Syria Crisis: New Global Balance in the Making
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Friday, September 13, 2013
There is still a long and arduous road ahead for the Russian initiative, which defused the recent showdown around Syria. Nevertheless, it has cleared the way for the emergence of a new global order where Washington no longer calls the shots.
Difficult negotiations lie ahead of Russia’s initiative to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Washington and Damascus are still far apart on many issues, not to mention that the Syrian side, in the words of President Bashar al-Assad, expects complementary steps from the US, “first and foremost among them is that the United States end its policy of aggression toward Syria.”
What happened in the days since President Barack Obama threatened to strike Syria, and what is the fate of the political settlement being discussed today between the US and Russia?
Close observers reveal that Moscow told its allies in Tehran and Damascus that the planned military operation was not at all limited as was claimed, but it would be the first phase of a wider campaign intended to soften up regime forces, which in turn would allow the opposition to surround Damascus and re-take Homs.
Syria’s allies took the matter seriously and moved quickly to mobilize their forces and prepare for a major confrontation, executing a defensive strategy that surprised even the Russians in its scale and the speed with which it was implemented. A special effort was placed on readying Syria’s strategic weapons, which was accompanied by messages relayed to the Americans about the consequences of any attack.
Moscow told their American contacts that Damascus, along with its allies Iran and Hezbollah, will not accept any kind of limited strike and are preparing themselves for a major confrontation, even suggesting that the Russians themselves cannot sit idly by and will support the regime, just as the US backs the opposition.
There were two crucial and loaded messages – one sent from Tehran and the other from Moscow – that had a powerful impact on the course of events, the sources say. The first was from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who told Oman’s Sultan Qaboos something along the lines of “whoever intends to destroy Syria should be prepared to lose their oil and gas in the region.”
The second came from Russian President Vladimir Putin who told his American counterpart that Syria is as important to his country as Israel is to the US, adding that Washington’s attack could destabilize the world, not just the region.
But both the Iranians and the Russians realized that in order to stop Obama from carrying out his attack and convince him to move in the direction of a political solution, they had to find a compromise that would be acceptable to all sides.
In doing so, they were met halfway by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who were working on a separate track to achieve the following:
First, to prevent any spoilers – such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, and Israel – from influencing the UN weapons inspectors’ report on the alleged chemical attack in Damascus. And second, to get Geneva II back on track, especially after Brahimi received encouragement from a number of leaders at the G20 meeting in that direction.
All this will not prevent potential losers in a political settlement from doing their best to undermine such an outcome. Israel will likely try to interfere with the process underway to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons by adding conditions that they hope would include Iranian weapons.
Turkey will continue to insist that Assad must be punished in order to prevent him from using chemical weapons again, while Saudi will try to limit any kind of settlement to the Russian initiative, fearing that a diplomatic solution through Geneva II will be to Assad’s advantage. Thus both countries are now anxious to get back to the battlefield, hoping to redress the balance of forces on the ground before the two sides begin to negotiate.
And just as the opposition has received reassurances from their allies that they will be more than compensated for whatever setbacks they may have suffered after the failure of Washington to strike, the Russian side has also stated that it “will not leave Syria without strategic weapons to confront its enemies.”
There are indications that both Moscow and Tehran have decided to raise the capabilities of the Syrian armed forces to an extent that would allow them to make further strides against the opposition.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.