MIDEAST MIRROR 01.05.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1-Kicking the Syrian ball
2-De Mistura’s mistake
1-Kicking the Syrian ball
The pro-resistance public has no real reason to reconsider its confidence in victory or to cast doubt on the resistance's choices. It can blame the resistance axis for demonstrating too much leniency, for its hastiness in reaching settlements before the end of battles, for its excessive concern for its enemies, and for an unjustified tendency to ensure that they do not lose face even though they want nothing but humiliation for the resistance axis. The public expects responses from its leaders of the sort that leave no doubt about what Israel is claiming regarding air raids that have been carried out in the Qalamoun and that have targeted resistance sites and arms shipments and that have remained without response. The public wants responses of the sort that would regain Idlib and Jisr ash-Shughour, confront Turkey and Jordan with the possibility of border wars, deliver unhesitant Yemeni messages of strength to Saudi Arabia, and set aside the formal obstacles to the [largely Shiite] Popular Mobilization Units’ (PMU) participation in Iraq's battles to drive back the threat from al-Anbar. The public wants Syria to be given sufficient power to allow it to threaten a border war, or to receive similar support to that that its enemies are receiving on the other side of the borders, at least--Nasser Qandil Lebanese al-Bina'
It is as if we were dealing with a ball that is being passed between the feet of the players fighting in and over Syria. Whenever the regime makes some advances or ‘breaches’ on some battlefront, its discourse assumes a tone that mocks the opposition. Its spokespersons assume a condescending aspect that tends towards the logic – or illogic – of ‘decisive military victory.’ And the same thing, sometimes couched in ‘muscular’ tones, happens whenever the various opposition groups succeed in advancing or making breaches on some front. Reaching the Presidential Palace in Damascus and dismantling and reconstituting the army and the security forces then become the opposition groups’ ‘minimal’ program. The conclusion is that no one seems to have benefited from the lessons of the past four bloody years that have inflicted the worst, most painful and most far-reaching losses on Syria as a state, nation, and society. The fact is that the recent gains achieved by the opposition on more than one front will remain tentative until further notice, and open to reversal until the opposite is proven to be true-- ‘Urayb ar-Rintawi in Jordanian ad-Dustour
The pro-Iranian-led resistance’s public appears to be increasingly concerned because of the opposite Saudi-led axis’ recent advances on a number of fronts, and the leniency with which these advances have been addressed so far, notes the editor-in-chief of a Lebanese daily. But it seems that the month of May will be the month of resistance responses. There are good reasons why it may be too early for the Syrian opposition groups to celebrate the regime’s setbacks in the north and south of the country, warns a leading Jordanian commentator. Such setbacks have usually proven reversible in the past, indicating that there is no military solution for the crisis, and that it can only be finally resolved via a regional political agreement whose moment has yet to arrive. But meanwhile there is the genuine prospect of Syria’s partition.
WORRIED PUBLIC: "The public that supports the pro-resistance axis – which stretches from Iran to Iraq to Syria to Lebanon to Yemen – is worried," writes Editor-in-Chief Nasser Qandil in Friday's pro-Damascus Lebanese daily al-Bina'.
The source of its concern is a sense that there has been an incomprehensible leniency in dealing with the Saudi/Turkish/Israeli triangle's successful counterattacks. There is also a sense that this triangle has moved to an all-out counteroffensive, making use of the feeling of victory that swept the pro-resistance axis after the in-principle nuclear agreement between Tehran and the '5 + 1' states, and after Saudi Arabia announced the end of Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen.
According to the public's criticism of its leaders, the patience and caution displayed as the Houthi current's has refrained from retaliating to Saudi attacks in Yemen and which was meant to leave space for a Saudi retreat, have produced a war of attrition instead, whose price is being paid by the Yemenis and that is only fuelling the level of Saudi conceit. There was no action along the borders, no [Houthi] missiles were fired [at Saudi Arabia], and the Bab al-Mandab Straits was not shut down.
