The phone call between President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani ended more than 30 years of no official communication between leaders of the two states. It was described as a historic step but in practice it means that the US has “sold” its Arab allies for Iran and left them to face an unknown future.
The most likely scenario will be the near-inevitable surrender to Iran as a regional super power on both the military and political level.
Another harsh blow was the UN Security Council’s resolution, issued early on Saturday morning, which urged the Syrian regime to cooperate with the international inspection teams; work will begin on Tuesday to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons. This resolution is based on Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of force if the regime does not comply with the resolution but it will require another Security Council meeting to punish the Syrian regime and impose sanctions if it does not follow through on its obligations. However, a double veto by the Chinese and Russians will prevent this, meaning that the Syrian regime will score another point against its opponents, and Russia will have proven that it protects its allies.
What many Arab analysts have not discussed was the section in the resolution that called for the Arab countries to stop all military aid to the Syrian opposition and to adopt a political solution for Syria, as well as supporting such a solution in every way. This is a great achievement for the Assad regime in Damascus, served-up by its Russian ally on a gold platter.
The billions that the Gulf States (specifically Qatar and Saudi Arabia) pumped into overthrowing Assad by supporting and arming the opposition have been spent in vain, as it is clear that the US administration has not only abandoned these countries but also the Syrian opposition coalition to the mercies of the regime. It is now planning to impose a political settlement on the resistance and form units to fight the Jihadists and Islamists. I even heard with my own ears the representative of the Free Syrian Army say explicitly that it will be dismantled sooner or later.
The remarkable succession of blows against the coalition from every side leads me to believe that there is a plan to get rid of it after its role has been fulfilled. It is not enough that its president, Ahmed Jarba sat in the audience at the UN General Assembly, while his predecessor, Moaz al-Khatib, received a hero’s welcome at the most recent Arab summit in Doha; there were also statements made from fighting Syrian groups stating that they will refuse to recognise him as the representative or spokesperson for the opposition if a second Geneva Conference is held.
I was surprised when I participated in the Hadeeth Al-sa’a programme on BBC Arabic on Saturday afternoon. The Free Syrian Army spokesman, Brigadier General Hossam El Din, announced from Cairo that the army does not recognise the mentioned coalition because it failed to achieve any of its goals, and has nothing at all to do with the fighting groups on the ground. He went even further by accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of controlling the coalition, as well as its executive committee. To make matters worse, Khaled Nasser, the coalition spokesman, who was the third participant on the show, tried very hard to defend his coalition and denied the presence of differences in its ranks and any control by the Brotherhood. However, he did admit that the most recent meeting of the coalition leadership at an Istanbul hotel faced many disputes regarding the increase in seats held by the Kurds to 14, the recognition of their national identity, and their demand to remove the word “Arab” from the Syrian Arab Republic’s name. Mr Nasser also said that he was one of those opposed to these concessions, which I thought was quite courageous of him.
The National Syrian Coalition is thus in its death throes, especially after 17 Islamic factions, most notably Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and Al-Tawhid Brigade, issued a statement withdrawing their recognition of the group as a representative of the opposition; the Free Syrian Army did the same, but in a separate statement. This means that this coalition can no longer claim to be the sole representative of the Syrian opposition; should it have a seat at the second Geneva conference that Ban Ki -Moon confirmed will be held in mid-November under the auspices of Russia and the United States?
In any case, I do not believe that this conference, which has been postponed numerous times, will be held on its scheduled date because the Syrian opposition is fragmented and its internal disputes outnumber those with the regime. In addition, if its supporters tried to settle its differences and unify under the umbrella of the coalition, it would be a hard and near impossible task that will take more than the month and a half before the conference is scheduled to begin.
Moreover, how can this conference reach the binding political settlement needed by Syria while over half of the groups fighting the regime on the ground, i.e. the Jihadist groups, do not recognise Geneva, and while the two sponsors have a mutual goal of dismantling these groups based on the argument that their existence is more dangerous than the regime itself. Furthermore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this mutual goal shared by the two countries is what flipped the Syrian crisis equation.
It is important to note that the Arab-Turkish alliance that has been supporting the National Syrian Coalition for the past two and a half years was not even consulted about any of this. It has had to watch the US and Russian horse trading and the start of a US-Iran honeymoon period.
The US and British navies crowding the waters of the Arabian Gulf do not seem to worry the Iranians, but they do worry the Arabs who have spent over $130 billion on weapons to face the Iranian threat. As for Iran, it has depended on itself and its own arsenal; it announces every couple of months that it has produced new weapons, the most recent of which is a drone able to carry 4 missiles at once.
Don’t these Iranian and Syrian developments warrant an Arab, or even Gulf summit? There has to be a unified strategy which acknowledges the failure of the strategy followed over the past two years, both politically and in the media. The Arab states also need to recognise that they have been sold out by the Americans.
Those in the Gulf States have some serious questions to answer.
The author is a former editor-in-chief of Al Quds Al Arabi Newspaper, London
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.