Tag: alawites

QUAGMIRE IN SYRIA: IRAN BLUNDERS AS HEZBOLLAH FIGHTS TO PROTECT ITS HOME BASE AND THE KURDS BEGIN TO TAKE SIDES

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail:  ber@isranet.org

 

 

 Download a pdf version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Iran Makes an Epic Blunder in Syria: Gary Gambill, Real Clear World, July 8, 2013— Iran's massive infusions of cash into Syria (12.6 billion dollars, according to one estimate) and stepped up training of pro-Assad forces had greatly inflamed animosity toward the Islamic Republic and its proxies throughout the Arab-Islamic world. The inflamed sectarianism wrought by Iran is likely to supersede the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "as the central mobilizing factor for Arab political life."

 

Have Syria’s Kurds Had a Change Of Heart?: Daniel Nisman, Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey), Apr. 12, 2013—Kurdish strategy in today’s conflict in Syria… In recent weeks, this once dormant player has awoken from its slumber, and may just provide Syria’s desperate rebels with a much needed boost to break their deadlock with the Bashar al-Assad regime.

 

Hezbollah's Necessary War of Choice in Syria: Aram Nerguizian, Real Clear World, June 19, 2013—While supportive of popular protesters and regime change in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, at no point has the Shi'a militant group Hezbollah signalled any intention of scaling back its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

 

 

On Topic Links

 

Let Them Eat Kebabs: T.A. Frank, The New Republic, April 25, 2013

Did Israel Bomb Latakia Last Week?: Michael Weiss, Real Clear World, July 11, 2013

The Arab World Fears the ‘Safavid’: Dore Gold, JCPA, June 9, 2013

Hezbollah Spying on Golan Heights from Syria: Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu, Jewish Press, July 11th, 2013

Syria Jihadists Lose Support As Abuses Mount: Serene Assir, Fox News, July 11, 2013

Face-To-Face with Abu Sakkar, Syria's 'Heart-Eating Cannibal': Paul Wood, BBC News, 5 July 2013

Seduced by War, Europeans Join the Fight in Syria: Nadette De Visser, The Daily Beast, June 11, 2013

U.S. Arms Showing Up in Hands of Pro-Assad Militias: Oren Dorell, USA TODAY,  July 10, 2013

 

IRAN MAKES AN EPIC BLUNDER IN SYRIA

Gary Gambill

Real Clear World, July 8, 2013

 

The growing infusion of Iranian-backed Lebanese and Iraqi Shiite fighters into the Syrian civil war is causing some veteran pundits to panic. Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, warns that "Iran is beating the U.S. in Syria." Former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Elliot Abrams sees "a humiliating defeat of the United States at the hands of Iran."

 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Setting aside the matter of how Washington can be losing a war it is not fighting, the claim that Iran is winning is dead wrong. The Islamic Republic's headlong intervention in Syria is akin to Nazi Germany's surge of military forces into the Battle of Stalingrad in the fall of 1942 – an operationally competent, strategic blunder of epic proportions.

 

To be sure, the influx of thousands of foreign (mostly non-Iranian) Shiite fighters into Syria in recent months has enabled pro-regime forces to regain some ground in the Damascus suburbs and a belt of territory linking the capital to Homs and the coast. The town of Qusayr, critical to both rebel and regime supply lines into Lebanon, fell on June 5.

 

That's a shame, but the Iranian surge won't prevent the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab rebels from eventually prevailing on the battlefield. Sunni Arabs have a 5-to-1 demographic edge over the minority Alawites who comprise most uniformed and paramilitary pro-regime combatants, and a 2-to-1 advantage over all of Syria's ethno-sectarian minorities combined. The rebels are strongly supported by the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims worldwide who are Sunnis, and their four principal sponsors – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan – have a GDP well over twice that of Iran. Russia continues to do business with the regime, but it won't intervene decisively enough to change the math.

 

Like the vaunted German Wehrmacht in the Stalingrad kessel, Iran's expeditionary forces have been thrown into a tactical military environment for which they are woefully unprepared. Although Hezbollah wrote the book on guerrilla warfare against conventional militaries, it has little experience fighting battle-hardened insurgents on unfamiliar terrain – and it shows. At least 141 Hezbollah fighters were killed in the span of just one month fighting in the battle for Qusayr, many of them elite commandos who cannot easily be replaced.

 

Iran's mobilization of Lebanese and Iraqi Shiites to fight for their distant theological cousins in Syria is unlikely to keep pace with such losses, or with the increased influx of foreign Sunni Islamists sure to come in reaction to it. In the wake of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's May 25 declaration to his Shiite followers that the Syrian war is "our battle," the Qatar-based spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims with military training to fight in Syria (something he never did with respect to Israel) and characterizing the conflict as a worldwide struggle between "100 million Shiites" and "1.7 billion [Sunni] Muslims."

 

Of course, divisions among both the rebels and their external sponsors have greatly slowed the march to Damascus. Because Syrian President Bashar Assad's ultimate defeat is a foregone conclusion, all of the major players (the United States included) are focused more on bolstering their equity within the eventually-to-be-victorious rebel camp than on hastening its advance. But the eventual aggregation and coordination of sufficient rebel manpower and resources to decisively defeat pro-regime forces (first in Damascus, later in the rest of Syria) is inevitable so long as none of the players bow out or switch sides.

 

Iran's only hope of avoiding this path is to make the humanitarian cost of a decisive rebel military victory so horrific that the international community will step in and force the rebels to accept a Lebanon-style "no victor, no vanquished" political compromise. This would leave pro-regime forces intact and well poised to subvert the post-war transition, much as Hezbollah's militia survived and thrived following the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

 

But this scenario necessitates a rebel leadership willing to accept, and united enough to enforce, a ceasefire that leaves pro-regime forces in control of large swathes of the country during the transition process. With Jabhat al-Nusra and other militant jihadist groups in Syria continuing to grow in strength, neither condition will obtain for the foreseeable future.

 

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could have cut his losses early on by allowing the Assad regime to die a natural death and building bridges with its successor. Such an accommodation would have greatly impaired Iran's ability to transport heavy weapons to Hezbollah, but its Lebanese proxy would still have remained Israel's deadliest security threat for years to come. Hamas, which effectively severed its alliance with Tehran as a result of the Syria conflict, would probably have kept at least one foot in the Iranian axis. Khamenei likely declined to take this path for the same reason that Hitler refused to disengage from a no-win military confrontation in Stalingrad – a deeply metaphysical confidence in ultimate victory.

 

This delusion will cost him a great deal more than Syria. Even before the surge, Iran's massive infusions of cash into Syria (12.6 billion dollars, according to one estimate) and stepped up training of pro-Assad forces had greatly inflamed animosity toward the Islamic Republic and its proxies throughout the Arab-Islamic world. After years of successfully mobilizing Arabs against Israel (as recently as 2008, polling still showed Nasrallah to be the Arab world's most popular public figure), Tehran has managed to incite even greater hostility to itself in a fraction of the time. A recent survey by James Zogby shows that Iran's favorability ratings have fallen to an all-time low in majority Sunni countries (dropping from 85 percent to 15 percent in Saudi Arabia between 2006 and 2012, for example). Syria, he writes, has become the "nail in the coffin" of Iran's standing in the region. The inflamed sectarianism wrought by Iran, according to a detailed study by Geneive Abdo of the Brookings Institution, is likely to supersede the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "as the central mobilizing factor for Arab political life."

 

In addition to sabotaging its regional hegemonic ambitions, intervention in Syria may also have dire domestic political consequences for the Islamic Republic. The regime's involvement in a chronic sectarian conflict is sure to steadily alienate its own restive Sunni minority, while the strain on its sanctions-riddled economy will only get worse. Most importantly, the ignominious collapse of its claim to pan-Islamic leadership erodes one of the main pillars of its legitimacy in the eyes of Shiites. There are no silver linings.

 

While Abrams insists that the United States should be working to "deter" Iran "from sending more fighters to help save Assad," he's got it all wrong. The Obama administration should copy the late Soviet General Georgy Zhukov and focus not on combating the foolhardy Iranian surge, but on exploiting the strategic and political flanks left exposed by it.

 

Gary C. Gambill is a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and The National Post.

 

Contents

HAVE SYRIA’S KURDS HAD ACHANGE OF HEART?

Daniel Nisman

Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey), Apr. 12, 2013

 

“Deal with your friends as if they will become your enemies tomorrow, and deal with your enemies as if they will become your friends tomorrow.” It’s a proverb passed along through Kurdish generations – and a telling pretext to the Kurdish strategy in today’s conflict in Syria. In recent weeks, this once dormant player has awoken from its slumber, and may just provide Syria’s desperate rebels with a much needed boost to break their deadlock with the Bashar al-Assad regime.

 

Reports indicate that Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) militiamen and Syrian rebels have agreed to share control of the strategic Sheikh Maqsoud District of northern Aleppo, cutting off regime supply routes to a hospital, prison, and other key positions. Rebel fighters entered the district largely unopposed on March 31.

 

Further east, Syrian military units attacked a checkpoint manned by Kurdish militiamen in the northeastern city of Qamishli on April 4. Hours later, militiamen from the YPG attacked two Syrian military positions on the outskirts of Qamishli. The attacks resulted in a number of deaths on both sides and marked the first such incident to occur in the predominantly Kurdish Hasakah Governorate since the Syrian military withdrew from the region’s urban centers in the summer of 2012.

 

Increasing violence between Kurdish militias and the Syrian military indicates a notable shift in the policy of the Syrian Kurdish leadership’s policy of neutrality. The rebel capture of Aleppo’s Sheikh Maqsoud area on March 31 was coordinated and facilitated by local Kurdish militias, effectively ending that district’s neutral status in the battle for control of the city. Subsequent aerial bombardments of the district indicate that the Syrian military now views Kurdish militias in the region as a hostile entity.

 

The Syrian Kurdish leadership has likely been influenced by cease-fire developments taking place between its Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) counterparts and the Turkish government. Since October 2012, the Turkish government has conducted negotiations for a draw-down of PKK fighters from Turkey with Abdullah Öcalan, a currently imprisoned, though highly influential Kurdish leader. During the Nevruz holiday in late March 2013, the PKK agreed to a cease-fire with the Turkish military and an Öcalan-approved timetable for withdrawal. In early April 2013, the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Syrian Kurds, Salih Muslim, stated that his constituents support cease-fire efforts being conducted between the Turkish government and Kurdish PKK separatists.

 

Subsequent statements of support by Syrian Kurdish leaders for the talks have been followed by increasing coordination of Kurdish militias with Syrian rebels, including the March 31 withdrawal from Aleppo’s Sheikh Maqsoud. Despite the current shift of support to the rebels, Syrian Kurds still prioritize the protection and independence of their communities above the nationalist-revolutionary aspirations of the country’s Arab Sunnis. Any agreement with the Syrian opposition is thus likely to remain fragile and subject to change.

 

In the near term, the stance of the Syrian Kurdish leadership regarding cooperation with the rebels is likely to be heavily influenced by Turkish policies. Reports indicate that the Syrian Kurdish leadership expects Turkey to begin negotiating directly with the PYD in a similar manner to the PKK. Until recently, Turkey had refused any contact with the PYD over fears of setting a precedent for recognition of an autonomous Kurdish entity in Syria.

 

In addition, the PYD reportedly expects Turkey to reduce its support for extremist Syrian rebels, including those who have clashed with the group in the past. Furthermore, any breakdown of the draw-down process with the PKK would likely hinder Kurdish-rebel cooperation in Syria, and an increase in hostility from the PYD toward the Turkish government. Lastly, attacks by jihadist Syrian rebel elements against Kurdish communities could also bring an end to cooperation in mixed cities and regions in northern Syria, threatening to derail the rebel effort to end the standoff in Aleppo.

 

In the long term, the maintaining of Kurdish-rebel coordination could result in considerable setbacks for the Syrian military, particularly impacting efforts to maintain control over outlying areas. Continued bombardments by the Syrian military against Kurdish populations are likely to result in an increase of reprisal attacks against Syrian military troops stationed in the area, who are already impacted by a breakdown in resupply routes. In Aleppo, Kurdish-rebel cooperation would further pressure regime forces, by opening the way for additional staging grounds for rebel offensives against the remaining southwest districts held by the Syrian military.

 

As far back as World War I, the Kurdish people have been cast as the historic losers to the spoils of conflict in the Middle East. In a region which is no stranger to ironic twists, it should come as no surprise that this long-persecuted ethnic group has emerged as a kingmaker in a battle which will undoubtedly shape the face of the region for years to come.

 

Daniel Nisman is the Middle East and North Africa section intelligence director at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical and security risk consulting firm.

 

Contents

 

 

HEZBOLLAH'S NECESSARY WAR OF CHOICE IN SYRIA

Aram Nerguizian

Real Clear World, June 19, 2013

 

While supportive of popular protesters and regime change in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, at no point has the Shi'a militant group Hezbollah signaled any intention of scaling back its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. To the contrary, its support has steadily escalated from threats in 2011 to shift attention away from Syria to potential escalation along the UN Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon to an increasing military role in Syria starting in 2012. It was at least in part thanks to Hezbollah that the Syrian military was able to retake the strategic rebel-held town of Qusayr on June 5, 2013.

 

To many observers, Hezbollah's decision to commit to offensive military operations inside Syria in concert with Assad's forces borders on the irrational. The move has heightened precarious Sunni-Shi'a tensions in Lebanon exponentially and has further undermined the country's efforts to disassociate itself from the Syria conflict under the auspices of the so-called June 2012 "Baabda Declaration," a pledge that includes noninterference in Syria's conflict and was signed by all leading factions in Lebanon, including Hezbollah. To many Lebanese, such a projection of military force outside of Lebanon by Hezbollah or any other group is without precedent.

 

Although such concerns may be justified, Hezbollah's choices reflect its own narrow set of overlapping priorities in Syria: the primacy of preserving the "Resistance Axis with Iran," Hezbollah's sense that it can neither appease increasingly militant Lebanese Sunni political forces nor reverse deepening regional Sunni-Shi'a tension, and that Shi'a communal fears as a regional minority group increasingly inform a need to create strategic depth in Syria. Taken together, these factors have led Hezbollah to a bitter conclusion: it can choose to fight Sunni forces in Syria today or fight Sunni forces in Lebanon tomorrow, should Assad fall.

 

Hezbollah is now engaged in what it considers to be a preemptive war of choice in Syria, albeit one that many within the group and the broader Shi'a community view as both necessary & inevitable. However, such a war also presents the group with very real long term risks and challenges. It endangers Shi'a communities in the Gulf, further alienates regional Arab public opinion, and pushes the United States to provide anti-Assad rebels with weapons in order to "rebalance" the conventional and asymmetric military balances in Syria. It also may be a prelude to a much deeper change for Hezbollah, whereby it becomes less of a "resistance" organization against Israel and more of a sectarian tool in the service of increasingly narrow Lebanese Shi'a interests.

 

Hezbollah's Military Role in Syria

 

While Hezbollah initially avoided a direct military role in the Syria crisis, this changed starting in early 2012. The group prioritized its preliminary military efforts as follows: to defend the Sayyidah Zaynab Shrine, one of Shi'a Islam's holiest sites on the outskirts of Damascus, to protect Lebanese Shi'a villages east of the Bekaa Valley, to offer counterinsurgency training to pro-Assad forces, to protect key thoroughfares linking Lebanon to Syria, and to play a minor combat support role in Zabadani between Damascus and the Lebanese border. By early 2013, Hezbollah's priorities had significantly shifted to its combat and combat support roles with Assad's forces east of the Bekaa Valley.

 

Reports from Lebanon and Europe place the estimated number of Hezbollah fighters within Syria at up to 4,000 in support of Assad's forces. It is worth noting that other estimates on Hezbollah fighters in Syria vary from as little as 2,000 to as much as 10,000. The disparities reflect the challenges of getting an accurate picture of Hezbollah's force commitment level, never mind the current disposition of its overall fighting strength. However, it is important to remember that many of these estimates of Hezbollah's manpower levels in Syria are "guesstimates."

 

As of mid-June 2013, Hezbollah's involvement in Syria appears to have helped shape regime victories in areas opposite the Lebanese Bekaa Valley, especially in and around the town of Qusayr. Strategically significant as an opposition lifeline for aid, weapons, and fighters from Lebanon, the retaking of Qusayr secures the regime's western flank as it pushes to consolidate its hold on Homs and access to the mainly Alawite coast, cuts off rebel supply lines, and signals to the international community that the Assad regime is far from beaten. However, Qusayr may be even more important to Hezbollah. Qusayr sits on a direct road link to the mainly Shi'a Lebanese town of Hermel, a north-eastern stronghold of the Shi'a militant group and a key pipeline for overland weapons transfers from Iran via Syria. Qusayr is also ringed by Shi'a Lebanese villages inside Syria which Hezbollah feels both obligated and under pressure to protect.

 

From a military standpoint, Hezbollah's engagements east of the Lebanese Bekaa Valley have not been without cost. According to Syrian opposition and anti-Hezbollah Shi'a sources, the number of Hezbollah fighters killed in the first week of the main offensive to retake Qusayr was between 70 and 110. This reflects in part the reality that although well trained, many of Hezbollah's fighters in Qusayr were largely untested in combat. The high initial death toll may also point to the Syrian rebels' use of some of Hezbollah's own sniping and booby-trapping techniques; techniques that the Shi'a group shared in joint training exercises with Hamas and that the Palestinian militant group may have passed on to the rebels in turn.

 

While these initial losses are significant, Hezbollah can continue to absorb more combat deaths, largely thanks to the dramatic expansion of the group's armed wing in the wake of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war. Compared to some 3,000 fighters in 2006, Hezbollah's current fighting strength may be estimated at around 20,000-30,000, of which some 25 percent may be full-time active duty personnel. Meanwhile, preliminary reports indicate that Hezbollah's forces in Qusayr were far more disciplined and employed superior tactics, communication, and were better coordinated than their Syrian rebel opponents. Difficult battles like the one in Qusayr against similarly committed and ideological opposition fighters ensure that tomorrow's veterans from the war in Syria will form a combat-tested Hezbollah fighting core that may complicate future engagements against the IDF, to say nothing of Lebanese or Syrian Sunni militants…..(For the remainder of this article please click here: Real Clear World – Ed.)
 