Moreover, the pro-resistance public is confident that all this was and remains possible, especially after they heard the resistance's [Hizbollah’s] leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah say the resistance remains capable of action. For they have grown accustomed to hearing nothing but accurate assessments from him, and have total confidence in him and believe that he is most credible to both friends and enemies alike. We also heard [Yemeni Houthi leader] Sayyid 'Abdelmalik al-Houthi talk about ‘all options being on the table’ to his forces, which only added to the public’s optimism. But the Saudis announced an end to the war without actually ending it, thereby allowing them to continue it but without eliciting any punishment in return.
But what has especially aggravated concerns is what has happened in Syria, especially after the dramatic and successive fall of Idlib and Jisr ash-Shughour into the opposition’s hands. For had that been part of a plan to retreat as a means of luring the enemy into a trap, we would have witnessed the results by now. Moreover, what was strange was that these retreats seem to have occurred without any fighting that preceded or obstructed them. Meanwhile reports from al-Anbar in Iraq do not bear any glad tidings either. This has been followed by suspect behavior on the part of the U.S., which seems to be proceeding with plans to partition Iraq by way of distributing quotas of weapons to the various sects.
The result of all this is that the resistance axis has seemed somewhat weak as if its forces have lost control, and as a consequence of which they have grown soft and lost the wind in their sails. Their forces seem to lack mastery of the art of defensive fighting, even though they previously offered a model of how to achieve victory in offensive combat.
At the same time, the pro-resistance public counts as a point in the resistance leaders' favor that they have politically and diplomatically succeeded in Yemen by undermining the Saudi wager on the UN Security Council. They also count this as a point in Iran's favor, because it displayed a spirit of defiance on both land and in the air when it tried to land a plane filled with supplies at Sana'a Airport, and when it impounded an American ship and led it by force to an Iranian port – a display of power that demonstrated who has the upper hand in the Gulf's waters and air.
Yet the above does not satisfy the anger of the pro-resistance axis's public. This is especially true in light of the rising American voices in parallel with the attacks in Syria that are using the language of the past and its machismo posturing once again. At the same time, Syrian opposition leaders have emerged on the eve of the Geneva talks, using a tone other than that they have been using over the previous year when they were in a state of utter confusion, moving from one failure to another.
Moreover, in Iraq, and after the victories in Tikrit when ISIS leaders were on the retreat, these same leaders are taking hold of the initiative again. And in the Yemen war, and after the Saudis appointed Yemeni PM Khaled Bahah as Deputy President as a prelude to a settlement, they are now again clinging to [President] Mansour Hadi, with the same conceited discourse of revelry raising its head once more.
But the pro-resistance public has no real reason to reconsider its confidence in victory or to cast doubt on the resistance's choices. It can blame the resistance axis for demonstrating too much leniency, for its hastiness in reaching settlements before the end of battles, for its excessive concern for its enemies, and for an unjustified tendency to ensure that they do not lose face even though they want nothing but humiliation for the resistance axis.
The public expects responses from its leaders of the sort that leave no doubt about what Israel is claiming regarding air raids that have been carried out in the Qalamoun and that have targeted resistance sites and arms shipments and that have remained without response. The public wants responses of the sort that would regain Idlib and Jisr ash-Shughour, confront Turkey and Jordan with the possibility of border wars, deliver unhesitant Yemeni messages of strength to Saudi Arabia, and set aside the formal obstacles to the [largely Shiite] Popular Mobilization Units’ (PMU) participation in Iraq's battles to drive back the threat from al-Anbar. The public wants Syria to be given sufficient power to allow it to threaten a border war, or to receive similar support to that that its enemies are receiving on the other side of the borders, at least.
As for the time factor, the public knows what its leaders know – that there is little time left before the end of June, the date for signing a final nuclear agreement, and that there is a race with time to impose a fait accompli by force before that deadline. For this reason, this public believes that Washington is not far from what has been happening, trying to barter a victory for a defeat, and preparing the negotiating table based on a balance that achieves what Washington wants, namely, an unstable equilibrium and an end to the Iranian challenge by allowing the nuclear understanding to pass without cost.
Sources close to the resistance axis's leaders say that the month of May will be that of responses. They draw attention to the fact that such a response has already begun via the Yemeni borders; that Syria is preparing to react; and the Qalamoun has a date with major change, and the same in al-Anbar.
