The Syrian war has entered a new chapter that may precipitate the end of the regime because of its excesses and due to the crime in Al-Houla that shocked the world, where entire families, mostly children, were slaughtered.
Maybe for this reason, the U.S. administration unveiled secret contacts it had made three weeks ago with Moscow aimed at removing President Bashar Assad from power. The New York Times said U.S. President Barack Obama dispatched one of his national security aides to consult with Russian President Vladimir Putin on how to remove Assad. The two presidents will discuss the idea after a week during direct talks.
This could be a good move, except that according to the leaked out news, the solution to be adopted in Syria would be the same tried in Yemen. That plan was masterminded by the GCC countries and culminated in removing former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power. The plan succeeded in saving Yemen from a civil war. The essence of the solution was based on exerting heavy pressure on President Saleh to step down in return for his and his family’s safety. He had also been given the option to live in his country as an ordinary citizen.
The Americans believe that this is a neat solution that could remove Assad from power and enable the Syrian opposition to take over. It would also keep the government institutions intact and enable the Syrian people to avoid the threat of a civil war and a regional conflict on their territory. The proposed settlement would enable the region to avoid the emergence of terrorist groups who might have been created during the chaos and political and security vacuum.
However, Syria is not Yemen and Assad is not Saleh. The amount of bloodshed in Syria and the deep hatred among the rival elements could not be compared to what we have seen in Yemen. Despite this, if this solution is quickly implemented, it would be a good option for the Syrian people and for the world, but I doubt very much the possibility of the Yemeni-style solution being successful in Syria.
Assad and his gang would not exit easily. The groups supporting the regime would continue to fight. The Security Council would be obliged to exert more pressure on Assad through a number of resolutions, including closing the borders and putting a ban on flying and navigation. The resolutions would also be aimed at logistically suffocating the regime. If these arrangements failed to be fruitful, the Security Council might then approve military intervention to protect the civilians, as happened in Libya. Following this intervention, Assad would be forced to step down.
This means the Syrian people would have to wait until next year to reach this result. If the Yemeni-style solution had been tried a year earlier, it would have been much easier and might have succeeded. We should also realize that the options for the opposition were not many. The sole option they had was to fight the regime with a license from the U.N. They would need more than a year to force Assad to quit. If the opposition was patient enough and if its internal and external leaders were united on an international settlement, the Syrian people would not accept to keep any of the security and military leaders of Assad’s regime. Rather they would call for their trial and execution. Needless to say, the preservation of the country’s security and military would be in favor of both Syria and the revolution.
The second obstacle, apart from time and the details of the solution, is the possibility of Russia and other Assad’s allies intervening for giving some of Assad’s political supporters some roles. This would be the most difficult condition and would sabotage any reasonable solution.
If the Americans were serious in adopting a Yemeni-style solution in Syria, they should not only rely on negotiations and consultations with Assad, because he would only accept to sit with them after the time for a Yemeni-style solution had passed.
In view of what is happening in Syria now, there is a dire need to arm the Syrian opposition and provide them with all the support needed to enable them to tighten their grip against the regime that could lead to Assad’s downfall.
Until Assad feels he is strongly besieged, he wouldn’t make any concessions. Rather he would find more support from Iran and Hezbollah to create chaos and drive the country toward a sectarian war. This is exactly what Assad wants, because he believes it would enable him to keep some parts of Syria for himself and his sect.
The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the Saudi-based Arab News on May 29, 2012