mubarakism without Mubarak” in Egypt; however, its expectations were upset. Accordingly, Israel began to think about how it would face a Syria without its Baathist regime rather than a weakened al-Assad.
Today, rather than address what is happening in Syria, the United States is concerned with the fact that whoever wins, it will not be the U.S. As the regimes that served as buffers between the U.S. and the people of the region collapse one by one with the Arab Spring, the U.S. administration is trying to determine how popular movements might upset the order established after Camp David.
Turkey, in fact, represents a legitimacy line. In the past, it opposed the isolation and embargo of Syria. Today, it claims that legitimate steps are necessary in order to end the massacres committed by the al-Assad regime. Turkey has clearly expressed its opposition to any Western intervention in Syria that would result in an Iraq-style occupation.
Nevertheless, as long as it shares the pain of the aggrieved Syrian people, it will avoid the legitimacy crisis other actors have faced. History has proved time and again that nothing is more precious than legitimacy.