The withdrawal of some key Arab ambassadors from Damascus and the sharp reaction by the spokesperson of the Syrian government, the redoubtable Buthaina Shaaban, to friendly advice from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Arab-Muslim states is a moment of great sadness. It may also be the tipping point in the five-month-old struggle in Syria as it makes it easier for the United States to end its relative restraint and call for President Bashar Al Assad to step down and thus make the calculus even more complex. The strategic location of Syria, its crucial role in the Arab-Israel contention, its friendly ties with Iran and its links with Hezbollah all decree that the country should not lapse into either a civil war or a denouement of uncertainty in which the regime perishes, leaving a huge void behind. For this reason, even the US-led West that has no love lost for the Baathist regime allied to Iran has resisted calls for more explicit intervention. The United States has imposed some sanctions but its advice to Europe to extend them into the oil and gas sector has not been immediately taken. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has renewed this demand and also asked India and China to leverage their investments in Syria to put pressure on the regime. Turkey, a major trading partner and an 'engage state in dealing with Israel, is still weighing the pros and cons of abandoning the Damascus regime. The growing alienation of member states of the Arab League could have implications that Al Assad has not carefully calculated. If the Syrian conflict is a mixture of long-standing internal tensions and the new dynamics emerging from a kinetic western bid to establish a grip on the changing Arab world, the outside forces would be better placed to exploit the Syrian uprising to their advantage at Arab expense. We have known since the Peloponnesian wars that misperceptions play an important role in igniting, fuelling and prolonging the flames of conflict. The sustained American hostility to Syria would have created a psychosis of fear in Damascus, especially after the western intervention in Libya, that Syria was just another domino that Washington wanted to fall. The national security state that the powerful Alawite leaders of the Syrian Baath party have maintained for three decades has obviously assumed that behind the protests of the civil society and intelligentsia lurks the threat of 'extremist Sunnis who have bitter memories of the regime. Libya, the regime reckons, demonstrated that the West has no hesitation to use Islamists instrumentally in pursuing a strategic objective like eliminating Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Syrias own spring of a thousand blossoms ushered in by the accession of Al Assad to power has already ended in a melancholy autumn. If the West had backed the Arab plan for the settlement of the Palestinian question and persuaded Israel to trade off the occupied Golan Heights for peace, the hardliners around Al Assad would not have snuffed out the free debates of 2000. ESCALATION Damascus has also been an evident victim of miscalculation. It has continued to believe that it can get away with the use of force as it did in Hama in 1982. In the dramatic events in the Arab world since January 2011, it has become increasingly clear that the future dispensations would have to be more inclusive and that a modus vivendi with the Muslim Brotherhood and its moderate offshoots would have to be found. The Syrian regime keeps talking of 'Salafist insurgents, but in actual practice it has come down on Sunni protesters of much lighter shade for demanding reforms visualised in 2000-01. Fortunately for Syria and the entire Muslim world, the issues in Syria are still not framed in sectarian terms. The Syrian regime has inexorably climbed the ladder of escalation because it has not explored enough alternatives to violence. This quest for peace would become increasingly difficult as the movement in Syria gets fixated on an uncompromising demand for the family to step down. Syrias torment can easily become an agony for the entire region if excessive and frequent use of lethal force leads to the unintended consequence of a structural collapse that also adversely impacts the business elite of the capital and Aleppo. Strategically, it could weaken the Arab front seeking honourable negotiations with Israel. Hezbollah needs a cooperative regime in Damascus if it is to retain its deterrent value for Lebanon. Turkey would have renewed worries about the Kurds and its present open and beneficial relationship with Syria may come under strain. The Arab world needs consolidation, not more turmoil as the revolutionary phase of the Arab uprising is already over. Syria should become part of the new compact and an engine of a fresh synthesis in Arab politics. Gulf News