Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No hope until Assad falls

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

The presence of "Free Syria" flags at Wissam al-Hassan's funeral on Sunday was no coincidence (AP)
On the streets of Tariq Jadideh Monday, only one flag challenged the prominence of the Future Movement’s blue-and-white sunrise emblem: the green, white, black and red stars and stripes of “Free Syria”. The intermittent gun battles that resumed here and, more violently, in Tripoli over the weekend are often described as “sectarian”. They are sectarian – “We are Sunnis and they are Alawites […] Yes, it’s all sectarian,” was how a Tripoli fighter put it to NOW’s Ana Maria Luca in August – but, as the flags illustrate, inseparable from and intrinsic to this religious battle is the political one underway in Syria.

This is true not just figuratively but literally. Having cut their teeth fighting the Alawites of Jabal Mohsen, some Sunnis in Tripoli have graduated to taking on Bashar al-Assad’s forces alongside the Free Syria Army in Homs and Qusayr. To call this “spillover” is to miss the point that the two battles are one and the same for them – not least because they’re firmly convinced that Jabal Mohsen’s militants (along with Hezbollah’s) are also in Syria, fighting for the other side.

The Lebanese army has done a good job of quelling the bloodshed for the moment, but there is no hope of a lasting truce as long as the Syrian war is in stalemate. Lebanon’s pro- and anti-Assad militiamen kill each other because they both truly believe history is on their side. Why make peace when you know you’re going to win?

One of two things has to happen, then, before any kind of negotiation or deal between the factions becomes thinkable: the Free Syria Army surrenders or is utterly exterminated; or the Assad regime is defeated. The first is all but impossible. If Lebanon’s leaders wish to stave off the second with the (incidentally failed) policy of “dissociation”, that’s their prerogative, but we might at least stop saying that delaying the inevitable is a safeguard of “stability”. Friday’s tragedy, if nothing else, should have taught us that much.

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