All the cards are in Bashar al-Assad’s hands
By: Nahed Hattar
Published Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Objections to the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad’s presidency dissipated quickly. There were few passing comments, silence and in the end, a de facto recognition that a political majority in Syria stands behind the president. At the same time, there is an explicit recognition of the Syrian army, its cohesion, tenacity, abilities and achievements on the ground. In addition, local, regional and political reconciliation is spreading. The new Syrian government is expected to include opposition and independent figures. It has become evident today that Syria is a national, civil state that did not disintegrate, but rather managed to preserve its agencies and operations despite everything that happened.
At this moment, the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is heading the armed rebellion in Iraq, it is committing the most heinous massacres and threatening regional security as a whole. An international decision has been slow in coming, waiting for the picture to become clearer. What is the size of ISIS and the Baathist Naqshbandi army versus the size of the tribes and organizations of officers from the former Iraqi army in this rebellion? Can the latter contain ISIS and impose political changes in Baghdad at the same time? The thing is, ISIS’ organizational and military power, its armament and finance capabilities and its violent and barbaric criminality mean it is in control of this rebellion. Baghdad will be blackmailed but the international consensus to confront ISIS will not be delayed for long. Is it possible to provide political cover to fight ISIS in Iraq without doing the same in Syria? That is improbable of course. Just like it is unlikely now to distinguish between ISIS, al-Nusra Front and the other Salafi groups fighting in Syria. The international mandate will logically include fighting all those factions. This is the second card in Assad’s hands.
Terrorism’s geopolitical battle expected to achieve something has moved to Iraq where the social and sectarian nurturing environment embraces all sorts of insurgents and faces an army that is weak in terms of its cohesion, training, arming and capabilities. Iraq now is a magnet for foreign terrorists. They will migrate even from Syria to the new field of jihad. Tactically, this is a unique moment to pounce on terrorist groups in Syria. The day before last, Syrian planes began pounding ISIS’ positions. A battle of this kind rarely happened before, but the moment has come.
In the quick battle to liberate Kassab, there was a kind of surrender by the fighters of al-Nusra Front and the other armed groups. They withdrew ruefully because of the “lack of ammunition.” But in reality, it is perhaps more out of despair. The Turks refused to allow the terrorists into Turkey except those wounded and in critical condition. These groups, that had been threatening Latakia until very recently, went to the Idlib countryside in utter disappointment. What will those defeated groups do there except anticipate another defeat or look for an escape route to Iraq?
A terrorist Erdoganist Turkey is today on the verge of change enabled by the power of developments. Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies are coming head to head with the outbreak of the terrorism phenomenon regionally. His calculations based on his spiteful sectarian motives, expansion into Syria and Iraq and seizing control of the Kurdish issue is countered by the concern of the ruling establishment over the repercussion of all of that on Turkey’s security. With the international mood moving towards giving priority to combating terrorism, the game of the obsessed terrorist invader in Ankara ends.
As Saudi Arabia saw its frenzy reach its peak with its blowback possibly hitting it soon, it started to turn around as seen in a statement in which it calls for a “national unity government to restore security and stability to the country.” Riyadh has no other options in Iraq. The US accepted Iranian support for Baghdad (consider the statement by US secretary of state John Kerry, which called for coordination with Tehran regarding the situation in Iraq) will prevent rebel control of the capital by any faction. Continuing south means a sectarian war which is not permitted internationally. On the other hand, the separation of the Sunni Iraqi provinces into a region teeming with armed groups of every kind, stripe and color with ISIS playing a prominent role as the strongest one, will pose an unprecedented security risk - through Iraq or Jordan - to Saudi Arabia which will fall in line now, whether it wants to or not, under any international anti-terrorism umbrella. The only road open to it is reaching an understanding with Damascus.
As ISIS terrorists approach the Jordanian borders, Amman is no longer willing to get involved in any plans along the northern border with Syria. The Jordanian government is mobilizing more troops in anticipation of terrorist infiltration from the East (there is information about catching infiltrators and two car bombs were caught trying to cross Jordanian territory) and in anticipation of new Iraqi migration. Jordan has no other option but to rely on Damascus.
Iraqi Kurdistan, practically a partner in the Mosul conspiracy, seized control of Kirkuk. But it also got an old and deeply-rooted enemy. And I do not mean only terrorism, but the anti-Kurdish Arab nationalist sentiment as well. As soon as the Arab Kurdish region settles down, confrontation with Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Duhok will be reignited and the old war against Kurdistan drowning with Arabs will be renewed. I mean that the demographic change that president Saddam Hussein was trying to bring about little by little, is happening now on a large scale. As alway, the Kurds have no option but a political return to Syria.
Faster than anyone thought, conflict between elements of the Iraqi rebellion emerged, the Izzat al-Douri group against ISIS and the Tribal Military Council against both. Within the tribes themselves, there are divisions that threaten to break the insurgency which ISIS colored with its criminal image. Preparations were quickly made to establish a military force from the tribe of Shammar to control the Yarubiyah border against ISIS and other insurgents. As is well known, Damascus traditionally has influence amongst the tribes. It was on shaky grounds for a while but positive developments inside Syria will patch it up and this will be essential for any solution to the Iraqi crisis.
Internationally, regionally, locally and on the ground, the cards are all coming together once again in Assad’s hands. Perhaps it would be realistic for the March 14 forces in Lebanon to get ready to digest possible future developments. President Assad is the upcoming golden voter of the Lebanese president.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.