By: Sharmine Narwani
The clashes between government forces and opposition militias in Baba Amr were a clear tipping point for these players – much hinged on the outcome of that battle. Today, the retreat of armed groups from the Homs neighborhood means one thing: the strategy of militarizing the conflict from within is no longer a plausible option on which to hang this geopolitical battle. Especially not in an American or French election year, when anything less than regime change in Syria will look like abject failure.
And so the external players are shifting gears – the more outspoken ones, quietly seeking alternative options. There are two de facto groups that have formed.
Group A is looking for a face-saving exit from the promised escalation in Syria. It consists of the United States, European Union and Turkey.
Group B, on the other hand, is heavily invested in regime-change at any cost, and includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and some elements of the French, US, British, and Libyan establishments.
But those efforts have largely come to a standstill after Baba Amr. A reliable source close to the Syrian regime said to me recently: “The regime eliminated the biggest and most difficult obstacle – Baba Amr. Elsewhere, it [eliminating armed militias] is easier and less costly at all levels. Now both political and military steps can continue.”
Dealmaking Begins in Earnest
Dealmaking and dialogue can be seen everywhere suddenly. Annan is only a figurehead masking these multilateral efforts. Reports are coming in that the US has kept a steady dialogue with the Syrian regime throughout. Opposition religious figures – mostly Muslim Brotherhood in their day-job guises – have met with the regime in recent weeks. And prominent Syrian reformists who reject military action and are open to dialogue with the regime, are now being sought out by various European governments.
The European Union (EU) kicked things off in March in a joint foreign ministerial communique rejecting military intervention in Syria. This was swiftly followed by Kofi Annan’s strong warning against external efforts to arm the Syrian opposition, with various Americans making similar soundings in his wake.
One very prominent Syrian reformist who has remained engaged with both sides of this conflict, confided that the externally-based Syrian opposition are now “looking over each other’s shoulders – none yet dares to speak out.” The fact is, says the source, “they are getting military assistance, but nowhere near enough. They need much, much more that what they are getting, and now the countries backing this opposition are developing conflicting agendas.”
The game has changed along Syria’s borders too. Turkey, a ferocious critic of the Assad government this past year, is reconsidering its priorities. A participant in a recent closed meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reveals the emptiness of Turkish threats to form a “humanitarian corridor” or security zone on their Syrian border. Davutoglu, says my source, insisted in private that “Turkey will not do anything to harm Syria’s territorial integrity and unitybecause that will transfer the conflict into Turkish territory.”
A Hard Dose of Realpolitik
One major worry is that there aren’t a lot of arrows left in the quiver to fire at Syria. Without the UN Security Council granting legal authority to launch an offensive against Syria, there are only piecemeal efforts – and these have all been tried, if not yet exhausted: sanctions, demonstrations, arming militias, cyberwarfare, propaganda, diplomatic arm-twisting, and bribing defectors. But a whole year has passed with no major cracks in support from the regime’s key constituencies and that has caused some debate about whether this kind of tactical pressure may ultimately backfire.
But Syria threatens to blast open a Pandora’s Box of newly-motivated “soldiers of God.” And while sectarian anger may be the fuse, the conflagration will take place on a major geopolitical fault line in the Mideast, at a delicate time, on one of Israel’s borders – and changing winds could fan those flames right back in the direction of the United States and its allies.
While negotiations plod on over Syria, we can be assured that most external players have little or no consideration for actual Syrians. The regime will be focused on the long haul, which includes ridding the country of armed groups, ensuring that major roadways are free of IEDs and snipers, implementing a watered-down reform program with token opposition members to give lip service to progress, and becoming even more entrenched in the face of regional and foreign threats.
Meanwhile, the West and its regional allies will happily draw out a low-boil War of Attrition in Syria to keep the Syrian regime busy, weakened and defensive, while further seeking to cement their hold on the direction of the “Arab Spring.” They will pull levers to create flare-ups when distractions or punishments are warranted, with nary a care to the lives and livelihoods of the most disenfranchised Syrians whose blood is this conflict’s main currency.
It will never be certain if there was a revolution in Syria in 2011. The country became a geopolitical battleground less than a month after the first small protests broke out in various pockets inside Syria. And it is not over by a long stretch. Syria will continue to be the scene of conflict between two regional blocs until one side wins. This may be a new phase in Syria today where players are converging to “cut some losses,” but be assured that they are merely replenishing and repositioning their reserves for a broader regional fight.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter@snarwani.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.
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This article is taken in its entirety from : http://uprootedpalestinians.blogspot.ca/2012/03/new-phase-in-syria-crisis-dealmaking.html