Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013

Ahram Weekly

Last chance before arms

While the world community is intent on holding a conference to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis, it is not unlikely that it will never happen, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

The world community has stepped up efforts towards a successful political resolution of the Syrian crisis by supporting an international conference sponsored by the US and Russia. Western leaders hope the gathering will succeed and that a political solution can be reached to end the conflict and bloodbath in Syria.

Although weeks have passed since the announcement of Geneva II, the chances of holding it remain small and perhaps non-existent. It is not even clear how successful it would be, especially after sharp disputes among major world countries about many fundamental points for a solution in Syria.

The regime in Syria believes the goal of the conference should be to block arms to the opposition and force fighters to hand over their weapons before starting dialogue about the future of Syria without interfering in “national fundamentals”. From the regime’s perspective, this means Bashar Al-Assad remains in power and keeps control of the army and security forces, and that there is no foreign intervention in Syria in any form. Russia shares the same view as the regime.

The opposition, meanwhile, believes the purpose of the conference should be to convince Al-Assad to step down, launching a dialogue with regime figures whose hands are not tainted with blood to reach a political solution that includes restructuring security and military agencies in the presence of international monitoring. The US and most Western countries agree with opposition’s vision.

Mohamed Sirmini, spokesman for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (NCSR), doubted the conference’s chances of success. “The Americans and Russians did not agree in Moscow, and the Geneva conference is nothing than a delusion and a mirage,” Sirmini told Al-Ahram Weekly. “The gathering is postponed until further notice and will not be held soon, if ever. A broad conference for the opposition is a way to avoid seeking retribution from the regime for using chemical weapons and distracts Syrians with conference details although it has no clear features.”

While world leaders are eager to find a political solution in Syria, this does not mean they are putting all their eggs in the political basket. They are eyeing a political solution with one eye and a military option with the other, in anticipation of the first one failing.

US President Barack Obama said last week he is working with international partners to launch a diplomatic solution for the conflict in Syria without President Al-Assad. Obama expressed unequivocal continued support for the opposition, and that there are military options if a political resolution is not reached at the international conference.

“This conference will be very difficult and complicated to hold,” according to key opposition figure Michel Kilo. “Its outcome will be pivotal and its failure would trigger an international conflict in Syria, as well as the entire region. In all cases, the crisis will not be resolved quickly and no solution will succeed if it does not meet the demands of the Syrian people in revolt.”

No one can say for sure if preparations are underway for military action against Syria or not, and everyone is allowing diplomacy to run its course. Nonetheless, Arab and Western sources assert preparations for military action are in full gear, especially since a senior US official recently said the Pentagon has stepped up work on military plans for possible military intervention in Syria as more accurate reports and evidence emerge about the regime using chemical weapons.

If there were a military strike against the regime it would occur under the pretext that the Syrian army used chemical weapons. Obama also said he is willing to consider all forms of response if it is ascertained Syrian forces used chemical weapons.

Current plans include the involvement of thousands of US troops without using ground troops in the attack. It is more likely cruise missiles will be launched from sea to destroy the chemical arsenal and military headquarters responsible for the regime’s chemical programme. Plans also include an announcement earlier this month that the US’s First Armoured Division has deployed to Jordan.

In such a scenario, the regime would launch a series of ground-to-ground missile attacks on neighbouring regional bases that could be used as launch pads for US, British and French attacks. Thus, it is likely the US — if it takes the decision — will rely on the armed opposition instead of direct intervention. It can supply them with advanced weapons, which they desperately need. Leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have promised to control these weapons and return all of them after the overthrow of the regime.

As the political option competes with the military one, the regime continues its battle on the ground to regain control of areas it lost to the opposition. It also continues to assert that no international solution would change the head of the regime and key security blocs. It also rejects dialogue with some opposition currents, especially those linked to other countries.

Meanwhile, the armed opposition is working hard to hold down the areas it controls and is moving forward to take more positions. The FSA recently formed two military divisions in rural Damascus after dozens of FSA formations and troops combined their ranks. At the same time, the political opposition in Istanbul (NCSR) is meeting to choose a new chairman and continue consultations on forming an interim opposition government. This will complicate the process of forming a transitional government based on the first Geneva Agreement.

Since the first months of the uprising, there were endless Arab and international calls for Al-Assad to step down and pave the way for a peaceful political transition of power in Syria before the country becomes a large uncontrollable battleground. Al-Assad rejected these calls because in his eyes the people’s revolution is no more than a massive conspiracy to overthrow him.

Al-Assad put the country on the warpath and adopted the most radical, violent and incompatible policies to what the crisis needs, irrespective of changes in the balance of power on the ground. That was his choice since the beginning of the revolution, and it is likely he will wreak the most violence and destruction in this war.

On principle, the positions of Russia and Iran are similar to Al-Assad’s. Russia has international interests and is asking a high price for agreeing to US plans, although Moscow knows Al-Assad’s regime can never return to power either in the manner it ruled in the past or even in a modified form. Iran is as determined as Russia and losing Syria without tangible reward would be disastrous for Tehran’s geopolitical capabilities; therefore Iran’s intervention in Syria has become more flagrant. It started by supporting the regime financially, economically, and with arms, but more recently with direct military assistance through Lebanon’s Hizbullah, which is associated with Iran. Washington views this as a red line that threatens security in the entire Middle East.

The armed opposition believes there is no need for US military intervention to end the conflict, but what is needed is ending Iranian and Russian involvement while arming and meeting the basic needs of the revolutionaries. They assert the revolution will continue as far it needs to go, and the people are convinced that no matter how high the cost of overthrowing the regime, allowing it to remain in power is even worse.

Saleh Al-Qallab, a Jordanian political analyst, believes Russian support for Al-Assad is not for the sake of the regime or Al-Assad personally. “It is a matter of settling scores with the US,” suggested Al-Qallab. “It is about the oil in the Caspian Sea and Islamic states that were part of the USSR that continue to be crucial for Russia. Also, US missile bases in some Eastern European countries, and the unipolar versus multipolar world order.”

He believes Al-Assad’s reliance on Moscow is a losing gamble once the Russians get what they want on these issues.

The negative impact of not intervening to end the war in Syria is already felt, and there is no guaranteed way to immediately end battles on the ground. There are ways of containing them and this could happen by quickly arming moderates and putting pressure to end the war. Washington’s hesitation has made matters worse.

It is certain if conditions in Syria continue in this manner, it will increase the danger of widespread fanaticism, destablising neighbouring countries and compounding the humanitarian crisis. The world cannot remain neutral (according to the majority of Western European leaders). Several Western countries are willing to lift the ban on supplying Syrian revolutionaries with weapons and assisting in weapons training for combatants without direct intervention. The US and its allies — when the time is right — will find the best way to guarantee weapons reach “moderate and legitimate” opposition forces with who they can cooperate to overthrow the regime.

add comment

  • follow us on