Lakhdar Brahimi, the new United Nations and Arab League Envoy, has begun to explore ways to end the conflict in Syria, where intense fighting prevails between government forces and the armed opposition — whose ranks are being bolstered by al-Qaeda elements.
Mr. Brahimi arrived on Sunday in Cairo, the headquarters of the Arab League. After consultations with member countries, he will head for Syria, said the envoy’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi. Mr. Brahimi is then expected to travel to Iran — a close ally of Syria and deeply influential in neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon.
Kofi Annan, Mr. Brahimi’s predecessor, had also visited Tehran but western powers led by the United States had rejected the former envoy’s advocacy of engaging Iran to impart a sense of realism in efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis.
In a telephonic conversation, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Mr. Brahimi that Iran supported resolution of the conflict through an intra-Syrian dialogue — a view it shares with Russia and China. An internally-driven solution was a core component of the six-point Annan peace plan, which Mr. Brahimi might seek to revive.
Mr. Brahimi faces an uphill task as the polarisation between the Syrian government and the opposition appears to be peaking on account of the rapid inflow into the opposition’s ranks of al-Qaeda and affiliate elements. Reuters quoted Jacques Beres — co-founder of charity Doctors without Borders — as saying that foreign jihadists appeared to “have swollen the ranks of rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad”.
The report noted that during “his previous visits to Syria — in March and in May — [Dr.] Beres said he had dismissed suggestions the rebels were dominated by Islamist fighters but he said he had now been forced to reassess the situation”.
The 71-year old surgeon who spent two weeks treating the wounded in the battle-torn city of Aleppo also came to another astounding conclusion: the purpose of the jihadi groups in Syria was not just to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad, but to establish an Islamic state as part of a larger global project.
“It’s really something strange to see,” said Dr. Beres. “They [the rebels] are directly saying that they aren’t interested in Bashar al-Assad’s fall, but are thinking about how to take power afterwards and set up an Islamic state with sharia law to become part of the world Emirate.”
Significantly, the growing clout of al-Qaeda — always a trigger for evoking memories of the 9/11 disaster — has become an argument for a deeper and a more intense American involvement in Syria. The Associated Press reported that the Americans were bolstering their presence at Syria’s Turkish border, “sending more spies and diplomats to help advise the rebel forces in their mismatched fight against the better armed Syrian regime, and to watch for possible al-Qaeda infiltration of rebel ranks”.
The report pointed out that the flow of intelligence resulting from this exercise “is intended to help the White House decide whether its current policy of providing only non-lethal aid is enough to keep momentum building in the nearly 18-month revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad”.
The highly personalised campaign of the United States to topple Mr. Assad became apparent yet again in remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She warned during her visit to Russia that if differences over Syria between Washington and Moscow persisted “then we will work with like-minded states to support a Syrian opposition to hasten the day when [Mr.] Assad falls and to help prepare Syria for a democratic future and help it get back on its feet”.
However, instead of advocating “regime change”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov exhorted “all external players use their influence to put all Syrians behind the negotiation table”.