Contents

 

Let Them Eat Kebabs: T.A. Frank, The New Republic, April 25, 2013—When she first became known to the world, Asma Al Assad, first lady of Syria, stood out for her efforts to put a twenty-first-century gloss on Middle Eastern dictatorship, a profession widely seen as hidebound and heavily mustachioed.

 

Did Israel Bomb Latakia Last Week?: Michael Weiss, Real Clear World, July 11, 2013—Last Thursday, a day after Americans were nursing Fourth of July hangovers, tracking the Trayvon Martin case at home, or the fallout from the coup in Egypt, mysterious explosions occurred at a weapons depot in the Mushayrafet al-Samouk district of the Syrian coastal city of Latakia.

 

The Arab World Fears the ‘Safavid’: Dore Gold, JCPA, June 9, 2013—In an interview on Al-Jazeera this past May, the commander of the Free Syrian Army, Brig. Gen. Salim Idris, explained that the diversion of Hezbollah forces from Lebanon to Syria to take part in the civil war was part of a “Safavid” plan for the Middle East region.

 

Hezbollah Spying on Golan Heights from Syria: Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu, Jewish Press, July 11th, 2013— The IDF is forming a new division to operate in the Golan Heights, which faces a new threat of Hezbollah terrorists and weapons that had been limited to the Lebanese border before Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah sent his army to fight with Assad loyalists against Syrian rebels.

 

Syria Jihadists Lose Support As Abuses Mount: Serene Assir, Fox News, July 11, 2013— In the early days of the Syrian uprising, when opponents of the regime were desperate for assistance from any quarter, jihadist fighters were welcomed but a spate of abuses is fuelling a backlash. Things have changed.

 

Face-to-Face With Abu Sakkar, Syria's 'Heart-Eating Cannibal': Paul Wood, BBC News, 5 July 2013—It sounded like the most far-fetched propaganda claim – a Syrian rebel commander who cut out the heart of a fallen enemy soldier, and ate it before a cheering crowd of his men.

 

Seduced by War, Europeans Join the Fight in Syria: Nadette De Visser, The Daily Beast, June 11, 2013—Men from The Netherlands and other European countries are taking up arms in Syria. But are they even more dangerous than the local fighters? Nadette De Visser reports.

 

U.S. Arms Showing up in Hands of Pro-Assad Militias: Oren Dorell, USA TODAY,  July 10, 2013—U.S. and Western weapons have been reaching Iranian-backed Shiite militias fighting to keep Bashar Assad's forces in power in Syria. Analysts say it's unclear if the weapons were captured, stolen or bought on the black market in Syria, Turkey, Iraq or Libya.

 

Top of Page

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.
To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a minimum $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

LEBANESE RELIGIO-POLITICAL CRISIS RADICALIZED BY SYRIAN CIVIL WAR, HEZBOLLAH—AL-NUSRAH CONFLICT

Download a pdf version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Contents:                          

 

 

Uncertainty over Electoral Law Prolongs Lebanon Political Crisis: Nasser Chararah,Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 20, 2013—There have been mounting concerns about the situation in Lebanon during the coming period. Indeed, political factions have failed to reach a consensus on producing an electoral law that would remedy the [issue of] Christian representation, and develop the [former] electoral law that included glaring errors regarding fair representation.

 

The Imminent Hezbollah-Nusra War: Hanin Ghaddar, NOW Lebanon, May 15, 2013—Hezbollah will not save the Shiites. They have already determined that Lebanon and all the Lebanese will have to sacrifice their lives for their mission to serve Iran and its interests in the region. The Lebanese need to save themselves.

 

How Hezbollah Slowly Infiltrated Europe: Alexandre Levy, LE TEMPS/Worldcrunch, Apr. 9, 2013—While Cyprus was in the middle of a financial crisis, the court of Limassol, the island’s second largest city, made a ruling that largely went unnoticed. Yet it was a judicial first. On March 28, the Cyprus court condemned a 24-year-old Swedish-Lebanese man, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, to four years in prison for helping plan attacks against Israelis on the Mediterranean island.

 

Hezbollah Campaigns for Preemptive War in Syria: Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 22, 2013—Several Hezbollah fighters were killed or wounded by a booby-trapped tanker truck during a recent incursion into Syria. There had been several similar incidents in preceding days. In another episode, a Syrian opposition gunman appeared to surrender to Hezbollah forces, but as he approached them, he detonated the explosive belt he was wearing.

 

On Topic Links

 

Three in Europe Now Oppose Hezbollah: Nicholas Kulish, New York Times,  May 22, 2013

The Jihadist Threat to Lebanon: Jaafar al-Attar, from As-Safir (Lebanon). Al-Monitor, May 15, 2013

Hizbollah cannot Afford to Stay Long in Syria's Quagmire: Michael Young, The National (UAE), May 23, 2013

 

 

UNCERTAINTY OVER ELECTORAL LAW
PROLONGS LEBANON POLITICAL CRISIS

Nasser Chararah

Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 20, 2013

 

There have been mounting concerns about the situation in Lebanon during the coming period. Indeed, political factions have failed to reach a consensus on producing an electoral law that would remedy the [issue of] Christian representation, and develop the [former] electoral law that included glaring errors regarding fair representation.

 

For instance, the provisions of the current electoral law, dubbed the “1960 law,” are in direct conflict with the Lebanese constitution, according to which Lebanese people have equal representation quotas. Pursuant to the current electoral law, certain MPs could secure a place in parliament with thousands of votes in some constituencies, while others may need tens of thousands of votes to win a seat. This is not to mention that according to the current law, a significant part of Christian MPs are elected by Muslim votes.

 

During the past months, there has been a need to formulate a new, fairer electoral law. However, intense political disputes in the country — which are connected to regional differences — have prevented the drafting of a new electoral law.

 

With the expiration of the constitutional deadline to amend the electoral law, and given that the term of the current parliament will come to an end in the second half of June, not to mention that political factions have yet to reach a consensus on a new electoral law, Lebanon stands today at a crossroads. It can either opt to extend the term of parliament to try to formulate a new electoral law and therefore hold elections on this basis; or it can hold elections based on the 1960 law, given that is the only legitimate solution in the absence of consensus on any other law.

 

In any case, both solutions reflect the depth of the political and constitutional crisis that Lebanon has been going through. The most dangerous implication of the current crisis is that it could lead the political system to a structural crisis that would be difficult to overcome with cosmetic solutions. This is not to mention that, in light of domestic and regional considerations, it is impossible to make any substantial changes to the system.

 

There have been several key signs emerging from the current crisis indicating the nature of challenges threatening Lebanon’s political stability and coexistence, according to its current rules that are not likely to be remedied in light of the internal and external situation.

 

First, a significant part of Lebanese Christians believe that balanced sectarian representation can be mended with their Sunni partners in peace. This representation was disturbed when Maronites were forced to relinquish some of their major political and constitutional power — which they had during the first Republic (1983-1989) — as the result of drafting the constitution of Taif.

 

Thus, the Orthodox electoral law has been put forth, according to which each sectarian group would elect its own candidates on a proportional basis. The major Christian political bloc (including the Free Patriotic Movement, the Marada movement, the Kataeb Party, and even Bikirki [the seat of the Maronite Patriarchy] indirectly) was expecting that the Sunni partners would accept the Orthodox proposal as an acknowledgement that the Taif Agreement needed to be amended in terms of fixing the Christian representation and not in terms of restoring the powers of the Maronite President of the Republic.

 

Nevertheless, the Orthodox proposal was rejected as the quorum was not reached during the parliament session due to the opposition of the Sunni bloc that is mainly allied with the Druze and some Christian parties. This indicated that Sunni partners (the biggest community in the country) have refused to establish a new settlement with Christians. Sunnis continue to insist that Christians relinquish powers under the Taif Agreement so as to reflect the new balances of power in the country and that they have to be realistic about this fact.

 

This also demonstrates that the Taif Agreement, which has served as a constitutional chart for the Second Republic in Lebanon, is no longer unanimously agreed upon by all Lebanese. It has become in the eyes of a large part of Christians an agreement that reflects their existence under a political system that reproduces their defeat in the civil war, which broke out during the 1970s and 1980s and resulted in the Taif Agreement under Arab and International auspices.

 

Moreover, [rejecting the Orthodox proposal] indicates that the country is going through a crisis that has been gripping the political system at all levels. This is especially true, since the crisis of a new electoral law that can produce a just sectarian representation, coincided with the crisis of the resigned government of Najib Mikati, about two month ago, which is now limited to managing day-to-day state affairs.

 

These overlapping crises suggest that Lebanon’s various institutions are no longer able to uphold the state’s affairs. The legitimacy of the Constitutional Council, which is in charge of monitoring constitutional legitimacy, has become disreputable. Meanwhile, parliament is paralyzed as a result of sharp divisions, preventing it from producing legislation.

 

Moreover, the military council (which is similar to the Government of the Lebanese Army) has been also become paralyzed. Thus, the military institution is likely to embark on the path of vacuum, as most of its members are retired, while no constitutional provision has been set yet to [choose] any alternatives.

 

What’s more, the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces is set to retire in September. Thus, all leaders of the military institutions will soon become leaders by proxy. Hence, current events clearly indicate that the Lebanese crisis has gone beyond the political situation and has gripped the entire political system, undermining the state and sectarian coexistence.

 

Nasser Chararah is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse and for multiple Arab newspapers and magazines, as well as the author of several books on the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict.

 

Top of Page

 

 

THE IMMINENT HEZBOLLAH-NUSRA WAR

Hanin Ghaddar

NOW Lebanon, May 15, 2013

 

The Syrian Salafist group Jabhat Al-Nusra declared in Jordan that it has set the confrontation with Hezbollah militants in Syria as a top priority. Jordan-based al-Qaeda-affiliate Mohammad Al Shalabi, alias Abi Sayyaf, said that Jabhat al-Nusra has taken a decision to fight Hezbollah militants, who have become "our Jihadists’ main target" across Syria. This came after Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah declared last week that Hezbollah will stand by Syria and help it become a state of resistance. He announced that Hezbollah is ready to receive any sort of qualitative weapons even if it is going to disrupt the regional balance. 

 

For the Syrian rebels, al-Nusra and others, this is a declaration of war against them, knowing that what Nasrallah really means is that Hezbollah is now in charge of Syria, upon Iran’s decision. Hezbollah and Iran are running the show and if the Syrian rebels want to prevail, they need to target Hezbollah, not Assad or the Syrian regime. Assad has been pushed to the background to make way for Hezbollah. Therefore, it is not strange that Al-Nusra has decided to shift its priority to fighting Hezbollah as its main enemy.

 

Al-Nusra’s main mission is not to free Syria of its dictatorship and move to build a modern democratic state. Their goal is the umma and they will fight the enemies of the umma wherever they are. Therefore, their fight against Hezbollah will not stay in Syria and will eventually move to Lebanon. They do not differentiate between Hezbollah and the Shiite community just as they do not differentiate between Assad and Alawites.  This will lead to two dangerous consequences for Lebanon.

 

One, Shiites will be targeted by al-Nusra and other Sunni jihadist groups, especially that the sectarian tension among Lebanese Sunnis and Shiites has already reached unprecedented levels. In fact, while Hezbollah sends its fighters to Syria, many Lebanese Sunni groups are also moving to Syria to fight alongside the rebels.

 

What’s happening is that the Lebanese Sunni-Shiite civil war is already taking place, but in Syria. It is only a matter of time before it moves to Lebanon. These fighters will return to Lebanon with increased hatred toward each other; hatred rigged with blood and a desire for revenge. Al-Nusra are not organized enough to fight against Hezbollah in a conventional war, but they could cause great damage by organizing bomb attacks and suicide bombers against Hezbollah’s bases and public squares in the southern suburbs of Beirut or the South.

 

Their fighting tactics are usually based on bomb attacks, not bombing cities with rockets. They are an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, and they don’t usually dissociate between a militant and a civilian. They just target a place aiming at the maximum damage. Therefore, Hezbollah’s supporters and the Shiite community in general will be in danger.

 

Also, there are plenty of Lebanese jihadist and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups that had a presence in Lebanon before the Syrian conflict and can now be mobilized to target Hezbollah. Organizations like Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham or Osbat al-Ansar have had bases in Lebanon for years, but they never engaged Hezbollah in direct confrontations. However, after the beginning of the Syrian conflict, jihadists reportedly regrouped in a new radical organization inspired by the emergence and successful military operations of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

 

Two, Lebanon will become al-Nusra’s alternative battlefield. There are no state institutions to control their growing presence in Lebanon or the spread of arms. The current void in government is not helping and Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam seems to be incapable of forming a government that does not meet Hezbollah’s conditions, one that facilitates its involvement in Syria. So how can we protect Lebanon and the Shiites from the looming disaster?

 

Let’s start with the reality that the Shiite community in Lebanon is not one single bloc that supports Hezbollah. The diversity among the Shiites is wider than it is among other sectarian communities, for religious reasons related to the diversity of religious references (Marja’) and different interpretations of the Qur’an. On the political level, this community has never been as divided over Hezbollah as it is today. The feeling that Hezbollah is dragging them to hell is translating into serious discussion and refutation inside the community.

 

There is an urgent need to repeat this over and over. Every Lebanese official and media outlet should aim to highlight this diversity. Hezbollah will not save the Shiites. They have already determined that Lebanon and all the Lebanese will have to sacrifice their lives for their mission to serve Iran and its interests in the region. The Lebanese need to save themselves.

 

That’s why it is also important to safeguard Lebanon today by fighting Hezbollah’s hegemony over state institutions. A government that empowers Hezbollah and maintains Iran’s control over state institutions should not be an option. PM-designate Tammam Salam and President Michel Suleiman should not succumb to any threats. A government to save Lebanon is urgently needed now, more than ever. If this is not achieved, Lebanon will be naturally linked to Hezbollah and the Hezbollah-Nusra war will not spare anyone. If we lose this chance, we lose everything.

 

 Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW.

 

 

HOW HEZBOLLAH SLOWLY INFILTRATED EUROPE

Alexandre Levy

LE TEMPS/Worldcrunch, Apr. 9, 2013

 

While Cyprus was in the middle of a financial crisis, the court of Limassol, the island’s second largest city, made a ruling that largely went unnoticed. Yet it was a judicial first. On March 28, the Cyprus court condemned a 24-year-old Swedish-Lebanese man, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, to four years in prison for helping plan attacks against Israelis on the Mediterranean island. The man – a self-confessed member of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group – was a scout for the organization, tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of Israeli tourists on the island, in view of organizing a terrorist attack.

 

In front of the judges, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub denied being a terrorist, saying he had only “gathered information about Jews.” “That's what my organization does around the world,” he added. According to reports from the Cyprus police, the Hezbollah agent was particularly meticulous. He took notes on everything: flight schedules, bus license plates, the numbers of security guards, hotels, kosher restaurants etc. Hossam Taleb Yaacoub was arrested on July 7, 2012 by the Cyprus police. But it is only two weeks later that his activities started making sense, says Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

 

On the other side of the Bosporus, in Burgas, on the Bulgarian coast, a bus transporting Israeli tourists was blown up, killing seven people, including the bomber. “It is clear that Hossam Taleb Yaacoub was preparing another attack that was supposed to take place around the same time,” says Levitt. In Feb. 2013, Bulgarian authorities announced their investigations led them to believe that the Hezbollah was behind the bus bombing. Bulgaria had suddenly become a pawn on the dangerous chessboard that is the Middle-Eastern conflict.

 

Bulgaria’s announcement also had important consequences from a European point of view. Some major countries of the EU, including France and Germany, have not designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, so as to preserve the fragile political equilibrium in Lebanon. In light of the events in Cyprus and Burgas, some are “reviewing” their stance, while others “are not sufficiently convinced,” according to Bulgarian Prime Minister Marin Raikov.

 

But in the U.S., there is no doubt. Early 2013, the U.S. Congress invited the EU to blacklist Hezbollah. An invitation reiterated by some of Washington’s top officials, to Israel's utmost satisfaction. For Matthew Levitt, Hezbollah is a key ally of Iran – maybe even its military proxy – playing “a central role in Iran’s shadow war with the West.” Taking advantage of the leniency of some European capitals, Hezbollah has strengthened its network in Europe, recruiting and positioning agents all across the continent. Bi-nationals with ties with Lebanon have the ideal profile. Recruited at age 19, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub had a Swedish passport and did not arouse the suspicion of European police. This allowed him to travel frequently from Turkey to the Netherlands, through Lyon, in east-central France, carrying mysterious packages for Hezbollah.

 

It was the same for the men who operated in Bulgaria: one of them was Canadian, the other Australian; they had entered the country legally. Nothing in their attitude betrayed the true objective of their stay. Bulgarian investigators describe them as smart-looking youths, dressed head to toe with big-brand clothes. They rented cars and booked hotel rooms with fake U.S. drivers’ licenses. That was their only mistake. “The documents were made by a forger in Lebanon, known by our colleagues from Western intelligence services,” explains Bulgaria’s organized crime czar, Stanimir Florov. Money transfers from Lebanon, as well as a photo on which relatives of one of the terrorists posed with high-ranking Hezbollah militants, convinced Bulgarian officials: All the tracks lead back to Beirut.

 

Counter-terrorism experts also noted a “professionalization” of Hezbollah agents abroad. “Using fake IDs, speaking foreign languages, conspiracy techniques and coded communications… as well as a secrecy between members, which is the best way to protect other members, ” explains a European police official.

 

Hossam Taleb Yaacoub has always claimed he had never been face-to-face with his Lebanese handler and that he did not know the real purpose of his mission. This could also be the case for the young man who died in the explosion of the bomb he carried in his backpack, in front of the Israeli tourists’ bus at the Burgas airport. First described as a “suicide bomber,” he was “probably fooled by the other two team members, who managed to escape the bombing,” says a Bulgarian investigator. Nothing, not even his DNA was able to establish his true identity.

Top of Page

 

 

HEZBOLLAH CAMPAIGNS FOR PREEMPTIVE WAR IN SYRIA

Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 22, 2013

 

Several Hezbollah fighters were killed or wounded by a booby-trapped tanker truck during a recent incursion into Syria. There had been several similar incidents in preceding days. In another episode, a Syrian opposition gunman appeared to surrender to Hezbollah forces, but as he approached them, he detonated the explosive belt he was wearing.

 

Hezbollah admits to thus far losing 32 fighters in the battle for Qusair, but some believe the actual figure to be much higher. On May 20, the party buried two brothers who had fought in Qusair, and a rumor circulated that their father died from sorrow during the funeral. The fact that such a story was making the rounds among Hezbollah’s base reflects the prevailing anxiety.

