Thursday, August 29, 2013

How Do We Respond to the Current Chemical Attack in Syria?


As mentioned in my earlier posts, I have developed a comprehensive road map consists of different stages with regard to the Syrian civil war. If we mange to implement these stages one by one, we would be able to solve the Syrian conflict gradually. I'm sure the consequences of my plan would be less destructive for the Syrian people, the neighboring countries and the international community from different aspects. Moreover, this plan would create more stability in some vulnerable states in the strategic region of the Middle East. I cannot disclose the whole road map and its stages within a short note in this weblog, based on many reasons. However, despite this limitation, I introduce small part of my plan, which concerns the massive chemical weapons accumulated in Syria

This is the fact that all of us are worried about the massive chemical weapons in Syria particularly at this critical situation, when the whole country is struggling with the civil war; while different unreliable and dangerous actors such as Al Qaeda have also been involved in this conflict. This issue is threatening the security and safety of not only the Syrian government or the Syrian people, but also the international community from different angles. Moreover, this is the fact that this is the second time that some types of chemical weapons have been used in this conflict. I cannot say who, or which side is behind this horrific and inhuman act. But, different evidences indicate the fact that some types of the chemical weapons have been used in Syria, whether by Asad’s regime, or some faction within the Syrian opposition or some Jihadist group. This is something that we cannot deny it. Moreover, this is the fact that both Russia and Iran have clearly stated that any military intervention at this stage would result in catastrophic consequences not only within Syria, but also in some other parts of the Middle Est. Furthermore, since, the United Nation chemical inspectors have not finished their job in this matter; we cannot blame anyone at this stage. However, from this stage, we can start to implement and perform three steps. It should be mentioned that all these three steps should be implemented and performed parallel to each other by all the members of the United Nation Security Council, the Syrian government and a representative from the United Nation; otherwise, we will end up in a dead alley again. These steps briefly are as follows. 

1- The Syrian government has repeatedly announced that it has and it will keep the chemical weapons, in order to defend itself against any foreign invasion, which might be carried out mainly by the West e.g. The US, France and the UK. If this is the main reason of the Syrian government in this matter, the countries of the US, France and England would sign an agreement with the Syrian government to do not invade Syria. Syria, in turn, would dispose all its chemical weapons.

2- Both the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition blame each other for this chemical attack. In this respect, the Syrian government and the members of the Security Council should sign an agreement, that the perpetrator/s of this inhuman act, no matter who they are, should face a fair and lawful justice preferably in the international court.

3- The two countries of Russia and China, in turn, would sign a clear agreement with the US, France and the UK to fully cooperate within the charter of the United Nation in this matter, if the UN inspector would find that the Syrian regime is behind this horrific act. 

These three steps would be equally beneficial for all the internal and external actors, who are involved in this conflict, based on many reasons, as follows.

1- The Syrian government would get a reliable assurance that no foreign power would attack Syria.

2- The disposal of all chemical weapons would close the way for any perpetrator, who wants to use these weapons and create another catastrophic event within Syria or somewhere else in the future.

3- The disposal of these chemical weapons in Syria would be a positive achievement for the Western countries, the Middle East and finally for the international community from different aspects. This event would be beneficial for the Syrian regime itself in terms of cost of maintenance of these chemical weapons.

4- This simple and short cooperation would ease the tension and facilitate the opportunity toward a fundamental solution between different actors, which are involved in this conflict.

5- The perpetrators of this inhuman act would face the justice. In this respect, the international community would fulfill its duty with regard to the use of WMD in a diplomatic and justifiable manner.

6- By performing these steps, we solve a huge problem peacefully at this critical stage without further escalation of the Syrian civil war. In other words, we would turn a horrific act into a positive outcome, which is beneficial in the long term for the whole world and all the actors, which are involved in this conflict.

7- In the end all the actors would be satisfy in the sense that they would pass this critical moment peacefully with some type of equal benefits and consensus.

This was brief explanation about this part of my plan for the Syrian civil war. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose the whole plan in this weblog; but I’m ready to present it to an official and reliable type of authority in order to save the lives of millions Syrian people. Again, we should bear in mind that any military intervention at this stage not only do not solve the conflict; instead, it would intensify the scope and dimension of this conflict into other areas in the Middle East. Thus, let us be reasonable; let us do not make another hasty decision; let us be smart, brave and use this disastrous event and turn it into a golden historical event, which is beneficial for all of us in the long term. It should be mentioned that this is brief explanation of part of my plan for Syria at this critical moment. But my plan consists of other tactical and strategic moves, which ultimately would put an end to this conflict in a reasonable and reliable manner.
M. Sirani                           29.08.2013

      

                

 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nothing is Impossible; There is still a Middle Way!!!

Nothing is impossible; so is the case of the Syrian civil war. There is still some possibility to end this conflict through a good roadmap and comprehensive plan without using any military intervention. Any military intervention would deteriorate the tension more than what it is now. At this critical moment, we should think about the consequences of our action more than ever. Otherwise, we will end up with extra unexpected catastrophic events beyond the geographical territory of Syria. Such catastrophic events will make our job much more difficult with regard to find a fundamental solution for this conflict in the future.   

M. Sirani                              28.08.2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Possible Solution for the Syrian civil war.

The Syrian civil war has reached a critical point due to the use of alleged chemical weapons on civilians in the country. This is one of the most horrific and inhuman acts, which should not be ignored. Undoubtedly, those actor or actors responsible for this barbaric act must be held accountable. At the same time, this horrific and inhumane act should not force us to make a decision in a hasty and careless manner. Any wrong move or hasty decision at this critical moment would deteriorate the situation worse than what it is. Therefore, we should be more cautious about the type of action with regard to the alleged chemical attack in Syria. As the media portray, so far, some options have been proposed. Let us have brief analysis about consequences and effectiveness of these proposed options.

1- The first option is the use of the United Nation Security Council. This entity has been dismantled with regard to the Syrian civil war, due to the vetoes imposed by Russia and China. In this respect, China might be exception. As I have explored in my essay about Syria, China might make a deal with the US with regard to its territorial disputes in the South East Asia. As such, China might withdraw its support for Syria. But the chance that Russia would withdraw its support for Assad's regime somewhere in the future is almost zero.

2- The second option is the implementation of a no-fly zone over Syria. Would this plan function in an effective and proper manner? I don`t think so, based on the following reasons.
2-A: Syria has high-tech air defense system including S-300 missiles.
2-B: The possible reactions of Russia and Iran. We should bear in mind that current Russia under the leadership of Putin is not like Russia under the presidency of B. Yeltsin in the 1990s, when NATO attacked former Yugoslavia, and Russia did nothing. In those years, Russia was busy with its own major domestic problems, amid the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Now, Russia has passed those critical years. Moreover, the assumption and perception of Putin with regard to the international politics and more generally about the West is not the same as what B. Yeltsin perceived and behaved. In this respect, I can say Putin is unpredictable, thus, we should avoid mirror imaging.
Furthermore, we should not forget the possible reaction of Iran. Iran has repeatedly stated that Syria is its redline. If the West would try to implement no-fly zone, without any doubt, Iran would expand the scope and dimension of the conflict beyond the territorial borders of Syria into some other parts of the Middle East. In other words, implementation of such a no-fly zone over Syria means direct military confrontation with Iran.


3- The third option is launching a type of standoff or limited offensive air strike on some military or industrial or chemical sites of Asad's regime within Syria. This plan might decrease the capability of Asad`s forces to some extent, but it cannot dismantle the Syrian forces in an effective and proper manner. Moreover, the West would not be able to destroy all the military capabilities including the chemical weapons of Syria in such temporary attacks. As such, there is some possibility that after such attacks, again the Syrian regime would use chemical weapons against its own people. Furthermore, we should bear in mind that such attacks would entail the reactions of Russia and Iran from different aspects. In this respect, I can say Russia might avoid direct military confrontation with the West, but it would intensify its military support to Asad`s regime. Such a standoff or offensive air strike mean direct military confrontation with Iran not only within Syria, but also in other parts of the Middle East. More importantly, the implementation of options number 2 and 3 would also affect the nuclear negotiation with Iran within 5+1 group in a negative manner.

Based on brief explanation noted above, I believe these plans do not change anything with regard to the Syrian civil war. Instead, the implementation of each of these options would intensify the scope and dimension of this conflict beyond the borders of Syria from different angles. However, as I have evaluated this conflict from different aspects, I`ve come up with a plan, which might end the Syrian civil war beyond the will, power and authority of those external actors, who are supporting Asad`s regime. Briefly, this is a plan, which should be implemented and performed mostly by the members of the Arab League through a comprehensive road map. I think the negative consequences of this plan would be less destructive than those plans discussed above from different aspects.This plan, moreover, would create more stability in some vulnerable parts of the Middle East in the long term as well.


