Tag: Food shortages

AS EGYPT’S ECONOMY TANKS & IRAN TIES WORSEN, SUDAN’S SHADOW FALLS OVER CHRISTIANS’ SITUATION

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Contents:                          

 

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

 

 

Morsi, Egypt Face Economic Meltdown: Felix Imonti, Al-Monitor, Jan. 8, 2013—Six months of street violence over the preparation of the constitution has led to the neglect of an economy. The budget deficit rose by 38%, or $13.1 billion over six months, the Egyptian pound slipped 6% against the US dollar, unemployment rose from 8.9% to 12.4% and GDP growth fell from 5.0 to 0.5%.

The Enduring Egypt-Iran Divide: Mehdi Khalaji, Washington Institute, Dec. 31, 2012—Initially, the Muslim Brotherhood's ascent to power in the aftermath of the massive popular protests that toppled Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, inspired hope of renewed diplomatic ties with Iran. But, despite shared ideological principles, significant political obstacles continue to inhibit bilateral cooperation.

 

A 'Sudanese Genocide' in Egypt?: Raymond Ibrahim, Front Page Magazine, Jan 4, 2013—The current tensions in Egypt between the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and a fragmented populace that includes large segments of people who oppose the Islamization of Egypt—the moderates, secularists, and Christians who recently demonstrated in mass at Tahrir Square and even besieged the presidential palace—is all too familiar. One need only look to Egypt's immediate neighbour, Sudan, and its bloody history, to know where the former may be headed.

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Qatar to Egypt $2.5-Billion Lifeline Props Up Pound: Yasmine Saleh & Patrick Werr, Globe and Mail, Jan. 8, 2013

Cables Show State Department Disregarded Muslim Brotherhood Threat: John Rossomando, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Jan. 8, 2013

Preacher Alarms Many in Egypt with Calls for Islamist Vice Police: Egypt Independent, Jan. 9, 2013

Morsi Manages Egypt’s Economic Decline: Nervana Mahmoud, Al-Monitor, Jan 7, 2013

Diving Currency Adds to Egypt's Woes: Matt Bradley, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 30, 2013

Egyptian Cleric Threatens Egypt's Copts with Genocide: Raymond Ibrahim, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 28, 2012

 

 

 

MORSI, EGYPT FACE ECONOMIC MELTDOWN

Felix Imonti

Al-Monitor, Jan. 8, 2013

 

It took a mere 20% of the electorate to bring into effect the new constitution. Eighty percent of voters either rejected it or did not vote — for whatever reason . The obsession that Morsi had with imposing the constitution has placed him in the middle of a political minefield. Six months of street violence over the preparation of the constitution has led to the neglect of an economy that has come to a near halt. The budget deficit rose by 38%, or $13.1 billion over six months, the Egyptian pound slipped 6% against the US dollar, unemployment rose from 8.9% to 12.4% and GDP growth fell from 5.0 to 0.5%.

 

Added to those problems, foreign reserves were halved with the flight of capital and the transfer of savings abroad. The outflow led to the imposition of currency controls at the end of December, when reserves had diminished to $15 billion, enough to finance only three months of imports. Egypt runs a 50% trade deficit that used to be offset by earnings from tourism and remittances from workers abroad, but the tourists are staying away and economic conditions around the world make it more difficult for Egyptian workers to find employment.

 

Due to the political instability and the worsening financial plight of the government, Standard & Poor's downgraded Egypt's credit standing to B-minus, six levels below credit grade. Before the downgrade, Egypt paid 13.54% for a one-year treasury bond. After the downgrade, the sale of bonds was cancelled to avoid higher interest rates. Credit swops show Egypt ranking among the ten worst credit risks, along with Greece and Pakistan….

 

The certain rise in import prices will increase the inflation rate above the current level of 4.1%. The impact could be offset by expanding subsidies, which would increase the budget deficit beyond the current 10%. Already, subsidies form 30% of the budget; and it is that which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the government to reduce in order to qualify for the $4.8 billion loan. Terms for the loan had been settled after a year of negotiations only to be cancelled by the Morsi government, which feared increased taxes and reduced subsidies would spark more riots before the vote on the referendum. The IMF loan is critical for acquiring the additional $10 billion from the European Union, the African Development Bank and other sources. Without it, Egypt will be frozen out of the international financial markets.

 

As most of the Egyptian government debt is owed to domestic banks, those banks face insolvency. The National Bank of Egypt, Banque Misr SAE and Commerce International Bank have been downgraded in anticipation of a government default. Egypt suffers from a shortage of investment capital due to the lack of savings. Only if there is an influx of foreign direct investment can Egypt expect to see capital available for economic expansion. That, however, is being stifled by the unrest and the effort by groups inside Egypt to reverse the sale of state enterprises made during the Mubarak regime.

