Arab countries with strong strategic ties with the United States and other western governments ought to use these close relations to bridge the gap between Damascus and the international community since, let us admit, Syria appears unable to mange on its own.
No one wishes to see a repeat of the Iraqi situation when Baghdad remained intransigent and the Arab world apathetic. Not wishing to anger Saddam, the Arab world remained silent and held back the truth; when the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan proposed a peace initiative, no regional party acted responsibly.
We reject international economic sanctions against Syria as it its people already suffer under a state-run economy that inhibits individual initiatives. We reject additional tension and isolation despite all the mistakes Damascus has committed.
The regime’s insistence that it still possesses leverage on a number of regional issues could be applied to a time long gone when the world was divided into two camps, when Syria was able to influence the Palestinian leadership, Damascus ruled Lebanon and appointed its president, putting pressure on the Israelis in south Lebanon and benefiting from Saddam’s mistakes. The world is now a very different place, where only one power rules and where Syrian troops have withdrawn from Lebanon; With Saddam long gone and a new Palestinian leadership now is power, no Israeli remains in Lebanon. All these tumultuous developments have rendered any talk of leverage wide off the mark. Instead of facing new realities, Syria continues to adopt an irrational discourse.
Crucially, the coming days and weeks might announce changes. Arab governments need to intensify their discussions and coordination with Damascus, openly and honestly, to convince the Assad regime to cooperate fully with the international investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and the Security Council, to stop the situation from deteriorating any further.
Remaining a hapless spectator will not work, neither will isolated efforts. What is urgently required is a common strategy and a shared view that will relay matters to Damascus at they are and listen to the Syrian leadership and the international community.