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Poisonous Damascus Winds Stir Options Of External Interferences
Published in AL HAYAT on 25 - 08 - 2013

The latest developments of the Syrian crisis no longer leave room for the luxury of waiting or overlooking the events taking place in the region. The blazing fire is about to spin out of control and violate the rules of the game. The use of chemical weapons in the Damascus Goutas is not a mere passing event; and the fact that Lebanon has slipped into an open confrontation fueled by the bloody conflict between Hezbollah and the Takfiris no longer requires proof. The Lebanese are fighting in Syria so why wouldn't they fight in their own arenas and in front of their own mosques? And why can't rockets be fired from South Lebanon towards Israel in order to push the latter into the fight? And why wouldn't the Syrians expand their operations to include their neighboring country in light of the two countries' united destiny and fate?
The Jordanian Prime Minister, Abdullah Ensour, spoke last week about a "technical assistance" that the USA is offering to his country in fear of "chemical wars." Within forty-eight hours of this statement, images of these war victims were splashed on the satellite channels all over the world! Concomitantly with Ensour's statement, The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, announced that his country lacks the necessary means to prevent the smuggling of Iranian weapons to the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda is regaining its upper hand in Iraq on a daily basis and the roads to feed the Syrian war are open along the borders.
All the red lines that people had been warning about – including the use of chemical weapons, the expansion of the war to the neighboring countries and driving the region into chaos according to Bashar al-Assad's allusions on several occasions – have now fallen. A few months ago, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey could easily provide justifications as to the reason why his president, Barack Obama, had failed to respond to the "change of the game's rules." Chemical weapons were previously used on a small scale and an endless debate ensued on the identity of the responsible parties between Russia and Iran on the one hand and the European countries on the other hand. However, the Gouta massacre no longer allows for overlooking this massive number of victims, most of whom are children, who were provided by humanitarian organizations with aid for sound health and education conditions.
The Gouta events represent a dangerous turn that will push all the players and the conflicting parties within and outside Syria to modify "the rules of the game." Gen. Martin Dempsey can no longer claim that his country has no interest in interfering. As a major force, America has a moral and political responsibility. Responding to this violation of the international treaty that prohibits the use of weapons of mass destruction is also a vital interest for the USA. Even the pro-Syrian-regime Russia will not be able to justify its position if the inspectors were to visit the crime scene and prove the regime's responsibility knowing that most reports and international positions do point in that direction. If this crime were to go unpunished, this means that the regime will sooner or later be able to defeat its enemies. In that case, it would be pointless to talk about the need to establish a form of military balance on the ground in order to achieve a balanced political settlement. It would also be pointless to keep preparing for the Geneva 2 or the Geneva 3 conference!
The international atmosphere has recently changed. The Obama administration can no longer remain hesitant and hide behind pretexts and excuses. The American administration was conveniently watching Syria's auto-destruction and the subsequent weakening of the Sunni and Shiite radicals along with Iran and Russia; especially that Israel, Turkey and Jordan were shielded. However, the fire went beyond Syria and is now eating at the American interests in the entire region according to several western circles.
Nevertheless, the United States is still abstaining from interfering in Syria because the Americans do not wish to become involved in a new war; because they have no interest in doing so; and also because those parties that might succeed Al-Assad are not their friends, in the words of Gen. Dempsey. However, the concerned parties in Washington believe that the Syrian war has started to harm their country's interests. The Syrian regime is now accused of using chemical weapons and will probably be heading towards more violence and barbarity, since it wishes to maintain its positions at least on the west coast from Damascus to Homs, Hamah, and all the way to Aleppo. Indeed, the Syrian regime wishes to guarantee a strong position in any upcoming negotiations, even though it is aware that no settlement will restore the power it had prior to March 2011. In other words, the old Syria will never return. Although an official partitioning of Syria is now impossible due to the absence of the suitable regional and international conditions, division of power will be reigning in Syria just like the case of Iraq. The war is currently turning into a race to grab posts here and there, bracing to transform them into the future areas of autonomous rule! This is actually the headline of the conflicts opposing the Kurds and An-Nusra front as well as other groups in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
Washington is well aware of the fact that, even with the achievements it realized in the Ming Airport, Latakia and some areas in Aleppo and Idleb, it has actually failed to achieve victory. Washington also knows that, despite its achievement in Al-Qusayr and its progress on the Homs front, the regime has also failed to win. The opposition actually accused the regime of carrying out the Gouta massacre as a response to its military and moral failure in those areas and as a desperate and ultimately failed attempt at rocking the relationship between its opponents and their popular base in the capital. In reality, the overuse of all kinds of weapons in the confrontation with the opposition is actually jeopardizing the rest of the regime's legitimacy and popularity and pushing the Sunni majority towards radicalism in light of the silence and paralysis of the international community.
