US Checkmate in Syrian Chess Game

17 December 2013 | 23:04 Code : 1926202 Interview General category
An interview with Mohammad Irani, Iran’s former ambassador to Jordan
US Checkmate in Syrian Chess Game

The Arab League has called for the establishment of a transition government with the participation of the Syrian opposition as the condition for the return of Syria to this League. Could it be interpreted from this statement that the Arab League has comprehended its mistake in hastily giving Syria’s seat to the opposition?

Syria’s exit from the Arab League happened when the former Qatari government played a determining role in the Arab League with its political power. Two years have passed since that time and significant developments have occurred in the Arab world. At that time, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar uncontrollably represented the movements of the Arab states and since they pursued the policy of overthrowing Bashar Assad’s government as the priority in the Arab League, they made numerous visits to the European capitals and the US. Naturally, following the developments in Qatar and the transfer of power to Sheikh Hamad’s son, Qatar’s policy with regard to Syria changed to some extent. After the transfer of power in Doha, harsh positions taken by the government are not heard any more and it seems that in the new outlook of this country’s foreign policy, the officials seek to define a political and peaceful solution to end the crisis in Syria.

It is on this basis that today Qatar does not follow its previous policy with regard to Syria’s developments in the Arab League. Of course, Saudi Arabia makes efforts to replace Qatar and create the same position in the Arab League. But the advances made by the Syrian army, on one hand, and the regional and international developments which helped the improvement of the situation of the Syrian government, on the other, joined hands to reduce the impacts of the Arab League in Syria. These issues have caused not only the Arab League but also some of Syria’s neighbors, which previously took harsh positions against Bashar Assad, to review their policies.

Recently, there has been a turn in the positions taken by the US officials with regard to the Syrian crisis. For example, Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA, in a different statement, has reiterated that perhaps the best situation at the present time for Syria is for Bashar Assad to remain in power. What has caused this change in the US’ positions with regard to the developments in this country?

Bashar Assad’s opposition and the regional and extra-regional governments which oppose him have all entered the scene in Syria with this mentality that the ruling system would collapse within a few months. But this did not happen. Thus, as time passed by, their policies naturally changed. The same holds true for the US policies in Syria. The US officials gradually distanced themselves from their harsh positions against the central government in Syria where they had even determined an ultimatum for Assad’s exit from power. This means that the White House gradually reached the conclusion that the collapse of Bashar Assad’s government is not possible by resorting to normal methods. Of course it should be mentioned that in order to achieve its own objectives, the US had used different approaches: from using the presence of military forces in Syria through the Security Council to serious threats with regard to a military attack to destroy the chemical weapons. Furthermore, the military aids which were given to the opposition should not be ignored. But what was left out of the sight of the US was that in the opposition front, there is no solidarity to directly confront Bashar Assad’s government. The lack of this solidarity has led to the entrance of different variables into the scene of the military clashes and other parties became involved in Syria’s opposition groups. The involvement of these variables and different fronts in the opposition have led to the formation of new groups, hence, the ruling situation in the crisis in Syria gradually changed from what the US was after and seriously became uncontrollable. Since a year ago, the entrance of the radical groups which were affiliated with al-Qaeda and their active presence in the scene and clashes with the government forces practically gave the scene to them. Meanwhile the US attempted to increase the weight of its desired movements which included the national coalition and the Free Syrian Army in the political and military scene of Assad’s opposition towards secular fronts which excluded radical Islamists. Of course, these attempts made by Washington did not succeed and the radical groups advanced with the support of some Arab forces of the region and the direct supports of these governments. This issue led to the strengthening of the situation of these radical groups among Bashar Assad’s opposition and of course the Syrian army made the best use of these conditions and in very important cases such as clashes in al-Qasir, Qalamoun and the surroundings of Homs gained determining victories.

As a result, all the elements worked hand in hand to increase the concerns of the US. The US’ main concern was the vast presence of the radical groups which today form the most important opposition forces inside Syria. Since last week, the clashes between the opposing armed forces have advanced to the point where the Islamic front, which is a radical Islamic group, has separated from the Free Army and the Free Army is almost on the verge of collapse. This means that the US would lose its direct party in the Syrian scene which would leave the US at the crossroads of the political chess game of Syria: the US must either negotiate with the coalition or the radical groups in Syria and help its strengthening or accept the military and political realities in Syria not directly – but by giving green lights based on the statements made by this former US official – to gradually understand the fact that the existing components in Syria today cannot change Bashar Assad’s position in the Syrian government.

