Tag: druze

CRISIS IN SYRIA: U.S. WITHDRAWL LEAVES VACUUM FILLED BY IRAN, RUSSIA- AS ISRAEL SEEKS ALLY (DRUSE) THE SLAUGHTER CONTINUES

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Rob Coles, 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

 

 

 Contents:         

 

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Syria’s Brutality Continues at Will: Michael Gerson, Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2013 — While chemical weapons disarmament proceeds in Syria, so do mass attacks on civilians. In the eastern suburbs of Damascus, where the regime used sarin, it now conducts a siege, blocking the entrance of food and the exit of refugees.
Syrian Stalemate: Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Jerusalem Report, Oct. 7, 2013— The dizzying events of the past few weeks, in which an imminent American military strike against Syria was delayed pending congressional approval and then indefinitely shelved by a US-Russian deal to quarantine and ultimately dispose of Syria’s massive chemical weapons arsenal, have highlighted anew a number of enduring features of modern Middle East politics.

Hezbollah Prepares for Syria Showdown in al-Qalamoun: Jamie Dettmer, The Daily Beast, Oct. 29, 2013— The Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah is poised to launch a much-anticipated offensive to the north of Damascus in a counterinsurgency campaign that is likely to prompt hand-wringing in Washington and more Saudi frustration with Western inaction in Syria.

Druse State in Syria Could be Israeli Ally: Ariel Ben Solomon, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 29, 2013— Whether one wishes it or not, Syria may be on the way to partition or some kind of de facto break-up along the lines of ethnic division, regardless of what locals or the West want. Would such a break-up work in Israel’s favor?

 

On Topic Links

 

Mr. Kerry’s Empty Words on Syria: Editorial Board, Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2013

Putting Out the Syrian Fire: Rami G. Khouri, New York Times, Oct. 23, 2013

For Syrian Refugees in Jordan, Aid From Israel Comes in a Whisper: Debra Kamin, The Times of Israel,  Oct. 20, 2013

Syria’s War Viewed Almost in Real Time: Melik Kaylan, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 27, 2013

 

SYRIA’S BRUTALITY CONTINUES AT WILL

Michael Gerson
Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2013

 

While chemical weapons disarmament proceeds in Syria, so do mass attacks on civilians. In the eastern suburbs of Damascus, where the regime used sarin, it now conducts a siege, blocking the entrance of food and the exit of refugees. This technique involves less sophisticated chemistry, but it is still effective. Aid workers report hunger and malnutrition. Through trial and error, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is finding ways to attack women and children that the world finds more acceptable.

 

Events in Syria strain recent historical comparisons. Only Syria and Afghanistan have experienced the displacement of more than 6 million people. Only the violence in Syria and Rwanda has displaced tens of thousands in a single day. A third of the Syrian population has been forced from their homes; perhaps 100,000 are dead. As the conflict grows more chaotic, it becomes more opaque. Fewer journalists are willing to risk the growing anarchy, banditry and kidnapping. And the proliferation of rebel groups, some disturbingly radical, have left many confused about whom to pull for. The result is a vast tragedy within Syria and a vast emotional numbing outside it. Sooner or later the moral sensations return, leaving historians to wonder how such atrocities were allowed to recur. But Syria is not only a humanitarian nightmare. The rise of jihadist groups in the Syrian civil war — which has dissipated American sympathy for the rebellion — has also raised the strategic stakes of the conflict. The establishment of safe havens for these jihadist groups in large portions of Syria would destabilize the region and expand the capabilities and reach of global terrorism. (Recall what creative extremists accomplished from bases in Afghanistan.)

 

The main strategic question comes down to this: Who will be able to fight al-Qaeda? America doesn’t want the job. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we have spent tens of billions on training and equipment, attempting to transfer this role to their governments. In Syria, the government is brutal, sectarian and propped up by outsiders (Hezbollah and Iranian forces). Even with this support, Assad will not be able to reestablish effective control over regions he has alienated or savaged. He has shattered his legitimacy along with his country. Few would disagree on the best outcome: An interim government composed of moderate opposition elements and members of the Assad regime (other than Assad) who want to be part of a new Syria — a government that can begin to reduce violence in much of the country while going after al-Qaeda. But Assad believes he is winning and that the chemical weapons deal assures the continuation of his power. And the moderate opposition is weak — caught in a two-front war against the regime and al-Qaeda, and inadequately supported by the United States.

 

America is accustomed to arming and training friendly governments, but the training of non-state actors is a riskier proposition. It has caused serious objections in Congress and in parts of the Obama administration. The resulting indecision has further complicated matters. The Syrian National Coalition — the main opposition umbrella group — has fractured in frustration. And aid to the responsible opposition has gotten no easier with every border checkpoint between Turkey and Syria controlled by extremists. After years of inaction, America now stares some unpleasant strategic realities in the face: Six months from now, will any responsible opposition be left to support? Will America have any acceptable partners in the fight against al-Qaeda in Syria?