 

Most of the party’s militia members come from the same societal group, so when one of them is killed, it affects an entire community. Hezbollah’s participation in the Qusair fighting thus stands to affect the party’s relationship with its base.

 

The organization's propaganda machine is busy in its strongholds — the Bekaa Valley, south Lebanon, and Beirut’s southern suburbs — trying to preempt feelings of frustration. The campaign is focused on convincing Hezbollah supporters that Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has wisely decided to fight Sunni takfiris in Syria because if they succeed in bringing down the Syrian regime, they will then target Lebanon and subjugate the Shiites.

 

In short, the propaganda campaign is about making the argument for a preemptive war. Hezbollah must fight the Sunni takfirists now, on Syrian ground beside the Syrian army, because if Hezbollah waits until the takfiris bring down the Bashar al-Assad government, it would be forced to fight them alone in Lebanon.

 

Another argument Hezbollah is making is that the party has a duty to defend sacred Shiite shrines in Syria, such as Sayyeda Zeinab in Damascus, which Syrian opposition militants have tried to destroy on more than one occasion.

 

Another part of the propaganda campaign involves promoting stories of heroic acts by party members in Qusair and portraying Hezbollah fighters as militarily superior, even to those in the Syrian army. Such boasting about Hezbollah’s strength and military competence is intended to raise the morale of the base and shift attention away from news reports of Hezbollah losses.

 

So goes the effort to convince Hezbollah supporters that the price of losing their sons is worth it.

 

 

Three in Europe Now Oppose Hezbollah: Nicholas Kulish, New York Times,  May 22, 2013—Three of Europe’s most powerful countries — Britain, Germany and France — have thrown their weight behind a push for the European Union to designate the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, a move that could have far-reaching consequences for the group’s fund-raising activities on the Continent.

 

The Jihadist Threat to Lebanon: Jaafar al-Attar, from As-Safir (Lebanon). Al-Monitor, May 15, 2013—Many officers do not deny that the Lebanese security services do not possess documented information on the numbers and locations of the “organized takfiri networks” in Lebanon. The head of one of those security services told As-Safir that “monitoring and information-gathering on terrorist networks cannot be precise, since they are located within the Palestinian refugee camps, especially in Ain al-Hilweh.”

 

Hizbollah Cannot Afford to Stay Long in Syria's Quagmire: Michael Young, The National (UAE), May 23, 2013 —Hizbollah is being drawn into the Syrian quagmire. as revealed by this week's reports of party members being killed fighting in the strategic Syrian town of Qusair. Victory in Qusair is vital for the Syrian regime, as it would clear a corridor between Damascus and the coast, the stronghold of the Alawite community.

 

Top of Page

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.
To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a minimum $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

SYRIA HEATS UP AS ISRAEL ENFORCES ITS RED LINE, SENDS MESSAGE TO IRAN; OBAMA DETERMINED TO DITHER

Download a pdf version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Contents:                          

 

 

Israel Hits Syria, Sends Message to Iran: Ben Caspit, Al-Monitor Israel Pulse, May 5, 2013—Whenever the situation in the Middle East looks like it can’t get any worse, it gets worse. Syria has been embroiled in a bloody civil war for two years now, and over the past year a significant number of global terror groups and ad hoc al-Qaeda cells have jumped into the fray. And now, even Israel is joining the action.

 

Analysis: Israel Enforcing Red Lines on Syria: Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post, May 5, 2013—The two aerial strikes on Damascus in the past 48 hours, carried out by the Israel Air Force according to foreign media reports, are likely the result of classified intelligence indicating an imminent attempt to transfer strategic weapons from Syria to Hezbollah.

 

A Key Syrian Partner Is Frustrated By Obama’s Caution: David Ignatius, The Daily Star, May 03, 2013—Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of rebel forces in Syria, complained late Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s desire “to wait and wait for more evidence” that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons is encouraging their continued use – and that these attacks will only stop if the United States and its allies impose a no-fly zone.

 

On Topic Links

 

Hundreds of [Syrian] Families Flee 'Death Squads': Magdy Samaan, Phoebe Greenwood, The Telegraph, May 4, 2013

Israel Strikes a Blow to Conventional Arab Thinking: Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel, May 6, 2013

Syria’s Tragedy Can no Longer Be Contained: Editorial, The Telegraph, May 5, 2013

Stalemate in the Syrian Civil War: Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, JCPA, April 14, 2013

The Region: Syria: The Empire Strikes Back: Barry Rubin, Jerusalem Post, May 5, 2013

Attacks Fuel Debate Over U.S.-Led Effort: David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 5, 2013

 

 

ISRAEL HITS SYRIA, SENDS MESSAGE TO IRAN

Ben Caspit

Al-Monitor Israel Pulse, May 5, 2013

                       

Whenever the situation in the Middle East looks like it can’t get any worse, it gets worse. Syria has been embroiled in a bloody civil war for two years now, and over the past year a significant number of global terror groups and ad hoc al-Qaeda cells have jumped into the fray. At the same time, Hezbollah was drawn into the struggle and is sending in hundreds of its troops into Syria. Iran is also sending in Islamic Revolution Guards Corps [IRGC] regiments. Turkey is involved, and the fire is spreading to all corners, while in Jordan they are trying to establish a buffer zone for refugees. The Golan Heights is catching ricochets, and the entire region is seething. And now, even Israel is joining the action.

 

So let’s set a few things straight: A few hints appeared in the previous article I published in Al-Monitor: the first, including an unequivocal statement by a high-ranking Israeli military official, according to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime still maintained full control over his chemical weapons. There is no threat to them. According to assessments, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah does not want chemical weapons, as he knows they will only spell trouble for him because Israel would never tolerate weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Hezbollah’s leader. However, Israel’s highest ranking defense officials have made it clear that Israel would also stop “game-changing” weapons from making their way to Hezbollah. And not only chemical weapons. The Israeli airstrikes, according to Western Intelligence sources, around Damascus over the weekend were proof that Israel means business.

 

As far as Israel is concerned, three types of Syrian weapons constitute casus belli, game changers, the types Israel will never allow to flow to Hezbollah. And that's without addressing the issue of chemical weapons. According to experienced military sources, these are high precision, lethal Yakhont missiles that are able to strike ships or marine platforms from a distance of 300 km or farther. Missiles such as these would put the gas excavations in Israel's economic waters within strike range. The second type are SA17 anti-aircraft missiles, which are considered game changers in terms of the Israeli air force's freedom of operation. The third are the weapons hit Damascus in recent days.

 

And that’s exactly what happened. According to Western intelligence sources, the targets that were bombed twice (during the night between last Thursday and Friday, May 2, and the night between Saturday and Sunday this week, May 4) were Fateh-110 missiles depots and their solid fuel depots. Why are they considered “game changers”? Because they are far more precise than the old Scuds and Nasrallah’s rockets, and because they are propelled by solid fuel and launched from mobile launchers. In other words: precision is the critical element here. If Nasrallah gets missiles with a dispersion range of only a few dozen meters, like the Fateh missiles, it means that he would be able to threaten the Israeli air forces’ airports and other strategic facilities.

Israel cannot allow itself to be in that position. Another, even more serious matter for the Israelis: the fact that launching Fateh missiles does not require a lengthy and complex launch process that can be seen by Israeli Unmanned Aerial Vehicles [UAVs]. Because it is equipped with solid fuel, the Fateh can be launched quickly, within a matter of minutes, from a relatively small vehicle, and strike its target with lethal precision, with a war head weighing half a ton. You can’t make predictions, you can’t shoot them down from the air. If there is such a thing as “game-changing” weapons in the match between Israel and Hezbollah, this is it.

 

It is believed that the operation was coordinated with the United States through a very long series of discussions between the parties, at all levels. The issue was also raised during US President Barack Obama’s visit to Jerusalem at the end of March this year. According to sources which were involved in privy to these talks, the Americans gave the nod of approval and suggested that Israel only do so when it is clear that said consignments were about to make their way to their destinations, while maintaining a “small footprint,” so that Assad is not tempted to respond or forced to respond.

 

The situation is quite reminiscent of the situation right before the bombing of the Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir al-Zour in the summer of 2007. According to foreign reports, Israel was responsible for the airstrike, which took place prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. In operational terms, the destruction of the reactor was quick and simple. The question was how to prevent the situation from deteriorating into a full-scale war between Israel and Syria. A great deal of energy was spent then to keep a low profile, while at the same time signaling that the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] were ready to go. Then, too, half the Israeli army was performing drills in the Golan Heights, just like last week at the end of April, when the IDF conducted a major division drill in the Golan. That said, however, there are major differences between the strategic situation then and now.

 

Assad today is not the stable and self-confident leader he was then. He is fighting for his life and the survival of his regime. Some people in Israel believe that Assad’s fall would be good news, while others, whose numbers have been growing, are convinced that Assad’s fall would be bad news and that we’ll miss him more than we ever dreamt we would. I tend to agree with the latter. In any event, Assad today doesn’t have the privilege of taking action because his honor was bruised, and he doesn’t really have to respond to every provocation. Israeli action against him could actually play into his hands, as someone who is trying to persuade one and all that the uprising against him is actually a Zionist conspiracy. Assad’s military position is complex, and the last thing he needs now is to get entangled with Israel. That’s the reason that the probability of an all-out war between Syria and Israel, or between Hezbollah and Israel, due to the recent airstrike near Damascus is not very high.

 

What does Israel get out of all of this? First of all, it has reduced the risk of transfer of missiles or “game-changing” technologies into what it believes are dangerous hands. It is not a far stretch to believe that there will be other strikes, if and when. It is not unimaginable that Israel will take advantage of the chaos to drastically reduce the potential of such technology and equipment falling into the wrong hands. Second of all, Israel has once again put on a show of military, and especially intelligence, strength. The consignments that exploded with a thundering boom in Damascus in recent days are underground, protected by thick layers of concrete. While it’s true that this is still not the Fordow site, there are very few air forces in the world that know how to crack such caches, and with such ease.

 

And we still haven’t mentioned the excellent and precise intelligence. I believe that in Jerusalem they assume that Tehran is looking at bombed out and burning Damascus and understanding several things. The United States is supportive, the world is silent and the sides are ready in a face-off, closer than ever to conflict. If we think about it, we are actually right in the middle of the dress rehearsal.

 

Ben Caspit is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse. He is also a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers.

 

Top of Page

 

 

ANALYSIS: ISRAEL ENFORCING RED LINES ON SYRIA

Yaakov Lappin

Jerusalem Post, May 5, 2013

 

The two aerial strikes on Damascus in the past 48 hours, carried out by the Israel Air Force according to foreign media reports, are likely the result of classified intelligence indicating an imminent attempt to transfer strategic weapons from Syria to Hezbollah.

 

With Hezbollah deploying up to half of its fighting force to Syria to help the regime of dictator Bashar Assad fight for its survival, the Lebanese Shi’ite organization will be seeking “rewards” for its actions. Hezbollah and its patron Iran may have asked Assad to make the advanced weapons available.

 

It would seem that Assad cannot have been in the dark over the likelihood of such proliferation triggering action to stop it. Back in January, Israel reportedly sent a very clear message to Syria, Hezbollah and Iran when an air strike targeted a Hezbollah-bound convoy carrying advanced surface-to-air missiles toward Lebanon. But that apparently didn’t stop Hezbollah from trying again this weekend.

 

Assad is in no position to decline “requests” for strategic arms from his only regional allies, on whom he depends for his survival. The weapons targeted may well have been Iranian Fatah-110 missiles, which run on solid fuel and have a range of 300 kilometers. It remains unclear how long those missiles had been stored on Syrian territory. In any case, Jerusalem seems prepared to take a calculated risk now, to avoid facing a significantly worse strategic situation later.

 

It is prepared to enforce its red lines on weapons proliferation with Hezbollah, and perhaps also send a message to Iran – which is continuing with its nuclear program – that Israel’s red lines are set in stone, come what may. Although such high-profile air strikes have the potential to escalate into a wider conflict, allowing Hezbollah to acquire advanced missiles would make a damaging conflict with it more likely in the future, and hence, doing nothing is a poor option, the logic behind such strikes suggests.

 

Hezbollah is already heavily armed, with at least 70,000 rockets in its possession, and allowing it to take possession of Iranian missiles that put all of Israel in range would make a future clash with it that much more painful for the Israeli home front. Syria may be in a state of chaos, but that doesn’t mean Israel has abandoned its red lines.

 

There may be additional big-picture factors at play behind the recent events. Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior scholar at the Herzliya-based Institute for Counter-Terrorism, pointed on Sunday to contingency planning by Iran, the Syrian regime, and Hezbollah, aimed at creating an Allawite ministate on the Syrian coast, and linking it to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, as well as with southern Lebanon – both of which are dominated by Hezbollah, if the Assad regime is toppled.

 

Such an Allawite-Shi’ite entity would be under direct Iranian patronage, meaning that Iran would create a new base for itself in Syria, Karmon argued. “The importance of these bombings may be… not only to prevent Iranian strategic weapons from being transferred, but to prevent this future entity from being armed and threatening to us,” he said.

 

An Allawite-Shi’ite entity might invite an Iranian task force to defend it directly, Karmon added. “In recent weeks, we’re seeing this strategy being realized. The intense battles of [the Syrian coastal city of] Al-Qussair resulted in the Syrian Army and Hezbollah almost retaking it. That leaves a corridor open from Damascus to the Allawite area…through which Assad can withdraw, together with his chemical weapons,” Karmon said.

 

Similarly, the slaughter of Sunni civilians in the coastal Syrian city of Baniyas appears to be a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing designed to pave the way for an Allawite-Shi’ite entity in the area. Assad has been able to secure the three major cities of Damascus, Aleppo and Homs, by retreating from other areas. He has also created a militia made up of “national committees,” tasked with fighting the rebels alongside the pro-regime and notorious Shabiha paramilitaries.

 

But that doesn’t mean he will be able to save his regime in the long run, fuelling the need for preparing a future Allawistan. Karmon doubted that Syria or Hezbollah would directly respond to this weekend’s air strikes. With Hezbollah’s fighters deployed in Syria, its forces will be “exposed to our attacks before the Iranians can help them. If the Syrians fire their last missiles against us, they endanger air strikes on their army divisions.” But Iran and Hezbollah could use their overseas terrorist infrastructure to engineer a vengeance attack, he warned.

 

Also on Sunday, the former military secretary to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, published an article saying that Iran was poised to extend its control of Syria. Shapira, a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, noted that Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah paid a rare, secret visit to Tehran last month, where he met with senior Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, and the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Qasem Suleimani, who is in charge of Iranian policy in Lebanon and Syria.  “Suleimani’s involvement in the meeting with Nasrallah was significant.

 

He has been the spearhead of Iranian military activism in the Middle East. In January 2012, he declared that the Islamic Republic controlled, “one way or another,” Iraq and South Lebanon. He now appeared to be prepared to extend Iran’s control to all of Syria,” Shapira said. Shapira cited a trustworthy source as saying that “Iran has formulated an operational plan for assisting Syria.

 

The plan has been named for Gen. Suleimani. It includes three elements: 1. the establishment of a popular sectarian army made up of Shi’ites and Allawites, to be backed by forces from Iran, Iraq, Hezbollah and symbolic contingents from the Persian Gulf.  2. This force will reach 150,000 fighters. 3. The plan will give preference to importing forces from Iran, Iraq and, only afterwards, other Shi’ite elements.

 

This regional force will be integrated with the Syrian Army. Suleimani himself visited Syria in late February-early March to prepare the implementation of this plan.” Shapira labeled these preparations as a “Plan B,” for use in the event of Assad’s fall. “Iran already seems to be looking beyond the regime’s survivability and preparing for a reality where it will have to operate in Syria even if Assad falls. Even before recent events in Syria, observers in the Arab world have been warning for years about growing evidence of “Iranian expansionism,” Shapira said.  And Hezbollah is expected to play a central role in this expansionism, he added.

 

A KEY SYRIAN PARTNER IS FRUSTRATED BY OBAMA’S CAUTION

David Ignatius

The Daily Star, May 03, 2013

 

Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of rebel forces in Syria, complained late Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s desire “to wait and wait for more evidence” that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons is encouraging their continued use – and that these attacks will only stop if the United States and its allies impose a no-fly zone. Idriss, who heads the moderate wing of the Free Syrian Army, has emerged as the key U.S. ally in the Syrian conflict. While he appreciates the recent increase in U.S. training and humanitarian support, and the talk in Washington of sending lethal aid, he was clearly frustrated by the comments that Obama had made to reporters a few hours earlier.

 

Obama said in the televised news conference that he wanted solid evidence of chemical weapons that could prompt international action against President Bashar Assad. “If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in a position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do,” Obama said.

 

But Idriss countered that his forces have enough information now to answer Obama’s questions of how, where and when the weapons were deployed on four separate occasions. He welcomed U.S. plans to train his forces but said this strategy will be useless if Assad continues the chemical attacks. Idriss claimed the regime could deliver the chemical weapons with planes and Scud missiles, which he said must be destroyed.

 

Idriss, a German-trained engineer who defected from Assad last summer, voices moderate, nonsectarian views. He opposes the extremist Nusra Front and said he has ordered his fighters to stop cooperating with them. He repeated a February statement to me that he’s ready to negotiate a political transition with Syrian army commanders who haven’t ordered the deaths of civilians. Idriss also offered to meet “right now” with Russian officials. “If they have some interests, we will discuss the Russian role in the future. We will be very positive,” he said.

 

The Obama administration sees Russia as a necessary participant in any negotiated political transition in Syria. Obama’s desire for Russian cooperation is one reason he has been cautious in responding to allegations that Assad has used chemical weapons. Obama talked by phone to President Vladimir Putin Monday, and an official said “we still do believe there’s a constructive role for Russia to play.”

 

Idriss was emphatic about his break from the Nusra Front, which is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. “We don’t work with Nusra. We don’t share anything with them.” He said fighters from the extremist group had fought alongside some of his battalions, “but they were not invited.” Building up Idriss’ Supreme Military Council is crucial given the administration’s expectation of a continuing struggle after Assad is toppled. “There could be a second war after Assad falls … as factions battle for control,” explained a senior administration official Tuesday. The official said the extremist threat had been discussed with Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others.