Therefore, what is going to happen in the Geneva-2 conference between Bashar’s opposition and representatives of the government?

One of the solutions which Washington pursues to politically end the Syrian crisis is holding the Geneva-2 conference. The US attempts to draw a peaceful political solution for the future of this country by bringing regional and extra-regional players to the Geneva-2 conference. Assad’s opposition have not yet accepted the invitation to Geneva-2 because they believe that in the scene of political and military developments, the government of Bashar Assad has the upper hand and the balance of power is to the benefit of the government forces. On this basis, Bashar’s opposition attempt to postpone the timing of the Geneva-2 conference by resorting to any possible means including the proposal of certain pre-conditions to buy extra time for themselves. Thus, the future of the Geneva-2 conference is somewhat ambiguous.

A few days ago, there was a report about the proposal of cooperation between the Free Syrian Army and the government army to contain the radical Islamic groups such as al-Qaeda. Are the opposing forces which demanded the collapse of Bashar Assad’s government until a few months ago now ready to cooperate with the government to get rid of other opponents of the Syrian President?

Of course, this report which was based on the cooperation of the Free Syrian Army and the government of Syria has not yet been confirmed. But this is an important issue which gradually all of the Syrian groups which previously demanded the establishment of a democratic system wherein the people could decide about their future are concerned about the presence of a radical group which is instigated by other countries and incidentally are mainly non-Syrian. There is this common concern among all national movements which oppose the Syrian government and the US and the European countries. This common concern is the result of a common question of what path should be pursued against the radical groups.

It seems that the US’ situation in the Syrian chess game is not very solid and they are faced with difficulties with regard to the issue of Syria. Today certain parties are involved in Syria which play a more determining role than the US. It seems that Washington’s attempts to hold the Geneva-2 conference are aimed at finding a solution to return the political conditions to their previous state. The US is willing to return the game to the past and reinstall the pieces of this chess game as they wish. My analysis of today’s developments in Syria is that the other party is not in a good situation and in the end it is the government of Syria which has the upper hand in the present conditions or is the main player in the domestic conflicts.

Laurent Fabius, the Foreign Minister of France, in his address at the World Policy Conference in Monaco has stated that he is very pessimistic about the situation in Syria. He has added that they are making efforts for the Geneva conference to be successful but they doubt its success. What is the reason behind the pessimism of France and other European countries?

As mentioned before, the reason is that the opponents of Bashar Assad’s government have lost their initial solidarity and naturally the result of a conference wherein there is disunity among the opponents of the Syrian government will not be suitable for them. One of the reasons behind their disappointment with regard to the result of the Geneva-2 conference, even if it is held, is the severe weakness which they see in the opposing party. This situation has become more severe last week and the disputes have become physical. On this basis, any opposing movement which would feel superior thinks about eliminating the rival party. This is while in the first months of unrest in Syria, fighting against Bashar Assad’s government was the common objective of the opposing groups but today each one of these groups demands a bigger share of the Syrian territory.

There had been talks of Iran’s participation in the Geneva conference, which was later denied. What is your opinion of this conference and its result in the destiny of the Syrians? Could the Geneva conference succeed without the presence of countries like Iran?

It is not clear yet whether this conference is going to be held or not and the grounds are not prepared. It seems that Iran agrees with its presence in this conference. It means that Iran agrees with it and the conclusion of some of the important countries which participate in this conference is that the regional governments which impact the crisis in Syria must be present in this political gathering. It was on this basis that Lakhdar Brahimi invited Iran and it is on the same basis that some of the opposition groups have related their presence to Iran’s non-participation. Therefore, all of these elements show that Iran’s role in this conference could be very important alongside the Syrian government and some of the democratic political groups which pursue their political and not military presence in Syria (meaning that they pursue a peaceful political solution) for the future of Syria. It seems that the concern of these groups is the issue that they have set a condition for Iran’s non-participation.

tags: bashar arab league syria assad

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