Achieving Peace Through Strength—A Good Lesson to Syria's Revolt
28 October 2015
By Eyad Abu Shakra
Last Friday marked the second anniversary of the chemical weapons attacks
perpetrated by the Syrian regime against the towns and villages of Eastern
Ghouta near Syria's capital, Damascus.
That day, according to reliable sources, the area covering the eastern and
northeastern suburbs of the city—especially Zamalka, Ain Terma, Kfar Batna
and 'Arbeen, as well as the southern suburbs of Mu'aththamiyya and Darayya—was
shelled in the early hours of the morning by rockets carrying Sarin gas – as
well as other poisonous material – from army bases in the Qalamoun mountains,
northwest of Damascus.
The number of casualties—most of whom were women and children—varied between
1,300 dead (the Syrian National Coalition) and 1,729 (The Free Syrian Army);
while a preliminary US government assessment determined that 1,429 people
were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children.
The number of those injured was estimated to exceed 3,600.
That massacre took place after another ''red line'' was issued to Bashar Al-Assad
regime by the US administration, as his government escalated its crackdown on
the peaceful popular uprising, from shooting at demonstrations, to the use of
heavy artillery, then resorting to the use of the air force and
surface-to-surface missiles. The worse the suppression got, the faster
American and Western condemnations, threats and ''red lines'' were issued,
only to be proven empty and insincere.
Consequently, Syrians' anger and despair of international justice increased;
and it was only natural that such a situation would destroy the case for
moderation and give credence to extremism.
Indeed, as if this was the international community's plan all along,
moderates began to lose out, defections from the army, security services, and
political bodies all but stopped, while extremists took over the revolt. This
was the most natural outcome of the shameless betrayal of the popular revolt
by the international community, and its refusal—time and time again—to
genuinely support the Free Syrian Army, formed by honorable officers and
soldiers who simply refused to murder their own people.
Soon enough, foreign terrorists began flocking into Syria, from all over the
world, with the declared aim of ''supporting (Nusra) the Syrian people'' and
''fighting the infidel regime that is killing Sunni Muslims with Iran's and
Russia's weapons''. Alas, as we all know now, the very chemistry of the
revolt has changed, and the ugly international conspiracy has been exposed.
Those foreign extremists—particularly Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
militants, who have turned their weapons on the revolt and Assad's
opponents—have now become the excuse given to Assad's regime to continue its
Barack Obama's reaction to the August 21st, 2013 chemical attacks erased all
doubts as regards his position. It was the landmark that proved that,
contrary to all previous announcements, Washington did not mind Assad
continuing to rule Syria even over the dead bodies of the Syrians.
That year secret talks between the US and Iran were uncovered too; and since
then everything in the Middle East has been snowballing.
The Ghouta chemical massacre made it clear that regarding Syria the Obama
administration was interested in only two things:
First, striking a regional deal with Iran, Assad's protector, sponsor and
lifeline; and second, protecting Israel against any weapon of mass
destruction that may fall in the hands of groups that—unlike Assad—may truly
threaten its existence.
Thus, since any deal with Iran necessitated going back on all calls for Assad
to go, Washington ignored all its previous ''red lines''. Furthermore, the
only practical reaction to the Ghouta chemical massacre was convincing Assad
to hand over ''most of'' his chemical arsenal. This step was helpful both in
reassuring Israel, and giving the Syrian dictator the green light to commit
as many massacres as he pleases, while the US was working with Russia, Iran
and China, to rehabilitate him, and accept him as a partner in the global war
As the fight for votes on the Iran nuclear deal intensifies in the US
Congress, President Obama is using all means available in tempting and
pressuring US lawmakers. After making clear that he would stick to the deal
even if Congress voted against it—surely his opponents would not muster the
two-thirds majority needed to kill off the White House veto—Obama announced
las week in a letter to a Congressional Democrat ''that the United States
would unilaterally maintain economic pressure and deploy military options if
needed to deter Iranian aggression.''
Such words in the present time sound very much like the ''red lines''
ridiculed and killed off by the Ghouta chemical attacks. They do not differ
much from the White House's futile attempts to reassure the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) countries while the dimensions of the Iranian regional
aggression unfold day by day—even before international sanctions against Iran
are lifted—and the plan for sectarian cleansing, ethnic partitioning, and
redrawing of maps gathers pace in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
All this means that for the foreseeable future we must expect more
maneuvering, cajoling, and threats. Even after the Congress vote, expected
next month, the Iran deal will be part of the US presidential campaign, while
unforeseen developments in Iraq and Syria may create new realities on the
Still two interesting and important questions beg for answers:
First, will Washington be able to contain the repercussions of the regional
chaos and disintegration if a deal-empowered Iran continues its expansionist
war on its neighbours? Second, is it really true that Obama's long-term
strategy will eventually target Iran's military capabilities and ambitions,
as his defenders keep telling us?
I believe we, Arabs, must pose these two questions; but until we have
convincing answers Arab countries, more so the GCC states, need to plan their
priorities, and raise the level of trust among each other instead of giving
their enemies gratuitous political gifts.
Surely no one at the moment is drumming up war, and no one will benefit from
rejecting dialogue; however, a proper and meaningful dialogue cannot be
conducted by means of arms, as the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani seems to
Last week while attending Defence Industry Day in Tehran, Rouhani, said
frankly ''military might was necessary to achieve peace in the volatile
You got it absolutely right Mr. Rouhani… Thanks for the advice!
Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been
with the newspaper since 1978.