Surrender to imperfection at Geneva summit
Last week Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant movement, and the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched an assault against Syrian rebels in Qusayr, a strategic Syrian town close to the Lebanese border.
Meanwhile, Der Spiegel reported that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, which predicted less than a year ago that al-Assad’s regime would soon collapse, now believes al-Assad will make significant advances. And on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry admitted in a meeting with the Friends of Syria in Amman that the Syrian regime has made some gains in the last few days. Here comes the question: What happens if al-Assad wins Qusayr?
The fight for Qusayr is seen as a pivotal test for the opposing sides of the Syrian crisis since it will determine the direction of the war. Victory in Qusayr would allow the Syrian regime easy access to Tartus, the Mediterranean port city, where Russia could supply both oil and weapons in the event Damascus falls. It would also facilitate weapons transfers from Iran and from the Syrian regime to Hezbollah. Tartus also provides an entry to the coastal region dominated by al-Assad’s Alawite sect. This would not only provide an essential refuge for al-Assad, but also geographic continuity between Alawite areas in Syria and predominantly Shiite areas in Lebanon. Moreover, by reasserting its military superiority, the Syrian regime would gain a stronger negotiating position at the Geneva summit, which will take place next month in a bid to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
Success for the regime in Qusayr would also have long-term implications for the wider region. It would affect neighboring Lebanon, where the Syrian conflict has already heightened the country’s own sectarian tensions. This would trigger a regional sectarian war the traces of which can already be seen in the deepening Sunni-Shiite divide and the escalating sectarian violence in Iraq. The recent decision by Hezbollah to join the battle for Qusayr makes the situation even more alarming since this would certainly trigger the Syrian rebels to respond. This was already showcased on Sunday in Beirut where two rockets hit a Shiite district a day after the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said his group would continue fighting in Syria until victory. This was the first attack to apparently target Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut since the outbreak of the crisis.
Al-Assad’s victory in Qusayr would also have further international ramifications. While for Russia it would mean keeping its only port in the Middle East, Tartus, in the hands of its close ally, for Iran it would mean keeping a haven open to its proxy, Hezbollah.
Al-Assad restored sectarianism as the master narrative in the region, putting Syria on the frontline of a sectarian cold war. The divide, or in British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s words, the disintegration of Syria, is what the “West” hopes to ward off since this would result in a regional war. The only route to prevent this lies in accepting an imperfect political solution in Syria, putting aside all exclusive reservations. This is a must-do for everyone.