On Thu, Jul 5, 2012 at 11:56 AM, Dr. Aaron Lerner
wrote (to both authors of the INSS item):
I read your "The End of the Beginning in Syria: The Obstacles to Reaching a
Negotiated Settlement " (see below) with great interest and had one
President Putin recently warned that Western analysts of the situation in
Syria do not take into consideration the consequences for the region if
radical Moslem forces end up replacing the Assad regime when they suggest
their policy recommendations.
In the "way forward" you suggest, what ideas do you have to try to insure
that the radical Moslem elements in the opposition forces are not able to
ultimately take power?
I would distribute your reply without either editing or comment.
Dr. Aaron Lerner - www.imra.org.il Tel 09-7604719
Reply from Cameron Brown
Neubauer Research Fellow | Institute for National Security Studies (INSS),
Tel Aviv University
Here is our response:
Given recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, some variety of Islamist
party is the most likely actor that will emerge post Assad-regime. What is
far harder to know is 1) what type of Islamist party (relatively pragmatic
or hard-core ideological)?; 2) how long they will hold onto power if Syria
indeed becomes a democracy and holds an election, and 3) will Syria remain a
democracy even after a first election? No one can have real answers to those
questions at this stage, especially as no one now can even say for sure the
opposition will emerge victorious. However, despite the high degree of
uncertainty surrounding a regime change in Syria, still we believe that the
demise of the Assad regime would represent a positive change for Israel.
The End of the Beginning in Syria: The Obstacles to Reaching a Negotiated
INSS Insight No, 352, July 5, 2012
Berti, Benedetta and Brown, Cameron S.
Following the recent downing of a Turkish reconnaissance jet by Syrian
anti-aircraft, the international community, this time through NATO, is once
again debating what course of action should be taken with respect to Syria.
In the past weeks, the Syrian crisis has become more intense, violent, and
regionalized, in turn raising the level of international interest in finding
a way to stop the bloodshed and end the crisis.
So far, however, the international community’s efforts have fallen short.
Diplomatic initiatives by Turkey, the Arab League, and Kofi Annan have all
failed to end the civil war. To the contrary, the casualty rate doubled
after the Syrian regime ostensibly acceded to the Arab League's peace plan
in November. Similarly, the worst atrocities perpetrated since the uprising
began occurred after Annan’s six-point plan went into force.
These failed attempts to seek a peaceful end to Syria's ghastly bloodshed
signal that all efforts to obtain a negotiated resolution to the conflict in
the near future are unlikely to succeed. More specifically, given what each
side stands to lose should it concede defeat, the possibility of achieving a
purely diplomatic solution is extraordinarily dim. This seems to be the case
even if Bashar al-Assad would be convinced to go into exile. Instead, the
Syrian uprising is most likely to end in one of two ways: either one side
will eventually suppress the other entirely, or outside actors will impose
an end to the slaughter and oversee a political transition.
Why the Peacemakers have Failed
The regime is still largely cohesive and determined to crush the opposition,
despite ongoing defections from the military. Besides the support of most
Alawites, the regime has successfully cultivated the support of other
minority groups, such as the country’s Christians, who have so far largely
abstained from the protests. Moreover, beyond simple ethnic politics, the
Assad regime secured its rule by devising a complex system based on personal
loyalty, privileges, and clientelism. As a result, even a sizable number of
Sunnis who live in the main urban centers like Damascus and Halib support
the regime, or benefit greatly from it, and thus stand to lose should the
Assad regime collapse.
On the other side is the country's Sunni majority, especially the poor
living in the countryside, who for decades have been eager to see an end to
the Assad tyranny. Now that the opposition has finally been able to
coordinate its protests and come out en masse, it will require extraordinary
amounts of force to convince them to end the uprising. They, like their
Libyan counterparts, know quite well that if they end the protests, even for
a short time, the regime will spare no effort to hunt down its leadership
and thwart any attempt to revive the protests later. They realize that if
the opposition fails now, it may be decades before another opportunity
The reason diplomacy has thus far failed to achieve a peaceful compromise is
not only because both sides are deadlocked and perceive the conflict in
similar zero-sum terms, but also because neither side trusts its adversary
to live up to its end of any substantive bargain.
At the same time, the Syrian conflict is becoming increasingly regionalized,
with foreign powers playing an ever growing role. Iran is strongly backing
the Assad regime, while regional Sunni states from the Gulf such as Saudi
Arabia and Qatar have been supporting and arming the opposition. In turn,
this has only added fuel to the internal sectarian fire. In short, Syria has
become a proxy battlefield for these two regional powers as they engage in a
struggle for influence over the Middle East, just like Lebanon during its
long civil war between 1975 and 1990.
Given the extreme polarization of the Syrian society, divided between those
who have been holding the reins of the country until today and those who
would challenge the current power distribution, it is unlikely that the mere
capitulation of Assad would lead the two warring parties to lay down their
weapons and agree on a new, mutually satisfying power-sharing formula.
A Way Forward?
With such major inherent impediments undermining trust between the sides,
international efforts to end the fighting will have to present both parties
with more than just clear carrots and sticks to get them to negotiate and
reach a deal. They will have to include some security guarantees to each
A first step in the right direction is for the Western international
community to convince Assad's backers, like China and Russia, to shift gears
and help oust the Syrian President. In turn, this will remove a main
obstacle that has kept the Ba'ath regime and the opposition from sitting
down and negotiating.
However, removing Assad would just be the first of a series of necessary
steps to end the civil war. Even after capitulation by Assad, a successful
political resolution of the crisis will likely need to rely on strong third
party involvement to enforce the peace as well as to provide solid
guarantees that future ceasefires will not be violated and reprisals will
not be allowed.
In other words, for a political resolution of the crisis to succeed in
preventing a humanitarian disaster, it will be difficult to avoid
substantial third party involvement. NATO may be capable of using airpower
alone to remove Assad from power, but the depth of support for the present
regime is far greater than the base that sustained Qaddafi. As a result,
airpower alone cannot end the bloodshed in the long term. As the Dayton
Accords in Bosnia demonstrated, even where airpower is decisive in ending
the fighting itself, reaching a binding agreement will require boots on the
ground under the guise of NATO or the UN to provide reliable mutual security
As NATO is once again discussing the Syrian crisis, it is important for the
international community to keep in mind both the precariousness of the
current situation and the challenges any direct intervention would face. In
particular, given the current polarization of the Syrian population, there
should be a clear understanding that removing Assad is a necessary step, but
on its own is insufficient to end the bloodshed.
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