AMU Homeland Security Intelligence Middle East Opinion

In Syria, Assad Threatens Wider War

By William Tucker

During a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmad Davutoglu, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatened to call on Hezbollah to attack Israel should NATO take any action against his regime. Furthermore, Assad claimed that he would move missiles to the Golan Heights in preparation for a strike against Israel, while Iran would begin targeting U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf if Syria were to be attacked. Assad’s outburst is certainly expected and shows that the Syrian leader is under a significant amount of pressure from both Sunni protesters and Turkey – his northern neighbor and main trading partner. Since the uprising began six months ago, President Assad has not been able to put an end to the insurrection, although he has managed to maintain the integrity of the Baath party and Alawite presence in the Syrian military.

NATO is unlikely to intervene in Syria, but Turkey, a NATO member, is actively looking for a way to end the violence and instability gripping its southern neighbor. On the same day that the Turkish Foreign Minister met with Assad, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey is looking at levying unilateral sanctions against Syria. While Turkey hasn’t made any overt moves that would indicate it would use military force to unseat Assad, Ankara is likely looking for a way to remove him power. This doesn’t mean that Ankara wants the Syrian regime to collapse, but may want to remove Assad in order to pave they way for a government that would be heavily influenced by Turkey. A coup led by Alawite military officers could be one such method even if that isn’t a game Turkey wants to play. Assad has undertaken a recent purge to rid his regime of less than loyal elements, but foreign backing of such a plot may be too much for Assad to handle in the current environment.

Turkey has been rather active in its near abroad as of late and the foreign policy challenges continue to stack up. When considering what is on Ankara’s agenda it may be that Syria is the most pressing challenge that must be dealt with in the near term. The diplomatic row with Israel and the posturing over gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean pale in comparison to the problem with Syria. Tackling the Syrian problem runs the risk of raising another, however. Assad’s claim of sparking a wider, regional war was reported exclusively by FARS – an official media outlet of the Iranian government. Iran’s regional designs run straight through Damascus and the Iranians do not want the Turks causing them any problems. This could be why Assad included Hezbollah in his threat to retaliate against the nonexistent NATO action. Another recent development that has bearing on the Syrian issue is a small uprising playing out in eastern Saudi Arabia. This typically happens when the Iranians fear Saudi intervention in their interests and the Saudi’s have shown an interest in removing Assad. While there is a lot of moving parts to the bid for homogeny in the Middle East one thing is certain; the Syrian uprising is no longer just about Syria.

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