Jonathan Steele writes: The motives behind Israel’s attack on Syria on Wednesday are still as obscure as the nature of the target. But two things seem clear. It was related to Israel’s long war with Hezbollah in Lebanon rather than any desire to intervene in the fighting in Syria. Yet the attack was also a reminder that Syria’s turmoil is having dangerously unpredictable consequences across the region.
Finding a viable political solution is therefore all the more urgent. So it was good to hear that Moaz al-Khatib, who leads the Syrian National Coalition – the group of exiles who support armed intervention against the Syrian government and are backed by western and Gulf Arab states – now advocates talks with Basher al-Assad’s people. This is not the view of French, British and US leaders or most of Khatib’s Syrian colleagues, who talk vaguely of a political outcome but only mean Assad’s unilateral surrender.
Their unrealistic line was on display again on Monday, when France hosted the so-called Friends of Syria. Its analysis was gloomy. State institutions are collapsing, Islamist groups are gaining ground, more and more Syrians are dying, and there is no breakthrough in sight. “We cannot let a revolution that started as a peaceful and democratic protest degenerate into a conflict of militias,” said Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, even as he talked of more aid on the battlefield.
Several civic groups that reject the armed struggle were equally pessimistic at a meeting in Geneva. Theirs is the voice of Syria’s secular intelligentsia, who oppose foreign military intervention and favour a ceasefire and a negotiated solution on the lines that Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN/Arab League mediator, is trying to broker. Because they do not support the western line, they tend to be ignored by foreign politicians. [Continue reading…]