I am beginning to smell something nasty cooking, which if I am correct would amount to a betrayal of the Syrian people’s aspirations and those who have fought valiantly for their freedom. Washington and its allies seem to be taking the line: “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
Confronted with economic woes and terrorist attacks, Ankara is in the mood to forgive and forget. It bent over backward to restore relations with Moscow, which were cut following Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane.
Although Ankara swore not to re-establish relations with Israel unless the blockade of Gaza was lifted, it has made up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following a six-year dispute over Israel’s storming of a Turkish vessel out to break the siege.
I was shocked to hear of a third about-face in the offing. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the government was considering mending fences with the Syrian regime. “It’s our greatest and irrevocable goal: developing good relations with Syria and Iraq,” he said.
“We normalized relations with Russia and Israel. I’m sure we’ll normalize relations with Syria as well. For the fight against terrorism to succeed, stability needs to return to Syria and Iraq.” Yildirim did later clarify that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have to step down as a prerequisite to normalization.
Now that terrorists, once cared for in Turkey’s hospitals “for humanitarian reasons,” are biting the hand that treated their brethren, the Assad regime’s responsibility for the deaths of 400,000 Syrians is of secondary importance.
Meanwhile, the White House is courting Moscow in the hope of forging a military alliance to eviscerate al-Qaeda’s Syrian offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra – described by the Washington Post as the most successful rebel force against the regime – and other extremist groups.
Terrorists should have no place in Syria or anywhere else. However, while I have nothing against a US-Russian bombing campaign in principle, its prime target should be regime forces, whose bombs have reduced entire neighborhoods to blood-soaked rubble. If this partnership gets off the ground, it will benefit Assad. This month, he said the United States was not Syria’s enemy, and Western countries deal with Syria “through back channels.”
It is notable that US Secretary of State John Kerry no longer insists that Assad must step down, and President Barack Obama’s demands have lost their vigour. Suspicions that the Obama administration has gone soft on the regime are gaining traction.
The question is whether Washington, Ankara and Moscow are new partners in what I consider to be nothing short of a crime. If mainly Sunni opposition forces feel there is a conspiracy afoot to bolster Assad, they will lose heart. Why should they sacrifice their lives for a lost cause? Facing retribution, their only option would be to flee with their families to find a safe haven.
I hope I am wrong, but if Assad remains in power Syria’s Sunni population will be reduced further than it has already been. Like Iraq, it will fall under Shiite domination and be subsumed into Iran’s sphere of influence. Together with Russia, Iran is succeeding in cleansing Syria of a major Sunni presence, a strategy now being rubber-stamped by the United States and other Western countries.
Those millions of refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq will find their dreams of returning home shattered. The million-plus refugees in Europe have discovered they are unwanted, mistrusted and feared. Many who were joyous upon arrival in Germany are heartbroken to find there is no prospect of their families being permitted to join them.
Turkey is mulling offering citizenship to 300,000 wealthy, highly-educated or skilled Syrians. Others, particularly the best and brightest, are being resettled in the West, where they might be treated as second-class citizens and objects of hate for far-right groups. They are the lifeblood of Syria’s future.
Syrians are a proud people. Their greatest wish is to go home to resume their lives. They did not choose to be refugees. They are treated not as human beings but as statistics. It is not their fault they are reduced to subsisting often in dire conditions, lacking schooling for their children and anything other than basic medical care. Generations have been traumatized, and their children will always struggle to erase the scars etched in their memories.
The so-called international community has failed to end the conflict. The big powers have been impotent to stop it. The result is the creation of a ticking time bomb, another Palestinian-style diaspora on a far greater scale and with far greater consequences. The Palestinians never relinquished their identity or soil. Neither will Syrians. Their collective pain and loss will be their legacy, passed on over the coming decades.
The tragedy is that with international resolve and unity of purpose, Syria could have been saved. Hundreds of thousands were needlessly lost and almost half the population displaced. Each country involved, many of which were willing participants in illegal wars, shied away from committing to a just fight to keep innocents from being slaughtered. It seems some are now secretly shaking hands with the slaughterer.
I appeal to leaders of good conscience to intervene fast, before the underhand deals with the devil are signed and sealed. Assad must go so the living can rebuild and the lives of the martyred were not sacrificed in vain.
The prophet’s companion Khalid ibn al-Walid – a brilliant military commander who defended Mesopotamia from Persian conquest and smashed the Byzantine occupying forces in Syria – must be turning in his grave. Never have the honorable and brave been so sorely needed.
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.