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Syria Peace Plan: Kenneth Bandler, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 3, 2014— Does Syria have a future or is this Arab country doomed? The answer is not any clearer following the Geneva II peace talks.

The Syrian Constellation Before the Geneva 2 Peace Talks: David Barnett, JCPA, Jan. 26, 2014 — Geneva 2, the international peace conference on the future of Syria, began on January 22, 2014, in Montreux, Switzerland.

Failure in Syria Will Doom Iran Nuclear Deal: William Tobey, Foreign Policy, Feb. 5, 2014 — The world's nuclear weapons proliferators watch each other. They look for warnings and opportunities in how their peers are treated.

Syria's Heart of Darkness: Sohrab Ahmari, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 5, 2014— The depravity of the Assad regime seemingly has no limit. Last month some 55,000 photographs appeared documenting the industrial-scale torture, starvation and execution of thousands of detainees by the regime.

Bashar Al Assad: An Intimate Profile of a Mass Murderer: Annia Ciezadlo, New Republic, Dec. 19, 2013 — In 1982, not long after his father's military pulverized a town called Hama, Bashar Al Assad got a jet ski.


On Topic Links


Israel Enmeshed in Complex Syrian Refugee Crisis: Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 2, 2013

Is Hizbullah About to Withdraw From Syria?: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, Jan. 28, 2014

Dutch Priest Trapped in Homs Says Residents Going Mad With Hunger: Magdy Samaan & Ruth Sherlock, Telegraph, Feb. 2, 2014

Foreign Jihadists in Syria: Tracking Recruitment Networks: Aaron Y. Zelin, Washington Institute, Dec. 19, 2013

Our Moral Duty to Syria’s Refugees: Craig Smith, National Post, Jan. 15, 2014


SYRIA PEACE PLAN                                                                                   Kenneth Bandler                                                         

Jerusalem Post, Feb. 3, 2014


Does Syria have a future or is this Arab country doomed? The answer is not any clearer following the Geneva II peace talks. To be sure, convening the meeting was a major achievement in itself. For the first time in three years of war, officials of the Assad regime and opposition leaders sat in the same rooms, conversing for more than a week. That alone might offer a modicum of hope. It was billed as a follow-up to Geneva I, held in June 2012, when world powers agreed on a goal of establishing a transitional governing body in Syria with “full executive powers.” That body, to be formed by “mutual consent,” would include “members of the present government and the opposition.”

One Syrian group came prepared, with a blueprint for peace, the Syrian Transition Roadmap. Developed over the course of a year by some 300 Syrians, the roadmap calls for political reforms, including a parliament that is representative of all Syrian citizens, a new constitution, economic reform and an overhaul of the country’s notorious security services. “The roadmap gives us the hope after all that has happened in Syria,” says Radwan Ziadeh, a leading Syrian dissident and president of the Syrian Expert House, the group that prepared the roadmap. Available in Arabic and English, it is a rare document emerging from the revolutions across the Arab world. Ziadeh, who was centrally involved in drafting the roadmap, views it as a bright spot at a time when “everyone lost hope with the revolution for dignity, human rights and democracy for all.” Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League Special Envoy for Syria, praised the roadmap in September as a “much needed initiative that could prove most useful to the negotiators in Geneva.”

Unfortunately, Geneva II ended in deadlock. No serious discussion of transition took place. Even more tragically there was no breakthrough on delivering humanitarian aid to Syrian cities besieged by Assad’s forces. The situation has become so desperately chaotic that the UN recently announced it would no longer keep track of the death toll, which is estimated at over 130,000. Regime violence did not let up even during Geneva II. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that nearly 500 Syrians were killed by the regime during the talks.

