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Syria: what next?

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Robin Lustig | 10:20 UK time, Friday, 13 April 2012

Suppose you are an opposition activist in Syria. You live in Hama or Homs, Idlib or Deraa, one of the cities that has been under relentless attack by government forces for months.

You have seen friends and relatives killed. Neighbours have vanished; some into jail, others have fled, across the border into Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon, anywhere out of range of Bashar al-Assad's tanks, artillery, and rooftop snipers.

Yesterday morning, you woke up and it was quiet. Perhaps you heard the occasional chatter of an automatic weapon, the thump of an artillery shell or a mortar. Nevertheless, it was -- relatively -- quiet. The ceasefire seemed to be real. The guns were silent.

But then you remembered. For more than a year, you have risked life and limb for a single, simple cause: Assad must go. You were ready to die for that cause, because you hated him, and his regime, so much.

Yet when the guns fell silent yesterday morning, Bashar al-Assad was still president. His tanks and trucks still roamed the streets. The eyes and ears of his secret police, the mukhabarat, were still everywhere. The snipers, probably, were still on the rooftops.

So today, tomorrow, the next day, what will you do? How will you continue your fight without firing a gun? Yes, the Annan peace plan says a "Syrian-led political process" must follow the ceasefire. But you don't want a "process"; you want victory.

You want to see Assad gone -- exiled like ex-President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia; or jailed like ex-President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt; or dead, like Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Yes, of course, a ceasefire is a good start -- it means fewer innocent people will die -- but it is only a start.

I am writing this early on Friday morning. Within a couple of hours, tens of thousands of Syrians will flock to the mosques for Friday prayers. Among them will be thousands of opposition supporters and activists. And I suspect they will want to show the world that their fight is far from over.

After all, it's only a couple of weeks since the Gulf states promised to pay the salaries of Syrian rebel fighters. In Riyadh and Doha, they too are committed to seeing the downfall of the Assad dynasty. What better way to weaken the influence of feared Iran than to defeat its main Arab ally?

In other words, even if as you read these words the ceasefire is still holding, the fight goes on. And remember, the ceasefire was only one element in the Annan plan.

Have Syrian government forces withdrawn from population centres (paragraph 2)? Not yet.

Have they ensured the timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting (paragraph 3)? No.

Have they intensified the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons; ensured freedom of movement for journalists; respected freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully (paragraphs 4, 5 and 6)? Er, no.

It's not only journalists and analysts -- paid sceptics -- who doubt whether this ceasefire represents a real fresh start for Syria. Even the notoriously cautious UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, who rarely utters a critical remark if he can help it, commented yesterday that "the world is watching ... with sceptical eyes since many promises previously made by the government of Syria had not been kept."

It's possible that, behind the scenes, President Assad's allies in Moscow and Beijing have read him the riot act. In public, both have urged him to implement the Annan plan in its entirety. He may well have been warned that the patience of Russian and Chinese leaders is not infinite -- as one former pro-Putin MP told me a couple of nights ago: "Moscow does not want to be seen always to be backing dictators."

So yes, the Syrian crisis may be entering a new phase (if, that is, the ceasefire hasn't already collapsed by the time you read these words).

But it can't be over, because the root cause of the violence remains: Bashar al-Assad is determined to stay in office, and millions of his fellow countrymen are equally determined to see him go.


  • Comment number 1.

    Part 1:
    US has made clear ceasefire implemented Thursday is only a STAGING POST in its plan for regime change in Syria.
    Using G8 foreign ministers summit, Obama admin demanded govt of Bashir al-Assad comply with all UN proposals to end conflict with WESTERN-BACKED insurgents. On the very first day of the ceasefire, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted that Assad was not complying with all parts of 6-point plan drawn up by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. She stated Annan plan is not a menu of options, it is a set of obligations.
    Step 1. installation of UN monitors on the ground within a matter of days to focus their attention on any alleged breaches of the ceasefire by the Govt (I guess the opposition gets a pass, & any breaches by opposition can easily be blamed on Assad.) Hilary Clinton sort of confirmed this interpretation when she stated: burden of fully and visibly meeting all of these obligations continues to rest with the regime. In fact, she added US wants regime change & nothing less will do. She said the US remains firmly resolved that the regime’s war against its own people must end for good & political transition must begin. Assad must go. (Sound familiar?)
    Clinton's opinions were seconded by Sarkozy and David Cameron. Cameron added Syria needed a “transition at the top” to avoid civil war. British Foreign Secretary William Hague had threatened Wednesday that if a ceasefire is not upheld over the coming days… we will want to return to the UN Security Council in attempt to obtain a resolution on Syria. We will intensify our support for the opposition.

