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The Endgame In Syria Is Nearing: Following The Use Of Chemical Weapons By The Syrian Regime

30 August 2013

By Saeed Qureshi

The civil war in Syria has endured for a longer period of time than predicted by the most credible pundits and political forecasters. In Libya while the besieged government of Col. Qaddafi put up a fight by itself, in Syrian arena there are quite a few stakeholders putting their weight behind their respective combatants. The Syrian bloody civil war between the incumbent Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad and the rebel forces inter-alia, the Syrian Liberation Army, the Syrian free army and other anti regime fighting forces might be drawing to a close.

Unfortunately the Syrian president did not learn a lesson from the tragic and humiliating end of the Libyan president Col Qaddafi. Bashar has used the full military might of the state to crush and kill the anti government fighters and protesting civilians. Now the tide is turning in favor the rebel forces reported to be "making gains, seizing military bases and fighting for control of suburbs around the capital, Damascus.

There is a clear-cut writing on the wall that Bashar Assad will have to relinquish power sooner than later. The peace mission undertaken by the Algerian envoy Lakhdar Brahimi last year to draw Syrian officials and rebels into negotiations and to revive a plan for a transitional government and elections did not make any headway.

While for the anti government insurgents, the aid is not consistent or huge, the Bashar regime is receiving huge consignments of all sorts of weapons from Russia and Iran. Apart from the anti- government stray groups being deficient in arms; there is a colossal human disaster of refugees and displaced Syrians living under unbearable hardships and conditions in neighboring countries.
No doubt that Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain are with the rebels yet their moral of financial support in no way matches with that of Russia bringing into Syria heavy artillery and other assorted weaponry day in and day out. It is a well known fact that Hezbollah from Lebanon and the Iranian soldiers are lending help to the Syrian army against the Syrian liberation army and other factions arraigned against Bashar Al Asad.

But predictably, the Syrian war theater is soon going to undergo a radical change. As one can figure out from American secretary of State John Kerry's statement, the United States would now play a limited yet indirect military role to annihilate and degrade Syrian regimes' military infrastructure, command-and-control facilities, artillery systems, and airfields.

Following the reports of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, the U. S. Administration believes that the red line has been crossed and it was time to launch a punitive action against a pro Iranian Bashar's dynastic regime. Such an attack would also send poignant message to the Iranian regime for such an eventuality.

The white house announced that America would begin sending light weapons to the Supreme Military Command, a United States-backed coordination and logistics umbrella for the Free Syrian Army (FSA).If Bashar's regime goes, a great allay would disappear from the Middle East much to the delight of Saudi Arabi and other anti-Iran Arab regimes.

Already four U.S. destroyers equipped with Tomahawk land-attack missiles are en route to take positions in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The underlying aim of this cautious strategy is to degrade Assad's air power capability without flying US aircrafts over the Syrian air space.
The United States would rely chiefly on naval-launched cruise missiles or aircraft stand-off systems fired from international or allied territory of Israeli, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and even Italy. Besides, the United States plans to recruit and train huge number anti-government rebels within minimum time period as a bulwark for future combats.

This is being envisaged because reportedly some 100000 Iranian and Hezbollah fighters are fighting along with the Syrian official army against the rebels. The "Foreing Affiars" claims that "Iran and Hezbollah have helped Damascus construct a 100,000-strong sectarian militia called the National Defense Force". The idea to beef up the rebel army with more trained fighters is aimed at two pronged objectives.

One is to a give matching response to Hezbollah and Iranian contingents fighting on Bashar's side. The second objective is to build a loyal rebel army not only for fighting the regime and its proxies but also to protect American, Western European and regional interests against the second enemy that is the radical Islamic militants such al-Qaida and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Syria is under severe economic sanctions from the United States and several European countries. Also the United States, Britain, France and at least five other major nations have expelled senior Syrian diplomats. There have been high profile defections that seem to have paralyzed the smooth and effective functioning of the state especially the military and the police.

On 28 December last year two air force generals and 3 state TV journalists defected to Turkey. The Syria's military police chief Major General Abdelaziz al-Sallal defected, becoming the highest ranking military defector to defect, after the defection of the Chemical Weapons department's head, Major General Adnan Sillue.

Russian had also endorsed the peace plan originally crafted in the summer 2012 that called for Syrians on both sides to engage in a dialogue. It should be recalled that the resolutions tabled in the Security Council to end the violence In Syria were vetoed by Russia and China emboldening Bashar Al Assad regime to keep on killing his people. Had these two countries agreed then there could have been a smooth transition to the new set-up with a possible safe passage for Bashar.

If Alawite regime falls which it would, the aftermath is going to take an extremely horrendous sectarian backlash from the Sunnis. The pro Bashar regime Shias would be hunted down and dealt with vengeance. One shudders to imagine what would happen to the minority Shia population that has been in power for over forty years now and has kept the majority Sunnis at bay by inflicting unspeakable barbarities and spine-chilling afflictions on them.

In Iraq where the Sunni-shia sectarian animosity is equally strong, the sectarian war was averted because of the presence of the American forces. Moreover Saddam Hussain went into hiding and thus a substitute government was put in place that somehow is still functional. The government of Al-Maliki controlled the sectarian strife and formed a democratic government. In Libya it was not sectarian war but a national movement to oust a ruthless tyrant. That change came as a part of the Arab springs sweeping across the Middle East.

Iran is hard-pressed because of backbreaking sanctions and the isolation spun around her by the United States and the West European countries. Iran, therefore, cannot come all out to save the sinking Bashar regime. Even Hezbollah fighters and Palestinian refugees cannot help sustain the tottering Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad for long.

During his barbaric rule of 30 years, Hafiz al Assad the father of the incumbent Syrian president ordered at least six massacres in which several thousand Syrians were killed. One such gruesome massacre known as scorched earth operation was carried out in Hama village in February 1982 in order to quell a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood. In that military onslaught, roughly 20000 residents perished, their houses bulldozed and the ground leveled off.

During the ongoing civil war, countless Syrians have fled the country and taken refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. Their return to homes and resettlement would be a gigantic challenge for the new establishment that might supersede the Alawite regime.

Hopefully the anti- government factions that are battling the official troops would agree on such measures that would usher Syrian into an era of democracy, respect for human rights, open society, right to vote and travel, and national reconciliation.

But if the sectarian war erupts, it would push Syria into another spell of gruesome infighting entailing genocide of the Shia community. That frightening situation must be stopped and any new government that succeeds the Bashar regime should take the sectarian harmony as the foremost and the most urgent undertaking that any other issue. One cannot foretell what could be the fate of Bashar al-Assad.

The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat



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