A handout picture released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network on 4 July 2012 shows Syrian rebels allegedly taking over an outpost belonging to government forces in Idlib on July 3. (Photo: AFP - SHAAM NEWS NETWORK)
By: Amal Saad-Ghorayeb - July 5, 2012
Though far outnumbered by supporters of the Syrian uprising on the one hand, and Third Wayers who reject both the opposition and the regime on the other, a significant minority of Arab leftists, nationalists and even Islamists have sided with the Assad regime’s struggle against the imperialist-Zionist-GCC onslaught being waged against Syria.
I will articulate the position of this “resistance camp,” which is closely identified with Hezbollah’s position on Syria, and explain the rationale behind its controversial and unpopular position. It is important to clarify here that this position is not synonymous with those who support the Assad regime per se or with those who support it for reasons unrelated to anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist considerations; as its name suggests, it is a position which is defined primarily by the prioritization accorded to the liberation of Palestine and, more generally, the liberation of the region from imperialism, and Assad’s value to both of these objectives.
This position is underpinned by a resistance logic or rationality – a way of thinking which, to borrow Seyyid Hassan Nasrallah’s words “views events in the region through the [lens of] the Israeli issue…how it evaluates threats and dangers, how it acts and what it considers opportunities.” In the case of Syria, this resistance rationality “takes a step back from the details and looks at the bigger picture,” to quote Nasrallah again. And the bigger picture is one that prominently features the US and Israel as they relate to the struggle for Syria’s political identity and foreign allegiances.
Assad’s ouster serves US-Israeli interests
While some have argued that Israel and the US would prefer that Assad remains in power, as it is easier to deal with the “devil you know than the devil you don’t,” their active political and military support for elements in the Syrian opposition – support which predates the establishment of the SNC and FSA by several years as revealed by leaked US embassy cables published by Wikileaks – in addition to their official rhetoric, has proven the reverse.
Indeed, the ideal case scenario for both imperialists and Zionists is one involving an eviscerated, submissive and hence, manageable Assad. But given that the regime has refused to capitulate to US-Israeli longstanding demands to relinquish its support for resistance movements and divorce itself from Iran, its overthrow is viewed as the next best scenario.
Former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at the Knesset, Tzachi Hanegbi, acknowledges that the Syrian crisis represents a great opportunity for furthering Israel’s interests: “Events in Syria will have a more decisive impact than those in any other Arab country,” in that “the ouster of the Syrian president would significantly improve Israel’s strategic situation.” The collapse of the Assad regime would strike “a major blow to the radical axis” said Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. In so doing, it would drastically alter “the entire balance of forces in the region” as elaborated by former Mossad chief, Efraim Halevi.
Halevi continues: “Iranian-sponsored terrorism would be visibly contained; Hezbollah would lose its vital Syrian conduit to Iran... Hamas fighters in Gaza would have to contemplate a future without Iranian weaponry and training; and the Iranian people might once again rise up against the regime…” In a similar vein, Washington envisages Assad’s downfall as “the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years” and the most efficient means for cutting off Iran’s lifeline to Hezbollah, according to General James Mattis, commander of US forces in the Middle East.
Such strategic benefits for the US and Israel outweigh any risks and uncertainties surrounding Syria’s future, and specifically, the role of Islamists in shaping it. Echoing Nasrallah’s assertion that “There is a consensus in Israel that any alternative in Syria is better than Bashar al-Assad’s regime,” Halevi declares “the way things are at present, any replacement of Assad is better.”
This assessment is also shared by a number of Israeli officials including Israeli president, Shimon Peres who described Assad on Israeli Channel 2, as “the worst there can be” of all alternatives, as well as by Barak in his CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour.
As contended by Hanegbi, fears of Sunni Islamists wreaking havoc on Israel’s doorstep were completely unfounded as it was “more likely that Assad’s successors will first seek to sideline the devoted supporters of the hated duo, Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad.” Like Hanegbi, Halevy also envisages a post-Assad Syria that is dominated by a “moderate” and Empire-friendly Sunni Islamist force who “won’t come to power in order to launch an effort against Israel.”
