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More ammunition, less diplomacy await Syria

The level of international paralysis on Syria was most evident in Brahimi’s resignation this week

Joyce Karam

Published: Updated:

If Tuesday was any indication, the train of international diplomacy in Syria has frozen in its tracks with the resignation of U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and the possibility of more ammunition and increasing defiance has left the station. The new phase of paralysis was captioned Tuesday with U.S. President Barack Obama hosting members of the Syrian Opposition for the first time in the White House, as Russia and Iran embraced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bid for a new term.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius is right, warning from Washington this week that the three-year-old Syrian crisis has become an “international conflict,” which if gone unchecked in a “zero-polar world” could shake the new order. Fabius said at The Brookings Institute that in 2012 “there were no [al-Qaeda] terrorists, no Iranians, no Hezbollah” fighting in Syria, and partially faulted the international community for failing both diplomatically and militarily at resolving the conflict in its earlier, less chaotic stages.

Brahimi exits

The level of international paralysis was most evident in Brahimi’s resignation this week. The battle-scarred diplomat who helped bring an end to Lebanon’s civil war, facilitate Iraq’s transition and manage a post-Taliban Afghanistan, could not break the vicious cycle of war in Syria. Brahimi, who hedged his bets on American-Russian rapprochement or a regional surprise that could force Syrian factions to change course, lost hope in the aftermath of Geneva II last January.

As diplomacy falters, Washington is readying itself to more fighting in Syria

Joyce Karam

The toxic relations between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama following the events in Ukraine will only harden their positions in Syria. Today, Russia is openly arming the Assad regime, and the White House for the first time since 2011 is hosting members of the Syrian Coalition in the same room as Obama.

Contributing to this dynamic and Brahimi’s frustrations is the regional picture. What Fabius labeled as an international conflict in Syria has a regional element, with Arab Gulf states plus Turkey on the one hand supporting the political and military opposition while Iran is increasingly calling the shots and employing Hezbollah and Iraqi militias to help the Assad regime. The regional tension is not confined to Syria, and is widely on display in Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. While Brahimi tried through his visits to Tehran and Riyadh to bridge differences on Syria, the situation has proven to be a harder nut to crack and has left the envoy with little options besides throwing in the towel and walking away this week.

More ammunition

The White House meeting with the head of the Syrian opposition Ahmed Jarba accompanied by the chief of staff of the Syrian Military Council Abd Ilah Bashir and others, as well as the Assad’s election bid early June, open the door for an extended war in Syria and more attempts to break the stalemate.

Najib Ghadbian, the representative of the Syrian Coalition at the United Nations who was present at the White House meeting, told Al-Hayat that the discussion was “thorough, strategic and positive.” Ghadbian, while not going into details about certain aspects of armed support that the Coalition is requesting from the administration, hinted that the idea is “gaining more traction” within the U.S. government.

Based on conversations with several Syrian opposition members who were part of the Jarba visit, the most indicative results of the meetings will be in heightened strategic cooperation and coordination with Washington and more support from Congress. Washington is hoping for a bolstered Coalition’s presence in liberated areas, and strengthened ties between the interim government and the local councils. Also high on the agenda was coordinating efforts against al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria, especially the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The White House readout of the meeting indicated that the “the delegations discussed the risks posed by growing extremism in Syria and agreed on the need to counter terrorist groups on all sides of the conflict.”

As diplomacy falters, Washington is readying itself to more fighting in Syria. The road to arming the “moderate opposition” will not happen overnight, and not before ensuring the command and control capability of the Syrian Military Council over its equipment and forces. Jarba’s role in restructuring the chain of command between the military and the political side, firing Salim Idriss, is part of such effort.

For now, as al-Qaeda linked groups gain ground on the Syrian-Iraqi border, as Assad grows more defiant and the door of diplomacy shuts down, Syria can only brace itself for more war and fighting.

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Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.