"As for the means of dealing with Israel's Hollywood-style posturing, that is a different matter with its own calculations, one that will be addressed when the time comes," concludes Qandil.
QUALITATIVE OPPOSITION BREAKTHROUGHS: “The confrontations of the past three months have clearly ended in disappointing results for the Syrian regime and its allies,” writes ‘Urayb ar-Rintawi in the Jordanian daily ad-Dustour.
The armed opposition movements, with the Nusra Front at their core, have made qualitative breakthroughs on numerous fronts – from the southern provinces, to Idlib, to Sahl al-Ghab, to most recently, Jisr ash-Shughour. The regime has been at the receiving end of painful and ‘strategic’ blows on all these fronts, spreading anger, concern, and wariness in its ranks and those of its allies and supporters.
But the psychological warfare and hostile media coverage that have accompanied these blows have gone too far in assessing their importance. They have exaggerated their significance and repercussions for the overall conflict in Syria, so much so, that some have already begun to speak of Assad’s imminent fall. Some ‘zealots’ have gone even further, and have demanded the regime’s dismantlement and reassembly. An opposition military spokesman has promised to reach the Presidential Palace in Damascus soon, while others are speaking of a Syrian ‘Ta’if Agreement [1989 Saudi-sponsored agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war] that Riyadh is now trying to organize without Assad and at his expense.
The campaign that has accompanied the military strikes has succeeded in reaching the ranks of the regime and its supporters. The official Syrian media’s tone betrays a sense of gloom and is riddled with ‘self-consolatory’ terms: Escalation in the discourse that calls for backing and rallying around the Syrian army and that expresses confidence in its ability to achieve victory; criticism of Damascus’s Iranian allies in the media that is close to this axis because of the Iranians’ suspicious silence that reeks of a reluctance to back the Syrian army; and assessments and speculations that are flying around in every direction.
But the most dangerous thing about this debate that is raging parallel to what is happening on the battlefield is the renewed talk of a ‘decisive military victory’. It is as if we were dealing with a ball that is being passed between the feet of the players fighting in and over Syria. Whenever the regime makes some advances or ‘breaches’ on some battle front, its discourse assumes a tone that mocks the opposition. Its spokespersons assume a condescending aspect that tends towards the logic – or illogic – of ‘decisive military victory.’ And the same thing, sometimes couched in ‘muscular’ tones, happens whenever the various opposition groups succeed in advancing or making breaches on some front. Reaching the Presidential Palace in Damascus and dismantling and reconstituting the army and the security forces then become the opposition groups’ ‘minimal’ program.
The conclusion is that no one seems to have benefited from the lessons of the past four bloody years that have inflicted the worst, most painful and most far-reaching losses on Syria as a state, nation, and society.
The fact is that the recent gains achieved by the opposition on more than one front will remain tentative until further notice, and open to reversal until the opposite is proven to be true. For they have come against the background of escalating foreign intervention after Riyadh, Doha, and Ankara have agreed to set aside their disagreements and focus on backing a mini Decisive Storm waged on Syria. But this cannot be taken for granted for long in a rapidly changing region that sleeps to one map of alliances and positions, only to wake up to another.
Furthermore, the major winner in the battles of recent months is the Nusra Front, al-Qa’ida’s ‘exclusive agent’ and official branch in Syria. And this gives rise to fears and concerns among numerous parties for various reasons:
- First, the U.S., the West in general, and some Arab and regional states still view the Nusra Front as a terrorist faction. They have not accepted the claim by the tripartite [Saudi/Qatari/Turkish] axis that it is a potentially ‘moderate’ movement, part of the ‘revolution,’ and one of the factors pushing for change and a solution in Syria.
- Second, while it is true that the Nusra Front has adopted more flexible tactics than those that ISIS’s Islamic state has accustomed us to, the history of Nusra’s relations with its armed opposition allies– including the Islamists – is an exceptionally bloody one. It is not unlikely for it to turn against today’s allies who will become tomorrow’s enemies and become legitimate targets for assassinations, car bombs, and pursuit. Once that happens, we will be back at the scene of continuous splits in opposition circles and the opposition groups’ endless internal squabbles that usually enable the regime to achieve gains on the ground with the least amount of loss.
