Few months ago, we analysed the Syrian crisis ending with a question, will Syria follow the Libyan or Egypt style in its transition to “democracy”?
After all this time, the answer is now clear: neither of them. Because Syria, unfortunately, is set to follow a different path made of bloodshed, hate, sectarian violence and all out war: The Lebanon Style.
The country is near to a breaking point, after which no one can predict the extent of the consequences, not only for Syria but also for the whole region.
In my previous analysis, I stated that “the Syrian situation is going to get worse before it will get any better” and I wished to be wrong.
During this time, we have assisted to the big powers accusing each other of the responsibility in the increasing violence, but all of them are just confirming a point: pursue their own strategic interests, not the Syrian people’s one.
At this point, we analyse the last development and current position of all the players and possible scenarios to solve the crisis and avert another Lebanon example.
Assad regime: like a beast in the corner
Assad and the regime are fighting for survival, to maintain a position of privilege. The regime is isolated and cornered in a position where the only exit, should the situation not improve, is death.
The regime, however, is not fighting a peaceful manifestation; this is now out of question and refer to Arab spring is obsolete and false. The Assad regime is fighting a rebellion and a revolution against composite forces: defectors from Syrian army, Islamist groups related to Al Qaida, splinters factions of Islamist groups, other ethnic and religious groups, and terrorists.
We cannot say that some of the horrific attacks that hit Damascus were only propaganda, as the targets, mainly security forces, style and power of execution are clearly pointing in the direction of the army defectors, whilst the attacks on population are also linked to terrorist groups. Following the above, the regime if fighting with an all out war, where there is no difference between civilians and rebels of every kind. Like a cornered beast, the regime is capable of brutality and will sell its skin at the highest price.
Assad is still in a powerful position both on a military and political side. Militarily can still count on major weaponry and the most trustful division in security forces. However, the army is stretched in a large territory and, as the trusted forces are made only of Alawites, the number is not enough to control all the country.
Reason why they are resorting to arm militias such as the Shabiha, likely responsible for the massacre of Hula and other areas. This will inevitably increase the tensions within the communities and bringing near the feared sectarian war that destroy Lebanon in the ‘70-80’s.
Politically Assad can still count on the support of two big powers, Russia and China, with a veto in UNSC, plus Iran in the region. This is locking the crisis at international level, but not giving a way out to avoid the civil war as the big powers are fighting to demonstrate who will get the hand in that strategic region and not how to save the population.
The opposition: a source of fear rather than stability
The opposition to Assad is now an armed struggle made of various groups and with different aims that we can say they are not all looking for a democratic outcome. The main antagonist, both on military level and political, is the Free Syrian Army that can count on training, knowledge and weaponry. However, they are also mostly divided by sectarian lines and most of them fight not against Assad but against the Alawites, including civilians.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the main army suppliers to rebels and the reason behind that is all but democracy, as they are far away from being considered progressive countries.
Other groups are mainly islamists that are fighting Assad secular regime to follow a more inline Muslim society. Behind these groups, you have also some fundamentalists related to Al Qaida and other splinters terrorist organisations that are fighting against everyone they consider non-Muslim or not following religious lifestyle.
The population is trapped between all these forces, unable to voice their feeling as most of them fear the Assad regime as well the country turning to a sort of new Taliban state. The time for peaceful demonstration is over, and civilians are targets for all belligerents, both using them as shields and something to sacrifice for their desires.
As per the Shabiha, also are appearing armed groups made spontaneously only to protect communities from other rival sects.
Foreign powers role
The Syrian crisis inevitable attracted major powers, that while trying to brainwash us that they are acting for the interest of humankind, in reality are just pursuing political interests and are responsible for the current situation, as well for what could happen next if a solution is not found.
Unites States, France, UK and EU pushed the Arab spring too far, pursuing national interest without thinking of the consequences. Libya and Egypt are just the example of two countries where on one you have still no central government able to guarantee security and organise free elections, and on the other they had to resort in calling an ex regime figure to avoid Muslim brotherhood winning election. In both cases the result if far from what those powers were expecting.
