Damascus is Drowned, ‘Painful’ Offers Await Decision

A street in Homs on Oct. 3, 2021 (Reuters)
A street in Homs on Oct. 3, 2021 (Reuters)
TT

Damascus is Drowned, ‘Painful’ Offers Await Decision

A street in Homs on Oct. 3, 2021 (Reuters)
A street in Homs on Oct. 3, 2021 (Reuters)

Damascus is mired in its suffocating economic crisis. Syria is expelling its people and is divided into three “states” separated by border-like lines, where militias, organizations, extremists and warring foreign armies coming from major and regional countries abound. Contradictory offers and different conditions are put forward to start a long and complicated march out of the abyss and the abandoned land.

But what are the most important conditions and temptations?

The Iranian offer: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will arrive in Damascus in the coming days. Tehran, which has maintained an exceptional relationship with the Syrian capital since 1979, further strengthened its ties with Syria after 2011, and provided economic and financial support that exceeded $20 billion. It also delivered militias, weapons, and military support to “save the regime.”

Tehran believes that had it not been for its intervention in Syria at the end of 2012 and its mediation with Russia to engage in the country at the end of 2015, “the ally would have changed.” The regime remained, and will remain, and it wants a price in return.

Iran is seeking a strategic military position that enhances its regional status, in addition to a foothold on the Mediterranean. It demands sovereign financial concessions in oil, gas and phosphate fields, projects and communications. Finally, it wants the Iranians to be treated like the Syrians.

There is no doubt that Raisi’s visit falls in this context, after offers poured in on Damascus to go the other way and benefit from Russia’s preoccupation with the Ukrainian war. But what if Israel bombed the outskirts of Damascus during Raisi’s presence in the Syrian capital?

Arab offers: The Director of the National Security Bureau, Major General Ali Mamlouk, and the Director of General Intelligence, Major General Hussam Louka, visited Arab and Gulf countries in the past weeks, and held meetings for the first time with the leaders of these countries. What are the Arabs offering?

The scope of the offers are wide. It features a direct duo and another major geopolitical proposal. The list includes direct matters, such as stopping the flow of Captagon across Jordan’s borders, and cooperation to prevent the infiltration of smugglers and terrorists. On the geopolitical level, proposals feature changing the nature of the relationship with Iran, so that Syria will not be a foothold and a passage to support terrorist organizations and militias that threaten Arab security.

The list includes Syrian matters, such as the political solution, the constitutional committee, and guarantees for the return of refugees. Some countries are betting that Damascus will almost reach the standards of the “Abraham Accords” with Israel.

On the other hand, the Arab countries offer economic support and exemptions from the sanctions of the US “Caesar Act”, a return to the Arab League and the Arab embrace, in addition to aid and reconstruction.

The Turkish offer: Following the intervention of President Vladimir Putin, Presidents Bashar al-Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to security meetings between the head of the Syrian Security Bureau, Ali Mamlouk, and his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, in Moscow.

The Turkish request included a joint operation against the PKK and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, cooperation to return Syrian refugees, and action against terrorism.

In exchange, Ankara offers economic support, financing for reconstruction projects, political contacts, and “legitimization” of the regime.

Assad has not yet agreed to these proposals and wants Ankara to stop supporting the factions, cooperate against terrorism, and announce its withdrawal from Syria.

He is also trying to obtain additional concessions from the Kurds... and punish them for cooperating with America.

Western offers: Western offers differ from one country to another. There is a European decision that includes 3 No’s: No to contributing to reconstruction, no to ending isolation, and no to lifting sanctions before progress in the political process.

On the other hand, there is the US Caesar Act and sanctions imposed by Washington.

On the ground, the US Army is cooperating with its European allies against terrorism and ISIS. There is also field control related to balance and negotiation with Russia, and support for Israel and its raids against Iran in Syria.

Beneath these geopolitical matters, we see small offers related to humanitarian issues: America is knocking on all doors to know the fate of journalist Justin Tice. It seeks to get information in exchange for ending sanctions on influential figures or making exceptions in humanitarian matters.