M. Sirani                       26.08.2013 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

I Believe Ending the Syrian Civil War is Still Possible and Achievable.

The Syrian civil war has reached the critical point from different angles. Nearly 2 million people have fled the country to neighboring countries such as Lebanon  Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and some other North African countries. The large number of the Syrian refugees in these countries, which some of them do not have proper political stability, would create extra conflicts in the near future, based on many reasons. The increase in the number of armed conflicts in Lebanon and Iraq in the recent months could be understood in this respect. From this, we can deduce that the consequences of the Syrian civil war would spread to other parts of the Middle East, if we would not find a fundamental solution for this conflict as soon as possible.  

So far, more than 100,000 people have lost their lives during the past two years. In addition to the large number of casualties, one of the actors in this conflict (whether is Asad`s regime, or a faction within the Syrian opposition or a Jihadist group) has begun to use a type of Weapon of  Mass Destruction i.e. Chemical weapons against its opponent. This is the crime against humanity and the international community should not easily ignore it. If the international community would not response to this horrific act in an appropriate and fundamental manner, the use of such illegal weapons would become an ordinary trend in some other parts of the world in the near future. 

Based on this brief explanation, i believe this is the time that we have to find a serious and fundamental solution for the Syrian civil war. Briefly, we can end this destructive conflict through a good roadmap, solid and extensive cooperation and coordination between different actors, who are directly or indirectly involved in this conflict. These are the important and fundamental matters, which we have not addressed them in an appropriate manner in the past two years. Otherwise, we would have solved this conflict long time ago. In fact, part of the reason that a group consists of the whole world with enormous capability from different aspects has not been able to defeat a group of Russia, Iran and Asad`s regime in this bloody conflict, lies in this matter. Moreover,  as long as we have not designed and built a good roadmap along with solid and extensive cooperation and coordination between different actors involved in this conflict, some options such as humanitarian intervention, no-fly-zone or arming the rebels would not function appropriately and effectively. 

In sum, as i evaluate the Syrian civil war from different angles, i believe we can end this conflict beyond the will, power and authority of those external actors, who are supporting Asad`s regime. Based on my knowledge and evaluation, i believe this goal is achievable. 

M. Sirani                          24.08.2013

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Formation of a New Conflict in the Middle East; Establishing An Independent Kurdish State!

Eruption of a New Conflict in the Middle East:

Thousands Syrian Kurds cross the border and enter into the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq. This is an important event, which should not be neglected or underestimated. There is some correlation between this mass - sudden migration and Barzani`s recent statement with regard to the Syrian civil war. In sum, if the UN and the International community do not pay attention to this event immediately, these large numbers of Kurdish refugees would become Barzani`s army soldiers for establishing an independent Kurdish state in the near future. I have warned about this event as one of the possible consequences of the Syrian civil war in the essay titled "An assessment about the current Syrian civil war". Thus, it would be wise to be prepared for eruption of a new conflict in the region.

M. Sirani                         19.08.2013    

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Iran`s Possible Plans in a Conflictual and Unstable Egypt!!!

If the conflict in Egypt intensifies and the country slides into a civil war, Iran would probably fuel the civil war from different angles by helping and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and some other Shiite groups in Egypt. By this move, Iran would pursue some goals as follows:

1- By supporting the Muslim Brotherhood (Although this entity is Sunni), Iran would cause an extra problem and barrier for Saudi Arabia in the region.

2- A civil war in Egypt, to some extent, would divert part of the mind of the Western countries and the International community from Syria into Egypt. This issue would also be beneficial for Iran with regard to its nuclear activity and bargaining with the West.

3- Moreover and importantly, we should bear in mind that Iran has been trying to increase its influence around the Gulf of Aden and Suez Canal countries, since many years ago.  Regarding this issue, we should pay attention to Iran`s activities in Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan in the last couple of years.

M. Sirani                           16.08.2013

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has detained an Indian Oil Tanker in the Persian Gulf!!!

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has detained (or seized) an Indian oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, while the vessel was carrying crude from Iraq. The Iranian official stated that the ship has been detained due to some environmental precautions. Regardless of the truth or the falseness of this statement, the IRGC might pursue two main goals in this matter.

1- By this move, the IRGC wants to show that it has enough power and capability to create insecurity, instability and disorder in the Persian Gulf.

2- If this vessel carries crude, which belongs to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan, by this move; the IRGC wants to give a strong warning to M. Barzani (the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan) with regard to his recent statement, when Barzani claimed that the Iraqi Kurds would involve in the Syria civil war, in order to defend and support the Kurdish people. In other words, Barzani and its troops should not fight against Asad`s regime forces, if they would involve in this conflict somewhere in the future.

M. Sirani                                           15.08.2013     

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Egypt at the Early Stage of a Possible Civil War in the Near Future!!!

The situation in Egypt is severely conflictual and critical.  The country will experience a devastating civil war in the near future, if the International community and the United Nation would not act properly and immediately. At this early stage, the international community and the UN should focus on three main primary tasks including:

1- Saudi Arabia and some other members of the Arab League should stop supporting the Salafists.

2- Turkey and qatar should have a serious talk with the Muslim Brotherhood and force this organization to start a diplomatic dialogue with the current political system in Egypt, in order to find a peaceful solution for this conflict.

3- The international community and the UN should force the current Egyptian government toward more democratization along with implementation of sustainable development programs in economic, political, social and cultural arenas in the country.
These tasks should be fulfilled and performed by the UN or some other states as soon as possible. In other word, the UN should immediately invite all internal actors (The Egptian army, current government and the Muslim Brotherhood) and external actors(Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) for a peaceful and diplomatic talk. We should not repeat the same mistake that we have done in Syria, when the UN appointed Kofi Annan couple months later, after the civil war had already begun in the country.

4- The important issue is the possible involvement of Iran in this conflict in the near future. This instability in Egypt is a good opportunity for the Iranian regime. Iran can easily support the Muslim Brotherhood organization in order to put a extra pressure on Saudi Arabia and at the same time divert the mind of people from Syria into new conflict in Egypt.

In sum, we should not be genius to understand how some factors such as high rate of unemployment, severe poverty, the deep polarization in the Egyptian society, the presence of the Salafists and other Jihadists in Sinai peninsula, having border with unstable state such as Libya, etc could intensify the scope and dimension of the conflict in the important and strategic country like Egypt.

M. Sirani               14.08.2013

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Arrival of a New Actor in the Syrian Civil War!!!

As i predicted in my essay about the Syrian civil war:
Today, the president of Iraq`s semi-autonomous Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani has threatened to intervene in the Syrian conflict, in order to defend the Kurdish people. What would happen, if the Iraqi Kurd would join the Syrian civil war?
The consequences are briefly as follows.

1- The arrival of a new actor would worsen the situation in Syria more than what it is. This event would expand the dimension and scope of this conflict to some neighboring countries including Iraq and to some extent Turkey as well. .

2- If the Iraqi Kurd would join the conflict, sooner or later, the Kurd in Turkey might also join the conflict.
Should this happen, the Iranian regime might use this opportunity and provoke the Kurd in Turkey, in order to decrease the effort of the Turkish authority with regard to the Syrian conflict.This event would threaten the sovereignty of Turkey to some degree and as a consequence, would drag Turkey into this conflict.

3- Given the fact that semi-autonomous Kurdistan sells its oil through Iran soil (without any agreement and permission from Maleki government, which is the source of conflict between Maleki and Barzani), the Iraqi Kurd group would not create any serious problem for Asad`s forces as well as the members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps and Hezbollah.

4- The Kurdish people in Syria has been fragmented, due to some circumstances. Some of them are supporting Asad`s regime and some of them are organized within the Syrian National Council. The arrival of the Iraqi Kurd in Syria would cause more fragmentation between the Kurdish people in Syria. This event, as a result, would be more beneficial for Asad`s regime and Iran.

M. Sirani                      10.08.2013    

Friday, August 9, 2013

Zuwar al Imam Reda and the Two Abducted Turkish Pilots! (A New Helmut Hofer Case or Era)!!

Two Turkish pilots have been kidnapped by some armed men in Beirut today. As the media portray, Zuwar al Imam Reda, an unknown group has claimed the responsibility of this abduction and demanded the release of some Shiite pilgrims, which were kidnapped in Syria in 2012.

