Raising the ceiling: Syria’s inside opposition not ready to give up

Abdul Wahab Badrakhan
Abdul Wahab Badrakhan
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Two Arab ministers’ statements were surprisingly similar when they were separately asked: what is possible to expect after the Syrian regime recently revived militarily?

The first minister, whom his country supports the Syrian opposition, answered: It is certainly the regime’s awakening of death. The second minister, whom his government does not oppose the Syrian regime, said after thinking: I fear it could be the awakening of death! He added: it is unfortunate that it is destroying Syria. It is fighting, and it knows it will not win. The second minister was also asked: What about Iran and “Hezbollah’s” interference? Doesn’t this save it and help it stand? The minister replied: This involvement of sectarian consequences is bad. It prolongs the crisis and helps the regime stands but for the sake of what? They are contributing to dismantling Syria, and I do not know if that is their aim. In all cases, Iran works for achieving its own interests in any way that it finds possible.

The Syrian regime’s military “revival” did not last for long, and it did not go as far, even in Rif Dimashq. It did not even enable it to base its project on a “political solution” because the armed opposition was quick to launch a “war of airports” by using what it gained from the regime’s arsenal and without receiving any developed weapons from outside.

By launching this war, it ended the impression that head of the opposing coalition Moaz al-Khatib’s “initiative” reflected the opposition’s weakness. So the formula of “a conflict not resolved” is still present. Therefore, a decisive solution can only be achieved through a foreign intervention siding with either party, either directly or indirectly. This is what Russia is trying to do through “experts.” As for Iran and the Lebanese “Hezbollah,” they increased their contribution to fighting on the side of the regime troops, and they became a direct part in the war. A small example of this is the murder of General Hassan Shatari and “Hezbollah” members. It is noticed that the Iranians are particularly concerned in “providing” the drawing of “borders” of the supposedly “Alawite statelet” and in strengthening its defense from a line that begins from Damascus, passes through Homs province and sinuously continues towards the west reaching the area of the Mediterranean coast.

It seems that the difficulty of a military settlement has become provocative for the Iranians. It gradually pushes them toward an unprecedented political hysteria. The men of the supreme leader of Iran, Ali Akbar Velyati, Saeed Jalili and Ali Larijani, have successively worked on specifying the escalating Iranian commitment in Syria.

For example, they said the regime was a “red line” or that any attack against it “will be confronted as if it is an attack on Iran.” Mullah Mehdi Taeb, head of “the center to combat the soft war on Iran,” went as far as considering Syria “the 35th Iranian province.” He said: “If we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.” He also called for sending 60,000 Iranian fighters to handle the “task of street wars” instead of the regimes’ troops. Perhaps what aggravates Iran more is the increased talks about holding dialogue or reaching a “political solution” without them playing a part or having an opinion in arranging this attempt for a political solution. They are aggravated although these talks are still mere ideas and tactics.

But using the term “province” reminds of Saddam Hussein when he called Kuwait “the 19th Iraqi province” after he invaded it. Head of the Syrian National Council George Sabra previously said that the regime acts like an “occupier” of Syria. Recently, defected Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab said Syria is currently “occupied by Iran” and is being run by Major Qassem Soleimani, commander of the “Quds Force” in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Russia and U.S.

So, there are two integrated occupation situations. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russia continue to compete in laziness, or rather stupidity. Although Russia wants a political solution and realizes that the regime is no longer capable of seizing control and is no longer adequate to continue ruling, it has not made the required efforts to convince the regime, its ally, of a realistic roadmap towards achieving a solution. Russia has not really attempted to establish any sort of trust with the opposition in order to be able to convince it of the “soundness” of the required concessions to launch a political process that naturally leads to the “regime’s departure.”

Washington persevered repeating that the regime is “over” and that “its days are counted.” It bet on the opposition and on the developments in the battlefield. But suddenly, its only concern became: eliminating extremist jihadis. For this sake, it ordered withholding support of the “the joint command of the free army” which it helped form along with other countries. This paralyzed the “free army,” restrained its capabilities and obstructed its plans to unite its troops and coordinate its operations.

Meanwhile, “Al-Nusra Front” and groups similar to it began making tangible achievements endorsed to the opposition and not “Al-Qaeda” organization or any other. Therefore, it is no longer clear what Washington’s priority in Syria is. Is it overthrowing the regime or fighting extremism? It is also no longer clear what Washington’s choice is. Is it the regime listed on its terrorism list and it is claiming to fight? Or is it the opposition that is if enabled to work will be able to contain the extremists? This was not the right moment to turn towards the regime to rehabilitate it or to cease supporting the opposition. What did Washington expect from its loitering anyway? Did it expect the opposition to become more moderate towards the regime’s violence and brutality? The Syrian people have discovered during their revolution that fifty years of oppression have prevented them from building and developing an experience in civil and political work. Is it strange then that they will turn to religion or be pushed towards it due to the severe suffering?

The reality of the situation is that everything that Russia or America has worked to postpone has backfired. Russia’s confidence of the regime’s dreams of a military solution led to the difficulty of reaching a political solution. The American hesitancy to support the opposition led to extremism phenomena. It is certain the difficulty of achieving a political solution and the spread of the extremism phenomena will only increase if America and Russia do not alter their stances.

A recent statement made John Kerry was worthy of attention. He said he “will work to convince Bashar al-Assad of changing his calculations.” What does this mean especially that Kerry knows Assad so well that after he held talks with him four years ago, he told one of Assad’s aides “your president is a big liar.” “Convincing” here may mean military pressure since it is not possible to “change calculations” through talks but it is possible through a change, even if it is a studied one, to the balance of powers on ground. The direct American intervention is certainly not an option. But Washington has recorded that such a change happened, thanks to the opposition’s efforts and a slight support from its “friends.” Perhaps Kerry is basing his statements on the aspect that developments on the ground will be accompanied, unlike before, with a political initiative by the opposition to be presented during talks when he meets with his Russian counterpart. Supposedly, this time the two superpowers are more convinced that it is a must to act towards the end of the crisis.

It has become known that the opposition coalition’s initiative confirms accepting dialogue with regime representatives whose hands are not stained with the blood of the Syrian people. This is a primary condition. The most important condition is that any political solution must lead to the departure of the regime and its symbols. This is the ceiling for achieving the aspirations of the Syrian people. In exchange of this initiative, the opposition expects from Russia credible suggestions. It also expects Russia to consider its interests with the Syrian people and Iran to lift its hands off Syria so it will have a future with it. The opposition expects from “friends,” Arabs and westerners, to support it now without hesitating because the long months of hesitation and loitering were exploited by the regime to further destroy. It has become mandatory that the international community shows the regime the endpoint.

This article was published in Lebanon's Al-Hayat newspaper on Feb. 21, 2013.

Abdul Wahab Badrakhan is a Lebanese journalist, who writes weekly in London's Al-Hayat newspaper among other Arab publications. Badrakhan was a journalist in 'Annahar' (Beirut) until 1979, in 'Annahar Arabic & international' magazine (Paris) up to 1989, in 'Al-Hayat' (London) as managing editor then deputy editor in chief until 2006. At present, Badrakhan is working on two books. The first book is on the roots of the experiences that have motivated young Arab men to go to Afghanistan. The second is devoted to Arab policies to counterterrorism, starting with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and covering the ensuing wars.

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