European countries are proposing to support “early recovery” projects in the electricity, health and education sectors within the international decision to provide cross-border aid (a decision on its extension will be taken before the 10th of next month), in return for providing political facilities and opening consulates in European cities, or a visit of a delegation to Damascus.

Israeli raids: Israel monitors and follows up on some proposals and is sometimes consulted on them, but continues its raids against “Iranian sites” in the country, starting from Damascus in southern Syria, to Albukamal in the northeast, and to the countryside of Tartous in the west.

Tel Aviv, through Western countries or Moscow, demands that Iran strategically withdraw from Syria and commit to the red lines, namely: ending strategic positioning, stopping arming Hezbollah with specific missiles, and halting the construction of factories for the building of accurate and long-range “ballistic” missiles.

It also “offers” facilitating Damascus’ demands in decision-making corridors and capitals, and acceptance of the Russian role, the Russian presence, and the Russian decision.

The Syrian suffering continues and the crisis deepens. The list of conditions or demands is not only long, but also contradictory and confusing, and reflects interests that require an impossible Syrian resolution.

A solution to the Syrian crisis awaits regional and international arrangements, and the birth of the regime from this painful labor, at the Syrian and international levels.



Netanyahu Dissolved His War Cabinet. How Will That Affect Ceasefire Efforts?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
TT

Netanyahu Dissolved His War Cabinet. How Will That Affect Ceasefire Efforts?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded his war cabinet Monday, a move that consolidates his influence over the Israel-Hamas war and likely diminishes the odds of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip anytime soon.

Netanyahu announced the step days after his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, withdrew from the three-member war cabinet. Gantz, a retired general and member of parliament, was widely seen as a more moderate voice.

Major war policies will now be solely approved by Netanyahu's security cabinet — a larger body that is dominated by hard-liners who oppose the US-backed ceasefire proposal and want to press ahead with the war.

Netanyahu is expected to consult on some decisions with close allies in ad-hoc meetings, said an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

These closed-door meetings could blunt some of the influence of the hard-liners. But Netanyahu himself has shown little enthusiasm for the ceasefire plan and his reliance on the full security cabinet could give him cover to prolong a decision.

Here’s key background about the war cabinet, and what disbanding it means for ceasefire prospects:

Why did Gantz join and then quit the war cabinet? The war cabinet was formed after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel when Gantz, an opposition party leader, joined with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a show of unity.

At the time, Gantz demanded that a small decision-making body steer the war in a bid to sideline far-right members of Netanyahu’s government.

But Gantz left the cabinet earlier this month after months of mounting tensions over Israel’s strategy in Gaza.

He said he was fed up with a lack of progress bringing home the dozens of Israeli hostages held by Hamas. He accused Netanyahu of drawing out the war to avoid new elections and a corruption trial. He called on Netanyahu to endorse a plan that — among other points — would rescue the captives and end Hamas rule in Gaza.

When Netanyahu did not express support for the plan, Gantz announced his departure. He said that “fateful strategic decisions” in the cabinet were being “met with hesitancy and procrastination due to political considerations.”

How will Israel's wartime policies likely be changed? The disbanding of the war cabinet only further distances Netanyahu from centrist politicians more open to a ceasefire deal with Hamas.

Months of ceasefire talks have failed to find common ground between Hamas and Israeli leaders. Both Israel and Hamas have been reluctant to fully endorse a US-backed plan that would return hostages, clear the way for an end to the war, and commence a rebuilding effort of the decimated territory.

Netanyahu will now rely on the members of his security cabinet, some of whom oppose ceasefire deals and have voiced support for reoccupying Gaza.

After Gantz's departure, Israel's ultranationalist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, demanded inclusion in a renewed war cabinet. Monday's move could help keep Ben-Gvir at a distance, but it cannot sideline him altogether.

The move also gives Netanyahu leeway to draw out the war to stay in power. Netanyahu's critics accuse him of delaying because an end to the war would mean an investigation into the government's failures on Oct. 7 and raise the likelihood of new elections when the prime minister's popularity is low.

“It means that he will make all the decisions himself, or with people that he trusts who don’t challenge him,” said Gideon Rahat, chairman of the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “And his interest is in having a slow-attrition war.”