Of Fissures and Cracks

The famous poster artists from Kafranbel depict what they hope for from Obama concerning Bashar al-Assad
Teaser Image Caption
The famous poster artists from Kafranbel depict what they hope for from Obama concerning Bashar al-Assad
A lot is in motion nowadays: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani tweeted the international community should “use all its might” in order to prevent the use of chemical weapons worldwide and particularly in Syria. Last Sunday, former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani allocated the responsibility for the attack with the Syrian government, saying: “On the one hand the people of Syria are the target of a chemical attack, and now they must also wait for an attack by foreigners”. The parastatal Iranian news agency soon afterwards published a more neutral version online.

In addition, the relationship between Moscow and Damascus seems not to be rosy. Russia declared it would abstain from the initially announced delivery of an elaborate air defence system for the time being while referring to outstanding payments from Damascus.

Whilst, initially, the Syrian regime acted as if nothing unusual had happened in Ghouta, Russia spoke of the use of chemical weapons from the very beginning, however, accusing the rebels of being responsible. Such little coordination between the politics of the Russian and the Syrian government suggests there might be ruptures in their alliance.

Facing these fissures we see apparently erratic politics on behalf of declared opponents of the Assad regime. During the first days following the chemical weapon attack, the USA and Great Britain urged for a military strike so hastily that it seemed they did not even want to await the results of the investigation of the UN inspectors. However, they had barely left Syria when the winds turned. British prime minister David Cameron failed to receive a majority for a military strike in the parliament. US president Obama declared wanting the congress to decide after all. And that will not happen before September 9th. These turnarounds are not easily understood. It seems convenient to push ahead that far at first, just in order to backtrack shortly after.

What, from an outward perspective, could negatively be picked up as political awkwardness, or, in a more positive manner, as a subsequent recollection of democratic legitimation, has a massive impact on the region: air strike opponents and supporters are united in their fear of attacks and the associated imponderabilities. A massive wave of refugees from Syria to Lebanon multiplied the number of refugees overnight. In turn, the airport in Beirut was overcrowded by those leaving Lebanon, fearing the expected consequences. The Syrian regime hurried to clear military bases and potential targets and allocated its soldiers in residential districts and civil institutions whilst – according to numerous reports – it moved other captives to military airports. A short period of breathing time from air strikes occurred; Syrian opposition members regained fresh hope. As soon as it became clear that nothing would change acutely, the regime resumed their attacks with undiminished ferocity. The Syrian al-Douniya TV station vociferously heralded that two American war vessels and three British fighter jets deserted from fear of the Syrian forces.

The announcement abated the hope for foreign help amongst Syrian opposition members. Many believe that deferred in this case means rescinded, and that their fear that the Syrian regime will get away with everything will prove true in the end.

However, concerns over the consequences of an intervention – and a non-intervention – also depress the mood in Lebanon. During the last few weeks, various attacks shook the country. Different to former attacks which were aimed precisely at one person, recent attacks seem to have been aimed at targeting highest possible casualty figures – one in a mainly Shiite quarter in Beirut, two in front of Sunni mosques in Tripoli. The wire pullers of the latter attacks have been determined – along with a trace evidently leading to the Syrian regime.


First published on August 1 on Heinrich von Arabien.
Translated from the German by Christine F.G. Kollmar

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About the Author

Dr. Bente Scheller is director of the hbs Middle East office in Beirut. She specializes in foreign and security policy and holds a PhD of Free University of Berlin on Syria. Before coming to Beirut in 2012, she was head of hbs' Afghanistan office in Kabul.