The Syrian regime’s escalation of its military operations and its bloody confrontation with its own people cannot be understood outside of the context of the Russian-Chinese veto in the Security Council. It seems Bashar al-Assad has now consciously chosen not to leave the country unless a civil war there is ensured.
The size of the crimes committed in Syria – which can now be classified as massacres, the continual escalations in Baba Amr, Daraa and elsewhere, the military vehicle operations and the persistent attempts to eradicate the protestors mean that many world leaders can no longer remain silent about what is going on there. Hence I refer to King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz’s recent position regarding Russia, and specifically its attitude towards Syria. With his customary frankness, King Abdullah told the Russian President [Dmitry Medvedev]: “It would have been better if our Russian friends had carried out Arab – Russian coordination before utilizing their veto at the UN Security Council…as any dialogue now about what is happening in Syria is futile.”
Russia has failed to interpret the Saudi stance towards what is happening in Syria, and has failed even more in gauging how serious it is. In fact, anyone who has monitored recent Saudi stances, especially King Abdullah’s statements and policies, would easily deduce that Saudi Arabia, together with the Gulf states, have always maintained a unified position towards Syria in the Arab League and, later on, in the Security Council. King Abdullah’s stance indicates explicitly that Russia should have taken into account its interests in the Gulf and other Arab states before it used its veto.
Instead, Russia has entered the region’s hornet’s nest in search for honey; the honey of the Syrian regime, and with it Iran and Nouri al-Maliki’s Iraq – not the Iraqi people’s Iraq. By persistently upholding its stubborn stance and using its veto, Russia also thought it could extract gains from the Gulf. It procrastinated by issuing shaky policies, statements and visions, all in an endeavor to buy more time and influence at the bloody Syrian negotiating table. The Russian stance is calculated on the possible profits and losses if it continues to support the teetering regime, or the maximum price it can secure if it were to change its stance, via political exploitation.
King Abdullah’s stance cannot be considered out of the ordinary or away from customarily calm Saudi diplomacy, for no one should remain silent about the grave situation in Syria; enough is enough. This is clear when we see the al-Assad regime conspiring with Iran and its adherers to kill unarmed people using all manner of weapons; traditional or advanced, regular or chemical. Media outlets show the regime’s use of different kinds of highly lethal weapons and gasses and other harmful means to punish its own people.
I do not think such a strong political stance by Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah is meant to close the door entirely on negotiations with Russia, but rather it is meant as an attempt to transfer negotiations to the political table, away from the massacres that must be ceased as soon as possible. The Saudi stance also means that the Russians must acknowledge the serious Saudi, Gulf and international attitude in response to their actions in the Security Council, and what happened thereafter. What the Russian leadership seems to have failed to understand is that the Arab stance towards Syria has the sole aim of ending the regime’s violence and forcing it to go. This is a position that has been adopted by the stable Gulf states more so than the protesting [Arab Spring] states. With the exception of the Egypt, which has taken a markedly different approach to that of other uprising states such as Tunisia and Libya, the stable states, i.e. the Gulf states, have adopted a clear and serious stance which the Russian leadership has failed to pay attention to, in the midst of an ever changing scene in the Middle East.
What the Russian leadership has also failed to understand is that Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, the Arab League, and the supporters of the Syrian people – now consisting of the majority of global countries – all have bargaining chips which they can use on or under the table, and at all levels.
As for the Iranian regime, being al-Assad’s strongest ally in the region, the statements issued by its officials exude hostility towards the Syrian people and are brazenly pro-Assad. The latest of these statements was issued by Ali Akbar Wilayati, an advisor to the Supreme Guide, who defended the al-Assad regime and stressed that it “will not fall.” In spite of these rehashed words evoking the discourse of resistance and confrontation against the Zionist enemy, the real agenda was exposed when Wilayati openly stated that “Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah all are backing Syria strongly.”
The Iranian regime has a tendency to “show off”, as happened earlier when it announced it would send battleships to sail near US fleets in the Gulf, believing that it could do as Japan did in Pearl Harbor in the past. This move may have been meant as a form of local propaganda; however the battleships which Iran sent to Syria last week do not seem particularly imposing or influential. These ships can only carry small arms and military equipment, along with soldiers, and it is likely that they have been sent to transport goods out of Syria in coordination with the regime, such as money or even some of the regime’s wounded elements. Thus, the two situations [Iran’s latest acts of aggression and the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor] are markedly different, although both were intended as acts of muscle-flexing.
There have been signals from more than one Western capital indicating possible armament and support for the Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Arab states seem to be ready for this situation, yet I believe that supporting the FSA alone is insufficient to confront the tyranny of the al-Assad army, and that external military operations must be considered. This demand was put forth by the Syrian National Council (SNC) prior to the “Friends of the Syrian People” conference in Tunisia. This demand has also been persistently made by the wounded people of Syria, who now live among decaying corpses. Deputy Commander of the FSA Malik al-Kurdi has been remarkably frank in this regard when saying: “What is actually required goes far beyond the Libyan scenario. We call upon NATO to ensure an air and maritime coverage to coincide with the entry of Turkish-Arab troops. The FSA, when armed, can topple the regime, but this will take a long time”, (Asharq al-Awsat, Thursday 23rd February).
When the Syrian people were demanding foreign intervention a few months ago, some Syrian opposition politicians and intellectuals were hesitant to support such a demand. Now, however, in view of the Syrians’ constant cries for help, everyone is now supporting this demand and working towards its fulfillment. It is a considerable requirement and it must be met promptly and effectively.