Do we know what’s happening in Syria?
The writing is on the wall for al-Assad and his cronies in Syria. But it has been for the past 16 months and yet he has proved to have more staying power that many expected. The speculation now is that he will be out by the end of Ramadan. That remains to be seen, but one thing is certain.
When he does go, and this may not be imminent yet, he is going to pull the country down with him. Too much blood has been shed for a peaceful transition to take place after he departs. A host of accounts have been opened that will have to be settled, most likely by bloody means, once the authority vacuum deepens.
Meanwhile if there is military involvement by Israel in Syria, this will amount to throwing petrol on the fire in a manner that makes matters even more intractable. Such an involvement will not only put the Syrian opposition on the spot, but could also help the present regime regain some of the ground it has lost.
Judging by reports in the U.S. and Turkish press, this paper included, Washington and Ankara have given up hope for a transitional government in Damascus that will work to establish the new Syria in a peaceful manner. That was the format agreed on at the Geneva Conference, held at the end of June and attended by Russia and China, as well as the members of the so-called “Friends of the Syrian People” group.
But Turkey and the United States appear to have given up on that track following the Russian and Chinese veto at the Security Council last week. Press reports indicate that both countries will now increase their military aid to the Syrian rebels in a final push to oust al-Assad. But it is not clear how wise this is.
The situation in Syria is not a simple game with al-Assad and his Baathists on one side and the Syrian people on the other. For all his evil-doing there are still large swathes of Syrian society that hanker for the stability they enjoyed under al-Assad. In the meantime increased support for the Syrian opposition is almost certain to be followed by increased support by Russia and Iran for the Syrian regime, if not the al-Assad family in particular.
Neither is it clear just how the “Free Syrian Army” is composed. Indications are that there is a significant involvement by radical and rabidly anti-Western Islamists who would clearly desire to see an Islamic republic emerge in Syria.
Neither have things gone the way Ankara would have liked, now that we have Syrian Kurds organizing to avail of the advantage provided by the chaos in the country in order to declare their autonomous region.
It seems the Kurds are much better organized and focused than the groups that go up to make up the Syrian opposition. With political, and no doubt military, assistance from the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq, the Syrian Kurds are poised to make serious headway in terms of their aims, as the country crumbles around them.
Put another way, even a cursory glance shows us that we do not just have the Sunni-Alevi fault line in Syria but also the Arab-Kurdish, and Christian-Muslim fault lines. This is why it is naïve to assume that all will somehow be well after al-Assad goes.
If anything the end of al-Assad could very well be the beginning of total chaos in that country.
Al-Assad has to go, of course, and not just that. If he is still alive, he must stand trial for crimes against humanity. That is for certain.
Having said that, however, it is clear that the international community should have cooperated much better and could have come up with much wiser options for Syria, instead of letting things deteriorate the way they have. Instead individual countries, including Turkey, pursued policies that were aimed at serving their own interests, and let things get out of hand, rather than try and understand what Syria was all about.
This has now left us in the position of wondering whether we really know what is happening in Syria. The evidence suggests we don’t really.