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  • The Great Gas Game over Syria

    New energy find in West Asia will set forth new political equations. Syria alone has discovered huge proven gas, oil and shale reserves. Whether the Assad regime survives or a change of regime happens there would determine the global gas system in a large way.

    September 09, 2013

    How has the West responded to ‘gassing’ in West Asia?

    It is not so much because of the use of chemical weapons that will unleash US fire-power, but the fact that the Assad regime might be winning the civil war in conjunction with its Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

    September 04, 2013

    Akhila asked: What should be India's stand on the Syrian crisis?

    Reply: Kindly refer to an earlier reply by Prasanta Kumar Pradhan on a similar query posted in this section, at and commentary by P. R. Kumaraswamy, “Silence on Syria is no option”, February 21, 2012.

    The Increasing Complexity of the Internationalised Syrian Conflict

    Into its third year, the Syrian conflict has been fuelled by a multiplicity of interest groups and countries, overshadowing the initial cause of the protests. Gains for either side in Syria have come to mean corresponding losses for different regional and international stakeholders.

    July 08, 2013

    Digvijay Singh asked: What are the implications of the Syrian civil war on the Middle East and particularly for India?

    Gulshan Dietl replies: The Syrian Civil War can be traced back to the Arab Spring that has led to popular uprisings in most of the Arab countries. What began as protests in March 2011 has now become an armed rebellion. About 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflagration; half of them civilians. Four million people are internally displaced and a million and a half have sought refuge in neighbouring states, mainly Turkey and Jordan.

    The civil war has not remained confined to Syria alone. The entire region has been actively involved in varying degrees. There have been military encounters on the Syrian borders with Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. The presence of Kurds and Palestinians inside the country has had obvious linkages to the Kurds and Palestinians outside.

    Turkey has given asylum to roughly 400,000 Syrians, provided the rebels among them with weapons and a safe zone to launch offensive operations against the Syrian Government. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have poured in financial, humanitarian and military assistance. In recent months, a second front has been opened in Jordan. The Syrian armed groups can now take the southern route which is closer to the Syrian capital Damascus. In this turbulence, foreign fighters have entered in a big way. Some five thousand foreign fighters are said to have come from countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Australia, Britain, Spain, Denmark, the United States, and so on. Some analysts have called the situation in Syria a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The facts on the ground are much more complicated involving many state and non-state actors.

    Beyond the West Asian region, the Russians and Chinese have been supporting the Syrian regime whereas the West has been with the rebels. In February last year, a group of 11 states – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates - formed the “Friends of Syria” with an explicit aim of regime change in Syria. In June this year, they resolved to provide all necessary material and equipment to the opposition. Thus, the Syrian civil war has grave implication at the regional and global levels.

    India has deep concerns about the worsening situation in Syria itself, its spill over effect in the neighbourhood and the consequent instability in the wider West Asian region. India has already assured the UN that it has no plans to pull out its 190 strong troops monitoring demilitarised zone between Syria and the Golan Heights. If the conflict spills over, India would be directly affected in several ways. Some nine million Indians working in the Gulf States would be in harm’s way and many may need to be evacuated from the zones of active conflict. Their remittances would be severely curtailed in the circumstances. The sectarian aspects of the conflict may also find an unhealthy resonance in our country.

    Redhu Sekhar asked: Are Russia & China supporting the Syrian Army? If yes, then why?

    Rajeev Agarwal replies: Both Russia and China are supporting the Syrian regime, and have made all attempts to see that efforts of the US-led lobby to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power, politically or militarily, does not succeed. They have not let any UN resolution pass against the Syrian regime till now.

    As regards their support for the Syrian Army, Russia has direct military interests in the Syrian Armed Forces. It is one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Syria including the often disputed S300 missiles. It would, therefore, be fair to assume some sort of moral and equipment support from Russia for the Syrian Army. Direct support in terms of getting involved in fighting with or for the Syrian Army, is not yet reported or come out. Also, Russia is not likely to take that choice as it could blow out into a regional military conflict.

    As regards China, it has supported the Syrian regime ever since the uprisings broke out. It however does not have any military interest and is unlikely to support the Syrian Army directly. Some kind of technological or intelligence support can't be ruled out. However, China's support for Syria seems to be more based on certain ideological fears and on political grounds, contours of which are quite different from the possibilities of a direct support to the Syrian Army.

    Syria and WMD: Deepening Uncertainty

    Even as the uncertainty over the alleged use of chemical weapons use in Syria deepens, the cautious US response to the situation has been conditioned by the lack of viable military options as well as its Iraq war experience.

    June 03, 2013

    Narendra Patil asked: what can be the perfect solution for Syria, i.e. Assad should step down or not?

    Reply: Refer to the following publications by the IDSA faculty, including web comments from outside, on the issue:

    The Signs of Change in Syria
    Rajeev Agarwal, December 24, 2012

    Arab Spring: Aspirations Met Or Dreams Unfulfilled?
    Rajeev Agarwal, October 26, 2012

    Challenges Syria poses
    Arvind Gupta, The New India Express, October 7, 2012

    The Beginning of the End in Syria
    Abhijit Singh, August 7, 2012

    Syrian Turmoil: A Test for the US Position
    Saurabh Mishra, May 23, 2012

    A Gloomy Syrian Scenario
    Jagdish N Singh, February 24, 2012

    The Syrian Conundrum
    Stanly Johny, February 14, 2012

    Sectarian Strife Looms in The Middle-East
    R. S. Kalha, February 11, 2012

    Patriots in Turkey

    The Patriot deployments signify Turkey’s attempt to secure itself and its allies against touted missile threats from the two countries with which it shares borders to the east – Syria and Iran.

    January 24, 2013

    Pravimal Abhishek: What are the fundamental principles behind the stand taken by Russia, China and India on the Syrian crisis?

    Rajeev Agarwal replies: Russia, China and India have taken respective principled stand on the crisis in Syria based on their core national interests, and not only in Syria but the region as a whole. Also, the upheavals in the Arab World in 2011-12 and the international reaction to help usher in new regimes too has been a contributing factor towards their stand. The most striking example is that of Libya where the UN resolution to enforce 'No Fly Zone' and 'Protection of Population' was used as a pretext to launch aerial strikes.

    The position of each of the three countries towards the Syrian crisis is as:

    Russia - For Russia, Syria is one of the most trusted and strategic allies in the region. Syria is a huge market for Russian weapon systems including the latest air defence systems like S-300 and S-400. The port in Tartus in Syria is the only naval base of Russia in the Mediterranean and is therefore of strategic importance.

    China - China has strong economic ties with Syria. It has vetoed all UNSC resolutions on Syria, fearing a repeat of Libya type of situation. China is monitoring the situation in Syria closely, and may re-assess its stand on Syria.

    India - India does not have any major strategic interests in Syria. Neither does it have any major trade linkages or diaspora. The factors that could be influencing India's stand on Syria are its opposition to external intervention in a country and may be partly by the fact that Syria is Iran's key ally. India obviously wants to move forward with Iran, key to many of India's core interests in the region, i.e. energy, transit to Central Asia, etc. It has strongly expressed deep concerns on the continuing and unabated violence, and has called upon all sides in Syria to abjure violence and resolve all issues peacefully. In this regard, India has supported the 6-Point Plan of Kofi Annan.

    For a detailed insight into the Syrian crisis, refer to my comment on IDSA website titled, “Signs of Change in Syria”, dated December 24, 2012, at