 

Starting in 2004, the Mubarak government embarked upon an economic-reform and privatization program. Over the next four years, $9.4 billion in state industries were sold to foreign and domestic buyers. The GDP growth rate rose from 4.1% to 7.2%. Foreign reserves expanded from $16 billion to $34 billion. Even during the global economic crisis of 2010, the economy continued to expand at 5%, but all of that came to an abrupt halt when the mobs flooded into Tahrir Square.

 

Now, some of the sales are being reversed. Foreign investors are viewing them as future risks better avoided. Foreign direct investment is only 16% of what it was in 2007, and much of that is in the petroleum sector.

 

A bad situation is being made worse by spreading worker discontent. Workers are demanding the right to unionize and to strike. Their call for “bread, freedom and justice” was for them the purpose of the revolution. Instead, the Morsi government is breaking up strikes with the police and has jailed union activists just as the Mubarak government had done before. If anything, workers are complaining that Morsi’s administration is worse than what was overthrown.

 

Most businesses are small. Yet, it is they that are providing the bulk of Egyptian employment. Business owners are complaining that the new government is doing nothing to reduce the suffocating regulations and corrupt bureaucracy. If they try to raise capital to invest, they are forced to compete with the government borrowing to finance its growing budget deficit or with the large private and state corporations that are given preference.

 

Whatever the ideology expounded, the Muslim Brotherhood is comprised mainly of professionals, with many involved in businesses. Like the crony capitalists of the Mubarak era, the government has become an instrument to protect their interests.

 

Back in November, Morsi seized power and moved to block the Constitutional Court to save his concept of democracy. There is nothing to say that he will not break the labour unions to save his vision of the economy. He should look very carefully at the mere 20% of the voters who supported his constitutional efforts and realize that he has been given a warning. The people of Egypt are not marching in his parade.

 

Felix Imonti is the retired director of a private equity firm where he was an investment strategist for seven years. 

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THE ENDURING EGYPT-IRAN DIVIDE

Mehdi Khalaji

Washington Institute, Dec. 31, 2012

 

Despite ideological affinities between the Muslim Brotherhood and Tehran, political disagreements make a rapprochement unlikely. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi may look besieged at home, but by brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in November, he enhanced his diplomatic stature mightily across the entire Middle East. Indeed, as 2012 comes to a close, Egypt's centrality to regional diplomacy has been restored. The big question for 2013 is whether Morsi will follow his achievement in Gaza by tackling another major diplomatic challenge: rebuilding relations with Iran after more than three decades of animosity.

 

Initially, the Muslim Brotherhood's ascent to power in the aftermath of the massive popular protests that toppled Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, inspired hope of renewed diplomatic ties with Iran. But, despite shared ideological principles, significant political obstacles continue to inhibit bilateral cooperation.

 

Relations between the two countries collapsed in 1980, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in Iran's Islamic Revolution and severed ties in response to Egypt's formal recognition of Israel the previous year. Egypt's then-president, Anwar El Sadat, granted the exiled Shah of Iran permission to live in Egypt, and supported Iraq in its eight-year war with the Islamic Republic. The Shah was ultimately buried in a mosque in Cairo….

 

Islamists in Iran and Egypt have a strong ideological connection. They share anti-Israel sentiment, and support Hamas against the secular-nationalist Fatah in the Palestinians' internecine struggle. Committed to governance under Sharia (Islamic law), they both view Western culture as a threat.

 

Iran has made some efforts to establish stronger economic relations with Egypt's Islamist government and, in turn, cement a powerful anti-Israel front in the region. Iran's attempt to strike a deal to sell Egypt crude oil would also help the Iranian government to cope with economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. But, although Iran's oil minister, Rostam Qassemi, said in October that negotiations were underway, Egypt's minister of petroleum and mineral resources, Osama Kamal, quickly disavowed any such deal.

Beyond economics, Khamenei has an emotional attachment to Egypt. A student of the Egyptian style of Koran recitation, he gathers Koran reciters from Egypt, as well as from other Islamic countries, in his home every Ramadan. More important, his outlook has been heavily influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood. Prior to the revolution, Khamenei translated three of Qutb's books into Farsi.

 

Despite these ideological affinities, political disagreements make a rapprochement unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood considers itself the bastion of modern political Islam, and believes that it should assume a leadership role for all Islamist groups and states. For his part, Khamenei describes himself as the "leader of the Islamic world," and calls Iran its "mother city" (Umm al Qora).

 

Moreover, the Sunni-Shia divide could pose a major challenge for Egypt-Iran relations. The Muslim Brotherhood is working to strengthen ties with Sunni allies, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even Turkey, rather than with Iran's Shia regime, which threatens Sunni regimes by exporting revolution and pitting Shia minorities against their governments.

