A senior Russian official has summed up Moscow's view of what is taking place in Syria and around by saying, "Things are as good as it gets." Meanwhile, a US official summed up President Barack Obama's position on the developments in Syria, following a lengthy meeting with the latter, by saying, "He is at a loss." The conclusions about the US and Russian positions, respectively, are unfortunate, and call for denouncing the Russian triumphalism over Moscow's despicable achievements in Syria, but also the US relief over the complete American retreat from Syria, in what may be utter disregard for humanitarian considerations. Today, Syria has entered a new tunnel of pitch black darkness, with Russian-American help. US Secretary of State John Kerry embraces his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a diplomatic tango, dancing to the tune of the death throes coming from Syria. The regional players are fully involved in Syria, meanwhile, and have become the sponsors of the many wars being fought for the roles that will crush generations to come in Syria, and throw them into a vicious cycle of destruction. Hezbollah has publicly acknowledged its involvement in the Syrian war, full with men and materiel, while the Iranian leadership held a conference for the friends of Syria, with the main theme being ensuring Iran's role in shaping the fate of Syria. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that are concerned with the Syrian issue have turned their involvement into a "personal matter" as usual with these countries, and relied on reactive tactics rather than a comprehensive strategy. In the meantime, terror has spread in Syria's neighboring countries, particularly Lebanon and Jordan, over the possibility of their infrastructures imploding as a result of the influx of Syrian refugees. All this happens while the Syrian regime continues to delude itself that it is about to achieve final victory, in fulfillment of its pledge that either it emerges triumphant in Syria, or the whole country shall collapse. Once again, the race towards arming the warring sides is going hand in hand with the scramble for the diplomatic table and the promised political solutions for Syria. But one thing that has contributed dramatically to pushing these two tracks simultaneously forward - the military and diplomatic tracks - is the overt entry of Hezbollah as a party to the armed conflict, on the side of the regime in Damascus. To be sure, this has tipped the balance of military power in favor of the Mumanaa axis - the pro-resistance camp - which brings together Iran, Hezbollah, the Syrian regime, as well as Russia and China.
Sources familiar with decision-making circles in the United States have reported that the most prominent change to take place in the US position can be best summed up by the expression, "We now know who our men are" in Syria. This means that the US administration - at least for the time being - has backtracked on its full disdain for supplying direct and indirect military aid to the Syrian opposition. It also means that the distinction has been made between the moderate opposition and the extremist forces in the Syrian opposition, which the U.S. is loath to backing by mistake, such as al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda, and other terror groups. Knowing who "our men" are means that the US intelligence found factions in the Syrian opposition that can be trustworthy to Washington, and that the latter is now ready to start arming those. It also means that the US president, who is "at a loss," has looked right and left and found that his failure to engage in Syria means that he is providing a gift to Iran, just as his predecessor, George W. Bush, had done in Iraq. It means that Barack Obama has reconsidered a little the meaning of allowing a victory for Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, and the implications of this for the region, and so he adjusted his stance. It also means that Obama was advised to think about not just appeasing Russia in Syria, but also to think carefully about the repercussions of Sunni wrath if Syria - after Iraq - were to be handed over to the Shiite leadership now represented by Iran, and what this may result in, in terms of retaliation by extremist Sunni jihadists following the handing over of Syria - after Iraq - to the Shiite leadership in Iran, and the consequent reprisals from radical jihadists in the form of terrorist attacks on US soil or against US interests worldwide.
Former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain spoke openly at the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea last week, about the need to strengthen the military role of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Syria. He spoke about every option, with the exception of direct military presence by American soldiers in the Syrian war, including a no-fly zone. More importantly, McCain slipped into Syria and met with rebel military leaders, with the knowledge of the White House, and these leaders most likely include those the US administration identified as "our men." The shift in the US position may be tactical and strategic. Clearly, it did not come from a vacuum. Perhaps the direct military role of Iran through Hezbollah has helped push the US to reconsider its disdain for involvement. Certainly, Russia felt that this direct military role for Iran and Hezbollah is not advantageous to what it recently set as a priority, namely, the international conference - as it dubs it, and not Geneva II as it is commonly known. Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, in an in-depth interview with Al-Hayat during the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea, explained Moscow's dissatisfaction with the Iranian military involvement through Hezbollah. He said that intervention by Hezbollah "or any state or party is nonconductive to the political process," adding that any "foreign intervention in the Syrian crisis will only inflame it further." Russia denies that its role in Syria falls within the same category. The weapons Russia gives to the regime, according to Gatilov, "are purely defensive and cannot be used in a civil war, such as anti-aircraft systems." Their goal, as he suggested, is to respond to any Israeli assault. However, Gatilov categorically opposed opening the Golan front to the resistance, as Hezbollah wants. Implicit in Gatilov's answers was that one of the goals of these systems is to defend against military operations by NATO, if these were ever to take place.
