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Ear to the Ground

Who Benefits If the Killing in Syria Continues?

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Posted on Jun 5, 2013
AP/Hussein Malla

Young Syrian boys fire their weapons to celebrate the fall of the Syrian town of Qusair to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah fighters.

“The best hope for an end to the killing in Syria is for the United States and Russia to push both sides in the conflict to agree to a ceasefire in which each holds the territory it currently controls,” Patrick Cockburn writes in The Independent.

In a battle in which both the rebels and the government still believe they can win, the chance of any talks taking place in Geneva have dimmed over the past few days. “Going by the evidence of their own leaders,” Cockburn continues, “the rebels, inside and outside Syria, are so divided and dysfunctional they may not be in the business of talking to anybody.”

Furthermore, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was never as politically or militarily weak as he was portrayed by the international media and foreign leaders. The core leadership of his regime has stayed together, and he still holds almost all of Syria’s main towns and cities.

In the past few days, the White House said its top priority in the conflict is to support regime change. But this would appear to lead to a very long conflict. Washington seems to be opposed to the idea of Iran attending Geneva talks, and Britain and France are ensuring the slaughter continues by ending the EU embargo on arms for rebels, considering that the weapons provided are no match for government forces.

“The current stalemate is too well rooted in realities on the ground,” Cockburn writes. “The most significant impact of more arms for the rebels will be to persuade them that, if they refuse to negotiate, they will eventually get full-scale Western military intervention such as a Libya-type no-fly zone, which, in practice, meant Nato air forces joining the war.” More arms means the EU is delaying the day when the two sides can address each other through “mutual exhaustion and the knowledge that neither can win.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Patrick Cockburn at The Independent:

At this stage, mutual hatred is too great for any long-term deal on sharing power. Everybody is caught up in what we used to call in Belfast “the politics of the last atrocity”. Power-sharing would be geographical, with each side holding its own territory.

The first priority should be for the US and Russia to compel the sides they back to cease fire. This would have to be policed on the ground by a UN observer force. I recall the much-maligned UN Supervision Mission in Syria in 2012 arranging a ceasefire in the hardcore rebel town of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus. It did not stop all the shooting but many Syrians lived who would otherwise have died.

There may be a more sinister reason why the US has started setting the bar so high for talks. Washington’s involvement is greater than appears because so much of it goes through Qatar, with the CIA determining who gets arms and money sent via Turkey. This would also explain why Britain and France are so keen to send the rebels weapons.

The explanation for the actions of the Western states may be that they do not want the war to end except as a victory for their allies. This certainly is the view of many in the Middle East, such as Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the former Iraqi National Security Adviser, who told me the civil war “is the best option for the West and Israel because it knocks out Syria as an opponent of their policies and keeps Iran busy. Hezbollah is preoccupied by Syria and not with Israel. Turkey’s idea of a new Ottoman empire is gone with the wind.”

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