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The New Strategic Environment: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Jewish Press, March 19th, 2013—The way it looks now, it seems that the regime of al-Assad will not last more than a number of days or weeks. A coalition of Sunni jihad organizations will succeed in toppling the government of an Arab state despite the state having used every weapon in its arsenal – including scud missiles – in order to survive.
The European Dilemmas on Arming Syrian Rebels: Jean-Loup Samaan, Al-Monitor, Mar. 27, 2013—These last weeks have been marked by a new diplomatic battle within the European Union over the question of lifting the current embargo on arms to Syria in order to raise the level of support to the rebels on the ground.
America Inches Toward War in Syria: Doyle McManus, LA Times, Mar. 27, 2013—Military intervention in the Muslim world seems to bring the United States nothing but grief. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya: None looks much like a success story now. Yet the Obama administration is edging reluctantly into a civil war in Syria, aiding rebels who are fighting to overthrow the brutal regime of Bashar Assad. And it should: The longer this war goes on, the worse it will be for the U.S. and the Syrians.
Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.: C. J. Chivers & Eric Schmitt, New York Times, Mar. 24, 2013
Solution to Syrian Conflict Must Come from the Air: Faisal Al Yafai, The National (UAE), Mar 26, 2013
The Syrian Gulf War: Michael Weiss, Now Lebanon, Mar. 27, 2013
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Jewish Press, March 19th, 2013
The way it looks now, it seems that the regime of al-Assad will not last more than a number of days or weeks. A coalition of Sunni jihad organizations will succeed in toppling the government of an Arab state despite the state having used every weapon in its arsenal – including scud missiles – in order to survive.
During the past two years all of the red lines have been crossed in Syria , and both sides are sunk deep in this dirty, ugly struggle, which is fought with no moral or legal constraints. Tens of thousands of citizens, women, children and elderly, have been brutally murdered , hundreds of thousands of houses and apartments have been rendered uninhabitable; infrastructures of the country are collapsing; the economy is paralyzed and the organizational framework of the state is falling apart.
The success of the Sunni coalition (Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) in eliminating the heretical Alawite regime, which is supported by a Shi’ite coalition (Iran, Iraq and Hizb’Allah) might trigger a wave of terror in Arab countries, especially in Iraq and Turkey, because oppressed groups in these countries – such as Sunnis in Iraq and the Kurds in Turkey – will be encouraged by the success of the jihad organizations that are fighting in Syria and by the methods that they used in their battle against the regime.
This filthy war taking place in Syria is not a battle of good versus evil, because the regime and the rebels have both used inhumane, illegal and immoral practices. Both sides have committed crimes against humanity by eliminating groups of citizens indiscriminately and both sides have resorted to repressive measures and degrading treatment of helpless citizens.
As soon as the violence began, for example, the rebels understood that every time they show up in an open area, the forces of the regime could easily destroy them with merciless determination, so they transferred their activity to the crowded urban and settled areas. As a result, they turned citizens into human shields, without their having any say in the matter, dragging the cities and the settled neighborhoods into a rebellion that they were not at all interested in.
The most significant feature of the rebellion in Syria is that it has become a magnet for jihadists from all over the Arab and Muslim world who poured into Syria to take part in the jihad against the heretical ‘Alawites and their tyrannical regime. As of today there are hundreds of combat groups in Syria, and a few tens of them speak non-Syrian Arabic dialects such as Iraqi, Saudi and Moroccan. The linguistic diversity is even more complex because some of the jihadists speak non-Arabic Muslim languages – Turkish, Bosnian, Chechen, Pashtu (Afghanistan), Urdu (Pakistan) and languages from the Caucasus. The problem with having to deal with a multitude of dialects and languages is that the intelligence organizations get a significant amount of information by listening to various means of communication, but their work may have no value, because it is especially the most dangerous groups that speak dialects and languages not understood by the listeners of other countries that exist in the area.
