Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Road to Iraq Goes Through Syria

By George Semaan
What is important now is for Syrian diplomacy to abstain from announcing the annulment of the Gulf Cooperation Council States from the map as it did with Europe! It is important for it to pause before the Security Council statement and take into consideration the Gulf states’ breaking of their silence after a long period of waiting. More importantly, it must refrain from following in the footsteps of one of its journalists who cautioned the Gulf states via a satellite channel that his country could mobilize the Shi’i citizens in them, adding that their statements were written in Washington while disregarding the fact that they did not deal with Damascus as they did with Tripoli. Indeed, they sent more than one envoy and message to the regime, offering to help it to avoid its slide toward prohibited actions. However, they received the same answer as Turkey “whose patience has started to run out” as it was expressed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
What is important now is for it to respond to Ankara’s call and take the international positions seriously. The situation will certainly not reach the point of a Western military campaign launched against Syria – as it was seen in Tripoli – although Russia’s permanent envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin warned that NATO had started to plan a military campaign against it to help topple the regime “with the long-reaching goal of preparing a beachhead for an attack on Iran.”
Damascus should take the new positions of the Security Council and the GCC seriously. This is due to the fact that the more its apparatuses infiltrate the cities to carry out destruction and oppression – as it was seen in Hama, Deir ez-Zor and Daraa among others - the more it is allowing Western interference to grow closer to its gates and internal arena and pushing the Arab countries to break their silence and their neutrality. The regime wanted to render Hama a lesson so that it does not become an archetype for the remaining cities. It wanted to show the world, which excluded the repetition of the city’s tragedy, that it was strong, and unwilling to show the minimum level of weakness, reluctance or submission.
The regime did not listen to Turkey’s warning that assured it will not allow the repetition of the Hama tragedy, and did not change its ways since the first day of the action. It thus dealt with the demonstrators based on the culture it has been adopting for forty years through its partisan and security components: No mercy and no tolerance with the oppositionists. However, the latter whose ranks have been widening by the day have shown that this culture no longer belongs to this day and age, since the more the oppression is growing, the more the protests are expanding. Some even fear that the intensification of the oppression might lead to the increase of the risks at the level of the army and result in divisions that will in turn lead to some sort of civil war, while pushing the silent and observing factions, along with some minorities that are concerned about the future, to move to the ranks of the oppositionists if the economic crisis were to escalate and if the sanctions start carrying their negative repercussions.
Damascus must take into consideration the fact that none of the European states, the United States or the Arab countries that have started to raise their voices and threaten with additional pressures, have so far publicly called for the changing of the regime. They have waited for long to see the translation of the reform promises and waited in vain for the results of the dialogue whose table ended the same way as the Lebanese one! Through it, Damascus wanted to appease the domestic arena and reassure the external sides while planting the seeds of division in the ranks of the oppositionists. It wanted to gain time in the hope of undermining the street’s momentum. Nonetheless, these states saw that the regime did not shift away from its first tale regarding the existence of foreign conspiracy and extremist armed gangs spreading corruption in the country. These gangs definitely exist, but the hastening of the reforms would have been enough to discontinue their action instead of using their confrontation as a pretext to engage in a confrontation with the people, most of the people. It also turned out that the regime has not yet recognized the presence of a crisis, and consequently needs no drastic change at the level of its structure.
 After five months of “tolerance,” the situation has changed. The United States, the European countries and some Arabs did not follow in Turkey’s footsteps, which rushed into stringent positions toward the regime in Syria since the beginning of the crisis, thus raising a controversy even in Ankara. Indeed, Erdogan’s opponents considered this position as being an electoral stand, following which he was forced to send his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Tehran and some Arab capitals to help extinguish the fire in Damascus. However, Turkey’s re-adoption of stringency, along with the United States, Europe and some Arab countries, despite what was said about the reasons behind their support of the Syrian action, comes in response to these countries’ streets which have also started raising the slogan “your silence is killing you.” It also comes in response to the pressures of civil and human rights associations and organizations which do not believe that in our current times, there can be local and closed up communities enjoying the sovereign right to define human rights and freedoms.
The adoption of additional stringency to impose a tight political and economic isolation on the regime in Damascus will increase its domestic isolation and the severance of its relations with wide factions among the people who have been – and are still – sustaining an observant and neutral position, thus constituting an Arab and international message - which might be the last – regarding the fact that the period of waiting has lasted too long. What is required is to listen to the voice of Turkey and the Gulf states that advised the regime to hasten the reforms since the beginning, expressing willingness to provide it with support, advice and assistance instead of relying on Iran and engaging in its battles with the West and most of the Arab countries. It has become clear that the Islamic Republic of Iran is engaged in a critical battle inside and over Syria. Indeed, it did not settle for mobilizing the Lebanese arena in the context of this battle, and is also relying on the Baghdad government to support Syria and help it overcome its economic difficulties. One might even say it is pressuring the government of Nuri al-Maliki who threatened two years ago to take his battle with Damascus up to the Security Council, due to the acts of violence which were prevailing over Iraq at the time.
This excessive Iranian influence in Baghdad might have been one of the reasons behind the galvanization of the Gulf waters. Some even believe that this is not mere influence, and falls in the context of Tehran’s tightening of its grip over Iraq, out of fear that its loss of Syria – and consequently Lebanon – will force it to engage in a fateful and decisive battle with the United States and the majority of the Arab “system” in Iraq over its position in the new regional order. Hence the warning of the Russian envoy to NATO against a military campaign on Damascus with the goal of preparing a beachhead for an attack on Iran, and before that the warning addressed by his President Dmitry Medvedev to his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad against a “sad fate” if he does not hasten reforms, reconciliation with the opposition, the reinstatement of peace and the establishment of a modern state!
Despite all the messages of condemnation sent to Damascus last week, the United States, Europe, Turkey and the Gulf states are not expressing any real wish to see Al-Assad facing a “sad fate” because they do not want to see such a fate facing Syria as it is facing Libya. Moreover, they do not want the region to become the victim of a new war with Iran. However, the old and renewed question revolves around the following: Can the regime introduce real and drastic changes and remain in power? Since the beginning, doubts surrounded such a possibility, which is why this regime had no choice but to resort to the security solution that was enhanced by the obstruction of the solutions in Libya and Yemen and what is happening in Cairo and Tunis. It had no choice but to resort to Iran that can neither engage in truce nor remain silent over the loss of positions which it worked hard to build throughout thirty years.
-This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 08/08/2011
-George Semaan is a Lebanese Journalist and was the editor-in-chief of al-Hayat

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