By: Zaher Mahruqi
Bashar’s acceptance to let go of his “Nukes of the poor” arsenal could mean that the Syrian government has assessed the potential outcome of an American sustained offensive to be a game changer and desperately agreed to any way out.Handing over chemical weapons in a gradual more controlled manner would have been understandable but giving up the location of the chemical sites with such immediacy hints to a much weakened Syrian position. It is no secret that the details given to the UN will eventually end up in Israeli hands, then why would the Syrian government accept such a deal other than Assad’s real fear of loosening his grip on power? Netanyahu’s remarks following the chemical handover deal that “negotiating with Syria and Iran with a real and present threat to use force is the only way to make them cooperate” suggests that Syria’s president is indeed at the mode of fighting for survival. But that too is too simplistic provided that, surrendering chemical weapons or not, the US is sure to pursue him to the very bitter end. Then why give up such a strong deterrent? The fact of the matter is that Bashar al-Assad is an intelligent man who at the very least understands that betraying Russia and Iran, who have been supporting his efforts in the past two years, would be a serious mistake. Therefore, any big decision Syria makes has to have been consulted with its main backers and has been given some sort of guarantees that giving up chemical weapons is not as risky as it might appear and that a credible backup plan is in place. Smartly, Syria is giving both the US and Russia a face saving mechanism to avoid any further escalation between the two super powers and at the same time it is buying crucial time. Bashar himself declared that at least one full year is required to clear Syria of chemical weapons. For Syria, chemical weapons are much harder to dispose of than replenish because Syria’s allies have stockpiles upon stockpiles of them. And so if the US chooses to change course somewhere during the period of chemical disarmament and attacks Syria, the very scenario that has been averted would be quickly reintroduced. One ship full of chemical weapons is all that is required to rearm Syria, after all the main target of such weapons is a country the size of a province; Israel. Moreover, the Iranian and Hezbollah threat of intervening by attacking Israel will not be changed by simply handing over the chemical weapons. Of course, the decision to hand over the weapons which buys the Syrian government crucial time is unwelcome by the “saboteur” of the region, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The real danger for them is that this could actually lead to further weakening of the Syrian opposition and force them unto Geneva peace talks; talks which have just been strengthened by Syria’s agreement to declare its chemical arsenal. Turkey and Saudi Arabia know well that their stances on Syria in the past two years makes it impossible for relations with Bashar’s Syria to normalize or even a negotiated Syria where opposition participates in governance. Regardless of Turkish and Saudi stances, the US administration and Israel had strong interests in making sure that a war is averted in some way. Had the US congress vote gone ahead and disapproved of any attack on Syria in order to fulfill the wishes of the American people, it would have been a huge blow to them. For Obama, it would have meant being stripped of legitimacy as it relates to Syria and wider international engagements and for Israel it would have meant the weakening of the Zionist lobby within US politics and a disastrous counter attack from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Bashar’s objectives to consolidate alliances and weaken the counter alliance and buying time have all been thus far satisfied. The one year disarmament period that Bashar suggested will be needed is no speculation at all; it is well calculated period during which time to weaken the opposition and its supporters and to deny the US and her allies any legitimate pretext to attack Syria. Moreover, if Iran and Hezbollah felt justified to intervene early on, now any attack from the US or her allies before the chemical disarmament is complete makes the Iran and Hezbollah retaliation against Israel with the support of Russia even more justified. On the other hand, the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, (the latter seeming more keen than the US to overthrow Bashar’s government), provided that the SNC is in a weakened position and the desperation of the trio is acute, places them in a real danger of open colluding with the likes of Al Qaeda and Al-Nusra Front. So much for fighting “terrorism”! Every time one sees a billboard advertising Syrian International Trade Exhibition across the world one wonders how can a government in a war state for over two years manage to facilitate an environment where its factories can produce? The answer could simply be that Syria is not nearly as chaotic or as weak as Western media portrays it to be. That position has just been strengthened by Syria’s agreement to disarm. The objective of the US and Israel has always been to disarm any Arab army that might use its weapons against Israel; the issue is not whether a country owns a huge arsenals of weapons or not, but whether it has enough potential will to use them against Israel. The Saudis are armed to the teeth and so are the Turkish but it is their clear stance on ensuring Israel’s peace that makes them allies rather than enemies. It is for that reason that Syria is a prime target as was Saddam’s Iraq. Five armies that pose serious threat to Israel were the priorities of the US and Israel namely Iranian, Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi and Hezbollah and so far only one has been dealt with; that of Iraq. In the case of Egypt, the US and Israel are pleased because the Egyptian army is suspect and they truly believe they will eventually buy out its generals. That means Hezbollah, Iran and Syria are left to fight this war that will not stop until one side secures a clear victory. Where Russia had disappointed in the past as was the case with Iraq, now it appears poised to put up a stronger posture and as such days ahead will clarify the longevity of the new Russian posture. But the latest events have revealed that Russia is no longer a mere Security Council voter but a physical actor in world events. Therefore, it is naive to assume that Russia has been blackmailed or tricked by the US into pressuring Syria to surrender her most prized deterrent against Israel. Syria will comply albeit at a calculated pace and will give America and Israel no legitimate pretext to attack it and as such Russia will have no choice but to stand its ground. If an attack takes place, Russia’s response is likely to be far stronger than the recent showdown in the Mediterranean or else Russia becomes a goofball. The stance of Western media and Aljazeera is a good indication that the US and her allies are not in a war mood. When a war is eminent, there are certain networks that have a duty to fulfill and that is drumming for war. They are not doing that just yet! While it will be naive to assume that Bashar will hold on to power indefinitely, it is clear that the Syrian civil conflict will be a long term struggle and will not end nor conclude the way the US and Israel are hoping for.