Conventional forces too will have a great problem in dealing with jihadi communication methods. The jihadist organizations – contrary to a regular army- use the internet as a means of passing messages, reports and commands, and it is not easy to detect the communications channels they are using in the civilian network. There are organizations that pass coded messages via the internet, and it is difficult to identify, locate and decode them. Also the way the jihadist organizations use other civilian networks such as cellular telephones, makes it difficult to locate their communications and to keep track of their operatives.
The intelligence problem becomes even more complicated regarding visual intelligence, where the information is collected from observation points on the ground and in the air. Military intelligence gatherers undergo training on the various types of tanks, cannon, and the rest tools of destruction that a regular army has. But how are they supposed to identify jihadists? According to the type of jeans or T-shirt he’s wearing? According to the type of hiarcut or beard? The problem of identification becomes more difficult regarding vehicles in the service of jihadists, which are ordinary vehicles,indistinguishable from many others. How is a drone or someone who sees the material photographed by the drone supposed to identify the vehicle of a jihadist?
A regular army has bases and camps that can be identified and attacked. A jihad organization – in contrast – can live and operate in an ordinary neighborhood, among the people, the elderly and the children. How can the jihadists be identified? How is it possible to attack them without harming others who are not involved in the action?
Jihad organizations change their structure frequently: some groups join, others break off and form new organizations, while the objectives are only partly shared. The great structural fluidity of the organizations also poses a challenge to intelligence organizations, because information that was collected last month with great difficulty, may no longer be relevant today because of the splitting or joining of other groups to the organization.
Another aspect of the character of jihad organizations is the importance of the leader, the commander. In a military unit, if the enemy succeeds in eliminating the commander and the level of officers that surrounds him, the unit will usually continue to function, albeit partly and not with total effectiveness. In jihad organizations, the leader is very important for the functionality of the organization, but from the operational point of view almost any member of the group can replace him. Therefore the elimination of the head of a jihad organization does not usually cause paralysis and elimination of the organization. The best example of this is the al-Qaeda organization: bin Laden was forced into hiding since the end of 2001 and was ultimately eliminated. Did the organization cease to function when Osama bin Laden – and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri – went underground?
But the greatest advantage that a jihad organization has over a regular army is that a jihad organization does not impose upon itself the legal and moral constraints that international law and conventions require from a regular army. Jihadi propaganda enlists the Almighty as a reinforcing player, while a regular army musters its soldiers by means of a human message – be it national, patriotic or civil.
These properties of jihad organizations give them a great advantage over state military organizations, which explains why it is jihad organizations, contrary to what one might expect, that have succeeded in toppling the Syrian police state and bringing down the bloody, cruel and totalitarian regime, which describes the regime of Assad ever since Hafez Assad rose to power in November 1970. All of the tanks, aircraft, missiles, and even chemical weapons, did not avail the regime against the hundreds of militias that were armed with much simpler weapons but imbued with religious belief, that their comrades are willing to die at any moment and therefore the threat of death is ineffectual. On the contrary: the more cruelty that the regime exhibited , the greater the motivation of the jihadists to topple it, even at the cost of their lives.
The army of a state fighting jihadist groups must match itself to the situation in the field. When the laws of conventional warfare are not observed by one side, the other side cannot be expected to limit itself to the accepted laws of warfare according to the Geneva Convention. A military that restricts itself to international law and tries to fight against a militia that does not limit itself to this law has lost the battle before it has begun.
A state that wants to survive within a jihadist environment must suit its intelligence gathering means to the conduct of jihad organizations, whether by the internet or civil communications networks. Intelligence gatherers must be flexible regarding dialects and languages that serve the jihad organizations, otherwise they will be deaf and will not be able to track the operatives.
A state that wants to survive in the jihadist area must find a way to plant its agents inside the organizations or enlist agents who are already inside. Sometimes it is not possible to obtain true information by any other means, especially regarding information about the intention to carry out terror attacks.
