Published On: Mon, Feb 12th, 2018

Syria and Lebanon: Confusion and mixed signals

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BY EYAD ABU SHAKRA

Several developments took place in the Arab world last week that reflect the danger in misreading regional and international changes. That has been especially the case in Syria and Lebanon, where local players have been confused in reading the situations and positioning themselves.

To begin with, the Syrian opposition was shocked by the UN’s official endorsement of Russia’s Sochi conference. Regardless of the justifications for the endorsement via the attendance of the UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, it simply appears to undermine the Geneva peace process.

We need to remember that Moscow started its attempts to wreck the Syrian uprising and all the international community’s initiatives through a series of UN Security Council vetoes. This was soon followed by rearming the Damascus regime, and later backing it by a de-facto occupation and active combat.

On the political front, after cowing and blackmailing Turkey, Russia launched with Iranian and Turkish participation the Astana talks. The intention was to marginalize the independent political opposition while giving more say to armed groups dependent on the talks’ three sponsors.

The talks became the first practical alternative to the Geneva process; Moscow called for them after exploiting Tehran’s and Ankara’s worries about strong US support for secessionist Kurds under the pretext of fighting Daesh.

Later, noticing Washington’s turning against the Syrian uprising and the Free Syrian Army, and keener than ever to divide and destroy the Syrian opposition, Moscow decided to finish off the uprising in Sochi, where the UN actually conspired against its own Security Council resolutions.

So it has become absurd to continue talking of “Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” not only in light of displacement and demographic engineering, but also as one looks at the division of the cake on Syrian soil.

The coastal mountainous area is now under Russian control. Ankara seeks the border sector west of the Euphrates, extending from the borders of Turkey’s Hatay province to the town of Jarablus on the river. The US continues to oversee, with its Kurdish allies, affairs east of the Euphrates. The Damascus regime, supported by Iran’s militias, controls the major cities, leaving Daesh and other small and dubious militias spread out and scattered.

But the fate of one part of Syria, the southern tip of the country, remains undecided. It is engulfed by an uneasy silence, only broken by Israeli military operations, weirdly conceived and timed factional skirmishes, and hints by Israel that it will not allow Iran and Hezbollah to threaten its security.

As for Lebanon, it is well known that the border with Syria has technically ceased to exist during the last couple of decades, which has allowed Hezbollah to fight in Syria. Two important factors have made the task of Hezbollah, which is Iran’s political and military wing in Lebanon, easy. One is that the Syrian regime is a vital link in Iran’s expansionist strategy, cutting through the Arab world toward the Mediterranean Sea.

The other is that Hezbollah has been enjoying an effective Christian cover, represented by its alliance with President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM — the most extreme of Lebanon’s Christian parties), and the expressed position of the Syrian and Lebanese Christian clergy that any alternative to the Damascus regime would be worse.

These two factors not only helped Hezbollah’s cause but also Iran’s, especially after the emergence of extremist terrorist groups such as Daesh and Al-Nusra Front in many parts of Syria, and the rush of some Sunni regional players to back them before changing their mind. But this change only took place after the weakening of genuine moderate armed opposition groups.

–(Courtesy–Arab News)

 

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