Sunday, August 14, 2011

Witness To Whatever Unfolds

By Musa Keilani 

Jordan cannot remain a silent witness to what is going on in Syria, Yemen or Libya, but its northern neighbour requires a totally different strategic stand, given its location and role as one of the key players in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Washington stayed away from calling for regime change in Syria for weeks and advocated a negotiated solution to the conflict that pits the Assad regime against pro-democracy activists.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has made a series of political moves, but these are cosmetic and only aim at buying time. His opponents know that it would be fatal for them to allow themselves to be lured into making a deal with the regime following the death of more than 2,000 civilians, and they are determined not to back down.
Unlike Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, Assad’s security forces are not fighting armed rebels but peaceful protesters who no longer feel they should remain the tame subjects of a regime that has always repressed them.

The regime’s forces are on a warpath, attacking demonstrators with no questions asked, killing, torturing and maiming people with impunity. This will continue until such time that the Syrian regime is convinced that it has taken the steam out of the pro-democracy movement.
The West has limited options to deal with the Syrian regime. Washington would prefer to see the Alawite regime continue in power, though the president would have to disappear. The reasons are several. The regime has followed in the footsteps of Hafez Al Assad who ensured that his country’s Golan Heights confrontation line with Israel remained calm. The recent flare-ups in the Golan, when Palestinians and Syrians tried to cross the ceasefire line, were an exception; they should be seen not only as a tactic to divert attention from the civil rebellion in the country but also as a warning to Israel that things would not be the same if the Assad regime were to fall.

Of course, Israel knows this well and it would also prefer to see the regime continue to stay in power, and that is one of the key reasons why the US had been cautious in its approach to the Syrian crisis. Other considerations have to do with the possible impact of a regime change in Syria on the regional scene.
Jordan has its own concerns; so do Syria’s other neighbours, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. Palestinians are closely watching the developments in Syria because whatever happens at the leadership level in Damascus will have a direct bearing on their options, when it comes to dealing with Israel, in their quest for independent statehood.

So the situation remains puzzling.
Is there room for negotiated settlements to the crises in Libya, Syria and Yemen? Hardly. The autocratic regimes of Qadhafi, Assad and Saleh have taken their conflicts beyond the point of no return. They proved that they would stop at nothing to ensure their survival, even if it meant slaughtering the very people they were supposed to protect.

In Libya, the civil war is getting protracted, with Qadhafi determined not to step down from power and to take as many people with him when he meets his end. It is only a matter of time before that happens, since Western leaders have staked themselves in the quest to get rid of Qadhafi and they simply cannot afford to make any compromise that would see him continuing in power.
It would also be a mockery of international justice to allow the Libyan strongman to maintain his repressive reign after having clearly established that more than 40 years of power have gone to his head to the point that spilling his people’s blood means nothing to him as long as he ensures his survival.

It is unimaginable that anyone would dare question Qadhafi’s rule, let alone put up an armed challenge.
In the case of Yemen, it is a foregone conclusion that Saleh, who is recovering in Saudi Arabia after being wounded in an attack on his presidential compound in Sanaa, is on his way to another stage of limbo. Short of a dramatic (but unlikely) turn of events, Saleh will never set foot in his homeland. The strongest and most influential Hashed tribal leader has taken it upon himself to ensure that there will be no return to the status quo before the anti-Saleh revolt erupted.

Saleh will never be able to resume his cunning manipulation of tribal affiliations and subliminal capitalisation on regional sectarian rivalries to suit his interests.
The West, particularly the US, is treading a fine line in Yemen because of the perceived strength of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Ideally, the US would have liked to see Saleh make some concessions to the democracy activists and continue in power as an ally in the fight against Al Qaeda, in which, it seems, the Yemeni strongman was taking Washington for a ride. He manipulated things to project himself as the last bulwark against Al Qaeda and to instill Western fears that his demise would mean Al Qaeda taking over Yemen and turning it into another pre-2001 Afghanistan.

The West has grown wiser to Saleh’s game. The US is engaged in an exercise to ensure that whoever replaces Saleh will not only be friendly to Washington but will also be equally committed when it comes to fighting Al Qaeda.
No doubt, Washington will be successful to a fair degree to bring about genuine change in Yemen. It is only a matter of time before the cronies hanging on to Saleh realise that the game is up and they have to take some serious decisions. They might want to strike deals with the US to ensure their survival, but the tribal and opposition forces at work are bound to oppose any such compromise. So it is definitely the end for Saleh and his regime, as is the case with Qadhafi.

Washington will set a scenario whereby Saleh’s successor will address US concerns about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In the meantime, the reality remains that no one seems to be able to influence the course of events away from violence.
The regimes in Tripoli, Sanaa and Damascus are aware that they are fighting for their life and simply cannot afford to fail since that would mean their end. The world at large will have to remain a silent witness to whatever will unfold.

This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 14/08/2011

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