Iran Commentary Says `Syria Became a Victim of Revenge by Outsiders`
Friday, September 7, 2012
Interview with Mohammad Mehranfar, director of international affairs at the [presumably Iranian] Ministry of Justice, by Musa Mohammadi: “The West Is Pursuing the Balkan Model in Syria”
While the Western-Arab axis continues financial and weapons support for Syria`s armed opposition, the Western-controlled media have launched an intense psychological warfare against the government and people of Syria. Supported by the people, the Syrian army continues to cleanse Syria of terrorists and armed domestic and foreign groups, inflicting devastating blows to the armed opposition. Meanwhile, on the international level we see the difference in approaches by Russia, China, and Iran on the one side and the US and its allies on the other side regarding developments in Syria. Dismissing Kofi Annan and increasing interference by Turkey and arming the opposition with advanced weapons all mean that conditions in Syria are becoming more complicated. After (Hillary) Clinton`s visit to Turkey and Western-Arab support, declaring a no-fly zone over Syria has become a possibility.
We conducted an interview about these developments with Mr Mehranfar, director of International affairs at the (presumably Iranian) Ministry of Justice and a senior analyst in international affairs.
(Iran ) What is your assessment of developments in Syria in the past 18 months?
(Mehranfar) In analyzing Syria`s developments on national, regional, and international levels, many political and non-political factors have to be taken into consideration. But in a general assessment we have to say there is a fundamental difference in approaches by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the West to these events. Unlike Iran, the West says developments in Syria are a continuation of regional uprisings known as the Arab Spring with a national and progressive nature. With this pretext and utilizing the Western experience in the Balkans, they are doing everything they can to implement the Balkan model in Syria. Since the army and the majority of the people support the government in Syria, the West is trying to revive ethnic and religious rivalries inside this country just like the in the Balkans. The Islamic Republic of Iran, on the other hand, while stressing the need for some reforms in Syria, analyzes these developments as a continuation of Western mischief and plots like the 33-day and 22-day wars against the resistance axis instigated from the outside. From this perspective, Syria is not dealing with a reform movement from within; Syria is a victim of outside revenge against the resistance axis led by the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is also confirmed by Western sources.
In the developments in Syria, geopolitical factors and foreign interests play a much larger role than in Tunisia, Egypt, and even Libya. This, in turn, makes the nature of developments in Syria completely different. First of all, there is a more serious lineup on the international stage with differences between Russia and the US becoming deeper and more tangible. Second, countries involved in Syria such as Turkey and Qatar have set aside all caution and are pursuing their goals in Syria more daringly than at any other time. Apparently the only thing that is not important is conditions in Syria and the region after the fall of the Syrian regime. As if Turkey will not face its Kurdish problem and does not think about the activation of the PKK or the possibility of autonomy in Kurdish regions in Syria. In the same way, apparently, unlike their experience in Egypt, the West has no worries of the possibility of the rising Salafi groups or the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and the spread of extremism in the region. Or the Zionist regime does not think about the possible demand by the so-called future national government of Syria for the Golan Heights.
(Iran ) What were the reasons for the failure of (Kofi) Annan`s plan? Wasn`t this plan made for failure from the start?
(Mehranfar) Kofi Annan`s plan was a joint UN and Arab League plan and was identified as a serious, or perhaps the last, political solution for Syria. These are key terminologies that help us understand and analyze the Western positions better. In a general view, the main points of Annan`s plan were inviting both sides of the conflict to an “immediate ceasefire,” calling for the Syrian government to pull out its military from residential areas, and facilitating aid to non-military citizens who for any reason were injured by armed conflicts. On April 4, 2012, Annan`s plan was officially accepted by the Syrian government. The Assad government announced its readiness to pull out its military forces but not the police from the cities on condition that opposition forces observe the ceasefire and the suspension of weapon shipments by outside governments to the opposition. Of course Assad`s conditions were not accepted by the opposition and governments supporting them and also by certain suspect events such as the Houla incident in which some 100 civilians were killed. The Syrian Free Army violated the ceasefire and intensified clashes. Therefore, to answer your first question, the main condition of Annan`s plan, meaning the ceasefire, was violated by the paramilitary group known as the Syrian Free Army with the excuse of civilian massacres in the village of Houla. It was claimed that a group of Alawites known as Alshabiheh affiliated with the Syrian regime had committed this atrocity.
