Can there be hope for peace in Syria? For the first time in nearly three years, both local and international developments point to such a possibility. With realization in Western capitals that Russia and Iran are the most influential players in Syria, hopes have been aroused that movement toward a peace deal may be forthcoming. There are also no opposition demands for Bashar al-Asad to step down, at least at this stage.
Beirut, Crescent-online | October 4, 2013
Following from the US-Iran thaw, however modest, hopes have been aroused of some kind of a peace deal in Syria. Two days ago, Ahmed Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) said his group would be willing to participate in the Geneva-2 talks if the Arab countries supporting the SNC would guarantee that the interim government would be put in place in Syria.
Significantly, Jarba did not say anything about President Bashar al-Asad’s removal from power. This demand may come up again but with recent developments, this is becoming a moot point.
There have been other developments as well that lead one to speculate that the tide might be turning in Syria. On September 30, the veteran Middle East correspondent for the Independent reported that some members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had traveled to Damascus for talks with a senior Asad advisor. They were given government guarantees of safe passage.
In areas under FSA control, such as Aleppo and Homs province, government schools and other institutions have opened. Further, there are efforts by the government to attract soldiers that had defected to the FSA to rejoin the army. There will be no reprisals or punishment.
This has the added advantage of ending fighting in rebel-held areas, and using the returning deserters to go after the foreign mercenaries that the vast majority in Syria now fears.
There have been defections from the FSA to al-Qaeda affiliated groups. There has also been fighting between the two groups with the better-armed foreign mercenaries, brutal and without loyalty to anyone, besting FSA fighters.
This has alarmed the FSA leadership. Even some of their foreign sponsors are beginning to realize that al-Qaeda terrorists can easily turn their guns on them if the mercenaries’ demands are not met.
There is growing realization among the vast majority in Syria that Asad may not be a democratically elected president and he may be a brutal dictator, but his rule is still better than what al-Qaeda types will offer. Besides, Asad has promised elections next year and they will be open to candidates from all groups.
What has caused great alarm especially among the rebels’ Western sponsors—the US, Britain, France etc—is the recent massive attacks on Christian churches in Raaqqa and the brutal assault on the ancient Christian village of Maaloula by the Jabhat al-Nusra Front. Last Friday (September 27) bishops and patriarchs from across the region met in Beirut to highlight the grim plight of Christians in Syria and how to confront this growing threat at the hands of al-Qaeda elements.
Interestingly, this has brought convergence in US, Russian and Iran policy on Syria. There is also growing realization in Washington that without Iran and Russia’s help, Syria cannot be stabilized.
It seems even Saudi Arabia, the main troublemaker in the region, has realized this. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia made an overture to President Hassan Rohani of Iran inviting him to participate in this year's Hajj.
It was not merely to perform Hajj, but Abdullah is keen to establish good rapport with President Rohani who has become the indispensable leader in the region. This is especially true of the situation in Syria.
Iran holds the key to Syria and whoever emerges in control there will influence events in the whole region. The Saudis appear to be signaling that they have lost the game. Are they trying to limit their losses and strike a deal with Iran?
Only time will tell whether the Saudis, like the Americans, can be trusted.