 

With limited leverage on the ground, American policy increasingly depends on a desperate Russian play. For a year and a half, the Obama administration has argued that Russia’s support for Assad is resulting in a disintegrating state that may transform northern Syria into Somalia or Yemen. Does this really serve Russian interests? If it was too risky to allow chemical weapons to float around in a disintegrating Syria — which terrorists might gain and use in Moscow — isn’t it also risky to allow terrorist havens so near Russia’s southern border? Wouldn’t it be better to offer Assad a nice dacha somewhere, allowing a consensus government to emerge out of peace negotiations? The argument has the virtue of being correct. But there is no indication the Russians are buying it. It is tempting — with civilians under siege, millions displaced, Congress conflicted and Russia intransigent — to conclude that engagement is pointless because things could hardly get worse. Unfortunately, things could get much worse — unless someone in Syria is readied to oppose the extremists.

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SYRIAN STALEMATE

Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Jerusalem Report, Oct. 7, 2013

 

The dizzying events of the past few weeks, in which an imminent American military strike against Syria was delayed pending congressional approval and then indefinitely shelved by a US-Russian deal to quarantine and ultimately dispose of Syria’s massive chemical weapons arsenal, have highlighted anew a number of enduring features of modern Middle East politics.

 

As has been the case for more than two centuries, the Middle East continues to be an arena for great power competition and rivalry. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union inaugurated a very brief, and largely illusory, period of American hegemony, beginning with Mikhail Gorbachev’s acquiescence to the American-led 1991 Gulf war against Iraq, a longtime Soviet ally. Vladimir Putin has been determined to avoid a replay of those events, and the more recent sidelining of Moscow while another longtime regional ally, Muammar Gaddafi, was toppled by NATO military intervention. Russia’s success in staving off US military action against Bashar Assad’s regime marks its return to Great Power status. Nonetheless, this does not transform Russia into the new hegemony, or return the region to the days of the Cold War, in which local wars carried the potential of morphing into a Soviet-American conflagration.

 

The Obama-Putin deal should not be seen only in zero-sum game terms, and carries at least the potential for enhancing international prohibitions against the use of weapons of mass destruction and legitimizing military action to punish violators. The proof will be in the pudding.

 

Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, nearly a century ago, no regional hegemony has emerged, which can bring order to the region, and none is on the horizon. Great Britain and France had their fleeting, but oft-difficult, moment of dominance between the two world wars. From 1945 onwards, various bids for all-Arab leadership, mostly emanating from either Egypt or Iraq, ran up against countervailing local and international forces. The recent New York Times op-ed by two influential Saudis calling for the League of Arab States to shoulder its regional responsibility by organizing a massive force to intervene in Syria and oversee a transitional regime was utterly divorced from the reality of a weak and divided Arab state system. Turkey has made a concerted bid for regional leadership during the last decade, evoking descriptions of neo-Ottomanism, but currently finds itself with limited influence and at odds with most of its neighbors. This includes the ruling Egyptian military, which detested Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s support of the now-deposed Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Ankara’s early abandonment of Assad in favor of the Syrian opposition failed to produce the desired results, left Turkey with few options, and opened it up to harsh domestic criticism.

 

Thanks primarily to its alliance with the Assad family business, Iran has projected power into the eastern Mediterranean region to an extent not seen since late antiquity, just prior to the rise of Islam in the 7th century. American reluctance to unsheathe its sword against Syria was certainly noted with satisfaction in Tehran, which will be watching closely as to whether the framework for dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is translated into action. More generally, a US-Iranian dialogue on Iran’s nuclear program may soon be renewed, which could include discussions on Syria as well. The nightmare scenario for Sunni Gulf monarchies – a US-Iranian “grand bargain” at their expense – is not in the cards, but both the Saudis and Israelis will be watching closely. More generally, Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian tensions have become far more salient than in the past. However, the prospects for a grand Sunni alliance (Turkey, Egypt and Arab monarchies) to combat Iran and its allies are as remote as the “grand bargain” scenario.

 

The Syrian state that emerged out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent French mandate lacked the requisite social and political cohesion. Hafez Assad (1970-2000) combined an iron fist and considerable political skills to stabilize the country, which became an important regional actor in its own right. But the country’s centrifugal tendencies and pre-existing sectarian and communal loyalties have now reemerged with a vengeance, and the struggle to determine the future of an unraveling Syrian polity is now in full swing. For the time being, the violent stalemate in the civil war seems likely to continue, and a path towards political resolution remains absent. Assad can breathe easier for the moment, and Syrian rebel hopes for a deus ex machine in the form of American intervention have dissolved. Tragically, the millions of displaced Syrians will continue to suffer and, even worse, the number of dead (110,000) and wounded (untold) will continue to climb.