  • Comment number 2.

    Part 2:
    US had earlier told the press that President Barack Obama had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and agreed on the need for “more resolute” action by the UNSC given that Merkel shared concern that the Assad government was not complying with the terms of the agreement negotiated by Kofi Annan & continued to engage in unacceptable brutality against its own people.
    In fact, the reality is Western powers are FUNDING & DIRECTING insurgency through the mechanism of the Syrian National Council as ell as work on the ground by their regional proxies, most notably Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
    Key to creating the basis for a military intervention against Assad is likely to come from false flags = US and NATO working with opposition behind the scenes. The Arab League, Ankara and the Gulf states are the instruments through which this is to be done. Turkey is host to the SNC leadership made up of ex-regime elements, Islamists & CIA assets, and its military wing, the Free Syrian Army. Many of the attacks on Syrian security personnel and other targets have been directly staged by these opposition forces. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funneling in funds, weapons and fighters to the SNC.
    Attention is now concentrated on setting up a buffer zone on the Turkish border. This will provide a bridgehead and base of operations for the SNC and various other covert operatives. More importantly, its “protection” will be used to legitimize a wider military deployment and aerial attacks, as was carried out recently in Libya.

  • Comment number 3.

    Part 3:
    Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was called upon to brief the G-8 on Turkey via video. It is unclear whether or not he will have broached the issue of a buffer zone. But he did not need to. The Turkish media is reporting the Govt is in the process of finalizing plans to seize Syrian territory by force & create a buffer zone. Turkey is considering whether to invoke a 1998 agreement with Syria that would sanction an armed intervention; accord included Syria’s pledge not to undermine Turkey’s security.
    Clinton had spoken earlier by phone about a buffer zone with Davutoglu. A State Department official said, “Turkey always said there were two triggers for them on further involvement.
    1. an overwhelming number of refugees—and they have told us the number is continuing to escalate, and
    2. conflict permeates border.
    Turkish Govt said on Tuesday that it expects the UNSC to adopt a decision that would include taking the necessary measures to protect the Syrian people because Assad has failed to live up to his commitments. However, the UN route towards military action is problematic given the opposition of Russia and China. Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, but there has so far been no sign of Moscow agreeing to UN-sponsored action despite supporting Annan’s plan. It still insists publicly that the ONUS RESTS WITH OPPOSITION TO HALT VIOLENCE.
    More significantly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave an interview with the daily Hurriyet in which he made an explicit call for NATO backing of any Turkish action against Syria. He said against the violation of borders, a country has rights that belong to norms of the international law. Moreover, on the basis of article 5 of the Atlantic Pact, NATO has the responsibility to protect Turkish borders. What about Syrian borders?

  • Comment number 4.

    Part 4:
    Making clear that the US is the major force being appealed to, he added up until now, this norm has been requested only once: it was requested by the US after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 against the World Trade Center and against the Pentagon. The invoking of 9/11 by Turkey is shocking, given that it provided the pretext for devastating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    Saudi Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz also held talks on Syria at the Pentagon on Wednesday. He met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General James Mattis, who as head of US Central Command oversees troops in the Middle East, according to the Saudi Embassy. He then held talks with Obama in the Oval Office, after which a White House spokesman said that the two discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues.
    Erdogan is to hold talks with King Abdullah in Riyadh today, with Hurriyet reporting that Erdogan will tell Abdullah that Arab countries must take the lead in coordinated international measures against the Syrian government. US action against Syria is bound up with its ongoing efforts to establish unchallenged global hegemony. Alongside Syria, the G8 meeting also discussed Iran—the indirect target of the campaign to depose Assad and install a Sunni regime BEHOLDEN to US and allied with Turkey and the Gulf States.
    I consider this Syrian situation so unfair and unjust. Remember, there was a referendum in which majority of Syrians supported Assad, and which the west chose to ignore.

  • Comment number 5.

