11/01/2013

Still no solution for Syria

The year 2013 does not start postively in Syria, 22 months after the beginning of protests that turned into an armed conflict which continues to intensify. While international negotiations and peace plans proposed do not seem to yet be accepted by the players, none of them seems to be able to win militarily on the ground rather. Although a « political solution » to the crisis is favored by all international actors, none seems today to hand. Russia and the U.S. met in Geneva today to discuss the plan to end the crisis of the UN mediator for Syria, the Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi.

This plan proposes a cease-fire, the establishment of a transitional government with full powers, and the organization of legislative and presidential elections. Russians and Americans could agree on this plan in two options: the first one would establish a transitional government, time to hold presidential elections which President Bashar al-Assad, who would remain in place temporarily, could not be a candidate. In the second one, transition process would be based on a government composed of members of the current regime and opposition members, but excluding the current President of Syria from office, even in interim maintenance.

For the opposition (strongly supported on this point by Turkey last week), the departure of Bashar al-Assad is a prerequisite before any discussion, even though it is rumored that the Damascus regime might accept negotiated solution if its leader is offered a honorable way out. Persistent rumors suggest indeed a departure of Bashar al-Assad and his family to Venezuela.

On the ground, neither side seems for the moment to take advantage. The taking of the largest military airport in northern Syria by Islamist groups, members of the rebels, after several days of heavy fighting, is a defeat for the regular army, but it resists still very much in Damascus and Aleppo, which had allowed last Sunday Bashar al-Assad to say that the West and the opposition had failed to propose a plan to end the crisis, while his own plan was immediately rejected by the opposition.

On the diplomatic side, the regime of Bashar al-Assad can still count on the Russians and the Iranians, although the Russians seem to gently soften their position and could one day either abandon their support for the Syrian president. In Cairo, the Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Thursday urged the neighboring countries of Syria to promote a political solution and to prevent any foreign intervention. The direct involvement of Iran, the Syrian regime’s last ally in the region, has been demonstrated by the exchange of Iranian hostages, including the Revolutionary Guards present on Syrian soil, against prisoners of the « opposition ».

Saudi Arabia would also, like Russia, changing position on the Syrian issue. Indeed, the Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has said, after a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, in favor of a political solution in Syria, while the king’s son, the Prince Abdel Aziz, recently met for the first time, Syrian officers in Jordan.

All say thatt, thus not taking too much risk, the only solution must be political. However, there is no direct negotiation between the parties and international actors supporting each side do not seem to agree today on a plan to end the crisis.

Can we therefore imagine that, without military victory of side or political solution to the conflict, international military intervention can solve the problem? The British Foreign Minister, William Hague, said Thursday that if the situation in Syria worse yet, the response of the international community should be « scaled up ». He has repeated that London would advocate that the EU embargo on arms imposed on Syria be amended to allow arming the rebels if necessary, when the EU will reassess sanctions against Damascus in March.

However, apart from arming the rebels – that are done already by the Gulf States – It is difficult to imagine that the West will intervene militarily, without the approval of the Security Council of the United Nations. And, perhaps apart from the Turks, who fear an even more massive and long presence of Syrian refugees – there are more than 150,000 – who might move the current conflict on its soil, nobody wants to send men in such a mess. The Americans and the French have certainly not forgotten their interventions during the Lebanese civil war in the 80s.

A solution of the conflict still seems far away and the suffering of the Syrian people may therefore still persist. Kidnapping and other attacks are drag Syria into a certain « Lebanonization » that could see communities across the country to start fighting against each other . That would delay any end to the conflict and make the reconstruction and post-conflict reconciliation more difficult and slow.

Geoffroy d’Aspremont