Alongside the ongoing international communication aimed at reaching a solution for the Syrian crisis, which has been dragging on for over a year now, Western research centers are attempting to "diagnose" its developments and implications.
Despite continued international support for the plan of joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, which is seen as the only chance for salvation at the moment, official and unofficial meetings are still being held between the concerned parties.
Some of these meetings are held under the cover of research institutes in order to discuss possible scenarios for the crisis. Within this context, a few weeks ago a group of people concerned with the Syrian issue met in London at the Chatham House, a well-known center for international studies. Three possible scenarios in Syria were envisioned: a political solution brought about by intensified diplomatic efforts, a military escalation as a result of arming the rebels and the situation in Syria devolving into a civil war.
It is no secret that such deliberations often remain confidential. However, this did not prevent Nadim Shehade, a Lebanese researcher at the center’s Middle East and North Africa program, from providing his analysis of the developments of the crisis. Shehade reached the following conclusions:
- The international community has no intention to intervene.
- Its absence is largely due to the lessons learned from the experience in Iraq.
Annan’s plan will remain on the table as long as there is no other alternative, such as a Quartet "roadmap.” It has been acknowledged that establishing humanitarian corridors and safe areas and sending international observer missions would require military protection and support. This is accompanied by the fear that the regime would turn the observers from protectors to hostages. Shehade’s final conclusion is that Lebanon has become somewhat immune to civil war. If there had been a possibility for war to break out again, it would have happened years ago.
Shehade discussed his findings in the following interview with An-Nahar:
An-Nahar: Which scenario is more likely to happen in Syria?
Shehade: There is a general tendency to see military intervention as the worst scenario, since it leads to civil war. There is an absence of political will by the international community to intervene. The lessons learned from Iraq are largely behind this non-intervention policy. We are already at the worst-case scenario. As it is, the status quo with the regime encourages the use of violence, increases sectarian tension and paves the way for civil war.
An-Nahar: Do you mean that Annan’s plan is dead, or will the ongoing efforts to hold a meeting with the Syria Contact Group give it impetus?
Shehade: The Russians may be in trouble. They are in a weak position for having supported Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. They may lose their standing after he is toppled, not only in Syria but in the Arab world as well. Annan’s plan has slightly changed, and that is not bad. It is more like another version of the Arab League proposal, but it includes a recommendation for dialogue between the regime and the opposition instead of Assad transferring his powers to his vice president.
However, today, the two proposals are impossible. The regime does not recognize the opposition, and conducting negotiations with the regime seems impossible for the latter. Annan’s plan will remain on the table as long as there is no other alternative, such as a "road map" offered by the Quartet. It is wrong to rely heavily on the opposition until it proves itself. For 42 years, the Assad regime has ensured that there could be no alternative to it. Today, however, we are witnessing the emergence of Syrian society as a whole, with all its diversity and political ambitions.
An-Nahar: Would the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria revive the idea of humanitarian corridors?
Shehade: The establishment of humanitarian corridors and safe areas and sending international observer missions require military protection and support. The Lebanese people are fully aware of what the Syrian regime can do. The observers will become hostages instead of protectors.
An-Nahar: Do you find that a NATO intervention, in the mold of the interventions in Libya or Bosnia and Herzegovina, is still a possibility under the current political, military and technical conditions?
Shehade: I think that the capabilities of the Syrian regime's military are exaggerated, and what is absent is political will. While there is recognition of the costs of a military intervention, it seems that there is a higher price for non-intervention. There is also no effective Syrian lobby to defend the option of intervention.
An-Nahar: In an article you wrote in the New York Times, you said that the Syrian regime will continue to play for time, hoping that the winds will blow in its favor. You gave the experience in Iraq as an example.
Shehade: Since the start of the Arab Spring, many leaders have played the same game. Their weakness was revealed after they were toppled. It was perhaps with the fall of the dictator Saddam Hussein that the Arab street broke the "myth" of the dictator’s power. While in power, the dictator seems untouchable. But after his fall, he appears pathetic, and it becomes apparent that his power was only an illusion.
An-Nahar: Is there fear of the Syrian crisis extending to Lebanon, given the incidents in Beirut, the Palestinian camps and in the north of the country?
Shehade: We have grown accustomed to hearing that if the Syrians withdraw from Lebanon, the country would again dissolve into sectarian war. Today, they say that the Syrian regime is the only protector against a sectarian conflict in Syria. The regime’s game is based on creating problems for which it appears to be the only solution — such as creating sectarianism and promising to restrain it, arming Hezbollah and assuring to regulate their weapons or obstructing an agreement between Hamas and Fatah and [using it as a bargaining chip] with the Saudis. The Syrian regime is an ally of Iran, and Syria promises to mediate in negotiations with it.
I think that Lebanon is somewhat immune. If civil war were possible, it would have broken out years ago. Tthere are many examples from the years 2005 and 2006, as well as the incidents at the Nahr al-Bared [Palestinian refugee camp] and the Arab League. Even the Palestinians in Lebanon are still on good terms with each other, as opposed to what is happening between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza. The Lebanese may have had enough and gained immunity against civil war.