The Saudis, led by prince Bandar, seems to be doing a really great job trying to break up the HISH Alliance. They are doing this by engaging both the weakest and strongest links in the Alliance. Indeed, and rather than trying to wean the proven hopeless Assads off of their dependence on Iran and Hezbollah, as the pro-engagement crowd in the US was want to do, the Saudis went straight to the source, to the puppet-masters themselves, and showed them the wisdom of divesting themselves from the pesky and troublemaking Assads. In the meantime, they managed to sponsor an important summit in Mecca in which they sponsored a deal between the warring factions in Gaza, and reestablished their patronage over the weakest link in the Alliance – Hamas.
Net results, the Assads are once again isolated, and the region might have taken the first real steps towards a compromise that can help most parties involved avert a disastrous and unnecessary showdown.
This is at least the scenario that seems to be unfolding these days, according to the reading of some observers. In truth, however, it is indeed still too early in the day to celebrate and uncork those champagne bottles. This is not a done deal by far, and there are still plenty of opportunities to sabotage the whole thing.
Moreover, the scenario itself does seem to call for some kind of a showdown with the Assads, who seem to be the ultimate losers here. Such a showdown, even if limited, is not going to be a rosy affair. Let’s briefly explore some of the potential problems that might still lie ahead. First, just like Ali Khamenei said in his recent meeting with Bashar, the alliance between Syria and Iran is well-nigh three decades old and will prove enduring.
As such, the two sides might be staling for time while quietly writing an alternate scenario more suitable to their needs, interests and desires. So, we should just wait and see how things might progress over the next few weeks. Even should Hezbollah and the March 14 Movement come to an understanding that ends up increasing Shia representation in the government and approving the establishment of the Hariri Tribunal, the adventurous Assads might still have enough wiggling room here to survive.
For instance, considering the possibility that the Tribunal might fail to name people like Assef and Maher, the Assads might have the option to stage a failed coup against their villainous selves in which all the chief suspects, other than themselves, end up getting killed (seeing that having these people commit suicide would prove quite the hard sell at this stage). The Assads will find themselves in a bit of a pickle, however, should the Tribunal end up casting any doubts or aspersions on any one of them.
Rather than risking this, the Assads might be willing to risk it all in Lebanon before the Tribunal is approved by continuing to try to inflame the situation, the will and wishes of the Iranians and even Hezbollah notwithstanding. After all, they still have other willing allies and clients in Lebanon, ones which they seem able to mobilize at will (the Syrian Social National Party, radical Palestinian groups, small Islamist movements and cells, notto mention some Shia groups as well, perhaps even factions within Hezbollah).
If this should happen, the Saudi-Iranian deal could falter, that is, unless it get reworked somehow in order to allow for some jointly-sanctioned action to take place against the Assads – a pretty complicated feat to accomplish even for the likes of Bandar. But it could happen.
In all cases, don’t expect the Assads to go down without a fight, and the "rosy" scenario with which we are presented is not likely to unfold as smoothly as some might think or wish. A final problem is the fact that the Israelis, as one can detect from Jackson Diehl’s op-ed in the Washington Post,* may not be happy with the Mecca Accord and might attempt to rally US support to their position, which would, as usual, create enough complications to allow for the entire Saudi-Iranian deal to fall apart with all the disastrous consequences that this could bring.
* “Bush administration policy has been to strengthen Abbas at Hamas's expense; the accord undercut that approach and all but ruined Rice's plan to begin developing a "political horizon" at a meeting with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today. Washington tried to set a couple of red lines for the Mecca talks: Hamas, it said, should be forced to accept international demands that it renounce violence and recognize Israel; and its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, should not lead the new Palestinian cabinet. Bandar disregarded both.”