    I, like millions in Syria, am not an opposition activist. I am interested in living my life and providing for my children. I pray that my husband will return safely from his obligatory work trips to Homs, and that my children will return from the daily journeys they make to university near Dara'a. I do not want them to end up as so many others - kidnapped by those people who do not live in Syria call "opposition activists" and held for ransom and worse.
    I, like billions around the world, want a government without corruption, an honest police force and safe streets. I do not believe that violence is the way to achieve these things. By the way, the streets in Syria used to be safe.
    I am lucky. I live in a relatively quiet part of the country and have witnessed no violence, but my relatives in Homs live in daily fear from your "opposition activists".
    I don't understand how people like you can sit in their comfortable homes or offices and wish full scale war on other people. I know nobody in Syria, whether pro- or anti- government who wants war. Why not make an effort to understand the people and the country instead of following the herd, repeating the old cliches?

  • Comment number 6.

    Do you believe in life after love

  • Comment number 7.

    This speculation of Robin Lustig reveals his bias, and that of several other BBC employees. The toppling of independent governments in the region must stop before Syria and Iran.

    The humanitarian situation in Syria was created by the foreign-sponsored importation of arms (captured on film as early as March, 2011) and violent jihadi terrorists (from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and now, Libya). Syria is one of seven regional lands targeted by Pentagon since 2001.

    The humanitarian smokescreen for this realpolitik has been intensively fostered by the US State Department since at least as early as 2006. Steps include paying and training young Arab bloggers in the USA and in Lebanon; giving millions to exile media organizations in the UK, etc. This, in Newsspeak, is called "democracy promotion".

    Lustig's imaginary litany of complaints omits the fact that these armed revolutionaries have been killing Syrian government people at a 1:3 ratio since March, 2011. It also neglect the inconvenient fact that Assad has a majority of Syrians behind him. The Syrian opposition comes from those Sunni who are poor and is massive from Israel, Quatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the government of the USA with France and the UK.

    This foreign intervention has, as with Iraq and Libya, resulted in killing and chaos and fostered Salafist fundamentalism. As one man said "It is no longer about 'democracy and freedom' but is now about 'hate and revenge'".

  • Comment number 8.

    #7 madmaxtheprof9

    I was one of those ´starry-eyed´optimists who had great hopes for Syria when the London ophthalmologist returned to Syria and after the necessary ´democratic and constitutional changes´, mounted the Baath Party throne. Hardly legal --but I thought it was worth a try.

    --it was the only game in town at the time.

    One thing Libya has recently shown, is that ´hate and revenge´ is par for the course --torture, murder and slaughter is accepted as normal by those who either wish to retain power in the region or by those wishing to gain it.

    "It also neglect the inconvenient fact that Assad has a majority of Syrians behind him."

    --the inconvenient fact is also that those who ´support´ their rulers in the region conveniently accept in silence or fear the atrocities being done in their name against others -- hardly a compliment for the ´Assad regime´

    (or to the Western powers who appear to have exchanged one ´bunch of murderers´ for another in Libya).

    Syria is yet another ´mess´ left to the World by the Colonial powers of France and Britain


    I see no reason why NATO should get involved --if France, USA and Britain are all ´trigger happy´ --they have ´called wolf´too often.

    --Turkey can look after itself well enough.

  • Comment number 9.

    The idiocy of the West is that anything is actually 'won' by violence! Fighting only and always damages all sides. Talking and negotiating is ALWAYS better.

    The UN is full of idiots whose countries are run by and for the military industrial complex. Violence only ever begets more violence - all wars end. Our idiot generals always forget this indeed we train and select them to be this stupid.

    Somehow it is always preferable to negotiate first - before the slaughter.

    Peace and reconciliation.

    But the arms manufacturers MUST sell their arms!

  • Comment number 10.

    This basically comes down to -- when does a population (or part of it) have a right to resist a dictatorship with weapons ?

    It´s a bit tricky (to say the least) for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to ´call the kettle black´--or for western nations to polish only half of the soot off and sell it to their citizens as being only a humanitarian ideal.

    As Mr. Lustig observes--The case of Sunni Islam, its fractions and Monarchs against Shia Islam and its fractions appears to be the main reason of those involved on that front.

    With America´s ´Iran Hostage Complex´ never having lost any of its severity -- and Israel jabbing it with a pin at every opportunity -- it can only be hoped that no European or Nato troops or European tax money be wasted in the area -- The oil States are rich enough to supply all the weapons and humanitarian aid necessary.

  • Comment number 11.

