“On the eve of a meeting with the Syrian opposition, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Obama administration was weighing ‘stepped-up’ efforts to support the rebel fighters, and that such proposals had been ‘front and center’ in administration discussions over the past week,” The New York Times reports:
Mr. Kerry said that the Obama administration still favored a diplomatic solution in which President Bashar al-Assad would hand over power to a transitional government, but that additional pressure on the Syrian leader was needed.
“The problem is you can’t get there if President Assad is unwilling to decide that he should transfer that authority, and that’s the current situation,” Mr. Kerry said. “So we are left with no choice but to try to find ways to get him to think differently about what lies in the future.”
But while Islamist sources in the Gulf provide weaponry and generous funding to jihadist opposition groups, many Syrian democracy advocates despair of receiving any meaningful assistance from the West.
“You feel as if there is too much responsibility on your shoulder and you have nothing to offer the Syrian people; just the promises from the international community that materialise to nothing,”said Dr Radwan Ziadeh* (left), director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, who recently resigned from the main opposition coalition.
Washington is acting contrary to its own interests by refusing to provide military assistance to opposition combatants rather than “dealing with the symptoms” of the conflict, a leading analyst told Al Arabiya.
“U.S. policy does not deal with the disease itself, Bashar al-Assad’s rule, and his minority rule over a majority Sunni population inside Syria. Instead staying out of it just deals with the symptoms, with the refugees and the outflow,” said Andrew Tabler from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
The U.S. policy toward war-torn Syria involves the supply of “non-lethal” technology for opposition fighters and humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees, in a vastly different approach to the one it pursued in Libya. But it was in the interests of the United States to provide more assistance to the opposition fighters, said Tabler, who expects the conflict to continue for up to a decade.
“It is open knowledge that this conflict will go on, in one shape or form, for 5 to perhaps 10 years. It is not even debated,” he said.
“Providing military assistance to the opposition in Syria will help the United States influence those groups and to try and bring about a post-Assad Syria in liberated areas, which is more in keeping with U.S. interests,” Tabler said.
“In truth this is why our policy has failed until now,” he added.
Despite the Obama administration’s expressed concern about Islamist extremists, neither U.S. officials nor regional allies have taken action to stem the flow of jihadists, McClatchy reports:
The foreign fighters would be hard to miss for Turkish and Western intelligence operatives – they stay at established safe houses, openly recruit comrades and often stand out with distinctive appearances and habits – yet there’s been no overt effort to crack down on their presence in frontier towns.
“Even with this growing jihadist threat, there’s a reluctance to do anything more proactive on Syria,” said Elizabeth O’Bagy, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War who recently spent two weeks with rebels in Syria, where she encountered Tunisian, Moroccan and Algerian fighters. “The pipelines are still open and fighters are coming in quite freely,” she said.
Some observers suggest that realpolitik is driving external actors’ strategies rather than any concern to end the conflict or advance a democratic transition.
Whether by design or not, external players are indeed doing just enough to maintain a state of stalemate,” says liberal activist Ammar Abdulhamid (right), the founder of the Tharwa Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to democracy promotion.
“Syrians will not be allowed to solve their problems until these players solve theirs,” he contends.
“Islamists, loyalists, secularists, Alawites, tribalists, even nonviolence activists, all now are but instruments of implementation of agendas that they do not control or even want,” he writes.
The fracturing of the opposition within Syria is as pronounced as the sectarian divisions in exiled ranks, experts suggest.
It’s certainly more important than any of the rival leaderships of the Free Syrian Army (Riad el-Asaad, Mustafa el-Sheikh, Qasem Saadeddine, etc), although given the media focus, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The problem is that while the FSA factions have leaders but no fighters, the Syria Liberation Front has a lot of fighters but no real leadership. It seems to be more of a political platform than an actual alliance, and the member factions go about their business much as they did before joining it.
The recently created Syrian Islamic Front is the thing currently most worth watching. Unlike the Liberation Front, they’ve managed to agree on a clearly defined ideology, and some member factions are already merging their forces and leaderships, as opposed to merely conducting joint operations. On the other hand, the Liberation Front factions may win out because of superior backing, if they receive Western and Gulf aid in a way that the Islamic Front doesn’t. The Brotherhood is also aligned with the Gulf- and Western-backed Antalya military command, like the Liberation Front. It’s a disciplined group, and much more pragmatic and sophisticated than any of the salafi formations, but they still suffer from a pretty thin presence on the ground.
Lund is currently completing a long report on militant salafism and the Syrian Islamic Front for the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, as a follow-up to an August 2012 report on Islamist and jihadi factions.