When the Head of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib announced his peaceful initiative that included holding dialogue with representatives of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, he coated the bitter shock of the opposition’s readiness to hold dialogue with a regime that killed tens of thousands of its people by two sweet preconditions. The first, is that the end of the regime must be the basis of any dialogue. The second, is that the dialogue is held with regime representatives whose “hands are not stained with blood.”
Logically speaking, these two conditions seemed like keeping the opposition’s all options open. On one level, it would be naive to expect a regime, fighting for two years with such brutality to suddenly agree to an official “suicide” peacefully. On another level, everybody knows only too well the nature of those who have been ruling Syria since the fall of 1970. Based on that, those whose “hands are not stained with blood” are not influential figures, and thus, anyone who can really speak on behalf of the regime must have been involved in the bloodshed one way or another.
A ‘balloon test?’
The announcement of Khatib’s initiative sparked many reactions. Some attacked the initiative, while those who did not preferred to wait for a clarification on why the initiative was launched. Some considered the initiative a deliberate “balloon test,” others, however, considered that Khatib’s little experience in politics pushed him toward making that initiative.
When the first negative response to the initiative was made by a Syrian “semi-official” newspaper, those who accused Khatib of having “little experience” thought then that the initiative was dead and buried. But when the deadline set by Khatib passed, he launched a modified initiative which gave up major pre-conditions including the release of female prisoners and holding negotiations outside Syria. Once again, Khatib found a face-saving “exit” for concessions.
At this point of launching a second modified initiative which was less radical and less decisive, what had been previously concealed became clear. It turned out that there was really a “balloon test,” and it was not necessarily Khatib who released this balloon.
Afterwards and during the past week, leaked reports on a settlement that included restructuring the Syrian state, including establishing a senate, were formally denied but without denying the ongoing attempts to secure a dialogue.
In his “State of Union” address, U.S. President Barack Obama’s statements on Syria caught attention. Newly-appointed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s statements further underlined the real U.S. stance on Syria. President Obama, who recently rejected recommendations by senior officials in his administration to support the Syrian opposition with arms, confirmed that confrontation was not an option. He justified his decision by arguing that supplying the opposition with arms threatens Israel.
Dealing with the regime
Meanwhile, reports issued from Washington stated that Kerry believes that Russia is part in the solution in Syria, and that he bets on Russia’s success in convincing the Syrian president to step down in return of maintaining the structure of the state – or whatever is left of it – which in fact keeps around many groups and individuals who are very much part and parcel of his regime. This means an agreement to preserve Russia’s interests in Syria after removing the factors of “personifying” the regime and dealing positively with its sectarian character.
As the U.S. displayed openness toward a Russian role in the settlement, reports on the “prominent role” played by takfiri and jihadi groups in the Syrian revolution increased in Western capitals, mainly in Washington. This provides a convincing justification to refrain from arming the “Free Syrian Army” and other moderate opposition factions.
With all these givens, where are we now?
It is very hard to picture reaching a Russo-American deal on Syria apart from Iran and Israel. The logical conclusion states that prominent capitals of international decisions, including New York where the U.N. headquarters is and where policies and mediatory initiatives are made, are completely aware that the game has gone beyond Bashar al-Assad and his regime – according to the narrow definition of the word ‘regime.’
Moreover, after years of absurd negotiations, no intelligent person can now doubt for one second the readiness of the international community, led by the U.S., to coexist with a nuclear Iran.
Influence and subordination
We are now actually nearing the demarcation lines of the areas of influence and subordination between Israel and Iran in the near East. This is now a fact, despite the political messages conveyed now and then through statements, initiatives and meetings, and also the violent messages like the Israeli shelling of what was said to be an arms convoy sent to Hezbollah or the killing in Syria of General Hassan Shateri, who is the prominent official of the “Iranian Revolutionary Guards” in Lebanon.
Based on that, the general image, unless otherwise is proven, suggests that Syria, with or without the presence of Assad, will remain, along with Lebanon, an “Iranian protectorate” with Israeli, American and Russian blessings. It is worth knowing too that the major player – indeed the real ruler – in Syria, and subsequently in Lebanon, has been Iran … not Assad for a not very short time.
The game of political initiatives which is the production of international “kitchens” has unfortunately, due to the imposed ceiling on arming the Syrian opposition, become a lot bigger than the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. The time has perhaps come for the Syrians to realize what the Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese realized before them, that they were small players in a big field.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 19, 2013
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon. Joned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.