In summary, it can be said that the collapse of Syria proves that guerrilla war can be more effective than conventional war, and uncompromising jihad that does not constrain itself to international law can bring down even a cruel and dark regime such as the Syrian regime, which also does not constrain itself to observe human rights. How can a state that constrains itself to the laws of warfare and the principles of human rights survive against jihad organizations that do not limit themselves in any way?
TODAY, THE JIHAD organizations that are fighting in Syria openly declare that “The road from Damascus to Jerusalem is through Beirut.” Meaning that after the elimination of Assad in Damascus they will come to Beirut to send the body of Hasan Nasrallah to the garbage heap of history, and then they will continue their way to Israel in order to eliminate it from the face of the earth as well. Hasan Nasrallah should take them very seriously and Israel also must prepare for a kind of war in the not-too-distant future that it is unfamiliar with.
But Israel is not the center of the matter: jihad organizations – some of which are funded with oil monies from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates or Iran – operate openly not only in Syria but also in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Somalia, Mali, and other states. Additional jihad organizations operate clandestinely in almost all other states of the world. No place is immune to jihad organizations, which operate in every arena possible, either overtly or covertly. If the world does not wake up in time to see the danger, Syria will be only the first domino to fall as a a result of the operations of jihad organizations funded by Sunni money from the Gulf or Shi’ite money from Iran.
Al-Monitor, March 27, 2013
These last weeks have been marked by a new diplomatic battle within the European Union over the question of lifting the current embargo on arms to Syria in order to raise the level of support to the rebels on the ground. The issue grew in earnest during an EU Summit in Brussels in mid-March when French President François Hollande stated straightforwardly, “We want the Europeans to lift the embargo on the weapons. Since we have to put pressure on and show we are ready to support the opposition, we have to go that far.” London is on the same page, as British Prime Minister David Cameron made similar statements in the days that followed.
The current EU arms embargo on Syria was imposed in May 2011, when the Assad regime was brutally suppressing the first peaceful protests. It included a ban on arms, military equipment and equipment which might be used for internal repression. It had already been slightly amended in February 2013 “to provide greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians”.
The new initiative led by London and Paris aims now at allowing explicitly the transfer of weapons to the rebels. It reflects a significant evolution in the discussion of the support to the rebels. This occurs after another development in Washington as Secretary of State John Kerry pledged the provision of non-lethal aid amounting to $60 million. Until recently, the three Western countries that have been most active on the Syrian crisis had remained cautious, and sometimes opposed, on the issue of arming the rebels. True, there had been some forms of assistance and training provided to the Free Syrian Army, but overall it remained limited. It is worth noting that in practice the British-French initiative would even go further than the Obama’s commitment which includes only nonlethal aid.
This potential adjustment in Western policies is the result of the mutation of the Syrian conflict itself. For one year and a half, the Syrian issue was merely discussed within Western circles in reference to concepts such as the ”responsibility to protect.” However as the conflict is lasting and its regional ramifications unfold, the terms of the debate have been significantly altered and it has now become a matter of pure strategic stability. For the Western countries, the first significant change occurred following the shelling of villages and refugee camps in Turkey in late 2012. Ankara asked that NATO augments the air defense capabilities in its country and following the approval by the 28 allies, the US, the Netherlands and Germany deployed six Patriot missile batteries.
Still, the position of NATO on Syria is one of containment, meaning that it is limited to the defense of its allies. It is likely to prevent a spillover to the territory of the Atlantic Alliance but by no means can it alter the developments inside Syria. So can we explain this new shift to the offensive that would demand the EU lift its embargo?
This diplomatic move may be based on the realization of two intertwined negative trends on the ground in Syria. The first is that for all the tremendous efforts and progress made in the last two years, the Syrian opposition remains fragmented and did not yet reach a decisive military breakthrough against the regime. Specifically, the long-awaited battle of Damascus has yet to start. The second phenomenon Washington, London and Paris are considering very seriously is the radicalization of Syrian rebels and, in particular, the rise of Salafi Jihadism that undermines the efforts of the Syrian National Coalition as a central body. Factions such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Cham are progressively outstripping the “mainstream” opposition in some areas of the country. Already Western intelligence sources estimate that Jabhat al-Nusra is more effective militarily than the FSA.
