Davutoglu Makes Little Headway with Syria's Lebanese Allies

Article Summary
According to Imad Mramal Turkey has entered into a zero-sum confrontation with the Syrian regime, and the collapse of Assad now represents the only outcome Ankara is able to accept.During his recent visit to Beirut, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu attempted to portray the removal of the regime as in the interest of Lebanon and the region as a whole, but pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians categorically rejected that depiction.

Perhaps the main conclusion drawn from the Beirut meetings of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet  Davutoglu is that Ankara has burned all bridges with Syria and painted itself into a corner from which it can only emerge with either a complete victory or complete failure.

There is no longer any room for [a Syrian-Turkish] settlement or compromise after the latter decided to transform its quarrel with Syria into a life-or-death battle. There are no backroom doors, emergency exits, half-victories or half-defeats. The collapse of the Syrian regime has become the only "safe exit" for the Turkish leadership from this confrontation. Anything else will be a defeat.

Therefore, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was cool to any kind of policy prescriptions that may throw a lifeline to President Bashar al-Assad's regime and help to rehabilitate it. That includes the Arab Initiative, which the Turks hope will fail sooner or later, because they regard the Syrian President as no longer deserving of more chances given his determination to keep scheming and maneuvering... with live ammunition.

Although on the surface this Turkish push may look like a firm stand, at its core it reveals a dilemma. [The stand] had no effect on the ground, where the balance of power - in Syria, regionally, and internationally - turned out to be more complex than expected.

After Ankara realized its inability to press forward, given Assad's success in containing the situation and its inability to back down given the negative repercussions that would follow, it slid into a quagmire that is eroding its credibility and prestige day after day. It seems that the only card the Turks still have left to play is time. They are hoping that time will work to their advantage and diminish the weaknesses of the front opposed to the Syrian regime, paving the way for internationalizing an attack on Damascus that could serve as its the death blow.

And because Turkey's hostility to the Assad regime has reached the point of no return, Davutoglu did not hesitate to emphasize to some Lebanese figures he met in Beirut that Bashar al-Assad's regime is bound to collapse sooner or later, especially since he is on one side and the entire world is on the other. Davutoglu saw the regime's survival as a cause of instability, not only for Syria but the entire region, and pointed out that if Assad clings to power, it will lead to a growing internal crisis with negative repercussion at the Arab and regional levels, and foreign intervention may follow.

The opponents of this approach quickly gave Davutoglu their responses. They said that the reverse is in fact true, and that it is the collapse of the regime that will trigger a state of chaos in the region. [From their perspective,] such a collapse is in any case out of the question. The choice, therefore is thus: Either the regime remains in place, or an open regional confrontation will break out - with unknown consequences.

Then, in what appeared to be a "tranquilizer injection," Davutoglu tried to belittle the repercussions of the supposed Syrian collapse on the allies of the Syrian leadership, saying that the changes in the Arab World toward reform and democracy, which should also take place in Syria, would serve the forces of resistance and defiance and would improve their posture in their conflict with Israel.

After Davutoglu had dangled that carrot, he was told in response to that reading, "who will improve the posture in the conflict with Israel? Is it Bourhan Ghalioun who has openly declared his intention to break Syria's alliance with Iran and Hezbollah in case he came to power? And how would changing the current Syrian regime in Damascus benefit the anti-Israel forces while it was that regime who stood at their side from 1982 till today and through the wars of 1993, 1996, and 2006, in addition to it bearing the burden of the pressure caused by its political embrace of Hamas, which someone is now trying to transfer from the Syrian core that supports the resistance to another location. And for your information, what is being planned for Syria are not reforms but a strike against its strategic choices."

It was interesting that Davutoglu completely ignored the role of armed groups in the turmoil in Syria. He suggested that such groups are having no significant impact. He maintained that there is a popular and peaceful opposition merely seeking to achieve freedom and democracy while being repressed by the Syrian army and the security services.

In response to this depiction, Davutoglu was told of a CNN report showing audio and video footage of the presence of armed groups in Syria and that there is solid information about infiltrations and arms smuggling across the Turkish and Lebanese borders [into Syria]. The person responding to Davutoglu added, "it is strange that you consider anyone in the street as belonging to the democratic and peaceful opposition. On what do you base that? And how can somebody who is armed and kills civilians be peaceful? And how can he be democratic and reformist if he receives orders from abroad and refuses the opinion of another? And how can the opposition be popular while many of its leading figures cannot organize a real demonstration against the regime, while hundreds of thousands demonstrate in support of the regime and its reforms? Doesn't all of that mean anything to you?"

Some of those who met with the Turkish Foreign Minister detected that he was troubled by the clear and uncompromising stance taken by President Bashar al-Assad on fighting terrorism. The Turks felt that this indicated the rejection of regional and international pressure to halt the [regime’s] military operations. Davutoglu also addressed its dispute with Iran over how to deal with the Syrian crisis and noted that Tehran believes that reforms can be implemented under the auspices of the Assad regime, [a position Turkey does not share].

Found in: turkish foreign policy, turkey’s syrian policy, syrian opposition, syrian crisis, syrian, security and intelligence, security, ghalioun, erdogan, democratic reform, davutoglu visits beirut, davutoglu, assad regime, assad

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