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HEZBOLLAH PREPARES FOR SYRIA SHOWDOWN IN AL-QALAMOUN

Jamie Dettmer

The Daily Beast, Oct. 29, 2013

 

The Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah is poised to launch a much-anticipated offensive to the north of Damascus in a counterinsurgency campaign that is likely to prompt hand-wringing in Washington and more Saudi frustration with Western inaction in Syria. The battle for mountainous Al-Qalamoun-a rugged region between the Syrian capital and Homs, the country’s third largest city-will be as significant in military terms when it comes, say diplomats and analysts, as the struggle in the spring for Qusair, a strategic town in sight of Lebanon, that was retaken by the Syrian army thanks to Hezbollah, whose fighters were in the vanguard of the assault.

 

Qusair’s capture goaded President Obama in June to pledge he would arm the Syrian rebels-a promise that hasn’t been fulfilled because of the administration’s worries about the growing influence of al-Qaeda affiliates in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. The offensive will again pit Hezbollah fighters directly against jihadists and militant Islamists. The al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamist militias Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Islamhave been reinforcing towns and villages in the region to prepare for the expected Hezbollah assault. Some reports claim that as many as 20,000 rebel fighters have poured into the region, some being redeployed from Damascus suburbs.

 

A grueling confrontation in Al-Qalamoun-an area 50 miles long and 25 miles broad that runs from the rural outskirts of the Syrian capital to the Lebanese border-could see Saudi Arabia accelerate its arming of certain rebel groups that the Obama administration considers dangerous to the West, adding to strained relations between Washington and Riyadh…In a news conference earlier this month, the head of Lebanon’s pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party, warned that Saudi Arabia was planning to set Lebanon alight if Hezbollah joined the battle for Al-Qalamoun. “Saudi Arabia warned Hezbollah against participating in the battle,” he told reporters. The Al-Qalamoun region is seen as vital both by Syrian forces and the rebels. Controlling Al-Qalamoun would allow the Assad regime to secure land links between Damascus and Homs and interdict arms supplies from Lebanese Sunni supporters for the rebels coming through the border around the town of Arsal. For the regime, consolidating its hold on Homs is a priority, as it represents a central link between Syria’s interior cities and the Mediterranean coast north of Latakia, a stronghold of President Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

 

Hezbollah officials have been briefing Lebanese media outlets on an upcoming Al-Qalamoun offensive as part of an effort to manage and prepare their own followers, many of whom in the south of Lebanon have begun to express doubts about the wisdom of becoming further embroiled in their neighbor’s raging civil war. In Shiite areas of the Bekaa Valley, backing for Hezbollah engagement in Syria remains high, partly because of close family ties between Shiites on both sides of the border. But in the south,  rare behind-the scenes disgruntlement is growing with the Hezbollah leadership, says Hisham Jaber, a Shiite and retired Lebanese army general. He says southern Shiite families are questioning the wisdom of Hezbollah fighting fellow Muslims, even if they are Sunnis. “The family ties between the Shiite in the Bekaa and the Shiite in Syria is different than south Lebanon,” says Jaber. “People in south Lebanon don’t have such close ties with Syria.”

 

Lebanese officials and Western diplomats worry that Lebanon won’t be left unscathed in a prolonged battle for Al-Qalamoun. “This isn’t going to be a two-week battle like Qusair,” says a British military adviser to the Lebanese army. “The region is mountainous and the offensive will extend into the spring and there’ll be more chance of violent spillover into Lebanon.” A Hezbollah fighter acknowledged in an interview with NOW, a Lebanese website, that the battle for Al-Qalamoun would be different from the fight over Qusair and would take much longer “because of the nature of the terrain, which is made up of high mountains and deep valleys.”

 

An offensive in the region was predicted some weeks ago, soon after the retaking of Qusair by pro-Assad forces. Many of the rebel fighters who escaped from that battle headed to villages in Al-Qalamoun. A Hezbollah special forces commander interviewed by The Daily Beast in the summer suggested an offensive would be launched quickly but it was instead delayed, possibly because of diplomatic fallout from the August chemical-weapons attacks. FSA sources have warned of severe repercussions for Lebanon from a battle in Al-Qalamoun, involving a possible movement of rebel fighters into Lebanon and rebel rocket attacks on Hezbollah strongholds in the Bekaa Valley. In the summer, two car bomb attacks on a Hezbollah suburb of Beirut that left dozens dead frayed nerves. Last Thursday, the Lebanese security forces intercepted a car carrying 250 kilograms of explosives and clashed with Syrian rebels in the Bekaa Valley.

 

Opposition activists in Yabrud, a village in the Al-Qalamoun region, say airstrikes and artillery bombardments have picked up pace in the past few days.