In that sense, the new move by the Americans, the British and the French aims at strengthening the coalition as the primary actor of the revolution. In other words, this policy shift can be understood as a measure to rebalance the forces within the rebellion to insure the leading pole is still the one that can work with the West in the post-Assad era.
However, in the EU context, this position has encountered strong opposition from a majority of the member states. It was verified during the last EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Dublin on the 22th and 23th of March. In the press conference, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger challenged the calculus driving French and British position by arguing, “Nobody can give a guarantee that weapons delivered to the opposition in Syria will end up in the right hands.”
While countries such as Austria or Sweden have expressed clear disagreement, Germany seems to be in two minds vis-à-vis the lifting of the embargo. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle acknowledged the “good reasons” that have led Britain and France to push for this change but also emphasized the need for measures of assurance: “We are still reluctant on lifting the arms embargo. We have to help and to support the Syrian people … but … we have to avoid a conflagration and we have to prevent that aggressive offensive weapons come into the wrong hands.”
In the meantime, the evolution of the Syrian crisis is not supporting the British-French initiative. The recent nomination by the Syrian National coalition of Ghassan Hitto as interim prime minister, has been met with mixed reactions. Hitto, who lived in the US for the past 30 years, has the difficult task to bring leadership to the fragmented opposition and to enforce the coordination of efforts on the ground in the post-Assad era. His close affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood and the fact that his candidacy was strongly supported by Qatar have led a group of 12 key figures of the National Coalition to suspend their membership to oppose the legitimacy Hitto’s election. It culminated with the resignation of Moaz al-Khatib last week end from the leadership of the Coalition.
This new internal crisis within the Syrian National Coalition will logically strengthen the position of those states who argue for sticking to containment. As a result, the diplomatic battle within the EU is likely to go on for the next weeks, if not months, the key date being June 1st when the sanction regime imposed by Brussels on Syria is scheduled for renewal.
Jean-Loup Samaan is a researcher in the Middle East Department of the NATO Defense College.
AMERICA INCHES TOWARD WAR IN SYRIA
LA Times, Mar. 27, 2013
Military intervention in the Muslim world seems to bring the United States nothing but grief. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya: None looks much like a success story now. Yet the Obama administration is edging reluctantly into a civil war in Syria, aiding rebels who are fighting to overthrow the brutal regime of Bashar Assad. And it should: The longer this war goes on, the worse it will be for the U.S. and the Syrians. Already, more than 70,000 Syrians have died; perhaps 4 million have lost their homes. The arguments against intervention are eroding fast. Why? Because all the alternatives are worse.
At the moment, Syria's opposition is a mess. Last week, the U.S.-backed president of the rebels' governing council, the Syrian National Coalition, suddenly resigned, complaining that he was being undercut by the more radical Muslim Brotherhood. One side in that squabble (the moderate, Moaz Khatib) was backed by Saudi Arabia, the other (the Muslim Brotherhood) by the rival Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar. Both countries have won influence among the rebels by providing money and weapons. The United States, caught in the middle, has been trying to broker a reconciliation, but without the helpful currency of arms supplies.
U.S. restraint hasn't succeeded in stopping the war; it's merely made it more difficult to organize the opposition. Syria's neighbors — rival Arab states, plus Turkey — have funneled aid to their favorite rebel factions; that's been a recipe for division, not success.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the radical Islamist Al Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, has won a reputation as the most effective fighting force on the rebel side, a record that's helping it attract recruits. So the stakes for the United States in this conflict are high. Syria is surrounded by countries that are important to the U.S.: Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. A long sectarian civil war in Syria could spill over into any of them
A war that ends with restoration of the Assad regime would be a triumph for Iran and a disaster for the United States. A war that ends with a victory for Al Nusra would be even worse.
