The Countdown Has Begun, But What About The Objectives?
31 August 2013
By Eyad Abu Shakra
"We will defend ourselves using all means available,"
Syrian foreign minister Walid Mouallem said on Tuesday
during a press conference in Damascus. The minister's
statement marks an improvement on the ‘we reserve the
right to retaliate' reply that we have grown
accustomed to hearing from Damascus.
I carefully watched Mouallem's press conference and
was not surprised by most of what he said.
At the end of the day, Mouallem works at the Syrian
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, even if he is a cabinet
minister. By this—I mean that with all due respect to
the man—Mouallem only follows orders handed down to
him, and which he is unable to gainsay, let alone
disobey. Those who are familiar with his diplomatic
record, as well as sources close to him during
critical stages during his long career, confirm that
Mouallem does not have the ability to object to or
oppose the regime, let alone defect.
On Tuesday, Mouallem—who served as the Syrian
ambassador to the US and thus is well aware of
Washington's military capabilities and international
influence—spoke in simplistic terms, making sense only
to the submissive and brainwashed Syrian media that
reiterates slogans it neither comprehends nor means.
Mouallem was speaking to the helpless Syrian people
whom the Assad security regime has been treating as
hostages for more than four decades. As for those
outside Syria, Mouallem knew beforehand that they were
always skeptical and will not believe him, whatever he
says. At the same time, Mouallem had to do his best to
appear normal, confident and assured regarding the
rhetoric he was espousing.
It was funny, though, how Mouallem made reference to
the large number of local reporters—compared to the
foreign ones—attending the press conference, a fact
that surely came as no surprise to him!
The policy the Assad regime has adopted since it chose
bloody oppression as a means to confront the peaceful
popular uprising was based on banning the media. The
regime seems to follow the proverb that says, "Those
who lie must keep eyewitnesses at a distance." In
fact, for more than two and a half years, the Assad
regime has not only banned journalists but also
sometimes killed them, in addition to imposing
restrictions on independent media outlets. In
contrast, it has mobilized pro-Assad propagandists to
mislead the public and fabricate lies on every
I do not know why, but Mouallem's tone reminded me of
that of contemporaries such as former Iraqi
information minister Muhammad Saeed Al-Sahhaf, former
Libyan deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim, and former
Libyan pro-Gaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.
On the other hand, it was remarkable how the reporters
appeared disappointed and worried by Russia's new
stance as expressed by Sergey Lavrov when he said that
"we [Russia] have no plans to go to war" even if
military intervention takes place in Syria.
In fact, reporters have every reason to worry about
the regime's long-standing obstinacy as well as the
endless muscle-flexing practiced by pro-Assad
propagandists in Syria and Lebanon.
Moreover, the international community's decision to
take action was surprising to many of those watching
the Syrian tragedy. They have almost lost hope of the
world suffering any pangs of conscience regarding the
necessity of deterring the Assad gang, which is
rejoicing in murder, and gambling on US passiveness
and repulsive opportunism on the parts of China and
Russia. As everybody knows, this has led to the deaths
of tens of thousands of Syrians. The domestic
situation in Syria has, in fact, become even more
complicated with the emergence of radical groups that
the Syrian people are thoroughly fed up with and
consequently resisting. This is evidenced by what is
happening in Al-Raqqa province and some areas in Deir
Ezzor and Al-Haskah.
Today, there is a consensus that there will be a US
strike on Syria, while the Syrian opposition's
ambassador to France, Dr. Monzer Makhous, announced
that the countdown to the US strike on Syria has
The moves and statements in Western and non-Western
capitals indicate that a new stage has begun in
dealing with the Assad regime, which lives in its own
world, believing that it can endlessly capitalize on
contradictions. This is a stage of actions, not words.
Obviously, something has been prepared, and the Assad
regime's habits of outwitting others and of
self-deceit—represented by the "No war without Egypt,
no peace without Syria" slogan it is promoting—are no
This means that we have to expect a military strike,
but of what size and for what purpose?
There is talk that any military action will not
include boots on the ground, according to the pledge
made by US president Barack Obama. The strike may also
bypass the obstacle of UN Security Council approval,
as hinted by British foreign secretary William Hague.
This means that the US strike will most likely be a
disciplinary action to warn Assad that his continuing
crimes are no longer acceptable. On the other hand,
the strike could also aim to reduce the regime's
capacity to use its weapon stockpile. Furthermore,
some of those monitoring the situation believe that
such a strike, in light of Russia's change of
attitude, will push the Assad regime to the
negotiating table at Geneva II. This course of events
is compatible with what the West has reiterated
throughout the past months: that a "political
settlement" in Syria is inevitable.
On the other hand, however, if we are to argue that
Russia will turn a blind eye to the military strike
and that Mouallem's statements echo the obstinacy of
the Assad regime, we must also speculate about Iran's
How will Tehran respond? Who will be responsible for
this decision: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President
Hassan Rouhani, or Quds Force Commander Qassem
How will Lebanon's Hezbollah deal with any strike?
Will it continue its involvement in the Syrian crisis
after it takes on more serious and major dimensions?
Could the Shi'ite militia seek to provoke Israel in a
bid to expand and draw attention away from the crisis?
Following the explosions that shook Beirut's southern
suburbs and Tripoli, does the Hezbollah leadership now
believe that the fate of Lebanon is at stake? Despite
this, the group—as things look—is committed to
dividing the region into factional camps.
We are now on the threshold of new realities. What is
important is that military efforts be commensurate
with the main political objective; namely, to rescue
the Syrian people from a criminal regime and allow
them, along with their neighbors, to live in free
countries that guarantee equal rights for all
citizens, and respect their creeds and identities.