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Dr. Josef Olmert

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Ceasefire in Syria? You Must Be Kidding

Posted: 04/10/2012 11:23 am

Today was supposed to be the start of the much-anticipated ceasefire in the Syrian civil war, declared by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan. Ceasefire in Syria? An oxymoron, and a very tragic one. Yesterday, as was announced by the most reliable Syrian opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 155 people were killed. They were killed in Aleppo, the suburbs of Damascus, Hammah, Idlib, Deir-a-Zor and Dar'a. All are Sunni areas, and all were supposed to be pacified already, if we are to believe official Syrian announcements.

Well, the civil war is far from over, the rebellion continues, and in the early hours of today more casualties are registered due to the relentless attacks of tanks, which are not supposed to be in the towns, according to the Anan plan. So, this plan was stillborn, and no surprise at all about that.

Anan's initiative was, to start with, a typical UN plan, using the widely-used and completely meaningless mantra about "political solution being the only possible solution," a nice but totally unrealistic slogan. On this occasion, when the plan is already collapsing, it is important to remind us all of the true nature of the struggle in Syria, what really is happening there, and why the standard UN "political solution" is just a euphemism to empty words. In Syria there is a struggle of life or death between a minoritarian regime and a majority of the population who fight over complete control of the country. The Alawites in control of Syria know very well that after four decades of systematic oppression of the Sunni majority, their downfall may be the prelude to a long night of sectarian bloodshed aimed at them.

For the vast majority of the Alawite community, the question is no more the fate of one particular Alawite clan, that of the Assads. Much more is at stake -- their very existence -- and they are signaling to us all that they are ready to do whatever it takes to remain in power. "Whatever it takes" means exactly that, and we haven't witnessed the worst yet, nor are we even close to that point. The regime knows that "real" pacification of the rebel areas, basically the vast majority of Syria's territory, requires much more than what has already transpired. As predicted in this blog before, violence in Syria will dwarf anything that we have witnessed until now either there, or in any other Middle Eastern country.

The regime is sophisticated enough to try and be seen as if being ready to take part in international initiatives to solve the crisis, such as the Anan plan. They want and need to gain time. Time is of the essence in pursuing the survival strategy of the Alawite community. So, every opportunity that the regime has to gain some of it will be fully exploited by them. Ceasefire, in itself an admission by the regime that it is engaged in a major struggle, is a very flexible notion in the annals of the Middle East. In neighboring Lebanon, during the civil war of 1975-6, there were tens of ceasefires. So, we should not be surprised if the Assad regime will play this kind of game also in dealing with its own civil war.

That means that Kofi Annan will find himself more times in the guest room of Bashar Assad's presidential palace, and why not? The regime will bestow on him all the pleasantries which they can master, and in the meantime, the killing machines of Division 4 and other special units will continue to work, and everybody should know by now what that means.

I, for one, suspect that Kofi Annan himself knows that a real political solution In Syria, based on compromise and power-sharing, is out of the question; and I also believe that he is experienced enough to know that a Noble Peace Prize is not awaiting him, not this time, and not so far as Syria is concerned.

Judging by the reactions of other key players -- Turkey, the US and Arab countries -- it is clear that they too do not believe that something good can and will emerge out of the Annan plan, so why wait? The carnage is just going to intensify, and the Syrian people deserve more -- much more -- than the futile attempts to persuade Bashar Assad to do what he cannot and does not want to do, which is to relinquish his power peacefully. Even if he thinks about that, his community and the remaining Ba'ath cronies will stop him.

It is time to change the discussion about Syria. Blood is thicker than water, as they say in the Middle East, and too much has already been spilled. It should stop and quickly, but that will not happen through the Annan plan.