Press TV has conducted an interview with Joshua Landis, the co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, who suggests that the Syrian government is strong and the armed groups are doomed to fail.
What follows is the text of the interview (also supported by George Jabour, president of Syrian UN Association and former advisor to Syrian president, and Nada Hashwi, political scientist from Beirut):
Q: How important are the recent developments in the past few days? First the operations in Jisr Al-shoughor and then the pro-Assad rally.
Landis: You know, clearly this is a time of great transition potentially, with Egypt having changed the regime or at least without [former President] Hosni Mubarak, and it has moved away from Israel slightly. However, the eyes of the international community are on Syria because if Syria were to fall to the rebels, this revolution, and a Sunni government were to come into place in Syria and replace the present government that was allied potentially with Saudi Arabia and the United States, this would change the configuration in the region quite a bit. We are a long way from seeing that change and the president of Syria is still quite strong and has the backing of the military. The military has been loyal and that makes change very difficult.
Q: Why do you not tell us a little more about how this, as some have called counterrevolution, is being exercised? Now we understand the United States is the one because as some say and you mentioned also, that the loss of Egypt for the United States and of course the US's alignment with Israel and how that would pose a danger and now some are saying that Syria is going to make up for that loss. How is it that this is being spearheaded? Perhaps the United States, but mainly we can see the footprints of Saudi Arabia as it is being exercised in the region, isn't it?
Landis: Well, it is not clear to me. You know, Saudi Arabia, I think, is very torn and the king of Saudi Arabia came out early once the uprising began in March in Syria and said that he stood with Bashar al-Assad against foreign plots and he used the language that Assad used.
The Saudi regime is extremely conservative. It does not want any more revolution in the Middle East. If Syria should fall, perhaps Jordan would fall and then they would be at the doors of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabia, as we have seen, does not favor any kind of revolution as it showed in Bahrain, Yemen and so forth.
On the other hand, there are plenty of Saudi individuals who would like to see the Syrian government fall and a number of prominent Saudi sheikhs have been calling for the end of Alawites and have been fanning the flames of Shiite-Sunni tensions in the region but those are individuals and those are sheikhs, it is not Saudi governments. I think we are a long way from seeing the Saudi government support revolution in Syria.
The United States and Israel are clearly backing, increasingly coming behind condemnation of the Assad regime. France and Britain have already showed that they are moving in that direction and they have tried to raise a bill in the UN. Russia has vetoed it and says that it will veto any bill but how long that lasts is not clear.
We know that there is considerable tension. The United States sent the advanced ship up into Black Sea perhaps, some articles have said that, that was in order to challenge the Russians and try to get the Russians to make a deal to condemn Syria in order for America to, in a sense, cede the Black Sea to Russia, some such deal. We do not know how that might work out.
Q: Joshua, can you please tell us about all the allegations of arms that are being smuggled into Syria from the United States? We even have through Iraq, we have it from Lebanon and of course Turkey, these allegations of these arms being smuggled to what the government of Assad has attributed to armed gangs.
Landis: You know, Saudi Arabia is weak now because the king is old and it is not clear who will be the successor. But let me turn to Turkey for a second. Turkey faces a very difficult problem. Turkey has set itself up as the exemplar state; it was very good friends with Syria. Of course once it got into this trouble, Turkey had a difficult position to take because it wants to be in the side of the Arab spring and it sided with the Arab spring early in places like Egypt and others which was very laudable for most people, then with Syria it was silent for a long time but increasingly it came out on the side of the protest movement.
Now it is not clear what Turkey can really do and all of the international community can really do. I do not know how many arms are being smuggled into Syria. I mean there have been allegations but I have no information on that one way or the other. We have seen that there are some armed elements within the opposition because they have killed soldiers but they are not well-armed. They don't have a lot of weapons. The Syrian army has T-72 Soviet tanks, top the line Gazelle helicopters. It has missiles..., it has a lot of force. As long as the Syrian army sticks together, it is going to kill rebel and it is going to be very difficult for rebels to present the problem because it is not like Libya.
Q: Sorry, Joshua, what do you mean by the rebels? I am just curious about who you are attributing to as rebels.
Landis: I mean the opposition. If the opposition wants to get arms it is going to have a very difficult time to take on the military and there is not territory in which defectors can leave the army and so forth and can reorganize any place so that is a very difficult situation. As for Turkey, there will clearly be a lot of pressure on Turkey to eventually allow for some sort of rebel army to coalesce along the border but I do not think Turkey wants to get into that situation.
As you have mentioned earlier, there is a Kurdish group in Syria that could began to animate the PKK again, the Kurdish communist party as they did in the 1980s and so forth to use as a weapon against the Turks. So Turkey is vulnerable. It has a 500 km border. They do not want more refugees.
The notion today of supporting the opposition in Syria militarily is way too difficult and big a notion for just about any country to take on. We see the West struggling over Libya, country of 6 million where with already half of the country has fallen out of the government control. It is not clear how the international community can act in Syria.