I write this article before UN envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, presents his report to the UN Security Council, however all signs indicate that Bashar al-Assad is between the carrot and the stick! Even without knowing what Annan has requested from al-Assad, there is practical consensus that Annan’s mission is al-Assad’s last chance.
Of course, nobody has publicly pledged to go to war, however the indicators [of war] are clear to see; the Turks have praised the statement made by Prince Saud al-Faisal that arming the Syrian opposition is an “excellent” idea, indeed Ankara has announced that it will consider establishing a buffer zone inside Syrian territory. This is something that cannot be achieved via consent between Turkey and the al-Assad regime; rather this would require major military action, and such action, of course, is justified. For with the influx of Syrian refugees into Turkey, not to mention the al-Assad regime laying land-mines along the border, Ankara has every right to take military action to protect its borders which have been repeatedly violated by al-Assad regime forces, as well as in order to secure territory for the Syrian refugees.
The story is not just Turkey, for now we see the Gulf States collectively and permanently closing their embassies in Syria, and withdrawing their staff, whilst the western states are doing the same, and there are even calls for a collective European decision along the same lines. This is an indication that the situation is escalating, not calming down. If, as some claim, part of Annan’s mission is to calm the situation and carry out political dialogue leading to al-Assad exiting power along the lines of the Yemeni model, then we cannot also help but notice that – at the same time – the international movement is escalatory, and is more like a declaration of war; therefore al-Assad is between the carrot and the stick. This, of course, is a message to al-Assad and those around him, particularly when the US president [Barack Obama] and the British prime minister [David Cameron] tell al-Assad that the noose is tightening around him, and this is not calming talk whatsoever!
This week has seen important movement in the region, from the visit of the US Director of Intelligence to Turkey, to the visit paid by the Chief of Staff of the French Army to Ankara, whilst information reveals that the Turkish Intelligence chief will visit Saudi Arabia in the near future, and all of this is not without meaning. What is more important than this is the Russian position, which some believe is turning against al-Assad, in fact some are saying that Moscow’s position on Syria has already changed, and it is only a question of bringing this out. I have received information from well-informed sources that on Thursday night a Russian official told an official within the tyrant of Damascus’s regime – during a telephone call – that al-Assad must respond positively to Annan’s requests, otherwise Moscow would no longer be able to present itself as the protector of a killer, more than it already has. If you believe this story, and I have no doubt in my source – and we must also recall [Russian Foreign Minister] Lavrov’s criticism of al-Assad at the Russian State Duma two days ago – then this represents a breakthrough in the Syrian crisis. This also perhaps explains why Hassan Nasrallah came out and called for a ceasefire in Syria, from all sides; and so it is as if Nasrallah today is al-Assad circa 2006!
Therefore all signs indicate that al-Assad is now between the carrot and the stick; there is movement from different sides, which may be slow, but this movement is not in the interests of al-Assad, and that is certainly what is required.