Last Saturday, Asharq Al-Awsat mentioned that it had been informed by “Western diplomatic sources” that Staffan de Mistura, the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, was coming under Russo-American pressure aimed at holding a new round of negotiations in Geneva.
Under normal circumstances there would have been no reasons for pressures, but what the Syrian crisis is going through has exceeded all limits. The mere fact that the UN has to plead with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and its ‘henchmen on the ground’ just to allow food and medicines into besieged areas – some that have been besieged since 2012 – is enough proof.
Here one may ask why ‘The International Crisis Group for Syria’ exists. Which ‘Syria’ is it dealing with? How cohesive is this Group? And, what is the significance about this group being ‘international’ when one of its pillars, i.e. Russia, is now an ‘intervention and occupation force’, enjoying an American carte blanche to do what it likes, and interpret and execute UN resolutions as it pleased.
Indeed, as time passed by and red lines disappeared, the Friends of Syria Group was also proving to be a lie as it became obvious that there was only a handful of such friends. Today, as Washington and Moscow’s positions vis-à-vis Syria have become almost indistinguishable, Beijing has adopted Moscow’s policies without hesitation, and the clear frustration and inability of the European powers to do anything about Washington’s Syria policy, we are witnessing the collapse of ‘The International Crisis Group for Syria’ which is rapidly following the lip-service ‘friends’ to the scrapheap.
During the last couple of years a lot of blame was levelled at Mr. de Mistura. However, it is obvious now that he was working under tight constraints that render his efforts fruitless. Moscow is clearly unwilling to surrender a political and military ‘advantage’ gained in a strategic region that was for it a “no go” area.
So, thanks to American negativity and international disability, the only hope left for the Syrians now is to wait for early NovemberEyad Abu Shakra
Unwilling to jeopardize
As for Washington, it is surely unwilling to jeopardize its agreements with the Iranian leadership during what is left of Barack Obama’s second term in the White House, even at the expense of the Middle East’s stability and the territorial integrity of its countries.
Finally, Tehran, controlled by the hubris of the Mullahs and blood lust of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and benefitting from its accords with both Washington and Moscow, is not going to miss a historical chance of avenging its old defeats against the Arabs and challenging the Turks for the leadership of the Muslim world.
Given all the above, could a murderous regime – like the Al-Assad regime – be blamed if it did not exploit such a regional and global climate to continue its carnage? In addition to what has been mentioned, there in the background, is the curiously ‘pragmatic’ Israeli position. It is actually based on the following smart considerations.
Firstly, Israel has always been relaxed in its dealings with the Syrian regimes under the two Al-Assads, father and son; noting that the day before yesterday marked the 16th anniversary of the death of the father, Hafez al-Assad, who invented the concept of co-existence with Israel under the mask of rejecting it since 1973. The Israeli leadership, in turn and out of experience, knows only too well how to differentiate between talks and actions, especially, when coming from loud out-bidders who are only happy to co-exist with it.
Secondly, Syria today is virtually a ‘condominium’. The al-Assad regime would not survive without the direct support of Iran and Russia, of course, with Washington’s and even Tel Aviv’s blessings. The recurring visits by the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Moscow against the deafening silence of the Damascus rejectionists and Beirut ‘resistors’ is a clear proof of the lines that are defining the prohibited areas as well as the margins of maneuvers.
Thirdly, Iran was never far from outbidding and bluffing as regard resisting (USA and Israel); and since the 1979 Khomeini Islamic Revolution and then the Iran-Contra scandal, Iran has been much more interested in bringing drown Arab regimes through “exporting the revolution” than fighting Israel. This has been proven time and time again, from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen to the heart of Palestine itself, where Iran has sponsored the tearing apart of the Palestinian social fabric from within in order to undermine any possibility that a viable Palestinian entity could emerge.
Fourthly, a regional Muslim “civil war” between Sunnis and Shiites does not worry the Israeli Right; the reason being is that such a war serves its interest in more than one way. It diverts attention away from its policies of annexation, settlements, and the eventual transfer of Palestinians. It also weakens and fragments a likely enemy that threatens these policies.
Thus, the Israeli Right, led by Netanyahu and his Likud Party, see no benefits in the collapse of a regime it knows well and has never ever feared. In fact, what this Israeli Right desires now is nothing more than having a say in how regional influence is distributed through firmly deciding Iran’s share, or agreeing a ceiling for its ambitions, under the watchful eyes of Washington and Moscow.
Back to De Mistura, the “Western diplomatic sources” quoted by Asharq Al-Awsat sound pessimistic about any effective international move in the light of what they regard as “toothless” Washington policy while Moscow handles most of the cards in Syria. They go as far as saying that the Secretary of State John Kerry has handed over the Syrian portfolio to the Russians and that Kerry, along with President Barack Obama and the CIA, are of the view that ISIS is the only threat there.
Subsequently, they believe that all efforts must serve this objective alone even if it meant cooperating with Moscow, and further still, even if it meant keeping Al-Assad regime if it was the price of Moscow’s cooperation. On the other hand, as the diplomatic sources add, the Pentagon represents the opposite argument, as it distrusts both the White House’s approach and the Kremlin’s intentions. Indeed, the Pentagon firmly believes that the ‘Moscow – Tehran – Damascus’ axis is hell-bent on a military solution in Syria and is striving to achieve it.
Thus, the Syrians’ suffering is expected to increase, since any change in Obama’s position seems unlikely during the countdown of his presidency, and the virtual partition of Syria and the intentional rundown of moderation within the “Opposition” are underway.
So, thanks to American negativity and international disability, the only hope left for the Syrians now is to wait for early November.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jun. 18, 2016.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar 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. Eyad tweets @eyad1949