 

In fact, since Mubarak's ouster, anti-Shia propaganda has gained traction in the Egyptian public sphere, with books alleging Shia corruption of Islam's true meaning filling the shelves of Cairo's bookstores. But this campaign largely reflects the growing influence of Egypt's Sunni allies — particularly the Gulf monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia — rather than a genuine threat from Egypt's small and quiescent Shia community….

 

These countries then export their anti-Shia discourse to countries, like Egypt, that do not necessarily have a history of Sunni-Shia conflict. Indeed, many of Cairo's cultural landmarks, for example, were built under the Shia Fatimid Caliphate. And, before last year's revolution, Egypt was considered one of the most Shia-friendly Sunni countries in the Arab world. But the Muslim Brotherhood remains financially dependent on the Gulf monarchies, which are using Egypt as a platform for their anti-Shia, anti-Iran agenda.

 

The most urgent dispute between Iran and Egypt, however, relates to Syria. During its years in opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood considered Iran's Islamic Revolution an example of how a transnational Islamist government might assume power. But, in the face of a popular uprising in Syria, Iran has supported the brutal, repressive policies of President Bashar al-Assad's regime. As a result, Islamists in Egypt are beginning to view Iran as a status quo power, not an agent of revolutionary change.

 

Furthermore, the flow of military supplies from Iran, together with battlefield support for Assad's regime from Iran's Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, reinforce the perception of a Sunni-Shia conflict in Syria. In this context, the collapse of Assad's regime would likely exacerbate tensions between Iran and Egypt — especially given that Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, the leading opposition group, would likely play a strong, even dominant, role in a new Syrian order.

 

For now, Egypt's government is putting national interests ahead of pan-Islamist aspirations. Rather than inciting an escalation in fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Egypt worked with the US and other regional allies to broker a cease-fire. By contrast, Iran's military leaders boasted about their support for Hamas, offering no indication that they wanted the fighting to end.

 

Less than two years after Egypt's revolution, Morsi's government is struggling to address domestic challenges, including the proliferation of armed radical groups in Sinai. But, as regional tensions continue  to rise, the chances of an Egypt-Iran detente are likely to deteriorate.
 

Mehdi Khalaji, a Qom-trained Shiite theologian, is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute.

 

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A 'SUDANESE GENOCIDE' IN EGYPT?

Raymond Ibrahim

Front Page Magazine, Jan 4, 2013

The current tensions in Egypt between the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and a fragmented populace that includes large segments of people who oppose the Islamization of Egypt—the moderates, secularists, and Christians who recently demonstrated en mass at Tahrir Square and even besieged the presidential palace—is all too familiar. One need only look to Egypt's immediate neighbour, Sudan, and its bloody history, to know where the former may be headed.

 

The civil war in Sudan, which saw the deaths of millions, was fundamentally a by-product of an Islamist regime trying to push Sharia law on large groups of Sudanese—Muslim, Christian, and polytheist—who refused to be governed by Allah's law, who refused to be Islamized. Although paying lip-service to pluralism and equality in the early years, by 1992, the Islamist government of Khartoum declared a formal jihad on the south and the Nuba, citing a fatwa by Sudan's Muslim authorities which declared that "An insurgent who was previously a Muslim is now an apostate; and a non-Muslim is a non-believer standing as a bulwark against the spread of Islam, and Islam has granted the freedom of killing both of them."

 

In other words, Khartoum decreed that: 1) It is simply trying to do Allah's will by instituting Islamic Sharia law; 2) Any Sudanese who objects—including Muslims—is obviously an infidel; 3) All such infidels must be eliminated. Accordingly, countless people were butchered, raped, and enslaved—all things legitimate once an Islamic state declares a jihad. While South Sudan recently ceded, the Nuba Mountains in the north is still continuously being bombarded.

 

Now consider how the above pattern—false promises of religious freedom, followed by a Sharia push and a declaration that all who oppose it, including Muslims, are infidels and apostates to be killed—is precisely what has been going on directly to the north of Sudan, in Egypt.

First, although Muhammad Morsi repeatedly promised that he would be a president who represents "all Egyptians" during presidential elections, mere months after coming to power, he showed that his true loyalty—which should have been obvious from the start, considering that he is a Muslim Brotherhood leader—was to Sharia and Islamization.

Even so, Egyptians did not forget that Morsi, during presidential elections, had said the following in a video interview:

 

The Egyptian people are awake and alert—Muslims and Christians; and they know that, whoever comes [to become Egypt's president], and does not respect the rule of law and the Constitution, the people will go against him. I want the people immediately to go against me, if I ever do not respect the law and Constitution.

