Mohamed Khalaf: Russia, US, Saudi Arabia Have a Deal over Syria
Interview of Novinite.com and Novinite.bg with Mohamed Khalaf, an Iraqi-born journalist and correspondent in Bulgaria of a Kuwaiti newspaper, on Syria's crisis.
Syria is hearing the drums of war all around. Will the specter of a potential US-led strike against Syria turn real and when?
US will certainly take action against Syria, but it is not clear exactly when it will start, may be Sunday evening or Monday. The military strike against Syria would be of limited scope and duration, designed to serve as punishment for Syria’s use of chemical weapons and as a deterrent.
But the strike has other goals too.
President Obama had made clear that the use of chemical was a “red line” for the United States. And Assad crossed it.
President Obama can’t turn a blind eye. First, his personal dignity is at stake, secondly, the values of the US and its policy against the use of such weapons are at stake too. A strike on Syria will be a message to other countries too, a warning that if they use chemical weapons, they will be severely punished.
The third message would be an attempt to limit the military power of the Assad regime, because the balance of power is disturbed in favor of his regime. Perhaps the goal is to cause cracks in the regime itself, paving the way for a military coup.
Thus Assad can be removed, or even killed, in order to push forward the political process and avoid a situation of disintegration, similar to the one we witnessed in Iraq in 2003.
The strike on Syria is meant to pave the way for a political process.
How can the stance of Russia and China be overcome? Is a deal between Russia and the United States a realistic option?
China does not play an active role in supporting the regime. They are taking their cues from Russia, for various reasons.
I think that Russia, the United States and Saudi Arabia have clinched a deal. Just a month ago Saudi Arabia’s national security chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan Al Saud paid a visit to Moscow.
He held talks with Vladimir Putin, for four hours. According to media reports outside Russia the two discussed the need for Russia to give up Assad, but not his regime.
Russia was promised to benefit big time in different ways, including pocketing USD 15 B as a result of deals, including with weapons. Perhaps this is the explanation why Russia changed its position. Until recently Russia strongly supported the Assad regime. Now, however, Foreign Minister Lavrov says Russia will not fight for others.
Russia and the United States are fully aware how high the stakes are in Syria, fully aware they must put an end to this conflict. Otherwise tensions will escalate and the whole region will be sucked in a larger war.
This is what we see in Iraq, where Al Qaeda is back in the game, this is what we see in
Lebanon, where conflicts among different sects are flaring up. This tension creates many dangers for the region.
A strike on Syria will also send a message to Iran. If Assad's regime is weakened and he is toppled, Iran would be left toothless – this would undermine organizations such as Hezbollah and Iran might move toward reconciliation with the international community.
What will Syria look like after a military intervention? Is it possible to build a democratic society in Syria?
If you expect Western-style democracy in the Arab world, you will have to wait at least 50 years. This issue in these countries is political and depends not only on elections. This is a cultural process, and it will last very long.
In a situation where the state is associated with religion, democracy of this type will not be possible. We have seen this in Egypt and Tunisia, and Libya. The events in Syria may resemble the scenario in Iraq, if processes are not controlled.
What will be the impact on Bulgaria in case of a military intervention in Syria?
I don’t think that a strike on Syria will lead to serious consequences for Bulgaria. Most probably the flux of refugees will intensify a little bit. Most of them however will head for Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, even Iraq.
On their way to Bulgaria, the refugees have to cross one border – Turkey’s and this is what makes the situation for our country quite different.
A war in Syria however will certainly have serious economic consequences. But this war won’t last long – may be just two or three days. This is exactly the reason why I believe that the fallout will be contained to a certain extent.
What type of war do you expect in Syria?
The attack would involve sea-launched cruise missiles or, possibly but just few, long-range bombers.
The US and its allies know that Syria has a very good defense, which can bring down planes. Nobody wants to see captive-pilots and brought down aircraft in Syria.
That is why we have seen a concentration of warships in the Mediterranean. Control centers, military bases and intelligence centers, as well as building for lodging soldiers will be the main targets.
Unofficial information says that the opposition and the Israeli and US intelligence have drawn up a list of military and strategic targets.
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