West ‘walking into abyss’ on Syria

Charles Lister writes: IS remains a potent force in Syria and must be countered, but it will not be marching on Damascus anytime soon, contrary to some uninformed fear mongering. Al-Qaeda also poses a pressing and more long-term threat, perhaps more so than has been acknowledged. But at the end of the day, the root cause of the entire Syrian crisis is Assad and his regime.

While an unenviable challenge, it remains the international community’s moral and political responsibility to find a solution in Syria that ensures the best chance of a sustainable peace. This means genuinely engaging with Syrians of all stripes, including the armed opposition and incorporating their views into a potential solution.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Syrian armed opposition is not divided, but has in fact spent much of the past year focused on developing a clear and unified political vision. These are all groups composed of and led by Syrians and which explicitly limit their objectives to within Syria’s national boundaries – not IS and roughly a dozen Al-Qaeda-linked factions.

Simply put, this amounts to a core of roughly 100 factions. Amid the threat of being excluded from determining their country’s future, dozens of the most powerful of these armed groups are now negotiating the establishment of a single “political office”.

Western governments are ignoring the armed opposition at our own peril. [Continue reading…]

Hassan Hassan writes: The Russians will help the regime to secure and fortify its bases, but not to claw back lost territories. The problem for the regime is not firepower but ground forces capable of pushing back incessant rebel attacks, something that Hizbollah and Iranian fighters are better equipped to provide in the Syrian terrain. Hizbollah has made successive gains against the rebels in some areas but it also suffered defeats or impasse, including in areas where it has a strategic depth, notably near the Lebanese border. A Hizbollah-led three-month offensive in Zabadani, for example, failed to clear a few hundred rebel fighters, compelling Iran to negotiate a truce with the militants.

The idea that Russian fighters will enable the regime to reclaim territory is a fantasy. Russia also has little to offer against ISIL in eastern Syria, except perhaps to reinforce three airbases under attack by ISIL in Deir Ezzor, Aleppo and Homs. Moscow will bolster the regime’s capabilities to defend itself in key towns and cities, but nothing more.

Western officials are therefore greatly misguided to signal a softening towards Mr Al Assad in the wake of the Russian intervention. They should recognise they are fast losing any shred of credibility among the opposition. [Continue reading…]

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