Also the governments of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Western countries supporting the opposition never accepted the condition of suspension of arms shipments to the opposition. For example, the government of Qatar established a fund in Doha called “Syria Hope” to help the opposition with an initial amount of $300 million. Turkey established a training base and logistical support in Hatay province close to the Syrian border and increased its support of the opposition. Eventually Western officials including Hillary Clinton who said Assad has no place in Syria`s political future in fact rejected the 6-article Annan plan that would have resolved the issue for both sides.
Therefore we can conclude that countries supporting the opposition did not believe in a political and peaceful resolution for Syria and Annan`s plan did not meet their goals. Therefore the question remains as to the reason for this plan, the most serious diplomatic solution to Syria`s conflict.
About the newly framed law of “Responsibility to Protect,” I have to say that, after the massacre of 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994 and the failure of the international community to prevent the genocide in this country, Kofi Annan, as the UN Secretary General, posed the question as to when the international community must intervene to protect human beings from genocide. To this end, eventually in September 2000 the government of Canada established an international commission called the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). In its third meeting in February 2001 in London, this committee established that sovereignty is a responsibility and not a right and proposed “Responsibility to Protect,” a collection of principles and international norms. “Responsibility to Protect” is based on the following three principles:
1- Governments have the responsibility to protect their people from genocide.
2- The international community must help governments in carrying out their primary obligation in protecting their people.
3- If a government is not able or willing to protect its people from genocide the international community has the responsibility to get involved through harsh measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention will be a last resort.
The said commission has proposed six conditions for military intervention: justified reason, good intention, last resort, legitimate position, proper tools, and reasonable outlook. Eventually in other international documents such as Security Council Resolution 1674 the last condition, which required reason in military intervention and positive results, was ignored because of countries that support military intervention.
With these conditions and considering that, before military intervention, all peaceful means in helping governments protect their people have to be considered, we can conclude that the lukewarm reception of Annan`s plan by countries that support the opposition in Syria was in a way justifying military intervention based on Chapter Seven of the UN Charter. There is no doubt that the approach by countries that oppose the Syrian regime, especially the US, was to defeat Annan`s plan. Therefore, under these conditions politicizing human rights has overshadowed political discourse and international agreements. Suspicious incidents such as the one in Houla, known as the “Houla Massacre,” is an example of a blatant violation of human rights and among the reasons for military intervention in Syria, something that is not farfetched.
(Iran ) From an international law perspective, how do we evaluate the interferences by the West, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar in Syria`s affairs?
(Mehranfar) After emphasizing the equality of all governments, the UN Charter directly states that countries are banned from interfering in each other`s internal affairs. But this non-interference principle is not absolute. For example, when the actions of a government threaten international peace and security or do not protect its citizens, the international community is allowed to interfere in that country to maintain international peace and security and to save the lives of the citizens of that country. Under special circumstances, Chapter Seven of the UN Charter gives the international community this authority and even military intervention.
But regarding Syria and this provision, there are ambiguities. First of all, these countries instigate the opposition, and their non-constructive actions such as arming them has in a way caused this situation in Syria. At the time that Annan was trying to set the stage for the two sides in Syria to talk, some countries made conditions worse by increasing their hostile actions. Also in ignoring the special circumstances in Syria and the popular position of the Assad government, the West stubbornly says there is only one choice and that is a change of regime in Syria. In other words, for governments supporting the opposition, led by the US, Syria has only one choice and that choice is not reforming the structure of government or national reconciliation but the dismissal of Assad.
But what is important is this question with apparently no answer: when under imposed conditions the responsibilities of a government such as “security of its citizens” and “economic development” and “rule of law” are threatened because of the actions of a part of its population, what happens to the “responsibility to protect,” which first and foremost falls on that government? Do terrorist activities and continuous explosions in Syria by Salafi groups, taking armed fighting into residential areas by opposition groups and using human shields, inhumane actions against civilians who support the Syrian government, kidnappings, etc, require the Syrian government to use its potential to carry out its international obligations for its citizens?
