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Dr. Josef Olmert Headshot

Assad's Tanks Kill the Arab League Deal

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The ink is not yet dry on the joint Arab League Syria document that was supposed to put an end to the Syrian uprising, and the tanks are back in the streets. And they kill, mainly in the Sunni stronghold of Homs, but not only there.

A quick reminder is needed here; the Assad regime committed itself only two days ago to remove the tanks from the center of Syrian towns. Kalam Fadi they call it in Arabic [words without real meaning], and the brutal repression continues.

The deal between the doomed regime in Damascus and the Arab League was stillborn, and to start with let's relate to Assad's so-called promise to remove the tanks. The Assad regime and no violence? That must be the oxymoron of the day.

The history of this regime is one of state-run violence which created fear, and with it many years of stability without legitimacy. The modus operandi of the regime has always been predicated on violence as first and last resort in times of internal troubles and it worked for so many years. It is clearly not nice to admit it, but brutal repression does work, but only up to the point where people have nothing else to lose, and they are desperate enough to put their lives on the line.

This is exactly what has transpired in Syria since March and no deal struck between the regime and the Arab League can change it. The divide between the regime and its opponents is not about social, economic or political issues, which surely play a role in the ongoing protest, but not a decisive one.

The struggle now is about the very existence of a regime based on an alliance of minorities, dominated by the Alawites. Some cosmetic changes can bring about some minor, short-term improvements. However, the Assad ruling clique fully understands that it is playing for time, hoping that something, somewhere will happen which can put off the fire. This is why Assad agreed to the proposed deal brokered by the Arab League, to gain time, to ease the pressure, but not with any intention to initiate fundamental reforms. That can't work anymore, and if it stood any chance to succeed, it was in March-April, not now.

The Syrian opposition leaders who negotiated with Arab League are clearly representative of the animosities of the Syrian masses, mainly the Sunnis, towards the regime; but they are not in control of them. This is still the greatest weakness of the heroic Syrian opposition. The Syrian National Council [SNC] is a widely representative body of various and conflicting political forces, but it lacks one nationally recognized leader and its authority on the local level is still weak. This is why the negotiators with the Arab League also wanted to gain time. The deal they agreed to was intended, from their perspective, to give them the space they need to regroup and improve their organization. They never had in mind a real reconciliation with the regime based on a political dialogue, nor are they going to support such a dialogue any time in the future.

The Syrian masses demonstrating in large numbers all over Syria, in face of the tanks, clearly signaled to the representatives of the opposition, negotiating with the Arab League, and indirectly with the Assad government, what they really think about any reconciliation, even a temporary one with the regime. This is after all what the Arab Spring is all about: power to the people.

The negotiators from the Arab League, though dealing with the Assad regime, had no intention of coming to an arrangement that will stabilize the Syrian situation and enable Assad to weather the storm. The Sunni Arab states have already given up on the Alawites in Damascus. The fact that the Iranian regime just reiterated its support to Assad makes sure, that the Saudis and their allies realize that no good can come out of Bashar Assad. They too, and in the background the Turks and the US are playing for time. They are waiting for the SNC to move from the stage of public statements, as significant as they are, to that of effective control over the protesting masses. When that happens, the Arab League, as well as the West and Turkey will recognize the SNC as the legitimate government of Syria.

The US made it clear, even after the "deal" with the Arab League that Bashar Assad needs to go. The Turks, for their part, are encouraging defections from the Syrian army, and the growing numbers of defectors attest to the fact that the army is in a process of disintegration. The fact that battles are taking place between units of defectors, mainly from the "Free Syrian Army" and the Bashar forces indicate that the defectors are not just greeted with coffee and sympathy in the Turkish side of the border... all the above clearly shows that the clock is ticking, perhaps slower than desired by the brave Syrian rebels, but their liberation is just a question of time.