Some in the Syrian opposition are uniting under the umbrella of the Syrian National Council.
SNC started as an Islamist effort but after Erdogan failed to convince Assad of merging the Muslim Brotherhood with his government, in return for calming the Syrian street, Erdogan, with a last ditch support from the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, gave the SNC a more secular face to make it easier to swallow for the minorities of Syria and the Assad government.
So far, western aim, after seven months of horrific bloodshed, remains the same: Forcing Assad to peel away from Iran (Western demands) and power sharing of SNC with the Assad regime (To appease the new challenge offered by the Syrian street). Removing Assad from power is not set in stone after all the rhetoric, the threats, and the “Must Go” statements made, including the latest by Defense Secretary Panetta uttered in Tel Aviv.
Sources within the US admin and Israel claim that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah have committed to the destruction of Tel Aviv should the west attack Syria. On his plane ride to Tel Aviv, Secretary Panetta said: “Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength.”
The diplomatic initiative is still on the table when it comes to keeping Assad in power. The west is not convinced yet it cannot force Assad to reduce his dependence on Iran, nor is it convinced it cannot use the SNC to rock the regime from within.
To provide those assurances the west believes the SNC can muster, its message, which refuted the act of self-defense by Syrians and any foreign intervention, rings hollow amongst Syrians fighting for their lives. It’s the same language used by Syrian oppositionists invented by the Assad regime.
The SNC immediately faced difficulties in its structure when it did not include the Syrian tribal leaders during its meeting in Istanbul for fear they will disrupt the proceedings because of their knowledge of its ultimate mission. The tribes are at the forefront of our tragedy and nothing less than his condemnation to death for crimes against humanity will quench their thirst for revenge.
If the media barons of the Middle East believe they can appease the Syrian street, it is a clear sign they are clueless their turn is around the corner. Arabs want freedom and liberty. They want the same comfort they see other citizens enjoy with hard work and the same accountability they exercise upon their political leaders.
Moreover, many in the region do not trust Erdogan even though he has taken steps to calm matters down a bit. Erdogan’s strategy to install the Islamists in Syria as a counter-balance to Iranian hegemony has some followers in Washington and amongst countries like Saudi Arabia who can use a Sunni Army of 300,000 soldiers, the only large Sunni military power in the region, to defend its interests.
The problem Israel sees in the SNC is that it has been empowered by characters with clear demonstrable hostility towards their state. Azmi Bechara, the extremist Palestinian fleeing Israel brought Ghalioun, an elitist, into the limelight. Bechara had several meetings with Assad after leaving Israel.
Incidentally, Ghalioun was chosen by Erdogan, KSA, and Qatar because for the last 8 years he has written many articles in support of peace with Assad. His rhetoric does not threaten the regime.
What will Assad do? So far it seems he is resisting all calls to follow through with western demands. His continued military threats are an indication he is determined to ride the wave using whatever means are available to him. Turkey is holding military exercises across the Syrian borders to up the ante against his rule.
Further, the Free Syrian Army, the only wild card in this whole scenario, remains neutral. Its immense capital on the street insures it either the role of a spoiler or the role of a final act against Assad to remove him from power. Its leadership is held in a semi-hostage status inside Turkey but its operative arm is active inside Syria.
If Assad blinks first, the FSA leadership will meet the same fate as that of Lt. Gen. Husain Harmoush, whose delivery, I am convinced, was ordered by Erdogan in cohort with the MB because Assad promised him to share power. When Assad recanted, Erdogan got real nasty, exactly 3 weeks after delivering Harmoush.
My message to the west is to forget these tactics, arm the FSA well to take back Syria, and assist Syrians in forming an inclusive and pluralistic government by the people and for the people to become the new democracy Syrians yearn for. The FSA is willing to give guarantees to such a scenario.
Meanwhile, Salafis from the Anbar province have crossed into Syria and are behind some high visibility killings such as the one committed against the 22-year old son of the Grand Mufti of Syria, the highest religious authority. Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, a Sufi, has been supportive of Assad because his sect dictates that position. That neutrality is not sitting well with the Sunni extremists.
The Salafis are sending signals to the west that if Assad remains in power, they will turn Syria into a swamp. They realize what destiny is being planned for Syria using the SNC, which they already infiltrated, to disrupt matters if the west ignores their threats.
I am afraid for Syria and its people. I am afraid for our peaceful neighbors. Those who control events today are cognizant of some chilling facts and that is why they remain oblivious to Syria’s need to embrace democracy and extricate herself from Assad.
Fear is not a reason to decide the fate of millions of people who will, sooner or later, force the world to meet their demands.