March 11, 2016

The Middle East in turmoil

Syria of tomorrow will be a very different than today’s

The civil war in Syria has unleashed a Pandora’s box of problems for the region and well beyond, drawing major powers into the conflict and escalating tensions to unprecedented danger levels, or at least to those not seen since the coldest days of the Cold War.

The Syrian conflict has spread well beyond its borders, affecting all of its neighbours in one manner or another. The unprecedented refugee crisis has troubled European countries, raising spectres of past regimes that some hoped would remain forgotten.

The dangers facing the region have many people worried about where this could lead if left unchecked.

Amr Moussa, the former secretary-general of the Arab League, classified the situation in the Middle East and North Africa as one of “immense danger”.

What does the future hold for Syria given the level of violence and destruction that has prevailed throughout this terrible war?

There is no doubt the Syria of tomorrow will be a very different than today’s. Will a post-war Syria continue under the current regime after all that has transpired? That is unlikely. In all probability, once the Russians have secured their naval bases on the Mediterranean, Syrian President Bashar Assad may very quickly be seen as a liability for them. But his presence or departure may not be Moscow’s biggest problem once the guns fall silent.

Iran and Russia may be allies today but their interests are bound to change once the conflict subsides. If Moscow’s preoccupation is to maintain its naval bases on the Mediterranean, Iran has far more ambiguous ambitions.

Unlike Russia, which has limited its participation in the war to providing air support, Iran, having invested a good number on lives and many dollars, views Syria as a logical extension of its Islamic revolution. How will this affect the Russians’ position? Is the Kremlin simply going to allow Iran to swallow Syria or the several countries that may emerge from the post-war Syria? Or will Russia be willing to engage in yet another far-away bloodier war?

On the other side of the region is North Africa, particularly in Libya, where the Islamic State (ISIS) has invested heavily, hoping to extend its caliphate from Baghdad to Tripoli. That is another major flashpoint yet to reach its climax.

A number of officials who monitor the region have voiced concern about Libya. The Europeans particularly are keeping a very close eye on the situation there as it directly affects developments in their countries.

Such is the flow of refugees inundating European countries in recent years that there is, of course, the potential of sleeper terrorists infiltrating along with refugees, with senior US officials warning that they are entering Europe every day. The Islamists have been going about it quite shrewdly, investing heavily in getting their supporters to Belgium, one of the smallest European countries. That is why the Belgium question was asked at a recent NATO conference held in Rome.

The answer may be quite obvious to some. Belgium, divided between its two principal communities, the Flemish and the Walloons, offers a certain level of ambiguity that the terrorists have used to their advantage.

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