Syria 2013 – 2014
Syria is the prototype place where it’s a proxy war for some regional powers. The camps, so to speak, are the regime in Damascus, which is Alawi core Islam. Alawi are an offshoot of Shia Islam, supported mainly by Iran, which is the major regional Shiite power, as well as by Hezbollah — Hezbollah is working for — essentially serving Iranian interests there — and also supported by militias from Iraq.
So you have the Shia coalition fighting to save the regime in Damascus. And in that sense, Iran and Hezbollah are more important for the survival of Bashar al-Assad’s regime than Moscow.
On the other hand, you have the majority Syrians, who — happens to be Sunnis in case — in state of revolt against the regime. They are supported by the Sunni powers in the region, from Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others.
— HISHAM MELHEM, Al Arabiya News Washington bureau chief, in an interview on PBS Newshour (30 August)
Evidence Points to Syrian Push for Nuclear Weapons
(Spiegel) For years, it was thought that Israel had destroyed Syria’s nuclear weapons capability with its 2007 raid on the Kibar complex. Not so. New intelligence suggests that Bashar al-Assad is still trying to built the bomb. And he may be getting help from North Korea and Iran.
What Obama Doesn’t Understand About Syria
The U.S. policy to defeat the Islamic State is doomed to failure. Here’s how to fix it
(Foreign Policy) The current U.S. strategy to destroy the Islamic State is likely doomed to fail. In fact, it risks doing just the opposite of its intended goal: strengthening the jihadis’ appeal in Syria, Iraq, and far beyond, while leaving the door open for the Islamic State to expand into new areas.
This is in large part because the United States so far has addressed the problem of the Islamic State in isolation from other aspects of the trans-border conflict in Syria and Iraq. Unless Barack Obama’s administration takes a broader view, it will be unable to respond effectively to the deteriorating situation on the ground.
The good news is that the White House can still change course — and indeed, President Obama has reportedly requested a review of his administration’s strategy in Syria. In crafting a new way forward, the White House needs to understand three points about the Islamic State and the military landscape in which it operates.
1. Growth is essential to the Islamic State’s future, and its best opportunities are in Syria.
2. The twin crises of the Islamic State and Syrian regime are inextricably linked.
For a rebel commander seeking to convince his fighters that cooperation with Washington is in the rebellion’s best interest, American strikes that ignore the Assad regime while hitting Ahrar al-Sham are extremely difficult to explain.
3. For a “freeze” to help, it must be fundamentally different from a “cease-fire.”
The crux of the American dilemma in Syria is thus clear: Degrading jihadi groups requires empowering mainstream Sunni alternatives, but doing so may prove impossible unless Damascus (or its backers in Tehran) can be convinced or compelled to dramatically shift strategy. For now, the regime treats the Western-, Arab-, and Turkish-backed opposition as the main threat to its dominance in Syria and treats the Islamic State as a secondary concern that the United States is already helping to deal with. Iran has done nothing to suggest that it objects to the regime’s strategy; instead, it is enabling it.
Damascus and Tehran appear to believe that achieving regime victory is simply a matter of maintaining the conflict’s current trajectory. This view, however, is shortsighted and would yield an unprecedented recruiting bonanza for jihadi groups. If Washington wishes to prevent this — and the unending cycle of conflict that it would perpetuate — it must better balance its Iraq and Syria strategies, refine its airstrike tactics, and find ways to change calculations in Damascus and Tehran.
Opposition Figures Claim ISIS, Nusra Front Agree To Cooperate In Syria
(AP) — Militant leaders from the Islamic State group and al-Qaida gathered at a farm house in northern Syria last week and agreed on a plan to stop fighting each other and work together against their opponents, a high-level Syrian opposition official and a rebel commander have told The Associated Press.
IS … and al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, known as the Nusra Front, have fought each other bitterly for more than a year to dominate the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Solidarity with Kobanê
Turkey, a strategic partner of the US in the region, bears a particularly large responsibility for the current situation. The city of Kobanê is presently besieged by ISIS from three sides. The fourth side in the north is the border to Turkey. Kurds throughout the region have been demanding for weeks from the Turkish government to open up a corridor from other Kurdish cantons from Northern Syria to Kobanê, so that they can concentrate their military forces there to fend off ISIS.
Turkey, however, is purposefully obstructing any such movement into Kobanê. This is particularly hypocritical, since it has been well-documented that the Turkish government has been financially and logistically assisting Islamist fundamentalists besides ISIS, including allowing cross-border movements in order to overthrow the Assad Regime.
Marc Pierini: Kobanê and Beyond: Unfathomable Risks for Turkey and the Kurds
(Carnegie Europe) The immense symbolic significance of the fall of Kobanê would help the jihadists prove their “righteousness” and prevent any wavering within their ranks. It would allow the militants to recruit more supporters and send them into combat more easily. Conversely, defeating the Islamic State in Kobanê would dent this narrative.
Steven Sotloff’s Murder Proves the Islamic State Isn’t Interested in Negotiating — and Never Was
by Shane Harris, Kate Brannen
Some U.S. defense and intelligence officials believe that Sotloff may have been killed at the same time as Foley, meaning the group never intended to release the Florida native or negotiate for his freedom.
(Foreign Policy) Sotloff’s abduction came nine months after that of Foley, who was taken in November 2012. The Islamic State has since made a series of outlandish demands that Washington has taken as evidence that the group never intended to release the two journalists. In Foley’s case, the Islamic State demanded more than $130 million, a figure that Foley’s former editor at the GlobalPost, where he worked as a freelancer, said no one ever took seriously. “It was a sum that no one could meet,” Phil Balboni said in an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air. Friends of Foley and his family did attempt to raise a smaller sum, but it’s not clear how much they were able to collect, and direct negotiations with the Islamic State never actually took place.
