Opinion: Arming Syria's Rebels Awaits Rohani's Flexibility?

The efforts to postpone a political solution in Syria only indicate that we will see this game of cat and mouse once again


By Walid Choucair


Once again, the supposed “political solution” to the Syrian crisis has been hollowed out – it has been moved back time and time again, in hopes of convening a Geneva 2 conference “at the soonest possible time.”


The call for holding Geneva 2 was made at the beginning of May, under an agreement between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and then during Kerry’s visit to Moscow and his meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Ever since then, there have been a series of supposed dates for convening this conference, to clear up phrases from the Geneva 1 declaration of June 2012, because their practical translation was disputed. Geneva 2 has been postponed and then dropped, as a result of this continuing dispute. Does the establishment of a transitional government with the blessing of the regime and the opposition mean that President Bashar Assad will turn over all his powers to this body? Or, will he retain these powers, which in practical terms means that he will eliminate the government’s prerogatives whenever he wants? This is an especially important issue when it comes to control over security bodies, the military and the judiciary.


Nothing has changed as the one-year anniversary of Geneva 1 approaches, on the 30th of this month. One expert has asked whether the Geneva document this time will resemble the so-called “Constitutional Document” of 1976, which was supposed to be a solution for the Lebanese civil war, after more than one year following its outbreak, and was ignored. Later on, the countries that sponsored a solution for this war were obliged to use it as a springboard, over stages, for the “National Accord Document,” which was cemented in 1989 by the Taif Accord.


The resemblance between the two events lies in the fact that the first document and the final agreement in Lebanon came after a game of cat and mouse, in which a given side made progress on the ground, before rivals did the same, a few weeks or months later. This took place as both parties had their regional and international alliances; this strung out the Lebanese civil war over stages, as fighters and civilians served as the fuel for the conflict.


The efforts to postpone a political solution in Syria only indicate that we will see this game of cat and mouse once again. The opposition achieves progress, to the point where it begins to prepare for launching a battle for Damascus; then, the regime uses chemical weapons. The opposition groups try to unify their ranks; then, there is the open entry by Hezbollah into the battle, along with Iraqi militias and certain countries. Before this, there was the role of the Nusra Front and hard-line Islamists from various countries, and so on and so forth.


The Syrian war has experienced many stages, if historians would like to classify them. The current one might be that of arming the opposition with some special anti-aircraft and –armor weapons, to regain balance in the conflict, after the regime and Hezbollah scored some successes in the town of Qussayr and some parts of rural Damascus. Foreign powers concerned with the crisis have yet to exhaust their ability to benefit from the Syrian conflict, which has claimed Syrians, their national fabric, and their country's institutions, as victims. In addition, we have seen the most horrific images of destruction and massacres committed by the regime, generating similar acts in response. This was enshrined by the declaration made by G-8 countries three days ago, and amid meetings between Putin and his American, British and French counterparts, as part of the proxy war being waged by Moscow against western states in Syria. If the phase of providing weapons (which includes Moscow's sending new missiles to the regime) serves as a means of achieving a balance of power and guaranteeing that one side does not gain the edge over the other, it also brings financial benefits to certain countries that are suffering from economic recession. There are also the benefits that accrue in terms of influence in all countries of the region, whether through military maneuvers, or political ones.


However, this phase of "arming" is matched, on the ground, by a political phase. This involves the wait by western countries, and especially the United States, for the emergence of the repercussions of Hassan Rohani, a moderate cleric, being elected president of Iran, which appears to be the first target of regime change in Syria. Western reports are saying that Rohani will be given six months to show flexibility in his country's negotiations with the so-called 5+1 countries over Iran's nuclear program. The Iranian president-elect wishes to reduce the sanctions on his country in order to gain some relief for his economy, which was a primary reason why most Iranians elected him. They hoped that he will bring about a change in their deteriorating socio-economic conditions, which have resulted from the sanctions. This window of time automatically requires that Moscow continue to be placated; the west needs Russia's support in pressuring Iran so that its nuclear program is in line with international criteria. This means that western policy will not move beyond the objective of seeking balance in Syria between the regime and its opponents, so that Moscow and Tehran do not rely on the regime's superiority over them.


Rohani does not take up his duties until August, and the flexibility that the west is waiting for will not emerge immediately. It will need a few more months and it will be difficult to see it cover the Syrian crisis, which is a bargaining chip for Iran with regard to its nuclear program. This is despite the signal given by French President Francois Hollande, who indicated that Iran might take part in Geneva 2.



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