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Did the Countdown to a Political Solution in Syria Start Already?

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Signs of a slowly emerging solution of Syria’s crisis are detected simultaneously in a number of developments on the ground. The opposed parties seem to be taking step in sync with a plan that has a clear objective. Until recently, the multiple players in this “mega crisis” hardly had anything in common. While the US gave priority to its strategy of “ISIL First”, Turkey and the Arabs gave priority to “Assad First”, Russia stood by Assad while supporting a political solution that may end with getting rid of him, and Iran made its priority to protect Assad and defeat his opponents, ISIL and non-ISIL alike.

The concept of the political solution started to emerge after last May meeting in Sochi between Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and US secretary of State John Kerry. The issue that was clear all along is that if Assad goes, who will come? In other words, there were no viable alternative ready to rule Syria.

Connecting the dots of events on the ground shows that there is continuous negotiations going on in order to move events towards the proposed political solution.

Amazingly, the bits and pieces seem to be falling together fine. We have seen the Kurds coordinating with the regime and the US to defeat ISIL in Hasaka. We have seen Zahran Aloush putting the brakes on the attack on Daraa after receiving “advice” from some Arab capitals. We have seen the forces attacking regime positions in Aleppo losing momentum after their pleas for supplies fell on deaf ears in neighboring capitals. And we have seen Hezbollah focusing on its fight to control what counts for its South Lebanon stronghold which also counts for the Iranians.

Furthermore, the sudden collapse of the regime has become recently a little more than theoretical possibility. Such a sudden collapse would have thrown Syria into an even more chaotic situation in which ISIL would be the net winner.

It seemed all of a sudden that all the parties are moving in a kind of harmony according to a drum beat that nobody else can hear.

The Syrian Islamic opposition must have been told to moderate their positions, reject ISIL and Al Qaeda and agree that the alternative to Assad should be an inclusive government that represent all social components of Syria and safeguard the state machine. Ahrar Al Sham, a considerable opposition force, came out publicly to pledge support to a moderate political position all the while preserving its Islamic principles.

The Kurds must have been told that there is a ceiling to their national aspirations. This position was publicly announced by US officials earlier this month during a visit to Turkey. Assad must have been told that at one point down the road, he would have to leave, provided that there is an agreed upon governance structure and transitional period that are able to heal the country and focus all efforts on fighting ISIL.

The Iranians must have been told that ultimately they will be unable to safeguard their interest in Syria if there is no political solution, and that they are faced with a strategic impasse. There is no chance for Assad to win in the long term. It is impossible to conceive of a minority ruling a unified Syria anymore.

Assad himself understands that he does not have a chance neither to win the war nor to continue ruling Syria in the long run. His Alawi community is restless. The Druze deserted the regime, and his supporters found out that they are pouring resources and fighters in a bottomless hole.

Furthermore, all sides seemed to be losing something with the continuation of the war. The Arabs understood that in order to fully win Syria, there will be no Syria left to win. If the Alawis and the Assad gang withdraw to the western enclave behind the fortified shield that the regime built there, any attempt to attack the west may very well internationalize the war. Furthermore, a collapse of Assad regime will open another bloody intra-opposition war that will benefit only ISIL.

In Ernest Hemingway master piece “The Old Man and the Sea”, there was no fish left at the end of a long fight.

Apparently, the US is working already with the Kurds and the regime forces in the North. A more or less joint understanding has been reached with Turkey and Qatar on the issue of redefining opposition groups according to their potential positions in regard to the ultimate objective. There are signs as well that an Iranian-American discussions have gone some distance in exploring possible avenues to put a realistic end to the Syrian tragedy.

The divergence in the positions of the concerned parties was difficult to synthesize in the beginning. There are signs that the US may have decided to deal with the “Syrian Track” of the regional crisis through a multifaceted approach. This approach may have included working with Kurds in the North to defeat ISIL, reaching a deal with the Iranians on the political future of Syria with help from Moscow and getting the Arabs, who are also threatened by ISIL, to help in moving some opposition groups to a more politically moderate position.

It is not certain, if indeed such a plan exists, that it will succeed, in spite of all the encouraging signs we see on the ground. But the approach of dealing with regional players separately and trying to extract joint elements from such effort is indeed the only valid way, under the circumstances, to approach the issue of solving the Syrian crisis. These elements should have been targeted according to a preplanned concept in which everyone has an interest of a sort. If these on-the-ground signs do not reflect the existence of such an assumed effort, they are still helpful inasmuch as they inspire a clear direction to solve this “mother of all crisis”. The solution may end to be “Syria, Inc”.

The reason that should compel everyone to be cautious in that context is that by virtue of the multiple players now involved in the Syrian mess, no one can guarantee with any degree of certainty that each and every component of this complex picture will measure their moves to fit within the boundaries specified by the plan. This particular point deserves to be kept in mind all the time. Putting brakes into action is difficult as it requires wrestling with unrealistic ambitions and deceptive perceptions.

On the ground as well, the UN Special Envoy Steffan de Mistura continued his talks with representatives of some opposition groups in Amman. Jordan announced its full support to a political solution that preserves the unity and integrity of Syria’s territories. Discussions between de Mistura and leaders of the Southern Front of Syria’s opposition were centered on the proposed transitional phase. The efforts of de Mistura seem to be in harmony was the general lines of a concept of the mentioned concept of the political solution.

Everyone who shouts “Down with Bashar” should also say “Then up with who, after Assad”? A sudden collapse of the regime or the fall of Daraa, hence the start of the battle of Damascus, will mark the beginning of unprecedented bloodshed. Even the opposition groups will fight each other on who will rule. The more this military bloody and messy “solution” becomes possible, the more the concerned parties find themselves faced with the unavoidable question: What if Damascus fell from within or under persistent attacks from the South?

The fact that US air raids are going on might be helpful, later on, in the count down to the political solution. It may help in shaping certain sides related to the role of ISIL in the North. The difficult nut to crack will be Al Nusrah. Some Syria observers expect it to split in two sides, one supporting the political solution that respects the rights of all Syrians, therefore leaving the organization, the other will continue their fight, with lesser chance of making a difference.

Now we can say that we see signs that encourage to believe that the countdown to a political solution may have already started. In the less likely case that these signs are spontaneous, they might provide an inspiration that points to the right direction. If they are deliberate and calculated, they should be encouraged and helped to continue towards a political solution that saves Syria from its demons and the regional ones as well. Something of Hemingway fish should remain to justify this long bloody journey in pain.

But in either case, this countdown will be long.