- Third, the regime and its allies have yet to have their final word regarding the fate of the areas they have lost. Has the regime accepted the fall of Idlib, Jisr ash-Shughour, Bosra ash-Sham, the Nasib border crossing [with Jordan], and Sahl al-Ghab into its enemies’ hands? Or will we be witnessing battles in which advances and retreats occur? Did similar things not happen on numerous battlefronts before?
If there is a lesson to be learnt from the past month’s developments on the ground, it is that a ‘decisive military victory’ is not an option for Syria. A political solution is the sole way out of the current cul-de-sac. Moreover, the states that have been partners to the creation and exacerbation of the Syrian crisis cannot unilaterally secure the exclusive agency to resolve that crisis. There is no alternative to a regional accord on the need for a political solution for this crisis; otherwise, we will continue to be trapped in the same vortex of killing, death, and destruction for many years to come.
The preconditions for such a solution still do not exist. But the region is on the threshold of significant developments over the coming two months. Most important are, the fate of the Lausanne nuclear agreement and whether or not it will be complemented by a final agreement, and the fate of the conflict in Yemen and how the parties will deal with it, and what priority they will give it.
So far, it is not possible to say that Yemen is more important than Syria in the Iranian and Russian calculations of their priorities. It is true that it is ahead in Saudi calculations, for example; but the failure to achieve any breakthrough on the Yemeni front may push Riyadh into seeking a victory on the Syrian track. In that case, it would find eager partners who are willing to go all the way with it till the end of the line – from Doha and Ankara, to some Western capitals.
If the course of confrontations in Syria continues along the same track, and if the regime and its allies continue to retreat and squander their chances, it is not unlikely that [Turkish President] Mr. Erdogan will succeed in achieving his old/new dream of imposing a buffer zone and a no-fly zone in northern Syria. Aleppo may then be the second target of the Antioch [opposition] operations room. In that case, we would be facing an actual partition of Syria that may be followed by other similar partitions in the Syrian south.
Such a scenario may be implemented under the banner of ‘reconstituting the balance of power as a prelude to a political solution.’ But the various parties’ conflicting interests and the escalating pace of regional intervention in the Syrian crisis may render a supposedly temporary solution into a permanent one. In that case, Syria’s partition would become the sole realistically possible solution. For is this not the most realistic scenario in neighboring Iraq, for example?
“The battle remains open to various possibilities and it is difficult to build on the current ‘victory celebrations’ that have been launched here or there. Syria is now part of the regional/international scene. And there are no solutions for the Syrian crisis in isolation of the struggle that this region is fighting out against itself across all its maps,” concludes Rintawi.
2-De Mistura’s mistake
It would be a grave mistake if UN Envoy de Mistura were to invite Iran to attend next week’s Geneva consultations without first dropping Tehran’s support for the Syrian regime, says today’s Saudi al-Watan
It would be a grave mistake on the part of UN Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura to invite Iran to next week’s scheduled Geneva consultations on the Syrian crisis, warns the editorial in a Saudi daily – unless Iran has come to the conviction that it should end its support for the Assad regime and is now willing to allow it to fall.
MANY QUESTIONS: "UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura's insistence that Iran should be party to the international consultations over the Syrian crisis which will be held in Geneva next Monday, raises many questions," writes the editorial in Friday's Saudi daily al-Watan.
The entire world now knows that Iran is part of the problem in the Syrian crisis, and a major focal point for all the region's crises. In fact, Tehran's leaders no longer have any qualms about stating this publicly.
If de Mistura believes that Iran can cooperate with the international community and contribute to ending the Syrian crisis, he is heading down the wrong path – unless Tehran has reached the conviction that the Syrian regime has ended and its days are numbered, and that it has been wagering on a losing horse and has reached a dead-end in defending it and sending its Revolutionary Guard fight on its behalf, and thus wants to extract itself from the crisis with the least possible loss, presenting itself to everyone as a peace-loving state.
Moreover, the imminent Geneva consultations come at a time that is awkward for the Syrian regime, which has begun to teeter on the edge and lose one area after another. The statement made by head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) that his group will take part in the consultations but reject 'any political settlement that does not include Assad's departure' will be embarrassing for Tehran, which is fighting on the Syrian regime's side, and for Moscow as well, which is backing that regime and supplying it with weapons.