This is the basic information about Zuwar al Imam Reda.
Zuwar means pilgrim/s in Arabic language, but this word would also be used in Persian language with the same meaning.
Imam Reda is another pronunciation for the word "Imam Reza". Imam Reza is the eighth Imam of Twelver Shiites, which his mausoleum is in Mashhad a city in the North-East of Iran. Based on this brief information, we can claim with high probability that this group is established and backed by Hezbollah and the Islamic Regime. Thus, the Turkish authority should not waste the time for negotiation with the Lebanese authority and even Hezbollah; instead, it should contact with the Iranian regime as the main chief in command of Zuwar al Imam Reda group.The Iranian regime is pursuing some goals in this matter as follows.

1- It creates the atmosphere of fear and terror among those EU countries, which has designated the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

2-  It would give a warning shot to Turkey and some other countries, which are supporting the Syrian opposition.

3- More importantly, the Iranian regime might use this particular scenario in order to fabricate an unrealistic image from the newly elected president Rouhani. You might wonder how?
This is the story. As the time passes, most of the politicians in Turkey and other countries in the EU might contact the Iranian regime, in order to release these two Turkish pilots in Lebanon. Finally, Rouhani might be involved in this case and after a while, the two pilots would be released. As such, firstly, the Iranian regime would be able to successfully fabricate a moderate and cooperative image from Rouhani in the international arena; something like Helmut Hofer case in 1999 and Khatami. Secondly, the Iranian regime would be able to get some advantages from the West with regard to the Syrian civil war or its nuclear activity or sanction, etc.

In sum, all foreigners, who work in the Middle East and North Africa should implement extra security measures. Because the Iranian regime and its subset groups such as Hezbollah, Jihad and the newly established Zuwar al Imam Reda have great experience and skill in terms of hostage taking and abduction.

M. Sirani               09.08.2013      

Sunday, August 4, 2013

An Assessment About The Current Civil War in Syria.

How has Asad’s regime managed to survive thus far?

An Inquiry into the Current Civil War in Syria

                                       












Written by: Mehran Sirani                           04.08.2013







Table of Contents

Table of Contents………………………………………………………………………2

Abstract...………………………………………………………………………………3

Introduction…………………………………………………………………………….4

1- Methodology………………………………………………………………………...4

2- The Historical Background of Syria………………………………………………...4

3- The Emergence and Development of the Syrian Uprising………………………….6

4- How Has Asad’s Regime managed to Survive Thus Far?..........................................9

5- Why Iran is Heavily Involved in the Syrian Civil War?............................................10

6- Why Russia is Involved in the Syrian Civil War?.....................................................18

7- Some Consequences of the Syrian Civil War………………………………………23

Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………..25

References……………………………………………………………………………..27


The List of Figures:
Figure 1: Syria’s map and recent territorial changes………………………………….7

Figure 2:  The three levels of local, regional, and global conflict in Syria based on Wallenstein’s world-system theory...………………………………………………………………..22



Abstract:
It has been more than two years since the beginning of the uprising in Syria. During this period, some powerful international organizations such as the UN and the League of Arab have not been able to find a diplomatic and peaceful solution for this conflict. As a result, the Syrian uprising has turned into a bloody and devastating civil war. The Syrian civil war, so far, has resulted in more than 93,000 deaths and more than 1.5 million refugees, who have fled the country. Through these two years, Asad’s regime has also experienced enormous pressures in the domestic as well as in the international arena. Despite all these difficulties and challenges at home and abroad, however, the Syrian political system has managed to survive up until now. Different evidences show that in addition to the internal actors, some external actors are also directly or indirectly involved in this armed conflict. The presence of these external actors not only has prolonged and expanded the scope and dimension of the Syrian civil war from different aspects, but also has helped Asad’s regime to survive thus far. This essay explores the Syrian civil war and the role of external actors in this conflict.    
















Introduction:
In December 2010, a desperate street vendor torched himself in protest to the behavior of police authority in Tunisia. This event was the starting point of series of social and political unrests in the country. The series of uprisings, finally, led to the collapse of the political system in Tunisia in January 2011. Before too long, the waves of political uprising and unrest spread to other countries in the Middle East and Africa. Amongst these countries, Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, and Syria could be mentioned. In some of these countries, the political unrest has drawn down to some extent, due to different reasons, which are out of the scope of this paper. In some other countries such as Yemen, Egypt, and Libya, these political uprisings have resulted in the collapse of the political systems, mostly in short period of time, within less than a year. Contrary to these two different groups, Syria has been an exception, in the sense that the political unrest, which has begun in the country in 2011, has turned into a dramatic and bloody armed conflict between the Syrian security forces and the opposition. During these two years, Asad’s regime has experienced enormous pressures in the domestic as well as in the international arena. However, despite all these challenges, Asad’s regime has not collapsed yet. This issue raises an important question as follows. How has Asad’s regime managed to survive thus far? Analyzing this issue is important, because 5,000 people are losing their lives monthly in the current armed conflict within Syria. Although, analyzing this issue in depth requires more data and time, but this essay will attempt to find an appropriate answer to this particular question (BBC, 2011, Sirani, 2012, UN, 2013).

1- Methodology:
All information in this essay was limited to the secondary data; therefore, desk study method was found to be the appropriate technique for analyzing this topic. Through this procedure, I collected, reviewed, and evaluated the necessary information from various books, articles, journals, and internet resources related to this topic. This essay is organized as follows: The first part explains the historical background of Syria. The second part explores the emergence and development of the Syrian uprising. The third part attempts to find a reliable answer to the question of how Asad’s regime has managed to survive so far. The fourth part evaluates the role of Iran in the Syrian civil war. The fifth part analyzes the role of Russia in the Syrian conflict. The final part is conclusion.

2- The Historical Background of Syria:
The end of the First World War was accompanied with the collapse of Ottoman Empire and consequently the emergence of some new nation-states including Syria in the Middle East. In the beginning, the country functioned under the authorization of France. Following the Second World War, France agreed to grant Syria independence in 1946. The declaration of independence along with weak political institutions plunged Syria into many political instability and upheavals including some military coups for some years ahead. In 1958, Syria was united with Egypt and both countries formed the United Arab Republic. This unification, however, did not last for more than three years; finally, the two countries separated form each other in 1961 (Factbook, 2013).

The political instability in Syria continued up until 1970, when Hafiz Al-Asad an Alawite army general (Alawi is a branch of Shiite Islam) took the power in the country through a military coup. The new president, who was also a high-ranking member of the Syrian Socialist Ba'ath Party, established close ties with the former Soviet Union in different terms particularly in the military affairs. During the cold war era, however, Syria did not become a member of so-called the Warsaw Pact, but the country maintained its close alliance with the former Soviet Union. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to the power in Iran, Syria has begun to build a strong relationship with the Islamic Regime and became the closest strategic partner to Tehran in the Middle East. The strategic bound between Tehran and Damascus was so close and strong in the sense that during the eight years war with Iraq, Syria was the only Arab country that fully supported Iran. This issue was an unpleasant and unforgettable event for almost all Arab countries in the region (Factbook, 2013, Sirani, 2012).

Hafiz Al-Asad ruled Syria for three decades up until his death in 2000. After his death, his son i.e. Bashar Al-Asad became the president of Syria following a national referendum. Following another national referendum, which took place in 2007, Bashar Al-Asad was re-elected to a second term as president in the country. Since then, the situation in Syria was calm and steady; it seemed that after two national elections the Syrian people had accepted Hafiz Al-Asad’s son as a legitimate and reliable successor without any serious objection or challenge. This status quo, however, did not last for many years and finally the wave of the so-called “Arab Spring” flooded into Syria in March 2011. Before too long, the political unrest spread throughout the country and consequently led up to a devastating and bloody armed conflict between the government’s forces and the opposition within the country, which it has lasted for more than two years up to now. This issue raises some questions as follows. How did the political unrest turn into the armed conflict in Syria? What type of armed conflict do we witness in Syria currently? Moreover, why a powerful international organization like the UN has not been able to prevent the occurrence or stop the continuation of armed conflict in Syria? In order to find the reasonable answers to these questions, we need to have more knowledge about the emergence and development of the Syrian uprising (Factbook, 2013).
3- The Emergence and Development of the Syrian Uprising (At Local Level):
As mentioned earlier, the situation in Syria was stable and calm until the wave of the so-called “Arab Spring” stormed into the country in March 2011. The starting point was a simple pro-democracy & political reform movement, which took place in the southern province of Dar'a. The Syrian authority could neither make a reasonable consensus with the protestors nor control the uprising. Before too long, the political unrest and uprising spread to the rest of the country. In response, the Syrian forces suppressed the peaceful protests in different parts of the country. During these clashes, many protestors were arrested and several were killed by the Syrian security forces. Consequently and gradually, the protesters demanded the resignation of the president Bashar Asad from the power. The Syrian security forces cracked down the peaceful demonstrations repeatedly with full-scale brutality even by using the high technological military equipments in different cities and villages across the country (Factbook, 2013).

