Save Syria, save yourselves
Hassan Abou Taleb, , Tuesday 18 Nov 2014
Saving Syria, and thereby preventing a wider regional disaster, now depends, whether we like it or not, on engaging the Syrian regime no matter its deplorable record

When we talk about saving Syria, we are also talking about the need to save ourselves from a dark scenario that is taking shape. A scenario of expanding terrorism reaching into the world and not just the Middle East, and the return of terrorists to their homelands armed with advanced military knowledge to use against their people and nations. Also, the formation of a broad, multi-national, multi-lingual and skilled terrorist organisation that will be a constant headache for the world for many years to come.

The three above conclusions are rooted in three developments announced recently. In Egypt, authorities uncovered three cells whose members trained in Syria and returned to carry out ferocious terrorist attacks against all Egyptians. There may be others who are still at large and are being pursued. Meanwhile, an official UN report stated that the number of foreign fighters in Syria has reached 15,000 armed combatants from 80 countries, including major European countries. This represents the largest group of ideologised multi-national mercenaries in contemporary history. Finally, a recent US intelligence report noted that the rate of armed combatants going to Syria has risen despite coalition strikes over the past month, at 12,000 fighters last month compared to 7,000 the previous month, and only 2,000 the month before that. This means a six-fold increase over the past two months alone.

This raises a vital question why ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is so attractive compared to other similar groups, and also indicates that ongoing methods in confronting ISIL do not meet the challenge that the group represents.

If we connect this information with the manner in which the US strategy to confront ISIL is being applied, the only conclusion we can reach is that this is the worst strategy to confront the terrorist organisation, one that continues to expand geographically and membership-wise despite all pressure. At the same time, we are in actuality facing two alliances. The first is an official intelligence-military US alliance versus an unofficial global alliance led by ISIL that continues to ideologically and practically attract large numbers of combatants from around the world and at growing rates.

Although it is difficult to accept the possibility of a victory for ISIL and its dim view of the world that is abhorrent to all human conscience, there is a correlated difficulty that if the ongoing international confrontation continues on the same path it will have disastrous effects before any tangible results are reached to contain the threat of ISIL and its ilk.

Accordingly, one must think about this differently. A view that takes into consideration the actual map on the ground, the variety of forces operating and clashing there, and also shield the region from the scourge of returning groups of ideological and religious radicals who have advanced military training, whose main target is to overthrow existing regimes or attack major institutions and politicians, and drown societies in unprecedented havoc.

To avoid such a scenario, we must change this reality with more positive action, action that is based on a single notion: save Syria and its people, and remove it from the ongoing regional and global axis game. This will require a diligent review of what happened, who did what, what is the actual outcome, and how to change this ominous outcome.

Some circles in Egypt and major Arab and regional countries that influence an important part of the Syrian scene today have started this review. All Syrians should also be part of this revision, most prominently the Syrian regime, the opposition Syrian alliance, and its Free Syrian Army (FSA). Without comprehensive revision, Syria’s fate will remain hostage, primarily, to US and Iranian calculations, and the Syrians and many Arabs will only reap more regret, disappointment, terrorism and chaos.

This revision needs to be flexible and re-evaluate the balance of current and near future threats, as well as avoid the personal positions of this or that leader, and champion the major interests of the people in the region, most importantly the Syrian people themselves.

There are three key elements that need serious revision. First, the position regarding the Syrian regime and whether its key figure Bashar Al-Assad continues or is eclipsed according to certain arrangements. Second, the position of the official Syrian army and how it will be restructured to comply with the requirements of rebuilding a new Syria that does not exclude any of its citizens, or become a radical destablising neighbour. Third, how to restructure the FSA to become a constructive component of the coming phase and not a force to settle scores.

The Syrian regime has proven it is still a major factor in the Syrian equation, and despite all criticism, accusations and deplorable facts about this regime, it remains. It would be a mistake to deal with Syria as if this regime is a phantom or an illusion in the minds of some Syrians. Accordingly, direct contact with the regime is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Meanwhile, the FSA, which is the foundation of armed opposition and is doing well against ISIL, will remain with limited capabilities and unable to represent all Syrians inside or outside the country.

In the end, if these two parties cooperate based on Arab and regional — especially Iranian — understandings, it is very likely that efforts to eliminate the ISIL threat would be more effective than now.

Although dealing with the Syrian regime may be a bitter pill to swallow for some Arab parties, it is less bitter and dangerous than the return of ISIL combatants who want to destroy nations and overthrow regimes.

The writer is a political analyst.