On top of Turkey’s protests and Iran’s elections, two interesting incidents have happened over the past few days in the Middle East. First, Moscow’s offered to send its troops to join the U.N. Disengagement Observer Forces (UNDOF) in the occupied Golan Heights, an offer which Israel has implicitly welcomed. Second, there were leaks about the “prospects” of U.S. president Barack Obama providing the “non-radical” rebels of Syria with lethal weapons.
The former incident is interesting for the following reasons.
First, it is not common for Russia, an international superpower which has the right of veto at the UN Security Council, to participate in U.N. peacekeeping forces.
Second, following its three vetoes since the revolution against the Assad regime started in March 2011, Russia has become an active participant in the Syrian conflict. By constantly nourishing the Syrian regime’s arsenal with all kinds of arms, including advanced missiles, and insisting on its survival, Russia has proven to be a staunch ally of Assad.
Third, Russia is a tactical ally of the Iranian regime, sponsoring Tehran’s nuclear program and endorsing its “regional project” at the expense of tens of millions of Arabs.
Fourth, the Syrian regime, which under the slogan of “resistance” has turned down all the Arab–Israeli peace initiatives over the last four decades, and which has accused its opponents of treason and making death threats against them, appears to be in favor of the Russian offer. This guarantees the continuity of Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights. In fact, Vladimir Putin would not have made such an offer without informing Bashar Al-Assad and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Fifth, the fact that Israel’s initial response was positive, or at least not negative, suggests that Tel Aviv shares a common vision with Russia toward the future of the Assad regime, in terms of coexisting with it.
Sixth, with Hezbollah’s deep involvement in the Syrian crisis under the pretext of fighting “takfirists” who are—according to its leadership—“allies of Tel Aviv and Washington,” one must then question this leadership about the fate of the Sheba’a farms and Kfarchouba hills, the Lebanese territories occupied by Israel in 1967. The Russian presence in the Golan Heights will thus ensure its continued occupation by Israel.
What about the U.S. stance?
Unfortunately, based on past experience, almost all faith has been lost in the US taking any significant step regarding the Syrian crisis. All of the statements made by Washington over the past few years proved to be meaningless. Moreover, all steps taken by Washington or its European allies towards Syria have been either too little or too late, or both.
When the revolution started as a peaceful and restricted uprising, the West’s reaction was talk but no action. After the passing of the 14-day waiting period given to the Hosni Mubarak regime’s violent crackdown on the popular uprising in Egypt, no steps were taken by the international community to deter the Syrian regime. Sure enough, it found in the West’s feeble response a chance to continue.
Despite the Syrian regime firing live bullets and using artillery, and calls for the international community to take appropriate measures, including providing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with advanced weapons, the West’s response continued to be too little, too late.
Later on, the Syrian regime—emboldened by the Russian–Chinese veto—carried out airstrikes against the rebels, increasing demands for Stinger missiles and the establishment of a no-fly zone. Once again, the West’s response was still the same—too little, too late. This led many to accept the “jihadist” and “takfirist” groups that began to infiltrate the rebel movement. This is something which has been used by Washington and its allies as a “fig leaf” to justify their decision not to take any serious steps towards the Syrian revolution.
In light of the West’s unwillingness to take action, the Syrian regime became confident enough to further bombard the rebels, using first helicopters and fighters jets, and subsequently fixed-wing bombers such as Sukhois and MiGs.
Now, with the regime using Scud missiles and chemical weapons, it has become too late to even demand no-fly zones.
Once bitten, twice shy
Reports about Washington’s intention to provide the “non-radical” rebels with “lethal” weapons might come as a relief to the Syrian opposition. However, it is not a relief to be forced to participate in fruitless negotiations that do not guarantee Assad’s ouster. The Syrian opposition must not to be blamed for refusing to participate. As the saying goes, “Once bitten, twice shy.”
The question that must be asked here is: How would any observer with minimal reasoning skills believe such reports when Washington is showing no understanding of the situation in Syria or how it will develop in the future, given what has already happened to the town of Qusayr?
How can the U.S.’s changing attitude be of any value on the ground when Washington is still convinced that Moscow and Tehran constitute a part of the solution?
How can one explain Israel’s contradictory statements about the future of the Assad regime, as well as the nature of its sectarian alliance with Iran and some countries in the region—an alliance which has been exposed by the military involvement of Hezbollah throughout Syrian territories?
Frankly, a tragedy is playing out in the region at the expense of its people’s existence and stability. This tragedy has proved the falseness of expressions such as “the Great Satan,” “little Satan,” “steadfastness” and “the resistance.”
Over the past few years, we have unfortunately seen how “red lines” have been obliterated by “green lights.”
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 13, 2013.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined 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.