Is Syria now a ‘failed state?’

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

With the international community's lack of action in Syria, the war-torn country is heading for “failed state" status, threatening the region's fragile stability.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, the international community's position towards the ongoing civil war in Syria has been marked with indecisiveness, reluctance, unjustified caution, perplexity and uncertainty, consequently leaving the Arab state open for all scenarios.

I don't see myself as exaggerating when I say that Syria is on track to become a failed state.

In fact, indications that Syria is becoming a “failed state” are already there. For many observers, including the U.S. Administration, Syria has already become a failed state.

The Washington Post's analyst, David Ignatius, quoted an intelligence report provided to the State Department in January, which expressed concerns that Syria will become a “failed state” unless an orderly political transition begins soon to replace President Assad.

The report describes the situation in the area from Aleppo to the Turkish border, where Assad’s army has largely disappeared. The report draws a picture of disorganized fighters, greedy arms peddlers and profiteering warlords.

Now in Syria, there are fierce military confrontations between the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other radical groups fighting the regime's forces, mainly the al-Nusra Front, amid news from the rebels themselves about black arms trade.

Not only that, but some rebels also report that fighters belonging to the “poor” FSA are joining the “rich” al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.

News reports about the regime’s forces and the rebels selling of sewing machines from Aleppo’s factories to Turkish traders are strong proof that an atmosphere of chaos is prevailing in Syria and are an indication of the country nearing “failed state” status.

Creating a level of absurdity, speculations, at times affirmations, is an attempt by Syrian Kurds to establish a federal system of their own, taking advantage of the cauldron of the Syrian uprising in what some critics describe as “Syria's Kurdish Spring.”

Black arms markets

Very recently, Jordanian border guards have foiled an attempt to smuggle a large haul of weapons from Syria into the security-concerned kingdom.

Aside from stories told by Syrian rebels of arms deals this event in itself is but an example of how the internationally-abandoned Syria has turned into a black market for global arms trade.

Why have Syrian rebels allowed the passage of weapons from their territories into Jordan at a time when the Syrian opposition is traveling all around the world requesting lethal weapons?

So al-Assad has declared a war against terrorism. In other words, he is building a cause for himself and his regime.

Raed Omari

Of course Jordan, which has been always under pressure from the U.S.-led anti-Assad camp to end its neutral piston towards the Syrian revolution, will not only be enthusiastic to take action inside its war-torn neighbor but will become more cautious towards the rebels themselves who, after the weapons smuggling incident, are now perceived as warlords.

Jordan's concerns about the possibility of radical groups, mainly al-Qaeda affiliates, taking powers in the post-Assad era and Syria turning into a black arms market are shared by the U.S., France and Britain. This is what is making them hesitant to provide lethal weapons to the rebels.

Who's controlling who?

“We have sources who spoke to us about the West's intention to provide the Syrian rebels with lethal weapons,” the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has said in a recent interview with Al Arabiya News Channel NY/U.N. Bureau Chief Talal al-Haj.

Not to criticize the newly-elected Jarba, for he is suffering from accumulated mistakes definitely not of his own making, but the word "sources" sounded to me as if the SNC is politically representing the Syrian rebels in the way it should.

Or perhaps, are there other key players in the Syrian uprising who are more influential than the SNC, leading to the question “who is controlling who?”

One major mission of Jarba is to convince the West of the SNC's control over the Syrian rebels and that any weapons provided will find their way to the right hands. But even this is still seemingly a far-reaching goal.

The West's concerns over the possibility of weapons reaching the hands of radical rebels are remain unalleviated, even after al-Jarba's recent tour of Western capitals.

Following his meeting with France's president Francois Hollande, the presidential palace's spokesperson made it clear that France has deep concerns about arming the Syrian rebels.

“We do not want to see ourselves fought by our made weapons as it happened when we sent lethal weapons to the Libyan rebels who sold them to Mali fighters,” the French official said.

Actually, this conservative and very cautious position from the western powers is not purely an outcome of the SNC's weakness but their reluctance to provide military and logistic assistance to the moderate FSA. This resulted in giving the upper hand to the well-backed al-Qaeda-linked groups, mainly Jabhat al-Nusra. The Syrians are not to blame.

No peace without a stable Syria

Meanwhile, the U.S. is leading a new round of peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis and Syria is being abandoned to turn into a failed state. If this happens, it will face long decades of hostility and instability. What’s more is that a peace settlement will not be reached in the Middle East without resolving the ongoing violence in Syria.

If reached, it will be very short-lived as the Syrian spillover will soon affect the entire region, hitting Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Israel.

A lack of decisive action taken by the U.S. and other western powers could lead to hazardous consequences on the region and the entire world.

Military activities of al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups are always stronger in failed states like Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Libya and in places empty of strong military presence of world powers.

In other words, abandoning Syria to become a failed state will soon have its spillover effect on the region and the entire world.

Assad benefiting from terrorist groups

Aside from “conspiracy theory,” some observers believe that the radical groups, mainly Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq, have been equally beneficial to Assad's regime as they have been equally harmful to the moderate FSA and the alluring image of the Syrian revolution.

For many, Assad, who helped al-Qaeda affiliates gain access to Iraq during the 2003 U.S. invasion, is now using them in Syria to strengthen his military and political position in the ongoing war.

Such rationale seems very plausible, taking into consideration the prevalence of the radical groups in the war in Syria and how their presence there has helped in distorting the image of the Syrian revolution and consequently making the West reluctant to provide the FSA with lethal weapons.

In his recent televised speech, President Assad said the crisis in his country could only be solved by striking terror with an “iron fist.”

“No solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist,” Assad said, adding, “I don’t think that any sane human being would think that terrorism can be dealt with via politics.”

A political solution for the Syrian unrest is not a choice for al-Assad, or a preferable choice, as violence would be more rewarding for the embattled president, at least to remain in power till the end of his term.

Assad knows that transforming the ongoing war in Syria into a fight against terrorism would ensure him more international appeal support from Syrians already anxious over the presence of radical groups in their country.

So Assad has declared a war against terrorism. In other words, he is building a cause for himself and his regime.

Syria turning into a failed state is actually in the interest of Assad and that is why he is working on prolonging the war to achieve his unannounced “plan B” of an Alawite state in the port city of Latakia.


Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.