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Let’s Hope it is the Beginning of the End - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English
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Opinion

Let’s Hope it is the Beginning of the End

A crater is seen at the site of an airstrike, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

Let us forget about fake ‘nationalist’ condemnation, and shedding crocodile tears on doubtful ‘sovereignty’, since Syria became nothing but a ‘mailbox’ for exchanging regional international political messages. Let us also look deeper into a situation whereby human lives have become irrelevant against a crescendo of chatter about false ‘Rejectionism’ and folkloric ‘Arabism’.

Given all the above, it has to be said that the main culprit responsible for violating Syria’s sovereignty is he who has never cherished it, and never cared about the lives and dignity of Syrian citizens.

Personally, I am not one who supports foreign intervention; and most certainly, do not gloat about our misfortunes and defeats. I do not and would not call on foreign powers to occupy our lands, and open for them the gates of what are supposed to be ‘homelands’ … not detentions centers where people are abused and humiliated.

In fact, it pains me deeply to see foreign military aircraft ‘touring’ the skies of Arab countries taken away from their people not by an old enemy (that we have been verbally attacking for 70 years), but by some of their own. It pains me even more to see the inability of those to confront the real enemy, while – thanks to habit and ‘inheritance’ – they have mastered the skill of confronting their co-citizens when they seek the most basic human rights.

After the US ‘Tomahawk’ strikes against the Sh’ayrat Air Base (in Homs Province), which was for several years a source of death and misery to Syria’s cities and countryside, I heard and read about ‘angry’ reactions from fellow Arabs who do not seem to refuse murder as a means of dialogue with protesters. What is worse was that they considered the American strikes as:

1- A violation of Syria’s ‘sovereignty’, as if Syria is nothing but a regime that is until this very moment bargaining with foreign powers on how to partition it along religious, sectarian and ethnic lines; and engages in systematic population exchange under international auspices.

2- A “punishment” to the regime “for opposing Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine”, as Dr. Buthaina Sha’ban ‘brilliantly’ reminded us.

However, the fact is that there has been a sinister relationship of reciprocated services between the Bashar Al-Assad regime and its supporters – namely, Iran – on one side, and ISIS and its ilk on the other. The latter never really believed in the Syrian popular uprising, never fought for it, but rather fought against it and worked hard to destroy it from within whenever possible.

This picture was always clear to the US and Western powers. Washington in particular, knew quite a lot about the Syrian situation during Barack Obama’s presidency; but unfortunately Obama’s priorities were somewhere else. The JCPOA (i.e. the nuclear agreement) with Iran was Washington’s main goal; and to insure its implementation, Obama and his staff were happy to sacrifice the Syrian people as well as America’s traditional Middle East allies and friends in order to keep Tehran happy, and allow it to spread its sway from the Zagros Mountains to the Levant coast, and from the Arabia Gulf to Bab Al-Mandeb strait.

For six years since the start of the Syrian uprising, and three years after discovering the reality of Obama’s position, The Damascus regime and its backers in Tehran and Moscow had received all the reassurances they needed to escalate their war. They benefited from the following positions adopted by Washington:

1- Continuous refusal of enforcing ‘safe havens’ and ‘no-fly zones’ intended to deter the regime and protect the refugees and displaced; while Russia and China – through their ‘vetoes’ – have prevented the international community from stopping the regime’s carnage.

2- Stubborn rejection – despite pleas to the contrary – to provide the Syrian Opposition with suitable quality weapons needed to confront and neutralize the regime’s arsenal, replenished by Moscow via a permanent ‘air bridge’.

3- Failure to seriously check against the flagrant military activities of pro-Iran sectarian militias, which have inflamed sectarian polarization, nurtured frustration and despair, and eventually extremism in Syria.

4- Failure to back the trend of moderation and openness within the Syrian Opposition, given its aforementioned stances, and then claiming that the opposition was ‘incapable’ of confronting the regime. It then gave its support to secessionist (Kurdish) militias not only threatening Syria’s territorial integrity, but also its neighbors’, specifically, Turkey.

5- Failure to foresee, and then face up to, Russian direct combat involvement, which is now a reality in many parts of Syria. This Russian involvement has exacerbated the refugee crisis – especially, after the fall of Aleppo – and given it global repercussions reflected in human tragedies and rise of anti-foreigners racist extreme Right in Europe.

Thus, the Obama Administration, which refused even to deter Al-Assad, emboldened Tehran and Moscow, and handed them the regional initiative in the Middle East; weakening in the process players who had considered themselves friends of America if not its strategic allies. This unhappy situation has increased the political and humanitarian costs, and decreased the chances of a victory for moderates against extremists in Syria and elsewhere.

What President Donald Trump did, by ordering a punitive strike in retaliation against the use of chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, was the first sign of ‘deterrence’. ‘Deterrence’ of the murder and displacement machine, its sponsors and operators.

It was the only action needed and required from Washington but never materialized.

This strike must not be a mere reaction, but rather a first phase in a genuine strategy that deals realistically and candidly with rulers and governments who have proven beyond any doubt that do not care about dialogue, consensus, co-existence and human rights.

Al-Assad regime and its backers carried on with their genocide in Syria, even after Washington had announced that toppling Al-Assad was no longer an American priority. This clearly underlines the futility of any dialogue with it. Defeating ISIS’ extremism can only be achieved by backing the forces of moderation. This means getting rid of those exploiting extremism, and thus forcing the victims of discrimination to condone and accept it.

In short, I do not want to see the end of the Damascus regime for Donald Trump’s sake, but rather as a sign of respect to the souls of child victims like Hamzah Al-Khatib, Wassim Zakkour, Alan Kurdi, and Aya and Ahmad Abdul Hamid Al-Yusuf, as well the stunned innocent face of Omran Daqneesh and the tears of every mother, father, sister and brother throughout Syria.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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