In a display of Islamic symbolism at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, on the 27th night of Ramadan, Saudi Arabia convened an emergency meeting with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The summit discussed the challenges currently faced by the Islamic world, from ancient regions such as Palestine and Syria to the newly formed entities such as Myanmar.
The Syrian tragedy was certainly the principal reason for convening the summit, and a resolution was swiftly passed to suspend Syria’s membership from the OIC, following on from the previous suspension of its Arab League membership, as well as the diplomatic efforts exerted in the United Nations (UN) and the Security Council. All these measures are putting more pressure on the al-Assad regime in Syria.
It has been clear for quite some time that the battle can no longer be resolved in any way other than on the ground, namely through the determination of the Syrian people to get rid of their criminal and bloodthirsty regime, and through the military operations led by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has proven its outstanding ability to orchestrate combat operations and coordinate widely between its factions, battalions and groups. This was evidenced by the FSA bombing in Damascus that targeted military and security leaders who were part of the regime’s crisis management cell, as well as the recent operation targeting the military command office in the Syrian capital. The FSA’s competence can also be observed through its tactical confrontations with the regime in Aleppo and other Syrian cities, including its ability to down aircraft in Deir al-Zour.
Furthermore, the FSA has begun to communicate with leaders within the regime who are willing to defect, and is attempting to secure an exit for these figures, along with their relatives and collaborators, out of Syria, in complex operations that display a remarkable development in the organization of the FSA. The desire is now more pertinent than ever to restructure this military entity so that it can become the new national army, not dominated by sectarian, ethnic or regional characteristics, after the fall of al-Assad. The FSA could then be relied upon as an impenetrable barrier against the internal break-up of Syria in the post-Assad phase.
Al-Assad’s army has sought to use planes and aerial bombardments heavily in recent weeks, and we can draw two important observations from this development. Firstly, al-Assad’s forces and tanks, which used to spread terror wherever they went a few months ago, are now afraid to move on the ground and between Syrian provinces. The regime has begun to encounter significant difficulties in terms of managing its battles and deploying its forces, in light of the successive operations carried out against it by the FSA. Secondly, this development proves that al-Assad is waging a comprehensive war against his own people, rather than against terrorist groups here or there as his propaganda machine has claimed since the beginning of the uprising in Syria. This is an important indication of Bashar al-Assad’s bankruptcy and his dwindling opportunities for salvation, and hence he has resorted to the last remaining power games in his hands.
Further evidence of the bankruptcy of the al-Assad regime lies in its overdependence on the old playing card it has always used to use to serve its goals and objectives, namely Lebanon and the sectarian game therein. It has tried to ignite sectarian strife in Lebanon by planning bombings and assassinations aiming to create discord between Sunnis and Christians in Akkar. These operations have been masterminded by Ali Mamlouk [Director of Syria’s National Security Bureau], who entrusted their implementation to the Lebanese MP and former minister Michel Samaha. Samaha once paid lip service to the principles of democracy and freedom in front of the Arab and foreign media, but now it seems he has not hesitated to transform into a killer for hire, never questioning or doubting al-Assad under the premise of “what Bashar wants, Bashar gets”.
Al-Assad’s use of Samaha is yet further evidence of his bankruptcy. He did not use elements of Hezbollah trained and tested in such operations, but rather he was forced to resort to Samaha to carry out his plans, and this raises several urgent questions: Are Hezbollah’s elements too busy fighting alongside al-Assad’s forces inside Syria, or are they being reserved for more widespread and comprehensive operations, or has Iran, which has recently been trying to communicate with the Syrian opposition, finally become convinced of the inevitability of al-Assad’s demise and begun searching for alternatives, sparing Hezbollah for itself?
The al-Assad regime’s attempt to create sectarian strife in Lebanon has further implications. Most Gulf States have called on their citizens not to travel to Lebanon, and urged those already present in the country to get out as soon as possible. Already, some armed groups have emerged threatening the Gulf States and targeting their citizens, including the so-called military council or military wing of the Mekdad clan, after the FSA announced the earlier arrest of one of its affiliates in Syria.
The international scene has witnessed a long succession of Arab and Western states, particularly the friends of Syria, lending their support to the UN and the Security Council in order to pass resolutions to curb al-Assad’s forces and limit their bloodshed and violence. Despite the fact that these positions and resolutions are yet to produce meaningful results due to Russia and China’s blind support for al-Assad, the key indication is that al-Assad and his international and regional protectors, Russia, China and Iran, are only in a position to react and defend. The initiatives, momentum and pressure are coming from the other side – i.e. the friends of the Syrian people.
These efforts must yield fruit sooner or later – hopefully sooner – to offer practical solutions in support of the Syrian people and save what can be saved from what remains of Syria. Despite the inability of the international community to issue any resolutions to change the equation on the ground or create safe and secure buffer zones, the time has come to provide the Syrian opposition – as some have written before – with anti-aircraft weaponry. If this were available, the FSA could put a swift end to the most bloodthirsty and brutal regime of modern times.
Finally, the Islamic Solidarity Summit also agreed upon King Abdullah’s proposal to establish a center for dialogue between the Islamic sects, based in Riyadh. This compliments the previous dialogue projects launched by the King, namely the national dialogue project in Saudi Arabia itself, and the global interfaith dialogue project. I think that the proposal for dialogue between the Islamic sects will be very important in the coming phase, especially since a sectarian division has already begun to fill smoke over our region, and this could turn into an all-encompassing inferno in the days to come.