The international community condemned the harsh reaction of the Syrian authorities against peaceful demonstrators and urged the UN to act. Following this event, the UN and the League of Arab appointed two representatives i.e. Kofi Anan and Lakhdar Brahimi to find a peaceful solution for this conflict. The two representatives of the UN and the League of Arab failed to establish a political and diplomatic agreement between both sides. Following these failures, the international community asked the United Nation Security Council to end the violence in Syria. The UN Security Council could neither fulfill its R2P principal (The Responsibility to Protect) nor adopt any resolution (e.g. Arms embargo) on Asad’s regime, due to the vetoes imposed by Russia and China. These challenges led the international community to increase the pressure on Asad’s regime in different ways. Eventually, some countries including the members of the Arab League, EU, Turkey, and the US imposed economic and political sanctions on the Syrian regime in order to avoid or possibly control the further escalation of the conflict in the country. These political and economic restrictions could not stop the killing machine of Asad’s regime and the bloodshed continued rapidly in Syria. Following this event, the US, France and the UK has decided to provide non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. However, finally, the combination of two main factors of the brutal behavior of the Syrian security forces in response to the peaceful protestors and the failure of the UN to find a diplomatic solution for this conflict, created a zero-sum game condition between the Syrian regime and the opposition. This condition, as a result, forced the protestors to use weapon, in order to defend their lives, rights, and properties. This issue, consequently, dragged the whole country into a devastating and bloody armed conflict (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010, Factbook, 2013, Alarabiya, 2013, Bellamy, 2013, Reuters, 2013).

The harsh and brutal behavior of the Syrian security forces have made the protestors more determined and furious.  Finally, in November 2012, the vast majority of protestors was united and formed the Syrian National Coalition (or the Syrian National Council or the SNC). So far, the Syrian opposition has managed to seize control of some parts of the country. Although, this process has been and is accompanied by some fluctuations, but so far, the Syrian opposition has seized the control of different areas in the country. These areas include most part of the north (Bordered with Turkey) and some areas in the west (Along the borders of Lebanon and Jordan) as shown in Figure 1 (Political Geography, 2013, Factbook, 2013, Alarabiya, 2013, NYtimes, 2013, CNN, 2013).
Figure1: Syria’s map and recent territorial changes (Political Geography,     2013). 
Moreover, Asad’s regime has lost the full control in many major cities including Aleppo, Hama, Homs, and Deir ez-Zor and the battle between the Syrian forces and the oppositions continues in these areas. The Syrian opposition has successfully seized the city of so-called Douma near Damascus but so far, the opposition’s attempts to capture the capital of the country have failed. As UNHCR claims, so far, this conflict has resulted in more than 93,000 deaths, which include civilians, the members of the opposition as well as the Syrian armed forces. In addition to these casualties, more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, and some countries in North Africa. The large numbers of casualties and refugees raise the question: what type of armed conflict are we witnessing in Syria? Regarding this issue, Hoeffler & Collier (1998) quoted from Singer & Small and claim that a civil war should have four dimensions including: 1- One of the primary actors in a civil war should be the national government, which is in power at the time that conflict begins. 2- The stronger actors should have at least 5% of the number of casualties suffered by the weaker actors. 3- The number of casualties in the battle should be at least more than 1,000 deaths per year. 4- The war should take place within the geographical territory of a country. If we review the Syrian armed conflict, we see that Asad’s regime as the national government is one of the main actors in this conflict; the number of fatalities in this conflict is more than 1,000 per year; and the armed conflict is continuing within the geographical territory of Syria. Based on these reasons, thus, we can claim that Syria has plunged into a devastating civil war (Hoeffler & Collier, 1998, Factbook, 2013, UNHCR, 2013, Political Geography, 2013, Reuters, 2013).

At this point, I wish to highlight two important issues with regard to the emergence and continuation of the civil war in Syria. The first issue is about liberal’s positive view with regard to the human nature. Liberals have great belief about the human reason and argue that human is a rational actor. Based on this assumption, liberals claim that there is a natural harmony of interests between different social groups in any given society. This part of liberalist approach, in fact, contradicts with what we witness in the real world. As an example, the current civil war in Syria shows clearly how two different groups of people are killing each other within the country, in order to achieve their particular goals and interests. Presently, the Syrian society has been fragmented into two different groups. On the one side is a minority group, consists of Asad’s family and his supporters, who have benefited all kinds of opportunity, possibility and wealth over the past four decades of Asad family rule. This group is struggling to preserve its own beneficial status quo. On the other side is a majority group consists of poor, unsatisfied, marginalized, and oppressed people, who are fighting to the death in order to change the unequal and unfair circumstances in Syria. To put it simply, two different groups are inevitably pursuing their own economic and political interests through the civil war in Syria (Betts, 2005, Hobden & Jones, 2008, Jackson & Sørensen, 2010).

This Syrian civil war reaffirms Zartman’s statement, when he claims:
“One does not have to be a Marxist or an economist to recognize that all conflicts are about resources. But one does not have to be a pastor or a psychologist to also recognize that all conflicts are about identity. Nor does one have to be a humanist or a political scientist to see that all conflicts are about basic needs”  
                                                                                           (Zartman, 2005, P. 256).
The second issue, which i wish to highlight, is about the concept of statism within realist approach. Although, there are different branches within this approach, but almost all realist scholars to a greater or lesser extent share some common and fundamental notions including the concept of statism. This concept, which derives from Max Webber’s definition of state, simply means that states are the main powerful and permanent actors of the international relations. In other words, international relations are a set of interaction and interplay between states. Based on this assumption, other actors including individuals, international organizations, or NGO’s are not so important and in some cases, they are completely unimportant, as some realist scholars claim. Through this type of argument, in fact, some realist thinkers such as John Mearsheimer for example, try to fabricate and impose the idea that domestically some problems about justice, equality, order, and security are solved and the only problems that we face in the world are just those between states at the international level. In other words, every change in the international arena would occur from above between states, particularly between powerful states as Mearsheimer emphasizes (Mearsheimer, 1995, 2001, Dunne & Schmidt, 2008). 

There is a major flaw in this part of realist approach and that is that some of the realist thinkers deny or to some extent underestimate the importance of socioeconomic factors e.g. social forces or class struggle in their theoretical analyses about the international relations. Contrary to this view, there are different historical evidences that show that sometimes, a non-state actor can play an important role at different local, regional, and global levels particularly in the contemporary globalized world. The series of revolutions over the last century, the events of September 11, 2001, and their aftermaths in the international arena are some examples, which clearly confirm this statement. Another example is the current civil war in Syria. This conflict illustrates two important points. Firstly, it shows that a non-state actor like the Syrian opposition originated from below at the grassroots level is able to challenge the power, legitimacy, and sovereignty of a state like Syria. Secondly, it indicates the fact that the movement of a non-state actor like the Syrian opposition can cause tension and instability not only at the local level within Syria but also at the regional level in the Middle East and even further at the global level between the super powers (This issue will be explained in the following sections). In this respect, the example of the Syrian civil war challenges or to some extent even refutes the concept of statism within realist approach (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008, Jackson & Sørensen, 2010).

4- How Has Asad’s Regime Managed to Survive Thus Far?
It has been more than two years since the beginning of the uprising in Syria. During this period, Asad’s regime has experienced large amount of pressures in both domestic as well as in the international arena. Despite all these internal and external pressures and challenges, the Syrian opposition has not been able to overthrow the Syrian regime. In order to find a reasonable explanation for this anomaly, we need to look at the Syrian civil war from a larger perspective, beyond the local level. To put it simply, analyzing the current civil war in Syria cannot be just limited to an assessment about the role, scope of power and opposing interests of the internal actors. The reason behind this is that we are living in an interconnected, interdependent, and globalized world. In other words, other external actors are also involved in this conflict, which their supports and assistances have helped Asad’s regime to survive thus far (Collier & Hoeffler, 1998, Sirani, 2012, Guardian, 2013).

Analyzing these external actors, their interests, scope of powers and potentialities, whether in the international arena or within Syria would help us to have a better understanding about the current tension in this country. The outcome of this analysis would give us a clear picture about the dimension/s (At regional and global levels), and challenges of this conflict as well. As a result, we would be able to understand how Bashar Asad has managed to hold onto power for so long (Up until this moment). However, before we proceed further, we should bear in mind that many external actors are involved in the Syrian civil war and analyzing the role of all these actors one by one is out of the scope of this paper. Therefore, the following sections would be limited to the analyses about those main external actors who are supporting Asad’s regime; namely Iran, Russia, and to some extent China as the media portray (Collier & Hoeffler, 1998, Sirani, 2012, Guardian, 2013).

