The BRICS summit in Durban is meeting as war drums can be heard beating for Syria. The drum beat is coming nearer and nearer by the day.
Friday’s Turkish-Israeli reconciliation that the United States President Barack Obama brokered was pre-arranged in a dramatic setting on the tarmac of the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, from a trailer truck just as he was emplaning after concluding his visit to Israel. It was intended as a riveting spectacle for the region that the US is shifting gear for the endgame in Syria.
Two days later, on Sunday, came the grave accusation by the powerful chairman of the US Congress’s Intelligence Committee and prominent Republican lawmaker Mike Rogers that it is “abundantly clear” the Syrian regime has “absolutely” crossed the so-called “red line” set by Obama on the deployment and use of chemical weapons by the government forces.
It all seems well-orchestrated. Just a day earlier Obama had announced in Jersualem that any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian forces will be a “game changer”. He now has the perfect argument for a military intervention in Syria.
Meanwhile, New York Times has reported that the CIA is neck-deep in the Syrian conflict already and is all set to expand its covert operations.
On the other hand, Israel has begun probing the Syrian defence lines in Golan Heights. Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon has alleged “breach of sovereignty” by Syria. This is also close on the heels of Obama’s visit to Israel and Jordan.
What is even more telling is the restructuring of the leadership of the Syrian opposition’s National Coalition. Over the weekend, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib resigned from the post of the head of the National Coalition. Khatib was expected to travel to Moscow for talks.
Clearly, someone, somewhere is nervous that Khatib could have been persuaded by the Russians to give intra-Syrian dialogue a chance.
Bingo. A new Prime minister for the Syrian opposition has suddenly appeared from nowhere over the weekend, a Syrian-American and an IT professional based in the US — Ghassan Hitto.
Hitto is being vaguely mentioned as a fellow-traveller of the Muslim Brotherhood but the American ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has been quoted by the AFP as assuring us candidly that he is “more Texan than Muslim Brotherhood.”
Arguably, it makes no difference whether Hitto is American or Brother. Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi too is of similar breed. Yet, the US is pretty much satisfied with the performance of the Brothers so far in Egypt, and seems quite open to the having more regimes run by Brothers in the Muslim Middle East. Qatar and Turkey would completely agree.
Without doubt, the game plan is to structure a Syrian “government-in-exile” that is firmly under the control of the US before an outright Libya-style military intervention by NATO begins in Syria. No more silly mistakes like George W. Bush made before going into Iraq. Obama is icy cool and is cerebral and meticulous when it comes to planning such things as war.
Obama will want to get this messy business of regime change in Damascus through when the Iranians are focused on their presidential election in June and the crucial government formation in Tehran in the downstream (which is never easy, given faction-ridden Shi’ite politics). His mission to Israel (and Jordan) was about Syria and Iran and nothing else.
On Sunday, Obama despatched secretary of state John Kerry to Baghdad on a surprise visit to read the riot act to PM Nouri al-Maliki to stop Iranian overflights to Syria. Fasten seat belts, folks, stormy weather lies ahead.
So, coming back to BRICS, this Durban summit is going to be crucial as a benchmark in its evolution. To be sure, Uncle Sam is watching what the BRICS statesmen are up to in Durban. Interestingly, the Brookings Doha Centre, a US-Qatari think tank, has openly called for a BRICS mutiny — calling on the leaders of South Africa, Brazil and India to collar Russia and China on the Syrian crisis.
– March 25, 2013