Nonetheless, the Assad regime came to Geneva ready to portray itself as the victim. In his speech on the opening day of the conference, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem launched into a tirade against the “terrorists” threatening Syria. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon objected to both Muallem’s tone and disregard for time limits, and repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to interrupt him. Even Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was reportedly embarrassed by his Syrian ally and counterpart, but apparently not enough to press Assad to alter course. Until Moscow changes its unqualified material and political support for Assad, the violence is not likely to end, unless Assad himself is persuaded, for the sake of Syria, to relinquish power…

Brahimi’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, resigned only two months after Geneva I, largely out of frustration with Assad. Leaders like Assad “tend to believe in the world they create,” Annan told The New York Times at the time. In Assad’s world, it is outsiders and terrorists who cause Syria’s problems, and terrorists come in all ages, including the first group of children arrested and tortured in March 2011, the incident that launched the uprising against the regime. Brahimi is not yet giving up. With the support of Ban Ki-moon he is eager to bring the parties back together in Geneva soon. With a mounting death toll, millions of refugees testing the patience and resources of Syria’s immediate neighbors and other countries, and Syria’s education and healthcare systems in urgent need of repair, a heavy dose of realism is needed…




Pinhas Inbari                                                                           

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jan. 22, 2014


Geneva 2, the international peace conference on the future of Syria, began on January 22, 2014, in Montreux, Switzerland. Sources in the Syrian opposition say the conference has come about because of agreement between the United States and Russia that the main danger posed by the situation in Syria is that of al-Qaeda, and that the course of events should be steered in order to obviate this danger. This inter-bloc agreement has put most of the Syrian opposition under great pressure. They see a danger that the two powers will meanwhile prefer to leave Assad in place since, if the choice is between him and al-Qaeda, then Assad is the better option. The problem is that the opposition is very fragmented and the two powers can force it to accept their dictates. On the issue of Geneva 2, there indeed is such a dictate. Whereas, at first, the Syrian opposition refused to participate in the conference with Assad loyalists, after heavy pressure that included American threats to cease assistance to them, much of the Syrian opposition acceded to the two powers’ demand that they attend.


What elements make up the Syrian opposition, what do they seek, and who stands behind them? First, the Geneva conference will not represent the fighters on the battlefield; neither the different al-Qaeda groups nor the Free Syrian Army will be in attendance. Al-Qaeda will not be there because the talks are aimed at counteracting it, and in any case al-Qaeda does not ordinarily take part in gatherings of this kind. As for the Free Syrian Army and its commander Salim Idris, they still are not prepared to sit in the same room with Assad’s loyalists, though there are reports of enormous pressure on Idris to attend. Basically, however, the talks will be attended by parties that are not active on the Syrian battlefield. Who are they? One large body, known as the National Coalition of Syrian and Regional Forces (also called the Syrian National Coalition), will be representing the opposition that is based outside of Syria. It is headed by Ahmed al-Jarba, a scion of the leading families of the large Shammar Bedouin tribe, which migrates among Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and is considered pro-Saudi. Saudi Arabia indeed supports this organization.


Another group within the “coalition” is the representative body of the Syrian opposition before the “coalition” was formed. Called the Syrian National Council (SNC), it includes the Muslim Brotherhood and pan-Arab nationalists and is supported by Turkey and Qatar. Although it is formally within the “coalition” framework, the competition between Qatar and Saudi Arabia influences its relations with the coalition. All this was evident when decisions had to be made on whether to attend Geneva 2. After al-Jarba announced that he would go, his rivals in the SNC declared that they would not. The reasons for al-Jarba’s decision are not clear. Whereas one would have expected that, given the Saudis’ anger at Washington, the pro-Saudi faction would try to impede the conference, the opposite is what happened. Sources in the Syrian opposition said the Saudis did not want to bring tensions with the United States out in the open, and perhaps also did not want to be associated with al-Qaeda; instead the talks could always be undermined from within.


Russia, too, has its favored groups, and there is no surprise in the fact that they agreed to attend. These groups are old leftist factions that were part of the Syrian Ba’ath party. Syrian opposition sources point to the “Internal Opposition Group” headed by Kadri Jamil and Ali Haidar, two veteran Ba’athists who abandoned Assad. Alongside them is another group of veteran Arab nationalists headed by Haitham Mana’a and Hassan Abd al-Azim, called the “Coordinated Administration,” an array of coordinating committees for the rebels in the field. This group maintains its independence and does not receive aid from any party; it opposes Assad and will not attend Geneva 2. The powers’ need to convene the Geneva 2 conference stemmed primarily from the failure of the Free Syrian Army under General Idris to defeat Assad’s army and bring about regime change. Instead, the different al-Qaeda organizations have now prevailed in the local arena, and not long ago they handed Idris a defeat near Aleppo, taking over his main arms depot. The Free Syrian Army is also supported by Turkey and Qatar.


