Coexisting with the Volcano

Coexisting with the Volcano

Ghassan Charbel |

Nothing suggests that the Syrian volcano is heading towards subsiding. Many indications suggest we have not yet seen the cruelest and most terrifying of its chapters. The Syrian volcano spews lava every day at home and beyond. It spews daily about 150 corpses, and thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring countries. And it crushes families, neighborhoods and villages on a daily basis.

The Syrian volcano is causing additional losses to the economy and the infrastructure, and has doubled the number of Syrians living below the poverty line, as well as the horror line. Each day, this volcano spews poison that reinforces confrontation between sects and communities, and promotes feelings in favor of divorce and talk about smaller maps.

The Syrian tragedy raises many difficult and thorny questions for the observers following it. Is it true, for example, that Russia is the primary supporter of the Syrian regime, or is Iran the foremost player in Syria? True, Russia has protected the regime from an international resolution that would have condemned it or authorized intervention against it, but ultimately, Russia can live without Syria and without the naval base in Tartus.

One can go even further. Russia can lose in Syria without this having to be a devastating or fatal loss. Perhaps it can receive something in return if it agrees to lose on the Syrian arena. In the meantime, Russia is coexisting with the volcano and has been supplying it with the means of survival, as it sees that this helps exhaust those wishing to overthrow the Syrian regime, both at home and abroad.

By contrast, Iran does not seem capable of tolerating a loss in Syria. The conflict in Syria has taken a major position along the Sunni - Shia fault line in the region. Losing the Syrian base means that Iran would lose the battle of the major regional role. Losing Syria would reduce the magnitude of Iranian gains in Iraq. It would also reduce the magnitude of Iranian gains in Lebanon.

These losses would send a message that Iran has caved to the burdens of its regional dreams, just like the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its costly external commitments. For this reason, Iran seems like it is defending in Syria its image, its alliances, and its interests in a battle of life or death. To be sure, contiguity among the parts of the Crescent of Resistance represents Iran’s grand scheme, which is more important and vital than its nuclear program that can be postponed or frozen.

If it will not be enough for the United States to make a deal with Russia, then are the conditions ripe for a deal with Iran? Is the U.S. willing to reward Iran? If so, then how and where? Are the internal conditions of Iran mature for a deal of this kind? Nothing suggests that such a deal is easy or possible in the near future.

Iran has a vital interest in preventing the fall of the regime. It is defending itself and its program on Syrian soil. For this reason, it will spare no means to ensure the continuation of the volcano.

In parallel with the external scene, the domestic scene is equally grim. Nothing suggests that the Syrian regime will be able to re-impose its authority over the entire territory of Syria. Nothing in turn suggests that the opposition is capable in its current situation to settle the conflict militarily. At the same time, it is hard to imagine a dialogue under the regime’s umbrella, after all the losses that have occurred.

The elements of the scene are thus complete: Syria is likely to live longer amid the lava of the volcano. The neighboring countries are compelled to coexist with the continuation of the eruption. It's a long and destructive battle of attrition.

The countries that are eager to overthrow the regime also do not want to see Syria in the grip of bloody chaos and see al-Qaeda holed up in Syrian cities or villages. There are also those who do not seem to mind exhausting the regime and its allies, and the wandering fighters as well.

Neither an internal solution is possible, nor is putting out the volcano from outside. We are in the midst of a war of attrition. We are at the stage of coexistence with the volcano. It will take new graves at home. It will take new tents abroad.

Yet the rules of the game can be changed if chemical weapons fell into the hands of extremists or rockets were rained down on Israel.