5- Why Iran is heavily involved in the Syrian civil war? (At the Regional level):
In order to answer this question properly, we need to have a better understanding about the ideological characteristic as well as the foreign policy of political system in Iran. These two issues have a direct and inseparable correlation with each other, in a sense that every state formulates and implements its foreign policy mainly based on its ideological characteristic. The hostile environment between the US and North Korea or between the West and Al-Qaida are some examples, which confirm this statement. This statement is also applicable for the Islamic Regime in Iran. The ideological characteristic of the political system in Iran is Shiite Islam. This religious feature is the main foundation for all laws and regulations in Iran. As such, the entire civil laws, penal, financial, economic, political, and cultural issues along with the foreign policy of Iran are originally based upon Shiite Islam guidelines. The main sources of these guidelines are either the Quran or the numerous Shiite Islamic narratives i.e. Ahadith (Singular form= Hadith/ Plural form Ahadith) (Sirani, 2012).
In order to find out how this religious characteristic is influencing Iran’s foreign policy, it would be useful to review the perception of Ayatollah Khomeini the founder of the Islamic Regime about the international society and/ or politics. Regarding this issue, David Armstrong offers a short and comprehensive description. According to Armstrong:

 “Khomeini challenged not just American power but the prevailing conception of international society. He believed the problems of the Middle East and other Muslim countries to have been caused by their disregard of Islamic religious principles and called for the overthrow of the illegitimate political powers that now rule the entire Islamic World and their replacement by religious government. More generally, he argued that not only were earthly governments illegitimate, but the states itself and the concept of nationality were equally invalid. …Khomeini insisted that the only important social identity for Muslims was their membership of the community of believers, or umma” (Armstrong, 2008, p. 49).

As noted above, Khomeini’s perception can be categorized into three interlocking phases regarding the international society and/ or politics. In the first phase, Khomeini identifies the main cause of the problem and that is that the leaders of the countries in the Islamic world (i.e. in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa) are not true Muslims. Thus, these countries do not have the legitimate and legal Political systems. In the second phase, he introduces a medium-term alternative and that is that these corrupt political systems should be overthrown and thereafter, new religious governments should replace them. In the third and final phase, Khomeini describes his ideal alternative and that is the establishment of an Islamic ultra-nationalist society known as Ummah, which should take place after the abolition of the states and the concept of nationalism in the entire Islamic world. This simply means the creation of a single Islamic Empire beyond the geographical and territorial borders of the countries in the Islamic world. If we review the behavior of Iran in the last 34 years, we come up to the point that the Islamic Regime has been formulating and implementing its entire foreign policy based on its ideological characteristic and Khomeini’s doctrine explored above. This doctrine has led Iran to map out its foreign policy based on three main principles of 1- promoting the Shiite branch of Islam, 2- exporting the Islamic Revolution to other countries and 3- overall supporting the Islamist groups aground the globe, particularly in the strategic region of the Middle East and North Africa. The fulfillment of these principles, which has always been accompanied with meddling in domestic and foreign affairs of other countries, generates and escalates the tension between various religious, ethnic, and political factions in different countries such as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, and Palestine in the Middle East. From this, we can claim that Iran’s unstoppable hostility towards two regional powers of Israel and Saudi Arabia stems directly from its inherent hegemonic religious characteristic (Kepel, 2002, Sirani, 2012).

Based on this brief information, we would be able to have a better understanding about the close ties between Iran and Syria. Although the Syrian regime is a secular political system (at least superficially), the Islamic regime has begun to build a strong relationship with Syria as a strategic partner in the Middle East since 1979. The main reason behind this is that the leaders of both countries share the same assumptions against the West, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to a lesser or greater extent, based on their ideological characteristics and some similar historical experiences. This relationship has been and is geopolitically and strategically beneficial for Iran based on three main reasons. Firstly, Iran and Syria have created a powerful alliance and a balance of power against their potential enemies in the region. Secondly, Iran has been getting the best opportunity to provide overall support and assistance to different Islamist groups including Hezbollah (In Lebanon), Iraqi Shiite groups (Under Sadam Hussein’s rule and onward), Islamic Jihad, and Hamas (In Palestine) through the Syrian territory. Thirdly and finally, Syria has been granting Iran access to its ports in the Mediterranean Sea. This issue has provided a strategic opportunity for Iran with regard to Israeli ports and the Suez Canal in this part of the world (Sirani, 2012).

In addition to these geopolitical and strategic reasons, the two countries have some economic relationship with each other. Regarding this issue, Kjetil Selvik states:

“The two countries have a skewed trade relationship, which is characterized by state subsidized investments. The Iranian economy is about ten times larger than the Syrian economy. Syria has neither the technology, nor capital, nor important commodities to Iran, and trading volume of $ 700 million is only half of Iran’s trade with Afghanistan” (Selvik, 2012, P. 506).

Moreover, as Selvik claims, the bilateral economic relationship between these two countries is mostly beneficial for Syria. From all above in this section, we can deduce that Syria plays an important role for Iran mostly in terms of the geopolitics, strategic and security issues. Two historical events, however, have had great impacts on this issue. The first event was the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq in 2011. This event, which was understood as a great victory by the political leaders in Iran, provided an excellent opportunity for Iran. As a result, Iran was able to have a free transit highway from its geographical territory towards the borders of Israel overland (through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon) without any serious problem. The second event was the emergence of the Arab uprisings or so-called Arab Spring in different parts of the Middle East. In the beginning, the Supreme Leader in Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei identified these events as an “Islamic Awakening” and claimed that all these upheavals have roots in the Iranian Islamic revolution. This Islamic awakening, as Khamenei argued, would put an end in the supremacy of the US and Israel in the Middle East (Selvik, 2012, Sirani, 2012).  

Khamenei’s optimistic view, however, did not last for long and finally the so-called Arab Spring started in Syria. This event, consequently, dragged the entire country into a bloodiest civil war. This event facilitated the best opportunity, particularly for the Arab countries in the Middle East to put a pressure on Iran. Given the fact that the large numbers of the Syrian opposition groups are Sunni Muslims, almost all Arab states have begun to help and support the Syrian opposition from different aspects. In this respect, the Arab League, which had suspended Syria’s membership in 2011, invited the SNC (The Syrian National Council) to attend the League’s summit in Doha instead of Asad’s regime representative. Moreover, the League has also given a green light to its 22 members to provide weapons to the Syrian opposition. Furthermore, Qatar has allowed the SNC to open an embassy in Doha. By these types of supports, in fact, the Arab countries are trying to replace Asad’s regime by a pro-Sunni type political system in Syria, in order to minimize or possibly eliminate the power, influence and threat of the Shiite political system of Iran at least in this part of the Middle East (Sirani, 2012, Political Geography, 2013, Factbook, 2013, Alarabiya, 2013, NYtimes, 2013, CNN, 2013).

Should this happen, the consequences would be devastating for Iran in different terms. In this respect, Iran would lose its closest ally in the Middle East. Consequently, Iran would lose its major strategic and geopolitical stronghold in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East as well. Moreover, Iran would not be able to easily support and assist its proxies such as Jihad and Hezbollah in the Lebanon. This issue, as a result, would dramatically decrease the level of power and influence of Iran not just in Lebanon but also in the Middle East. Furthermore, Syria functions as a buffer state between Iran and Israel. If Asad’s regime would collapse, Iran would be more vulnerable in terms of an Israel’s air strike, as Selvik (2012) claims. In sum, the combination of all these consequences would change the balance of power in the Middle East in the favor of Iran’s potential enemies and competitors i.e. Israel and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, Iran uses all its power and resources to preserve the current political system in Syria. However, as different evidences show, as the scope of conflict in Syria is intensifying, the scope of Iran’s support and assistance to Asad’s regime is increasing in different scales. According to a report published in Homeland Security official website, Iran’s proxy i.e. Hezbollah has deployed thousands of its well-trained fighters into Syria to fight on the side of Asad’s regime against the Syrian opposition. This group of Hezbollah fighters is assisting Asad’s regime to build and train a popular army of about 150,000 Alawite and Shiite soldiers with Iranian funding. Moreover, Iran has sent some of its Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel to Syria to fight alongside the Syrian security forces. The scope of Iran’s involvement in Syria entails logistical and financial services as well. According to this report, the Iranian transport planes carry arms to Syria through Iraqi airspace and furthermore, recently Iran has extended $ 1 billion credit line to Syria (Sirani, 2012, Selvik, 2012, Homeland Security, 2013).