Who are the al-Qaeda forces operating in Syria? There are about forty groups with numerous names, but two are playing the main role on the ground. One is the Al-Nusra group led by Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani; the other is “Daash” – the Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham (the Levant), also called ISIS. Al-Nusra is made up of Syrian and Jordanian mujahideen, while the Syria and Iraq group has an Iraqi leadership. Ironically, the success of the Salafi groups has worked in Assad’s favor. He claimed from the start that he was not dealing with a rebellion but with “terror,” and the al-Qaeda groups’ successes against the Syrian army and the Free Syrian Army helped Russia convince the United States that, at least for the time being, Assad should be left standing. The result is that Assad’s loyalists will be in attendance at the conference.

The opposition groups claim, however, that at least the ISIS organization is actually in league with Assad. They say the al-Qaeda fighters in this group were originally Syrian intelligence agents who were infiltrated into Iraq to operate against U.S. forces there, and after the revolt in Syria erupted, Assad’s intelligence service implanted them among the rebels as a way of proving that the revolt is nothing more than terror. These al-Qaeda groups have also acted against the Free Syrian Army and diverted it from the anti-Assad struggle….                                                                                                                        

[To Read the Full Article Follow This Link –ed.]       



William Tobey

Foreign Policy, Feb. 5, 2014


The world's nuclear weapons proliferators watch each other. They look for warnings and opportunities in how their peers are treated. Iran halted its nuclear weapons development after Saddam was toppled for several years. Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi also got cold feet. Later, Tehran watched the tepid international responses to the 2006 North Korean nuclear test and to a secret Syrian plutonium production reactor (which Israel destroyed as it neared completion in 2007), and apparently decided that the rewards outweighed the risks associated with constructing a covert uranium enrichment facility near Qom. What are the Mullahs watching now? Syria, where the Obama administration's policy is failing.


U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi reports that the first round of the Geneva 2 peace talks failed even to provide for any humanitarian relief, let alone to make progress toward a political settlement. He lamented that, "We haven't achieved anything." The Assad government then escalated its attacks against civilians by dropping "barrel bombs" packed with explosives and shrapnel on neighborhoods and mosques, continuing a brutal war that has already killed over 130,000 people and displaced millions. Even Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledges that U.S. policy on Syria is failing.


More to the point for Tehran, the effort to destroy Syria's chemical weapons has stalled. Last week, the U.S. representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ambassador Robert Mikulak, blasted the Syrian government, noting that only 4 percent of priority one chemicals had been removed, despite a December 31, 2013 deadline for shipping all such materials out of Syria. He went on to accuse Damascus of a "bargaining mentality." Syria's compliance has been belated, incomplete, and grudging. Worse, while the agreement to remove Syria's chemical weapons has stalled, it has also effectively halted international efforts to remove Assad. The obvious lesson for Tehran: Reach an interim agreement that deflates international pressure for action, drag your feet on implementation, and keep your illicit weapons program as the world dithers.


The stakes in Syria have always been high. The civil war is a humanitarian catastrophe. Its outcome will determine whether or not Iran continues to extend its reach to the border of Israel through its Hezbollah proxies. It will affect prospects for peace and stability in Lebanon and perhaps Jordan. And, it will profoundly influence the outcome of nuclear negotiations with Tehran. So how are the nuclear negotiations going? President Obama sees the odds of success as no better than 50-50. The six-month interim deal has just gone into effect. It is basically a standstill agreement. It might provide the space necessary to attain a more comprehensive deal, or it could simply be a means to further Tehran's strategy to forestall international action as uranium enrichment centrifuges continue to spin.


