Dec 27 2012
Jordan has many troubles, mostly political, but the biggest concern for all Jordanians right now, from King Abdullah II, to a taxi driver, is what is happening in Syria.
The arrival of Arab and international peace envoy, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, has revived hopes that a political solution might be found, allowing Assad to remain in post but without any real power until the end of his mandate in 2014. Some say that the Syrian president rejects this solution and will insist on contesting the elections again.
Brahimi, committed to silence, did not make any statements about the nature of his mission or the contents of the possible settlement he carries up his sleeve, but the sudden flight of Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad to Moscow suggests that there is some kind of acceptance of the new initiative and some consultations have occurred with the regime's Russian ally.
Statements made by vice-president, Mr Farouq al-Shara, in which he confirmed that neither the regime nor the armed opposition can win by military means, suggest that President Assad is looking for an exit, but not at any price, as confirmed to me by a senior Jordanian official I met in the capital, Amman. He assured me that the Syrian regime will not fall within two months as suggested by some Gulf parties. By protecting Damascus, and withdrawing his troops from the borders, Assad is preparing for a long battle, or rather, a fight to the end.
President Assad has three options right now: the first is to leave the country for a safe haven, and that is unlikely as things stand. The second is to relocate to the upper areas of the north coast, using it as a base for resistance, or even to found an Alawite state. The third option is to stay in Damascus and fight to the last bullet, and this is what looks likely right now.
The Gulf states' prediction that the Syrian president has only two months to fall is based on two reasons. Firstly, this war costs the state treasury a billion dollars a month, and it only has two billion dollars left. Secondly there is an American plan to support the armed opposition with sophisticated modern weapons, such as Stinger missiles, and anti-aircraft. This prompted Mr Moaz Khatib, head of the National Coalition, to say that the Syrian opposition no longer needs outside military intervention to overthrow the regime.
In principal, it is politically and militarily naive to say that the regime's bankruptcy in two months will lead to its collapse. The former Iraqi regime withstood 12 years under a crippling blockade. Besides, the enormous suffering of the Syrians now is due to the international embargo, and if they are resentful of the regime which created this situation by refusing serious reform, they would be even more resentful and hateful of the countries that abandoned them and contributed to their starvation.
The French minister of Algerian origin, Mr Kadeer Arif, who visited the 40,000 Syrian refugee Zataari camp a few days ago, said that they are living in conditions more miserable than animals. If friends of the Syrian people treat wretched refugees in this way, there will be considerable doubt as to their willingness to pay 200 billion dollars to rebuild Syria after the Assad era.
When we asked well informed people in Jordan about their perceptions of the post-Assad era, they told me they expect a state of chaos for two years, through which Islamist militant groups will be eliminated, al-Nusra in particular, then security will be restored and recover gradually.
In my opinion, this is too optimistic. If the 150 thousand US troops equipped with modern sophisticated weapons, and supported by the opposition failed to eliminate the Islamic state affiliated to al-Qaeda in Iraq, then how can the post-Assad regime succeed in defeating these organisations in two years?
Syria's future from the Jordanian perspective does not look rosy at all, especially as there is no agreement on how to deal with the biggest concern, and the final card in Assad's hand – chemical weapons.
The Israelis want to bomb storage areas of chemical weapons, and the Americans have prepared 8000 troops to capture them when needed. On the other hand, Arabs, and Gulf states in particular, are horrified day after day, because the longer the crisis continues, the stronger the Islamic organisations become, with the real and present danger of blowback.
No one has a magic crystal ball which can predict what will happen in Syria in the coming weeks or months. All the fortune tellers who told us over the past two years, that Assad's days were numbered, have been proved wrong.
The issue is no longer confined to the survival of President Assad, but its implications on Syria first, and the entire Arab region afterwards. The repercussions are dangerous and full of unpleasant surprises.
Yes, we draw a pessimistic picture, but it is our duty to be honest with ourselves and with our readers. We can't sell them illusions as some satellite channels have done from the beginning of the crisis and until this moment.
When we said that Syria is witnessing sectarian civil war, some disagreed. When we said that jihadist groups are strengthening their presence on the ground, others said that al-Qaeda 'does not exist' in Syria, and that suicide bombings or martyrdom are the regime's works. Now, Syria's great friend, America has placed al-Nusra on the terrorist list.
We hope that Brahimi's initiative to seek a political solution succeeds, and we hope that the Syrian opposition groups use their senses and wisdom to save the blood of their brothers. We pray for the regime to abandon its egomania, or what remains of it. We hope it gives up for the sake of its people and for the sake of Syria, which should be the main concern right now.