Last Updated: Mon Feb 13, 2012 10:56 am (KSA) 07:56 am (GMT)

A Third Phase of the Syrian Conflict

Abdullah Iskandar

Even if the Arab Foreign Ministers did not declare today their recognition of the Syrian National Council (SNC) as sole legitimate representative of the people in Syria, thereby removing diplomatic recognition of the regime in Damascus, the SNC has now become recognized, by virtue of the de facto situation, as representative of the opposition and as sole partner in any negotiations or compromises. And such a fact does not just apply to recognition among the Arabs, but also at the international level, including Russia and China despite the fact that they made use of their veto powers against the draft resolution at the Security Council.

This means that the Syrian crisis has entered a new political phase, one that is taking on an increasing trend of foreign powers playing a role in its developments on the one hand, and an increasing trend of the government excessively making use of force in confronting the protest movement on the other.

With the decisions Arab ministers are taking today, after the dismissal of Syrian ambassadors in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and in other Arab countries, and with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia putting forward a draft resolution – one that includes the same procedures that were in the draft resolution presented at the Security Council – at the United Nations General Assembly, where it is expected to obtain a broad majority, the space available to the Syrian regime for diplomatic movement has become greatly reduced. This is why we see this regime’s forces, in an attempt to cause a reversal in the balance of power on the ground, rely on all forms of violence in order to crush the revolution.

The regime has adopted these methods since the eruption of the protest movement about a year ago. But it had been relying, during the first phase, on the possibility of crushing the protests through the use of force while offering promises of reform, so as to perhaps divide the protest movement and restore its image of one keeping in check with a firm grip the security situation and the terrorism of protesters.

When this policy did not work, it moved to the second phase of a pure security solution – the phase that was accompanied by the presence of Arab League observers. This meant throwing away all attempts at a possible compromise, except for keeping the situation as it is.

Perhaps the Russian-Chinese veto, which came at the peak of this phase, provided the indication for moving to the current phase: that of the regime abandoning all possibilities of a compromise, regardless of its form and of its outcome, and driving with all of its available military capabilities towards inflicting the harshest material and human losses in the places in which protesters gather or the places to which protests might move to – in other words, driving towards the generalized spread of internal war to effectively all areas of the country.

In parallel to this, the situation at the Arab level, along with the situation at the international level, is moving from good offices between the opposition and the regime in order to find a compromise to a phase of complete loss of hope in the possibility of reaching such a compromise – holding the regime responsible for such a failure, with what this means in terms of ongoing destruction and killing – and of supporting the opposition in its efforts towards change. In other words, the regime now faces a situation of foreign isolation, both regional and international, while the circle of approval and support for the opposition is growing.

Certainly, the way the regime has worked to resolve the crisis since its eruption has contributed to such an outcome being reached – that is if the regime had not sought from the beginning to reach it, especially as it had based all of its political movements on its own narrative of the events, and then on accusing foreign forces of supporting the revolutionaries. This is indeed what it expressed in its most recent message to the United Nations.

In other words, the regime has achieved its objective of driving towards the phase of foreign intervention, which had earlier taken on a political form, and will gradually take on the form of material support. This would place the country on the path everyone has warned against, the phase of infighting, which now possesses the elements that would allow it to persist – with everything this means not just in terms of killing and destruction, but also in terms of shrinking demands of reform, as the infighting takes on an increasingly sectarian form, and regional polarization follows in the same direction.

The writer is a columist and political commentator. This article first appeared in Dar Al Hayat on Feb 12, 2012

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