Christopher Lee


Syria: it can only end when the pattern in shrouds says enough’s enough. That moment has not come

15th September 2012

The latest UN-Arab League peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi has finished his first session of talks with President Bashar al-Assad.  As expected, even by Mr Brahimi, he drew a diplomatic blank.  Frankly, why would anyone expect anything else.

He said what we all know: that the Syrian crisis is deteriorating and, as he thought, is becoming “a threat to the world.”  Which of course is exactly what Bashar al-Assad and his surviving administration want to happen.  Their only chance of an negotiated way out of the bloody war is for the rest of the world – starting in the oil lands of the Middle East – to fearful that the war will spread.

All the time it was judged that the civil war would remain just that, then the effects of the crisis were containable. The building that is burning Syria could burn down but the other houses on the block including the HOuse of Saud would not be set on fire.  If that seems unlikely, then you have only to look at the actions of neighbours and their allies since it all started eighteen months ago.

It all began in Deraa in March 2011. The trigger was the Arab Spring, the sense of rebellion rather than revolution that change was indeed possible and that people power speaking through their mobiles to rally opposition would be photographed, written about and filmed to such an extent that the whole world could stare down from their comfortable seats as if dropping in on the World Series.  Tahrir Square became a spectator sport.  As rebellion became effective so the promises it gave spread throughout the region.  In March 2011 it reached Syria’s southern city of Deraa.  It did so not in the form of an existing underground group, by when a bunch of kids painted slogans on the school war and were arrested, tortured and accused of treason by Assad’s security people.

From the cellars to the rooftops of Deraa people emerged, most uncertainly, to protest the arrests.  The police opened fire, killing too many for the protest to whimper away.

The demonstrators, now in their thousands were daily shot at as they took to streets across Syria demanded Assad’s going. By July, the thousands were hundreds of thousands. The streets and rubbled buildings of Homs, Houla, Aleppo, Deir al-Zour, Idib were added to the powerful imagery as the rest of the region and beyond watched, apparently helpless to stop the war . Each side was determined to crush the other and soon the rebels had an uncoordinated rabble of lightly armed militia that was soon and inaccurately dubbed by Western Media as an army.

By the summer of 2012, an extrapolation from various aid agencies suggested that a further destabilizing factor this conflict was the displacement of more than one million people within Syria and on the move across the borders into Turkey, Jordan  and the ever vulnerable to instability factors, Lebanon.  According to the UN humanitarian director, Valerie Amos, some 2.5 million Syrians within the country need assistance to survive. So, what have the presumably powerful Western or Western-sponsored powers done to stop this slow moving carnage? Not much is the short answer.

It is true that the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and now a member of the shadowy Elders group of former world leaders, was sent in as a peace envoy. His mission was never going to get anywhere.

Dangerously, the Western nations have had a hand in arming the rebels. With any eye on their own oil-related interests, the big UN members have not warned off the likes of Qatar and Saudi Arabia from arming the anti Assad forces and have joined in the world condemnation that includes demands for Assad’s going – ignoring the fact that not all Syrians support the rebellion.

Today a solemn-faced Annan is gone and Brahimi looks sad. They know, but can’t easily accept that there are three options for the future of this war.

Firstly the ability of Assad & Co to keep the loyalty of the wider army. The innermost Republican Guard’s loyalty for the moment at least is not questioned. But as powerful as it is, even the top league 4 Division can only work if the rest of the “green” army stays loyal. Secondly, the rebellion still has no true centre of political and military gravity.  It needs a tough and trusted thinking system if it is to survive as more and more displaced and weary civilians lose faith in what they are trying to achieve and say go away from our village otherwise Assads men will come and kill us.

The third element for regional analysis is the international intervention in Syria, not necessarily militarily.  That intervention has not come on a grand scale as it did, say, in Libya.  It cannot.  The targets are not the same and the consequences for the civilian population unthinkably horrid.

Regionally, Syria’s role as an influential player in the tenuous stability of Lebanon and even Israel is historically vital. Ironically, while the UK, the US, Canada and almost everyone else calls for the Assads to go, those same governments are desperate to maintain Syria as a strong regional player. A further irony is that Turkey, so publicly opposed to the Syrian government, is the other strong element.  And to one side, Iran very much needs an Assad Syria to survive while the rest of the region want Iran to fail.

So we have, Turkey pushing Assad’s downfall but fearful of Syria as a collapsed state.  Iran pushing Assad to survive and equally fearful of a collapsed Syrian state.

Here then is the matrix laid before Brahimi.  When he met Assad in Damascus he apparently had “serious, frank and comprehensive talks”. What else could they be?  He left empty handed. What else could have been?  He brought nothing to the table in Damascus and Assad had nothing to give him, They both know that the only way this war will end is when there are too many shrouds for either side.  That sadness has not yet been reached.


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