Al explained above in this section, brings us to some important issues. Firstly, it shows that Syria and its current political system play a vital role for Iran in terms of strategic and geopolitical issues. Secondly, it indicates the fact that Asad’s regime has managed to survive up until this moment, partly, due to the overall supports and assistances contributed by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. Thirdly, it illustrates the fact that the Syrian civil war, in addition to its local dimension, has also a regional dimension. On the one side of this conflict is a group consists of the political systems in Iran and Syria along with their Shiite and Alawites followers. On the other side of the conflict is a group of all the Arab countries, who are Sunni and support the Syrian Sunni opposition against Asad’s regime. This issue, as a result, has escalated the tension between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims not only within Syria, but also in other parts of the Middle East. The increasing numbers of the clashes between these two religious groups in some countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, and Lebanon in the recent months could be understood in this respect (Sirani, 2012, globalpost, 2013).

The overall presence of Iran in the Syrian civil war sheds light on some important points as follows. 1- The first point is about the notion of the behavior of states within defensive realist school of thought. According to Kenneth Waltz the founder of defensive realism, the distribution of power in the international system shapes the behavior of states. Waltz describes the international system as an environment that all states are worried about their survival, because every state might forcefully extend its interests. Therefore, all states should be constantly alert about the abilities and capabilities of other states. Moreover, Waltz explores the two concepts of power and security with regard to the behavior of states. Regarding this issue, T. Dunne and B. C. Schmidt (2008) describe Waltz’s argument as follows:

“Power is a means to the end of security. Because power is a possibility useful means, sensible statesmen try to have an appropriate amount of it. In crucial situation, however, the ultimate concern of states is not for power but for security”  
                                                                           (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008, P. 98, 99).
Waltz’s statement noted above, simply means that all state try to accumulate power in order to protect and maintain their security. However, as Waltz claims, in critical situation, all states are ultimately security maximizers rather than power maximizers. This part of Waltz’s theory, however, contradicts with Iran’s presence in the Syrian civil war in the sense that Iran, itself, is experiencing the most critical situation in the domestic as well as in the international arena. Presently, Iran is under enormous international economic and political sanctions, due to its doubtful nuclear activities. These economic and political sanctions might cause a sudden revolt within Iran at any moment. Moreover, Iran’s nuclear dispute might lead the country into a direct military confrontation with the US, Israel or some other European countries. With all these potential threats and challenges at home along with its critical position in the international arena, however, Iran is providing full support to Asad’s regime in Syria. In other words, by this move, Iran is jeopardizing its own security enormously, in order to protects, maintains, and maximizes its own power in Syria. From this, we can conclude that Iran is a power maximizer state and this part of Waltz’s theory, which claims that all states are security maximizers in crucial situation, is highly questionable or to some extent even refutable (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008, Sirani, 2012).

2- The second point is about a theoretical notion within traditional Marxist approach. According to this approach, the economic production is the foundation of all human activities, in the sense that any change in the means of production would ultimately lead to change in the social spheres in any given capitalist society. In other words, economics is the base and some issues such as legal and political matters are superstructure matters. Based on this argument, Marxists agree that politics and economics are closely interconnected, but they put economics first and politics second. The reason behind this is that Marxists claim that the ruling-class, who dominates the economics sphere, will aim to dominate the political sphere. This brief information is the basis of the Marxist framework for the study of IPE (Hobden & Jones, 2008, Jackson & Sørensen, 2010).
Regarding this part of Marxist though, Robert Jackson & George Sørensen (2010) state:

“States are driven by ruling-class interests and capitalist states are primarily driven by the interests of their respective bourgeoisie. That means that struggles between states, including wars, should be seen in the economic context of competition between capitalist classes of different states” (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010, P. 190).

There is a major flaw in the last part of this statement, wherein claims that conflicts and wars between states should be seen in the economic context. This part is in contradiction with the presence of Iran in the Syrian civil war, in the sense that Iran’s involvement in this conflict is not based on economic interest as traditional Marxist approach claims. As explained earlier, Syria and Iran have a bilateral economic relationship. However, firstly, the scope of this relationship is not massive and secondly this economic relationship is mostly beneficial for Syria and not for Iran. Moreover, we should bear in mind that Syria and its current civil war have imposed huge pressure on Iran in terms of economic issue, particularly because Iran itself, is under enormous international economic sanctions. Based on this argument, thus, we can claim that there is a huge loophole in this part of traditional Marxist theory. Regarding this loophole, Antonio Gramsci offers a more comprehensive explanation, which is compatible with Iran’s involvement in Syria to a considerable degree. Hobden & Jones (2008) describe this part of Gramsci’s argument as follows:

“While the structure of society may ultimately be a reflection of social relations of production in the economic base, the nature of relations in the superstructure are of great relevance in determining how susceptible that society is to change and transformation”  (Hobden & Jones, 2008, P. 150).

Based on this argument, which originally derives from the concept of hegemony, Gramsci develops the notion of historic bloc and argues that the socioeconomic relations (Base) on the one hand, and political, cultural and ideas (superstructure) on the other, have a mutually reinforcing, reciprocal and dialectical relationships with each other. In other words, some political, ideational, and cultural factors might also play role in the process of decision-making at individual, society, or state levels. From this, we can claim that Iran is pursuing a political agenda in the Syrian civil war, contrary to what the traditional Marxists claim (Hobden & Jones, 2008, Selvik, 2012, Sirani, 2012).           

3- The third point is about the ideological characteristic of Iran. As explored earlier, Iran’s foreign policy is partly based on its ideological characteristic i.e. the Shiite doctrine. This issue raises an important question. Does Iran have any religious agenda in Syria? The answer to this question lies in the mythology of the Shiite branch of Islam. In fact, this is the tricky and important part that most of the scholars and politicians do not pay attention to it. As we know, the Shiite Muslims in Iran (Twelvers) are the followers of the twelve descendants of the Prophet Mohammad. According to the Shiite mythology, some three centuries after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, the twelfth Imam i.e. Imam Mahdi went into an indefinite period of occultation. The fundamental belief of the Shiite Muslims is as follows: when the world is full of injustice, inequality, violence, and chaos, Imam Mahdi will return and fill the world with equality, justice, and prosperity for all the people, through the establishment of an Islamic Empire on Earth (Sirani, 2012, Eteghad, 2012, Al-Shia, 2012, Shia-online, 2013, Mahdi, 2013).          

Based on the numerous Shiite narratives, there are some primary and secondary signs and events, which would occur in the world (particularly in the Middle East) during or closely before the emergence of Imam Mahdi. According to the Shiite mythology, some of these important primary signs are including:
1- A Khorasanian Seyed is the main leader in Iran. We should bear in mind that Khorasan is the name of a province in the North-East Iran and its capital is Mashhad city. In addition, Seyed is a title for a descendant of the family of the prophet Muhammad. The tricky part is that the current supreme leader in Iran “Ayatollah Khamenei” is a Seyed, which was born in Mashhad. 2- The second important sign is the occurrence a bloody and devastating civil war in Syria. According to the Shiite narratives, a group of people would try to defeat the Syrian political system and thereafter, this group would move to Mecca in order to kill Imam Mahdi during his emergence. 3- The third important sign is the occurrence of a justifiable and righteous Shiite Muslim uprising in Yemen. In addition to these three signs, some other primary and secondary events have also been anticipated, which some of them have occurred. Amongst them, large numbers of wars and uprisings around the world, or downfall of snow in hot and dry Saudi Arabia or a sudden fraction in the wall of a Mosque in Kufa (a city in Iraq) could be mentioned. However, the occurrence of such events has portrayed an image in the mind of some religious - policy makers in Iran that they are closed to the advent of Imam Mahdi. The reason that Ayatollah Khamenei identifies the Arab Spring as an Islamic awakening and overall presence of Iran in the Syrian civil war could be understood partly in this respect. This part of the Shiite mythology, however, might seem ridiculous and unrealistic for us. However, we should bear in mind that these signs for those Iranian religious - policy makers, who put an empty chair for Imam Mahdi next to themselves, while they are eating or have a meeting, are not just simple myths (Eteghad, 2012, Al-Shia, 2012, Shia-online, 2013, Mahdi, 2013).          

This explanation, however, leads us to some important points. Firstly, it shows that, in addition to the political agenda, Iran has also a religious agenda in Syria. Secondly, the combination of this part of the Shiite mythology (About the Syrian civil war) and Iran’s inherent hostility against Israel and Saudi Arabia indicates the fact that the Shiite branch of Islam plays a fundamental, determinant, and important role in the foreign policy of Iran. The example of Iran and its hostile foreign policy towards some particular states undermines the reliability of this part of Marxist and realist approaches, which claims that religion is just a tool in the hand of bourgeoisie class or policy maker in order to achieve a goal. From this, we can conclude that by identifying the religion (Particularly Islam) just as a tool, we are underestimating and simplifying the role of religion (particularly Islam) in different events including in the international politics. Part of the reason that after all these efforts and struggles, still we have not been able to fundamentally defeat the Islamist Jihadists around the globe, lies in this matter. Because, we are not addressing the concept of religion in an in-depth and appropriate manner (Eteghad, 2012, Al-Shia, 2012, Shia-online, 2013, Mahdi, 2013).           

