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Dr. Josef Olmert

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The Syrian Opposition Is Changing Course

Posted: 12/02/11 10:47 AM ET

Burhan Ghalioun is a Paris-based Syrian exile, nominated on August 29th to be the Chairman of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the unified movement which leads the popular uprising against Bashar Assad.

It is obvious that he is fully aware of the regional and international contexts of the developing Syrian crisis. It is against this background that we have to analyze his statements today. The Syrian leader, a potential leader of the new, post-Assad Syria took the plunge and declared that the new regime will cut off relations with Iran, and stop the arms supplies to both Hamas and Hezbollah. He also reiterated the traditional Syrian demand to recover the lost Golan Heights, but only through negotiations. Ghalioun knows that such a statement may be hot potatoes for the Assad propaganda machine, but he said in public what was just whispered until now to Western diplomats.

We can draw at least three significant conclusions from this display of political overtures. First, the Syrian opposition is increasingly confident that its moment of Victory is very near. Second, in line with that self-confidence, the opposition is fast moving along a course which will facilitate, in the very near future, a formal Western, Arab and Turkish recognition of the SNC as the legitimate government of Syria. Third, the oppposition does not fear that a statement about future negotiations with Israel can endanger its internal cohesion or weaken the resolve of the masses of Syrians who put their lives on the line demonstrating against the Alawite regime.

Nine months of unstoppable and ever-increasing popular protest clearly show that nothing that the current regime is doing can break the bone of the Syrian people. This is the longest-going protest since the beginning of the Arab Spring. Tunisia was much shorter, and so was the Tahrir Square protest. Only the Yemen situation may be comparable.

This is by far the bloodiest protest and it is directed against the most brutal regime in the Middle East. The SNC clearly reads the situation correctly when they act on the basis of the certainty that the regime is doomed.

The other significant move of the SNC was the formal merger With the Army of Free Syria, which was announced few days ago. This is a clear departure from the hitherto position of the SNC that the struggle should be non-violent. The civilian leadership of the uprising recognizes the potential of the rebel army to precipitate the final downfall of Assad. They clearly want to shorten the time leading to the final collapse, because they want to reduce the bloodshed of innocent civilians. They also realize that the union with the armed rebels strengthens their hand politically. It creates a situation similar to that which existed In Libya prior to the intervention, a popular civilian uprising backed by local armed rebellion. The armed Syrian rebels can claim a string of successes in the fighting against what is left of the Syrian armed forces. Their operations will make it easier for the Arab world and Turkey to justify an intervention in Syria, backed by NATO.

It is in this context that we can evaluate the persistent reports that Hezbollah is transferring back to Lebanon a lot of its arsenal which was stored until now in Syria. Quietly, the Iranians and their Lebanese stooges understand that the ally in Damascus is almost done. Publicly though, Hezbollah condemns the role played by Turkey, whose leaders relentlessly support the SNC and the rebel army in words and deeds. The Syrian masses also know what is the real role of Turkey. Today's huge demonstrations are calling for the creation of buffer zones. This is an open Invitation to the Turks and the Arab League to take the first overt step towards intervention, and this is a step long planned by the Turks. It may take a bit more time for the buffer zones to be declared on the ground, but today is the day in which the SNC crossed the Rubicon, and changed its strategy in the struggle against Assad.

And with that happening, let us not forget Ghalioun's reference to the Golan Heights. The Israeli leadership is put on notice that the Syrian situation may present short-term risks, but also longer-term positive prospects.