 

Accordingly, when Morsi aggrandized himself with unprecedented presidential powers, and then used these powers to sidestep the law and push a Sharia-heavy Constitution on Egypt, large segments of the Egyptian people did rise against him; at one point, he even had to flee the presidential palace. And just as in Sudan, Morsi's Islamist allies—who, like Morsi, during elections spoke glowingly of Egyptian unity—made it a point to portray all those Egyptians opposing Morsi, the majority of whom are Muslims, of opposing Islam, of being apostates and hypocrites, and thus enemies who should be fought and killed.

 

Radical online cleric Wagdi Ghoneim, for instance, incited Muslims to wage jihad on and eliminate anyone protesting against Morsi, adding that any Muslim found protesting is, in fact, an apostate hypocrite, who wants to see Islam wiped out of Egypt. He justified the jihad on such Muslims by quoting Quran 66:9: "O Prophet! Strive hard against the infidels and the hypocrites, and be firm against them." He added that the hypocrites were supported by "Crusader Christians" (a reference to the Copts) and "debauched" liberals and seculars—all of whom must also be fought and even killed.

 

As for those Muslims who were protesting but were still "true" Muslims, Ghoneim portrayed them as being misguided—asking them, "Why are you siding with crusaders and infidels against Sharia?"—and thus also needing to be fought until they come to their senses.

 

He correctly pointed out that Islam forbids true Muslims from fighting each other—despite the fact that history (and current events) are replete with Muslims slaughtering each other—and rationalized his call to fight fellow Muslims by quoting Quran 49:9: "If two factions among the believers fight, then make settlement between the two. But if one of them oppresses the other, then fight against the one that oppresses until it returns to the ordinance of Allah." In this context, the moderate Muslims opposing Sharia are the ones "oppressing the other"—the true Muslims, Morsi and his supporters, who want Sharia, that is, who want to "return to the ordinance of Allah."…

 

Egypt is still not Sudan, but it is going down the same path and following the same pattern, specifically, an Islamist government trying to Islamize society, and characterizing as infidels and apostates all who resist. Undoubtedly Egypt's Islamist government will continue to try to Islamize all walks of Egyptian life; undoubtedly there will be those who reject it. The question is, will their resistance ever be staunch enough to prompt the government to act on the aforementioned fatwas, formally declaring all those Egyptians opposing Sharia as infidels and apostates to be hunted down and eradicated with impunity? Only time will tell.

Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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Qatar Throws Egypt $2.5-Billion Lifeline to Prop up Pound: Yasmine Saleh & Patrick Werr, Globe and Mail, Jan. 8, 2013—Qatar threw Egypt an economic lifeline on Tuesday, announcing it had lent Egypt another $2-billion and given it an extra $500-million outright to help control a currency crisis. Political strife has set off a rush to convert Egyptian pounds to dollars over the past several weeks, sending the currency to a record low against the U.S. dollar and draining foreign reserves to a critical level.

 

Cables Show State Department Disregarded Muslim Brotherhood Threat: John Rossomando,

Investigative Project on Terrorism, Jan. 8, 2013—The Obama administration chose to listen to voices suggesting that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood was moderate rather than those who warned it would resort to violence if it came to power, cables obtained by the Investigative Project on Terrorism show.

 

Preacher Alarms Many in Egypt With Calls for Islamist Vice Police: Egypt Independent, Jan. 9, 2013—Many Egyptian viewers were horrified when preacher Hesham al-Ashry recently popped up on primetime television to say women must cover up for their own protection and advocated the introduction of religious police.

 

Morsi Manages Egypt’s Economic Decline: Nervana Mahmoud, Al-Monitor, Jan 7, 2013—As fear for the economy grows in Egypt, a comparison to the conditions faced in the ’70s and early ’80s becomes more plausible. How far will the economy deteriorate? Can Morsi’s team save it? Every household ponders these questions while watching a devalued Egyptian pound and witnessing the hike in food prices.

 

Diving Currency Adds to Egypt's Woes: Matt Bradley, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 30, 2013—Egypt's currency plumbed new depths on Sunday as policy makers tried to reassure the public and investors that they can prevent a full-scale currency devaluation while still repairing Egypt's budget deficit. The country's worsening economic crisis comes after President Mohammed Morsi isolated his political opponents to push through Egypt's Islamist-leaning constitution, sparking weeks of riots, protests and political uncertainty.

 

Egyptian Cleric Threatens Egypt's Copts with Genocide: Raymond Ibrahim, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 28, 2012—Islamic leaders continue to portray the popular protests against President Morsi and his recently passed Sharia-heavy constitution as products of Egypt's Christians. 

