• As Syria war grinds on, no good options for Putin and friends , On: Sun, 23 Apr 2017

  • Trump’s Tomahawks and the Abu Nidal factor , On: Sun, 16 Apr 2017

  • The day after the battle for Syrian city of Raqqa , On: Sun, 16 Apr 2017

  • Syria’s refugees face limited choices now and likely in the future , On: Sun, 09 Apr 2017

  • Erdogan’s pact with Putin changes war in Syria , On: Sun, 02 Apr 2017

  • Russia calls the shots at Syria talks but peace is no closer , On: Sun, 02 Apr 2017

  • After six years of war, Syria is an economic basket case, On: Sun, 26 Mar 2017

  • Trump, Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood, On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • Turkey threatens as US deploys troops in Syria , On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • The complex politics of the battle for Syria’s al-Bab , On: Sun, 19 Feb 2017

  • Trump feels his way through Syria’s labyrinth , On: Sun, 12 Feb 2017

  • Assad eyeing Hamas split over Syria , On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • For Syria’s millions of refugees, no future and no hope, On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • Astana talks change the rules on Syria negotiations , On: Sun, 29 Jan 2017

  • Assad’s new strategy: Wooing back defectors , On: Sun, 22 Jan 2017

  • Damascus goes dry as Syria’s grim water wars intensify , On: Sun, 15 Jan 2017

  • Guterres faces Herculean task of rescuing UN, On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • Putin seeks to be peacemaker in Syria — on his terms , On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • ‘Reconciliation’ part of Syria’s post-war education system, On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • Assad walls off West with BRICS and then there’s Trump , On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • Moscow seeks talks with Syrian rebels to overturn UN effort , On: Sun, 04 Dec 2016

  • Why ISIS and Baghdadi will survive losing Mosul, Raqqa, On: Sun, 27 Nov 2016

  • Warring rivals struggle to unravel Trump’s Syria policy , On: Sun, 20 Nov 2016

  • Hariri walks the tightrope again as Aoun’s prime minister, On: Sun, 13 Nov 2016

  • As war reaches stalemate, Syrians are left to mull a federal solution , On: Sun, 06 Nov 2016

  • Lausanne flops as Russians buy time to crush Aleppo, On: Sun, 23 Oct 2016

  • Putin determined to crush Aleppo — and who’s to stop him? , On: Sun, 16 Oct 2016

  • Plagues, conquests and disasters: Aleppo’s unending troubles, On: Sun, 09 Oct 2016

  • Baghdadi fends off challenges for leadership, On: Sun, 09 Oct 2016

  • Putin’s Syria mission: Third time lucky for Assad , On: Sun, 09 Oct 2016

  • Remembering Nasser: Arab renaissance to endless war , On: Sun, 25 Sep 2016

  • For now, US and Russia find common ground in Syria , On: Sun, 18 Sep 2016

  • Iran’s ebbing influence in Syria, On: Sun, 11 Sep 2016

  • Putin’s deal gives Erdogan a strong hand in Syria , On: Sun, 04 Sep 2016

  • Jolani’s sleight of hand in rebranding al-Nusra , On: Sun, 14 Aug 2016

  • Syria peace talks to resume but few expect progress , On: Sun, 07 Aug 2016

  • Struggle for Aleppo may be Syria’s last big battle , On: Sun, 31 Jul 2016

  • In tactical shift, Syria’s al-Nusra announces break with al-Qaeda , On: Sun, 31 Jul 2016

  • New Syrian Army: A US disaster and probably not the last, On: Sun, 24 Jul 2016

  • As Syria war grinds on, no good options for Putin and friends

    The US president reportedly has put three scenarios on the table for Putin to consider.

    Few options. Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), accompanied by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (4thL), meets with military chiefs at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi. (AFP)

    2017/04/23 Issue: 103 Page: 8

    Beirut - Hafez Assad was a smart man, regardless of what his enemies say about him now, 17 years after his death. When he felt that the Soviet Union was about to fall, he quietly distanced himself from Marxist socialism, in­troducing investment laws to res­cue Syria’s tottering Soviet-backed economy.

