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Dr Musa A Keilani: Tear away diplomatic webs
March 20, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Former UN chief Kofi Annan’s attempt at ending the bloodshed in Syria was a non-starter if only because the Damascus regime has no intention to let go its grip on power no matter what.

The two meetings that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad had with Annan last week were nothing but an empty gesture even as regime loyalists continued their slaughter of people in dissident areas.

Another key element in the failure of Annan’s effort was that the respected diplomat does not have what it takes to convince an autocrat that he has no political future since he has lost all credibility because of his brutal crackdown against his own people.

Annan has given the Syrian president what he described as “concrete proposals” aimed at restoring peace and Assad has responded to them. It is a wasted exercise since Assad could not be expected to agree to anything that casts a real shadow against his continued reign with absolute power.

Further, the main opposition force in Syria has summarily rejected dialogue on a possible compromise that could see the regime carrying out a cosmetic reform programme that includes things like last month’s referendum and parliamentary elections that Assad has promised.

A Syrian activist even described Annan’s call “a wink at Bashar” that would only encourage the regime to “crush the revolution.”

According to US officials, the Assad regime is convinced that the revolt is being driven by external forces and that they are equipped to withstand all but a large-scale military intervention.

If Assad is resolved not to step down at whatever cost, the Syrian dissidents are equally adamant that they would stop at nothing in their quest for regime change in Damascus, and thus the diplomatic stalemate and continued killings of Syrians by the regime.

Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam, is simply incapable of accepting to give up its favoured status — given by the French colonial power early last century and reinforced by the 1971 revolt that saw Alawite Hafez Al Assad, the late father of the incumbent president, assuming the helm of power in the country.

The late Assad set an example for his son in the 1980s three decades ago when he ordered his forces to crush a rebellion launched by the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama and Homs. More than 20,000 people were killed.

Bashar Al Assad has now taken to heart the lesson that his father had taught him: never tolerate dissent or any trace of challenge to the regime even it means deaths of tens of thousands. So far, in relative terms, the new revolt has killed “only” around 8,000 people compared with the toll of the 1980s rebellion. So, Assad and his cronies should be feeling that they still have a margin of 12,000 more lives before thinking of new ways of annihilation.

The short-term picture of Syria is clear. Regardless of around 15,000 defections, the Syrian military and other security agencies remain fiercely loyal to the regime if only because the fate of their Alawite commanders is closely linked with that of Assad himself. They are convinced — and rightly so — that yielding power will mean death or life imprisonment, and this has strengthened their resolve not to give up.

The opposition forces led by the Free Syrian Army are no match for the well-trained and equipped Syrian government forces.

It is ridiculous to see and hear Assad keeping a straight face and insisting that he has done his best “to protect my people, so I don’t feel I have anything to be blamed for.”

Assad and his aides insist that the revolt is waged by foreign-backed “thugs and terrorists” bent upon toppling the regime and that they are stage-managing the scenes of horror that we continue to see on various platforms, including the Internet.

The Russian and Chinese opposition to realistic UN action against Syria has been frustrating.

Both Moscow and Beijing maintain that they are neutral in the Syrian conflict, but, clearly, it is not “neutrality” that we think of when we see the two world powers exercising their UN clout to kill all effective measures to end the bloodshed.

Now that it has been made clear that Annan is not going to get anywhere with Assad, what should be of immediate concern is what happens next. The international community, including the Arab and Muslim countries, have the moral responsibility to take an initiative to practically enforce international laws against the massacre of people anywhere in the world.

Sending military supplies to the Syrians fighting the regime’s forces might have its pros and cons, with the West voicing fears that the weapons would end up in the hands of militants belonging to Al Qaeda. But arming the Syrian rebels seems to be inevitable, given the reality that the regime seems to be very much in control of the security situation and to be able to sustain the battle for months and years.

A Libya-style foreign intervention that successfully ousted the regime of Muammar Qadhafi is indeed fraught with grave dangers when it applies to Damascus.

According to Western sources, Syria, one-tenth the size of Libya, has an army four times as big with five times the air defence assets, most of it supplied by Russia.

Syria now has 330,000 active-duty soldiers, surveillance drones supplied by Iran and a network of air defence missiles that would make it difficult for the United States or other powers to establish a no-fly zone without which no offensive will be successful, according to US officials. A UN Security Council authorisation for foreign military intervention is highly unlikely — if not impossible, given the Russian and Chinese positions.

Someone has to sidestep all these considerations and come up with a realistic plan. The US has already set a precedent by abandoning an effort to secure UN authorisation and invaded Iraq in 2003.

The question is how many thousands of Syrians have to die and be maimed before someone has the courage to tear away the political and diplomatic webs and get to the core of business.



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