Such predictions do not appear far-fetched when one considers former head of the SNC Burhan Ghalioun’s assurances to his foreign sponsors that one of the first orders of business for a post-Assad government would be “breaking the exceptional relationship” between Syria and Iran and Hezbollah. Israeli and US assessments are further substantiated by the very public and well-documented “semi-official” contacts between various members of the SNC and Israel.
Even if the Syrian opposition figures collaborating with Israel belong almost exclusively to the foreign-funded, externally-based opposition, the fact remains that the uprising as a whole enjoys the support of the same array of forces who backed Israel and urged it to finish off Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in winter 2008/2009. It is for this reason that the US- Israeli-NATO-GCC- backed Syrian insurrection is viewed by the resistance camp as an extension of both of these wars against resistance movements, and an attempt to “reintroduce” the “New Middle East” project “through other gates” such as Syria, to cite Nasrallah.
One can conceivably share a political interest with the US or Israel without allowing either power to benefit from the convergence itself.In effect, to support Assad’s overthrow is to align oneself, whether by accident or design, on the same side of the trench as oppressive and reactionary powers. Given that justice is almost always situated in diametric opposition to wherever imperialism and Zionism stand on a given issue – considering that both forces are the clearest embodiments of injustice – such an alignment can never be dismissed as an undesirable coincidence or as strategically benign.
While an infrequent occurrence, one can conceivably share a political interest with the US or Israel without allowing either power to benefit from the convergence itself. One such example is the overthrow of Iran’s longtime enemy, Saddam Hussein, by the US, which clearly benefited the Islamic Republic. But despite the shared interest in his removal, the strategic objectives of the US in Iraq did not require Iran’s shared interest in Saddam’s ouster for their fulfillment. In fact, many in Washington lamented the extent to which Iran was empowered by Saddam’s overthrow, even before control of Iraq fell into Iran’s hands after the US withdrew the bulk of its troops.
By contrast, if resistance forces were to share the Empire’s interest in toppling Assad, they would directly play into its hands as his overthrow is conceived as a means for divorcing Syria from the resistance axis and for weakening Iran and resistance movements. In this connection, the resistance camp’s abandonment of the lynch-pin of the resistance front would only expedite US-Israeli strategic designs on the region and undercut the resistance project in Lebanon, Palestine and beyond.
Moreover, considering that the US-Israeli scheme requires a weakened Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Palestine axis for the fulfillment of its strategic objectives, the resistance camp’s forsaking of the Assad regime would be tantamount to political suicide on its part and hence, a de facto handover of the Levant to the Empire on a silver platter.
The Uprising is Not a Revolution
From the resistance camp’s perspective, it is precisely this US-NATO-Israel-GCC line-up supporting the uprising which renders it far less a popular revolution than an insurrection that is bankrolled by petrodollars and piloted by the Empire.
Having the leader of the world order on one’s side surely means that the “revolution” will be only used to perpetuate that world order.Although there is an acknowledgement that part of the opposition is a legitimate, homegrown movement which views its revolution as having been “hijacked” by these foreign powers and their Syrian proxies, the logic of resistance dictates that any cause hijacked by Zionism, US imperialism and Arab “moderation” effectively stops being a just cause and becomes somebody else’s reactionary and imperialist agenda.
Furthermore, having the leader of the world order on one’s side surely means that the “revolution” will be only used to perpetuate that world order – in other words, it will only serve as a counter-revolution to thwart any genuine attempts to redress the vast political and economic imbalances which characterize the prevailing global status-quo.
As such, leftists who support the Syrian opposition cannot, by any Marxist definition, consider themselves part of a Gramscian counter-hegemonic “war of position” when they are aligned with the same position as the hegemonic powers.
This would remain the case even if we were to assume hypothetically that the opposition enjoys as much popular support as the regime does and was led by the working class. As underlined by David Fennell in his illuminating essay on counter-revolution in Libya, “Marxism understands that a thing is determined by the totality of the forces acting in it.” Fennell goes on to quote Lenin’s definition of totality as one which takes account “of all the forces, groups, parties, classes and masses operating in a given country’.”
In other words, when formulating a political position, an analysis of the working class’ situation alone does not suffice, but must involve all social contradictions, with special emphasis on social contradictions which occur on the world system’s level.
Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is a Lebanese academic and political analyst. She is author of the book, “Hizbullah: Politics and Religion”, and blogger at ASG’s Counter-Hegemony Unit.