In light of these facts, the concerned parties in Washington are wondering about their country's interests. Will these interests be served if the Al-Assad regime were to turn into a tool in Iran's hand knowing that Iran's, Hezbollah's and other groups' interferences in Syria are clearly a power factor for the Syrian regime? Will the American interests be met if Tehran rather than Moscow were to become the guardian of the Damascus gate? Will these interests be met if the radical groups including Al-Qaeda and the others were to split the areas of authority within Syria while the Free Army and the moderate groups are calling for financial and military support in vain? Are Yemen, Iraq, Sinai, and the majority of North Africa not enough as strongholds for that same terrorism that all the American wars have allegedly been targeting?
Moving from the specific Syrian case into the general regional situation, we wonder where American interests lie. Will the Obama administration stick to its "self distancing" policy while its traditional allies are clearly accusing it of opposing the interests of Arabs and Muslims in the region? The USA has almost lost all its allies in the entire Middle East, with the exception of Israel. It has also received a major blow represented in the war against political Islam, knowing that America had supported the alternative Islamic regimes that replaced the fallen dictatorships in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. America also supported the Yemeni unity during the 1994 separatist war. Today however, Yemen is under the threat of partitioning, from the "rebelling parties" in the south to the Houthis in the north. Both sides are close allies of Iran.
After all this, Washington is still wondering about the reasons why the Gulf people are opposing the United States in Egypt and Syria. Can Al-Riyadh and the other Gulf capitals possibly condone America's hesitant policies via Russia and Iran when danger is actually nearing the GCC? The GCC is entitled to blame the American administration not only for its failure to defeat the hostile camp, but also for risking the loss of the allied camp that America had always worked with to preserve the regional peace and stability.
The international movement following the Gouta massacre indicates that the rules of the game have changed not only in order to punish the culprits and to seek revenge for the innocent victims, but also to shield the remaining western interests in the entire region. Some European voices are calling for a harsh reaction against the Syrian regime. Today, Amman will be hosting a meeting of the joint chiefs of staff of the USA, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Canada. President Obama has an array of choices laid out for him by his national security team, including the mobilization of naval forces in the Mediterranean. Does the phone call between American Secretary of State John Kerry and his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Muallem represent the last warning before the launching of the response to the poisonous Damascus winds? This is reminiscent of what Kerry's predecessor James Baker did when he contacted his then-counterpart Tarek Aziz, just before the launching of the Kuwait liberation war more than two decades ago.
We wonder whether all these actions and movements are pressuring tools used to prevent the Syrian regime from using weapons of mass destruction and pushing it to modify its present stands. The factors governing the USA's positions via the Syrian crisis and its attitude concerning the Iranian nuclear file are the same. The USA has and is still doing its best to prevent any Israeli adventure leading to a confrontation with the Islamic Republic, especially that America is still recovering from George W. Bush's wars. The USA knows that intervening in Syria will push Tehran to act since Tehran had warned against "major repercussions" in the event that Washington were to step over the "red line." The Levant represents one of Iran's main strategic bases in the entire region from Iraq to Lebanon and Palestine. In addition, Washington must take Russia's position into account. In light of all these considerations, will the Kosovo scenario be repeated? Will there be specific strikes against Al-Assad' military posts with sufficient intensity to push him along with his allies to reach a political settlement in Geneva 2 and step down by the end of his term in the upcoming spring?
A few days before the American war against Iran in the spring of 2003, a Jordanian commando force interfered in southern Iraq (Basra) to shield the oil facilities there. The Baath party was toppled in Baghdad under the slogan of stopping the weapons of mass destruction, which later proved to be non-existent. But now that the weapons of mass destruction have been proven to exist in Syria, and now that the images of the victims were broadcasted around the world, will the international community remain silent? It is preferable for President Al-Assad not to be too confident about the Iranian support and the Russian veto, even if it takes America a while to wrap up the chemical file.

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