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In the last few months, the progress of all rebel factions in Syria against Assad's regime shows that the Government has lost the lead and that there are signs of weakness. In the streets and souks of Alep and Damascus conversations are about how close looms the end of the Assad dynasty, writes Mariano García Muñoz – and what happens afterwards.

The Assad Government's steadfastness is wavering and the trickle of military corpses is making it more visible. The potential collapse of Damascus' Government is also in evidence because its international sup-porters –Russia and Iran - are beginning to gauge that nothing else can be expected of their Syrian ally already surrounded by Sunni fighters, thanks to the help they are receiving from some Arab countries. The Russian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of Syrian affairs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are preparing their disentanglement from Syria in order to preserve their own interests.


On the other side, the rebel groups in the North, supported by Turkey and Qatar, have joined forces with the Syrian Free Army, under the air umbrella of the United States-led coalition, and are coordinating their advance with the rebel units in the South of Syria supported by Saudi Arabia and Jordan.


A point at issue is whether al-Qaeda affiliates - Jabat al Nusra and Arhar al Sham - and the Daesh (aka Caliphate of the Islamic State) will join with other forces also fighting the Assad regime. Both groups are pressing other important rebel factions to accept their respective doctrines of Islam. If they succeed in this aim the political development of the post Assad regime will become very hazardous.
We cannot also forget that if the Alawi minority in the army, in the police and in the administration it is not maintained and taken into account in the political process following the Assad regime's fall, Syria might follow in the wake of Iraq after the destruction of all political and government structures of Sad-dam Hussein.

THE REBELS' AIM

The common ground among all the factions fighting in Syria is to put an end to the Assad dynasty. What will happen afterwards has been put aside, because in the rebel camp there are still feuds and infighting.
A solution to this quagmire could be found if all would accept the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (SMB) as an interim actor to establish a democratic regime where all rebel factions and ethnics can be represented. But this outcome is difficult to be accepted since the SMB lacks the legitimacy of military actions of its own against the existing regime.
The Arab countries that are seeking the overthrow of Assad like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Kuwait also each of them have their own interests in Syria.

THE ISSUE OF THE TRANSITION

After the downfall of Bashar el Assad it is most likely that there will not be a common course of a transi-tion towards democracy. Rebel forces will not allow Alawites in the new regime to be established given the sectarian spirit of the Syrian conflict, although they currently control many of the levers of security and civil administration. The US, through its contacts with Arab countries backing the rebels, has been trying to explore their position in relation with the Alawites.
The big question mark is whether the Sunnis, after years of infighting, will remain more or less loosely united as they are now in their cooperation to combat Assad. It is very likely that they will continue to fight together as a loose union to coordinate military actions. But we have to take into consideration that the most powerful rebel groups will try to impose themselves to replace the old regime. Nevertheless this option will depend on the interests of their Arab foreign sponsors.

THE THREAT TO TRANSITION

The more than probable lack of unity among the main actors in the aftermath of the Syrian conflict com-bined with the particular goals of the foreign participant states involved in it can turn Syria into chaos, each group ready to defend and try to impose their own Islamic creed.
Al-Qaeda-Nusra is seeking to establish on the Syrian territory a solid base for its operations in the Middle East and beyond. The Daesh (IS), once Assad gone, will try to consolidate in Syria a territorial platform for expanding the caliphate and will not tolerate a government of national unity that might undermine its territorial gains in "Wilayat Syria". Other conquering groups will also defend the interests they have been fighting for.
This chaos would be overcome if external powerful actors like the US or the EU show a serious way to establish a government where all the rebels and also Alawites will be represented.
However, hopes of unity or cooperation among the victorious Sunnis are very remote as the infighting among them during the campaign against Assad shows. The clashes between al-Qaeda-Nusra and Daesh forces does not forebode well for a peaceful transition.
Therefore, the final outcome, after the fall of Assad, might well be a follow up of the internal infighting among the Sunnis that can lead Syria to a new "Libya" in the Middle East.
The reverberations of the Assad's fall for the EU could include a new terrorist threat and the use of Syr-ia's coast as another platform for the Middle East illegal immigration to Europe.
The more than possible infighting among all factions in Syria might have two other worrying consequenc-es: One, a total destabilization in the Middle East that even can affect the Gulf monarchies that al-Qaeda and Daesh want to overthrow and, secondly, the radical Sunnis wishing to destroy Israel will be in its Northern frontier, replacing the existing status quo of non-aggression between Tel Aviv and Damascus.
Admiral Mariano García Muñoz is President of Eurodefense- Espagna

 

POSTSCRIPT

SYRIA 2015 CONFERENCE : SUMMARY OF DELIBERATIONS OF PARTICIPANTS ON PROSPECTS FOR GETTING BEYOND THE STALEMATE
Prof. Raymond Hinnebusch, Director, Centre for Syrian Studies

The Syria 2015 Conference, "Getting Beyond the Stalemate," held several panels focusing on the prospects for a diplomatically-driven political compromise in the Syrian conflict. The panels included several internationally recognized experts on Syria or diplomats who had been involved in various capacities in consultations with the Syrian parties; knowledgeable Syrians responded with their own insights. While there was no consensus view, the deliberations suggested several alternative possible scenarios.