The U.S. official agreed that there was “a growing reluctance” among Idriss’ mainstream umbrella group to work with the Nusra Front, especially after it formally pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in Iraq a few weeks ago. “Nusra’s gains haven’t been arrested, but their progress has been decelerated,” said the U.S. official.

 

Whether Idriss and his moderate forces can expand their command-and-control network is the crucial issue for the U.S. – and also the most problematic. The Syrian opposition is almost entirely Sunni Muslim and has deep Islamist roots. The battalions nominally under Idriss’ command have been fighting alongside jihadi groups for more than a year, and it will take more than official statements to accomplish a separation.

 

Squeezing the extremists will be impossible without more help from Turkey, across whose border the Syrian jihadi fighters travel daily to receive money and supplies from wealthy Gulf Arabs. The United States is hoping that Turkey will crack down harder on this cross-border traffic, and this will be a key topic when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Washington in mid-May.

 

To underline his plea for help, Idriss is sending a letter to Obama. “Mr. President, I understand the reasons behind your cautious involvement in Syria,” a draft said. “We desperately need your support, as the Free Syrian Army under my command has neither the requisite training nor equipment to counter the effects of Assad’s chemical weapons or to destroy them.”

 

Perhaps most important, Idriss said in his letter that “our future Free Syria will not need weapons of mass destruction.” In other words, to get rid of “senseless” chemical weapons, dump Assad.

 

David Ignatius is published twice weekly by The Daily Star.

Top of Page

___________________________________________________________

 

Hundreds of [Syrian] Families Flee 'Death Squads' As Israel Takes Out Missile Convoys: Magdy Samaan, Phoebe Greenwood, The Telegraph, May 4, 2013—Relatives of the dead in the Sunni Muslim villages of Bayda and Ras al-Nabaah [Syria] told The Sunday Telegraph that scores, possibly hundreds of men, women and children had been killed by Alawite militias that attacked the villages on Thursday and Friday.

 

Israel Strikes a Blow to Conventional Arab Thinking: Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel, May 6, 2013—The alleged Israeli strikes on Hezbollah weapons stashes in Syria over the weekend have left Arab observers baffled; for while many have been hoping — secretly or publicly — for a decisive military strike against President Bashar Assad, few expected or indeed wished for it to come from Israel.

 

Syria’s Tragedy Can no Longer Be Contained: Editorial, The Telegraph, May 5, 2013—The capacity of the Syrian civil war to draw other nations into its ghastly vortex has finally been realized with the Israeli air strikes on targets inside the disintegrating state. While Western powers have been anxious to stay out of the conflict, Israel cannot afford to be indifferent to what is happening on its doorstep.

 

Stalemate in the Syrian Civil War: Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, JCPA, April 14, 2013—On the second anniversary of the civil war in Syria, it seems that the war is here to stay. Nothing on the horizon foretells a ceasefire, a compromise to end hostilities and stop the bloodshed, or a capitulation by one of the two sides.

 

The Region: Syria: The Empire Strikes Back: Barry Rubin, Jerusalem Post, May 5, 2013—Given the recent military gains of the Syrian regime, obituaries of dictator Bashar Assad have proven exaggerated, and that puts the Obama administration in a bind. US strategy, and that of the West and international organizations, has been based on two ideas that have proven to be wishful thinking: • Assad and the opposition would cut a deal and so everything could be settled nicely and diplomatically.

 

Attacks Fuel Debate Over U.S.-Led Effort: David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 5, 2013—The apparent ease with which Israel struck missile sites and, by Syrian accounts, a major military research center near Damascus in recent days has stoked debate in Washington about whether American-led airstrikes are the logical next step to cripple President Bashar al-Assad’s ability to counter the rebel forces or use chemical weapons.

Top of Page

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.
To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a minimum $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

THE SYRIAN COCK-PIT: RISING ISLAMIST INFLUENCE, RUSSIAN AND IRANIAN INTRIGUE, NO U.S. “RED-LINE”

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

Syria’s Fate Hinges on Whom It Hates Most, U.S. or Iran?: Karim Sadjadpour & Firas Maksad, Bloomberg, Feb 5, 2013—As Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad clings mercilessly to power, hopes that his regime will be replaced by a stable, tolerant democracy are being dwarfed by fears of prolonged sectarian strife and Islamist radicalism. The outcome will hinge in part on a simple question: Whom do Syria’s diverse rebels hate more, the U.S. or Iran?

 

The Nonexistent Red Line: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Jan 28, 2013—The State Department cable, signed by the U.S. consul in Istanbul and based on interviews with doctors, defectors from the Syrian Army, and activists, made what one unnamed administration official called a “compelling case” that the Syrian military had used Agent 15, or BZ gas, in Homs last month against the Sunni-majority opposition.

The “Day After” Scenario in Syria: Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Dec. 21, 2012—The moment of truth is approaching in Syria. In an interview with the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, published on December 17, Syria’s vice president, Farouq al-Shara, admitted for the first time that the war against the Syrian rebels could not be won: “I do not believe that what the security forces and the army units are doing will achieve a decisive victory.”

 

On Topic Links
 

Bombing the Syrian Reactor: The Untold Story: Elliott Abrams, Commentary, February 2013

Jordan Bracing for More Syria Spillover: David Schenker, Real Clear World, February 1, 2013

Damascus Clashes Rage as Troops Take Central Town: Now Lebanon,  Feb. 7, 2013
After Assad, Chaos?: Ramzy Mardini, New York Times, February 3, 2013

 

 

SYRIA’S FATE HINGES ON WHOM IT HATES MOST, U.S. OR IRAN?

Karim Sadjadpour & Firas Maksad

Bloomberg, Feb 5, 2013

As Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad clings mercilessly to power, hopes that his regime will be replaced by a stable, tolerant democracy are being dwarfed by fears of prolonged sectarian strife and Islamist radicalism. The outcome will hinge in part on a simple question: Whom do Syria’s diverse rebels hate more, the U.S. or Iran?

 

The anomaly of power in modern Syria — where an Alawite minority rules over a Sunni Arab majority — was never sustainable, and few countries stand to lose more from the regime’s collapse than the Islamic Republic of Iran. Syria has been Iran’s only consistent ally since the 1979 revolution, providing the leadership in Tehran with a crucial thoroughfare to Iran’s most important regional asset, the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

 

As a result, Iran has done its utmost to keep Assad afloat, providing billions of dollars of support as well as strategic aid to crush dissent. To relieve pressure on the Syrian military, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is reportedly training two paramilitary organizations, Jaysh al Sha’abi and the Shabiha, which boast 50,000 fighters and are modeled on the Bassij militia that violently quashed Iran’s 2009 popular uprisings.

 

This support can only delay, not prevent, Assad’s demise. Thereafter Iran will face a strategic decision: whether to continue supporting a predominantly Alawite militia that represents only a small fraction of Syrian society, or to engage the Sunni Islamists who are poised to wield power in Damascus once Assad falls. Iran’s leaders will try to embrace the Sunni radicals, and if that fails they will work with the Shabiha to prevent the formation of a stable, anti-Iranian order in Syria.

 

What’s most important for Iran is not the sectarian makeup of Syria’s future rulers, but a like-minded ideological worldview premised on resistance to the U.S. and Israel. As Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei once said, “We will support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world.” Iran’s Sunni allies Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are cases in point.

 

Despite sharing common enemies with some Syrian rebels, there is no guarantee that Iran will be able to befriend the same forces it has helped to massacre over the past two years. Anti-Shiite, anti-Persian sentiment is rife among Syria’s rebels, and the attraction of Iranian petro-largesse is eclipsed by the deeper pockets of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

 

The question for the U.S. and allies such as Turkey is what can they do to ensure that moderate factions in the Syrian opposition come to dominate in a post-Assad Syria, and that they will prefer to work with the U.S. and its friends in the region, rather than with Iran.

 

That outcome isn’t guaranteed, either. Iranian influence tends to thrive in countries suffering power vacuums and tumult, which they can attribute to U.S. or Israeli policies. They helped create Hezbollah after the 1982 Israeli invasion of civil-war era Lebanon. And in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, they helped entrench an Iraqi political class that is closer to Iran than the U.S. As Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, Moshe Ya’alon, put it last year: “The Iranians know how to exploit every area and country that isn’t properly governed.”

 

This sordid history has made the Barack Obama administration reluctant to decisively enter the Syria fray, fearful of being sucked into an Islamist brier patch or another costly but fruitless exercise in nation-building. Benign neglect, however, hasn’t been so benign. Syria’s humanitarian crisis has reached epic proportions, with more than 60,000 people killed and 2.5 million people displaced. The sense of abandonment and desperation felt by many Syrians has served to strengthen the most radical elements of the rebel forces….

 

Syria’s hemorrhaging will continue to fuel radicalism until there is a change of political leadership in Damascus. In order to expedite this process, the U.S. administration must inhibit Iran’s ability to arm and finance Assad. This requires coercing the Iraqi government — the beneficiary of $2 billion in annual U.S. military aid — to halt the steady transit of Iranian military hardware and personnel to Syria. It also means making clear to Lebanon that it must curtail Hezbollah’s cross-border operations into Syria, and ensure that Iran can’t use Lebanese banks to evade international sanctions. The U.S. and its allies should expose the governments of both countries as abettors to Assad’s criminal regime, should they continue to be complicit in Iran’s operations….

 

A greater U.S. role won’t render Syria an American-allied democracy. That possibility, if it ever existed, has long been lost. But continued U.S. inaction risks leaving Syria at the mercy of Iran and Sunni extremists whose intolerance, and hatred of the U.S., dwarfs any concerns they may have for the well- being of Syria and its people. Such an outcome would haunt Syria, the Middle East and the U.S. for years to come.

 

Karim Sadjadpour is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Firas Maksad is director of New Policy Advisors, a Washington advisory group.

 

Top of Page

 

 

THE NONEXISTENT RED LINE

Lee Smith

Weekly Standard, Jan 28, 2013

 

Last week, we learned of a secret State Department assessment that forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad had recently used chemical weapons. The State Department cable, signed by the U.S. consul in Istanbul and based on interviews with doctors, defectors from the Syrian Army, and activists, made what one unnamed administration official called a “compelling case” that the Syrian military had used Agent 15, or BZ gas, in Homs last month against the Sunni-majority opposition. Nonetheless, within 24 hours, the State Department challenged the news report and the cable’s conclusion, stating that it “found no credible evidence to corroborate or to confirm that chemical weapons were used.”

 

It’s hardly surprising the administration was eager to paper over a story that showed the cracks in its jerry-built Syria policy. After all, just last August Obama pledged that “seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons” by Assad would mean the Syrian dictator had crossed a “red line” and would trigger a U.S. response. If Assad had already used those weapons, that would mean Obama blinked.

 

The leak itself showed that even inside the administration there is a gnawing suspicion that the president’s Syria policy has come up short. The president has let a humanitarian crisis grow to enormous proportions during the last 24 months. Further, Obama has squandered an opportunity to advance American interests by toppling Iran’s only Arab ally, and has imperilled U.S. allies on Syria’s borders by failing to contain a crisis that is spilling over into Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon and may cause trouble for Israel as well.

 

The White House had previously bragged that in December, via private messages from Obama through the Russians and other interlocutors, it stopped the regime in Damascus from using chemical weapons. One senior defence official told the New York Times, “I think the Russians understood this is the one thing that could get us to intervene in the war.”

 

But in congratulating itself, the administration unwittingly underscored the fact that it could have intervened at any point over the last two years, during which time Assad has slaughtered more than 60,000 victims. Last week alone, Assad’s forces killed more than 100 people in Homs, who were shot, stabbed, and incinerated. Should we congratulate the Obama administration that they weren’t gassed?

 

Also last week, 80 were killed and more than 150 wounded in a regime airstrike on the University of Aleppo. At one time it seemed that the use of fixed-wing aircraft against civilians, like the students and displaced persons camped out on the university grounds, constituted an American red line. After all, the difference between Qaddafi and Assad, said Secretary of State Clinton in explaining why the United States had joined the NATO action against the former and was content to sit back and watch the latter, was that the Libyan dictator was using airstrikes against his own people.

 

One problem with Obama’s statement on chemical weapons last summer was that he was sending a message to Assad that carnage up to that supposed red line was acceptable. But the red line itself was problematic. Given the limited flow of information coming out of Syria, it was always going to be difficult to confirm the use of chemical weapons. The conflicting signals from the State Department last week made the issue plain. “When this particular message came in from consulate Istanbul,” said a State Department spokesperson, we “concluded at the time that we couldn’t corroborate it; we haven’t been able to corroborate it since either.”

 

Sure, the opposition might submit evidence that they’d been gassed, but how would anyone know if they were telling the truth? How would you verify their stories, or authenticate YouTube videos of people vomiting, choking, and dying? The Syrian rebels have an interest, after all, in bringing the United States into the conflict.

 

In any case, as outgoing defence secretary Leon Panetta explained earlier this month, it turns out the United States would only send in troops to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile after Assad fell. The concern, said Panetta “is what steps does the international community take to make sure that when Assad comes down, that there is a process and procedure to make sure we get our hands on securing those sites?” In other words, as long as Assad is still in power, the White House is not going to do anything about his arsenal.

 

Top of Page

 

 

 

THE “DAY AFTER” SCENARIO IN SYRIA
Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, December 21, 2012

The moment of truth is approaching in Syria. In an interview with the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, published on December 17, Syria’s vice president, Farouq al-Shara, admitted for the first time that the war against the Syrian rebels could not be won: “I do not believe that what the security forces and the army units are doing will achieve a decisive victory.”

The rebel forces, led by allied jihadist groups, have the upper hand on the battlefield, and scored significant achievements when they took over a large military base in Aleppo well stocked with weapons and ammunition, and later in fierce fighting in communities surrounding the capital city of Damascus including the Yarmouk Palstinian refugee camp. The Free Syrian Army is now claiming to have gained control of most of the air defense bases in the Damascus Governate.2

Bashar Assad’s regime is fighting a rearguard battle and has already lost control over large parts of the country, which are still being subjected to aerial and artillery attacks by Syrian army forces still loyal to the regime. Assad continues to draw his strength from the Alawite community, which forms the backbone of the army, and from the political, military, and economic assistance he receives from Russia, Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah. The latter two have also sent forces to help with the fighting both in advisory and operational capacities….

 

With the Syrian crisis entering its final stage, what follows are the main implications. To begin with, Assad’s regime has long since lost its legitimacy to rule, and at most can survive for a further period through the growing use of firepower that is meant to inflict large-scale casualties among the rebels and the civilian population that supports them.

The rebels’ takeover of large parts of Aleppo will likely precipitate a final collapse of the army’s rule in the area. This will add momentum to similar processes in northern Syria, further enabling the mobilization and organization of forces for the decisive battle in Damascus – if the campaign being waged at present does not achieve a breakthrough. In attacking rebel forces and the Syrian population, the Syrian army has seen fit to use all the weapons in its arsenal except for chemical weapons. Strong messages on this issue from the United States and other Western countries, indicating that the use of such weapons will prompt Western military intervention expressly aimed at toppling the regime, have acted as a deterrent.

It is unlikely under the prevailing circumstances that Assad’s regime believes the use of chemical weapons can restore the previous situation in Syria, even if very heavy losses are inflicted on the civilian population. It appears probable that, should Damascus soon fall into rebel hands, the regime will instead seek to transfer most of the surviving loyal forces and strategic (including chemical) weaponry to the area of the Alawite enclave in the west of the country. These weapons would then serve as a deterrent to acts of revenge and a political card for ensuring the Alawite community’s status in a future Syrian order.

The Syrian National Coalition has indeed won international recognition and projects a moderate image for the Syrian opposition. The reality, however, is much more complex. The rebel forces regard the new leadership of the opposition as having been imposed on them, and are prepared at most to accept it as a temporary actor that can mobilize the international support needed to complete the endeavour of toppling the regime. In actuality, the dominant forces in Syria are the military frameworks that have waged the campaign against the regime since the revolution erupted in March 2011. These military frameworks, which enjoy great popular support, will likely demand their part in the new government and make their imprint on the shaping of the new Syria.

An analysis of the fighting forces’ ideological underpinnings shows that the overwhelming majority, if not all, espouse an Islamist, jihadist, Salafist outlook at different degrees of fervour. Their common denominator is a desire to establish a new Syria that is ruled by the Sunni Muslim majority and defines itself first and foremost as an Islamic state.

The Jahbat al-Nusra organization, which is identified with the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, is considered one of the most powerful forces among the rebels and enjoys extensive popular sympathy both because of its battlefield achievements and the aid it provides to the population. A few days after the United States decided to add it to the list of terrorist organizations, there were mass demonstrations of support for the organization in Syria in the name of all the fighting forces, under the banner: “There Is No Terror in Syria But Assad’s Terror.” Despite its international connections, even the Syrian National Coalition rejected the U.S. decision to classify Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization. This full backing for a branch of al-Qaeda against the U.S. and the West likely indicates the future direction of the Syrian revolution, which appears ready to adopt Islamism as the main basis of the government that will replace the Assad regime.

Under the surface in Syria, two major Islamic forces are active: the Muslim Brotherhood via Turkey, and Hizb ut-Tahrir, which calls for the immediate creation of an Islamic caliphate. Officially, the Muslim Brotherhood has no fighting forces acting under its name. According to testimonies, however, some of the semi-military frameworks set up over the past two years are identified with the movement, and it controls numerous sources of financial aid from the Gulf states and thereby wields influence among the rebel forces. The Brotherhood is likely to take a higher profile after the revolution achieves its ends, and to strive, with the help of Turkey and Egypt, to unite all the Islamic factions under its leadership.

The overriding goal of the new regime, with Turkey’s support, will be to maintain Syria’s geographic coherence and prevent its division on an ethnic/religious (Sunni, Alawite, Kurdish, and Druze) basis. So far the rebel forces, except for specific acts of vengeance, have avoided massacres of the Alawite population. They want to leave an escape hatch for Alawite officers and soldiers who will encourage others to desert, thereby hastening the army’s collapse. Such restraint will not necessarily remain after the regime collapses, with not a few voices among the rebels already calling for retribution. One possible solution for the new situation is an eventual Syrian federation that would extend limited autonomous rights to the minority groups….