 

 

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WHILE WORLD CONCERN GROWS OVER SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS, & ASSAD’S “PEACE PLAN” OFFERS USUAL BRUTALITY, BASHAR’S STILL THERE

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

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

 

Hints of Syrian Chemical Push Set Off Global Effort to Stop It: Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, New York Times, Jan 7, 2013—In the last days of November, Israel’s top military commanders called the Pentagon to discuss troubling intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery: Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes.

 

Assad Offers Only More Of The Same – Mukhabarat Brutality: Hassan Hassan, The National, Jan 7, 2013—The world still blinks every time that Bashar Al Assad speaks, as if it has not learnt anything from 21 months of violence. In his speech yesterday [Jan 6] – his ninth since the uprising began – the dictator offered a plan that would include a lengthy, complicated process of gradual change and "truth and reconciliation".

 

Syria: Why Assad May Yet Claim Victory: Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, Jan 7 2013—Reacting angrily to President Bashar al-Assad's speech on Sunday calling for an end to the rebellion, the US State Department said the Syrian leader was "detached from reality". But much the same might be said of the US and of Assad's other Western and Arab foes, and with greater justification.

 

On Topic Links

 

The Endgame in Syria is Nowhere In Sight: Kenneth Bandler, FoxNews, Jan 4, 2013
Strategic Briefing on ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’: Noman Benotman and Roisin Blake, Quilliam,  Jan 8, 2013

Hezbollah Sent 5,000 Fighters to Help Assad, Daily Reports: Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel, January 8, 2013

A Syrian Way Out of The Civil War: David Ignatius, Washington Post, Jan 4, 2013

Syrian Refugees Attack Aid Workers in Jordanian Camp Over Terrible Conditions: Dale Gavlak, National Post, Jan 8, 2013

A Two-Year Travelogue From Hell: Christoph Reuter, Der Spiegel, Jan 4, 2013

Assad and the U.S. Are Blind To Reality in Syria: Editorial, Washington Post, Jan 7, 2013

UN: Million Syrians Short of Food: YNet News, Jan 8, 2013

Fighting Flares in Palestinian Camp in Damascus: YNet News, Jan 8, 2013

 

 

 

HINTS OF SYRIAN CHEMICAL PUSH
SET OFF GLOBAL EFFORT TO STOP IT

Eric Schmitt And David E. Sanger

New York Times, Jan 7, 2013

 

In the last days of November, Israel’s top military commanders called the Pentagon to discuss troubling intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery: Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes.

 

Within hours President Obama was notified, and the alarm grew over the weekend, as the munitions were loaded onto vehicles near Syrian air bases. In briefings, administration officials were told that if Syria’s increasingly desperate president, Bashar al-Assad, ordered the weapons to be used, they could be airborne in less than two hours — too fast for the United States to act, in all likelihood.

 

What followed next, officials said, was a remarkable show of international cooperation over a civil war in which the United States, Arab states, Russia and China have almost never agreed on a common course of action. The combination of a public warning by Mr. Obama and more sharply worded private messages sent to the Syrian leader and his military commanders through Russia and others, including Iraq, Turkey and possibly Jordan, stopped the chemical mixing and the bomb preparation. A week later Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the worst fears were over — for the time being.

 

But concern remains that Mr. Assad could now use the weapons produced that week at any moment. American and European officials say that while a crisis was averted in that week from late November to early December, they are by no means resting easy. “I think the Russians understood this is the one thing that could get us to intervene in the war,” one senior defence official said last week. “What Assad understood, and whether that understanding changes if he gets cornered in the next few months, that’s anyone’s guess.”

 

While chemical weapons are technically considered a “weapon of mass destruction” — along with biological and nuclear weapons — in fact they are hard to use and hard to deliver. Whether an attack is effective can depend on the winds and the terrain. Sometimes attacks are hard to detect, even after the fact. Syrian forces could employ them in a village or a neighbourhood, some officials say, and it would take time for the outside world to know….

 

The Obama administration and other governments have said little in public about the chemical weapons movements, in part because of concern about compromising sources of intelligence about the activities of Mr. Assad’s forces….The head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, warned in a confidential assessment last month that the weapons could now be deployed four to six hours after orders were issued, and that Mr. Assad had a special adviser at his side who oversaw control of the weapons, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported. Some American and other allied officials, however, said in interviews that the sarin-laden bombs could be loaded on planes and airborne in less than two hours. “Let’s just say right now, it would be a relatively easy thing to load this quickly onto aircraft,” said one Western diplomat.

 

How the United States and Israel, along with Arab states, would respond remains a mystery. American and allied officials have talked vaguely of having developed “contingency plans” in case they decided to intervene in an effort to neutralize the chemical weapons, a task that the Pentagon estimates would require upward of 75,000 troops. But there have been no evident signs of preparations for any such effort. The United States military has quietly sent a task force of more than 150 planners and other specialists to Jordan to help the armed forces there, among other things, prepare for the possibility that Syria will lose control of its chemical weapons.

