Balkanization of Syria is a catastrophic idea
That would be yet another mistake among a multitude throughout recent history negatively impacting the Middle East. Giving regional authorities more power to their elbow to make decisions and to formulate their own budgets is one thing but that could be the first step toward enforced population transfers based on ethnic or sectarian factors and would ultimately be a recipe for renewed conflicts open to exploitation by major powers.
There’s a template. Iraq that was promised “freedom and democracy” post the US-led invasion, was instead the recipient of bloodshed and division. Iraq may not have been split-up into three as was envisaged by neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration, but it might as well have been.
Syrians need only to study Iraq’s woeful trajectory to understand their best option would be a multi-ethnic/sectarian government capable of unifying all Syrian actors in the conflict — one that does not include the top echelons of the Assad regime.
It wasn’t that long ago when Syrians of all faiths, just like Iraqis when Saddam Hussein was at the helm, lived and worked together in relative harmony. Those brokering the talks in Geneva should be pushing for reconciliation, not whispering in delegates’ ears about the possibility of splintering.
According to various media reports, most Syrians are firmly opposed to the idea of breaking up their country into feeble mini-states with little influence on the world stage. Damascus insists it would contravene international law and, on that point, representatives of opposition groups concur.
Tragically, Syria’s dismembering is already underway amid Russia’s tentative approval and Washington’s silence apart from its hinting at a “Plan B” if all else fails, which some have interpreted to mean the country’s enforced federalization/balkanization.
Last Thursday, delegates claiming to represent three Kurdish regions in northern Syria close to the Turkish border together with representatives from Arab and Turkmen communities, declared Kurdish self-governance and despite a mild objection from the US State Department, they believe they will gain the backing of the US in due time. Perhaps they know something no one else does in this regard.
Even if the White House would secretly like to bless a self-autonomous Kurdish zone, doing so at this juncture would hobble peace talks and enrage its ally and fellow NATO member country Turkey. Ankara is averse to any type of formal Kurdish entity in close proximity to its soil.
In the event Syria that fought shoulder to shoulder with Egypt in the 1967 and 1973 wars is sliced up like a loaf of bread a further chunk of the Arab world’s heart will be amputated and the region will be even more vulnerable to Iranian meddling than it is now.
The biggest winner from Syria’s balkanization would of course be Israel. Interviewed earlier this year in Davos, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Jerusalem Post of his “doubts” that “a unitary Syrian state can ever reemerge. “I wish it could happen, but I’m not sure you could put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” he said. “I’d say the best result you might be able to get is a benign balkanization, benign cantonization in Syria. That’s as good as you’re going to get.”
Note the word “benign”! I would interpret this to mean toothless cantons that couldn’t pose the slightest threat to Israel even if they so desired. The civil war has been kind to Israel which has been busy expanding its settlements and illegally drilling on the Syrian Golan Heights driven by hopes of discovering major reserves of oil.
Lastly, I would remind proponents of Syria’s re-sculpting of Oded Yinon’s “Strategy for Israel in the nineteen-nineties” published in 1982. The author, a journalist once attached to Israel’s foreign ministry famously wrote that every Arab conflict is in Israel’s interests. He was specific on his wish list for Syria:
“The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon is Israel’s primary target on the eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short term target.
“Syria will fall apart, in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure into several states…so that there will be a Shiite Allawi state along its coast, a Sunni state in the Aleppo area, another Sunni state in Damascus hostile to its northern neighbor, and the Druzes, who will set up a state, maybe even in our Golan…”
It’s in the hands of the Syrian people, all of them, to resist playing into the hands of Syria’s enemies by coming together as one hand to rebuild their stricken homeland anew.
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