A Warning to Damascus

17 December 2012 | 18:12 Code : 1910487 Interview General category
An interview with Mohammad Irani, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs
A Warning to Damascus


Turkey has increased its military movements in its border with Syria. Reports of the dispatch of German and American forces and their equipments to the Syrian border are headlining the news. What are the reasons behind these military activities? Does NATO, despite its denial, look to send troops to Syria?

One must study Syria’s developments, particularly in its surroundings and the developments that are taking place in the Turkish border, with great detail and precision, for they are considered as very significant issues under the present conditions. Of course, the foreign front which opposes Bashar Assad and the present government in Damascus undoubtedly attempts to tighten the circle of blockade and increase political pressures. The plan proposed by the US and France months ago was the creation of a free region in the sidelines of the Turkish-Syrian border or, in other words, a no- fly zone, almost the same pattern as with what was implemented in Libya. Although the dimensions of NATO movements in Turkey could go beyond Syria, they have created a new image in the possible readiness to form a no-fly zone so that they would be able to support Assad’s opponents from the air.

I believe that today’s conditions are not suitable for NATO’s military forces to enter Syria, because foreign intervention in Syria without international agreement and Security Council resolutions would be greatly dangerous. Nevertheless, one should be worried and have concerns over the entrance of NATO forces into the region.

In the Morocco Conference, 130 countries proposed the official recognition of Bashar Assad’s opposition. What will the political and security consequences of this issue be on the government of Bashar Assad?

The concern of both western countries and moderate Arabs with regard to the foreign-based movement which opposed the Syrian government was, from the beginning, disunity among the opposing groups. The Americans and also some Arabs made great efforts, within the Arab League, to create unity among the domestic opposition. But this plan failed. Recently a multilateral Western-Arab move took place in Doha which resulted in a national coalition of Syria’s opposition. Later, the National Military Council was formed by the military groups which oppose Bashar Assad, apparently after the western and Arab parties set the condition of their unity in exchange for receiving financial and military aids. All of these trends have worsened the situation for Bashar Assad.

Nevertheless, it seems that the problem of non-collaboration among the opposition still exists. Today, the most important military movement in Syria is a movement which is close to al-Qaeda, and most of the operations inside Syria are done by this group. Recently the US has put this group on its terrorist list and has placed sanctions on them. This approach shows that the path to find a suitable substitute for Syria’s future is still bumpy.

During this past week, the opposition moved closer to the capital and several explosions occurred around Damascus. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister has stressed, in unprecedented statements, that Bashar Assad has lost control of the country’s affairs. Do you agree with this statement? Is Bashar Assad gradually losing security control over Syria?

With regard to the statements made by the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, it must be said that, although his statements were greatly reflected in international and western circles, the Foreign Minister of Russia denied them. What must be paid attention to here is that the official position of Russia regarding Syria has not changed. But the issue that different statements are sometimes heard from Russian officials, statements which are usually denied, indicate that the Russians also look at the future. Of course, Russia is among the supporters of the government of Syria and has, since the outset of the unrests until now, supported Bashar Assad and considers a political, and not military, solution as the only way out of the domestic crisis in Syria. But at the same time, the statements made by Mikhail Bogdanov, despite being denied by the Russian Foreign Minister, should be carefully analyzed.

With regard to the issue of the military opposition reaching Damascus and the recent explosions, it must be pointed out that military developments inside Syria still have their ups and downs. It means that the opposition sometimes reaches the capital and launches certain operations, but when they are faced with the Syrian army, they leave the area. The opposition groups have not yet been able to independently declare an area to have been liberated by them. In other words, the opposition has not been able to liberate any areas, or it has not been in their interest to do so, for then they would be directly attacked from the air and ground by the Syrian army.

Therefore, it seems that, today, there isn’t any direct military confrontation between the two sides; there are instead sporadic conflicts in different regions of Syria which usually intensify at night. But as was mentioned before, these operations are not continuous and it does not seem that they can be significant in determining Syria’s future.

Iran has emphasized that Bashar Assad is the red line. Due to growing political and military pressures from the West, will Iran, Russia, and China agree on a plan to reach political stability in Syria without Bashar Assad?

I believe that while the Islamic Republic of Iran must have a realistic assessment of the situation in Syria and evaluate the military state of this country in line with international developments related to Syria, it must know that there is no need to play in the field of western countries.

It must further be added that the Islamic Republic of Iran is an important country in the region and its positions impact the issues in Syria. It seems that the best solution for Syria is not for Bashar Assad to leave power, but rather a comprehensive political solution which would firstly prevent further destruction, killing, and displacement of the people. But Assad leaving power, in the form proposed by the western countries, will not end the crisis in Syria.

It seems that if the West looks to change the regime in Syria, it should be done through the Syrian people and with their support, not by insisting on Bashar Assad’s resignation or supporting the free military and equipping the opposition groups. Thus, the more prudent and logical method seems to be the involvement of the people of Syria to legitimize the next political system in this country, not foreign intervention or the financial support of the Arabs. Even if there is the belief that corruption and oppression exist in the Syrian government, they should allow the people to decide about it. Such a solution seems to be more rational, instead of exerting political and military pressures to remove Bashar Assad.

tags: syria bashar assad

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