During the years of war and negotiations, the allies of the Syrian worked on decreasing political pressures on them by selling promises. They’d say: “Don’t worry. We are seriously thinking about letting go of Bashar al-Assad as president and ending the fighting.”
Then few weeks later, they’d publish a clarification saying: “We don’t care about Assad and we accept assigning another president, but we’ll do that after Assad’s presidential term ends so we don’t violate the constitution.” Let’s note though that the Syrian constitution was never respected. Everyone eventually waited and elections were held in 2014. As per the usual charade, Assad won.
Days passed by, battles escalated and Assad’s forces regressed. Pressures surfaced again so they went back to making promises. They’d say: “Be patient. We are searching for alternatives for the regime or at least for an alternative to the president.”
Then after waiting and stalling, Assad’s allies announced they agree to a political solution that’s based on forming a joint government with the opposition. Following months of talks, they’d clarify their promises and say that what was meant by opposition is the opposition affiliated with the regime and not the “real opposition.”
The war then got worse than before and pressures increased whenever the Assad regime felt defeated or whenever it committed a crime. The Syrian regime allies then said they were discussing new ideas for a peaceful solution and hinted at changing the president.
They later submitted a new political project and said: “We agree that the Syrian people must choose the president they want through elections.” This is all reasonable and beautiful but then we got stuck into the details. Which people do they mean?
Those in regime-controlled areas or the 16 million Syrians who are not under the authority of the Syrian regime and which the latter views as terrorists? The entire situation eventually relapsed and wars escalated again while more promises were made.
So long as the Iranians’ losses in Syria are related to personnel who are not Iranians and as long as the political cost is low, they will continue to work on their regional project and the war will thus go on for yearsAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The opposition cannot seem to win while the regime is not winning either as it only has a little percentage of its army and security forces left since many defected or died. Most regime forces are currently made up of a cocktail of foreign militias that are organized and managed by Iran.
We’ve learnt not to believe any of the Russian and Iranian political projects as they’re merely a negotiating tactic that aims to calm down international protests, neglect demands and drain enthusiasm. And as time passes by, no one gets anything.
I think this is what is happening now at the Astana negotiations. Leaked information about the talks makes one very optimistic to the point where we feel this is only for media consumption! Sources claim that Russians agreed to replace Assad and even proposed alternatives.
Whether they truly said so or not, the past years taught us that these promises are lies! The aim is to make people forget their demands. This is usually followed by shelling people using barrel bombs. More people are thus displaced while chaos expands in neighboring countries.
Let’s contemplate and ask: Can the Syrian regime’s allies feel they need a reasonable political solution and stop selling fake political solutions? There’s at least one case that can make them engage in a serious conversation and end the war.
Arming the opposition
The solution lies in lifting the ban on arming the Syrian opposition with advanced weapons. Positions will change if Syria transforms into a huge swamp for the Iranians and their militias. Tehran – in this case – will have to hold serious negotiations.
For the Iranians, the war is still relatively cheap. If 1,000 Iraqis or Pakistanis or Lebanese die, they just replace them with another 1,000 from these countries. They’re not losing jets or armored vehicles because the opposition’s weapons are simple, like rifles, AK-47, RPGs and locally developed equipment like the hell cannon.
So long as the Iranians’ losses in Syria are related to personnel who are not Iranians and as long as the political cost is low, they will continue to work on their regional project and the war will thus go on for years. Belligerents usually reconcile under the pressure of defeat but losses in Syria are mainly limited to foreign fighters who are imported to the Assad regime or civilians in areas which the regime does not control.
The latter are killed by barrel bombs and missiles and they have no means to defend themselves. This is why many Syrians are displaced. There are more than 12 million displaced Syrians because their only way to defend themselves is to simply flee. If the aim is to reach a reasonable political solution, then this will require reconsidering how to deal with the opposition and how to arm it in order to make everyone sit at the table of negotiations.
This article is also available in Arabic.
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. He tweets @aalrashed.