No political solution possible in Syria

Amid fresh reports of systemic war crimes and crimes against humanity, another push is being made to find a political solution to the Syrian Civil War.

Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, beganconsultations with regime and rebel representatives in Geneva this week as a prelude to mooted peace talks.

Notwithstanding these admirable ambitions, the grim reality is that Syria’s vicious civil war requires a military solution. The Assad regime still sees the Syrian conflict as an existential struggle that it cannot afford to lose, and it continues to receive moral and material support from Russia, Hezbollah and Iran to conduct this open-ended war.

Meanwhile, the prospects of rebel forces have been buoyed by recent victories in Idlib Governorate and ongoing financial and military assistance from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. Given this willingness to fight on indefinitely, as well as committed external support, it is naïve to expect either the rebels or the regime to reach a negotiated settlement.

Understandably, proscribed terrorist groups like Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra — al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate — have been excluded from the UN consultations. Yet this just further highlights how unrealistic a political solution really is.

With as many as hundreds of thousands of determined fighters and vast swathes of Syria’s east and north under their command, these terrorist groups would ensure Syria’s civil war raged on even if Assad regime and non-radical rebel representatives reached a negotiated settlement.

Instead of the quixotic search for a political solution, the international community’s Syria strategy should therefore be to decisively defeat Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra on the battlefield and force the Assad regime to sue for an end to the conflict by pushing it to the brink of total collapse.