The ‘Geneva II’ peace conference scheduled to be held in January, which is
seeking to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict, is unlikely to have
any real results.
The opposition remains hopelessly divided and real
power remains with the Islamist fighters who do not want any agreement,
especially one that would keep Syrian President Bashar Assad in
Assad and its ally Iran are unlikely to compromise.
their new-found confidence – gained from the agreement with world powers over
Syria’s chemical weapons and the nuclear negotiations with Iran – they are
unlikely to give in.
Most analysts who spoke to The Jerusalem Post
expressed pessimism over the chances for any political solution.
told me before the fighting started, that ‘if it ever comes here, I will never
step down,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Hoenlein, who made a secret
trip in December 2010 to meet with Assad, told the Post that Assad said even if
he and his family leave safely, the remaining Alawites would be massacred if he
“Knowing his mindset, even now, the likelihood of him stepping
down is very remote,” added Hoenlein.
But he is not sure Assad could step
down even if he wanted to. “I am not sure the Iranians would let him do
Hoenlein said he has spoken to people in the Syrian opposition, but
“the truth is we don’t know who speaks for them.” Many of the fighters on the
ground in Syria have no relations to the people promoting the opposition in the
West, he said.
Hoenlein also believes it is possible a deal was made
during the negotiations with Iran giving them a seat at the table during the
peace talks on Syria.
Kirk Sowell, the Ammanbased principal of Uticensis
Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political risk firm, told the Post “the
opposition is now pretty much united against Geneva II. The Syrian Opposition
Coalition had indicated some willingness to participate conditionally, but it
looks like they have realized that is a losing game.”
representing any real fighting force will be there,” he added. “The core
Islamist force, the newly formed Islamic Front, certainly will not
participate. They’d probably only be open to a conference framed around
how a transfer of power is carried out, and not one involving Assad in any
At least half of the rebel forces come from the Islamic Front, said
Sowell, while the more moderate Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army
is probably no more than 15-20% of fighting forces despite their claims that
they are more numerous.
“There is also a rival ‘Free Syrian Army’ led by
Riyadh al-Asaad, but his group probably only has 10-15% of total fighting forces
as well,” said Sowell, and the remaining forces are either al-Qaida type groups
or local free-standing groups.
Max Abrahms, an expert on insurgency and
terrorism at Northeastern University in Boston, told the Post that “from the US
perspective, Geneva 2 seems destined to fail.”
“The Assad regime is far
more unified than the opposition, which remains fractured,” he said. “Important
groups within the opposition refuse to work together or to even participate in
This political impasse favors not only Assad, but also the
most radical elements within the opposition – namely, Islamist groups over more
secular ones, which have steadily gained the upper hand on the battlefield
through superior organization.”
Prof. Alexander Bligh, director of the
Middle East Research Center at Ariel University, told the Post that Iran and
Syria are now equipped with international agreements that allow them to continue
with whatever activity they are doing in the region.
The agreement over
Syria’s chemical weapons is limited only to chemical weapons, said Bligh, thus
allowing the Syrian regime to continue its civil war using other means as well
as continue cooperation with Iran and Hezbollah. The same, he said, is true with
Iran, which will continue to enrich uranium at a low level and interfere in the
“Assad and Iran are the winners in the regional equation at this
point,” he said. In fact, Assad and his allies may have gained more confidence
to attack the rebels in a more ferocious way, said Bligh. He points out that
Syria might even try to provoke Israel in a way similar to the shots fired at
Israel on Monday in the Golan. This could bring Iran into the arena.
could even have Hezbollah remove its forces from Syria to concentrate on
fighting against Israel, said Bligh. This could be a face-saving way for
Hezbollah to withdraw from the Syrian war, where it has suffered many
casualties, he said.
But the other option, he said could even be for Iran
to use the issue to “attack Israel in a preemptive strike.” This option, he
said, should not be overlooked.