Four indicators offer clues as to whether the interim agreement is a path toward real progress or simply a dead-end delaying tactic. First, is Tehran willing to address what the IAEA calls the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program? These are activities, procurements, and documents that only make sense as part of a nuclear weapons program. Unless Tehran is willing to satisfy the IAEA's concerns, there can be no confidence that the activities have ended, and with them the nuclear weapons program. Second, is the tone of the negotiations constructive? If the talks descend into diplomatic trench warfare, with every issue hard fought, it will be clear that Iran has not yet made a strategic decision to renounce nuclear weapons, but instead has adopted what Amb. Mikulak called a "bargaining mentality." Third, is a final deal completed within the term of the six-month interim agreement? If Tehran drags out the negotiations as support for sanctions fades, it will become clear that the mullahs have little interest in a real deal. Fourth, have Tehran's illicit procurement efforts ceased? As long as Iran continues to make illegal procurements of nuclear-related materials and equipment, the presumption must be that it will cheat on any deal barring weapons development.


Talks with Iran will resume next week. Recent statements are not hopeful, with Iranian leaders stressing that they have not agreed to dismantle any part of their nuclear program. One point, however, is crystal clear. If the Obama administration cannot compel a weakened Assad government, beset by civil war and subject to international opprobrium for using chemical weapons, to comply with its disarmament obligations, it is unlikely to succeed in dealing with a much stronger Iranian regime. The price of failure in Syria could be a doomed nuclear deal with Iran.  



SYRIA'S HEART OF DARKNESS                                              

Sohrab Ahmari                                        

Wall Street Journal, Feb. 5, 2014 


The depravity of the Assad regime seemingly has no limit. Last month some 55,000 photographs appeared documenting the industrial-scale torture, starvation and execution of thousands of detainees by the regime.

The gruesome photos were leaked by "Caesar," a defector from the Syrian military police. An international team of legal and forensic experts retained by the Qatari government, including a former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, concluded that the photos present "clear evidence" of "systematic torture and killing of detained persons by the agents of the Syrian government."


The Wall Street Journal editorial page has now obtained additional photographs that appear to belong to the same batch. The brutality depicted in these photographs is almost beyond description: The corpses of detainees lie atop one another, their emaciated limbs contorted in apparent agony; the bodies invariably show extensive bruising and abrasions; jaws are dislocated; eyes are gouged out. The opposition Syrian National Movement, which provided the Journal with these images, says they were "transferred and broadcast from inside [the regime] through a complicated process to maintain the security" of sources. The movement adds that the images were "leaked from the areas of Damascus, Syria, and its surrounding countryside" from September 2011 to August 2013.


While it's impossible to independently verify the authenticity of the images, they appear to be consistent with the "Caesar" images: Each body is accompanied by an identification card held up by the photographer or a colleague. As the experts who examined the "Caesar" images noted in their report, "The reason for photographing the executed persons was twofold: First to permit a death certificate to be produced without families requiring to see the body thereby avoiding the authorities having to give a truthful account of their deaths; second to confirm that orders to execute individuals had been carried out." The first round of Geneva II came to an inconclusive end last week. The Obama administration insists the opposition must sit down with the butcher Assad when talks resume on February 10.


BASHAR AL ASSAD:                                                                           



Annia Ciezadlo

 New Republic, Dec. 19, 2013


In 1982, not long after his father's military pulverized a town called Hama, Bashar Al Assad got a jet ski. It was the tail end of one of the bloodiest periods in Syrian history—what one intellectual called “the hunting time.” In Damascus, a white Peugeot 504 idled on every other corner with mukhabarat, or secret police, inside. Corruption and smuggling were ubiquitous; at least 30 percent of the country’s GDP, and probably much more, came from the black market. Everyday goods like bananas and paper tissues were hard to find; jet skis were practically unknown.


Bashar was 16 years old, a pudgy, frizzy-haired kid with chipmunk cheeks and a double chin he would never grow out of. He had his own bodyguards but was so shy about his appearance that he would cover his teeth with his hands when he smiled. One day, as the story goes, Bashar was sitting at home with a friend when some boys he knew called. They were going on an excursion to Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Could they borrow his new toy? Yes, yes, of course! Bashar said. As soon as the boys hung up, Bashar summoned the head of the guards at the presidential palace. Some friends of mine might come and ask to use my jet ski, he said. If they do, tell them it’s broken.  