 

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was reported to have traveled to Jordan in recent weeks, and the Israeli news media have said the topic of discussion was how to deal with Syrian weapons if it appeared that they could be transferred to Lebanon, where Hezbollah could lob them over the border to Israel. But the plans, to the extent they exist, remain secret….

 

In response, Syria has reached deeper into its conventional arsenal, including firing Scud ballistic missiles at rebel positions near Aleppo. Over the past week a new concern emerged: Syrian forces began shooting new, accurate short-range missiles, believed to have been manufactured in Iran. None had chemical warheads. But their use showed that the Syrian military was now deploying a more accurate weapon than the notoriously inaccurate Scud missiles they have used in previous attacks.

 

As the fighting has escalated, American and other allied officials have said that government troops have moved some of the chemical stockpiles to safer locations, a consolidation that, if it continues, could actually help Western forces should they have to enter Syria to seize control of the munitions or destroy them. Syria’s chemical weapons are under the control of a secretive Syrian air force organization called Unit 450, a highly vetted outfit that is deemed one of the most loyal to the Assad government given the importance of the weapons in its custody.

 

American officials said that some of the back-channel messages in recent weeks were directed at the commanders of this unit, warning them — as Mr. Obama warned Mr. Assad on Dec. 3 — that they would be held personally responsible if the government used its chemical weapons.

 

Asked about these communications and whether they have been successful, an American intelligence official said only, “The topic is extremely sensitive, and public discussion, even on background, will be problematic.” Allied officials say whatever safeguards the Syrian government have taken, there remains great concern that the weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists fighting the government or the militant group Hezbollah, which has established small training camps near some of the storage sites.

 

“Militants who got their hands on such munitions would find it difficult to deploy them effectively without the associated aircraft, artillery or rocket launcher systems,” said Jeremy Binnie, a terrorism and insurgency specialist at IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. “That said, Hezbollah would probably be able to deploy them effectively against Israel with a bit of help.”

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ASSAD OFFERS ONLY MORE OF THE SAME:
MUKHABARAT BRUTALITY

Hassan Hassan

The National (UAE), Jan 7, 2013

 

The world still blinks every time Bashar Al Assad speaks, as if it has not learnt anything from 21 months of violence. In his speech yesterday [Jan 6] – his ninth since the uprising began – the dictator offered a plan that would include a lengthy, complicated process of gradual change and "truth and reconciliation". That would, in theory, lead to a new coalition government and a new constitution.

 

The speech was preceded by an aggressive two-week diplomatic campaign by the regime's allies and the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. That renewed push for diplomacy followed 140 countries' recognition of the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people, NATO Patriot missiles and military personnel that were dispatched to Turkey's border, and pledges of increased support for the opposition.

 

The diplomatic overture by the regime is part of a Russian-backed plan that would keep Al Assad in power until presidential elections in the summer of 2014. And the diplomacy appears to have succeeded in slowing down aid to the rebels, with reports that arms supplies are drying up. But the speech yesterday should remind the world that this dictator has no place in a future Syria and that support for the rebels is the only way forward.

 

Russia probably pressured Al Assad to announce a plan of reconciliation. But the speech sounded more vindictive, dismissive and exclusivist than even his previous bombast. For example, he said the plan was directed only at segments of the opposition, and that "those who reject the offer, I say to them: why would you reject an offer that was not meant for you in the first place?" In other points, he emphasized vengeance rather than reconciliation. He also blamed the rebels for the destruction of infrastructure and for cutting off electricity and communications.

 

"Syria accepts advice but never accepts orders," he said. "All of what you heard in the past in terms of plans and initiatives were soap bubbles, just like the [Arab] Spring." It was clear that he tried to sound steadfast, but his voice betrayed him several times. And before his departure from the room, the crowds chanted "may God protect you" – a chant that is used when someone is threatened. The usual party line is "with our soul and blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you".

 

Why would the regime offer a plan now, when it has not made a single meaningful concession since the beginning of the uprising? The violence would never have reached such staggering levels had Al Assad offered reasonable reforms from the beginning. Any hope that he can engineer an end to the violence is an illusion, which will only prolong and worsen the crisis. If anything, the speech showed that the regime will not change its policies except under duress.

 

The aim seemed to be threefold: to create the impression that the rebels refuse political settlements; to add to the world's reluctance about arming the rebels; and to question the legitimacy of the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people. The proposal of a new constitution is merely a red herring. Syrians did not rise up against the constitution, nor have they demanded constitutional change. People rose up against brutality, and the fact that the existing constitution was never honoured – the mukhabarat apparatus has dominated almost every aspect of Syrian life. The immediate cause of the uprising in Deraa was the mukhabarat, who arrested and tortured school boys for writing anti-regime graffiti and then humiliated their families.