The fear remains that these consultations are a mere palliative that will revive the Syrian regime. The fact that they are planned to last for some six weeks grants the Assad regime an opportunity to catch its breath and try to regain some of the areas it has lost, in the hope that it would then be able to negotiate from a position of strength. But this seems impossible in light of what is happening on the ground.
De Mistura's problem is that he has so far failed to link the terrorist organizations to the terrorist regimes. He has forgotten the terrorist regimes or those that support terrorism, even though he has noted that the terrorist organizations will not take part in the Geneva consultations.
In short, if Iran wishes to contribute to resolving the Syrian crisis and the other crises in the region, it can do so if it displays good intentions. But perhaps the best indication that it is pursuing a path opposite to that of peace comes from its desperate attempts to provide the Houthi putschists with weapons, despite the UN Security Council resolution banning this under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
"So what peace can this be that is based on the destruction of countries, coups against legitimacy, and taking sides against the will of nations?" asks the daily in conclusion.
The recent wide-ranging changes at the top in Saudi Arabia suggest a new Saudi foreign policy and some possible new moves on Yemen, says today’s pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com
The two most important features of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministerial meeting yesterday (Thursday) were the absence of veteran Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal who has been replaced by a new Saudi foreign minister, and the attendance of the Oman foreign minister, which suggests that an Omani peace initiative regarding Yemen may be imminent, maintains the editorial on a pan-Arab online daily.
PREPARING FOR THE SUMMIT: "GCC foreign ministers held a meeting in Riyadh yesterday (Thursday) to prepare for next Tuesday’s consultative [Arab Gulf] summit to discuss the Yemeni crisis and its developments, and reach an agreement on a united position towards the issues that the Gulf leaders will discuss with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington and at the Camp David retreat on May 13th and 14th," writes the editorial on Friday on the pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com.
Two major features of this meeting cannot be ignored in trying to understand what is happening in the Arabian Gulf:
- First, this is the first time in almost forty years that veteran Saudi former foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal is absent from GCC foreign ministers' meeting. The new Foreign Minister Mr 'Adel al-Jubeir replaced him, contrary to most predictions that this 'sovereign' ministerial portfolio would be reserved for a member of the Saudi ruling family.
- Second, Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin 'Alawi attended the meeting, even though he had absented himself from the urgent meeting called for by Saudi monarch King Salman bin 'Abdulaziz on March 21st to discuss the means of backing Yemeni President 'Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the possibility of carrying out air strikes to end the Houthi forces' advance on Aden.
There is no doubt that Prince Saud al-Faisal's absence will leave a huge vacuum. He has been the major player in all the GCC's foreign ministerial meetings since 1981. But change is the nature of life and one of the most important requirements of government. Moreover, the man's health is not so good. Signs of exhaustion were clearly visible on his face during his participation at the recent Sharm el-Sheikh Arab summit. His hands were trembling and his speech was incomprehensible. This is only normal for someone like him who has had seven operations on his back, with rumors that he suffers from Parkinson's Disease. In fact, he admitted as much when he responded jokingly to a question about his health at a press conference, saying that it was similar to that of the Arab nation these days!
Prince Saud al-Faisal's departure from his 'den' at the Foreign Ministry was part of a 'white coup' led by the new Saudi monarch. This involved over 37 royal edicts that toppled more than 15 ministers, as well as the former crown-prince (Prince Muqrin), consolidating the power of the two most powerful emirs in the Kingdom – new Crown-Prince Mohammad bin Nayif, and Mohammad bin Salman who is now Deputy Crown-Prince and Defense Minister.
This 'coup' seems to have elicited the least negative reaction from within the ruling family circles. A number of signs support this assumption, most notably the fact that deposed crown prince Muqrin bin Abdelaziz went to the Royal Palace in Riyadh to pledge allegiance to the new regime and crown-prince. There is also the Saudi monarch’s noteworthy visit to Prince Muqrin's palace, perhaps to appease him and win him over – even though no reports have been leaked in this regard, nor any signal as to whether this visit occurred before or after Muqrin's pledge of allegiance.
