While media attention is currently focused on the developments of the Syrian crisis, now become a proxy war between a Western-Arab coalition and a multipolar alliance made up of Iran, Russia and China, much less coverage is given to the ongoing insurgencies in Russian Northern Caucasus and Chinese Xinjiang. And yet a red thread links the three conflicts, which are in fact fuelled by some among the forces currently engaged in the destruction of the Syrian Arab Republic.
The opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is a composite coalition of forces, to which belong the democratic groups of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, but also the jihadist factions of the Syrian Islamic front, a Salafist umbrella organisation founded by eleven Islamist rebel groups on 21 December 2012. Despite wide international support to the Syrian National Coalition, recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people by more than one hundred countries, the rise of the Salafist factions is increasing the strength of the Islamist front, to the detriment of the more moderate groups.
The Islamization of the Syrian uprising poses a threat to the existence of the secular, multi-confessional Syria established by the Baathist rule should Assad be overthrown by the current opposition forces, which are increasingly infiltrated by foreign agents and mercenaries. Although an active role in this regard is been played by both governmental and non-governmental organizations of key NATO members such as the United States, France, Britain and Turkey, the countries most involved on the ground are the absolute monarchies of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are also the main funders of the Salafist militias.
The role played by the Saudis in Syria fits into the broader framework of Riyadh’s support to Islamic extremism throughout Eurasia, from the Balkans to Central Asia, passing through the Caucasus. Nevertheless, while in the Balkans the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army, though financially helped by Saudi Arabia, was mostly trained and equipped by the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the increasing Salafist character of the insurgencies in Russian Northern Caucasus and Chinese Xinjiang underlines a much greater Saudi involvement.
The transformation of both regions into independent, Wahhabi states, is conceived by Riyadh as part of a preventive containment strategy against a nuclear Iran, whose regional influence might be so extended as to include majority-Shia Iraq and Azerbaijan, as well as Persian-speaking Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Hence the importance of encircling a potential Persian bloc from the West through the establishment of the Syrian Islamic State promoted by the Syrian Islamic front, from the North through the independence of the self-proclaimed Caucasus Emirate, and from the East through the independence of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic State promoted by the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement.
Despite widespread conviction that control of the Tartus naval facility, currently Russia’s only base in the Mediterranean, is the main goal at stake in the Syrian war, Iran is indeed the major objective of the external forces involved in the conflict. Nevertheless, while the United States and its allies often find themselves facing the dilemma whether to support or not Wahhabi fundamentalism as a means to put pressure on Tehran, as well as on Moscow and Beijing, Riyadh’s policy proves to be much more resolute, as well as far-sighted. The clash we are witnessing in Syria is ultimately a manifestation of the centuries-old struggle between the majority-Sunni Arab world and the Persian-dominated Shia Islam for control of the Ummah, though the global geopolitical implications of the ongoing conflict makes its outcome of utmost importance for the destiny of the entire world.