 

Contents

 

DRUSE STATE IN SYRIA COULD BE ISRAELI ALLY

Ariel Ben Solomon

Jerusalem Post, October 29, 2013

 

Whether one wishes it or not, Syria may be on the way to partition or some kind of de facto break-up along the lines of ethnic division, regardless of what locals or the West want. Would such a break-up work in Israel’s favor? According to some analysts, weak Arab states with internal strife and divisions, as well as the break-up of the existing Arab state order, plays to Israel’s strategic advantage. In this way, Israel can form alliances with various ethnic groups that are able to form their own state or autonomous region, such as with the Kurds or possibly the Druse in Syria. For example, Sudan, a hostile Muslim state, divided into North and South, saw Israel immediately allying itself with the independent animist and Christian South Sudan. Israel had previously had covert relations with inhabitants of the south and other non-Muslim or other minority sects in the Middle East.

 

Having more of these minority groups upgrade their status to states or greater autonomy, would allow Israel to create more powerful relations with them. Prof. Martin Kramer, an expert of the Middle East and president of Shalem College in Jerusalem said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post that, regarding the possibility of some kind of breakup of the country: “It won’t be possible to formalize Syria’s fragmentation, because no faction will ever be satisfied with its borders. More likely is cantonization, in which authority devolves to the lowest denominator of city quarter or rural area. Some sects and ethnic groups would end up with more than one canton. Rather than four or five quasi-states, Syria would look like a patchwork.”

 

It was the Sykes-Picot agreement reached during WWI that charted out how to partition the Ottoman Empire. The British and French carved up the region according to their interests, not paying adequate attention to ethnic groups. However, even knowing what we do today, and with advanced mapping techniques and technology, could one imagine a foolproof plan that would divide and satisfy the various radical Islamic movements, tribes, Shi’ites, Sunnis, Christians, Druse, Kurds, and so on? But, perhaps a better partition of the region could have been possible.

 

According to a recent article by the US-based Syria expert Gary Gambill, in an article published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, he states that a separate Druse state in southwest Syria could end up being an ally of Israel. Gambill states that Syria is not “going to become a stable, unified state again in the foreseeable future, let alone a remotely democratic one. It may be time to start thinking about alternatives.” He argues that Syria has essentially already broken into separate enclaves with the Sunni rebels controlling large parts of the north and east, while the Alawite regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad controls Damascus and major cities as well as non-Sunni coastal areas.

 

The Kurds control the border area in the northeast and the Druse are concentrated in the southwest. The country’s main minorities – Alawites, Kurds, Christians, and Druse – would mostly support partition, he says, if faced with the reality of an Sunni Islamist-dominated state, which would likely persecute them. The Islamist dominated Sunni rebels reject partition outright because they see themselves as the majority that should justly rule the entire state. Despite the fact that Islamists abhor the colonial drawn borders, they nonetheless have come to accept them for the time being, on the way to their goal of a unified Muslim Caliphate. In such a configuration in Syria, Gambill sees the Druse state as having good relations with Israel and Jordan, while the Alawite state would continue to ally itself with Iran and Russia and the Gulf states would wield influence with the Sunnis. When asked about a possible alliance between a Druse state and Israel and Jordan, Gambill stated, “In both cases, geographic proximity is the main driver – any landlocked Druse statelet determined to resist domination by the Sunni Arab successor state would have to be friendly with one or both.” Additionally, he said,  in Jordan's favor is the community's close relations with the Hashemites prior to the Baath Party's 1963 seizure of power, when Sultan al-Atrash is said to have privately urged King Abdullah I to annex Jabal Druse. "In Israel's favor is the strong role of Druse in the Israeli military-security sphere," he said adding, "You may recall that Walid Jumblatt (an important Lebanese Druse leader) dallied with the Israelis back when Israel was in a position to help advance Druze communal interests vis-a-vis Lebanese Forces in the early 1980s." Kramer agrees that Jordan has a better chance of allying with a Druse entity stating, “Israel isn’t just anathema, its record of sticking by embattled minorities is mixed. Given a choice, and given the geography, the Druse will align far more naturally with Jordan.”

 

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On Topic

 

 

Mr. Kerry’s Empty Words on Syria: Editorial Board, Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2013  —According to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad now is waging “a war of starvation” against his own people. In a robustly worded op-ed column posted Friday on ForeignPolicy.com, Mr. Kerry denounced what he said was “the systematic denial of medical assistance, food supplies and other humanitarian aid to huge proportions of the population.”

Putting Out the Syrian Fire: Rami G. Khouri, New York Times, Oct. 23, 2013 —The Syrian conflict has become the world’s greatest proxy war since Vietnam.

For Syrian Refugees in Jordan, Aid From Israel Comes in a Whisper: Debra Kamin, The Times of Israel,  Oct. 20, 2013— Sultana is 23 years old and very hungry. She grew up in the suburbs east of Damascus, but when her house was firebombed by an airplane belonging to the Syrian regime, she fled the city in the night along with her husband and their five children.

Syria’s War Viewed Almost in Real Time: Melik Kaylan, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 27, 2013— In one video, two men in jeans and hoodies take a rocket tube to a rooftop and fire it. From another angle, we see three Syrian tanks in a row.

