Things appear to be coming to a head in Syria. Earlier this week US President
Barack Obama declared the Syria Opposition Council as the “legitimate
representative” of the country.
“With that recognition comes
responsibilities to make sure that they organize themselves effectively,” he
He also admonished them to respect women and minority rights. And
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has been behind a major push to
encourage international recognition of Syria’s rebel groups.
Some of this
seems to be a replay of high hopes for the rebels in the past. Each time they
have managed to bring the fight to Damascus, as they have also done this week,
there has been a great deal of talk about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s “days
The rebel groups remain without a charismatic leader who
is widely recognized and accepted as a unifier. The opposition to Assad is
fractured between those Western countries that do not want to see an Islamist
takeover of the country and those in Qatar and Saudi Arabia whose support for
the rebels seem less selective.
At Thursday’s Jerusalem Post Diplomatic
, former air force commander Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ido Nehushtan expressed
concern regarding Syria.
“The global jihad is there. Iran and Hezbollah
are heavily invested. The danger of chemical weapons...is that it could fall
into the wrong hands. This is a nightmare not only for Israel and other
neighbors, but for the entire world,” he said.
Nehushtan made an
interesting reference to the Sykes-Picot state system in the Middle East,
referring to a 1916 agreement that laid the groundwork for British and French
policy in the Levant and led to the current borders between Syria and its
neighbors. The notion is that the Syria civil conflict represents a fundamental
break with the past, and what follows could lay the groundwork for new Middle
This comes on top of reports that Syria’s president
is using Scud missiles and incendiary bombs against the rebels and civilians and
that the rebels are beginning to manufacture their own armored cars. The
regime’s moves could be seen as an escalation – the US has termed them a
“significant escalation” – or as a prelude to the use of chemical weapons, but
they could also be seen as acts of desperation.
The Scuds being used are
not an effective military weapon, and they were used in such limit quantities –
reports say six were fired – that they will have no affect on the conflict
except to endanger civilians. Terming it a major escalation seems more of an
important declarative statement supporting the rebels than reflecting a military
escalation, since using Scud missiles is not a worse act than using tanks and
bombs against civilians, something the regime has been doing for a year and a
Is Washington laying the groundwork for increased support of the
rebels in the wake of rebel groups meeting in Morocco and securing greater
international legitimacy? This should concern Israel, for the most important
outcome of the Syrian civil war must be stability on the northern
Assad’s regime formed part of a crescent of Iranian influence
that fueled the Hezbollah war machine. The rebel movements tend to be Sunni and
their Islamist elements are fanatically anti-Iranian. Those same radical
Islamist elements, however, are precisely the ones that must not come to
Syria and the current constitutional crisis in Egypt must teach
all of those seeking regional stability that it is in no one’s interest to have
a chaotic transition of power wherein a narrow Sunni Islamist coalition that is
well organized can use the weakness of more secular nationalist groups to seize
The United States and interested European countries should
consider that the Saudi and Qatari agenda may be the creation of another overtly
Islamic state. This not only threatens all the minorities in Syria, such as the
Druse, Christians, Alawites and Kurds, but will add fuel to sectarian fires in
Iraq and Lebanon and might destabilize Jordan.
A responsible transition
therefore should include the creation of bureaucratic and institutional
frameworks before the fall of Assad, and a plan for how to usher Assad out of
power without encouraging him to fight to the last man in some sort of
redoubt in Latakia, the home of many of the country’s
Alawites, the coreligioists of Assad.