By Arab News
December 4, 2013
By Osama Al Sharif
The fate of Geneva 2, the proposed peace conference whose objective is to find a political solution to Syria’s three-year civil war, will be decided in the battlefields. The coming few weeks separating us from the Jan. 22 will prove to the bloodiest and costliest both to the regime and the myriad rebel groups fighting for its ouster. Until then the world will have to brace itself for major military upsets and surprises.
It is fair to say that both sides to the conflict are not interested in a political solution. If the Geneva conference does take place it could break up as soon as opening statements are delivered. The regime of President Bashar Assad is growing in confidence and is determined to go to Geneva as victor. It has shown resolve and was able to override months of military defeats in various parts of the country. But in recent weeks it has made important gains on a number of fronts, especially in the suburbs of Damascus and around the besieged city of Aleppo. There are no signs that its military chain of command has been weakened. Its air force remains active, dealing painful blows to both opposition fighters and hapless civilians caught in the line of fire. But most importantly, its political position has been bolstered in the aftermath of its acceptance to dismantle its cache of chemical weapons to avoid a western military strike.
The regime knows that such a strike is no longer an option. The US and Russia have worked out a plan to pursue a political solution and most importantly the fate of President Assad is no longer on the table. Furthermore, the recently adopted deal on Iran’s nuclear program has been an additional boon. Tehran’s political, logistical and military support, in addition to the deployment of Hezbollah fighters, has become a “game changer” in the bloody conflict. In short the regime has never looked better.
In order to prepare for its debut in Geneva, Damascus has intensified its military campaign against what it calls “terrorists” backed by foreign powers. It has made important breakthroughs in the Qalamoun region, northwest of the capital and along the Lebanese borders. It looks to repeat its success in driving back rebels from areas south of Damascus. Strategically speaking the regime wants to go to Geneva having reclaimed areas surrounding its capital city.
In addition, the regime was helped by the erosion of the anti-Assad coalition of nations. On the other hand, the opposition has yielded to international pressure to attend the peace conference. It has been unable to enforce conditions on the future of President Assad in the proposed transitional phase.
Syria has made it clear that the fate of its president will not be discussed in Geneva. The opposition is divided and it has lost touch with its armed forces on the ground. The position of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Geneva is unclear. The FSA has lost ground in areas near Damascus recently, but the most dangerous development is the escalation of hostilities between its groups and jihadists, especially the renegade Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS). Internecine fighting has weakened the resolve of the rebels and boosted Assad’s claim that he is in fact protecting the world from Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists.
Still things could change on the ground. The dangers of spillover into neighboring countries, especially Lebanon, remain real. And the possibility of partition has gained ground as Kurdish activists in Syria’s north and northeast announced that they are seeking to create a Kurdish self-rule region in three governorates comprising nearly 15 percent of Syria’s territory.
Until the convening of Geneva 2, all eyes will be focused on three battlefronts: Qalamoun, Daraa and Aleppo. Each side wants to go to the peace conference with as many winning cards as possible. It is inconceivable that a political solution will be reached in Switzerland in January next year. The gap separating both sides is too huge to cover by any initiative. President Assad’s position has never been stronger. His Russian and Iranian allies continue to support him. The opposition is fragmented and disillusioned. But the reality is Syria’s implosion will continue unabated. While it seems difficult to move forward, it is also impossible to turn back the clock.
- Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Email: [email protected]
Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz.
Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).
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