Syria Is Still in Need of a Creative Solution
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Monday, July 23, 2012
Various components of the Syrian opposition and their supporters are feeling pleased these days. They see the battles in Damascus and Aleppo, and the assassinations of Syrian military and security chiefs as harbingers of their desired objective – the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Once again, they have reverted to speculating about how many days or weeks it will take. Some of them have learned to be cautious, so have avoided setting out time-lines. But all seem convinced that the past week’s developments have given the regime’s opponents a major morale boost.
They have been providing us with what amounts to operations-room updates about opposition fighters making advances here, occupying positions there, mounting attacks elsewhere, and moving into places from which they had previously been barred. They cast the regime’s military escalation, and its resort to heavy and indiscriminate shelling of districts where gunmen deploy, as evidence of that it is in a desperate state.
There is similar excitement outside Syria. An internal debate is underway in the US about what step to take next. Special units have been set up to work with Israel and nearby capitals, such as Amman and Ankara, on locating the sites of Syria’s strategic weapons. This has been accompanied by a campaign of threats which suggests that military action could be launched on the pretext of eliminating or safeguarding those weapons, or preventing them from falling into hands hostile to the US and Israel. Washington, along with Israel and the West as a whole, seem equally convinced that the news from Syria indicates that the end of the regime is nigh.
In the Arab world, there has been an unprecedented frenzy of activity led by the Gulf states – mainly Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also including other Arab players – who seek to reap quick and direct gains from what they too believe to be the imminent downfall of the regime in Syria. Some of them have already begun talking about their expectations for the future Syria. All want to have their stake in the successor regime, but none have any real understanding of the country’s political, economic and social realities, nor, most importantly, of its religious and ethnic diversity.
On the other side stands the alliance supporting the regime in Syria – consisting of Russia and China, Iran and Hezbollah, a section of the Iraqi government, Palestinian groups, and popular forces in different parts of the Arab world. This alliance is also transfixed by the confrontation underway in Syria. But its supporters are confused, due to a lack of information about the truth of what is going on, and due also to the stupid media policy which has portrayed the confrontation as being between the state and mercenaries.
A blind eye was turned to the fact that many Syrians support the existing opposition; that the majority of the fighters are Syrians; that they now see themselves as engaged in a life-or-death struggle; and that their priorities are perhaps not the same as those of any of the regional and foreign parties. That may help explain why their current actions lack any forethought about happens next. Hence their mounting mistakes, and the mounting bloodshed.
All the signs, on the ground and in the political arena, point to further deterioration. We can almost be certain that the confrontation raging throughout the country will get uglier and bloodier than it has already been. Ordinary Syrians, whether they support or oppose the regime, need to be told frankly that the war, which is on until further notice, is set to become even more vicious.
Neither side can expect a decisive outcome from the current clashes. But the blood that is being shed in torrents is likely to strengthen convictions on both sides. The divide, in both Syria and neighboring countries, risks going beyond politics, and ushering in a stage of de facto partition.
With the prospect of further conflict, chaos and death, there are likely to be fewer voices calling for dialogue, or for creative solutions that can breach the ever-widening gap between the two sides. If the main players in Syria continue to think that they can lay down preconditions, there will never be any real scope for a settlement. Instead we will head down one of two paths:
1 - A descent into a showdown, in which the foreign and domestic elements combine, resulting in a major explosion. Things would not be one-sided: if the West ups it pressure and participation in the battle to topple Assad, the opposing axis will become more fierce in his defense.
2 - The confrontation continues, but is constrained by a regional and international balance of terror which forestalls decisive foreign intervention. We would then face another Algeria. The opposition needs radical changes if it is to be able to bring down the regime, while the regime resorts to operations aimed at exterminating (there is no more fitting word for it, unfortunately) its armed opponents so as to keep its grip on the state by force.
Syrians must realize that nobody beyond their borders can stop the bloodshed. Those who believe otherwise will continue keeping busy counting the dead, as death becomes routine news, as it did in Lebanon and Iraq.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.