Despite the international community’s calls for an end to the unabated violence in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s military does not seem to be ceasing its large-scale operations across the country, sending a strong message to the world powers that the only one who has the right to address the Syrian issue is Assad.
The continuing crackdown, which has led to an increasing number of people being killed and villages and towns destroyed throughout the country, is explicit evidence that the Annan peace plan, which aimed to enforce a cease-fire in Syria, is truly dead and buried. In the heat of the 16-month-old crisis there were calls from different quarters of the Syrian opposition for military intervention by Arab and Western governments, including the establishment of a no-fly zone across all of Syria to protect civilians from President Assad’s forces. The largest of Syria’s opposition groups, the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Syrian tribal council, which consists of Arab and Turkmen leaders, have several times called on the international community to launch an international intervention in Syria with the hope that it will kick-start the defunct Annan peace process.
Even the commander of Syria’s main opposition forces urged Kofi Annan nearly a month ago to announce that his peace plan had failed. Such a call was made to free insurgents from obeying the terms of a cease-fire, thereby making it possible for them to re-launch attacks against the embattled Assad regime, a move the US believes would trigger a wider crisis in the Middle East.
The big moment came last Saturday when UN peace envoy Annan, an architect of a six-point international peace plan to end Syria’s 16-month-old crisis, acknowledged that the UN brokered peace plan to find a political solution to the escalating violence in Syria had failed. To salvage his wavering peace plan, Annan resorted to Iran as a remedy, noting that more attention needed to be paid to the role of the loyal Syrian ally, saying Tehran “should be part of the solution.”
If there is to be a peace formula, there has to be a new peace broker in the Syrian crisis, which Annan believes should be Iran, among other regional powers, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
Despite the fact that world powers have rejected the idea of Iran playing a role in the solution to the crisis in Syria, Annan insisted that the regional heavyweight should play a part, and headed to Tehran late on Monday for talks. Picking up Iran out of other regional countries in order to breathe new life into his moribund peace efforts in Syria should not be bewildering.
Özgür Tüfekçi, a Middle East analyst and a chairman at the Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis (CESRAN) headquartered in the UK, said in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman that it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to help the West topple Assad. “Annan’s plan only aims to stop fighting, nothing more,” Tüfekçi said, adding that the former UN secretary-general is trying to rescue his six-point peace plan by getting Iran involved in the peace process.
Annan’s peace plan for Syria, which he termed a failure on July 7, called for a cease-fire and the withdrawal of troops, which are crushing opposition groups in the country, but did not require President Assad to step aside.
Iran has steadfastly supported Syria, its unexpected ally in the Arab world. Annan’s calls for Iran to be “part of the solution” are in tune with Tehran’s thirst for broader influence in the region. Iran considers the removal of Assad, which the West and Arab countries are calling for, as a major blow to its regional ambitions as well as a radical change in the regional balance of power in favor of Israel, its arch-enemy. For this reason, Iran has kept up its strong support for the Assad regime since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011 by providing military and political backing.
Annan did not specify Iran’s role in resolving the crisis, nor did Tehran announce what Iran might do to help stop the violence. Wanting to believe that the rescue plan of the peace plan will work, Tüfekçi says the new phase shows that the international community’s efforts to keep the regional powers from participating in the plan are no longer valid.
“The West has realized that it does not seem rational to soothe tensions without the involvement of regional powers such as Iran,” Tüfekçi said.
Until now, Western and Arab powers together sought ways to support the Syrian opposition against President Assad and to keep Iran, Syria’s longtime ally in the region, out of the conflict resolution process. What Annan is attempting to establish is a contact group that would bring together the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France -- and key regional players with influence over Syria’s government and the opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran.
However, Hasan Kösebalaban, an expert on the Middle East and a professor of international relations in İstanbul Şehir University who mainly focuses on Turkish foreign policy, believes that Tehran might play a constructive role towards peace in Syria only if it could win a seat at the table among international powers involved in negotiations to solve the crisis.
“While international negotiations have been tried before, they have failed. The second phase of the Annan plan is also going to fail due to the Iranian and Russian denial of the facts on the ground,” said Kösebalaban, adding, “From the beginning, Russia and Iran have denied the fact that there is a repressive dictatorship against which we [pro-uprising groups, Turkey and the Western world] have a genuine uprising in Syria.”
Russia, which supports Annan’s call for Iran to participate in the peace process, has, together with China and Iran, insisted from the very beginning that all of the trouble in Syria was provoked by international powers and stress that the embattled Assad regime should remain in power.