 

 

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ISRAEL’S MILITARY POST-“ARAB FALL”: BEYOND ARROW AND IRON DOME, OFFENSIVE CAPACITY STRENGTHENED — IRAN A CONTINUING CONCERN, AND NAVY NOW FOCUSES ON GAS-FIELD DEFENCE

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 an abbreviated version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Israel Plans Military 'Revolution' to Face New Regional Threat: Jonathan Marcus, BBC, 12 July 2013—Israel's armed forces – the most powerful and best equipped in the Middle East – are changing. Older tanks and aircraft will be retired. Some 4,000 – maybe even more – professional career officers will be dismissed. A range of other changes over the next five years are intended to make the Israeli military leaner but more effective.

 

Threats to Israeli Aircraft over Iran: James Dunnigan, Strategy Page, July 27, 2013—Iranian military leaders were relieved at the recent election of the “moderate” Hassan Rowhani to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. Rowhani is known to be a superb negotiator and someone you can reason with. Ahmadinejad was neither of those things and his constant and hysterical threats to Israel made war with Israel an ever increasing possibility.

 

IDF’s Druze Battalion Tests New Techniques for Fighting Hezbollah: IDF Blog, July 4, 2013—The battalion developed techniques for fighting Hezbollah, based on years of experience operating in Israel’s northern border region; the new methods were tested in a battalion-wide exercise last week.

 

Israeli Technology Turns Air Into Drinking Water for Troops: NoCamels, Feb. 28, 2012—Military troops around the world, no matter where they are instated, know that even with the best training, personnel and arms, they cannot survive battle if they are lacking one vital thing: water. Among the concerns of military heads is  to ensure water sources are always available, even in the most arid of places.

 

On Topic Links

 

The Evolution of Israeli Military Strategy: Asymmetry, Vulnerability, Pre-emption and Deterrence: Gerald M. Steinberg, Jewish Virtual Library, October 2011

IAF's Flying Camel Squadron: Drones not Always Best: Linda Gradstein, Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2013

IDF Ground Forces Launch Groundbreaking Battle Lab: Yael Zahavi, IDF, Jan 17, 2013

Israel’s Military-Entrepreneurial Complex Owns Big Data: Matthew Kalman, MIT Technology Review, July 11, 2013

Gaza Crossing Weekly Report: COGAT/Israel Ministry of Defence, July 20, 2013

Israel’s Skylark Spy Plane: Ultimate Weapons-Robotics. Discovery Channel. Video

Inside an Israeli Defense Lab: Popular Mechanics.

 

 

ISRAEL PLANS MILITARY 'REVOLUTION'
TO FACE NEW REGIONAL THREAT

Jonathan Marcus

BBC, 12 July 2013

 

Israel's armed forces – the most powerful and best equipped in the Middle East – are changing. Older tanks and aircraft will be retired. Some 4,000 – maybe even more – professional career officers will be dismissed. A range of other changes over the next five years are intended to make the Israeli military leaner but more effective. Elements of the plans were set out by the Israel Defense Forces' Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, earlier this week. Once implemented, they promise what some analysts have described as "a revolution" in Israel's military affairs.

 

In part, of course, this is all about money. The defence budget in Israel is under growing pressure – social protest has erupted on Israel's streets too. Significant cuts have to be made. This is one reason why units equipped with older tanks like derivatives of the US M60 will be disbanded, as well as some Air Force units with older aircraft that are much more expensive to maintain. Streamlining the career military may also save funds in the long run.

 

But what is really going on here owes less to budgetary pressures and more to the dramatic changes that are under way in the strategic geography of the region around Israel.

 

The Arab world is living through an upheaval that shows no sign of ending. The big military players like Egypt, Syria and Iraq are either facing political uncertainty, full-scale civil war, or have been exhausted by invasion and more than a decade of bitter internal violence.

 

The Israeli military's five-year plan has been postponed over recent years – partly due to the budgetary uncertainty and partly due to the dramatic changes sweeping across the region. As retired Brig Gen Michael Herzog, a former head of IDF Strategic Planning, told me: "The prospect of a conventional war breaking out between the IDF and a traditionally organised Arab army is now much less than in the past. However, the risk from non-state actors, of asymmetric warfare, and greater unrest along Israel's borders (with the exception perhaps of Jordan) is increasing and it is these threats that the Israeli military has to plan for."

 

So what will change ? Gen Herzog says there will probably be fewer tanks, but this goes much further than simply changing the IDF's order of battle. There will be a much greater emphasis upon intelligence and cyber-warfare. Given the instability in Syria, there will be a new territorial division covering the Golan front. There will be significant investment in the capacity to strike deep into enemy territory and to improve the co-ordination between air and ground forces.