The fall of Assad, Tehran’s close ally, will be a harsh blow to Iran’s interests in the Middle East and could cause further shockwaves that weaken Iran’s influence even more. That pertains particularly to the Lebanese arena, where the Sunni Islamist forces are already organizing for the day after Assad’s fall in a push to alter Lebanon’s political and military balance of power, in which Hizbullah is now dominant. The collapse of the Syrian hinterland will likely spark violent clashes that could escalate to a civil war in Lebanon between the radical Sunni forces and Hizbullah. In Iraq, which has been under increasing Iranian domination after the U.S. withdrawal, Iraqi Sunnis will likely look to their Sunni allies in a post-Assad Syria in order to renew the insurgency campaign against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

At present the rebel forces view Iran, Russia, and China as partners in crime for fully backing the Assad regime. It is, however, undoubtedly possible that ties with them will be rehabilitated in the longer term. Russia has a major interest in maintaining its influence in Syria, and will likely play the card of banishment of Assad and his comrades in trying to pave a path to the rebels’ hearts. Although the animosity toward Iran has an ideological basis, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown that it ascribed supreme strategic importance to relations with Iran even while massacres were being perpetrated in Syria; the common interest is to counter Western influence in the Middle East and build a front against Israel. These considerations are likely to guide the new regime in Damascus.

 

Top of Page

 

 

 

 

Bombing the Syrian Reactor: The Untold Story: Elliott Abrams, Commentary, Feb. 2013—As the civil war in Syria enters its third year, there is much discussion of the regime’s chemical weapons and whether Syria’s Bashar al-Assad will unleash them against Syrian rebels, or whether a power vacuum after Assad’s fall might make those horrific tools available to the highest bidder. The conversation centers on Syria’s chemical weaponry, not on something vastly more serious: its nuclear weaponry. It well might have. This is the inside story of why it does not.
 

Jordan Bracing for More Syria Spillover: David Schenker, Real Clear World, Feb. 1, 2013—So far, the war in Syria has proved expensive but not destabilizing for Jordan, in large part because Amman has extensive experience dealing with both refugees and foreign-borne subversion. If the situation in the north deteriorates further, however, the kingdom's security and humanitarian infrastructure may struggle to keep up.

 

Damascus clashes rage as troops take central town: Now Lebanon,  Feb. 7, 2013—Syrian regime troops took control of the central town of Karnaz on Thursday after 16 days of clashes with rebels, a watchdog said, also reporting three children among six killed in bombing of Damascus. Government troops seized nearby Mughir two days ago. This village is the gateway to Alawite villages in the west of Hama province.

 

After Assad, Chaos?: Ramzy Mardini, New York Times, Feb. 3, 2013—As the Syrian revolution approaches another anniversary, Syria’s political opposition is showing signs of failure. Without a new approach, especially from America, the lack of a credible opposition will render a political settlement unreachable, making it harder to set Syria on the course toward a stable future.

 

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.
To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a minimum $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

“AS SYRIA IMPLODES, WILD CARDS EMERGE: MUSLIM BROTHERS, CHEMICAL WEAPONS, SCUDS, OBAMA’S [SHIFTING] “RED-LINE[S]”

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

Who Will Rule Syria? A Detailed Assessment: Barry Rubin, Jewish Press, Dec.13, 2012—For all practical purposes, President Barack Obama has now recognized the Syrian opposition group as the government of Syria. Specifically, he called them the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.”

 

 

Assad’s Chemical Card: Tony Badran, Now Lebanon, December 13, 2012—Last week, President Obama issued another warning to Syria’s embattled dictator against making the “tragic mistake” of using chemical weapons (CW). There remain a number of real scenarios in which we could see Bashar al-Assad use these weapons down the road.

 

Don't Let the Syrian Rebels Win: Glenn E. Robinson, Foreign Policy, December 10, 2012—A negotiated outcome remains the best solution to end the killing and prevent the worst elements from either side ruling Syria. An outright opposition victory would likely produce a momentary air of euphoria before the steep decline toward autocracy and darkness begin.

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Libya Helps Bankroll Syrian Opposition Movement: Washington Post, November 5, 2012

Syrian Opposition Boosted by U.S. Recognition: Vivienne Walt, Time World, Dec. 12, 2012

Syrian Rebels Gain, but for How Long?: Alex Rowell & Amani Hamad, NOW Lebanon, December 7, 2012
Russia: Syria’s Assad Could Be Defeated By Rebels: Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, Dec. 13, 2012

Mordechai Kedar: The Division of Syria: Dr. Mordechai Kedar,  Jeewish Press, February 21st, 2012

 

 

WHO WILL RULE SYRIA? A DETAILED ASSESSMENT

 

Barry Rubin

Jewish Press, Dec.13, 2012

 

For all practical purposes, President Barack Obama has now recognized the Syrian opposition group as the government of Syria. Specifically, he called them the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.” The European Union did the same a few days earlier. While this has move little immediate, practical effect, it is enormously interesting for understanding this issue. And it is also yet another signal that the civil war in Syria is moving into the end-game.

 

First, the implications include the following:

 

–Thank goodness that only happened after the U.S. government switched its allegiance from the Syrian National Council (SNC). That group, basically created by U.S. initiative (implemented by the Islamist Turkish government) was about 100 percent controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The new group which Obama recognized, the Syrian Opposition Council, is “only” about 40 percent controlled by the Brotherhood. That means there is at least hope of a non-Islamist regime in Syria (see below). [See note at end of article for an example of how U.S. policy gave behind-the-scenes support to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.]

 

–Let’s take a moment to remember that despite all the talk about the problems of backing dictatorships, the Obama Administration did back the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria. It then easily changed sides to back the opposition. In Egypt, too, Obama switched sides to support the opposition.

 

There are two lessons here. First, you can support a dictatorship and then back the opposition if a big challenge happens to take place. Second, what’s most important for U.S. interests is not whether the Americans want to befriend an opposition but whether the opposition once in power wants to befriend the Americans. If they are Islamists, abandon hope of that happening.

 

–Ironically, of course, the group recognized as being the true representatives of the Syrian people was largely created due to U.S. and Western patronage and power. While the new Council did arise from discussions among Syrians, of course, this decision shows that as in the nineteenth century the West—Obama Progressives as much as Victorian era imperialist–still tries to control who gets into power in Third World countries. Power politics is still the name of the game; the question is whether that game is well-played.

 

In the American presidential campaign, Mitt Romney made the little-noted assertion that the United States should put the emphasis on ensuring that moderates win in Syria. That notion is totally alien to the Obama Administration.

 

–The Syrian Opposition Council does not really represent Syrians, not only because those within the country haven’t voted but also because this is an external organization with little or no influence inside the country. It also doesn’t have the guns. What it will have is control over Western economic aid in future but this Council cannot be expected to be the basis for a post-civil war government.

 

–In sharp contrast to Libya, we know a lot about the Syrian opposition groups and their leading personalities. The problem, however, is to determine the relative military strength of each group. No doubt, the CIA has a project to analyze the situation in every province and city. I wish we could see their data but since we can’t we have to try to figure out the balance of forces.

 

This situation is made even more complex because so many groups exist and ideology is cut across by the existence of five different ethnic-religious sectors: Sunni Arab Muslims (about 60 percent), Christians and Alawites (about 12-14 percent each); Kurds and Druze.

Will Alawites end up being cut out entirely because that group formed the basis for the Assad regime? Probably.

 

Will Christians end up being cut out almost entirely because that group backed the Assad regime due to fear of the Islamists who now will probably try to cut them out? Probably.

Will there be massacres of Alawites and Christians by a victorious opposition, accompanied by tens or even hundreds of thousands of cross-border refugees? Very possibly, yes.

Will the Kurds gain autonomy for their home region in the northeast, an autonomy they are ready to defend using armed militias? Very possibly yes…

 

The ultimate complication in Syria is the existence of six distinctive ideological camps:

 

–Salafist groups allied with al-Qaida. There may be more than 25 such organizations and they also include fighters from a wide variety of European and Middle Eastern countries. These groups have no chance of taking power or even a large share of any future parliament.

 

Their threat is that they would be dangerously disruptive: attacking Alawites, Christians, and also Kurdish autonomists; trying to attack Israel from Syrian territory; fomenting anti-American and anti-Western views or even waging terrorist attacks on Western people and institutions in Syria; and attacking more secularist politicians, women who favor modern ways, etc. But, again, they are not well organized and will not gain any domestic political power.

 

–Salafist groups not allied with al-Qaida. Everything said about the al-Qaida linked groups also applies to them except that they might have significant foreign backing from Saudi Arabia (which wants to subvert Muslim Brotherhood power) and they could get a significant share of parliamentary seats if they are able to unite. But this sector, too, is not likely to gain state power.

 

–The Muslim Brotherhood. This is the only truly united group in Syria that has a significant national appeal, a clear agenda, and a disciplined hierarchy. It is backed by Qatar and Turkey, while the Western countries seem to be totally uninterested in countering the Brotherhood’s appeal and ambitions.

 

Whatever the relative size of their military forces, they are closer to being an army than the other relatively rag-tag, ad hoc forces. Historically, the Brotherhood has been far smaller proportionately than its fraternal group in Egypt. A Brotherhood takeover of Syria is by no means inevitable but if one had to bet it seems the single most likely scenario. A key issue is whether the Brotherhood can gain hegemony among traditionalist, pious Syrians who have never had anything to do with the Brotherhood organizationally but would approve of a lot of its platform regarding a Sharia-oriented state and rejecting a modern liberal or Arab nationalist approach.

 

–The moderates. There are a lot of liberal forces in Syria, especially among urban Sunni Muslim Arabs who are intellectuals or in business. They are far more sophisticated and skilled than their Egyptian counterparts (sorry, Egyptian friends, but it’s true) and they could form alliances with Kurds and Christians also. Unfortunately, the West hasn’t helped them very much. They also have some characteristic weaknesses. These include factionalism, a blindness toward the practical political work of mobilizing the masses, problems in communicating with their traditionalist fellows.

 

Most of all, they lack the killer instinct. They don’t have guns or militias, and they aren’t willing to intimidate or murder their rivals. That can be a fatal shortcoming in an anything-goes post-civil war Syria. Still, this group is the main alternative to Muslim Brotherhood rule. These people are not—unlike their Western counterparts—naïve about Islamists. Whatever compromises they will need to make they have no illusions that the Islamists are moderate or will become so.

 

–Local strongmen. This group is important even if it cannot gain power on a national level. Such people are in real control of many areas of the country; they have lots of guns; and they are able to appeal to traditionalist Syrians in rural and small town areas. They are not Islamist and don’t want Salafist or Brotherhood cadre to tell them what to do or how to live. But they will have to form alliances to have a wider effect and opportunism might drive them into the Brotherhood’s camp.

 

–Defected army officers. These men are the most effective military specialists. They tend to be Arab nationalists. Yet they do not form a political group and won’t do so. Their relevance comes from the likelihood that they will form the leadership of the new Syrian army which, down the road, might come to exercise some political influence or even power.

 

The key to Syria’s future state, then, is between two broad blocs—Islamist and non-Islamist—which will work together at least for a while to defeat the remnants of the Assad regime and create a stable new government.

 

The Brotherhood needs to work out something with the Salafists and to build a broad appeal with conservative-traditionalist Syrians and perhaps with local strongmen. The moderates have to learn street politics, win over local strongmen; find a way to split the conservative-traditionalist masses from the Islamists; and work out some alliance with Christians and Kurds without being branded as traitors to Sunni Arab interests.

 

Not only does the Brotherhood have the easier task but it also can expect more foreign support and money, even possibly from the United States. The battle isn’t yet lost but things don’t look great.

 

That’s especially true since a West that set up a new regime in Libya and helped (albeit fairly little) the opposition overturn the Syrian regime, suddenly freezes when it comes to helping ensure that Syria has a pro-Western government that contributes to regional stability and is less repressive at home.

 

Note:The Libyan government gave 50 percent of the funds to finance the budget of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council (SNC) budget. Since Libya is very much a U.S. client, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Obama Administration encouraged this generosity. Yet this money was financing a Muslim Brotherhood front.

 

By the same token, a lot of arms have been flowing from Libya to Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and to radical forces in Syria. Some claim that the U.S. government was coordinating that traffic though this has not yet been proven. But at least indirectly the U.S. government was helping to arm the Brotherhood by overseeing Qatar and Turkey delivering weapons to the Brotherhood’s militia without making any attempt to identify and arm moderate and non-Islamist forces instead.

 

This means the Obama Administration was using a barely disguised channel to pay for a revolutionary Islamist movement seeking to take over Syria. The fact that this group was also anti-American, antisemitic, and genocidal toward Jews seems significant.

 

The rest of the SNC budget came from Qatar (38 percent) and Saudi Arabia (12 percent).

 

Top of Page

 

 

 

ASSAD’S CHEMICAL CARD

Tony Badran

Now Lebanon, December 13, 2012

 

 

Last week, president Obama issued another warning to Syria’s embattled dictator against making the “tragic mistake” of using chemical weapons (CW). There remain a number of real scenarios in which we could see Bashar al-Assad use these weapons down the road. But whether he does so any time soon or not, Washington’s reaction to his latest trial balloon with the CW provided him with the answers he sought at this point. The White House’s response has likely, if inadvertently, emboldened Assad to continue to wield the threat of using CW, if not really use them. Here's the strategic upside as Assad sees it.

 

The Syrian president realizes that his chemical arsenal is the ace up his sleeve. From the beginning of the Syrian revolution, it was amply demonstrated to him that his CW capability separated him from Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi. Syria is not Libya, the mantra went. The usual justification pointed to Assad’s air defenses, but it’s clear that the major reason was precisely Syria’s CW stockpile. Assad understood that his deterrent worked.

 

Moreover, Assad figured that as long as he held this card, he would remain politically relevant. This was reinforced by the public messages the Obama administration kept sending him.

 

Assad’s stunt last week wasn’t the first time he tested the waters by moving chemical weapons around. In July, US intelligence noted such movement and declared that it would “hold accountable” those responsible. Then, in a curiously worded statement, the administration said that it expected “the Syrian government … to safeguard its stockpiles.”

 

The US position was contradictory. A year earlier Obama said Assad had lost legitimacy and called on him to “step aside.” And now the US was asking him to maintain control and safeguard these CW sites.

 

Assad put his finger on the essential incoherence of Washington’s policy. He smelled that the US was still not certain about the endgame in Syria. In as much as the US wanted him to go, it remained uneasy about what would come next. Assad understood, therefore, that Washington had a fear he could exploit, perhaps giving him a bargaining position down the road, as regime-controlled territory contracted.

 

In addition, this episode proved to Assad that playing around with chemical weapons could grab Obama’s attention as it seemed nothing else could, not even the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians. In other words, Assad figured he had leverage on the US. Up until that point, Obama had made very few statements on Syria. But a month later, in August, the US president directly addressed the situation. Although his comments at the time were viewed as a stern warning to the regime, a closer reading shows why Assad saw an opening to keep pushing.

 

“We cannot have a situation in which chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” Obama said. This reinforced the State Department’s wording, emphasizing that the problem was not the fact that these weapons were under the control of Assad, a man who had ordered the slaughter of Syrians, facilitated the killing of Americans in Iraq, supported terrorism throughout the Levant, and constructed a secret nuclear arms facility. Rather, the problem was the prospective loss of his control over these arms. Indeed, a senior administration official emphasized to the New York Times that Mr. Obama’s warning “was aimed at large-scale transfers of weapons that would make them vulnerable to capture by radical forces, not movements by the government intended to secure the arsenal.”

 

Even Obama’s “red line” was not aimed exclusively at Assad, but also at “other players on the ground,” presumably those same “radical forces.” The red line covered further “moving around” of CW as well as their possible use.

 

But a month later, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that CW were being moved again. However, he added that the regime was relocating them in order to better secure them. So, although Assad had clearly defied Obama’s red line, Assad still got a pass, setting the stage for this month’s episode.

 

As observers have noted, this time around, Obama slightly shifted the previous red line, removing any reference to “moving around” CW, as Assad had already crossed that line with no consequence. The red line now is only about actually using the weapons.

 

There are plausible scenarios in which Assad would use CW in a tactical manner against his domestic enemies—and it’s not at all clear that he wouldn’t get away with it. Assad will fight tooth and nail to maintain control over Damascus, while also securing the route from Homs to the coast (an area that witnessed regime ethnic cleansing attacks). As I noted in July, the CW are Assad’s insurance policy to protect his retreat into the coastal redoubt.

 

At the time, some in the administration had a similar reading, placing the potential use of CW in the framework of a “targeted ethnic cleansing campaign” by Assad, and proposed that he could use “the threat of a chemical attack [to] drive Sunnis … from their homes.” Seen this way, CW could work just as well to maintain a grip on Damascus by forcing hostiles out and keeping them out.

 

It’s true that the administration has warned Assad against using CW against his people, but it’s doubtful that Assad finds Obama’s threat credible. For one, the administration has loudly made it known that securing the CW sites would require 75,000 troops—effectively ruling it out as an option. Besides, Assad has seen Washington ignore other benchmarks—such as the use of fixed winged aircraft, cluster and incendiary bombs, and now apparently Scuds or “Scud-type” missiles—and has probably concluded that Obama is unlikely to send in the cavalry should a few more hundred Syrians perish in a tactical chemical attack.

 

What’s more, Obama has now offered Assad another loophole with the designation of the Jabhat al-Nusra group as a terrorist organization. As soon as news came out that the designation was forthcoming, the regime rushed to claim that rebels had seized control of a toxic chlorine factory in east Aleppo, and may now use these chemicals in an attack. Such bogus stories set the stage for a possible attack in the future and provide Assad, and his backers in Moscow, with enough to muddy the waters.

 

Similarly, there have been opposition claims that Assad has already used CW. It’s difficult to verify these claims, but that’s all Assad needs. Recall how at the time of the Houla massacre, many paused and wondered if this wasn’t an attempt by the opposition to force an intervention. Others claimed it was the opposition’s own doing. There were no good guys in Syria, after all, just like there were no “good options.”

 

The question Assad likely asks himself is: Would the US really intervene over a deniable incident, the facts of which may not be clear, and that might claim the lives of a couple hundred Syrians when it has sat idly by as 40,000 were killed?

 

Assad is banking that the basic parameters of US policy will remain the same. The administration’s performance this past week, going back to July, probably reinforced his conviction that not only are his CW a useful bargaining asset, but also that the odds are decent he could get away with it if he used them shrewdly.

