Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Resolving the Syrian Dilemma | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this February 7, 2012 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (L) meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP Photo)

Few would have expected the Syrian crisis to continue into a fifth year, when it has now become an open arena for extremist organizations while at the same time becoming the scene of a proxy war between the United States and Russia. Both have been indirectly involved in the conflict—in stark contrast to Iran which has been playing a direct role in addition to its support for the Assad regime.

The situation has now become incredibly complex for the foreign players involved. It has morphed into a crisis not just of military conflict, but also one involving the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who have landed on Europe’s shores, having braved a perilous and life-threatening journey in smugglers’ boats to cross the Mediterranean and reach the continent. At the same time, the world is casting worried glances at Syria, fearful of the extremist organizations currently operating there and intent on exporting terror to the rest of the region and the world.

Syrians are now facing two stark choices, each one worse than the other: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Assad regime. And so thousands have chosen to make the journey across the sea, with all its accompanying dangers, in order to start a new life far away from the madness of ISIS and the oppression of the regime.

But civil wars are like raging fires that initially consume themselves and everything around them, only to die down eventually, leaving behind their ash and embers as a reminder of the destruction they have wrought.

One day this crisis will end, but the losses will be irreversible. Half the Syrian population is already displaced, and whole cities have been destroyed along with priceless historical treasures which have stood for thousands of years, only to meet a fate similar to the giant statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan’s Bamyan Valley. Those statues were destroyed by this age’s new Mongols, who find in reducing such treasures to rubble a source of pleasure and a way to sate their destructive impulses.

How will this crisis end? How will this dilemma be resolved? The two major sides in the conflict are both extremists, and the moderate opposition is currently completely impotent and has not been able to convince foreign players to arm them in any effective way. Meanwhile, the Assad regime is receiving very public support from Moscow, which has said it will continue to support the regime as it is the only power in Syria capable of fighting the terrorist groups currently swarming there.

Moscow’s recent comments that it will continue to arm the Syrian regime as well as reports that Russian military advisers are present in Damascus suggest the conflict will escalate to a new level. Another point of view, however, may see that such revelations and comments are a way for Moscow to show it has interests in Syria and send a clear message to the other parties that when the time comes for negotiation those interests cannot be taken lightly. This points to a situation which could perhaps be summed up by the Arab saying, “When the crisis intensifies, its resolution follows.”

This point of view is supported by the consensus that neither Washington nor Moscow will ever put boots on the ground in Syria and engage in any kind of direct confrontation, especially considering this never happened during the Cold War or even during a confrontation such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion in the 1960s.

This Russian involvement, which many contend will intensify the conflict and add fuel to the fire, coincides with the refugees crisis which has now caused some European countries to reintroduce border controls in order to deal with the influx. All this lends credence to the idea that the hour for negotiation is approaching. And when the table is set and all the chairs put in place all sides must be ready, so that solutions which disregard the region’s interests are not implemented. Talk of sides here does not at all refer to ISIS and its ilk, for these are temporary players whose role in the conflict has come to an end.