The wanton slaughter by Syrian forces of 92 confirmed victims, 32 of them children under ten, at the Homs village of Al-Houla Friday, May 25, was the most horrifying atrocity in the Middle East this week, but not the only one: In Sanaa, six days ago, al Qaeda’s suicide bombers, having penetrated Yemeni military ranks, detonated two tons of explosives at a parade rehearsal killing more than 100 soldiers and civilians and injuring 400.
Yet, according to the New York Times, after 15 months of bloodshed, President Barack Obama is working on the Yemenbi model for a plan to push Bashar Assad out of office, while “leaving remnants of his government in place. The Yemeni model replaced President Ali Abdullah in Sanaa with his vice president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Whereas US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Assad and his “cronies” for the al-Houla massacre, the “Yemen plan” would leave in place those very “cronies,” including Assad’s close relatives, who are responsible for massacres not only in al-Houla, but also in Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa, to name a few.
According to the NYT, when Obama tested the idea with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the Group-of-8 summit in Camp David last Saturday, May 19, the Russian prime minister raised the example of “Mubarak in a cage,” referring to Mubarak’s court appearance at his trial. Obama then “countered with Yemen, and the indication was, yes, this was something we could talk about.”
This scrap of dialogue lifted the veil from a key aspect of Obama’s broader Middle East program and the role he has assigned Moscow for carrying it through. This role was first revealed exclusively by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 542 of May 25 which reported that the US president is acting to bring the Russians into a partnership for securing deals on the Iranian nuclear program and the Syrian crisis.
So far, his venture has had two results:
1. The Iranian nuclear impasse and the outcome of the Syrian civil war have been more tightly integrated than ever before.
2. Any deal reached by the US, Russia and Iran on the two issues would have to entail a carving-up of Middle East influence among those three powers.
As for Israel’s role in the ongoing bargaining, we also disclosed in debkafile of May 19 that Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak had agreed to stand back for Barack Obama to put his interim deal with Iran to the test. Despite their reservations, they decided to go along with it after receiving assurances from the White House that Iranian violations would result in the immediate termination of negotiations and bring military action forward as the sole remaining option for stopping a nuclear Iran.
The US president promised to put his accord with Israel before the G-8 summit. And he did.
But for now there is no deal although Israel, in effect, gave Obama six months’ grace to explore his diplomatic initiative with Vladimir Putin and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before turning back to the military option.
But as the days pass, major hurdles are piling up in the path of what some observers hail as Obama’s “Grand Bargain,” and others his “Grand Failure:” The Six-power talks with Iran have failed to persuade the ayatollahs to give up uranium enrichment up to weapons-grade; the world wants actions not words to halt the brutal massacres in Syria; rising bloodshed in Yemen continues to cripple the country. Obama’s hopes of a crisis-free six months for electioneering in peace look more and more like pipe-dreams.
The bargaining with Tehran is likely to stay stalled because Iran’s leaders take Obama’s deal with Israel as a six-month respite from a military threat. So why should they hurry in May or even June to reach a compromise with America on its demand to stop 20 percent uranium enrichment?
Bashar Assad and his army chiefs likewise feel US hands are tied by Obama's hopes of a breakthrough with Iran and they can safely carry on with their “unspeakable crimes” for the next six months under the Iranian-Russian umbrella. Words however strong will not discourage him from sending tanks to crush every last opponent and their children.
And Israel, seeing the US president lurching from one bargaining position to another to keep his initiative afloat, shifts uncertainly in and out of its unwritten commitment to withhold military action against Iran until November.
None of the parties involved in granting Obama his six-month grace period, whether Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei, Binyamin Netanyahu or Bashar Assad, can be sure that he will in fact be returned to the Whie House in November. And even if he is, how much will be left of his Grand Bargain.