6- Why Russia is involved in the Syrian Civil War? (At The Global level)
Since independence in 1946, Syria reduced its relationship gradually with the West and became a close ally to the former Soviet Union. This trend was mainly the result of series of historical experiences and events, and to some extent compulsory circumstances related to the Cold War era. One of the important events behind this move was the emergence of Israel as a new neighbor for Syria in 1948. This issue was a starting point for series of armed conflicts between Israel and some Arab countries including Syria for some decades. Finally, in 1967, Israeli forces captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six Days War. Through all these years conflict, the West, particularly the US were fully supported Israel. This was an unfortunate and unpleasant experience for Syria. However, the combination of this type of hostility by the West, the bitter memories of centuries Ottoman Empire and some decades France’s harsh colonial rules along with the compulsory circumstances of the bipolar world, pushed Syria towards the new super power i.e. the  former Soviet Union. During the Cold War and through this close alliance, Syria made the balance of power with the former Soviet Union and maintained its security against the West. The relationship between Syria and the former Soviet Union became tighter, when Hafiz Al-Asad a member of the Syrian Socialist Ba'ath Party seized the power through a military coup (Factbook, 2013, Black & Morris, 1991).

Gradually and over time, the relationship between the two countries became so strong, in the sense that even the collapse of the Soviet Union did not cause any affect on it. Generally, the relationship between Syria and Russia consists of three economic, geopolitical and security interests. In terms of economic trade, Russia is one of the main suppliers to Syria. According to a report published in Foreign Policy website, Russia has almost $4 billion trades with Syria annually, which are mostly in the forms of arms and military equipments. In addition to this economic benefit, Syria has a geopolitical and strategic consideration for Russia. In fact, Syria is the last and the only remained close strategic ally of Russia in this part of the world, since the fall of the Soviet Empire. The geographical location of Syria at the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea offers Russia a strategic and geopolitical advantage in this part of the world. This accessibility, which has begun during the Cold War, still is a valid agreement between two countries and currently Russia has a naval base in one of the main ports of Syria, which is called Tartus. Such a strategic opportunity offers Russia an appropriate access and to some extent control to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. This brief information indicates the fact that the current political system in Syria plays a vital role for Russia in terms of economic, strategic, and geopolitical issues. Based on these reasons, Russia has vetoed and in the future will probably veto any resolution against Asad’s regime within the United Nation Security Council. From this, we can conclude Asad’s regime has managed to survive up until this moment, partly due to the overall military and diplomatic supports of Russia as well (BBC, 2012, Weiss, 2011, Factbook, 2013).

The involvement of Russia in the Syrian civil war sheds light on some important point with regard to the concept of “international society” within the English School of thought. International society scholars claim that states are not things and their existence cannot be separated from human beings. Every state, as these scholar argue, consists of its citizens and its government, in the sense that a government rules and acts on behalf of its citizens. According to International Society scholars, thus, international relations is a special part of human relations, which happen in historical time and include rules, norms and values. Based on this assumption, Hedley Bull, one of the leading members of this approach claims that: “There is a worldwide social order of independent states” and develops the concept of “international society” (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010, P. 128-130).

Hedley Bull defines the concept of international society as follows:
“A society of states (or international society) exists when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions” (Bull, 1995, P. 13).

Based on this argument, some International Society scholars use Russia as an example and strongly claim that the international society exists. These scholars argue that during the Cold War, international society between the US and the Soviet Union was minimized to low level in the sense that the foreign policies of both states were mainly concentrated on their evaluation about the intentions and capabilities of each other. This situation, however, changed after the Cold War, due to the fact that Russia became allied and engaged in the Western-centered world of international organizations such as Group of Eight (G-8), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), International Monetary Fund (IMF), NATO, etc. In other words, some common interests, values, and obligations have led Russia to become a member in these Western international organizations. In this respect, as International Society scholars claim, Russia has become a trustworthy citizen of Western-centered international society (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010, P. 130,131).      

There are major flaws in this part of the English School argument noted above. The first point is with regard to the definition of state developed by the English School. Contrary to International Society school of thought, states are not always the legitimate representatives of their citizens; thus, they do not behave, and act on behalf of their citizens in domestic as well as international arena. The current political systems in Syria, Iran and many other countries in the world are some examples, which undermine the reliability of this argument of the English School and show that this statement cannot be generalized to all states. The second point is about the concept of international society. This is a fact that sometimes states have some common interests, values, and obligations; as such, they cooperate with each other through some international organizations or agreements. The military intervention in Libya, which took place in 2011, was an example of this type of cooperation between states. However, based on the membership of states in some international organizations or some common cooperation, we cannot claim that states have formed a family of nations or an international community as Mearsheimer terms it. Because states do not always have the same common interests, values, or obligations with regard to different issues. Such differences, as a result, create conflict, tension, and sometimes war between states. This is the case of Russia with regard to the current civil war in Syria. Russia has some economic and strategic interests in Syria; therefore, it is supporting Asad’s regime. As such, Russia is behaving on the opposite side of the western countries. Based on this example, we can claim that the concept of international society developed by Hedley Bull is very shallow idea and to some extent severely questionable (Mearsheimer, 2001).     
At this juncture, it would be wise to have brief explanation about the role of China and its behavior with regard to the Syrian conflict. Historically, China is a non-intervention state. Moreover, China does not have any economic, strategic, or religious interests in Syria as much as Russia and Iran have. Furthermore, China knows that its cheap, mass produced commodities will conquer the Syrian market in the future even after the collapse of Asad’s regime, no matter, who will govern Syria. The reason that China alongside Russia vetoes the resolutions against Syria within the Security Council could be understood as a response to the behavior of the US with regard to Taiwan and some territorial disputes that China has with some of its neighbors in the East Asia (BBC, 2012, Brzezinski, 2012).

All explained above, was brief information about the roles and types of interests of those external actors, which their supports and assistances have helped Asad’s regime to survive thus far.  In order to understand how these actors act and interact with each other; moreover, how these actors function within the international system, we need to find a suitable framework, which, to some extent, would be able to encompass all these actors in an appropriate manner. Whether we agree or disagree with all ideas and opinions of Immanuel Wallenstein, his world-system framework, to some extent is suitable for our analysis. Wallenstein’s framework is suitable because it encompasses the types of economic and political relationships between three units of Russia, Iran, and Syria in the sense that Russia is the core, Iran is the semi-periphery, and Syria is the periphery country. This framework is also applicable for those states, which are supporting the Syrian opposition. However, Wallerstein defines its world-system theory as follows. According to him, the global capitalist system is hierarchical and consists of three different units of core, peripheral and semi-peripheral areas, which are linked with each other based on particular economic and political structures. Each unit has its own economic, political, and functional characteristics within the world system. Briefly, the core countries, which are at the top of the hierarchy within the world system, have highly advanced and complex economic activities in terms of industrial and agricultural productions (Wallerstein, 1979, 1984).

At the bottom of the hierarchy are the periphery countries, which produce basic goods and raw materials. The relationship between the core and peripheral countries is exploitative in the sense that the core countries export their manufactured goods with relatively high price to peripheral countries. The core countries, in turn, import raw materials and some basic goods from the peripheral countries with relatively cheap price. In the middle of the hierarchy are intermediate countries, which Wallerstein identifies them as semi-periphery countries. These countries are economically mixed, in the sense that they display some characteristic of the core as well as the periphery countries. The semi-periphery countries play an important role in the stabilizing the political structure of the world-system and would become more hyperactive during the economic downturn as Wallerstein claims. A simple and brief comparison shows that Wallenstein’s world system theory, to some extent, is compatible with the current civil war in Syria and encompasses all the actors, who are involved in this conflict, as shown in the figure 2 (Wallerstein, 1979, 1984).
As mentioned above, Wallenstein’s framework is applicable for our analysis to some extent. The reason behind this is that there are some loopholes or we might say some weaknesses within Wallenstein’s world-system framework particularly with regard to the Syrian civil war. These weaknesses are as follows. The first issue is that the whole foundation of Wallenstein’s world-system theory is based on economic and political ties between different units in the international system. In the sense that the core, semi-periphery, and periphery units are linked to each other based on particular economic and political structures. There is a loophole in this part of the world-system theory and that is that Iran’s overall involvement in the Syrian civil war is partly based on religious matter, in addition to economic and political issues. This is an important and neglected issue within Wallenstein’s world-system framework. As mentioned earlier, the reason behind this misassumption is that all Marxists scholars including Wallerstein claim that religion is just a tool in the hand of ruling class (This particular issue has been discussed earlier; therefore, we leave it). The second issue is about the presence of Hezbollah and its role as a non-state actor in the Syrian civil war. In this respect, Hezbollah has expanded the scope and dimension of its activity beyond its geographical territory from Lebanon into Syria. To put it simply, Hezbollah is playing a role, or we might say an important role in the international politics as a powerful non-state actor by its presence in the Syrian civil war. This issue means that, in addition to the core, semi-periphery, and periphery units, non-state actors can play an important role in the global capitalist system. This is an important issue, which does not have any place in Wallenstein’s world-system framework.