 

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Top of Page

 

 

 

DON'T LET THE SYRIAN REBELS WIN

Glenn E. Robinson

Foreign Policy, December 10, 2012

 

 

 

It may well be true, as recent news reports tell us, that Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus, increasingly desperate in the face of an unrelenting rebel onslaught, is prepared to use chemical weapons against its own citizens. The Syrian leader himself, all the main power brokers in his government, and virtually all of the country's military officer corps come from a long-persecuted minority that legitimately fears that this war is a matter of "kill or be killed" for the Alawites, who make up around 12 percent of Syria's population. The Alawites left what is now Iraq a millennium ago and settled in the dusty hills of northwest Syria overlooking the Mediterranean. A doubly heretical sect in the eyes of orthodox Sunni Muslims — as an offshoot of Shiite Islam — the Alawites lived an isolated existence for centuries as their religion evolved to reflect various folk traditions.

 

The Alawites have few defenders in the Arab world, both because of the unorthodox nature of their religion and because of the horrible nature of the Baathist regime they have controlled since the 1960s. Nor does it help that they are widely seen as pawns of Iranian interests in the region. The regime's fall — which is still far from certain — will not be widely mourned in the Arab world, outside of Tehran and in Hezbollah circles.

 

The fall of the House of Assad will likely be celebrated by many in the West. But banking on the well-heeled Syrian expatriate community to come to power for any length of time is a losing bet. The exiles may have won the support of the Obama administration and others, but have little chance of holding power in Syria for any length of time, barring international occupation of the country. And nobody thinks the United States has any appetite to occupy another Arab country militarily, even for a relatively short period of time.

 

In other words, forget about the expats. The people that will ultimately take power in Syria are the armed men who control the country's streets, villages, and towns right now. They do not speak with a single voice, and are often people just looking to protect their families and communities from the Assads' onslaught. As for the rebel "Free Syrian Army," it is no army at all in the sense of having any kind of command and control over its constituent units.

 

What about the budding terrorist groups we hear so often about? The specter of foreign jihadis — al Qaeda and its fellow travellers — infiltrating the Syrian opposition and coming to power in Damascus is a silly, unrealistic notion promoted by those overeager to send in the U.S. Marines to Latakia. There is little evidence that foreign jihadis represent anything more than a sliver of those fighting the Assad regime.

 

But Syria does not need foreign jihadis and radical Islamists — it has more than enough of the home-grown variety. This is where people so often miss the nature of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, easily the most coherent political force in Syria's opposition today. It is an organization stuck in a time warp from 1982, when it lost the last round of Syria's long civil war, and has been waiting for its chance at revenge. Syria's Muslim Brotherhood is not like its analogues in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, or Morocco; it has not been part of the political process for decades, "tamed" by having to get its hands dirty in the everyday stuff of politics. It has been a capital offense to be a member or give any support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria for three decades. As a result, the organization is secretive and opaque, and it's not clear how much its cadres inside the country interact with its exiled leadership.

 

Many of the fighters currently battling the Syrian regime honed their guerrilla skills in Iraq, learning urban combat techniques fighting Americans in Iraq from 2003 to 2007. Those who were not killed in Iraq made their way back to Syria (the largest entry point for foreign jihadis entering Iraq during that war), and have taken up arms against their own regime. Their ability to kill a large number of regime forces from the outset of this current round of civil war is indicative of the skill set they already possessed 19 months ago. The body count of 4:1 during the early months of this civil war — that is, four opponents killed for every soldier killed — is quite good for unorganized insurgent groups.

 

In fact, the insurgents might be too good. Neither Syria nor the region would be well served by a decisive victory by either the Assad regime or by the opposition. Breathless supporters of Syria's revolution need to be careful what they wish for. The most powerful elements of Syria's armed opposition would almost certainly be no friend of liberal democracy were they to seize power for themselves. Consider this: The dissidents who brought down autocratic governments in Egypt and Tunisia, even the political Islamists among them, were far more politically liberal than what we see in Syria. And look at those countries now.

 

What, then? It is not fashionable to say so, but a negotiated outcome remains the best solution to end the killing and prevent the worst elements from either side ruling Syria. An outright opposition victory would likely produce a momentary air of euphoria before the steep decline toward autocracy and darkness begin.

 

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

 

Top of Page

 

 

 

Libya Helps Bankroll Syrian Opposition Movement: Washington Post, November 5, 2012—The top financer of the Syrian opposition is no Arabian Peninsula oil kingdom or cloak-and-dagger Western spy outfit, but struggling, war-ravaged Libya, which is itself recovering from a devastating civil conflict.

 

 

Syrian Opposition Boosted by U.S. Recognition: Vivienne Walt, Time World, Dec. 12, 2012—With three weeks of fighting in Damascus signaling the accelerating erosion of the Assad regime’s control of Syria, Western diplomats are pressing the exiled opposition leadership to take charge of governing rebel-held areas.

 

Syrian Rebels Gain, but for How Long?: Alex Rowell & Amani Hamad, NOW Lebanon, December 7, 2012—The resignation of Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi on Monday is just one of a series of recent setbacks for the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The news follows a week of unprecedented military victories for rebel forces.

 

Russia: Syria’s Assad Could Be Defeated By Rebels: Michael Birnbaum and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Washington Post, Dec. 13, 2012— Russia acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that Syrian rebels are gaining in their effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad…There was no sign that Russia — Syria’s most powerful patron — would join other foreign nations, including the United States, in supporting the opposition or pressuring Assad to step down.

 

Mordechai Kedar: The Division of Syria: Dr. Mordechai Kedar,  Jeewish Press, February 21st, 2012—Syria comprises 14 administrative districts that reflect the demographic distribution of the population. Following the collapse of the central government, Syria is likely to be divided up according to its ethnic groups, and this division will be fairly similar to the map of administrative districts: six main districts; the rest will either become independent/autonomous, or some or all of them will be subsumed by one of the [other] groups.

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.
To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a minimum $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

SYRIAN WAR DRAWS IN NEIGHBOURS, AS REBELS, MUSLIM BROS. & NEW “UNITY” ASSEMBLY VIE

Download Conference Programme.pdf 

 

Toronto Conference

 

   CIJR’S Latest ISRAZINE is now available

Israel’s Levy Report – Clarifying the Misconceptions

 

Download the Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

Contents:

 

 

Syria's Opposition Groups Strike Unity Deal Against Assad: Reuters, Nov 11, 2012

Syria's fractious opposition finally put aside fierce arguments to rally behind a new leader within a new coalition that its Western and Arab backers hope can topple Bashar al-Assad and take over the country.

 

How Syria’s Neighbors Are Drawn Into Its War: The Associated Press, Times of Israel, Nov. 13, 2012—Syria’s neighbors are increasingly being drawn into the country’s civil war in a variety of ways, whether militarily or due to an exodus of Syrians fleeing the fighting at home. The spillover has raised concerns that the nearly 20-month-long conflict between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and rebels trying to topple him could endanger the entire Middle East.

 

Missteps by Rebels Erode Their Support Among Syrians: Anne Barnard, New York Times, Nov. 8, 2012—Syria’s rebel fighters are losing crucial support from a public increasingly disgusted by the actions of some rebels, including poorly planned missions, senseless destruction, criminal behavior and the coldblooded killing of prisoners.

 

How the Brotherhood Builds Power in Syria's Opposition: Hassan Hassan, The National, Nov 12, 2012— The MB is viewed with profound suspicion by most Syrians. Despite 20 months of atrocious violence by the criminal regime, many Syrians – rightly or wrongly – still prefer the regime because they fear the Brotherhood more

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Tug Of War Among Syrian Opposition: Shane Farrell, NOW Lebanon, Nov 9, 2012

Israel Hits 'Source' Of Second Syrian Mortar Shell: Yaakov Lappin, Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, Nov.13, 2012

UNRWA Keeps Quiet on Syria: Asaf Romirowsky, Alexander Joffe, The National Interest, Nov. 9, 2012

 

 

 

SYRIA'S OPPOSITION GROUPS STRIKE
UNITY DEAL AGAINST ASSAD

Rania El Gamal & Regan Doherty

Reuters, November 11, 2012

 

Syria's fractious opposition finally put aside fierce arguments to rally behind a new leader within a new coalition that its Western and Arab backers hope can topple Bashar al-Assad and take over the country. After days of wrangling in Qatar under constant cajoling by exasperated Arab, U.S. and other officials, representatives of groups including rebel fighters, veteran dissidents and ethnic and religious minorities agreed on Sunday to join a new assembly that can form a government-in-exile. They unanimously elected reformist Damascus cleric Mouaz al-Khatib as its president.

 

Khatib, a soft-spoken preacher who was once imam of the ancient Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, immediately called on soldiers to quit the Syrian army and on all sects to unite. "We demand freedom for every Sunni, Alawi, Ismaili (Shi'ite), Christian, Druze, Assyrian … and rights for all parts of the harmonious Syrian people," he told reporters.  It remains to be seen whether the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces can overcome the mutual suspicions and in-fighting that have weakened the 20-month-old drive to end four decades of rule by President Assad's family.  [For the complete story see On Topic links below –Ed.]

 

Top of Page

 

 

HOW SYRIA’S NEIGHBORS ARE DRAWN INTO ITS WAR

The Associated Press

Times of Israel, November 13, 2012

 

Syria’s neighbors are increasingly being drawn into the country’s civil war in a variety of ways, whether militarily or due to an exodus of Syrians fleeing the fighting at home. The spillover has raised concerns that the nearly 20-month-long conflict between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and rebels trying to topple him could endanger the entire Middle East. Here is a look at how neighboring states are being affected by Syria’s bloodletting:

 

Israel

 

Israel on Monday became the second country to strike the Syrian military, after Turkey. An Israeli tank hit a Syrian armored vehicle after shells from fighting in Syria exploded in Israel-controlled Golan Heights. A day earlier, Israel fired a warning shot near a group of Syrian fighters.

 

Syrian shells have exploded inside the Golan several times in recent weeks damaging apple orchards, sparking fires and spreading panic but causing no injuries. In early November, three Syrian tanks entered the Golan demilitarized zone, and in a separate incident an Israeli patrol vehicle was peppered with bullets fired from Syria; no one was hurt in the incident and the Israeli military deemed it accidental.

 

There is concern in Israel that Assad may try to spark a conflict with Israel, opening up the potential for attacks by Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel has also warned that Syria’s chemical weapons could be turned on the Jewish state. Still, while no friend of Assad, Israel is also worried that if he is toppled, Syria could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists or descend into sectarian warfare.

 

Lebanon

 

Mortars and shells from the Syrian side regularly crash in Lebanon, causing several casualties, though Lebanese forces have never fired back. More dangerously, Syria’s conflict has heightened deep rivalries and sectarian tensions in its smaller neighbor. Lebanon is divided between pro-Assad and anti-Assad factions, a legacy of the nearly three decades when Damascus all but ruled Lebanon, until 2005. Assad’s ally, the Hezbollah militia is Lebanon’s strongest political and military movement.

 

On Oct. 19, a car bomb assassinated Lebanon’s top intelligence chief, Wissam al-Hassan. Many in Lebanon blamed Syria and Hezbollah for the assassination.

 

The northern Lebanese city of Tripoli has seen repeated clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites — the Shiite offshoot sect to which Assad belongs. Battles in the city in May and August killed at least 23 people total and wounded dozens.

 

The kidnapping of Lebanese Shiites in Syria by rebels has also had repercussions in Lebanon. In May, Shiites blocked roads and burned tires in protest over the abductions, and later in the summer a powerful Shiite clan took 20 Syrians and a Turk in Lebanon captive in retaliation, all of whom have since been released. Lebanon also shelters about 100,000 Syrian refugees.

 

Turkey

 

Turkey has struck the Syrian military repeatedly in response to shelling and mortar rounds from Syria since Oct. 3, when shells from Syria struck the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing two women and three children. The incident prompted NATO to convene an emergency meeting and Turkey sent tanks and anti-aircraft batteries to the area. Turkey’s military has also scrambled fighter jets after Syrian helicopters flew close to the border.

 

There are about 120,000 Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkish camps, with up to 70,000 more living in Turkey outside the camps. Thousands more wait at the border, held up as Turkey struggles to cope with the influx. Turkey also hosts much of the opposition and rebel leadership.

 

Turkey has called for a buffer zone in Syria where the opposition and civilians would be protected, a step that would likely require international enforcement of a no-fly zone. Russia and China have blocked robust moves against the Syrian regime at the U.N. Security Council, and the United States has been reluctant to use its military in another Mideast conflict.

 

Jordan

 

Jordan has taken the brunt of the refugee exodus from Syria, with some 265,000 Syrians fleeing across the border. Around 42,000 of them are housed at Zaatari, a dust-filled refugee camp, where riots have broken out several times by Syrians angry over lack of services.

 

A growing number of stray Syrian missiles have fallen on Jordanian villages in the north in recent weeks, wounding several civilians. Late last month, a Jordanian border patrol officer was killed in clashes with eight militants trying to cross into Syria. Hours earlier, Jordan announced the arrest of 11 suspected al-Qaida-linked militants allegedly planning to attack shopping malls and Western diplomatic missions in Jordan.

 

Iraq

 

Sunni and Shiite fighters from Iraq have made their way to Syria to join the civil war — the former on the side of the opposition, the latter siding with Assad’s regime, according to Iraqi officials and Shiite militants. Sunni al-Qaeda fighters are believed to be moving between Iraq and Syria, and some al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq’s western Anbar province have regrouped under the name of the Free Iraqi Army, a nod to the rebels’ Free Syrian Army, Iraqi officials say.

 

The United States has pressured Baghdad to stop Iranian planes suspected of ferrying arms to Syria from using Iraqi airspace. Iraq has so far acknowledged only forcing two planes to land for inspection and said it didn’t find any weapons either time. About 49,000 Syrian refugees have temporarily resettled in Iraq, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Top of Page

 

 

MISSTEPS BY REBELS ERODE THEIR SUPPORT AMONG SYRIANS

Anne Barnard

New York Times, November 8, 2012

 

 

Syria’s rebel fighters — who have long staked claim to the moral high ground for battling dictatorship — are losing crucial support from a public increasingly disgusted by the actions of some rebels, including poorly planned missions, senseless destruction, criminal behavior and the coldblooded killing of prisoners.

 

The shift in mood presents more than just a public relations problem for the loosely knit militants of the Free Syrian Army, who rely on their supporters to survive the government’s superior firepower. A dampening of that support undermines the rebels’ ability to fight and win what has become a devastating war of attrition, perpetuating the violence that has left nearly 40,000 dead, hundreds of thousands in refugee camps and more than a million forced from their homes.

 

The rebel shortcomings have been compounded by changes in the opposition, from a force of civilians and defected soldiers who took up arms after the government used lethal force on peaceful protesters to one that is increasingly seeded with extremist jihadis. That radicalization has divided the fighters’ supporters and made Western nations more reluctant to give rebels the arms that might help break the intensifying deadlock….

 

Twenty months into what is now a civil war, both supporters and opponents of the government are trapped in a darkening mood of despair, revulsion and fear that neither side can end the conflict. In recent months, both sides adopted more brutal — even desperate — methods to try to break the stalemate, but they achieved merely a new version of deadlock. To many Syrians, the extreme violence seems all the more pointless for the lack of results.

 

The most significant shift is among the rebels’ supporters, who chant slogans not only condemning the government but also criticizing the rebels. “The people want the reform of the Free Syrian Army,” crowds have called out. “We love you. Correct your path.”

 

Small acts of petty humiliation and atrocities like executions have led many more Syrians to believe that some rebels are as depraved as the government they fight. The activist from Saraqib said he saw rebels force government soldiers from a milk factory, then destroy it, even though residents needed the milk and had good relations with the owner.

 

“They shelled the factory and stole everything,” the activist said. “Those are repulsive acts.” Even some of the uprising’s staunchest supporters are beginning to fear that Syria’s sufferings — lost lives, fraying social fabric, destroyed heritage — are for naught.

 

“We thought freedom was so near,” said a fighter calling himself Abu Ahmed, his voice catching with grief as he spoke via Skype last month from Maarat al-Noaman, a strategic town on the Aleppo-Damascus highway. Hours earlier, a rebel victory there ended in disaster, as government airstrikes pulverized civilians returning to what they thought was safety.

 

Even within Mr. Assad’s most solid base, his minority Alawite sect, discontent spilled over last month in a clash that began in a coffee shop in the president’s ancestral village, Qardaha. Some were shaken recently by heavy casualties in the disproportionately Alawite military and militias, according to Fadi Saad, who runs a Facebook page called Alawites in the Syrian Revolution.

 

On the rebel side, the Aleppo battle catalyzed simmering frustrations among civilian activists who feel dominated by gunmen. One Aleppo activist said she met with fighters to suggest ways to cut government supply routes without destroying the city, to no avail. “You risked the lives of the people for what?” the activist asked. “The Free Syrian Army is just cutting the nails of the regime. We want results.”

 

Nominal leaders of the Free Syrian Army say they embrace ethical standards, contend that the government commits the vast majority of abuses and blame rogue groups for bad rebel behavior. But that did not ease the disgust after last week’s video. It shows men writhing on the ground, staring up and screaming in terror. Rebels stand over them, shouting a cacophony of orders and insults. They move like a gang, not a military unit, jostling and crowding, kicking prisoners, forcing them into a pile. Suddenly, automatic weapons fire drowns out the noise. Puffs of dust rise from the pile, now still.

 

“All the ugly stuff the regime practiced, the F.S.A. is copying,” Anna, a finance worker in Damascus, said of recent behavior. She blamed the government for making society abusive, but she said the rebels were no better. “They are ignorant people with weapons,” she said.

Top of Page

 

 

HOW THE BROTHERHOOD BUILDS POWER IN SYRIA'S OPPOSITION

Hassan Hassan

The National, Nov 12, 2012

 

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Hussein Harmoush, one of the first Syrian army officers to defect, was contacted by the Muslim Brotherhood shortly after he arrived at a refugee camp in Turkey's Hatay province in June of 2011. He was one of a small group of defectors, the Free Officers. Brotherhood members visited him several times and promised him logistical, financial and material support in exchange for "cooperation". Lt Col Harmoush replied "tell me what you want and I will decide accordingly", Lt Basim Khaled, speaking for the Free Officers, told me in an interview. " They wanted him to follow their directions and support them politically."

