This is Part II of a three-part story on the Middle East's changing borders. If you have not done so already, we suggest first reading The Changing Middle East: Revolt Against Artificial Borders - Part I
When discussing the role of these religious differences in the raging conflict in Syria, Paz came up with a striking prediction. “If democratic transition and free elections eventually take place in Syria, division will follow, as was the case with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” he said, indicating that, in such an event, the creation of Alawistan, Kurdistan and other such sectarian cantons will be probable.
Perlov voiced a different opinion, stating that the split could take place if President Assad retained power and the fighting dragged on. “Since the president is losing control over the country, the security is shattered, leading to the natural division of the state. De facto, it’s already happening, and the process will just accelerate,” she told Israel Today. “Partition of the country could mean that the West would be taken by the Alawis, the North by Kurds, the South by Druze and the center by Sunnis. Christians would have a problem though, so they would probably opt for immigration to Lebanon or remain in Syria, retaining little rights, like the Copts in Egypt,” she added.
Addressing whether the West is expected to benefit from such a development, Perlov observed: “Split countries are always a headache. They don’t have one address that can be held accountable, one governmental body that tackles all problems; neither do they have one military force, so people are generally against divisions. Monitoring social media, I learned that most Arabs don’t want to see Syria divided. I am sure, western powers have the same stance on the matter”.
However, there are those who claim that a partition could facilitate a ‘divide and conquer policy’.
In 2006, on her trip to Tel-Aviv, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice introduced the concept of the “New Middle East.” But the term was not new. Thirteen years earlier, Israel’s President Shimon Peres, who then served as a foreign minister, wrote a book whose title was comprised of those same three words. Aimed at boosting cultural, scientific, political and mainly economic ties between Israel and its neighbors, Peres stressed that the region had only two alternatives: Benelux or Yugoslavia, with Peres offering Arabs a cooperative vision in order to avoid the latter.
Rice’s version of the new Middle East was the exact opposite. According to Global Research (CRG), an NGO devoted to independent research, the vision of US foreign policy for the Middle East consisted of creating “an arc of instability, chaos, and violence extending from Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, to Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Iran, and the borders of NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan,” to bring Washington closer to the borders of the ex-Soviet Republics of Central Asia, known for their strategic location and rich energy reserves.
The report also referred to a relatively unknown map that has been circulating in America’s governing circles since 2006. In his article "Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look" Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters, a retired member of the top-brass in the US National War Academy, suggested redrawing the borders of the Middle East to solve the region’s problems.
The document was used in a training program at NATO’s Defense College for senior military officers and drew a lot of criticism from countries whose territories would be annexed if the proposed map were implemented, with some of them even suggesting that the document reflected the plans of US military and intelligence.
But not everyone saw a conspiracy theory behind Washington’s every move. Owen Alterman, an expert on US foreign policy at the INSS told Israel Today that Washington is simply reacting to the constantly changing environment by designing special policies to secure the country’s interests, rather than setting up events that would topple governments. “The days when borders of states were drawn by external powers are over. Washington might use the opportunity to weaken regimes hostile to it and might even have some preferences as to who controls this strategic region but it wouldn’t orchestrate any of the recent developments,” he stressed.
The pundit also explained that due to the high stakes involved, the Obama administration is opting for maintaining good ties with all players in the region, fearing that the new centers of power may turn into more regimes that are hostile to American interests. “Public opinion is important for the US (hence, the US support for the MB in Egypt, and the Syrian opposition) but the US State Department’s official policy is that Syria should stay united, as division would only push the country into an abyss,” he pointed out.
Alterman’s words were echoed by the recent announcement of US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon, stating that Washington “[did] not anticipate the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria and [did] not support separatism."
Perlov agreed, stressing that the US never favored division. “They might not want to see a partition but reality is always stronger. Realizing that the split is possible, Washington is trying to adjust itself to this kind of scenario, holding talks with parties that could prove beneficial to their interests,” she explained.
Nevertheless, those accusing Washington of plotting to break the Middle East into pieces, said the biting sanctions aimed at tightening the noose around Assad’s neck, coupled with millions of dollars pumped into training, funding, and arming the opposition (either directly or through DC’s regional allies -- something that it has repeatedly denied) was designed to secure Washington’s lucrative oil deals.
In March, in his interview with Moscow-based news channel RT, economic researcher and historian William F. Engdahl -- known for his harsh stance on the involvement of Washington in the events of the Arab Spring -- charged that "the US State Department and the Pentagon are redrawing the map of the Middle East... to control the oil flows to countries like China...".
Indeed, last month one of America’s largest energy corporations, Chevron, sealed a billion dollar deal with the Kurdish government of Iraq, America's staunch ally, gaining an 80% interest in the area's oil production contracts. In October, another energy titan, ExxonMobil, gained access to six exploration blocks on the Kurdish territory, sparking the ire of Iraq's central government, which has been trying to ban companies from dealing directly with the semi-autonomous region.
But Alterman, who has been studying the subject extensively, said Washington is trying to diversify its sources of energy rather than increase its dependency on the region. “Most US energy comes from domestic sources or the Western Hemisphere. Since DC is trying hard to minimize its dependence on energy supplies from the Middle East, I doubt that the issue of oil is central here,” he summed up.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for the third and final part of this story