Whether or not the assassinations in Syria yesterday are the "beginning of the end" really all depends on which version of the story you believe.
As everyone who has followed the increasing violence in Syria must by now realize, both sides are happy to clutch at metaphorical straws and neither side shies away from making unsubstantiated claims. It's a question of trying to read between the lines to try and get at what may actually be the truth most of the time. And this becomes harder with each passing, chaotic event. There was an excellent Al Jazeera article entitled "Spin and Counter Spin in Syria" which is very well worth reading and another by Glenn Greenwald entitled "The Damascus Suicide Bombing" which raises some very interesting points and is also something I'd recommend.
What complicates the Syrian scenario further is that I think many of us are beginning to wonder just how many "sides" there actually are in this conflict.
Syria is not Egypt. It's certainly not Tunisia and, although it may have some similarities to Libya, the similarities do not stand up to too much scrutiny. In Syria, there is no clear, single oppositional voice with a cohesive power structure, there is a fragmented movement intent on removing Bashar Al-Assad and his cronies from power in order to bring their version of democracy to Syria. Much as I think we would all support these basic aims, I do wonder if any of us are clear any longer, on who exactly we are supporting?
We see Western Governments hinting that they may be willing to arm the opposition movement, perhaps they might be in discussions with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or the Syrian National Council (SNC), or the Syrian Patriotic Group, or the National Coordination Committee or any number of other people who are now involving themselves in the conflict. That's all very well and I sincerely hope that we are doing something more constructive than arguing with the inimitable Russia and the predictably obstinate China, about why they are making us all look bad. But, on the other hand, I'm not at all sure I want our Government arming "just anybody" who appears, at the moment, to be against the Regime and pro-democracy.
Surely we should have learned our lesson by now? If nothing else, history shows us in all its horrible glory, what happens when we arm people randomly or take sides in conflicts we haven't bothered to properly investigate. I don't want to re-hash the old Taliban argument, but we really can't carry on arming the current favorites in the hope that they won't turn out to be wolves in sheeps clothing further down the line. If we do, then we have only ourselves to blame when it all goes pear shaped.
Yesterday's events really seem to exemplify what is fast becoming a very worrying predicament for the West as it attempts to navigate its relationship with the Middle East.
So, getting back to yesterday...
The first reports of the 'bomb' attack on the Syrian cabinet meeting seemed clear enough : the FSA had somehow managed to plant some kind of improvised explosive device in a plant pot within the room. To be honest, that did seem to be a strike of extraordinary skill or luck, whichever way you looked at it, but it certainly did appear that finally we might be about to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
But,think about this. We were essentially being encouraged to applaud and support the blowing up of three people. Don't get me wrong, by all accounts these individuals were heinous tyrants who'd inflicted countless harms upon the Syrian people, but on the other hand, I'm not sure euphoria is necessarily the appropriate reaction for those of us watching from outside of Syria.
Slightly later in the day, I started to hear rather different versions of this story. Was it in fact an action by the opposition movement at all? The fact that the Regime were quite so quick to confirm the story was surprizing. This is a Regime not known for accuracy or its connection with reality, in the past they have mostly ignored and failed to report any news which reflects negatively upon them. And yet yesterday, they were reporting the bomb explosion within minutes of its occurrence. Curious to say the least.
Unless of course, it wasn't quite as straight forward as it had first seemed. There were very conflicting reports coming out of Syria by yesterday evening. No change there then, but some of these versions seemed to have a disturbing ring of truth about them and, if proven to have any validity, would certainly put a very different spin on the "the end of the Regime is near" story which we are currently being fed.
I think most of us have realized by now, that blood ties to dictatorships do not, in and of themselves, offer any particular safety or immunity! And therefore the fact that one of the individuals who was killed was Assad's brother-in-law seems irrelevant in the main. There are some stories coming out slowly but surely about defections. High profile defections. And, until now, such high profile side-switching has been noticeably absent from the Syrian conflict. There is certainly now an argument which runs along the lines of "the Syrian Regime did this themselves" as the three individuals targeted were (supposedly) planning to defect. On first glance, this just looks like yet more of the spin and counter-spin blarney that we've become used to, but having been involved with Syria for quite some time, I'm not entirely sure I would rule that possibility out. There is a rather unpleasant neatness about it. Not only did they rid themselves of potentially very damaging defectors, but they also provided themselves with a very reportable "terrorist plot" story which the Russians would be happy to support. You can take your pick of places who hinted at the above scenario but start with the liveblogs where the timeline of versions is easier to follow!