If there’s one thing those who know him agree on, it’s that Bashar Al Assad is awfully eager to please. Friends and even some enemies portray the Syrian president as a kind and generous man, always ready to use his connections to provide a favor: for a job, a heart operation, or just the permit the government has required, under Syria’s authoritarian form of socialism, to buy a tank of propane gas for cooking food. “Easygoing,” say diplomats who have faced him in negotiations. “I would have described him as a real gentleman, before this,” says a Damascene businessman who was part of Assad’s social circle and has now fled the country to escape its ongoing civil war. The subtext here is that Assad is weak; the polite phrasing, among educated Syrians, has always been that he “does not have the qualities of a leader.” That is to say, he does not have the gravitas of his ruthless, gnomic father, Hafez Al Assad, who ruled the country from 1970 until June 2000. Other Syrians put it less delicately. They call him donkey, giraffe, taweel wa habeel—a Levantine putdown for a big, bumbling doofus. Diplomats, analysts, and a few heads of state have been just as harsh, predicting his imminent downfall since the day he took power.

Two-thousand thirteen was the year when it seemed as if those predictions would finally come true. As the uprising against him ground into its third summer, his regime lost territory and international legitimacy. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states lavished cash and weaponry on rebel fighters. Even the United States was reluctantly edging closer to supporting the revolution with something more than words. Then, on August 21, Assad’s regime used the nerve gas sarin to kill hundreds of Syrian civilians, crossing the “red line” that Barack Obama had said would prompt a U.S. military response. It looked like the end. If a formerly untouchable military dictator like Hosni Mubarak could go down in Egypt, then why not Syria’s lanky, lisping president?


What outsiders have been slow to realize is that in the game Assad is playing, a weak man (or one perceived that way) can cling to his throne just as tenaciously, and violently, as a strongman. Over the course of his reign, he has learned how to turn his biggest shortcomings—his desire for approval, his tendency toward prevarication—into his greatest assets. The world wants him to give up the chemical munitions he used against his own citizens, and he has begun to do that. The world wants an end to the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 Syrians and displaced millions more; his government is now willing to participate in peace talks. This nebbishy second son, who was never meant to inherit the family regime, has proved exceptionally talented in the art of self-preservation.


“He’s more clever than all the Western and U.S. politicians, for sure,” Ayman Abdelnour, a close adviser to Assad before he fell out of favor and fled into exile, told me. Abdelnour then recalled—by way of explaining why Assad was so difficult to take down—something the young president would tell his inner circle about their foreign adversaries. “They are here for a few years,” Assad would say. “My father, seven presidents passed through him.”…                                                                                          

[To Read the Full Article Click the Link –ed.]                                                                                                                                                  

Israel Enmeshed in Complex Syrian Refugee Crisis: Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 2, 2013 —With the collapse of peace talks on Friday between President Bashar Assad’s regime and the opposition, the prospect of more wounded Syrians seeking treatment and refuge in Israel will continue to rise.

Is Hizbullah About to Withdraw From Syria?: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, Jan. 28, 2014 —Hizbullah’s military involvement in Syria is now a subject of heated domestic debate in Iran.

Dutch Priest Trapped in Homs Says Residents Going Mad With Hunger: Magdy Samaan & Ruth Sherlock, Telegraph, Feb. 2, 2014 —A Dutch priest trapped in the siege on the Syrian city of Homs has told how residents around him are being driven mad with starvation, as they are "abandoned" by the international community.

Foreign Jihadists in Syria: Tracking Recruitment Networks: Aaron Y. Zelin, Washington Institute, Dec. 19, 2013

Our Moral Duty to Syria’s Refugees: Craig Smith, National Post, Jan. 15, 2014 — The Syrian war has generated the worst population displacement crisis since the Second World War and the most rapid growth of the global refugee count since the tragic confluence of the Rwandan genocide and the breakup of Yugoslavia nearly 20 years ago.



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