Author: As-Safir (Lebanon) Posted January 23, 2013
The second anniversary of the Syrian crisis is less than two months away. The first time that US President Barack Obama called for the departure of his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad was on Aug. 18, 2011. That was one and a half years ago. Even earlier, on May 28, 2011, French President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded Assad’s departure. So have the Turks and the Arabs on many occasions. But the Syrian president remains.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently said that “Assad’s departure is impossible.” Ali Akbar Velayati, the international affairs advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader, said that “Assad is a red line.” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem later came out and denied what Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa had said. Moallem asserted that those who insist on Assad’s departure are prolonging the war in Syria.
From that, one can conclude that the Russia-Iran-Syria axis has survived and may even achieve security and political gains. The question is now, why did this happen? The reasons may soon be seen in Lebanon's electoral law. In Moscow, Tehran, Syria and Lebanon, many believe that what's happened in Syria represents a global cold war. In Damascus, one of the two sides will come out victorious — unless there is a major political settlement.
Those who visited Assad recently were surprised by how unworried he seemed. From his palace — which, contrary to rumor, he has never left — the president discussed the current situation as if the balance of power has turned. He said that his government will continue to solidify its presence even as the war drags on. He said that the battle is no longer between the government and the opposition, but rather between the state and “terrorists,” and that the fighting will continue until the latter is eliminated.
The president expressed full confidence in his regime and his army. He never doubted the commitment of his Russian ally at the international level or of his Iranian ally in the region. He cracked jokes even as the war is raging. He said in a reassuring tone, “I have said from the outset that the strategic alliance with the Russians does not change at every turn. Many thought that I was exaggerating.” That alliance began in early 2007, and it has strengthened and become the bulwark against any attempt to harass Syria from both inside and outside of the UN Security Council.
Assad is not worried about the spread of the armed opposition in Syria. His analysis shows that his army can win many future battles. Syria’s geography has allowed the opposition media to portray the regime’s security structure as if it has nearly collapsed. Syrian demography does not allow the army to remain in the areas where it won a battle. Instead, the army kills a lot of gunmen, and then pulls back. Other gunmen move in to take their place. But Assad is confident that “the friendly environment [for the rebels] is about to radically change.” Many citizens have helped the army locate militant hideouts, and hundreds of gunmen have recently been killed with citizens’ help.
In the past few weeks, Assad’s optimism in front of his visitors was corroborated by several international and regional factors, notably:
Those who visit Damascus will hear a lot of opinions on all of those issues, but for the time being the regime's most important objective remains its military option. The regime’s priority is to eradicate jihadists and al-Qaeda. Nobody hears much about the “moderate” opposition anymore. In the opinion of the Syrian leadership, the moderate opposition has lost a lot of support inside Syria. “They left open the stage to fighters who know nothing about reform, freedom or democracy. And they did not take the proper stances at the proper time,” say many in the Syrian government.
Despite that, a political solution is still possible. Assad’s visitors say that every time he talks about reform he refers to his latest speech. He said that he presented an integrated plan during his speech at the opera house. He talked about the constitution, a referendum and elections. These are fundamental points he agreed upon with the Russians. Moscow was pleased with his speech. President Vladimir Putin’s administration defended the speech from Western and Arab attacks. The Russian government went further and said that Assad’s speech was the most the Syrian government can offer, and that it is now the opposition’s turn to present its vision for a solution.
Even more significant, the prospects of the ground battle are changing. There are new factors and military strategies. The army has learned from its mistakes. The army has gained more control over security breaches caused by corruption. Popular committees, which have been intensively training for two months, have been formed. An information and eavesdropping network has been installed (with great help from the Russians, which has surpassed all Western aid to the armed opposition). Self-protection measures in minority areas have been taken. It is said that the popular committees’ accomplishments have exceeded the army’s expectations.
All the above was accompanied by economic measures by Russia, Iran, Iraq and other countries. It is rumored that a reconstruction deal including the oil industry has been struck with the Russians. That did not end the economic crisis, but the situation would have been much worse if these measures were not taken. The economy is a major concern, but Assad seems confident of the next steps. In the areas where things have settled, such as Homs, the citizens’ conditions have improved. There is hope that things will settle in Aleppo and that the city will avoid new battles. The situation of the refugees and displaced persons have made some people re-establish contacts with the regime.
How can we build on the political progress made thus far?
With the continued tightening of the security situation on the ground, the opposition will start a series of meetings abroad. There is hope regarding the plans of the coordination committee headed by Haytham Manna in Geneva. Manna has stood firmly against militarizing the revolution and foreign intervention. He has met with more than 32 foreign ministers. Many would like to meet him these days, especially those from the Gulf. Manna will soon preside over a meeting in Geneva (the same meeting that was supposed to be held in St. Aegedo, Italy). It is said that the meeting will be more productive than the previous one. Officials from the Syrian regime may participate (possibly from the Syrian parliament) as well as figures close to the Muslim Brotherhood. The meeting may be held under the auspices of the Russians and the Europeans, with Iranian support, in addition to being backed by some Gulf states that oppose a significant role for the Muslim Brotherhood. It is expected that political steps between the regime and the opposition will follow. Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are involved. Turkey will be forced to follow.
Moscow is using such meetings to tell Washington that there is only one way to stop the war in Syria: by applying the Geneva Agreement, transferring power to a government that includes all side, and preparing for elections — and that Assad cannot be prevented from participating in the elections.
The choices are clear. Either that settlement is accepted and the war stops, and that includes stopping support for insurgents, or the war will go on. Nothing on the horizon points to the possibility that the balance of power may change unless the rebels succeed in killing Assad with Western assistance. This is why Moscow and Tehran said that Assad is a red line. It seems that for them, his presence guarantees the regime’s survival.
In the recent Egyptian-Saudi meetings, as well as during private communications among Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the conviction is growing that there is no solution except a political solution that involves all parties, including Assad.
What about Lebanon?
Some Syrian officials like to remind us that international agreements, especially those with France, brought President Michel Suleiman to power, and that his positions are not surprising. Like Prime Minister Najib Mikati, he originally thought that the Syrian regime could fall. Syrian officials say that the Lebanese always make the mistake of believing the West's predictions for regional changes. For Damascus, Mikati is still better than Suleiman, but there are big questions. The Syrians are neither angry nor happy with Lebanese officials, but rather very disappointed, especially because they allowed arms smuggling and criticized the Syrian ambassador. “The Syrian crisis allowed us to discover who our true friends are,” said a Syrian official. We will never forget that lesson.
The Syrian officials also like to note that the visit by the head of the Struggle Front parliamentary bloc Walid Jumblatt to Russia indicated that he wants the major powers to change their policies. The Syrians say that Jumblatt understands that the Syrian crisis is not going the way he wants. They point out Lebanese divisions over the election law with a smile, and note the deadlines that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri had set for his return to Lebanon and was unable to meet. They are confident that his return will be the result of a Syrian understanding with Saudi Arabia, but this will not happen soon. One Syrian official said that Syrian election laws are undoubtedly much more advanced than the Lebanese 1960 election law. They say that “Damascus will not forget who stood by its side and will not forget who contributed to the bloodshed.” Can that be translated into reality? There are reports that Lebanese figures who oppose Assad have tried to contact him in the past two months.
All the above goes against what a senior Lebanese security official said: that the Syrian regime will fall in two months, just as Obama, Sarkozy and Erdogan had once predicted.
So once again, it appears that the interests of powerful countries is put above the peoples’ suffering, especially if they are Arabs. As we wait for a settlement, the war will go on.
Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2013/01/syrian-regime-regains-upper-hand.html