Uncertainties still haunt Syria ahead of endgame despite dramatic change

By Xu Tianran Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-1 0:40:03

The recent dramatic developments were seen by some as the turning point for Syria: the July 18 bombing proved Assad could no longer protect or trust even his closest supporters, while the exchange of fire in Assad's strongholds of Damascus and Aleppo also seem to suggest that the rebels are on their way to victory.

Western media outlets are already talking about the "endgame in Syria." However, researchers believe that without foreign intervention, there are still many uncertainties surrounding this 16-month-old uprising.

Endgame or stalemate

Due to the extremely hostile environment for foreign reporters, no media can really grasp the whole picture on the ground in Syria.

"Western media coverage is largely a mixture of lack of knowledge on the whole picture and idealistic, romantic side (of the press)," said Peter Meroth, senior editor with the prominent German magazine Stern, whose latest issue featured a story titled "Die Letzten Tage des Diktators (the last days of the dictator)."

"Some journalists were in Syria with tourist visas.  They could only travel to peaceful areas, like Damascus used to be. Others sneaked in illegally and could only report in areas controlled by rebels," Meroth told the Global Times. "But they did witness many massacres carried out by the pro-government militia, and out of sympathy people want to see the end of violence."

On the other hand, Assad's tank and heavy artillery-equipped army still enjoys a tremendous military advantage over the rebels and is fighting back with formidable firepower.

It is hard to predict how long Assad will hang on to power in Syria. What is clear is his government and army have recently been weakened, according to André Bank, a Syria expert with the German Institute for Global and Area Studies.

"At the same time, the civil war in Syria is being fought by very diverse actors - this goes for the opposition as well as the government side. Against this background, it is not unlikely that local fighting would continue even if the government under Assad were to leave office," he said.

Deadlock for intervention

In the UN Security Council, with Russia and China repeatedly blocking Western-backed resolutions aimed at piling pressure on the Assad government, speculation on possible Western military intervention is rising.

However, a day after the third veto by the two permanent veto-wielding countries on July 19, NATO told the Global Times that it did not consider military intervention a viable option this time.

"The situation of the Syrian conflict is different from the case of Libya, in which NATO had received demand from the opposition forces, support from neighboring countries (of Libya) and a legal mandate (from the UN Security Council)," said Oana Lungescu, Strategic Director of the Press Office of NATO in Brussels.

Another contributing factor behind NATO's stand is the fact that the Syrian armed forces have a stronger air defense than Libya. On the other hand, combined with the civil war in different parts of the country, a ground invasion would likely be necessary from NATO's perspective to end Assad's rule, according to Bank.

"But a direct military intervention in Syria, given its location in the heart of the Middle East, might risk a region-wide conflict escalation, which is not in NATO's interest. No regional player is willing to risk a massive military intervention," Bank said.

Future perspective

Despite the uncertainties in the Syrian conflict, Western observers believe the collapse of the Assad government is only a question of time.  The UN general and head of monitor missions Robert Mood was quoted by Stern magazine as saying that "sooner or later" the inevitable end of the Assad regime will come.

Meanwhile, a political transition is being planned by some Western countries. According to Foreign Policy magazine, 40 senior representatives of different Syrian opposition groups have been meeting in Germany under the tutelage of the US Institute for Peace to discuss how to set up a post-Assad government.

"Given the international stalemate over Syria, the UN Security Council members should try to strengthen Syrian actors who have a politically pluralistic and less of an ethnic-religious outlook on the political future in the country," Bank said. "This means paying attention to the diversity of actors on both the opposition and the government sides."

Posted in: Mid-East

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