Despite widespread insecurity, expansion of terrorist activities, media propaganda, and harsh sanctions, the Syrian regime remains standing. What are the internal and foreign reasons for this? The most important internal reasons are, first, contrary to their expectations, opposition groups were not able to gain the support of the public and they were not able to separate the people from the government in large cities such as Damascus and Aleppo. On the other hand, Assad was able to gain some public trust with his reforms and in provinces like Aleppo get the support of tribes. Second, the religious position of the Syrian government as the representative of the Alawites in this country and, more important, the policy of religious freedom that to this day the Syrian government protects while the opposition`s position is one of ethnic divisions have helped the Assad government. In other words, opposition groups and governments that support them try to fan the flames of ethnic rivalries, which puts the Syrian government in a better position. Suspicious incidents such as the Houla massacre and blaming it on an Alawite government supporter group, the killing of Alawites by the opposition, and extremist Salafi support for them have not sent a good message for other religious groups such as Christians. These developments have put Christians alongside the Alawites and defenders of the Syrian government. Third, by pre-emptively implementing political reforms, holding elections and abandoning the one-party system in Syria, and welcoming talks with the opposition, the Assad government to some extent has cut into the arguments of the opposition. The fourth reason for Assad`s position becoming strong in Syria is the way opposition groups operate in quickly changing their opposition from a social movement into a military operation and fighting the army loyal to Assad. Meanwhile, with the conflict becoming longer and not getting the results they expected and taking heavy losses in Damascus, Aleppo, and other cities, the opposition is in a weak position. Despite carrying the banner of human rights they are killing civilian supporters of Assad.
Terrorist activities, mass executions, and punishing the people who support the Assad government have made the public doubt their intentions. In the end we have to say the most important reason for Syria`s internal victory is the Assad government`s approach to the opposition. We have to accept that the Syrian people have problems with the hegemonic powers and Western governments culturally and politically because of their political maturity and the Syrian government`s approach in recent years. They have had bitter experiences of the Arab betrayal in the Six-Day war and part of their land being occupied and such hostile actions as bombing infrastructure installations in Syria by the Zionist regime. They resent sanctions imposed on the government and the people by Western governments, and Jihadi groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah are popular among the Syrian people. With this background, another basic problem that the opposition has in Syria is their (the opposition groups`) affiliation with the West. Despite their claims of national interests, they have put their faith in the Syrian people`s historic enemies, and, with their condition becoming more and more difficult, they will depend more and more on the West.
As far as outside factors are concerned, in the Syrian regime`s survival we can point to the new dynamics among world powers, specifically Russia and the US Influential countries in the region and outside the region have emphasized the need to pursue a political solution in Syria and to resist the warmongering and one-sided approach by the West. This was demonstrated in the recent Security Council resolution veto by Russia and its eventual discussion at the General Assembly despite being untraditional in international law. These developments have changed the equation in favor of Bashar Assad`s government. The other important factor that has helped Syria is the interest-based goals of the countries supporting the opposition in Syria. It has become clear for the Syrian people that they are paying for the West`s hatred of the resistance front and its anti-Zionist policies and that the West is pursuing the goal of eliminating Syria from the region`s equation. The support for the opposition by the US and Turkey and the Zionist regime`s intrigues have turned against them by weakening the opposition instead of strengthening them, especially since these days we hear rumors about the Zionist regime saying it is ready to attack Syria.
(Iran ) Is Russia and China`s support for the Syrian government strategic?
(Mehranfar) To answer this question we have to go back and analyze the positions taken by these two countries in Libya. At that time the Security Council passed Resolution 1973 without a nay vote. Russia and China abstained, and a number of the Security Council`s non-permanent members voted in favor. This resolution, while creating a no-fly zone over Libya, asked all members to take every needed measure to support civilians against the Qadhafi government. At that time Russia and China were opposed to a military solution in Libya and naturally arming and encouraging the opposition. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton said that the Security Council resolution did not ban sending arms to the Libyan opposition and that “every needed measure” includes sending arms to Libya. However, sections 13-16 of Resolution 1973 emphasized article 9 of Resolution 1971, which imposed sanctions on arms shipments to Libya. In the end, despite the wishes of Russia and China, an assault on Libya began, and Russia`s influence in North Africa came to an end. These two countries (Russia and China) do not want the Americanization of the region and will not welcome it. Even some Western countries such as Italy and Germany had similar positions regarding Libya. In other words, there is a difference between saying Russia, and to some extent China, support Syria as within their sphere of influence or saying that they are resisting the Americanization of the strategic Middle East region and the world`s source of energy. Russia and China have more opportunity to maneuver in a Middle East where part of the region is in an anti-American axis rather than in a uniform Middle East. Meanwhile, the Americans think, despite Russia`s opposition so far, they have been relatively successful in their unilateral management of events in the region; events in which none of Russia`s interests have been taken into consideration. This is a trend that has to break at one point with America`s defeat. The Americans use Libya as a successful experience of the “Responsibility to Protect” principle; a new international principle that gives them more room to intervene militarily with the apparent humanitarian goals. According to their own admission, the “Responsibility to Protect” principle was not without a self-interest motivation. Furthermore, the problems in Libya were followed with the meaningful silence regarding the atrocities in Bahrain and Yemen.
