Monday 1 April 2013

Strong and weak points of the Syria players

My paraphrasing of a leader comment penned in Arabic by editor-in-chief Ghassan Charbel for this morning’s edition of pan-Arab al-Hayat:
Illustration by Syrian artist Wissam al Jazairy
Syria is paying an exorbitant price for the clash of the “strong-weak” sides engaged in its conflict,
Over the past two years, the conflict brought about a river of dead and wounded and a sea of refugees, setting back the country several decades.
Syria is paying the price of equilibrium. If the balance persists, the country risks disintegrating or splintering.
The equilibrium is between two axes -- each comprising a number of “strong-weak” sides -- and extends from the UN Security Council to Damascus’ doorstep.
The Syrian regime can claim to be strong, saying it was not swept away like the regimes of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. It can claim to have stopped, battered, bloodied, disfigured and cast doubts on the Arab Spring.
The regime can brag that it can devastate any city or village falling out of its control. It can boast about convincing its hardcore supporters that they are fighting in tandem a holy war worth all this gruesome and deadly bloodletting.
The regime can take pride at having kept the backbone of its military and security machine intact and its supply lines secure and at having maintained one generous international ally called Russia and one generous regional partner named Iran.
The regime can contend being strong and continuing to have overwhelming firepower.
At the same time, the regime is weak. Areas under its control have shrunk. The opposition rebels’ shells are reaching the icons of regime power in the heart of Damascus.
The regime can resist and delay falling. It can opt to fight a protracted and ruinous battle, but it is no more able to recoup its losses. More importantly, it is unable anymore to end the terrible impasse without paying the price it hesitated paying through Lakhdar Brahimi.
The regime can shoot down a solution, but it is incapable of initiating or joining one without making fundamental concessions it considers synonymous to a resounding defeat.
The Syrian opposition can say it is strong. It controls large swaths of Syria and is knocking at the capital’s door. Atrocious violence against opposition supporters and strongholds amplified hatred of the regime.  
True, the opposition enjoys wide popular approval and thorough Arab, Islamic and Western backing.
You can also cite its success in the Arab de-legitimization of the regime.
The opposition can profess being strong and buttressed against detractors by the sacrifices of its martyrs. But it cannot deny its weaknesses.
The opposition failed to crystallize either a unified vision or a cohesive representative body.
It failed to project a reliable and reassuring profile to citizens at home and abroad.
It was unable to force its way to the component protecting the regime by winning the component’s trust or allaying its fears of change.
Inasmuch as the opposition benefited from the combat experience of “roving fighters” that made their way to the battlefronts, it is paying the price of fears raised by Jabhat al-Nusra sinking roots across the country.
Russia is strong.
She paralyzed the Security Council and denied Western powers the international legitimacy cover to deal with the Syria crisis.
She turned the June 2012 Geneva Declaration into a war of conflicting interpretations. She supplied the Syrian Army with all the weapons it needs.
But Russia is also weak. She can abort a solution unfavorable to her ally but is incapable of initiating one liable to bring Syria’s predicament to a close.
Russia is a “strong-weak” player.
Iran is undoubtedly the superstar player sustaining the Syrian regime’s military staying power. She didn’t skimp on the quality or quantity of her backing. She proved her ability to brave the storm.
But Iran is also weak.
Her deep involvement in the confrontation deprived her of any role in contributing to a solution.
Iran is also swimming in a sea of popular resentment in Syria and the region. Her stance is inflaming the Sunnite-Shiite face-off.
The same is true of Hezbollah, which is swimming in the same waters.
The “strong-weak” syndrome applies to other players, such as Turkey and the countries supplying cash, weapons and diplomatic support.
All sides are currently racking their brains to try and change the balance of forces and the “strong-weak” equilibrium in the hope of creating new facts on the ground that would force the regime to subscribe to a political solution.
This chapter will prove to be extremely harsh and fraught with danger.