 

Nor did Syrians rise up to be included in a coalition government. Any government that includes these same criminals will be no different. People rose up against the security apparatus that has plagued Syrian society, prevented progress, infringed on individual and public liberties, and tortured and killed tens of thousands of Syrians. These crimes, so obvious during this uprising, have been a normal state of affairs even during periods of calm. If a transition does not affect Al Assad, the mukhabarat apparatus and the army structure, then what does it offer?

 

Compromise does not exist in the regime's lexicon: political settlement means surrender, dialogue means subjugation, and a Syrian-Syrian solution means leaving Syrians to the regime's mercy. If the world wants to help Syrians, there is only one way: step up support for the rebels. The Assad speech was a sign of desperation. Recent moves, including the recognition of the opposition and the pledges of support, can work. More support for the rebels only increases the chances of a political settlement, which might even include safe passage for Al Assad. But a solution cannot come on his terms.

 

To be helpful, support for the rebels cannot simply prolong the fighting. The rebels need to be able to tip the balance. As the situation stands now, the regime may be able to fight for years, not just months…

 

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SYRIA: WHY ASSAD MAY YET CLAIM VICTORY

 

Simon Tisdall

The Guardian, Jan 7 2013

 

Reacting angrily to President Bashar al-Assad's speech on Sunday calling for an end to the rebellion, the US state department said the Syrian leader was "detached from reality". But much the same might be said of the US and of Assad's other western and Arab foes, and with greater justification. After two years of bloody attrition, the unpalatable truth is Assad is still in power, shows no sign of heeding demands to quit and is far from beaten. The evolving reality is that Assad may yet see off his many enemies and claim victory in Syria's civil war.

 

Explanations for this remarkable feat of survival lie not with Assad's personal abilities, which are limited, nor with the durability of his domestic supporters, who are in the minority, nor with the president's ruthlessness in prosecuting the military campaign. More potent has been his subtler achievement in convincing would-be western interventionists that awful though he is, what might follow him would almost certainly be worse. When leading Washington commentators such as David Ignatius [Washington Post] start talking up a "truth and reconciliation" process, you kind of know the battle is lost.

 

This process of geopolitical re-education – it might be termed psychological counter-insurgency – has been gradual but highly effective. One powerful aspect is the highlighting of the growing role of Islamist fundamentalists inside Syria, whom Assad regularly decries as foreign terrorists threatening the Syrian nation. This jihadi "scare factor" is rooted in last February's video message by the al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he called on pious Muslims, primarily Sunnis living in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, to help destroy the Syrian regime.

 

"Since then, the message has spread further afield, and the lure of joining the jihad in Syria against a Shia dictator is drawing in young men from around the world," said analyst Tobias Feakin in The Australian. Rising numbers of volunteers, estimated at up to 2,500 in total from as far away as Indonesia and Xinjiang in China, have dispersed in myriad suspect groups including the Free Syrian Army, Liwa al-Islam, Katibat al-Ansar, Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, which has close links with al-Qaida in Iraq.

 

The dawning realisation that Syria was not another Egypt or Libya, whose revolutions produced relatively clear-cut results, and that it might well become another failed state, harbouring al-Qaida fanatics bent on global confrontation, has had a big impact on western opinion, not least in the US….

The West's hedging of bets over Syria has become glaring in recent months even as its rhetoric has intensified. Political demands, principally that Assad step down immediately and without preconditions, have become ever more inflexible.

 

Led by France, the western position is that nothing less than regime change at the top will do. But at the same time, the argument about doing what needs to be done militarily and logistically to ensure that objective, for example by arming the rebels, seems to be over – and the rebels are the losers. Despite the rebooting of opposition forces under the umbrella Syrian National Coalition, weapons supplies and financial aid are drying up. Even the Sunni Gulf states seem to be having second thoughts as they contemplate a post-Assad Syria sliding into post-Saddam style anarchy.

 

Israel's decision to build border defenses across the Golan and Turkey's deployment of Patriot missiles along its border symbolize this shifting reality. The aim now is not to liberate Syria but to isolate it and quarantine it and to contain the contagion. The fact that the US and Britain have looked on as a second UN peace mission by Lakhdar Brahimi runs into the sand (the first, led by Kofi Annan, collapsed last year), the fact that no substantive pressure has been put on Russia's Vladimir Putin to drop his Syrian diplomatic protection racket, the fact that military intervention is publicly and noisily ruled out and the fact that no concerted international humanitarian relief effort has been mounted to assist Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan all point to one conclusion: that the west is not serious about enforcing Assad's demise. It is a message that Assad has undoubtedly heard.