 

There will be an even greater emphasis upon speed and the deployment of weapons that can strike targets rapidly and with great accuracy. The use of the Tamuz system, a highly accurate guided missile, during recent months against sporadic fire coming from Syrian positions is a pointer to the types of weaponry that will be more important in the future. Tamuz is actually a relatively old system, recently declassified, but its successors will play an important part in Israel's new order of battle.

 

"The Israeli military concept has always been to shorten the duration of any conflict, but this has become more important than ever before because of the growing missile arsenals of groups like the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, which means the Israeli home-front is under threat like never before," Gen Herzog told me.

 

Israel already deploys a variety of defensive measures like the Arrow and Iron Dome anti-missile systems, but improving its offensive capability is seen as the key to managing the tempo and duration of any future conflict. By and large, Gen Herzog welcomes the new military plan. However, he says that "there are of course risks during any period of transition".

 

Budget constraints mean that in the short-term training is being cut back. This, he notes, "is the easiest way to save money in the short term". He points to the IDF's problems in Lebanon in 2006 as an example of an army that had spent too little time training for large-scale manoeuvre warfare. "Training is definitely down this year, but is set to rise in future years," he says, adding: "This is a risk albeit a calculated one."  Nonetheless, the assessment among the Israeli High Command is that this risk is bearable, given the disarray afflicting its Arab neighbours.

 

In Egypt, the peace treaty with Israel may not be popular but the Egyptian army is wedded to it, not least as the ticket that opens the way to large-scale US military aid.

Israeli soldier during military drill Budgetary constraints mean that military training will be cut back in the short-term Iraq is no longer a serious military player. Syria is in crisis and the regime's future remains in doubt. Instability and uncertainty characterise Israel's strategic environment with the risk of rapid escalation that could see conflicts on a number of fronts.

 

Many military analysts accept that reform is justified. Perhaps the greatest risk is that the government will not make good on future defence spending pledges and this ambitious programme could just look like retrenchment. Of course the Iranian nuclear challenge remains a potential threat, against which Israeli Air Force planners in particular are building up their capabilities.

 

New missions, too, are fast emerging, not least for the Israeli Navy which must now protect gas field installations off-shore which promise to make the country self-reliant in energy terms for a considerable period.

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THREATS TO ISRAELI AIRCRAFT OVER IRAN

James Dunnigan

Strategy Page, July 27, 2013

 

Iranian military leaders were relieved at the recent election of the “moderate” Hassan Rowhani to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. Rowhani is known to be a superb negotiator and someone you can reason with. Ahmadinejad was neither of those things and his constant and hysterical threats to Israel made war with Israel an ever increasing possibility. This was made worse by the growing threat of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad also liked to boast of how well prepared Iran was to kick Israeli ass if it ever came to a fight. Iranian military leaders cringed at this because they knew that the military power Ahmadinejad was boasting of was largely an illusion.

 

The constant stream of boastful press releases put out by the Iranian military were for building domestic morale, not to describe any real improvements in Iranian military capabilities. The Israeli’s knew this, as did Ahmadinejad (well, he was told) but the numerous threats against Israel caused the Israelis to threaten right back. The problem was that Israel was much more capable to attacking Iran than Iran was in defending itself.

While Israel has a huge stockpile of fuel, ammo, and other supplies for wartime (about 30 days’ worth), Iran has very little. While Iran pumps a lot of oil, it doesn’t have the refineries to produce much aircraft grade fuel. Iran has few smart bombs, missiles, and, well, not much of anything compared to Israel.

 

Israel can put over 500 aircraft (mostly F-15s and F-16s) a day (as in sorties) over Iran. That’s in addition to more than twice as many for any short range threat. Israel has over 25,000 smart bombs and missiles (not counting smaller missiles like Hellfire). Within a few days this Israeli air power could destroy what little Iran has in the way of major weapons systems (armoured vehicles, aircraft, warships, and weapons research and manufacturing facilities). Worse, the earlier claims of Iranian military strength would not only be exposed as false but greatly diminished from what they actually were before the Israelis came by. Iranian military leaders did not want this to happen, although the senior clerics of the religious dictatorship that rules Iran saw a positive angle to an Israeli attack; it would rally all Iranians behind the generally disliked government.

 

The Iranian problem is that three decades of sanctions has made it impossible to replace obsolete and worn out gear or even maintain the elderly systems they have to rely on. Thus, the best defences (anti-aircraft missiles and jet fighters) against an Israeli attack are largely absent. What is available is ancient and probably ineffective against Israeli SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences) capabilities.

 

For example, Iran has been having increasing problems keeping its 1970s era F-5s flying. The ones that are still flying tend to crash a lot, or not be available for use because of maintenance problems (including spare parts shortages). Spare parts for all U.S. aircraft Iran still uses have been hard to come by. Iran has managed, sort of. Nevertheless, the Iranian Air Force is largely a fraud. It has lots of aircraft that, for the most part, sit there but can't fly because of age and lack of replacement parts. Those that can fly would likely provide target practice for Israeli fighters.