Scenario I: Geneva III. The majority view of conference panellists was that, despite the seeming existence for a long time of a "hurting stalemate" (in which neither side can realistically expect to "win"), , the moment, as of summer 2015, was not "ripe" for successful negotiations. However, a minority view was that Geneva III might, nevertheless, come about because of the activism of the UN special representative, Staffan de Mistura, as well as efforts by Moscow and Cairo to explore possible areas of agreement between the parties. Insofar as Geneva II failed chiefly because the regime had believed it had the upper hand and was therefore uninterested in making concessions, it seemed possible that, with Damascus now on the defensive and being urged by its patrons, Iran and Russia, to retrench and possibly to be more flexible, that regime obduracy might now be easing.
A split in the regime, more plausible in view of evidence of some infighting about regime elites, raised the prospect of increased pressure from within on the regime to seriously bid for a negotiated transition in which the remnants of the state/regime would share power with those elements of the opposition willing to strike such a deal. This would presumably involve a transition period of power sharing in which the role of Bashar al-Asad and his inner circle would be increasingly constrained and checked by some sort of balance of power on the ground as well as by international guarantees.
Working against this scenario, however, was the fact that the opposition now appears to believe that it has the upper hand; emboldened by regime setbacks, from Idlib, Jisr esh-Shaghour to Palmyra, as well as its increasingly apparent vulnerabilities, but even more so by the newly cooperating Sunni axis linking Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar, coordinating and backing the most militant jihadist elements against the regime, Asad's enemies apparently now believed they had the momentum, could win militarily and saw no need for a compromise settlement.
Given the fact that the moment is not, seemingly "ripe" for a negotiated settlement, two alternative pathways seemed possible, protracted conflict and regime collapse.


Scenario 2: Protracted Conflict, Spheres of Influence: First, is the possibility that protracted conflict will continue since the expectation of victory by the opposition is unrealistic; the balance of power between regime and opposition has periodically shifted, without either side ever getting a permanent upper hand, since neither has the decisive combination of resources to prevail. Indeed, given that the conflict is now at least a three- sided contest among regime, opposition and ISIS, "victory" by any party seems all the more problematic. However, this deepened phase of conflict is likely to be one of increased spheres of influence in which regional actors increase their intervention and seek to consolidate secure territory cleansed of opposition forces. Iran and Hizbollah will seek to consolidate their position in Damascus, Kalamoun, western Homs and Tartous. Jordan and Gulf (and Israel) will support opposition FSA groups in Deraa and Qunaitra. Turkey and Qatar will support Islamist factions in the rural areas of Idlib and Aleppo that seek to overrun the regime-controlled part of Aleppo city. IS will preserve its own state in the East, battling the Kurds, Islamist rivals and the regime. The de-facto separation of the country will harden.
Notwithstanding this, a second possible pathway is the fall of the regime. Nobody was predicting this outcome in the immediate future but regime vulnerabilities have become more apparent and many of its opponents appeared looking forward to such a "victory." Supposing that the regime did suddenly unravel and collapse, it is not self-evident, however, what would follow and at least three possible pathways had some plausibility and evidence for them could be seen in the presentations at the conference.


Scenario 3: Democratic Transformation: First, for those who put their faith in the power and intentions of "moderate" Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood as well as in the discourse of the exiled National Coalition, which advocates a civil state, there was hope that regime collapse could lead to democratization, possibly with Islamic characteristics.


Scenario 4: A Caliphate: Other panellists, believed the more radical elements of the opposition had the upper hand on the ground, notably Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS and various other jihadi groups, making a salafist/jihadist-dominated Islamist state—a "caliphate"—of sorts, the more likely outcome, although this depended on the fractured Islamist groups ability to share power or on the weaker groups bandwagoning with/and submitting to a dominant faction.


Scenario 5: Anarchy: A third possible pathway was fragmentation and deepened struggle for power. In this scenario, the regime might lose control of all or parts of Damascus, but, already considerably de-centralized and "militia-ized", it and its various local components would remain active in the power struggle and would retrench to more defensive Western parts of the country. Rival jihadi Islamists, including the two al-Qaida avatars, Nusra and IS, would fall on each other in a struggle for dominance. Localized warlords and militias would attempt to defend their own turf, with the PYD in Kurdish areas the most successful. Considerably increased refugees flows, ethnic cleansing and destruction would accompany the power struggle.


At the time of the conference, the preponderance of evidence and opinion could not be said to be behind any one of the scenarios. Mixes of several of them were also possible.

 

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