Syrian tragedy - a conflict of interests

opinion November 01, 2015 01:00

With every power involved in negotiations having its own agenda, the human catastrophe is being grossly ignored

The international community is coming together this week in Vienna to explore ways and means to end the war in Syria.

All eyes will be on the regional patrons, as neither the Syrian

government nor the rebel forces, including the Islamic State fanatics, will be sitting at the table.

Iran will be backing the Bashar al-Assad regime while Saudi Arabia will be rooting for the factions that opposed his dictatorial regime.

It is not clear as to why the two warring sides have not been invited. Perhaps the patrons did not want to complicate matters.

But if the run-up to this week’s talks is any indication, no major breakthrough can be expected.

For one thing, neither side has given any indication of being willing to budge from its position. The Iranians continue to back Assad’s regime while the Saudis maintain the president must go.

Syria is vital to Iran’s strategic interest in the region in many ways, particularly how the country projects its power and its wrath, especially towards Israel.

For this reason, an invitation to Tehran to be at the table has upset Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and Israel. These countries’ argument is that Iran has played a major role

in fanning the flames of war and therefore it does not deserve to be invited to the table.

But not to have the Iranians there would be like clapping with one hand, or talking to like-minded allies, which, at the end of the day will

produce nothing except a lot of

wishful thinking.

Besides, the argument that Iran has been fanning the flame of war does not hold water given the fact that the ones who are making such claims are not qualified to take the moral high ground.

There are no saints in this conflict, only stakeholders and patrons. At stake here is the Shi’ite-Sunni rivalry. Arab Sunni states don’t like the idea of a Shi’ite country flexing its muscles in the region, or undermining

their community. While the United States is backing the Arab Sunni states, Russia has been doing the same with the Syrian regime.

The United States is set to deploy less than 50 Special Operations forces in Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Syria. The American troops will help local Kurdish and Arab forces fight Islamic State with logistics and are planning to bolster their efforts.

Moscow has made itself a decisive player in this bloody conflict. It has put boots on the ground and jet fighters in the air. President Vladimir Putin had invited Assad to Moscow earlier last month. Putin encouraged Assad to call for an early election.

But with all these political moves and military build-up, one has to wonder whether it is possible to find common ground. There is one: All sides want to rid the region of the Islamic State fanatics.

Sadly, none of these major players – Russia, Iran, the US and its Arab allies – are channelling their energy and resources on this front.

They are so afraid of losing out in the long run that seems to have made  the fight against IS a second priority.

Russia, for example, seems more concerned with taking out Assad’s opposition, instead of IS to the east. The ‘no-fly’ zone in the north appears to be serving Russia’s military

interest rather the safety of the local people fleeing the fighting. The US, meanwhile, should look for ways to re-engage with Iran after successful negotiation of the nuclear deal that lifted sanctions on the country. Instead, Washington pays too much heed to the Gulf Arabs.

Sadly, hardly anybody is talking about the humanitarian catastrophe. The fighting has displaced more than half of Syria’s 20 million people, many of who reside in makeshift camps in neighbouring countries.

There is also the issue of refugees, as 300,000 people are risking their lives to cross treacherous terrain and deadly seas to get to Europe. It is the duty of the major powers to bring this long-running crisis to an end.