 

The Iranian Air Force is still recovering from the effects of the 1979 revolution (which led to an embargo on spare parts and new aircraft). Despite that, many Iranian warplanes remain flyable but only for short periods. The main reason for even that is an extensive smuggling operation that obtains spare parts. Two of their aircraft, the U.S. F-4D and F-5E Tiger, were widely used around the world. Somewhere, someone had parts for these planes that Iran could buy. There are still about 40 of each in service, with less than half of them flyable at any time.

 

This was less the case with Iran's most expensive warplane, the U.S. F-14 Tomcat. Iran was the only export customer of this aircraft. Some F-14s have been kept flyable, despite the rumored sabotage of Iran's AIM-54 Phoenix missiles by U.S. technicians, as they were leaving. To demonstrate this, they sent 25 F-14s on a fly-over of Tehran in 1985. Today, Iran has about 20 F-14s, with less than half of them flyable.

 

Iran has sought to buy new foreign aircraft. In the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, they sought to buy from Russia. Despite the low prices, a combination of Western pressure (to not sell) and the lack of Iranian money for high-ticket items, not that many aircraft were obtained. One unforeseen opportunity was the 1991 Gulf War. Many Iraqi aircraft (most of them Russian-built) fled to Iran to avoid American attack. The Iranians never returned them. Iran ended up with up to 60 MiG-29s. There were also 18 Su-24s, a force that was expanded by more purchases from Russia. Black market spare parts have been available, but the MiG-29 is a notoriously difficult aircraft to maintain, even when you have all the parts you need.

 

Iran currently has about two hundred fighters and fighter bombers, but only about half can be put into action and then usually for only one sortie a day. The chronic shortage of spare parts limits the number of hours the aircraft can be flown. This means pilots lack good flying skills. The poor maintenance and untrained pilots leads to more accidents.

 

Iran is similarly ill-prepared when it comes to ground based anti-aircraft defence. Iran has managed to keep operational some of the American Hawk anti-aircraft missile systems it bought in the 1970s. But these are not very capable these days and the Israelis know all about the Hawk system. Iran has had limited success in buying new systems from Russia and China and, in general, is as ill-prepared as it is in the air to oppose an Israeli attack.

 

Contents

 

IDF’S DRUZE BATTALION TESTS
NEW TECHNIQUES FOR FIGHTING HEZBOLLAH

IDF Blog, July 4, 2013

 

The IDF’s Herev Battalion, made up of members of Israel’s Druze community, has gained many years of experience performing unique missions near the Israel-Lebanon border. In the 2006 Second Lebanon War, for instance, Herev was the first force to cross the border and the last to return – exhausted from completing a range of complex missions that earned the unit a citation.

 

The Herev Battalion, referred to as the IDF’s “spearhead on the Lebanon border”, used its wealth of operational experience in the region to develop new combat techniques for fighting against Hezbollah. These new techniques were tested last week for the first time in an intensive battalion-wide exercise. “Combat in Lebanon demands the use of heavy armor and the slow advancement of troops,” explained Lt. Col. Shadi Abu Fares, commander of the Herev Battalion. He went on to explain that fighting Hezbollah requires a specific method of combat, which includes the intensive use of firepower.

 

 “In order to fight against the enemy in Lebanon in the most correct manner, we took the techniques that exist today in the IDF for fighting in open areas, and we made the necessary adjustments. With the help of the battalion’s experience, and combined with an understanding of what to expect next time, we managed to develop a better and more efficient method,” he said.

 

As part of the conclusions drawn from the exercise, a special document was drafted to present the techniques, which will be sent to officers throughout the IDF in order to assist in building a new combat doctrine for fighting against terror organizations. “The Herev Battalion must teach the entire IDF how to fight effectively against Hezbollah,” said Col. Zion Ratzon, commander of the regional brigade to which the Herev Battalion is subordinate.

 

“There are additional adjustments to be made, but the technique proved itself during the exercise. We can already see how the fighters are now speaking a new language and that there is confidence in the methods that we tested,” Lt. Col. Abu Fares said.

 

The new combat techniques were put to the test in the Herev Battalion’s most recent exercise, which took place last week and consisted of three days of non-stop fighting in the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights. The exercise simulated the battalion’s role during combat while functioning as part of a full brigade, in order to train the commanders to cooperate with other forces.

 

The troops were accompanied by a tank platoon on their journey through the hilly terrain, while combat engineering teams cleared paths through the thick scrub and artillery forces provided suppressive fire that shook the northern Golan Heights. The goal of the method: provide so much fire that “the enemy cannot lift its head.”

 

The exercise simulated as closely as possible full-fledged combat in Lebanon, requiring the troops to deal with enemy rocket fire falling on their staging areas, sudden changes in mission plans and evacuating casualties in armored personnel carriers (APCs). “It was a drill against Hezbollah in every respect,” Lt. Col. Abu Faris said. “Following [the exercise], I can say with certainty that the Herev Battalion is ready for anything.”

