Splintered Syrian Opposition Extends Assad's Reign

Article Summary
The Syrian opposition is meeting in Istanbul, where the splintered factions are trying to establish a shared goal for their struggles and win US help in establishing a communications system. Mehmet Ali Birand reports that Washington is not yet pushing Ankara toward military intervention, and Turkey is being more cautious than it was at first.  

You all must be asking the same question. Wasn’t Assad supposed to be toppled in a matter of months? What happened? Why is it taking so long?

I even heard Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan say, last year [2011], “He can’t survive more than a few months.”

The true reason for this delay is the fragmented nature of the Syrian opposition. They cannot even communicate properly with each other. Instead, they persist with the “Let it be tiny, but let it be mine” mindset.

The political opposition is something else. They all have a different Syria in mind, which naturally threatens some of the major sectarian groups in the country. For example, the Kurds and especially the Christians, unsure of what kind of regime will follow Assad, do not want to fully support the opposition. They ask what will happen if a radically religious Syria emerges. How will they cope with losing the advantages they gain from today’s secular system?

As for the military opposition, they are no different. They constantly complain about Turkey, the USA and Europe for not providing enough weapons and assistance. Ankara-Washington-Paris justly replies, "As long as you remain divided, how are we to know who gets the weapons?”

The Syrian opposition meeting currently underway in Istanbul is trying to solve this basic issue. Approximately 200 people representing all of the opposition groups are trying to come up with a decision to unite under one roof. More importantly, they are bargaining for what kind of Syria they want. If they succeed, they may get concrete support of the Friends of Syria conference. Fine, but how long will this take?

Experts say there is no way that Assad can remain in power. They expect that if the opposition is united and properly organized, Assad will have to relinquish power within a year or two.

For the first time, I think we are talking realistically.

Turkey is being more cautious than we think. We are not as fired up as we were in the beginning, and we are not alone. But every day that Assad remains in power, it hurts Turkey and there is nothing to be done. The issue that preoccupies Ankara the most is the possible flow of more than 100,000 refugees to the Turkish border in the event of a massacre. In such a situation, there is only one thing to do: create that infamous buffer zone.

The plans are ready. We know where to enter Syria and how deeply we would advance on Syrian soil. Ankara sees no contradiction with international law for such an action.

The only hope in Ankara now is for the Syrian opposition to unite and decide on a common agenda. Unless this happens, Ankara has no intention of helping out. The few weapons that the opposition has managed to acquire so far have came from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf countries via Jordan. But they were not enough, and if the Istanbul conference has a satisfactory outcome, this assistance may increase.

Details of the Erdogan-Obama meeting in Seoul have reached Ankara. For me, the key points were:

  • Until the US Presidential elections in November, don’t expect Washington to intervene in Iran and Syria. Afterward, we will revisit the issue.
  • If Syrian opposition groups manage to unite, the US is ready to provide a communications system.
  • We have to convince Russia and China to make a decision at the UN.

Washington is not pushing Ankara toward military intervention. Perhaps tomorrow, but not yet. At the moment all efforts are working toward getting the Syrian opposition to organize and increasing the pressure on Assad.

Found in: washington’s syria policy, syrian opposition, syrian, friends of syria, bashar al-assad

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