Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Syria end game; one possible scenario

The Syrian "uprising" was well into its second year when Prince Bandar bin Sultan, aka Bandar Bush, was promoted to the top post in the Saudi intelligence apparatus.

Days later unconfirmed reports briefly circulated claiming that Bandar bin Sultan had been assassinated. Though that story was roundly denied by various Saudi spokesmen, the fact remains that we haven't seen him since.

Not that there haven't been plenty of claims that he is alive and well. The Saudi house organ Al Arabiya speaks as though he is very much alive and masterminding the "game-changing" strategy that will have us rid of Assad "in months." (Al Arabiya, 13 April 2013)  Israeli website Debkafile routinely asserts that Bandar is still in charge. 

Perhaps what the case of Bandar Bush underlines is the fact that spokespersons on all sides have been busy as can be shovelling disinformation into the public realm to bolster their particular points of view. The Saudis have considerable prestige invested in the success of the anti-Assad struggle. Likewise, Turkey and Qatar.

The Americans have maintained the position that they are a hands-off bystander, although no serious person imagines that the Turkey-Saud-Qatar triumvirate embarked on their Syrian adventure without the blessing of the White House. In terms of the public perception of Obama's domestic audience, the Americans maintain deniability.

Nowhere is tension between public pronouncements and the national interest as extreme as in Israel. At the time of the recent Israeli attacks on Syria, we were told that the actions were intended to prevent the shipment of "advanced Syrian weapons" to Hezbollah in Lebanon. That's a good story, but one suspects that for the moment Assad has greater need for those missiles himself.

It is more than plausible that the intent of the Israeli action was to keep those weapons out of the hands of some faction or another of the Free Syrian Army. There have emerged two distinct "Syrian Free Armies" since the Syrian uprising began. On the one hand, you have the US-friendly officially-endorsed "good guys."

These are the FSA  types who are seen regularly on TV screens in the West. They talk a good revolution but command little or nothing on the ground in Syria.

On the other hand are the Al Nusra Front and their assorted fellow travellers, a collection of Wahabi radicals who do virtually all of the fighting. When Washington politicians voice their fears of having weapons fall into the "wrong hands," these are the people whose hands they are talking about. While they are more than happy to fight Assad today, they will be even happier to take their battle to the Israelis or the Americans tomorrow.

This is obviously of great concern in Tel Aviv. Since Israel's last foray into Lebanon in 2006 there's been no enthusiasm for the next round. Plenty of talk, yes, but a keen interest in ensuring that talk is all it is.

When IDF intel boss Aviv Kochavi claimed in February last year that 200,000 missiles were pointed at Israel, he was inadvertently making an acknowledgement that perhaps needn't have been made. While his statement was at least in part intended to pressure the Americans to fund more Iron Dome units, those additional Iron Domes are going to expand the envelope of immunity by mere minutes in the event of an all out war. Telling the Israeli people that they now have protection from the first two hundred incoming instead of the first one hundred isn't all that reassuring after you've told them 200,000 are on the way.

Which is why in spite of all the warlike rhetoric, Israel has no interest in a war with Hezbollah or anyone else, including Syria or any elements of the so-called Syrian opposition. 

That leaves both Israel and Hezbollah with a common interest in ensuring that Assad remains. And while it would be impossible for any American politician to say so, this is also were America's best interests lie, at least for the foreseeable future. Owing to their usual toxic combination of hubris and over-reach, the Americans had convinced themselves that their Syrian proxy opposition would make short work of the Assad regime. 

The past two-plus years have disabused them of that delusion.

That leaves the Americans in the position of having to make a climb-down without it appearing as such. While there are plenty of voices on the American political scene encouraging a more robust US involvement in Syria (see for example John McCain's visit to Syria today) there are many more cautioning against it.

Look for Assad to run Syria for years to come.

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