The GCC's foreign ministerial meeting in Riyadh came amidst intensive calls at the meeting for launching a national dialogue with the participation of the various parties to the Yemeni crisis. This confirms the importance of Mr Yusuf bin 'Alawi's attendance. There is much talk these days that the Sultanate of Oman is about to launch an initiative calling for such a dialogue and perhaps hosting it given its 'neutral' stance towards this crisis.
Now that Operation Decisive Storm has completed its first month without achieving most of its aims – restoring the legitimate president [Hadi] to Yemen, or ending the advances by the Houthis and their allies president Saleh in the southern provinces – it has become inevitable to search for peaceful ways out of the crisis. This is especially urgent in light of the Yemeni citizens' suffering after the breakdown of electricity and water supplies, the destruction of Yemen's airports, and the dearth of basic food and medical supplies in a country that is one of the twenty poorest in the world, if not the absolutely poorest.
It was not strange for the GCC foreign ministers not to take any important decisions at their meeting on Thursday. Such decisions will be left to next Tuesday’s consultative meeting. The one new and noteworthy aspect of this meeting was the new Saudi Foreign Minister 'Adel al-Jubeir's attendance. This is one of the most prominent signs of change in Saudi Arabia and its foreign policy.
"That policy will be totally different to that that preceded it, even though it may be difficult to issue any verdict regarding its nature or predict its outcome," concludes the editorial.
The Golan Heights, South Lebanon and the Israeli-Hizbollah balance of power have all become part of the same dangerous scene that could lead to a deepening Israeli involvement in Syria, says Randa Haidar in today's Lebanese an-Nahar
The confrontation between Israel and Hizbollah has become extremely complicated this year and is now intimately connected to the war raging in Syria, maintains a Lebanese commentator on Israeli affairs. A limited confrontation between the two sides could easily develop into a large-scale war that could drag Israel into the Syrian conflict in a manner that it has so far been trying to avoid.
RECENT EVIDENCE: "Now that more than four years have passed on the civil war that has been raging in Syria, it has become clear that any future confrontation between the Israeli army and Hizbollah will not occur in isolation of the bloody war that is raging on Syrian soil," writes Randa Haidar in Friday's Lebanese daily an-Nahar.
The most recent evidence of this comes from what has recently happened both in the Golan Heights and the Lebanese/Syrian borders.
These events have been confusing because they have occurred on more than one front, the ambiguity surrounding them, Israel's silence in response to reports that it was responsible for bombing a missile silo at a Syrian army military base, its rush to deny that it was behind another attack against a Syrian military base near the border with Lebanon, and the killing of four people it accused of planting a bomb near the border fence with the Golan Heights.
All these events point to the extent to which the front with Lebanon has now become intimately connected to the front in the Golan Heights and the fierce battles raging there between Assad's regime and the opposition forces. And this link is complicating any potential future confrontation between Israel and Hizbollah, forcing both sides to take the strong possibility that a limited clash between them could develop into a huge explosion into consideration.
Since the civil war in Syria began, Israel has been careful to steer clear of what is happening there. It deemed the Syrian army's fragmentation and Hizbollah deepening involvement in the battles raging there to be in its interest. The longer the war lasts, the more this would serve its interests. However, since the war began, it determined a red line that Hizbollah should not cross, namely, Syria’s delivery of 'balance-breaking' weapons to the party. And it has defended this line in recent years via Israeli air force raids against what it claims were shipments of advanced weapons.
Meanwhile, Israel has been following with growing concern the growth of Hizbollah's military power and the extensive fighting expertise the party has gained by taking part in the fighting raging in Syria. But the most important point for Israel has been to maintain its deterrence in response to the development of the party's military power and to ensure that the latter would not violate Israel’s red lines. Nonetheless, the limited confrontation between Israel and the party earlier this year, and Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah's talk of ‘changing the rules of the game’ have awakened fears of a potential large-scale deterioration, and the events of recent days have only exacerbated such concerns.
"A scrutiny of Israel’s positions indicate that it currently does not wish to head towards a large-scale confrontation that would cause it to slide towards a war in Syria – unless some major event occurs that turns the situation upside down," concludes Haidar.
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