  
Figure 2: The three levels of local, regional, and global conflict in Syria based on Wallenstein’s world-system theory.

As figure 2 illustrates, different actors are involved in the Syrian conflict, based on some economic, geopolitical, strategic, and religious interests. At the global level, on the one hand, there is the group of Russia and China, who supports Asad’s regime based on economic, geopolitical, and strategic interests and rivalry against the West. On the other hand, there is the group of the US, England and France, who supports the Syrian opposition against Bashar Asad in order to capture a new opportunity in economic as well as geopolitical terms in Syria. At the regional level, there is a struggle between two regional powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia mainly based on geopolitical and religious reasons. Both countries try to maintain and expand their own hegemony and influence in the region. Saudi Arabia uses all its capabilities (e.g. the League of Arabs) and supports the Syrian opposition, in order to minimize and limit the power and supremacy of Iran in Syria. On the contrary, Iran uses all its capabilities (e.g. Hezbollah, its economic, and military sources) in order to protect and maintain its influence in Syria. At the local level, there is an armed struggle between the majority of marginalized, unsatisfied, oppressed Sunni Muslims and the minority of Asad’s family, its security forces, and Shiite Muslim followers. The important point is that there is the condition of zero-sum game between all belligerent actors at three local, regional, and global levels in this conflict. In this respect, China might be an exception. China might make a deal with the US with regard to its territorial disputes in the East Asia.  As a result, China might withdraw its support for Syria somewhere in the future. However, such a probability is very low or we might say is almost impossible for other actors, who are involved in this conflict. From all explained, so far, we can claim that Bashar Asad has managed to hold onto power in Syria by overall help and support of Russia, China, and Iran at three local, regional, and global levels (Wallerstein, 1979, 1984, Sirani, 2012).             

7- Some Consequences of the Syrian Civil War:
Whether we are supporting Bashar Asad or its opponents or are neutral, we should pay attention to some of the consequences of the Syrian civil war. Analyzing these consequences is very important, because some of them might occur beyond the Syrian geographical territory within the country that we live in. Some of these consequences are briefly as follows.
1- The first and important issue is the large number of human casualties and near-total destruction of the country’s infrastructure. We should not be genius to anticipate that this issue would be devastating for Syria, the Syrian people and the neighboring countries for some decades to come.

2- The second issue is about the overall effect of the civil war on the life of the Syrian people. This issue has caused that more than 1.6 million people have fled Syria and taken refuge abroad in some countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and some North African countries. We should bear in mind that we are talking about more than 500,000 Syrian refugees in a country such as Lebanon with a population size of 4.2 million, or nearly 500,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan with a population size of almost 6 million people, etc. The large numbers of the Syrian refugees are the huge burden on the shoulders of all these states, the international organizations as well as NGOs. In the long term, this issue would cause many problems in different arenas including security for all these countries. As an example, asylum seekers and refuges are the most vulnerable groups around the world; because, in most cases they don not have proper access to their basic needs and rights. As such, some members of this vulnerable group would become the easiest preys for different criminal organizations as well as Jihadist groups. This issue is also applicable for some of the Syrian refugees in the Middle East. Given the fact that most of these countries mentioned above do not have a powerful, stable and reliable political system and the Syrian civil war has entered in the new phase of a conflict between the Shiite and Sunni groups, we can anticipate that the presence of large numbers of the Syrian refugees would threaten the peace, stability and security of some countries in the Middle East in the long term.
There is also another important issue with regard to the Syrian refugees. What these refugees would do, if Asad’s regime would manage to survive this civil war? Given the fact that some of these refugees, themselves or their relatives are fighting against Asad’s regime, would they dare to return to Syria in the future? Who / which powerful international entity would be able to provide and maintain their security in Syria under the rule of Bashar Asad? On the contrary, if Asad’s regime would collapse somewhere in the future, who, or which powerful entity would be able to provide and maintain security for those Shiite or Alawites people, who have supported Bashar Asad or neutrally have behaved during this conflict?

3- The overall presence of Hezbollah in this conflict and increasing numbers of conflict between the Shiite and Sunni groups in different countries in the region illustrate the fact that eventually, the Syrian civil war would spread to some other neighboring countries in the Middle East. In this respect, the two countries of Lebanon and Iraq are the most vulnerable states.

4- The Syrian civil war has facilitated the best environment in terms of training, access to different facilities such as money, weapon, and network building for all Jihadists around the world. This chaotic environment functions like an academic institute for all Islamist fundamentalists including novice Jihadists, who enter Syria legally or illegally from different borderlines. After a while, these novice jihadists would be expert in different military tactics and strategic matters such as using different weapons - explosive materials, organizing, surviving in harsh and difficult circumstances, network building, etc. The important and tricky point is the time that these jihadists would decide to return to their countries of origin, whether is somewhere in the Middle East or the EU or some other countries around the world. In this respect, we can anticipate that each of these jihadists would function as an ambassador of terror and would be able to organize and establish a terror cell in his /her country of origin.

5- This is the fact that the Kurdish people has been one of the most marginalized and deprived groups in Syria. The Syrian Kurds live mostly in the northern part of Syria along the southern border of Turkey and partly the northern border of Iraq. During the chaotic atmosphere of the civil war, the Syrian Kurds might decide to establish an either autonomous or a Kurdish self-regulated region in the northern part of Syria. This issue would threaten the sovereignty of Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. As a result, it would create extra instability and tension in the region.

6- We should bear in mind that some of these consequences, inevitability, would also affect the Israeli–Palestinian peace process to some degree.
All mentioned above, indicates the fact that the consequences of the Syrian civil war from different angles and to some degrees would be devastating not just for the Syrian people or the country of Syria, but also for all of us, no matter whom we are or where we live.
         

Conclusion:
As explained in this essay, the Syrian uprising has turned into a devastating and bloody civil war.  
In addition to the internal actors, other external actors are also involved in this armed conflict based on socioeconomic, geopolitical, strategic, rivalry against the West and religious matters. Briefly, these external actors can be categorized into two different groups, which struggle and compete with each other directly or indirectly at three local, regional, and global levels. The first group consists of Russia, China, and Iran, which their overall assistances and supports have helped Asad’s regime to survive up until this moment. Amongst this group, the two countries of Russia and China have paralyzed the United Nation Security Council to take any serious action and resolution with regard to this conflict by their vetoes. On the opposite side, there is the second group consists of  the US, France, the UK, Saudi Arabia and other members of the Arab League, which are supporting the Syrian opposition from different angles. The presence of these external actors has expanded the dimension of the Syrian civil war from local into regional and global levels. As such, we might expect that this conflict would eventually spread to other parts of the Middle East. In the final part of this essay, I have to imply that the Syrian civil war is not the only catastrophic event that we have not been able to prevent or solve it. So is the life of 2.7 billion people around the world, who are living under the poverty line with less than $2 per month. So is the case of millions of people, who are dying annually, because they do not have access to clean water and basic sanitation. So is the numbers of conflicts in most of the countries in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. So is the situation of billions of people around the world that their basic needs and rights have been violated by their corrupt and undemocratic political systems. So is the case of millions of unemployment people, who are suffering in the developed countries. So is the case of unfinished and infinite war on terror around the globe and many other unsolved problems. Each of these problems would threaten the international peace, stability, and security from different angles. The existence of all these problems at local, regional, and global levels, however, indicates the fact that the current theoretical frameworks (with all due respects to all scholars and students) and our international institutions are not able anymore to deal with most of the contemporary issues in an appropriate and fundamental manner. There are many reasons behind this total failure, which are out of the scope of this essay. However, one thing is clear and that is that we have entered in a new era. As such, we need new comprehensive theoretical frameworks, fundamental and tangible solutions, better authoritative international institutions and finally a new reliable and stable world order.          


Mehran Sirani                                       Norway                   04.08.2013    



















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