The New York Times has revealed that U.S. – Russian talks are taking place to implement the Yemeni solution in Syria, and this is in the hopes of securing Bashar al-Assad’s withdrawal from power along the lines of Yemen’s Saleh. The U.S. newspaper says that nothing is confirmed, but that the Russian response is giving somewhat positive signals.
The question that must be asked here is: can the Yemeni model succeed in Syria? The answer is that this would be difficult, for a number of reasons, particularly as what has happened today in Syria exceeds anything that happened in Yemen, indeed there is no comparison whatsoever, for in Syria the civilian death toll at the hands of the al-Assad regime exceeds 12,000, not counting the number of missing, so who will be held responsible for all this bloodshed?
In fact, merely the revelation of negotiations between the Russians and al-Assad over an exit plan would not only strain the uprising Syrian street, but it would blow the minds of the circles close to al-Assad. We are not talking about his inner circle here, but rather the security apparatus – with all its leadership and officers – for they are the ones who are primarily embroiled in the killings, not to mention the pro-regime Shabiha militia, as well as some businessmen: so what will be there fate after al-Assad?
In the Syrian case, we do not talk about the president’s sons or nephews – as we did in Yemen – but rather a significant number of military leaders, on all levels, in total numbering between 100,000 and 150,000, at the lowest estimates; they are the ones who are embroiled in shedding the blood of the Syrian people, whilst the majority of them belong to a single sect, so how will they respond to al-Assad leaving power with immunity which will likely not cover them all?
Will they accept al-Assad’s safe departure whilst they face an uncertain future? From here, the mere revelation of serious negotiations between Russia and al-Assad over securing his departure may increase the chances of a military coup, as al-Assad’s protectors would undoubtedly prefer for the revolution to snack on him, rather than them. Therefore, as we have repeatedly stated, delaying resolving the Syrian crisis will only increase the eventual cost of this solution. Al-Assad’s agents who have shed the blood of the Syrian people are too great in number to be granted immunity, therefore it is difficult to expect the Yemeni solution to work in Syria today, even if al-Assad’s departure – in itself – would represent something positive.
Accordingly, this complexity is not just related to the circles close to al-Assad, but we must also take into account the Iranian position, as well as Hezbollah. In the event that the U.S. – Russian project is serious, then Iran – along with Hezbollah – will rush to support a quick coup in Syria; Tehran is keen to have a role in any change in Syria, and this is in order to protect its own interests, as well as the interests of Hezbollah. Iran could do this, particularly if it is certain that the likelihood of al-Assad’s departure is greater than at any time before.
One might ask: isn’t it possible that Russia will try to help itself by organizing a coup of this kind, along with the Iranians and senior Alawite officers? The answer is: anything is possible, particularly when all al-Assad’s own allies are now aware that he is the source of a major dilemma for them today.
Therefore it is important that these initiatives do not grant al-Assad more time, and any such initiative must be thought out carefully, along with the continuation of the serious work to bring down the al-Assad regime and save Syria and the Syrian people, not to mention the region as a whole.
(The author is editor in chief of asharq al-Awsat. This article was first published on May 28, 2012.)