Amid what is going on in Syria, big questions surround the Syrian opposition’s options. The political opposition inside Syria rejects a US strike, is determined to find a political solution and insists on convening the Geneva II conference, according to lawyer Hassan Abdel Azim, the general coordinator of the Syrian opposition’s National Coordination Committee (NCC).
He said that the violence must end because it threatens not only Syria, but also the countries of the region, and because it is adding fuel to the fire by causing the fragmentation of the region into ethnic and sectarian entities.
In an interview with As-Safir, Abdel Azim added that any intervention in Syria will lead to a regional war and that the situation is different from the [earlier] Iraqi and Libyan scenarios, pointing out that “the NCC rejects outside interference and considers the external opposition’s welcoming of military action to be patriotically questionable.” Abdel Azim emphasized the need for a political solution, which he said is the only way to ensure Syria’s unity and end the fighting.
The NCC’s secretary general, Raja Nasser, said that now is the time for “last-minute diplomacy.” He said that “a US strike on Syria is still on the table despite attempts to mitigate or reduce it. The latter option is seriously being considered because the United States cannot easily back down. It can be said that there is a chance to try to reach a last-minute agreement between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. And if there is an agreement, then they will declare the strike’s postponement. There is also the possibility of Congress deciding against the strike, not because it rejects intervention [in principle], but because its opponents want [to deal Syria] a comprehensive blow.”
Nasser added, “We are against any foreign military intervention. We said so from the start. And this is because of three [reasons]. The first is because of principle and is related to the concept of national sovereignty and refusing to interfere in others' affairs. The second is strategic and linked to our vision that runs counter to the American-Western-Zionist project. The third is realistic and stems from a reading that any strike against the regime will strengthen the forces of extremism on both sides of the bloody conflict and give them ideological justification to incite their supporters at the expense of the nationalist-democratic project. . . . The issue for us is more than about punishing [the regime] and is part of the strategic vision of dealing with the conflict. In addition, any strike would put more obstacles in the way of a political solution, which we believe is the only way out.”
For his part, the political activist Edmund Dahwash said that the opposition should reach a unified position to the extent possible and direct military action away from extremism in order to go to Geneva with a coherent position. He added that “the opposition has recently exhibited its own failure, which was highlighted by it being excluded from Western debates and hearings. Its failure goes back to the former Syrian National Council and to the present Syrian Coalition. They have believed the ‘outside military intervention’ lie. That was a misreading of the international and regional equations and Syria’s internal situation. Today, the opposition may benefit from new developments by trying to convert international pressure on the regime to political pressure. And [the opposition’s] various wings must seek to [find common ground] and intensify their efforts by taking advantage of their diverse international relations.”
According to Dahwash, the opposition at home should stop its offensive against the opposition abroad and try to find common ground with it. It should be noted that the internal opposition has proposed reasonable projects, but they need working mechanisms on the ground, effective coordination with the youth and convergence with the opposing current.
On the other hand, Sami Betnijana, a member of the political bureau of the Third Current for Syria, told As-Safir that there is a conviction that the expected US strike has nothing to do with the use of chemical weapons, which is only a pretext to attack Syria, and that what is happening is an attempt at partially or completely replicating the Iraqi model.
Betnijana told As-Safir, “The Americans, with their behavior, are hindering a political solution by trying to impose their control over Syria and achieve their goal of dividing it or terminating its regional role for the benefit of the Zionist entity. We therefore call on all Syrians to stick to the political solution as the sole exit from the crisis and to stand united in the face of the expected American-Western-Zionist aggression.”
For the armed opposition, the options are different, amid reports that they are preparing to exploit the attack to try to advance on multiple fronts in the north and south, in addition to the Jazira area. But, as is known, their lack of weapons, equipment and fighters is tipping the balance of power toward the Salafist Islamist battalions while the regime fortifies its positions around Damascus, Daraa and the coast.
Military and strategic analyst Brigadier Ali Maqsoud thinks that there will not be a military strike and that what’s happening is a verbal escalation aimed at pushing the parties to the negotiating table.
According to Maqsoud, the key question is “if there’s a strike, will it be designed to strengthen, support and enhance the gunmen’s position? Or will it be intended to conduct military strikes . . . to push toward negotiations? If the US wants to use force outside the UN framework, then I think that there will be consequences for the role of the US and its ally Israel. There could be a significant change that causes [the United States'] exit from the Arab region. After the Syrian army's display of its military capabilities, the possibility of intervention was shot down. Then the terrorism project started collapsing. So America used what was left of its credibility and sent 25,000 gunmen to fight the battle of Damascus and both Ghoutas. The goal is to alter the field of battle. So the challenge is strategic.”
He continued, “But the forces of the Syrian army succeeded in implementing a preemptive plan at the gates of Damascus. So these groups started to lose, including the so-called ‘chemical weapons front’ led by Zahran Alloush. That group possesses primitive chemical weapons smuggled from al-Qaeda in Iraq to Jobar, in the vicinity of Damascus. And when that front collapsed, Washington saw that the [Syrian] army cannot be stopped except by means of a chemical weapons pretext and thus escalated its rhetoric, accompanied by a demonstration of naval power, to stop and restrain the Syrian army, and give a measure of support to the gunmen. In the end, we can say that this escalatory rhetoric aims to achieve two things. The first is strengthening [Washington’s] position as leader of the opposition and imposing conditions in preparation for the negotiating table. The second is changing the [power balance on the] ground and stopping the Syrian army’s advance.”
Maqsoud concluded, “With the fall of [Washington’s] project in the region, beginning from Egypt and Tunisia and the recent fallouts in Libya and Yemen, there are factors pushing the US administration to escalate before entering into negotiations that would enable it to introduce the Islamist currents as participants in ruling this time.”
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