When we analyze relations between the two countries we have to put these developments alongside other developments from the time of the Libyan assault. First of all, the new era of cooperation between Russia and the US began with the signing of the new START treaty in Prague. This has not been a successful experience when the US pursued the installation of missile shield systems in western Russia and Turkey. The idea of Finland joining NATO and these kinds of discussions show that relations between Russia and the US are souring. In addition, Western interference in Russia`s recent elections and the uproar they created against (Vladimir) Putin have made Russia`s position vis-A -vis the West harder than ever. According to some Western analysts the world is witnessing the start of conflicts between Russia and the US. Therefore we have to accept that, despite the belief in Russia`s deal-making skills in foreign policy, it has shown no taste for deals on certain crucial areas like Abkhazia, the Americanization of the Caspian Sea, installation of missile shields, energy, etc. Even though deal-making is also based on the principle of cost-benefit, Russia sees no benefit in abandoning the Syrian regime that in some ways could be abandoning the strategic Middle East region.
(Iran ) With the latest developments in Syria and increasing weapons support for the opposition by the Western-Arab-Turkey front, how serious do you think is the military intervention in Syria?
(Mehranfar) Military intervention in Syria requires four conditions. The most important of these is the West`s preliminary success in its proxy war, which today the Syrian Liberation Army is carrying out. In other words, the Americans don`t like to be bogged down in a new war in Syria. Therefore it is necessary that the Syrian opposition now fighting the Syrian government on behalf of the West achieves significant victories. The US and the West showed in Libya that they will get involved militarily under predictable conditions and only as victors to claim the spoils of war.
The other condition for military intervention is “Legitimate Authority,” which means getting the Security Council`s approval for any military action. In other words, in the case of Syria as well, it is necessary to go through the same path as they did with Libya and that a resolution similar to Resolution 1973 be issued based on Chapter Seven as the authority for the “Responsibility to Protect” principle. The efforts of governments supporting the Syrian opposition at the Security Council have so far been unsuccessful.
The other condition for military intervention is human rights excuses such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, which are clear violations of human rights. That is why Resolution 1973 on Libya refers several times to violations of human rights and normal conditions of responsibility to protect. But in Syria it is the opposition and its change of approach to armed conflict that has violated human rights and in a way justified Assad`s military actions.
And, finally, as mentioned above, military intervention must be the last resort, while countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran, Russia, China, and other countries that participated in Tehran`s recent conference think a political solution is still possible, especially with Assad and some opposition groups` readiness to talk and the special conditions in this country.
(Iran ) With Kofi Annan`s resignation, which way do you think events are going in Syria?
(Mehranfar) As far as what Annan`s resignation means for countries that support the opposition in Syria, we have to say surely from a Western perspective that this is the failure of a political solution to the problem and sets the stage for a possible military intervention. From an international law perspective, we are seeing a change in the United Nations` use of terminologies with legal implications in describing the situation in Syria. The United Nations` approach in international disputes is “situation-based,” meaning that the UN enters these cases as situations that can be analyzed. Of course there is no written law in this regard, but experience has shown that, whenever the UN wants to reduce tensions in a region, it analyzes it as a “situation” as in the situation in Yemen or the situation in Bahrain. But we see that in Syria it uses terms such as “crisis” or even “catastrophe,” and today Mr Annan used the word “war” or “conflict.”
Of course these concepts are not neutral or media created and it shows a new approach to the issue. But, as stated before, conditions in Syria are completely different than in a country like Libya. In addition to its repercussions for the region and countries involved, any military action requires these four conditions to be in place.
(Description of Source: Tehran Iran Online in Persian -- an official government newspaper published by IRNA, the state news agency; URL: www.iran-newspaper.com)
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