x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Despite Assad’s assertions, civil war is not over

Regardless of what the Assad regime says, the revolution in Syria is far from finished. That isn't necessarily a positive outcome.

Mere weeks ago, Hizbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah told a Lebanese newspaper that the war in Syria was over. “The phase of bringing down the regime is over,” he opined. Iranian politicians echoed this line. Bashar Al Assad himself, always confident of victory even as cities under his control fell, rehashed that line and his regime portrayed the rebel retreat from Homs as the end of the revolution.

It must therefore be of some surprise in Tehran, in the Dahiyeh of Beirut and in the presidential palace of Damascus that the rebels are still fighting, still winning (albeit small) victories and are still committed to ending the rule of Mr Al Assad.

The latest in this psychological and military campaign came this weekend in Deraa in the south, the birthplace of the revolution, where regime forces dropped leaflets telling rebels they had a “last chance” to surrender or they would be wiped out. The rebels replied with a mortar strike that killed regime supporters.

Every death on every side is mourned. But the fact is that the war in Syria is far from over. That, in one way, is positive. The Assad regime has long lost legitimacy. Its campaign of murder, torture and rape across the past three years means that Syria can never return to the old status quo of living under a stifling regime. The rebels, at the beginning, sought only to rid themselves of that oppression, first by peaceful protests and later, when they faced the wrath of the Assad military, by force of arms. That the rebellion continues, even in the face of overwhelming air superiority and the shocking indifference of the international community, is positive.

And yet it is impossible to glorify war. The civil war now raging has brought devastation to most of Syria. Some of the regime supporters killed in the mortar strike in Deraa were civilians. That they should die merely so that the brutal regime continues is profoundly sad.

The Assad regime bears the majority of the blame for turning a beautiful country into a war zone. But there is much blame to go around. The Washington Post asked the question squarely: “Why did we allow Syria to become a hell on Earth?” That is true. Inaction by the United States has allowed Mr Al Assad to gain the upper hand. It is only because of the tenacity of the rebels that there is still a revolution to speak of.

Syria is already a hell on Earth. The only question now is how long must it remain so before the international community involves itself in a meaningful way?