Moscow treads carefully between the military and diplomatic tracks, and wants to maintain a special relationship with Washington where Russian President Vladimir Putin can get what he wants pursuant to a grand bargain, or to ensure that the balance of military power continues to favor his allies in the Mumanaa axis. At this fork in the road, Russian diplomacy is focused on developing the relationship with the US administration thanks to the 'chemistry' between Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry. Indeed, the relationship with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had deteriorated in the wake of Lavrov's U-turn over what has been agreed to at the Geneva I conference, that is, a transitional political process in Syria that would gradually replace President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Today, the two men meet each other repeatedly with broad smiles and embraces. Lavrov, a veteran of Syrian affairs, finds Kerry a novice with a background of admiration for Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma. He finds in him a good opportunity to prepare a summit that two weeks from now will bring together Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, as two equal leaders of two 'superpowers' in Syria, with no place for unipolar leadership.
Geneva II is a staging ground that Moscow prefers to call an international conference, because it wants to discuss a grand bargain through Syria. In Russia's view, this necessarily requires Iran to be at the table, and to be an essential part of any accords. Gatilov was explicit in saying that Iran has an important role in Syria, and that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are wrong to object to Iranian participation in the conference on Syria's future. He even openly said that there is no reason why Israel cannot be at the conference on Syria as well.
Logically speaking, if an international conference on Syria was indeed convened, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council must take part, particularly since two of these states - Russia and China - have joined the Mumanaa axis that backs the regime in Damascus. Also logically, the countries playing a direct role in the Syrian war must also take part, whether they back the regime like Iran, or the opposition like Saudi and Qatar. Even Israel has a role in its capacity as a direct neighbor of Syria, and Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon - both the official state and Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria. This is as far as logic is concerned. But politically and realistically speaking, Moscow realizes that it is impossible to bring together Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia around one table. For this reason, it is focusing on Iran with a view to legitimize its role in Syria - something that the GCC countries oppose. The attitudes of many GCC countries are mired by egregious personal calculations over the conflict in Syria, as though this war is one of personal revenge for fulfilling ego-driven pledges. Toppling the regime in Damascus is now a declared goal of the Gulf countries, which have chosen to put that goal high on their agendas. However, they do not have strategies that would be reassuring when it comes to the day after the regime falls. In reality, there aren't any strategies, but only a series of tactics in the war of attrition that has turned Syria into another Afghanistan, and opened its doors wide open to sectarian warfare.
Even aid to neighboring countries to accommodate refugees is scarce and follows the same personal calculations. Instead, the GCC must convene an emergency meeting to get a good sense of what it would mean if the conflict were to spread to Iraq, Jordan, or Lebanon. Pre-emptive measures are crucial, and include for the GCC to share the burden of the refugees instead of ignoring the issue by 'fleeing forward.' For instance, Jordan is terrified at the prospect of extremist elements infiltrating the refugees, to destabilize the country and its government. This would serve the purpose of taking vengeance against Jordan and handing over the country to Israel, which has always stated and proven that it wants no solution to the Palestinian question, except turning Jordan into the alternative homeland for the Palestinians.
For its part, Lebanon faces existential threats because of its denial of the crisis that is the influx of refugees, for political and sectarian reasons, at a time when this same crisis threatens to collapse its entire infrastructure. Lebanon's obsession with the parliamentary elections and the formation of a new government has distracted the whole country away from the danger of the collapse of its infrastructure. Yet after all the fuss, the goal that was hidden in the minds of the country's powerful actors emerged. As it turns, they wanted all along to prevent holding the elections on time, and to disallow the formation of a government different from that of outgoing premier Najib Mikati, where Hezbollah had a fundamental role. Hezbollah and its allies in March 8 thus succeeded in postponing the Lebanese elections until after the Syrian elections scheduled for 2014, while keeping a government consisting of elements that have their approval. Some believe that this buys for Lebanon the stability it is most in need of. In other words, appeasing Hezbollah's camp with the latter's involvement in the Syrian war and quagmire, may spare Lebanon a military-security surprise that can destroy it. Others fear that the revenge against Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian war might take place on its home turf, in order to pull it away from continuing to alter the military equation in Syria.
No one can guarantee this or that scenario, especially when many different factions with different agendas are fighting in Syria, including many engaged in mutual exhaustion in sectarian battles.