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Promises are simply ploys of Assad’s allies to buy time and prolong war

During the war as well as during negotiations, the allies of the regime in Damascus have attempted to lower the pressure against them by breaking promises.

“Don’t worry, we are seriously thinking of getting rid of Bashar Assad and ending the fighting.” First that was in the papers and then a while later, “We don’t care about Assad and agree to getting rid of him, but only after his term ends so that we follow the constitution.” It was that same constitution that they never respected or followed.

While everybody was waiting for these promises to be carried out, Assad won the 2014 elections in a scripted play. In the heat of the battle, and while his forces were retreating, voices were heard from the opposition announcing that they were looking for alternatives to the regime — or at least the president — while they advised people to be patient.

After a long wait and much procrastination, Assad’s allies declared their agreement to a political solution based on a joint government with the opposition. Months later, they issued an explanation that they only meant the regime-affiliated opposition which has nothing to do with the real one.

As the war got worse and the crimes uglier, and as the pressure increased, the regime’s allies announced that they were looking for new ideas and hinted at Assad’s departure, but then they submitted a new political plan for the Syrian people “to elect their president.”

It sounded like a rational statement until one delved into the details.

What they meant by “people” was only those living in areas under the regime’s control, as if the other 16 million Syrians were all terrorists.

So fighting and promises came back again, and neither the opposition nor the regime was winning.

With only a small army and limited security forces — due to splits, fleeing and murders — most of the regime’s forces are now a cocktail of foreign militias approved and administered by Iran.

It is now impossible to believe in any Russian or Iranian political proposal; these two countries are merely using negotiations as an instrument to calm down international protests, distract from demands and absorb peoples’ passions. In the end, nobody gets anything.

I believe this is what is happening now in Astana, despite the overly optimistic leaked information given mostly for media consumption.

As long as losses in Syria are human lives, other than Iranian, the political cost for Tehran is low. It can move on with its regional plans and the war may last for years. There is need to lift the ban on arming the Syrian opposition with superior weapons.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Sources there claimed that the Russians had agreed to replace Assad and had even named successors.

Whether the Russians said it or not, the past few years have taught us that promises are lies: The bigger they get, the more inaccurate they are.

Nice talk is followed by bombings, displacement and increased chaos.

Will the allies of the Syrian regime feel the need to adopt a logical political solution and stop their games?

They might be forced to resort to serious dialogue and end the war only in one case: Lift the ban on arming the Syrian opposition with superior weapons.

In that case, the balance of power could shift, becoming a swamp for the Iranians and their militias, and then Tehran may be induced to seriously negotiate.

War is now relatively cheap for Iran.

Thousands of Iraqi, Pakistani or Lebanese killed are replaced by other thousands. And it does not lose drones or weapons because the opposition has simple weapons, such as AK-47s, shoulder-held rocket propelled guns (RPGs) and locally manufactured weapons.

As long as losses in Syria are human lives, other than Iranian, the political cost for Tehran is low. It can move on with its regional plans and the war may last for years.

Fighters are usually forced to seek a solution under the pressure of battle, but most of the losses in Syria are foreign fighters or civilians hit by barrels, mortars and bombs without fear of retaliation.

This is the particular reason why the Syrian war has displaced more people than any other war.

More than 12 million Syrians had only one defense: Fleeing their country.

If a reasonable political solution is to be reached, there is need to deal with the issue of arming the opposition and returning everybody to the negotiating table.


Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.