Gulf States use “Humanitarian Excuse” to Confront Iran over Syrian Crisis

Article Summary
The humanitarian rationale used by the Gulf states to justify their intervention in Syria is a cover for their determination to confront Iran’s regional influence, argues Marlene Khalife. As proof, she cites the ignorance of the Observer Mission’s report and the clear desire of Qatar and Saudi Arabia to refer the crisis to the UN Security Council.

The Syrian case file is heading directly to the UN Security Council through an Arab initiative and with an Arab blessing. This was the conclusion reached by more than one diplomat at the Arab League ministerial meeting in Cairo last Sunday [January 22, 2011].

Those skeptical of the decisions [taken at the meeting] got the impression that the Arab observer mission [to Syria] was merely an "Arab maneuver," as the meeting did not discuss the report submitted by the head of the mission General Mustafa al-Dabi [from Sudan]. From the outset of the meeting, Dabi realized that his report - whether positive or negative - was not of interest to the attendees. And so, the meeting’s agenda turned towards a political plan for the overthrow of the Syrian regime’s leadership. At that point, Dabi did not hesitate to express his indignation by repeating, "I shall not be anyone's tool" three times in a row.

The existence of an Arab - and especially Gulf - confrontation with the Syrian regime is now beyond doubt, regardless of whether or not Syrian President Bashar Assad implements reforms. As one diplomat at the meeting said, "the target is the 'Iranian threat,' and Syria is but one phase in the plan to curb Iranian influence. The first phase involved isolating Hamas [from the Syrian regime]."

This same diplomat noted that: "The goal in Syria is not at all about protecting civilian lives or preserving human rights. Therefore, when Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim said to the attendees that he was thinking about his hereafter and advised his 'brothers' in attendance to be compassionate towards their Muslim counterparts being killed by 'Bashar's regime,' he did not convince any of the ministers who know what is going on behind the scenes."

What were the details of last Sunday's meeting?

"Stormy" was the description that more than one diplomat in Cairo gave to the [five-member] sub-committee meeting between the Arab foreign ministers, which was held at the Arab League headquarters two hours behind schedule.

There was a grim atmosphere at the ministers committee meeting, which was held at the Four Seasons hotel. Some countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, strongly objected to the perpetual acts of violence that took place under the eyes of the Arab observer mission. [They] called for the transfer the [burden of the issue] to the UN Security Council. On the other hand, some countries - such as Oman - tried to cool the atmosphere and buy the [Arab] institution more time to address what is happening.

The silence of the Egyptians illustrated Egypt's disapproval of trying to bring down the Syrian regime, thus [clarifying that Egypt] prefers to reach a settlement. [On the other hand], The Gulf states appeared to stay committed to the refusal of appeasing [the Syrian regime]. [They seemed determined] to purse the fight against the Syrian regime to the end as part of the bigger fight against Iran, as one Arab diplomat who participated in the meetings put it.

In the afternoon, the sub-committee's contradiction moved to the Arab foreign ministers meeting. The foreign ministers were surprised by the first draft distributed to them. One of the diplomats in attendance described the draft as "harsh and full of procedural violations of the Charter of the League of Arab States."

One error within the draft was the League of Arab States’ bequeathing the duties of the Syrian president to his vice president. It was pointed out that that was a violation of [Syrian] sovereignty and that a regional organization had no right to intervene in the internal affairs of a state. The Lebanese foreign minister also pointed that out that "these countries have constitutions that should be respected." Then the meeting's chairman, Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, turned angrily toward the Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League, Ahmed Ben Helli (sp?), and asked him, "what kind of work is this Ben Helli?"

Tensions were felt soon after Dabi’s objection to the fact that that his report had been ignored. It was completely absent from the [sub-committee's] first draft, which was then amended three times. The first time, the wording was corrected. The second time, the preamble was completely rewritten because it entailed a procedural violation by blatantly infringing on Syrian sovereignty - running contrary to the Charter of the League of Arab States. The third time, the issue of financing the observer mission was added "in order to save face because the discussions were elsewhere: The attendees were discussing the future political plan for confronting the Syrian regime, regardless of the report's contents," noted an Arab diplomat attending the meeting.

The meeting was divided between those countries - led by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Arab Spring countries that want to see the completion of the "Spring" in Damascus - who insisted on transferring the Syrian case file for discussion at the UN Security Council, and other countries who were following national and [Arab] nationalist interests, such as Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria and Sudan.

Once the participants presented their observations on the first draft - in particular regarding its violations of the sovereignty of an independent state, and its not mentioning the observer report - the Sudanese foreign minister made his disdain over the fact that the attendees did not discuss his report clear. There was also an objection about Hamad bin Jassim's "request for international support.” Some ministers thought that that would internationalize the Syrian crisis. But Hamad denied that, claiming that he was talking about "moral support." Some ministers, includingLebanese Minister Adnan Mansour, pointed out that "rejecting direct foreign intervention" should be clearly stated [in any resolution].

During the course of the discussions, it was possible to notice a strong push by the Gulf states towards [moving the issue to the UN Security Council]. The discussions revolved around the question of how can one ask for dialogue when certain other countries are thinking of financing and arming the opposition under the pretext of self-defense.

A diplomat at the meeting said:

"It was evident that the Arabs want to negotiate with the Syrian regime, but not with president Bashar al-Assad. This brings to mind the [discussions] within Saudi and Syrian diplomatic channels whereby that the Syrian president expressed his readiness to start a gradual reform program that would end in 2013 and be followed by an election that would allow him to leave the government without violence and in a manner that preserves the dignity of both [his name] and Syria. But [that proposal] was rejected. And during Sunday's meeting, [Saudi] Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal’s resentment of  at the speech of President Bashar Assad was clear, when [Assad] spoke about the [newly] 'Arabized.' [Faisal] said that there were some who did not respect their elders."

The same diplomat indicated that:

"The Syrian situation is totally different from the Libyan one. Assad has not lost control over certain areas [of Syria] and he does not make use of the air force. [Therefore], the recourse to a no-fly zone is [pointless]. Regarding the humanitarian corridors, they require the presence of large concentrations of people. And this is not the case because the popular majority in support reforms is silent and is not demonstrating. There are demonstrators who either support or oppose the regime - but they are all a minority."

He added:

"The [Arab] plan may lead to a loss of legitimacy for the regime. It may isolate and marginalize President Assad before it starts any serious dialogue. The same thing happened when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was marginalized, and then the dialogue was finally initiated directly with the military. Things are different in Syria because the military is protecting the regime."


Found in: al-faisal, unsc, syrian observer mission, syrian intervention, syrian, sheikh hamad bin jassim, regional politics in the middle east, qatar and saudi calls for intervention, qatar, internationalization of the syrian crisis, gulf-iranian relations, ben helli, bashar al-assad, arab league, arab

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