Any news on Syria?

Most important data: death toll dangerously approaching an outrageous number: 35,000 (mostly civilians, and too many innocent children amongst them) since the outset of the uprising in March 2011, with countless injured and more than 25,000 detained. Moreover, more than 260,000 Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries (moreover, the number of internally displaced persons is now estimated at 1.2 million) and approximately 2.5 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to official UN sources. As I said in my last entry (paraphrasing the admirable Sartre), our hands (all of us’) are dirty.

On 24 September, Lakhdar Brahimi, Joint United Nations and League of Arab States’ Envoy for Syria, briefed the United Nations Security Council on his recent visit to the region (Syria, neighbouring countries and Cairo), announcing the situation is still “very grim”, but nonetheless showed an optimistic stance, and even foresaw a solution may be forthcoming: “now that I have found out a little more about what is happening in the country and the region, I think that we will find an opening in the not-to-distant future”. Brahimi added he refuses “to believe that reasonable people do not see that you cannot go backward; that you cannot go back to the Syria of the past”. Nevertheless, he reminded he started “just three weeks ago” and begged patience of all sides. Apparently, Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Arabi also attended the meeting, and dared to mention (again) the need for resorting to Chapter VII of UN Charter, in order to avert a full-blown regional crisis (I wonder whether Russian and Chinese representatives, that have already vetoed three resolutions that condemned Bashar al-Assad’s regime and threatened sanctions, were touched by the speech this time). He also called on all members to back Brahimi’s efforts, warning about the further chaos that could break out should the special representative fail.

The Syrian conflict was indeed the inevitable “elephant in the room” throughout the whole Annual Session of the UN General Assembly that took place last week (where US President Obama delivered a laudable speech hinging on freedom of speech, although he only timidly mentioned his country’s ongoing engagement with Syria). In his introductory speech, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the issue “a regional calamity with global ramifications” and warned the Heads of State and Government of the world not to “look the other way as violence spirals out of control”. He once more urged member states to “stop the violence and flows of arms from and to both sides”. During the Summit, which gathered more than 120 leaders, the Emir of Qatar called for an Arab armed intervention so as to stop the bloodshed once and for all. He received support from Moncef Marzouki, the Tunisian President: “if need be, an Arab peacekeeping force will be created”. President Morsi also called for an end to the Syrian catastrophe, but in this case within an International, regional and Arab framework guaranteeing the state’s unity and averting the danger a foreign intervention could entail (Egypt has always showed a staunch opposition regarding this possibility, and its position can be summarized in four points: “ceasing violence, rejecting any foreign intervention, preserving the unity of the Syrian people and land and maintaining political unity”). I wonder if the actually discuss it during LAS meetings or if it’s all about a face-lifting move targeting the international community. On the sidelines, at least three high-level meetings on Syria have also taken place in New York, but no new meaningful initiatives have been put on the table so far.

Furthermore, but apparently not more encouragingly, the Contact Group Quartet Mr Morsi laid the foundations for (composed of Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran) also met last week, but has yet to reach an agreement . Saudi Arabia has ceased sending a representative to the talks, and significant differences have arisen between Iran and Turkey, mainly because the latter remains firm in its position regarding the need for the Syrian regime to step down while Tehran believes the solution will only come from a dialogue including both the current government and all factions within the Syrian oppositionIndeed, all these countries’ stances can be easily explained. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and France (strangely, though, it seems an unofficial decision by the Arab states to gradually withdraw support, eventually completely stopping all funding and armament of the opposition, has caused France to announce that it was prepared to arm the opposition) have apparently been working on the establishment of a secured buffer zone on the northern border of Syria using an advanced air defense system (something similar to what was done in Libya). That would however amount to an armed intervention for some, notably for Iran, a country whose military leaders have intensified as of lately their statements by saying that “Syria is the first line of defense against Israel”. In that respect and according to Al-Monitor, Iranian officials announced following the Quartet’s meeting that “Syria would soon celebrate a political solution, based on the fact that both Western and Arab states are in a state of confusion regarding the crisis, and there is increasing fragmentation among the Syrian opposition abroad”. It is worth noting Iran has also admitted the presence of some of its pasradan on the ground (and even in Lebanon), allegedly merely guiding and giving its Syrian counterparts advice. For its part, and moving away from a position that made the country very popular throughout the Arab world (and a model for many countries in transition), Turkey has been maintaining a certain distance from Syrian events over the last weeks, probably bearing in mind the eventuality of a likely fragmentation of the country if the conflict scales into a civil war, and particularly the possibility of further struggle with the Kurdish community. 

Despite those “foreign policy turnarounds” from key players, this has not been the case of the Syrian regime’s original stance, as evidenced by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem’s words“if ending the violence was in the hands of the Syrian government, then I assure you we would have ended it yesterday”; “Unfortunately, it is not a Syrian government decision. It is in fact Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, who are arming, hosting, and financing these armed groups. So the decision is there”. Despite trying to justify its acts, Assad’s gang still boasts about their welcoming all mediation efforts, particularly those implemented by Brahimi or those under the auspices of Iraq (the neighbouring country’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has volunteered to broker discussions between the government and the opposition). Indeed, the Syrian conflict is not only spilling over Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan (main destination of scores of refugees), it is also enormously hindering any possibility of stability in Iraq, particularly further worsening the existing sectarian tensions and pushing many amongst the country extremists towards the Islamic Republic of Iran (thus getting on Israel’s nerves).

Hey people, I said “news”, not good news!!

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