    An analysis of Turkey´s increasing role in the region -- by ´Spiegel online´


    `Syria´s Fate will be Determined by Turkey`

  • Comment number 12.

    '5. At 14:58 13th Apr 2012, Laura Ibrahim -
    I don't understand how people like you can sit in their comfortable homes or offices and wish full scale war on other people.'

    There a term I see used a lot in and around and by the BBC and on its various outlets: 'speaking for the nation'.

    I often have cause to wonder which one is referred to, and whether, on a more individual basis, it is more spoken 'at'.

    But the comfort is often offset, by driving such as Hybrids, so that is at least something.

  • Comment number 13.

    The BBC and other media outlets are reporting that European (and other) activists have been prevented from flying to Israel or have been arrested at Ben Gurion airport.



    "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday advised activists to concentrate on solving "real problems" in the region, such as Syria and Iran."

    --so the Golan Heights are a legitimate topic of conversation ?

    Or will they be one of the continuing problems in the region ?

  • Comment number 14.

    '13. At 23:46 15th Apr 2012, quietoaktree wrote:
    The BBC and other media outlets are reporting that European (and other) activists have been prevented from flying to Israel or have been arrested at Ben Gurion airport.'

    Conceding the 'two wrongs' aspects, just how are activists' travel plans often handled by other major democracies?

    And then within the region in question, of the various political systems in place around there, how is protest in any form handled?

    Some do seem to have a very interesting view of various pictures.

  • Comment number 15.

    #14 JunkkMale

    "Conceding the 'two wrongs' aspects,"

    ""Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday advised activists to concentrate on solving "real problems" in the region, such as Syria and Iran.""



    "Some do seem to have a very interesting view of various pictures"

    I can only agree with you on that point !


    What was your question ?

  • Comment number 16.

    Moscow does not want to be seen as backing dictators..I thought that was a Russian tradition. Has it become apparent to the policy makers that Assad is not leaving on his own? It is apparent to everyone else. There are many more violent overthrows of governments than not, it is how human beings tend to change governments in many parts of the world. In Egypt the army took over and is still in control. In the democratic West governments change without violence, but they only allow a couple of choices decided by those with wealth and power. Two sides of the same coin. Intervention is always viewed with caution because no one trust the agenda of those who intervene. They have earned that suspicion. Power is taken away, not given up willingly. Arms dealing remains one of the most successful international business ventures of many countries....as they wipe their fake tears and plead for peace.

  • Comment number 17.

    '15. At 21:49 16th Apr 2012, quietoaktree -
    What was your question ?'

    Two, actually. The ones with a ? at the end.

    Both of which you avoided and even managed to turn into one back in so doing.

    BBC editorial will be headhunting talent like that! Get on board and you can even use the FoI in all its glory to avoid even pretending.

  • Comment number 18.

    #17 Junkkmale

    I admit that my intention of #13 was to highlight the Netanyahu statement -- the treatment of the activists at European and Ben Gurion airports was of a minor importance to my overall argument.

    I detailed with #15.

    The links were to demonstrate (with respect to Syria) -- How propaganda is being used to distract from and justify ´Lebensraum´ expansion.

    --- The tourism link is of particular interest --with no mention of the Golan Heights being Syrian territory.

    -- I apologize for being ´sneaky´and misleading you -- but the possibility of being dragged ( or egged on) into embargoes or even wars -- I consider a worse sin.

  • Comment number 19.

    You may be right about the slim chances for success of the Annan Plan and the widespread scepticism that the ceasefire will hold but I strongly disagree with your claim that "the root cause of the violence remains: Bashar al-Assad is determined to stay in office , and millions of his fellow countrymen are equally determined to see him go." The Arab League mission to investigate the fighting spent a month traveling all over Syria in January and they reached the conclusion that the Syrian opposition far from just defending itself was engaged in aggressive violent actions against civilians as well as government personnel. About a third of the estimated deaths of the past year of fighting were government personnel. Your claim of millions opposed to the Assad government is not based on anything more than an exaggerated guess. If there is so much opposition why has fighting been so limited to mostly small cities like Da'raa (100,00) or Idlib (100,000). The largest cities where intense fighting has occurred are Hama (313,000) and Homs (650,000). The two large population centers Aleppo (2 million) and Damascus (1.5 million) have seen very little fighting (except for a few car bombings). Support for the Assad government remains strong as evidenced by large rallies over the past year (though the Western media has carefully avoided reporting it). Defections of soldier or ranking minister-level officials have been spotty and few and no reports of deserting army units have been reported. If the opposition numbers are as large as you say, why is it necessary for the opposition to so desperately call for intervention by outside powers? And why is it necessary for the Saudis to pledge that they will pay for the salaries of opposition fighters? Does not this make them mercenaries in the employ of the outside powers and not a true indigenous opposition? In whose interest does this opposition fight for? The Istanbul meeting dominated by the outside supporters of the opposition fighters has to be seen as a foreign intervention for its own interests not in the interests of the Syrian people and nation.