 

"Despite the efforts of Brahimi – and also of more sympathetic powers such as Russia and China, as well as Assad's Lebanese ally, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – to promote a negotiated settlement, the regime has shown no interest in acceding to a democratic transition that would lead to its ouster. And its leaders believe they are fighting the rebels to a stalemate," said Tony Karon in Time. Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma, told Karon that, whatever the US state department might say, the fact is that Assad is not budging.

 

Landis said:

 

    "Absent some dramatic increase in external intervention, Assad could still be there in 2014. There's nothing obvious in the current dynamic that's going to force him out. He has barricaded the major cities with layers of security, allowing the impoverished periphery of some to fall into rebel hands, but then using his air power and artillery to devastate those neighbourhoods. Almost two years into the uprising and despite the rebels' recent momentum, they have not yet taken full control of a single major city or town.

    Despite the confident predictions coming from the rebels and their backers, nobody in the opposition today can explain how they're going to win. The regime has the unity, it has all the heavy weapons. Many of the rebels continue to operate on the assumption that the US will intervene to tip the balance for them."

 

But despite all the huffing and puffing in Washington (and London), decisive intervention is extremely unlikely. It is time the likes of Obama and William Hague admitted this reality and started dealing with what is, rather than what might have been.

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The Endgame in Syria is Nowhere In Sight: Kenneth Bandler, FoxNews, Jan 4, 2013—Wither Syria? Some observers interpreted UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s visit to Damascus and certain Russian statements as proof positive that the Syrian conflict will be resolved soon. It will not. Predicting that the endgame for Syria is imminent, it turns out, is wishful thinking.

 

Assad And The U.S. Are Blind To Reality In Syria: Editorial, Washington Post, Jan 7, 2013—Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivered a speech Sunday that had the virtue, at least, of offering clarity. No, he insisted, he would not step down. He would not negotiate with the rebels who control much of the countryside and parts of major cities. He would not consider the compromise “transition” proposal being pedaled by a U.N. envoy with the backing of his ally Russia, as well as the United States. Instead, he said, he would fight to the end against “enemies of God and puppets of the West.”

 

A Two-Year Travelogue From Hell: Christoph Reuter, Der Spiegel, Jan 4, 2013—We've driven along this road once before, in April 2012, which these days seems like an eternity ago. At the time, there was still electricity here, and people still lived in Taftanas, Sarmin, Kurin and other villages in Idlib Province, in northern Syria. But now, in December 2012, entire villages are empty and pockmarked with bullet holes, their residents having fled from airstrikes, hunger and frigid temperatures.

 

Syrian Refugees Attack Aid Workers in Jordanian Camp Over Terrible Conditions:Dale Gavlak, National Post, Jan 8, 2013—Syrian refugees in a Jordanian camp attacked aid workers with sticks and stones on Tuesday, frustrated after cold, howling winds swept away their tents and torrential rains flooded muddy streets overnight

 

A Syrian Way Out of The Civil War: David Ignatius, Washington Post, Jan 4, 2013—To help oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an opposition group has drafted a plan for a transitional justice system that would impose harsh penalties against die-hard members of his inner circle but provide amnesty for most of his Alawite supporters.

 

Hezbollah Sent 5,000 Fighters to Help Assad: Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel, January 8, 2013—Some 5,000 Hezbollah combatants entered Syria in December to aid the faltering regime of Bashar Assad, a Saudi daily reported on Monday. According to Al-Watan, a government daily, four “support battalions” comprising at least 1,300 soldiers each had succeeded in killing some 300 rebel soldiers in recent weeks as battles raged between government and opposition forces around the capital Damascus.

 

Strategic Briefing on ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’: Noman Benotman and Roisin Blake, Quilliam,  Jan 8, 2013—‘Jabhat al-Nusra is one of the most publicised rebel groups in the current Syrian crisis, despite having a relatively small membership – a result of their hard-line ideology and guerrilla tactics, and because of the mystery surrounding their activities – mystery which only serves to increase the level of fear amongst many sectors of Syrian society and the international community.

 

UN: Million Syrians Short of Food: YNet News, Jan 8, 2013—About one million Syrians are going short of food, most of them in conflict zones, due to government restrictions on aid distribution, the United Nations said on Tuesday. The UN's World Food Program (WFP) is handing out rations to about 1.5 million people in Syria each month, still short of the 2.5 million deemed to be in need.

 

Fighting Flares in Palestinian Camp in Damascus: YNet News, Jan 8, 2013—Representatives of Palestinian factions in Syria are calling for an immediate cease-fire after fighting flared at a refugee camp in Damascus. Activists say five people were killed in the Yarmouk camp Tuesday, including four who died when a shell struck their street and a fifth shot by a sniper. The fighting pits gunmen loyal to President Bashar Assad against rebels, who now control much of the camp.

 

 

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