Monday 30 January 2012

Russia's Syria policy seen "sitting at a bar"

Funeral for fallen Syrian soldiers (Photo from

Save for Syria, the hodgepodge of news and views I came across this morning while going through the Arab media includes Qatar’s trailblazing diplomacy, which knows no bounds.

Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Hamad Bin Tamim al-Thani yesterday succeeded in brokering ice-breaking talks in Amman between Jordan’s King Abdullah and Khaled Meshaal, political leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

It was the latter’s first visit to Jordan since he was expelled from the country in 1999.

Meshaal, who has since been based in Damascus, flew in to Amman on the Qatari crown prince’s private jet from Doha.

On Syria, rhubarbs have now broken out among news reporters about the state of play in Damascus.

Saudi Arabia’s leading daily speaks of:
  • “Battles coming nearer to Damascus and reinforcements being placed around the presidential palace”
  • “The Damascus suburbs flaming and the regime engaging the Republican Guard,” and
  • “Rumors sweeping Damascus after closure of the airport road.”

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen writes from Syria, “I had no idea before I saw them with my own eyes that the Free Syria Army was so active in and around Damascus.”

Syria’s printed media, however, are “astounded by the flood of rumors and lies triggered by the army’s surgical operation in the surrounds of Damascus.”

Among other news, they highlight a mass funeral for 23 army and “public order” men killed by “treacherous terrorist hands,” the assassination by “armed gangs” of Homs-based agriculture engineer Ms Amal Issa, the theft of 17 government vehicles from a garage in Idlib, and the quasi-licensing by the interior ministry of two new political parties.

Editorially, Lebanese political analyst Iyad Abou-Shakra says the Syrian regime, realizing violence against its opponents is leading nowhere, “is pondering other options. Regrettably, when fascist forces face a dead-end, but remain bent on maintaining their hegemony, they opt for partition. Faced with a lack of ability to rule all the lands of Syria, the regime will fall back on its emergency ‘reserve option.’ It has been building the latter’s infrastructure for some time.”

Wondering how best to save Syria, Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, Saudi boss of Alarabiya TV, says: “A political stand by the Arab League forsaking the regime would entice everyone to pounce on it. An assortment of forces would embrace the main Syrian opposition as the legitimate representative.

“What the Arab League is doing today is cover up the regime’s ugly crimes. As several Syrian opposition figures demanded, the Arab League needs to take off the hand it clasped around the Syrian people’s throat.

“Such solution does not need a plan, or the deployment of forces, or pleas to the Security Council. This will cost the Syrians less pain and blood than providing the regime with an airbag to cushion the effects of collision.”

Emad Adeeb, a leading Egyptian political analyst and the Middle East’s pioneer talk show host, pictures Russian foreign “policy sitting at a bar.”

He believes Russia is so far clinging to five strategic assets in Syria because:
  1. Syria remains the most important buyer of Russian arms.
  2. Russian arms are paid for either in Syrian cash or Iranian oil.
  3. Syria’s Tartus naval base gives the Russian Navy a strategic foothold on the Mediterranean coast.
  4. Syria’s Intelligence tentacles in the region feed the Russian spying services.
  5. Private Russian oil companies expect Syrian pressure on Beirut to win them Lebanese government contracts to explore for oil and gas off the Lebanese coastline.

“This is not to say the Arab League should not be knocking at Moscow’s door to win Russian support for the UN Syria resolution.” Russia is eager to jump to bed with Washington and the Arab world, but only if the Syria price is right.

A former Soviet diplomat once told me USSR foreign policy was akin to “a bar hostess waiting for the client bidding top price for her tainted drink.”