Syria: this may be the best chance to exit the quagmire

Wadah Khanfar writes: A crucial shift is now taking place in the Middle East towards the conflict in Syria. The Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s call for Arab-Iranian-Turkish dialogue over the crisis and a safe transfer of power in Syria – which he repeated in his speech to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran – has been well received in Turkey and Iran. All these countries have a powerful interest in making such a dialogue work, which makes the chances of success far greater than at any time previously.

The context is clear enough. The Syrian rebels have made major gains. The revolution moved to a new phase after the 18 July attack in Damascus, which took the lives of several top security officials, a huge morale boost to the Free Syrian Army (FSA). It has since tried to secure a number of Syrian border crossings with Turkey and Iraq, and its fighters also established a military presence in Damascus and Aleppo, two cities which had been under the absolute control of the regime.

As for the regime, it has witnessed a collapse of morale, represented by a raft of major defections – the most important being that of the former prime minister and a number of military and security leaders. This has created considerable alarm within the Bashar al-Assad regime, provoking savage responses, as demonstrated by the unprecedented use of air power to bomb population centres. The outcome has been a startling rise in casualties and an unprecedented flow of refugees to neighbouring countries. Assad’s interview this week asking for more time to defeat the rebels suggests the bloodshed will get even worse.

Iran recognises now that it is just a matter of time before the Assad regime falls, and its realisation that unlimited support for him will be a disaster has led Tehran to search for an exit from this Syrian quagmire.

Syria represented the cornerstone of the so-called “axis of resistance”. The exit of Sunni Hamas from Damascus last year, following the regime’s crackdown, was a huge blow to this axis, exposing a sectarian divide. Most regional parties who now support the Alawite regime in Damascus are Shia, from Tehran to the Maliki regime in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This has alienated Iran from the Sunni majority in the region and worldwide, at a time when the US and Israel threaten a military strike against its nuclear facilities.

Hence the Egyptian initiative gave Iran an important opportunity which it seized immediately. The participation of Morsi in the non-aligned alliance in Tehran offers an important diplomatic opportunity for Iran. [Continue reading…]

A report in Al Ahram notes: On Syria, Morsi’s speech all but equated the Assad regime with the Israeli occupation of Palestine when he referred to “the struggle for freedom by the Palestinian and Syrian peoples.”

Furthermore, Morsi said the Assad regime “had lost all legitimacy” and it was not enough to show sympathy towards the Syrian people, but the time had come to act upon this sympathy.

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