Commentators tell us that there is a palpable sense of relief in Damascus and in other parts of Syria in the wake of the Russia-US deal over Syria’s chemical weapons. The citizens of Damascus ? the world’s oldest, continuously inhabited city ? know that they will not be bombed for the time being.
The deal in brief will lead to the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014 to be supervised by the UN. Syria will become a party to the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which outlaws their production and use. If the deal is breached, the violation would be brought to the notice of the UN Security Council for action.
The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, hope that the deal will culminate in a conference that will bring together all the main actors in the Syrian conflict. An amicable solution will be sought guided to a large extent by the principles adopted at an earlier Geneva meeting.
For now, let us find out why a deal was struck, the dangers facing its implementation and the larger opportunities it presents.
For each of the actors involved in the conflict, the deal offers something. For the Bashar government, apart from staving off a powerful US led bombardment of Syria’s chemical weapons and military assets, the deal has in a sense temporarily preserved his position. For Iran, even a limited military strike against Bashar could unleash forces that would weaken his grip upon power and lead to the ouster of Iran’s closest ally in the Arab world. Equally important, eliminating chemical weapons is very much in consonance with Iran’s policy since it was a victim of chemical gas attacks 25 years ago. For Russia, the deal also helps to protect a longstanding ally with whom it has forged enduring military and security ties for decades.
How has the deal benefitted the Obama Administration? It saved Obama from ignominy since the majority of Americans are opposed to military action against Syria. His request for authorisation to strike Syria, according to analysts, would have been defeated in the House of Representatives. The Senate also appears to be divided on the issue.
If there is opposition to military action among legislators and the people, it is mainly because of the mess the US and its allies have created in Iraq and the grave uncertainty that prevails in Afghanistan. Simply put, they do not want another military adventure. Add to this, the gloom generated by an economy that is still in dire straits. After all, it is partly because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that US debts have shot through the roof, making it the world’s biggest debtor nation.
It is not just the American people who are reluctant to embark upon a military adventure. Parliament in Britain ? the US’s closest ally in Europe ? has voted against military action reflecting popular sentiment. The vast majority of French people are also opposed to war. So are the people in almost every other European state.
Prominent personalities have also spoken out against war. The most notable among them is Pope Francis, the Head of the Catholic Church, who has held a mass prayer meeting to urge world leaders to refrain from military action. His clarion call has had some impact upon US legislators and the general public. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who is almost always supportive of Washington, has on this occasion cautioned against the use of force.
It is also possible that given the monumental weaknesses in the range of opposition groups pitted against Bashar Al-Assad, the Obama Administration may have come to the conclusion that the military option could precipitate consequences that would eventually undermine US ? and Israeli ? interests. Not only are the armed rebels hopelessly fractured; the most potent among them is intimately linked to Al-Qaeda. The Jahbat Al- Nusra through its brutal, often barbaric acts of violence has instilled fear among the Syrian population and generated a great deal of uneasiness among the opposition’s foreign backers in Washington, London and Paris.
This is why all said and done the deal between the US and Russia on Syria’s chemical weapons may be a way out for the US and certain Western governments.
The implementation of the deal is however fraught with dangers. It is quite conceivable that the opposition which rejects the deal will try to sabotage it. Some factions among the armed rebels could employ chemical gases against the populace and then put the blame upon the Bashar government. It is believed that having failed to draw the US into a bombing spree against Bashar through the 21 August episode these rebels are now preparing another false flag operation ? this time against Israel ? in order to change the balance on the battle-ground in their favour. In this regard, it should be emphasised that there is increasing empirical evidence to show that 21 August was contrived and manipulated to suit the rebels’ diabolical agenda.
Elements within the Israeli establishment may be willing to collude with the rebels on this. For while Prime Minister Netanyahu has cautiously welcomed the move to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, he and others are still as determined as ever to break the Bashar- Hezbollah-Iran bond which they view as the greatest obstacle to Israel’s regional dominance. There are well-placed individuals in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, among other states in West Asia, who for different reasons are also disappointed that that there has been no US-led military action to bring down Bashar.
Pressure from these and other individuals and groups, especially if it is expressed through some dastardly incident, directed at Washington and other Western capitals could torpedo the Syria deal. There are after all influential lobbies in the US, linked to Zionist and Christian Zionist interests who may also want to push for the military option.
Peace activists in the West and elsewhere should be ever vigilant to their machinations.
If attempts to subvert the deal fail, and the deal holds, it may open up opportunities for peace that go far beyond the deal itself.
One, it may be possible to strengthen the people’s movement against war. If a war is averted over Syria, it would mean that the people of the world had played a major role in stopping a war. Seen in context, if in 2003, millions of people managed to de-legitimise the Iraq War ? it took place without UN authorisation ? then in 2013, “we the people” succeeded in preventing a war.
Two, the Syria deal also provides us with the opportunity to give meaning and substance to international law and international institutions. All nations without exception should act within the ambit of the law and through bodies like the UN. “Exceptionalism” has no legitimacy and should be rejected totally.
Three, chemical weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) should be eliminated completely from West Asia and North Africa (WANA) and the rest of the world. No nation in WANA should be exempted from observing this prohibition. Israel which has huge stocks of WMD, including nuclear weapons, should take the lead. Peace activists should make this ? the elimination of WMD from every nook and cranny of the earth ? their topmost agenda.
If all this begins to happen, the Syria deal may well emerge as a turning-point in history.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).