Quo Vadis Syria?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

Conflicting reports of an Israeli air strike inside Syrian territory have caught many in the region by surprise. Some, including the United States, believe the attack was targeting a convoy delivering anti-aircraft weapons to Hezbollah, while others, including the Syrian government, have described it an attack on a scientific research center that develops chemical weapons. Either way, the attack underscores the tenuous situation in Syria — and in the region — as the turmoil spills over borders and involves ever more actors. Given the deteriorating situation in the country, many observers have expressed dismay at the lack of an adequate response against the Assad regime both at the domestic level as well as internationally.

The Israeli newspapers have been largely silent on the incident, although many of them have carried reports by various news agencies reporting on both the details as well as the fallout from the attack. For example, the Jerusalem Post posted a report by the Reuters news agency citing Syria’s military command, who have denied “reports that the planes had struck a convoy carrying weapons from Syria to Lebanon . Two people were killed and five wounded in the attack on the site in Jamraya, which it described as one of a number of ‘scientific research centers aimed at raising the level of resistance and self-defense.’”

The Syrian state news agency SANA also carried a statement by the General Command of the Army and Armed Forces, who accused the Israeli government of violating Syrian airspace: “[The] attack came after Israel and other countries that oppose the Syrian people utilized their pawns in Syria to attack select vital and military locations in an attempt to undermine Syria’s support for the resistance and just rights in the region, with these pawns succeeding and failing to strike at sites such as air defense systems over a period of almost two years.”

Given the potential for a spillover from the largely internal conflict, the Lebanese Daily Star urged caution and called for transparency on what might have provoked the Israeli action: “Several key players, namely Israel, Hezbollah and the United States, opted to remain silent about the incident, meaning that the field for rumor and speculation remains wide open…. One of the few certainties is that Wednesday’s military action will have potentially catastrophic repercussions if it in any way widens the scope of the war that has been raging in Syria. It is the responsibility of states in the region and their backers to engage in a level of transparency because of the stakes involved.”

Furthermore, the Israeli action takes place against the backdrop of a worsening crisis in Syria, which few expect to take a turn for the better any time soon. Characterizing the situation in Syria as a “volcano,” Al Hayat’s Ghassan Charbel laments the fact that “Nothing suggests that the Syrian volcano is heading towards subsiding….The Syrian volcano spews lava every day at home and beyond….Nothing suggests that the Syrian regime will be able to re-impose its authority over the entire territory of Syria. Nothing in turn suggests that the opposition is capable in its current situation to settle the conflict militarily. At the same time, it is hard to imagine a dialogue under the regime’s umbrella, after all the losses that have occurred.”

And it is this sense that the pro-Assad forces and the opposition have reached an impasse that has Al Arabiya’s George Seeman worried: “It is no longer enough for the Syrian opposition to reconsider its calculations and relationships network. It must draw up a new drastic program relying on the domestic arena, in light of the network of international and regional relations which pushed its revolution towards the obstacle….In light of the absence of any signs pointing to an imminent military settlement or political solution, the opposition has no choice but to go back to the Syrian domestic scene and rely on its political and military powers to even out the balance of powers and impose the solution wanted by the Syrians.”

Others, however, are more forgiving of the rebel forces, arguing that they have received inadequate support from regional governments or from the West. In an op-ed for Al Hayat, Jameel Theyabi accuses Arab government for being too lethargic in the face of an ongoing suffering of their Syrian brothers: “Since the eruption of the Syrian revolution, the Arab regimes have been reiterating the same political speech which relies on condemnation and denunciation, in a way that is cheapening the pure Syrian blood….the Arabs are sitting back and watching what is happening in a complete state of defeat, thus observing the killings, the gathering of the limbs of the innocent and the burials of the dead with nothing to say but expressions of sorrow, condemnation and denunciation. Is Arabism not asleep and refusing to wake up?!”

Given its support for opposition forces in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere, many expected the United States to play an important leading role in the ousting of the Assad regime. However, the Obama administration has done very little to support the opposition in Syria, leading some, including Asharq Alawsat’s Tariq Alhomayed to call “Obama’s logic…frightening, and his understanding of the region terrifying and in doubt, particularly as he is the man who saw a revolution in Bahrain and pushed Mubarak to step down while today he is saying that he is working hard to assess the situation in Syria! Even more frustrating: Where are the region’s intellectuals and statesmen?”

Then there is the question of what happens if the opposition is successful in uniting and the Arab countries and international community rally to support them. What path will Syria and, for that matter, other Arab countries in the region undergoing political and social turmoil take? That is the question that UAE’s The National raises in its editorial: “Syria’s bleak war precludes a meaningful discussion at this point, but it will face the same questions that other countries have engaged, or failed to engage. The answer in a ‘liberated’ Iraq in 2005 and in Egypt in 2011 was the ballot box, but elections by themselves are no guarantor of the rule of law. The polls cemented majoritarian rule at the expense of minorities and, ultimately, a meaningful social compact that would have required both consensus and compromise.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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