    Months later he realised the United States was going to create and lead an international coalition to liberate Kuwait from the avari­cious clutches of Saddam Hussein and that the USSR was collapsing and powerless to stop it.

    Assad took the highly unusual step of siding with the George H.W. Bush White House against his long-time rival. That same year, he authorised face-to-face talks with Israel at the landmark Madrid con­ference after decades of conflict.

    In the 1990s, when Assad’s har­bouring of Kurdish separatist lead­er Abdullah Ocalan in Damascus nearly triggered a war with Turkey, the Syrian leader quietly asked him to pack up and leave.

    Former US Ambassador Martin Indyk once observed that the can­ny Assad “calculated risk and op­portunity like a computer.”

    These days, many Syrians are wondering whether Assad’s son Bashar will do the same to avoid what seems to be a looming con­frontation with the United States after President Donald Trump bom­barded a Syrian airbase on April 7 over an alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack that killed scores of civilians.

    Syria avoided threatened US air strikes in 2013 by surrendering its chemical arsenal, while the price of doing that today is up for bargain­ing between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad’s key ally.

    Meeting Assad halfway, Trump has softened his rhetoric some­what after initially calling on the Syrian president to step down.

    Speaking to The Wall Street Jour­nal in mid-April, Trump said when asked about Assad’s removal: “Are we insisting on it? No!” But the US president reportedly has put three scenarios on the table for Putin to consider.

    First, he initiates a political pro­cess that stops the war and leads to Assad’s departure after a tran­sitional period, which results in a new constitution and a new par­liament but keeps the state and its institutions, including the military and security apparatus, intact.

    Putin would get to keep geo­graphical Syria and maintain the regime, minus one man only. The Americans would let him march on all territory east of the Euphrates, which includes oil-rich Deir ez-Zor and the Kurdish canton. This has been officially rejected by Tehran, Damascus and Moscow.

    The second option is that Russia gets to keep Assad in power and the territory he controls now while “everything east of the Euphrates,” where all Syria’s farmland, natural resources and oil are located, be­comes the US enclave in the coun­try, run by Kurds and other proxies.

    Syria would get chopped up into spheres of influence, with the Russian zone west of the Euphra­tes including a Turkish canton in the north and a Jordanian one in the south, while the United States would embrace a Kurdish enclave in Syria’s north-eastern tip.

    Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan would be resettled in these territories and the Syrian Army would not be allowed to strike them.

    This keeps Moscow and Da­mascus ruling only a fraction of a country that is largely in ruins and bankrupt with little prospect of international support. This option too has been rejected.

    Third, Assad gets to stay and re­ceives international support and re-legitimisation, with Russian help of course, providing he rejects Iran and Hezbollah.

    The possibility of pursuing this option might very well be on the table if a new war erupts between Lebanon and Israel next summer, as many in the region expect.

    If it does, it would be a doomsday war in which Israel would strive to eliminate Hezbollah once and for all, as it has failed to do since the early 1980s, even if that means de­stroying Lebanon and parts of Syria.

    In the 2006 war between Hezbol­lah and the Jewish state, the Israeli Air Force largely concentrated its firepower on Beirut’s Hezbollah-dominated southern sector and the Party of God’s military stronghold in south Lebanon.

    Next time around, the Israelis have warned, they will hammer all of Lebanon “back into the Middle Ages” on the grounds that the state is essentially controlled by Hezbol­lah and Iran.

    In April, Israel completed the op­erational deployment of its highly sophisticated anti-missile defence system that is intended to counter Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah mis­siles.

    The world will be watching how Syria responds to this war. Hezbol­lah expects far more active engage­ment from Damascus, far beyond the logistical support it received in 2006.

    That is clearly no longer enough — not after the crucial role that Hezbollah has played in keeping Assad in power since 2012. Syria would be expected to send arms, food and money to Hezbollah or even join the war on its behalf.

    In the United States, nobody ex­pects a weakened regime to get in­volved and as far as the Americans are concerned, neutrality would be more than satisfactory but it is highly unlikely that Damascus would do that anyway.

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