 

No agreement was reached but the Brotherhood members stayed in touch with Lt Col Harmoush. They also contacted a more recent, higher-ranking defector who agreed to cooperate. That officer, Colonel Riad Al Asaad, formed a new entity, the Free Syrian Army, without informing the Free Officers. The Brotherhood then abruptly dropped contact with Lt Col Harmoush, who was captured by Syrian authorities under mysterious circumstances in August 2011, after disappearing in Turkey.

 

The story shows how the Muslim Brotherhood – an Islamist group with little representation within Syrian society, due to decades of systematic cleansing by the Baathist regime – has successfully built influence over the emerging opposition forces. The MB is viewed with profound suspicion by most Syrians. Despite 20 months of atrocious violence by the criminal regime, many Syrians – rightly or wrongly – still prefer the regime because they fear the Brotherhood more.

 

Activists downplay that fear, partly because the MB had acted behind the scenes. But its resistance to inclusiveness that would challenge its monopoly has become clear during the opposition's meetings in Doha. The Brotherhood has been resisting a US-backed initiative to form a more representative political entity, a plan that Syrians desperately need to reverse Brotherhood domination of the political process….

 

Some observers have criticised the US-backed plan that would include various political and regional forces hitherto unrepresented, effectively replacing the Syrian National Council. But the claim that foreign interference would undermine the popular legitimacy of these entities is invalid: the Brotherhood's political monopoly was made possible in the first place by foreign interference – the council was formed in Turkey, which has links with the MB – and by partial international recognition. That monopoly needs to be reversed by those countries.

 

The Syrian National Council took over six months to set up, largely due to disagreements over the role of the Brotherhood. When the council was finally formed in October 2011, the MB was given a bigger share of representation than, say, the Damascus Declaration – a group of reformist intellectuals formed in 2005 – in itself a major achievement for the organization.

 

Moreover, according to Muhammad Ali, an Istanbul-based Syrian analyst, some members of the Brotherhood have joined the SNC as independents, to ensure the organization the upper hand. That is why, even though the Brotherhood has reduced its representation in the SNC from 25 per cent to 20 per cent under the new "reforms", it is still a kingmaker.

 

It is hard to gauge precisely the MB's popular base, but historical evidence and well-established social dynamics offer useful insights. Tribal and Kurdish areas have over 30 per cent of the population and are loyal to their local leaders and increasingly to Salafi Islam. Non-Sunnis form 30 per cent of Syria's population and Kurds 9 per cent.

 

These bases of ethnic and religious minorities, plus the tribes – altogether making up at least 70 per cent of the population – have been outside the MB's influence in the past and will remain so. Add to that the business community in Aleppo and Damascus, which has historically had social ties with moderate religious clergy and whose interests lie in a secular-leaning government….

 

On what basis, then, does the Brotherhood dominate political and military councils today?

In a democratic Syria, the Brotherhood would have the right to engage in politics and build support. But its current dominance is not justified by true representation and this is one of the major causes of rift and hesitation among Syria's political and social forces. Its dominance needs to be addressed with urgency by activists and countries that have leverage in Syria.

Top of Page

 

 

 

Syria's opposition groups strike unity deal against Assad: Rania El Gamal & Regan Doherty, Reuters, Nov 11, 2012—Syria's fractious opposition finally put aside fierce arguments to rally behind a new leader within a new coalition that its Western and Arab backers hope can topple Bashar al-Assad and take over the country.

 

Tug Of War Among Syrian Opposition: Shane Farrell, NOW Lebanon, November 9, 2012—Apart from wanting the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his cohorts, there seems to be very little that unites the Syrian opposition. The Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group and once-great hope for proponents of regime change, has long been marred by infighting, defections and accusations of Muslim Brotherhood dominance, as well as of being out of touch with Syrians on the ground.

 

Israel Hits 'Source' Of Second Syrian Mortar Shell:Yaakov Lappin, Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 13, 2012 — Israel fired at and struck two Syrian mortar launchers on Monday, following the second time in as many days that Syrian artillery shells exploded in Israeli territory. A tank from the 401 Armored Brigade fired at the Syrian targets in what was an escalated Israeli retaliation to Syrian fire. Unlike Sunday’s exchange, the IDF fired with the intention of hitting its target, as part of a new policy designed to deter Syrian forces from firing into Israel.

 

UNRWA Keeps Quiet on Syria: Asaf Romirowsky, Alexander Joffe, The National Interest, Nov. 9, 2012When two employees of UNRWA, the United Nations organization for Palestinians, were killed in Syria, one by a sniper and the other in a crossfire, the organization responded by deploring “the tragic loss of life." It was even more subdued when Syrian artillery shells slammed into a United Nations school for Palestinians in a Damascus suburb….These mild responses were utterly unlike the cries of condemnation and calls for war-crimes investigations that came forth when an Israeli shell struck outside an UNRWA school during the 2009 Gaza.

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.
To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a minimum $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

SYRIA A TRAP: REBELS OVER-REACHING, GANGS NOT “DEMOCRATS”, KURDS SEPARATING AND M. BROS. NO SWEETHEARTS

Contents:

 

Articles:

More than They can Chew

In Syria, Role of Kurds Divides Opposition

Gangs of Aleppo

The Arab Trojan Horse

Stay out of Syria Intervention is a trap

On Topic Links

An action plan for Syria

Syrian Rebels Working in Collaboration with Turkey

A Phantom Wrapped in an Enigma Wrapped in a Riddle

On the Edge

Syria's Explosive Crumbs

Guess Who's Helping Assad Get Away With Murder?

 

_______________________________________________________________________

 

MORE THAN THEY CAN CHEW
Antakya And Idleb,
The Economist, August 27, 2012
 
A MONTH after rebel forces launched a blazing attempt to capture Aleppo, Syria’s second city, they are starting to wilt. The regime claims to have routed them from their main stronghold in the Salaheddin district. Clashes continue in the southwest of the city and around the airport, but the best that rebel commanders can now hope to achieve is to draw the regime into a quagmire.…
 
Many Syrians—as well as outside observers—conclude that the rebels overreached by taking the fight to Aleppo. “Rebel commanders had a sensible strategy of fighting a war of attrition that matched their capabilities. They were going after roads, military outposts and consolidating control of the rural areas where the regime has retreated,” says Emile Hokayem, an analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Then suddenly they diverted to a plan to ‘liberate’ a city which they knew they couldn’t do.”
 
Part of the problem is that the rebels are failing to win hearts and minds among the urban middle class in Aleppo. The same was true of the failed attempt to take the capital, Damascus, in July. Most Aleppans cannot stomach the regime, whose brutality has left some 20,000 dead. But they find the rebels’ tactics off-putting too, including summary executions such as that of Zaino Berri, head of a pro-regime militia. Some rebel groups have sent captives in booby-trapped cars to blow up checkpoints.…
 
Foreign powers are trying to strengthen civilian institutions inside the country. Late last year they cheered local co-ordination committees coalescing into more sophisticated councils overseeing cities and provinces. “But many of those have now been taken over by the rebels as the militarisation grows,” says one dejected activist. Fuel and bread go to fighters first.
 
Some help from Western governments, including intelligence, is still reaching the rebels. In the country’s east and north-west, fighters hope to push the army out of smaller cities by making it too dangerous for them to use the roads to resupply bases. But without a no-fly zone or plenty of surface-to-air missiles to bring down regime jets many rebels think they will struggle.…
 
The Idleb Military Council is one of nine or so provincial military councils that were set up late last year by defectors to oversee the fighting groups that are staffed mainly by volunteers. But this is far from a unified force. “There was a lot of hope these councils would create a nationwide military, but we haven’t seen that,” says Asher Berman at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
 
Competition for resources and personal feuds have already led some groups to fall out. The two main rebel forces in the Homs area, the Khaled Ibn Walid Brigade and Farouq, both work out of the rebellious town of Rastan, but their leaders are at loggerheads. …One of Idleb’s largest groups, Saquor al-Sham, churns out mini-documentaries…These films are used to attract funding, which comes mainly from wealthy Syrians abroad and Gulf traders. Because the West will not arm and defend the opposition, weapons must often be bought with cash. So far at least there is no sign of its running out. (top)
______________________________________________________________________
 
IN SYRIA, ROLE OF KURDS DIVIDES OPPOSITION
Babak Dehghanpisheh,
Washington Post, August 18, 2012
 
Opponents of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad are showing signs of splintering along a deep regional fault line, with Arabs and Turks uneasy about a military offensive last month by Syrian Kurds, who overran four towns in the country’s north.
 
The attacks marked the first time since the 17-month-old uprising began that Kurdish fighters had joined in military action against Assad’s forces. But the Kurdish muscle-flexing has rattled groups such as the Arab-led Free Syrian Army, which until now has played the leading role in the upheaval, and it has unsettled neighboring Turkey, whose animosity toward Assad is surpassed only by apprehension about the Kurds’ broader ambitions in the region.
 
“Turkey is in a predicament,” said Joost Hiltermann, the deputy Middle East director for the International Crisis Group. “Turkey is very much pushing for the Syrian regime to fall. The predictable consequence and almost the inevitable consequence is the empowerment of Syrian Kurds.”
 
As one of the largest stateless groups in the world, the Kurds have long sought autonomy, a cause that unnerves governments across a broad belt sprawling from Syria into parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, which have all fought long and bloody battles with Kurdish separatists. In Syria, the Kurdish region is home to 2 million people (the actual number is more like 4 million and everyone keeps repeating the lower number without knowing the truth) , and many Turkish officials fear that the Kurds will begin using the area as a base from which to launch attacks on the Turkish military, as they have done for years from neighboring Iraq.
 
Until the recent attacks, Syrian Kurds had stayed on the sidelines, mostly, it appeared, out of concern that a victory by Arab-led opposition groups over Assad’s forces might do little to alter a power balance that has left Kurds relatively weak in Syria. There has been little cooperation between the armed Kurdish groups in the north and the Free Syrian Army, and their relationship seems to be one of mutual distrust.
 
But in response to the Kurdish moves, Syrian opposition groups such as the Free Syrian Army were quick to reiterate a vow that they will not permit Syria to be divided along ethnic or sectarian lines. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he stood ready to send troops into Syria to confront Kurdish forces there if it becomes a base for incursions into Turkey by Kurdish guerrillas.
 
The U.S. government has also expressed alarm, warning Kurdish groups in Syria that they should not seek to work with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, whose insurgency against the Turkish government has killed at least 40,000 people.
 
Many Kurds still dream of a greater Kurdistan, stretching across the borders of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, but few Kurdish leaders dare discuss it….“Every Kurd believes in this dream of a united homeland,” said Alan Semo, the London-based foreign affairs representative for the PYD. “But in the regional and international circumstances today, we can’t demand separation for a united Kurdistan.”
 
It’s not clear how appealing this pan-Kurdish sentiment — or the idea of regional autonomy — is to the Kurdish community in Syria. But it could lead to bitter fighting between Kurds and Arabs there if Assad falls. In the view of many Kurds, the Arab-led Syrian opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, embraces the same kind of Arab nationalism that has been used to quash rights in the past.
 
The main Kurdish attacks took place July 19, when fighters loyal to the PYD spread out in the town of Kobani and pushed forward for three days, taking over Efrin, Derik and Amuda. There was no fighting and no casualties were incurred.…The situation has become even more complicated because of the role being played by Kurds from neighboring Iraq, where the division of power after the fall of Saddam Hussein has left Kurds with a strong base. Massoud Barzani, a prominent Iraqi Kurdish leader, said last month that he was helping to arm and train fighters from the Kurdish National Council, which is jockeying for power in Syria as a rival to the PYD.
 
Barzani organized a meeting this month in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Irbil that brought Kurdish and Arab Syrian opposition leaders together with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu but excluded the PYD, the Syrian Kurdish group regarded by the Turks as the most problematic.
 
“What Turkey needs to do is divide and rule, and that’s exactly what they’re going to do,” said Hiltermann, of the International Crisis Group. “They’re going to woo some Kurds, and they’re going to fight a lot of Kurds. And they’re going to use one Kurd against another Kurd.” (top)
__________________________________________________________________________
 
GANGS OF ALEPPO
William S. Lind
American Conservative, August 28, 2012
 
In the view of our Laputan foreign-policy establishment, what is happening in Syria and elsewhere is a conflict between “democracy” and dictatorship. Valiant youths who fight for “freedom” are destined to triumph, bringing happiness and prosperity to their formerly oppressed lands. This is the Whig version of history—the progressive narrative. It bears little resemblance to reality.
 
A Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi came closer to truth. He was quoted in the New York Times as saying that Syria faces “gang warfare.” Gangs are one of the most basic, and most potent, building blocks of stateless Fourth Generation war. [from state to non-state warfare,  conflict common in pre-modern times – Ed..] We commonly think of gangs in connection with crime. But through most of history, the line between crime and war was blurred, often to the point of vanishing. (See Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century.)
 
It was the state that drew the line clearly, but today in much of the Middle East and elsewhere states and the state system are collapsing. What is succeeding the state looks much like the 14th century Europe Tuchman describes: people and regions are at the mercy of roving bands of armed men who hire themselves out as soldiers when they can and otherwise take what they want from anyone too weak to resist them. Their only loyalty is to each other—to their gang.
 
One of the characteristics shared by most disintegrating states is a vast surplus of young men who have no access to jobs, money, or women. Gangs are a magnet for them. We see this in American contexts as well: in public schools, in ethnic neighborhoods, and in our prisons.…Young men are also drawn to fighting, which, conveniently, is something gangs do. 
 
Much of what we see in states struggling for their lives such as Syria is supply-side war. Fighting spreads not because of some “cause” like democracy but because idle young men see a fight and join in. Why not? They have nothing to do, nothing to lose, and thanks to their new gang and AK-47, lots to take: money, women, and fame. The New York Times reported from Aleppo:
 
Residents said there were not just clashes between the government and insurgents, but also rival militias from the countryside fighting for control of individual streets. … In a central old quarter, one man said a friend had warned him not to visit because young gunmen had established a checkpoint to rob car passengers.
 
Gangs fight not only the government but also each other, and their internecine wars further weaken the state.…The state arose to bring order, and widening gang wars reveal the state’s impotence. In the struggle for legitimacy that lies at the core of Fourth Generation war, a state that cannot control gangs becomes an object of contempt for friend and foe alike.…
 
The voices in Washington who call for us to suppress gangs in places halfway around the world underestimate the opponent.…If you want to envision places such as Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali—the list keeps growing—you could do worse than to think of spreading rumbles in the ’hood. That is a far more accurate picture than the two-sided “democracy vs. dictatorship” image purveyed by politically correct Polyannas. The bulletins of the Syrian Foreign Ministry, it seems, mislead less than those of the U.S. State Department. (top)
_____________________________________________________
 
THE ARAB TROJAN HORSE
Eiad Wannous
Syria Today, August 2012
 
The Arab Spring has changed the political scene in the Middle East. Most striking is the re-touching of the image of a radical organization such as the Muslim Brotherhood to that of a potential “civil” form for future governance in the region. One might argue: “As other ideologies have not achieved well-being for Arabs, why don’t we try Islamism?” When it comes to Syria, the Egyptian presidential election and the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise within the “Egyptian Spring” have re-enforced such arguments, especially given the general public’s disappointment with the Ba’ath party’s socialist policies.
 
However, before any judgment can be made, a few points related to both the general history of the Brotherhood and its history within Syria must be reviewed. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, a fundamentalist Egyptian schoolteacher who advocated violent jihad and the replacement of secular governments with a worldwide totalitarian caliphate governed under strict Islamic sharia law. By the 1940s, branches of the Brotherhood had been established across the Arab world; during this period, the Syrian branch was considered second only to Egypt’s in size.
 
The Muslim Brotherhood is known for its supposed hostility to US policies and Israel. What is not well-known is that the spread of the movement in Arab countries was facilitated by the CIA during the Cold War era as part of the famous “strategy of containment”, the anti-Soviet, anti-communist initiative adopted by Eisenhower’s administration which lasted until the late eighties. Over these decades, the Muslim Brotherhood turned into a “Trojan horse” within countries allied with the Soviet Union.
 
This is not a “conspiracy theory”. Rather, recall the July 1953 photo of Eisenhower with the Princeton Islam Seminar delegation at the White House: Said Ramadan, Banna’s son-in-law and then the most distinguished figure within the Brotherhood’s hierarchy, is standing second from the right.
 
Now, however, although the Brotherhood’s success in Egypt may have revived its dream of becoming a 'regional governance system', differences among its branches make that a long shot in practice.…
 
The organisation entered Syria in 1936 thanks to Mustafa al-Siba’i, a pupil of Banna, who returned from Cairo after studying at Al-Azhar Mosque. The major shift took place in 1973, when the Vanguard Fighters, the Brotherhood’s armed wing, was established to change the Ba’athist secular government by force of arms and establish an Islamic state in Syria. A violent rebellion conducted in Syria during the late 1970s and into the 1980s left bloody memories of doctors, academics, and army officers assassinated by Muslim Brothers, along with the massacres they carried out against civilians in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama.
 
Such memories make this organisation much less appealing for Syrians, especially since fundamentalists represent only 1 percent of Syrian Muslims….Currently, the Muslim Brotherhood has managed to benefit from the Egyptian Spring, although it is too early to say it has succeeded in taking over the country’s political system. But in Syria, the situation does not seem promising for the Brotherhood or its allies.  [Eiad Wannous is a Syrian political analyst and journalist.] (top)
____________________________________________________________
 
STAY OUT OF SYRIA INTERVENTION IS A TRAP
Daniel Pipes
Washington Times, August 20, 2012
 
Bashar Assad’s wretched presence in the presidential palace of Damascus may, contrary to Western assumptions, do more good than harm. His murderous, terroristic and pro-Tehran regime is non-ideological and relatively secular; it staves off anarchy, Islamist rule, genocide and rogue control of Syria’s chemical weapons.
 
As Syria’s civil war intensifies, Western states increasingly are helping the rebels overthrow Mr. Assad and his henchmen. In doing so, the West hopes to save lives and facilitate a democratic transition. Many Western voices call for more than the nonlethal aid now being offered, wanting to arm the rebels, set up safe zones and even join their war against the government.
 
Helping the rebels, however, neglects a fundamental question: Does intervention in Syria against Mr. Assad promote our own interests? This obvious question is missed because many Westerners feel so confident about their own well-being that they forget their security and instead focus on the concerns of those they perceive as weak and exploited.… Westerners have developed sophisticated mechanisms to act on these concerns (e.g., responsibility to protect, animal rights activism).
 
