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Do we have to reconcile with Assad?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

As the Iranians and their allies fight alongside Syrian regime forces, and as the Iranians lead the Iraqi fight in Tikrit and Saladin province against the Islamic Stare of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), some are calling for reconciliation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

I completely disagree. Reconciliation may have been acceptable at the start of the Syrian crisis, but it is currently the worst decision any Arab - especially Gulf - government could possibly consider.

The problem is not with Assad as an individual but with his legacy, his pairing with Iran and the amount of blood he has shed. The previous promise to give him a safe exit, to protect him from retribution, and to turn a new page with some of the regime’s leaders and establish a transitional phase that unites all Syrians, was sincere.

Iranian threat

One cannot view the war in Syria as a domestic problem, or without understanding the regional power balance and the struggle with Iran. If Saudi Arabia accepts a solution by which Assad stays in power, it will have handed over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to Iran. The inevitable result would be Iranian domination of the northern Gulf and Saudi Arabia.

The notion that Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS constitute a worry is true, but it is no reason to hand over Syria and Iraq to Iran. We are in an era in which several wars are being orchestrated in parallel and threats vary, but the Iranian threat is the greatest, especially as a nuclear deal is close to being reached. Iran will translate such a deal into an indirect attack against its Gulf rivals.

If Saudi Arabia accepts a solution by which Assad stays in power, it will have handed over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to Iran

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

We cannot put our faith in the Americans, no matter how much they insist that they will not let Iran harm its neighbours. U.S. regional influence has decreased, and its new policy is to turn toward China. Therefore, supporting the moderate Syrian opposition politically and militarily has become absolutely necessary for Gulf Arabs in order to prevent Iran from controlling Syria, whose suffering is a humanitarian cause.

Responsibilities

Saudi Arabia cannot give up on 20 million Syrians no matter what the reasons are, and it cannot overlook the threat of Iranian expansion in Mesopotamia. We should not accept the possibility of reconciling with Assad, as this has no place in the Gulf’s supreme calculations.

It is impossible for Saudi Arabia to reconcile with Assad, who has killed a quarter of a million people, in order to fight ISIS. How can we convince the 10 million displaced people - victims of Assad’s war machine - that we are giving up on them?

As for Turkey, the problem lies with its president. Other than protecting and evacuating the remains of Suleyman Shah - the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, who has been dead for hundreds of years - the government has done nothing to protect Turkey’s important interests in Syria.

When the time comes to discuss Assad’s fate, no one will care about the concept of vengeance. The focus today is on two parallel solutions: supporting the armed moderate opposition - the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - and supporting any peaceful solution based on the reconciliation of the entire Syrian people and on the maintenance of the regime without its senior leaders. A political solution cannot be fairly imposed without supporting the FSA.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 9, 2015.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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