If the military key to the Syrian crisis is not to be found in Russia, at least the diplomatic one is. And if Moscow is the diplomatic key, it is a most jammed one. The West cannot remain indifferent to the sickening massacre in Houla last weekend, where 108 people, including 49 children, were murdered. Since the West is doing nothing militarily against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he decided to take advantage of the diplomatic track.
Europe sharpened its tone against Assad's regime on Tuesday and expelled Assad's ambassadors. France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Switzerland, Japan and Italy decided to take this significant action, while Canada and Australia joined the coordinated European move as they waited for the reaction of the U.S., which once again found itself compelled to join the bandwagon, as was the case with Libya.
This doesn't mean there will soon be a complete cessation of diplomatic ties with the Syrian regime in the near future, but it could certainly be a first step down that road. It is difficult to imagine any Western leader continuing to work with Assad, if he survives in power. At this point, the West's greatest challenge is to get Moscow to join the anti-Assad coalition. Russia has its own interests in the region. Syria is today perhaps the last bastion of the former Soviets' influence in the Middle East. But since the massacre in Houla, even Putin's Russia is finding itself with its back against the wall. The day Russia joins the coalition that was forged on Tuesday, Assad will quickly pack his bags and move, perhaps to Russia or Tehran. At that point, even Jerusalem would be safer for him than Damascus.
Just like former French President Nicolas Sarkozy took the Libyan case upon himself, newly-elected President Francois Hollande has jumped at the opportunity to take the Syrian case upon himself. Hollande, who is considered inexperienced in international relations, was the first to personally announce the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador, as well as a conference of "Friends of Syria" to take place in Paris at the beginning of July. Berlin, via the DPA news agency, was the second country to announce the expulsion of Syrian diplomats. German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the honor to Europe's new student, Hollande.
It has always been said since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in the city of Dara in the middle of March 2011, that the crisis will reach a turning point when either massive amounts of government troops defect to the opposition or a horrific massacre ends the world's indifference. We have already seen both, defections and shocking murders in Homs. They both had no effect. Thanks to Russia and China, the U.N. Security Council failed to pass two resolutions condemning the Syrian regime, and a six-point plan presented by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan, which may have been a lifesaver for Assad, was rejected.
This Syrian regime belongs to a different generation. In this tyrannical regime, sons resemble their fathers, and Bashar al-Assad has not let his family name down. The massacre in Houla was one too many. In cafes throughout Paris, Berlin, Sydney and Madrid, people found it difficult to digest their morning coffee while viewing photos of butchered children. An initial investigation by the U.N. on Tuesday stated that most of the citizens who died in Houla were executed at close range. But Damascus has tried to distance itself from the massacre and even Russia is finding it hard to believe.
On Tuesday, the newly-appointed French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, called Assad a "murderer of his own people," and said "he needs to step down as soon as possible."
We are not there yet. Assad still has an army, he still has his capital Damascus, and he still has the support of some of his citizens. In addition, the Syrian opposition is divided and even Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who support arming a Syrian opposition, do not support the opposition groups that have risen up against Assad.
As long as the Syrian opposition remains divided, as long as the West does not materially aid the rebels, and primarily as long as Moscow continues to reject the tears of Syrian citizens, Assad will not pack his bags.