For those of us not so confident, however, fending off threats to our security and our civilization remains a top priority. In this light, helping the rebels entails multiple drawbacks for the West.
 
First, the rebels are Islamist and intend to build an ideological government even more hostile to the West than Mr. Assad‘s. If the rebels prevail, their break in relations with Tehran will be offset by their assistance for the barbarism of Islamism’s Sunni forces.
 
Second, the argument that Western intervention would reduce the Islamist thrust of the rebellion by replacing materiel pouring in from Sunni countries is risible. Syria’s rebels do not need Western help to bring down the regime (and wouldn’t be grateful for it if they did receive it, if Iraq is any guide). The Syrian conflict at its core pits the country’s disenfranchised Sunni Arab 70 percent majority against Mr. Assad’s privileged Alawi 12 percent minority. Add the assistance of foreign Islamist volunteers as well as several Sunni states (Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar) and the Assad regime is doomed.…
 
Third, hastening the Assad regime’s collapse will not save lives. It will mark not the end of the conflict but merely the close of its opening chapter with yet worse violence likely to follow. As Sunnis finally avenge their nearly 40 years of subjugation by Alawis, a victory by the rebels portends potential genocide. The Syrian conflict likely will get so extreme and violent that Westerners will be glad to have kept a distance from both sides.
 
Fourth, the continuing Syrian conflict offers benefits to the West. Several Sunni governments have noted the Obama administration’s reticence to act and have taken responsibility to wrest Syria from the Iranian orbit. This comes as a welcome development after their decades of accommodating the Shiite Islamic Republic. Also, as Sunni Islamists fight Shiite Islamists, both sides are weakened, and their lethal rivalry lessens their capabilities to trouble the outside world. By inspiring restive minorities (Sunnis in Iran, Kurds and Shiites in Turkey) continued fighting in Syria also could weaken Islamist governments.
 
When the regime falls, the Alawi leadership, with or without Mr. Assad, might retreat to ancestral redoubts in the Latakia province in Syria. The Iranians could well supply it by sea with money and arms, permitting it to hold out for years, exacerbating the confrontation between Sunni and Shiite Islamists and further distracting them from assaulting others.
 
The one exception to the policy of nonintervention would be to secure Syria’s vast chemical-weapon arsenal to prevent terrorist groups from seizing it and Mr. Assad from deploying it in a Gotterdammerung scenario as he goes down, although this difficult mission could require as many as 60,000 foreign ground troops deployed to Syria.
 
Nothing in the constitutions of Western states requires them to get involved in every foreign conflict. Sitting this one out will prove to be a smart move and staying away permits the West eventually to help its only true friends in Syria, the country’s liberals. (top)
________________________________________________________________________
 
 
∙       The Ottawa Citizen, August 23, 2012

Irwin Cotler

∙       BIA News Center, 28 August 28, 2012
Ayça Söylemez

∙       Gatestone Institute, August 11, 2012
Claire Berlinski

∙       Syria Today, August 2012
Alma Hassoun

∙       Gatestone Institute, July 8, 2012
Claire Berlinski

∙       Real Clear Politics, August 8, 2012
Austin Bay

 

________________________________________________________________________

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

 

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.

Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.

To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

 

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. Or subscribe on line at: ISRANET

 

All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

AS ISLAMISTS SURGE SYRIAN REGIME TOTTERS, FATE OF KURDS, CHRISTIANS, ALAWITES IN DOUBT

 

BREAKING NEWS

 

SYRIA PM DEFECTS, JOINS OPPOSITION

 

Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected on Monday to Jordan and is now said to be heading to Qatar: “I announce today my defection from the killing and terrorist regime and I announce that I have joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution. I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution,” Hijab said in a statement read in his name by the spokesman, which was broadcast on Al Jazeera television. (Ynet News, Jerusalem Post, New York Times Aug. 6, 2012)

 

 

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY ABOUT THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR

Barry Rubin

PJMedia, Aug. 5, 2012

 

Ammar Abdulhamid may know more about Syria’s civil war than anyone else in the world. That’s no exaggeration. A pro-democratic oppositionist living abroad, Abdulhamid has functioned on a virtual 24/7 basis as the source of news and analysis about events within Syria, always trying to be honest and accurate in his assessments regardless of his own preferences. Barry Rubin, PJMedia Middle East editor, interviewed Abdulhamid on the latest developments and trends.

 

It now seems that the tide in Syria’s civil war is turning toward the opposition. Why is that happening?

 

I wouldn’t say the tide is turning, I’d say that the armed opposition is getting more organized and bold, and its tenacity, growing popularity, coupled with President Bashar al-Assad’s cruelty, are inspiring more defections and despair inside the ranks of the regime.

 

Also, by continuing to play on sectarian sentiments, Assad continues to find success in ensuring the loyalty of the Alawites, the majority of whom keep seeing an existential threat in having regime change take place. However, by going down the route of ethnic cleansing in the coastal and central parts, Assad and his militias managed to create an existential threat for the Sunnis as well.

 

Of the two million Syrians who have been forcibly displaced inside Syria by Assad’s crackdown, the overwhelming majority is Sunni. These people are angry, bitter, and radicalized, and their very lot in life at this stage is inspiring anger and hate in the minds and souls of Sunnis with whom they come in contact.  Both sides now view the situation in sectarian and existential terms. So no one can back down.

 

How do you assess the balance in the opposition between Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, professional military officers, and moderate democrats?

 

By having greater access to funds, hence weapons, the Salafists have managed to curry favor with the armed groups, and they are now a dominant force. But that does not necessarily translate into political support or sympathies. The political councils that are emerging to manage the day-to-day affairs of liberated towns and villages have not endorsed an Islamist agenda, or any of the traditional political groups, be they secular or Islamist. The revolutionary scene remains pretty much an open field as far as political ideology is concerned.

 

With the Syrian National Council (SNC) being dominated by the Brotherhood, what are the key alternative leadership groups? Are you concerned that the United States and other countries might impose the SNC on the country?

 

By now, and considering the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made by the revolutionaries, it is highly unlikely at this stage to expect that a group dominated by traditional opposition groups and expatriates can actually be considered legitimate enough to lead. Indeed, SNC’s credibility has long evaporated due to its inability to deliver, and, by association, the Brotherhood’s own credibility, shaky to begin with, was marred. It’s clear to all by now that SNC is not the answer for leading the challenges of governance during the transitional period.

 

It’s for this reason that some experts are postulating a role for the recent defector Brigadier General Manaf Tlas. But Manaf is too much of a regime insider to be popularly accepted as a legitimate leader, even for a transitional period. The best he could do is play a supporting role. The main actors have to be derived from the ranks of the revolutionary movement inside Syria. Only when such actors become in charge can the Syrian people be assured that their revolution has succeeded.…

 

What is the Kurdish attitude toward the opposition and the regime?

 

It’s clear, considering recent developments, that Syria’s Kurds have decided to reject both: the regime and the traditional opposition. Both have only offered raw deals all through the years. Their attitude could change though the moment the Arab-dominated traditional opposition groups learn that Kurdish demands for autonomy are legitimate. and that the right thing to do at this stage is agree to the best formula for that within the context of a new decentralized Syria.

 

What do you see emerging in a post-Assad Syria?

 

The activist in me wants to see a democratic decentralized entity emerge that is capable of responding to the developmental needs and aspirations of the people, irrespective of their religious, national, or political background, in each province, region, and district. The analyst in me has to grapple with the possibility of inheriting a failed state composed of warring fiefdoms, and of the need to find ways to put the pieces back together again, a process that would take years. It was from the beginning clear to me that the transformation of Syria will prove a much longer process than most of us have expected or wanted. But our dream for a democratic state will guide us through the thin and thick of it all.

 

How can the opposition deal with an Alawite fortress region in the northwest where the regime would try to hold out?

 

No one has any plans to “invade” Alawite-majority areas. What is needed right now is to stop the ethnic cleaning and to ensure the safe return of displaced population to their homes. Peacekeepers could and should be introduced to ensure a separation of forces for a certain agreed period. Meanwhile, we should all begin a serious conversation on the future administrative structure of Syria.

 

Are you pleased or concerned about Saudi, Qatari, and Turkish influence on the situation?

 

It was clear from the very beginning that all sorts of regional and international players have a stake in the outcome of the revolution in Syria, and that many will try to influence it. What concerns me is that the United States and the European Union are not doing nearly enough to exert their own moderating influence on the process, despite their repeated appeals to the Syrian people from the early days of the revolution. The absence of this influence is as telling and influential as any.

 

We haven’t heard much about the attitudes and activities of the Druze minority. Can you discuss this point?

 

The Druze of Syria constitutes 2-3% of the population in the country, and that makes them risk averse. Developments in Lebanon after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the changing positions of Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt had already exerted their toll on the Druze community of Syria long before the revolution and gave both Assad and Druze elders enough time to reconsider their relations.

 

In fact, and over the last few years, and away from public scrutiny, Druze elders and other agents of influence in the Druze community seems to have negotiated a form of communal autonomy for themselves, or at least a local power-sharing arrangement of sorts between local figures and regime-appointed figures. This gives them little reason to join a revolution that could jeopardize that.

 

Clearly there is the threat of ethnic massacres and we have already seen some examples of this problem. Is there hope of minimizing or avoiding such bloodshed?

 

An active international involvement drawing on previous lessons from the Balkans, the failures and the few successes, can help us avoid these scenarios. But since prospects for such involvement remain dim, we could only put our faith in the hands of the on-the-ground activists and their ability to produce a miracle and keep ethnic massacres to a minimum.

 

KURDISTAN: NEXT FLASHPOINT BETWEEN IRAQ,TURKEY, SYRIA

Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques NeriahJerusalem Centre for Public Affairs,August 5, 2012

 

In the wake of the steady disintegration of the Assad regime, Syrian opposition activists reported that several towns, such as Amouda and Qabani in Syria’s Kurdish northeast, had passed in mid-July 2012 without a fight into the local hands of a group called the Free Kurdish Army. Thus emerged for the first time in modern Kurdish history the nucleus of an exclusively Kurdish-controlled enclave bordering the predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey. After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria’s Kurdish minority in the northeastern region appear to have moved decisively to claim control of the Kurdish-populated towns.

 

 The Free Kurdish Army was formed from the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a group with historical links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK. The PKK, it should be remembered, is regarded by both Turkey and the United States as a terrorist organization fighting the Turkish government for Kurdish autonomy. The Kurds are reportedly concentrating their efforts on wresting control of Qamishli, the largest of the Kurdish cities, from the Syrian government. Kurdish forces have already captured the city of Ayn al-Arab in the Aleppo Governorate, where they are flying the Kurdish flag.

 

The Turks, who have been at war with the PKK for decades, have been monitoring developments in Syria with increasing concern. Thus a columnist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet wrote in late July: “Only a week ago we had a 400-kilometer ‘Kurdish border.’ Now, 800 kilometers have been added to this.” The Turkish government has bluntly warned: “We will not allow a terrorist group to establish camps in northern Syria and threaten Turkey.” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made clear that Turkey would take any step that is necessary against a terrorist presence in northern Syria.

 

Turkish observers have commented that the geopolitics of the Middle East are now being reshaped as the emergence of a “Greater Kurdistan” is no longer a remote possibility, posing enormous challenges for all the states hosting large Kurdish populations: Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran.  Kurdistan is a potential land bridge for many of the conflicts erupting in this part of the region. It provides a ground route for Iraqi Kurdistan to supply the Syrian Kurds as they seek greater autonomy from Damascus.

 

But its use will depend on which power dominates the tri-border area between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. This area could equally provide Iran with a corridor for moving supplies to its Syrian surrogates and even to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Perhaps this is why some commentators see Kurdistan as the new regional flashpoint in the Middle East.…[To continue please see Link in On Topics below. Includes regional map]

 

DEALING WITH THE DEVIL IN SYRIA
Robert Spencer

Front Page Mag, Aug 3rd, 2012

 

A video circulating this week of Syrian rebels shouting “Allahu akbar” and executing four Assad partisans has horrified many in the West, but there have been numerous indications before this that the resistance to the Assad regime is not made up of the democratic pluralists of mainstream media myth.

Not surprisingly, that hasn’t stopped Barack Obama. According to Reuters Wednesday, he “has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government.”

 

This will meet with bipartisan support. Gary Schmitt and Thomas Donnelly wondered last week in the mainstream Republican Weekly Standard: “Why hasn’t President Obama intervened militarily in Syria? After all, this is a president who issued a directive last year stating that a ‘core’ national security interest of the United States would be to prevent mass atrocities of precisely the kind Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is now unleashing on his own people. And this is a president who, to his credit, helped remove Muammar Qaddafi from power.”

 

Schmitt and Donnelly appear untroubled by the fact that the new leadership of Libya is made up of Muslim Brotherhood Sharia supremacists who, as they impose the fullness of Islamic law upon Libya, will impose all of Sharia’s legal oppression of women, non-Muslims, ex-Muslims, and others, and are certain to be no friend of the United States. And now they want Barack Obama to enable a similar regime to come to power in Syria. Their call for him to do so didn’t mention the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Qaeda, of course. Instead, they give the impression that they accept the prevailing mainstream media myth, that the anti-Assad forces in Syria are Western-style pluralist democrats, as they were advertised as being in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

 

They aren’t any such thing in Syria, any more than they were in those other “Arab Spring” countries. John Cantlie, a British photographer, and his Dutch colleague, Jeroen Oerlemans, were recently kidnapped by Islamic supremacist rebels in Syria who threatened to murder them unless they converted to Islam. Significantly, they noted that where they were held, the rebel fighters were Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Chechens, with nary a Syrian in sight – a clear indication that jihadis from all over the world had traveled to Syria to participate in what they considered to be a jihad there: the uprising against the Assad regime. “As soon as Assad has fallen,” Oerlemans declared, “these fighters want to introduce Islamic law, Sharia, in Syria.”

 

Another sign of the jihadist character of the Syrian rebels is the rampant persecution of Christians. The Christians in Syrian generally tend to favor the Alawite Assad regime, which despite its repressive character is still a Ba’athist, generally secular regime that accords Christians more rights than they would enjoy in a Sharia state.…

 

Thousands of Christians have been displaced from their homes, and others have left Syria altogether. Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Philip Tournyol Clos lamented: “The picture for us is utter desolation. The church of Mar Elian is half destroyed and that of Our Lady of Peace is still occupied by the rebels. Christian homes are severely damaged due to the fighting and completely emptied of their inhabitants, who fled without taking anything.”

 

They have done so in the face of increasing jihadist assertiveness. In mid-July, a group calling itself the Brigade of Islam claimed responsibility for a bombing that murdered several key Syrian officials, including the nation’s defense minister and Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, has said that he believes that al-Qaeda was responsible for this bombing – and certainly it is active among the Syrian rebel forces.

 

The main beneficiary, however, of the toppling of Assad could be the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria Brotherhood chief Mohammad Riad Shakfa has said that after “long years of repression by the regime,” the movement has its best-ever chance to seize power there. The ANSAmed news agency explains: “The biggest force on the Syrian National Council, which is the West’s main opposition interlocutor, and very influential in the Syrian Free Army, the Muslim Brotherhood is supported by Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is also a Sunnite, and whom Assad accuses of fomenting a religious war in his country. If Syria were to follow the Egyptian model post-Assad, the country’s next leader might well be from the Muslim Brotherhood.”

 

Of course, Barack Obama enabled the new Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt to take power, and has warmly supported it despite increasing signs that it intends to impose Sharia, continue the repression of Christians that has been rampant in Egypt since the beginning of the “Arab Spring,”  and even go to war with Israel. So why should Syria be any different? And indeed, it is not: in both cases, the United States is applauding and abetting the installation of regimes that will not show any gratitude toward its patrons in Washington, but which will instead pursue a jihadist course that is almost certainly to mean decades of strife and bloodshed to come.…

 

AS SYRIA WAR ROILS, UNREST AMONG SECTS HITS TURKEY
Jeffrey Gettleman

The New York Times, August 4, 2012

 

At 1 a.m. last Sunday, in the farming town of Surgu [Turkey]…a mob formed at the Evli family’s door.

The ill will had been brewing for days, ever since the Evli family chased away a drummer who had been trying to rouse people to a predawn Ramadan feast. The Evlis are Alawite, a historically persecuted minority sect of Islam, and also the sect of Syria’s embattled leaders, and many Alawites do not follow Islamic traditions like fasting for Ramadan.

 

The mob began to hurl insults. Then rocks. “Death to Alawites!” they shouted. “We’re going to burn you all down!” Then someone fired a gun. “They were there to kill us,” said Servet Evli, who was hiding in his bedroom with his pregnant wife and terrified daughter, both so afraid that they urinated through their clothes.

 

As Syria’s civil war degenerates into a bloody sectarian showdown between the government’s Alawite-dominated troops and the Sunni Muslim majority, tensions are increasing across the border between Turkey’s Alawite minority and the Sunni Muslim majority here. Many Turkish Alawites, estimated at 15 million to 20 million strong and one of the biggest minorities in this country, seem to be solidly behind Syria’s embattled strongman, Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey’s government, and many Sunnis, supports the Syrian rebels.

 

The Alawites fear the sectarian violence spilling across the border. Already, the sweltering, teeming refugee camps along the frontier are fast becoming caldrons of anti-Alawite feelings. “If any come here, we’re going to kill them,” said Mehmed Aziz, 28, a Syrian refugee at a camp in Ceylanpinar, who drew a finger across his throat.  He and his friends are Sunnis, and they all howled in delight at the thought of exacting revenge against Alawites.

 

Many Alawites in Turkey, especially in eastern Turkey where Alawites tend to speak Arabic and are closely connected to Alawites in Syria, are suspicious of the bigger geopolitics, and foreign policy analysts say they may have a point. The Turkish government is led by an Islamist-rooted party that is slowly but clearly trying to bring more religion, particularly Sunni Islam, into the public sphere, eschewing decades of purposefully secular rule.…

 

The Alawites point to the surge of foreign jihadists streaming into Turkey, en route to fight a holy war on Syria’s battlefields. Many jihadists are fixated on turning Syria, which under the Assad family’s rule has been one of the most secular countries in the Middle East, into a pure Islamist state.

 

“Do you really believe these guys are going to build a democracy?” asked Refik Eryilmaz, an Alawite member of the Turkish Parliament. “The Americans are making a huge mistake. They’re helping Turkey fight Assad, but they’re creating another Taliban.”…