 

A senior officer in the sector explained last week that Hezbollah’s actions in southern Lebanon are becoming more and more aggressive. Israeli forces stationed on the border observe well how Hezbollah agents work around the clock in the villages of southern Lebanon to gather intelligence on the IDF. The Herev Battalion, whose soldiers’ families live in northern Israel and are likely to be the first to suffer from a Hezbollah attack, continues to prepare for the “day after” on the sensitive Lebanese border.

 

“Changes in the region obligate us to be ready for war,” the regional brigade commander said at the end of the exercise. “For every eventuality that will be needed, with the Herev Battalion I feel more confident than any other battalion.”

 

Contents

 

 

ISRAELI TECHNOLOGY TURNS
AIR INTO DRINKING WATER FOR TROOPS

NoCamels, Feb. 28, 2012

 

Military troops around the world, no matter where they are instated, know that even with the best training, personnel and arms, they cannot survive battle if they are lacking one vital thing: water.

Among the concerns of military heads is  to ensure water sources are always available, even in the most arid of places.

 

One Israeli company took up the challenge to ensure water can be readily available, anywhere and at any time, by extracting it from the most common of things: air. Water-Gen, based in Rishon LeZion, Israel, specializes in water generation and water treatment technologies integrated with tactical military vehicles and ground units. Their technology extracts water from the ambient air humidity, and turns it into drinking water.

 

Initially, the system filters the air so that water can be extracted and accommodated in containers. Then, it is cooled and purified into drinking water. This water can be served from a tap within the system or inside the cabin. Chairmen and co-CEO, Arye Kohavi, says that “water transportation is one of the most common reasons for the departure of convoys across Afghanistan. These convoys are attacked and have casualties.” He adds that “if we can produce the water at the exact point where it is consumed, we spare the need to transport water and reduce the risk and expenses.”

 

According to the Water-Gen, the device, which can be fitted onto vehicles, produces 10-20 gallons (40-80 liters) of pure drinking water a day, even in harsh weather and field conditions. The system, which is operated by solar or electric energy, is designed to meet military needs and standards, the company adds.

 

The company has wide-scale pending patents for the systems and technology. In 2011, it completed a three-week experiment with US Army ground units (Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment), in which its systems provided the soldiers drinking water throughout the drills.

 

Eventually, Water-Gen hopes the technology can be implemented not just in the military, but in water-scarce regions around the world too. The United States, India, The UK, Spain and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have already shown interest in the company’s products.

 

Contents
 

The Evolution of Israeli Military Strategy: Asymmetry, Vulnerability, Pre-emption and Deterrence: Gerald M. Steinberg, Jewish Virtual Library, October 2011—When the nascent Israeli leadership met on May 14, 1948, in Tel Aviv to declare independence, the country was already being attacked by neighboring Arab armies. Israel overcame these hurdles in 1948 and in subsequent military confrontations, yet despite the development of formidable military capabilities, the inherent asymmetries and existential threats to the Jewish nation-state remain.

 

IAF's Flying Camel Squadron: Drones not Always Best: Linda Gradstein, Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2013—While more and more armies around the world are using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, for intelligence gathering, Israel, itself a leader in drone technology and a leading source of UAVs to other countries, continues to use manned aircraft for many of its missions.

 

IDF Ground Forces Launch Groundbreaking Battle Lab: Yael Zahavi, IDF, Jan 17, 2013—The IDF Ground Forces Command has unveiled a state-of-the-art battle laboratory integrating the latest simulation technology to create life-like operational scenarios. By accurately representing enemy figures, weapons and territory, the new system – which was unveiled last month – allows for the simulation of company-sized operations without the danger of a live-fire exercise.

 

Israel’s Military-Entrepreneurial Complex Owns Big Data: Matthew Kalman, MIT Technology Review, July 11, 2013—Two years ago, a half-dozen programmers and entrepreneurs started working together in a Tel Aviv basement to create one of Israel’s 5,000 high-tech companies. It was a stealth company, but these 20-somethings were used to secrecy. Most had served together in the same military intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces.

 

Gaza Crossing Weekly Report: COGAT/Israel Ministry of Defence, July 20, 2013. pdf—The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and the Ministry of Defence are responsible for traffic through the two Israeli crossings into Gaza. In a weekly report they itemize what has been let in or out of Gaza. Some interesting numbers.

 

Israel’s Skylark Spy Plane: Ultimate Weapons-Robotics. Discovery Channel. (Video)—A series of short videos documenting a few of Israel’s military innovations now in use.

 

Inside an Israeli Defense Lab: Rachel Nuwer, Popular Mechanics, Mar. 2013—A series of slides showing new developments in Israel’s defence labs. 

 

 

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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

 

 

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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.

 

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

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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).

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.
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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

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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.]

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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