In the case of Syria, for the appetite of seeing Assad leave, they are just ignoring the basic principles of geopolitics and diplomacy, playing Risk in an area that could easily spread an all out war for the whole Middle East. These countries pushed what was at first a peaceful manifestation of the Arab spring in an open rebellion promising funding and supply of arms to favour a change of regime. They soon woke up finding out that the UNSC has also two other members with a veto!
In all this time, they never gave the Annan’s UN plan a chance, just waiting the demise, failing to denounce that the peace plan was also broken by opposition forces and continuing a one side position in all this crisis.
On the rebel side, we have also Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are supplying arms, and the Arab League. We have already gave judgement of the League and their hypocrisy in dealing with the Arab spring and here we can only say that their support is move by fear of a revolution spreading rather than democratic desire.
Russia and China are clearly hostile of any intervention for the following reasons:
Syria is a long-standing Russia’s ally, with political, military, and economic ties;
Both have interest in keeping the area safe;
Prevent intervention from Iran and Israel;
Avoid intervention from western powers in the area, as a new war will bring instability in the central Asia and Caucasus area, destabilizing Moscow’s control; as well Xingjian in Western China.
Both pursue a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs.
Russia and China will put a veto at the UNSC for any military intervention and this has to be seen as a gesture based on ‘real politic’ against false humanitarianism and adventurous actions.
The fact the crisis is dangerous for the area is demonstrated by the silence of the main player in Middle East, Israel. Israel since the start of the Arab spring is locked in a mute anger and fear, seeing the fall of secular regimes that, although questionable, ensured border security and stability in the area. After the collapse of Mubarak, Egypt is dangerously shifting to an Islamic society with anti-Israel sentiments, whilst the fall of Assad will generate a void in power that will leave terrorist groups gain the most. Syria has been, in the good and bad, a major key player is resolving Lebanon crisis and ensuring stability after the peace process. The collapse of Syria, with sectarian violence, will inevitable spread to Lebanon with also Hezbollah ready to take action in case of western attack to Iran, whilst Hamas in Gaza will renew its requests for independence. Israel is well aware that in the current situation is at stake its own stability, not only for the area, and that silence is making clear that any change in the status quo that ignore the reality on the ground is not welcomed in Tel Aviv.
What options are now on the table?
The UN mission has failed due to both sides not complying with the agreement of the six points plan and due to external interference of Russia and US above all. However, UN role cannot be ruled out and must be pursued in a more constructive way. An intervention backed by UNSC can only happen if NATO stays out of the picture, and instead a peacekeeping force will be employed with all major power supporting it and with neural countries on the field. Russia and China opposition can be only avoided by taking out any reason of suspicious that this will not be a change of regime and a one-side intervention. On the other Russia and China must acknowledge the importance in cooperating with UN in pressuring Assad in a more effective way as to force him to collaborate.
As per Gaza and Palestine, Western powers cannot ignore Annan proposal for a table of negotiations that includes Iran participation in the talks. Iran is a major power in the area, and isolation of Teheran will only strengthen the perception that western powers are preparing a next stage against Iran.
All parties must also start to include in talks Lebanon and Israel and listen to their concerns. The Arab League in all this appears just as the ancient regime waiting to be the next, reason why they appease whatever other powers say, but their contribution to the crisis, apart arms sales, has been futile and one-sided.
After the recent suspension of the UN mission, Syria is now hanging to a thread; below is raging the war, not a revolution, not an Arab spring, not a manifestation, not a peaceful transition. Below is the fire and the doom of the sectarian violence that will destroy everything inside Syria and that will spread to neighbouring Lebanon. Foreign intervention, if one-sided, will fall into the trap, costing more lives and igniting other conflicts in the area.
Assad must leave power, but under a negotiation where Syrian people must have final say and being advised on the dangers they are facing if they let their destiny in the hands of external powers.