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I believe this. I suppose I'm just saying, I honestly have no idea what to believe! At one time I believed that some of the various news organizations worldwide, and some of the press agencies, had people on the ground and really did have some way of gauging the truth V fallacy of any given situation. But now I'm not so sure.
That, however, is just one alternative version of the story. That's before we even get to the one which suggests that the CIA planted the bomb in the cabinet room by way of assisting the opposition.
Point being : who knows? At least three of the apparent central players now seem to be dead. And, what seems reasonably clear is that it was an 'inside job' in as much as it appears that the 'bomb' (IED, or whatever it actually was) was planted by a security official who was inside the room. But, something which interests me far more is where is Bashar Al-Assad? Is he injured and in a hospital in Latakia? Did he get on a plane with his wife and flee the capital?, has his wife, Asma, fled to Russia? I must admit that, to me, the most likely of these stories is that he has holed himself up somewhere in Latakia which does seem to contain a fairly large number of Alawite residents who would, presumably, be more likely to protect him than other groups might be? Where is he? Now that interests me...
Today's predictable UN Security Council resolution vote really doesn't show anyone in a very good light to put it mildly. It makes us look picky if nothing else - picky in the way we 'choose' whom to support and assist and whom we do not. Let's face it, it wouldn't be the first time we'd decided to become militarily engaged without a UN resolution, would it? Most of the time we're happy enough to slate the United Nations and their seemingly useless and ineffective actions. Now, however, we are apparently being asked to blame the whole thing on Russia and China. If they would just play the game nicely, and vote in favor of our (or the UK's) resolutions, then obviously, we'd be in there like a shot, try and stop us. Um, hmm, maybe...
I actually don't think there is any enthusiasm from any Western Government to engage in any sort of military action in Syria. I further think it's probably the very last thing they want to do. But, obviously, we do like to be seen as the "democracy bringers" of the world and so in many ways, it's our good fortune that Russia and China are providing us with a neat little excuse to do very little other than to issue stern words, as if us giving a good old telling off and a fair bit of finger wagging is in some way going to make a dictator completely change course. I genuinely don't mean to make light of any of this abhorrent situation, but you take my point?
Without wishing to harp on yet again about Bahrain, it is salient to include it in this diary as it just helps to add color to the overall 'choosiness' of the West or, to put it another way, it serves to illustrate just how fickle we seem to be.
I've never understood the term "humanitarian war" - it seems like the most ridiculous phrase to me, oxymoronic and nonsensical.
I'm not sure it matters greatly which of the versions of any of these stories you believe, perhaps it only matters that we can establish "where we are" at any given point in time, maybe the background and lead-up to such events is not as important as we are led to believe. But, on the other hand, I do fear this all turning into some type of intractable situation which will allow Hezbollah and other interested parties to somehow involve themselves and create yet more chaos and confusion.
I, personally, do not think Assad is about unleash chemical or biological weapons but Syria does have them and, presumably, when this is all over, someone will take charge of them. I just worry about who that someone will be. It's bad enough when the Devil you know has control of such things, surely it could be worse if an unknown Devil was sitting atop the pile?
I do most sincerely hope we will soon see some amelioration of the situation in Syria. I don't feel confident that we will, but I hope we do. And, as to what happened yesterday, who knows? For every two people, there seem to be at least three opinions and I'm all out of crystal balls these days.
Sadly, it seems to me that Syria has fallen into the miasmic trap which we more usually see from Western Governments, you know, the one which proves the veracity of the old Aeschlyus axiom "in war, truth is the first casualty" The problem with this, for me anyway, is that I don't feel confident that anyone actually knows for sure who is doing what and, speaking purely personally, I don't feel over comfortable with where this leaves us or where it may lead in the future...