In wake of Syria massacre, West seeks to unify Bashar Assad’s opponents
By Zvi Bar’e (Haaretz): Whoever initiated, responded or contributed to this violent, regretful event must claim responsibility,” – this was the weak response from the head of the UN observer team in Syria, Robert Mood. This was a typical, chilly response, which shows that even the chief observer doesn’t know, or is unwilling to indicate “whoever initiated,” and who should claim responsibility for the massacre in the village of Houla, in the province of Homs, which claimed the lives of over 100 people, including 32 children under the age of ten. The UN Security Council released a similar statement on Saturday, denouncing the massacre.
There is no lack of words or denunciations in this violent struggle. It seems however, this “regretful event” might also lead to government action as well. According to the New York Times, the U.S. is currently engaging in talks with the Russian government, in an attempt to fit a square peg in a round hole – to find a solution that will satisfy the opposition but allow for Bashar Assad’s regime to remain in power, possibly even Assad himself.
Russia and the U.S. have dubbed the proposal the “Yemen Model,” and discussions will continue during U.S. President Barack Obama’s next meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in June.
New York Times’ sources state that for the first time, Russia is not immediately rejecting a plan in which Assad would step down and pass his power to an interim leader, allowing for a political process and free elections to be held in Syria, similar to the situation in Yemen.
In order to properly prepare for Russia to join in on the plan, Obama, along with Turkey, is trying to coordinate the unification of the Syrian opposition, and influence opposition leaders to engage in talks that will lead to a regime change.
According to the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, the U.S. National Security Adviser met with Turkey’s deputy foreign minister in Washington on Friday, to form a basic outline for the plan.
Up until this point, the Syrian National Council, an umbrella organization for all opposition groups, has refused all proposals to launch a dialogue with the Syrian regime.
Even if such a plan is developed, its implementation depends on Assad’s consent – and that of his army. Assad has already proven in the past that he knows how to fold when the cards threaten his rule, but until now, he has yet to face the pressure of a do or die situation. If Russia agrees to join with the forces pressuring Assad, there’s a possibility for change.
Meanwhile, the Gulf States, under Kuwaiti leadership this time, have initiated efforts to put pressure on the Security Council. The Gulf States were accused by Assad of funding and arming opposition militias within Syria. Until this point, the Gulf States have denied those accusations, and the Free Syria Army has also refused to reveal the origins of its armaments.
According to reports from within Syria, the Free Syrian Army has ties with regional countries such as Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, and Azerbaijan, through which it purchases weapons. Although they have purchased mostly light weapons, the passage of weapons into the hands of the rebels has been met with some setbacks, as Lebanese beaches are being patrolled by Russian naval vessels and have led to the capture of the “Lutfullah-2,” a ship carrying weapons for the Syrian rebels. Syrian forces are also monitoring Iraqi border crossings.
The Gulf States are fervently trying to involve the Arab League in the discussions, in order to force a decision calling for international military action, similar to the situation in Libya.
It is doubtful that such demands will be answered, as NATO and its member states have expressed that they have no intentions of initiating military action in Syria.
It remains to be seen if the Arab League or the Gulf states will agree to send weapons to the rebels out in the open, a move that would increase international involvement and could drag western states into doing so as well.
Reluctance to get involved militarily as requested by Syrian opposition stems primarily from a fear of additional conflicts erupting in areas like Lebanon, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf. Such conflicts could be initiated by Syria’s allies Hezbollah and Iran, in an attempt to divert attention from Syria.
Opposition to supplying the Free Syria Army with heavy arms exists as well, because of dissent and lack of centralized leadership among opposition groups. Such factors could lead to weapons being used not only against the Syrian government, but also in internal onflicts between opposition groups – or worst of all – weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah or other terrorist groups operating within Syria.
This dilemma only leaves the West and the Arab nations with one course of action – funding and training the opposition. Such a move would not require the Free Syria Army to make an international agreement. The money comes from Arab sources, Syrian benefactors residing abroad.