  • Comment number 20.

    #19 Smartsceptic

    Like many countries in the region --they may best be considered ´synthetic´. Syria achieved independence in 1946 --the link I gave in #8 (Syria) discusses some of the problems obviously not yet resolved.

    The ´forced marriage´of different regional groupings (and religions) into one country is definitely a large part of the present Syrian problem.

  • Comment number 21.

    Response to #18 taken from the first link at #15

    Strategic importance

    Southern Syria and the capital Damascus, about 60 km (40 miles) north, are clearly visible from the top of the Heights while Syrian artillery regularly shelled the whole of northern Israel from 1948 to 1967 when Syria controlled the Heights.

    Says it all, really.

  • Comment number 22.

    Good to see you back Mr. G:)

    Speaking of all being said, on matters more urbane, is it not refreshing to be in a post-mod world that stretches beyond, say, even the half dozen before being closed?

  • Comment number 23.

    Indeed! And the bold, italics and links work here!


  • Comment number 24.

    #21 Scotch

    --if life was only that simple.

  • Comment number 25.


    It's your link!


  • Comment number 26.

    #25 Scotch Git

    -- "quietoaktree,

    It's your link!"

    -- That still doesn´t make life any easier for us or Israel.

    --nor will it in the future -- as most of the Arab world is in turmoil and the last thing we need is more ´oil on the fire ´ with ridiculous Netanyahu statements-- when ideas of ´Lebensraum and Anschluss´ are portrayed as being necessary and as my Links also show--- being practiced.

  • Comment number 27.

    #25 Scotch Git

    I was studying in Montreal when the ´67 war began and quickly ended. Not only did the Kahane Fascist group win new sympathizers but the Yiddish jokes among students began making the rounds. One ´good´one was --

    "Visit Israel --and see the pyramids "

    Kahane was assassinated, but his views (and similar) have continued to plague Israel --especially among the settlers and the ´far right´ of Israeli politics.

    The tourist link provide has demonstrated this--

    ´Visit Israel -- and see the Golan Heights.´

  • Comment number 28.


    We (i.e. you) are wandering off-topic again.

    Re: Golan

    See the extract at #21 taken from your link.

  • Comment number 29.

  • Comment number 30.

    #28 Scotch Git

    --off topic -- Syria is the topic is it not ?

    See my #24.

    --and my #27 --goes well with my repulsion of Netanyahu´s statements and tactics.

    Extracts from links ?

    "Majdal Shams resident Rafik Kalami, 46, said most people still support Assad because the Golan Heights is an inseparable part of Syria."

    -- Do you not agree with my ´Lebensraum and Anschluss ´accusation ?

    Israeli tourism has no problem with it .

  • Comment number 31.


    Consider the implications of the extract at #21, taken from a link posted by your good self.

    Having done so, please ask yourself; "If I were responsible for the safety and security of Israeli citizens, what would be my response to Syrian demands that the Golan Heights be under Damascus' control?"

  • Comment number 32.

    #31 Scotch Git

    -- The implications and what is possible under International Law are very clear --Israel can occupy with its military, but not with its citizens. China is still condemned for doing similar ( Lebensraum and Anschluss) in Tibet.

    Those Israelis in the Golan Heights are illegal occupiers and deserve no security considerations --In contrast to those Israelis who live within the recognized (by many) borders.

  • Comment number 33.

    Scotch Git

    -- Did I ever recommend ´Who Will Write Our History´ by Samuel D. Kassow to you ?

    The print is very small -- Tells not only the story of the Warsaw ghetto --but also of East European Jewish intellectualism.

    -- The loss to the World is great.

  • Comment number 34.



    I'm afraid it will have to join the queue! I should devote more of my time to reading, but work, sleep and other trivialities keep distracting me.

    Thank you for the recommendation.


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