Abdel Bari Atwan
8 November 2011
The Syrian opposition, the Transitional National Council TNC), described the Arab League’s initiative to stop the bloodshed in Syria as a “lifeline” to save the regime and an attempt to prolong its life in power. However, the opposition’s assessments were absolutely incorrect, not because the Syrian regime aborted this initiative only one day after it was launched when the regime failed to comply with any of its provisions, but because the Arab states that stand behind the initiative did not want it to succeed in the first place because they already know that the prospects of the regime truly implementing the initiative are extremely limited if not non-existent.
The US Administration showed then burned the Arabs’ cards early on when it urged armed Syrians not to respond to the Syrian regime’s decree that they will be granted amnesty as soon as they hand over their weapons. Spokesmen for the regime used this move as an evidence of a flagrant US intervention in Syrian internal affairs.
The Syrian armed men had no intention of handing over these weapons and, therefore, did not need this “stupid” US advice in the first place because they held up these weapons against the regime and its forces not in order to give them up but rather to exhaust the regime through a war that will eventually lead to its downfall.
Yesterday, the TNC renewed its calls for the establishment of a buffer zone to be overseen and protected by international peacekeepers. This came after the storming of the Homs area by Syrian tanks and the use of large-caliber artillery in an initial simulation of the Libyan model. This might widen the increasing chasm between the opposition at home and abroad.
The real test for the Arab League will be clearly evident during its meeting on Saturday [12 November], which is expected to be held at the level of foreign ministers. After the Syrian regime was openly accused of foiling the Arab initiative, many people expect the ministers to take punitive measures. Most expectations refer to several steps in this regard, and they can be summed up in the following:
First: Lifting the legitimate cover on the Syrian regime and recognition by some or most of the [Arab] states of the transitional national council as representative of the Syrian people, following the example of the Libyan council (Only Libya recognized this council);
Second: Support for the establishment of no-fly zones or protected regional or international areas (buffer zones) to be used by the armed forces that are opposed to the regime and which had defected from the army as bases to launch attacks to undermine the regime’s security and stability; and
Third: Tightening the economic blockade by neighbouring states in order to tighten the noose around the middle class that consists of senior traders. This class, which mostly centres in the cities of Aleppo and Damascus, continues to support the regime or at least stands in the middle at best, awaiting the situation to be settled in favour of the regime or the opposition.
It is difficult to predict whether the Arab foreign ministers will unilaterally or collectively take steps such as these at their upcoming meeting. However, given the increasing talk in Israel and the United States on an imminent military strike against Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities, such steps appear to be mostly likely.
The Syrian issue began to enter a phase of political and military tension, coinciding with toned-up threats against Iran. Perhaps, it is not a coincidence for the upcoming meeting of the Arab foreign ministers to be held only two days after the issuance of the IAEA report, which is expected to denounce Iran and level charges at it, coupled with evidence, that it is involved in a nuclear military programme at a secret facility in a mountain in the Qom area, as documented Western reports indicated.
Militarization of the Syrian uprising might be the most important step in the Arabs’ official response to the regime on the grounds that the Arab initiative was not implemented. What will make this step easy is the fact that Syria is surrounded by “hostile” states, such as Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, in addition to a border strip to the west of Iraq where a Sunni majority harbours fierce enmity towards Iran and the pro-Iran Baghdad government.
We do not know whether foreign intervention in Syria will precede or follow the expected air and missile strikes against Iran. However, what can be learned is that the entire region will see a sectarian Sunni-Shi’i division that might be translated into civil wars not only in Syria but also in most countries in the Arab east, particularly in Iraq, Lebanon, and some Gulf states.
Some officials in the Gulf Region talk at their private meetings of a new scenario to drop the idea of a foreign military intervention in Syria for the time being and go directly to Iran, “the head of the snake”, because Israel and the US bases in the Gulf might suffer the same losses whether the strike is against Iran or Syria. In both cases, Lebanese Hezbollah will shell Israel, and Iran might intervene militarily to protect its Syria ally if he is subjected to a foreign intervention.
Militarization of the Syrian uprising is not a strategy that will ensure success for the uprising in eventually bringing the regime down, because the Islamic uprising in Algeria that broke out in the early 90s in protest against the cancellation of the results of the free legislative elections, which the Salvation Front won, lasted almost 10 years and led to the death of 200,000 people.
This comparison may not be correct in light of the fact that, unlike Algeria, Syria is surrounded by states that are hostile to its regime. On the other hand, the West did not want the Islamists’ uprising in Algeria to be successful. However, it wants for the Syrian uprising exactly the opposite. This does not mean that we should forget the existence of foreign support, by Russia and China, for the Syrian regime, even though it is difficult to be sure of the seriousness of this support.
Waiting is the only option for any person who analyses the situation in this volatile region of the world that always brings us surprises, as it is difficult to predict developments in this region and their likely consequence. Who had expected the United States to be defeated in Iraq and to withdraw all its forces in humiliation after the loss of $1 trillion and 5,000 soldiers? And who had expected Taleban to return to Afghanistan, launch a bloody war against the US occupation, and force the US Administration to raise a white flag in admission of defeat?
Certainly, there have been US-Western successes in Libya, represented by the overthrow of the Al-Qadhafi regime eight months after intervention by NATO. But did former US President George Bush not declare as a peacock “the mission in Iraq accomplished” three weeks after invading and occupying this country? Who would have believed that Iran, which did not fire one single bullet, would be the main winner in the end?
Syria will definitely face an unknown future involving more bloodshed, and the regime will certainly bear the greater part of responsibility because it thought that security solutions and not making concessions to the people would be the ideal way to emerge from this crisis.
What we fear most is that both the regime and opposition might not find a governable Syria in the end.
The Arabs will be “false witnesses” just as they were in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan or financers of American wars because they cannot oppose the United States and its plans even if these plans contravene their ambitions and interests. The Arabs’ loss will be certain, and the argument is over its magnitude. We are not talking here about financial losses as a lot of trillions are deposited i n Western banks to cover such losses. What is important is the shape of the region and the human losses after a fourth US war in the Middle East in less than 30 years.