The Syrian war has entered a new stage that may foreshadow the collapse of the regime due to its transgressions, including the crimes that shocked the world in Houla, which saw the slaughtering of entire families, including children.
Perhaps this is the reason why the American government has chosen to disclose that it began secret contacts with Moscow more than three weeks ago with the aim of reaching a deal to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. The New York Times revealed that US President Barack Obama had authorized one of his national security advisers to consult with Russian President Vladimir Putin on ways to secure al-Assad’s departure, whilst the two presidents are set to discuss this issue in person when they meet next week.
This represents a positive step, even though this leaked initiative is based on the so-called “Yemeni solution”, which is the initiative that was put forward by the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] in Yemen and resulted in the successful removal of the Yemeni president following the outbreak of the revolution there last year, allowing the Yemeni people to avoid a costly civil war. This was a peaceful solution based on apply intense pressure on then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in return for guarantees of his safety – as well as the safety of his family – whilst he was also allowed to return to Yemen as an ordinary citizen.
The Americans believe that this would be an elegant solution, securing al-Assad’s departure and allowing the opposition to come to power, in addition to protecting state institutes and allowing the Syrian people to avoid a civil war. This solution would also prevent regional conflict from breaking out on the ground, allowing the region as a whole to avoid the rise of terrorist groups born in the midst of chaos and a dangerous political and security vacuum.
However Syria is not Yemen, and al-Assad is not Saleh, whilst the huge amount of blood that has been shed in Syria, giving rise to hatred between the warring parties, cannot in any way be compared to what we saw in Yemen. Despite all this, if this solution can truly be implemented quickly, then this would represent a good choice for the Syrian people and the entire world. However I must stress that I have deep reservations regarding whether it will be possible to implement the Yemeni solution in Syria.
Al-Assad and his gang will not easily accept this, whilst the groups affiliated to him will continue killing, and the UN Security Council will be forced to pressure him with a series of resolutions, including a travel ban and closing the Syrian borders, in order to choke off the al-Assad regime logistically. When this fails, the Security Council will have no other choice but to resort to military intervention in order to protect the Syrian civilians, namely the Libyan solution. Only after all of this has occurred will al-Assad step down! This means that the Syrian people must wait till next year to reach this state, whereas if this had begun one year ago, then perhaps the implementation of the peaceful Yemeni solution could have easily ended the Syrian crisis today.
In addition to this, we must also recognize that the Syrian opposition’s choices are limited, namely fighting against the al-Assad regime without license from the UN, and it may take them one year to topple the regime. Even if the opposition exhibits patience and its leadership – at home and abroad – agrees to an international solution, they will never – nor will the Syrian people – accept any al-Assad security or military officers remaining in power, in fact they will call for these figures to be pursued and brought to trial, even if they also acknowledge that preserving state security and military apparatus is in the interests of Syria as a whole, as well as the revolution.
Another obstacle, including the issue of timing and the details of any solution, is that there is a possibility of Russia and other al-Assad allies interfering to engage political groups with ties to him. This represents one of the most difficult conditions of any proposed deal, and may undermine any reasonable solution.
If the Americans are serious about adopting the Yemeni solution and pointing everybody in this direction, then they must do more than negotiate and consult because al-Assad will not accept any deal until after the Yemeni solution is no longer applicable and it is impossible to implement. We must accelerate the arming of the Syrian opposition and support them to besiege the regime until al-Assad accepts stepping down from power via a deal that represents the bare minimum that he has offered others. Unless al-Assad feels that he is being militarily besieged, he will never step down, rather he will accept more and more support from Hezbollah and Iran to create even more chaos, pushing Syria towards a sectarian war, for this is precisely what he wants, as he believes this will allow him to retain control of some parts of Syria, remaining as president of the regions that are – in terms of sectarianism – affiliated or allied to him.