Turkey Pulse

Syria Faces Threat of ‘Lebanonization’

Article Summary
Not so long ago, Syria’s nationalist regime dreamed of a “‘Greater Syria”’ embracing its Lebanese neighbor to the sSouth, writes Kadri Gursel. But if no international coalition intervenes in Syria to protect the rights of minorities, Syria may rapidly turn into a “‘Greater Lebanon”’ divided along sectarian lines, she warns.

The “Friends of Syria” initiative was born out of a proposal from French President Nicolas Sarkozy immediately following the vetoes of Russia and China at the Security Council. This initiative was led by Tunisia, France and Turkey. Because of the bill criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide recently passed through the French parliament, relations between Turkey and France have dipped to a low point. We will see whether this will hinder cooperation on the Syrian issue.

Let me play the role of devil's advocate for a moment and ask whether Iran, Russia, China or Lebanon — who are not a part of this initiative — are not “friends of Syria.”

Indeed, they are not. These four countries are friends of a bloody regime that has lost its legitimacy due to its part in perpetrating gruesome massacres. However this regime is based on the Nusayri (Alawite) sect, which comprises a significant part of the Syrian population.

Those calling themselves “friends of Syria” by attending the meeting will be giving their support to the Syrian National Council and its Sunni base. None of those countries, including Turkey, deserves the title of “friend of Syria.”

Why not?

On one hand, you have Russia and Iran giving massive military, material and political support to the regime. On the other, you have a meager Western alliance, of which Turkey is a part, which cannot undertake military action beyond extending extremely limited aid to the opposition.

Those two poles are dragging Syria toward catastrophe. If a military intervention that guarantees the rights of minorities does not take place, and the Ba’ath regime preserves its current position, there will soon be no such thing as Syria!

Once upon a time, Ba’athists dreaming of a Greater Syria used to meddle in Lebanon. If  an international coalition to intervene in Syria doesn’t materialize in near future, we may well see this trend reversed: Syria might turn into “Greater Lebanon.”

Syria will be divided into three parts, following a bloody sectarian and ethnic split. This will be followed by a population exchange and major refugee flows.

The division within Syria will be as follows: A Nusayri Alawite region — where the Christians will be marginalized — a Kurdish region, and a Sunni region, which will be the largest.

Unless things change, the Lebanonization of Syria seems inevitable. Why?

First, it is vital for Iran to keep the Nusayris in power in Syria, as it shares a border with the Lebanese Hezbollah. Whether the regime collapses or not, Iran which has a Shia majority will continue to support the Ba’ath regime economically and politically in order to maintain this “Nusayri Syria,” which would remain neighbors with the Shia, Hezbollah-controlled parts of Lebanon. The Iranian regime, which is facing a threat of military attack and embargo because of its nuclear program, will definitely not concede its strategic deterrence against Israel and the “Western Alliance.”

Second, Obama does not want a war in an election year, NATO is against intervention and France and England would not dare to intervene in Syria on their own. Turkey cannot — and should not — do anything alone. Under these circumstances, half-measures such as arming and training the opposition may improve the self-defense capabilities of the poor protesters but it will not stop the country from sliding into Lebanonization.

Third, the Syrian Nusayris have seen what has happened to the Christian and Sunni minorities in Iraq and they have drawn the necessary lessons from that experience. For the Nusayris, fighting till the end to defend themselves and their families is natural. Moreover, they have a substantial army.

When Syria Lebanonizes, the Turkey of the Sunni AKP (Justice and Development) party will see itself as protector of Sunnis. Syria will be divided between a Nusayri region that sees the Turks as foes and a Kurdish zone that the Turks will never be able to trust.

Kadri Gursel is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse and Turkish daily Cumhuriyet. His main focuses are Turkish foreign policy, international affairs, press freedom, Turkey’s Kurdish question, as well as Turkey’s evolving political Islam and its national and regional impacts. He wrote a column for the Turkish daily Milliyet between 2007 and July 2015. Gursel also worked for the Agence France-Presse for nearly five years, between 1993-1997 as an İstanbul based correspondent. While at the AFP, he was kidnapped by Kurdish militants in 1995. He recounted his misadventures at the hands of the PKK in his book titled “Dağdakiler” (Those of the Mountains) published in 1996. Twitter: @KadriGursel

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