The New York Times reports: Both sides in Syria’s civil war see the deal to dismantle President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles as a major turning point. It left rebels deflated and government supporters jubilant. And both sides say it means the United States knows Mr. Assad is not going anywhere anytime soon.
The agreement between the United States and Russia, Mr. Assad’s most powerful backer, ended weeks of tension over the possibility of an imminent American military strike. Plans for such a strike have been put aside while the diplomatic process surrounding the agreement plays out, engaging Mr. Assad’s government and infusing it with new confidence that could have immediate impact.
Rebels who had hoped to capitalize on a military strike to regain momentum in the fighting are now bracing for the opposite, expecting Mr. Assad to press the battle more aggressively with conventional weapons, which they bitterly note have killed scores of times as many civilians as chemical weapons have.
Rebels and analysts critical of Mr. Assad’s government say he has a well-established pattern of agreeing to diplomatic initiatives to buy time, only to go on escalating the fighting.
For example, when Mr. Assad accepted Arab League monitors in the country in late 2011 and early 2012, he also intensified his crackdown on opponents, and shortly afterward he began the large-scale bombardments of rebel-held areas, like the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, that have since become daily occurrences.
Kamel Wazne, a Lebanese analyst who has close contacts with senior members of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that has sent fighters to aid Mr. Assad’s forces, said Sunday that the deal allowed the side of the Syrian government to exhale.
“Whether the Americans like it or not,” he said, “when you negotiate the deal with the Russians as representatives of Bashar al-Assad, you acknowledged his existence and his continuation in power.”
Though American officials keep saying that their threat of military force remains, Mr. Wazne added, the Syrian government is now reassured that there will be no strikes anytime soon, and that “at least for today, life is normal in Damascus.” [Continue reading…]