That's why the Obama administration is still trying to prod the regime and the rebels toward a negotiated truce that would remove Assad from power. But neither side appears ready to negotiate.
The administration has taken sides rhetorically, declaring that Assad must go and recognizing the rebels as legitimate players in any new government. It has pledged almost $385 million in humanitarian aid. It has provided communications equipment and training for opposition leaders. And according to recent reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have provided carefully chosen rebel units with military intelligence and training, and helped arrange weapons shipments from suppliers such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
One problem with that kind of quiet assistance: Most Syrians don't know about it. Even the most public part of the program, humanitarian aid, doesn't carry "Made in USA" labels. "Everybody [in Syria] asks … 'Why aren't they helping us?'" Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch told a House committee last week. "And that anger was directed particularly at the United States."
The arguments against doing more in Syria are familiar. We don't want to close off the possibility of negotiations. Military aid might prolong the war. We can't be sure that aid won't fall into the wrong hands. It might be a slippery slope toward putting boots on the ground. And we're tired, so tired, of wars in the Muslim world.
But at this point, military aid to the rebels is more likely to push the government toward negotiations, not foreclose that possibility. Military aid could shorten the war. Yes, weapons could fall into the wrong hands, but that's an argument against providing surface-to-air missiles, not rifles and ammunition.
Most important, aid doesn't need to turn into a slippery slope. In the 2011 intervention in Libya, Obama sent U.S. Air Force jets and Navy ships to war, but drew a line against putting boots on the ground, and that line held.
It's true that Libya didn't come out well. (What were you expecting, Switzerland?) Today's complaints about Libya forget the alternative at the time: air and tank attacks by Moammar Kadafi against his own cities, just as Assad is doing in Syria.
Obama has inched toward more direct intervention. Administration officials have considered options ranging from arms shipments to a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone and attacks on Syria's air force. But action has been agonizingly slow. It looks as if the president wants to make it clear that, whatever he does, it wasn't his first preference.
Last week, at a news conference during his visit to the Middle East, he complained about the no-win side of his job. If the United States "goes in militarily, then it's criticized for going in militarily," he said, "and if it doesn't go in militarily, then people say, 'Why aren't you doing something militarily?'"
The president's peevishness is understandable; he doesn't need another headache, let alone another war. But indecision is not leadership. It's not even leading from behind. We need to be doing more.
Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.: C. J. Chivers & Eric Schmitt, New York Times, Mar. 24, 2013—With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.
Solution to Syrian Conflict Must Come from the Air: Faisal Al Yafai, The National (UAE), Mar 26, 2013—The skies above Syria still regularly boom with the sound of military aircraft. The cities below still crackle with the sound of gunfire. In the outside world, politicians still bicker about what policy might work best. But inside the country, the concerns of ordinary people are more dramatic: sudden death, queues for food and fuel, the threat of rape, torture and murder.
The Syrian Gulf War: Michael Weiss, Now Lebanon, Mar. 27, 2013—The Syrian National Coalition’s assumption of the regime’s seat at the Arab League yesterday accomplished little practically but symbolically it represents a bodkin in Bashar al-Assad’s side. He has now been officially informed that the Sunni Arab world is united against him and is preparing for a future Syria without him.
The Free Syrian Army: Elizabeth O'Bagy, Institute for the Study of War, Mar. 2013— Fragmentation and disorganization have plagued Syria’s armed opposition since peaceful protestors took up arms in December 2011 and began forming rebel groups under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army. A lack of unity has made cooperation and coordination difficult on the battlefield and has limited the effectiveness of rebel operations. Download the PDF
As Syria Bleeds, Lebanon Reels: Dexter Filkins, New Yorker, Mar. 25, 2013— Wouldn’t it be ironic if the popular awakening sweeping the Middle East had the unintended effect of undermining the one established Arab democracy? On Friday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned. His departure followed a stand-off over extending the term of a senior official responsible for internal security and a new national election law, but it had every sign of being sparked by the civil war unfolding across the border in Syria, which has become increasingly sectarian.
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