The terrorist group has also called upon the United States to release a suspected al Qaeda member, Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year prison sentence in Texas for the attempted murder of U.S. officials in Afghanistan. But for the United States to do so would contradict long-standing and well-known U.S. policy against offering concessions to terrorist groups, and there was virtually no chance the administration would consider swapping an American-educated militant — Siddiqui studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received a doctorate from Brandeis University — who was arrested with documents describing how to make chemical weapons and dirty bombs and how to weaponize Ebola.
Islamic State ‘murders second US journalist’
Group reportedly posts video of death of Steven Sotloff, held in Syria since August 2013, days after plea from mother.
The ‘other’ Kurds fighting the Islamic State
Why are Kurds, who displayed the most efficient resistance against the Islamic State, labelled as terrorists?
Rojbas! “Good morning” to the world, which waited until the Yazidi Kurds in Sinjar (Sengal) faced the 73rd massacre in their history to open its eyes to the mass-murderous reality called the Islamic State group!
The Islamic State has been committing massacres in Syria for almost two years, without global outrage or action. In fact, it was even supported by several governments in the enthusiastic attempt to topple Bashar al-Assad – no matter the cost.
After a vicious attack on Sinjar in August, in which thousands of Yazidi Kurds were killed, hundreds of women raped, kidnapped, and sold as sex-slaves, and tens of thousands stranded on the Sinjar mountains, without food and water, Western governments now supply the peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in southern Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) with weapons.
This does not come as a surprise given that the KRG, which is controlled by the ruling Kurdistan Demoratic Party (KDP), is an important partner of the West and Turkey.
The Kurds in Rojava, who the West has forgotten, know the Islamic State very well. The region of Rojava (Kurdish for “West”, i.e. western Kurdistan) has the highest concentration of the Kurdish population within the fading Syrian borders. Islamic State fighters murdered hundreds of people, especially in Kobane (Ayn al-Arab) and Serekaniye (Ras al-Ayn) over the course of the past year. For two years, the People’s Defence Forces (YPG) and the Women’s Defence Forces (YPJ) have been fighting them and other Islamist groups, as well as the Assad regime forces. Yet, in spite of the many efforts of Kurdish activists, the plight of the people in Rojava have been completely ignored.
James Foley killing: Why ISIS beheaded the U.S. journalist
‘Everybody’s talking about it and that’s exactly what they want,’ says former CIA analyst
(CBC) The gruesome video showing the beheading of journalist James Foley may actually be fuelling the popularity of ISIS, which is likely unconcerned that the “barbarity” of the video will galvanize American support for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.
“They [Islamic State militants] believe these actions serve them,” said Scott Stewart, vice-president of tactical analysis for the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor.
“For months, they’ve been beheading, amputating the hands of thieves, crucifying people in areas they control in Syria,” said Stewart, a former special agent with the U.S. State Department who was involved in hundreds of terrorism investigations.
“Despite these barbaric displays … it’s been successful. They’ve been able to grow and flourish, and they have been able to attract people to their cause despite this barbarity — perhaps because of it.”
ISIS BEHEADS AMERICAN PHOTOJOURNALIST “James Foley, an American journalist who went missing in Syria more than a year ago, has reportedly been killed by the Islamic State, a militant group formerly known as ISIS. A YouTube video and photos purportedly of Foley emerged on Tuesday. The video — entitled ‘A Message to #America (from the #Islamic State)’ — identified a man on his knees as ‘James Wright Foley,’ and showed his beheading.” Foley is being remembered as a “funny, warm, Big Lebowski-loving guy,” and was movingly eulogized in his mother’s heartbreaking statement. Here are some of the stories Foley “risked his life to tell.” [HuffPost]
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wins third term
(BBC) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has won a third term in office after securing 88.7% of votes in Tuesday’s presidential election, the parliamentary speaker has announced.
Earlier, Syria’s constitutional court put the vote turnout at 73.47%. Voting took place in government-controlled areas, but not in parts of the north and east held by rebels.
President Assad’s key challengers, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, received 4.3% and 3.2% of the vote respectively. (Al Jazeera) Assad re-elected in wartime election —
Parliament speaker says Assad won 88.7 percent of votes in Syria’s presidential poll, denounced by opponents as a farce.
Assad’s forces look more secure ahead of June vote
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad controls less than half of the country but has made strategic gains against a splintered opposition, according to a Reuters analysis. Meanwhile, the death toll in the Syrian civil war has been estimated at 162,000, including at least 54,000 civilians, by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Reuters (5/18), Reuters (5/19), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (5/18), Reuters (5/19)
Homs: Syrian revolution’s fallen ‘capital’
Homs, Syria’s third largest city, has been a key battleground in the uprising against Bashar al-Assad.
It was dubbed the “capital of the revolution” after residents embraced the call to overthrow the president in early 2011 and much of the city fell under the control of the opposition.
However, over the past two years government forces retook most of the opposition strongholds, laying siege to districts once home to tens of thousands of people.
After being forced into ever smaller areas, and denied access to food and medical supplies, rebel fighters finally left the Old City in May 2014 under a UN-brokered deal, bringing to an end to three years of resistance.
UN’s Pillay decries reported “systematic” torture in Syria
A United Nations report issued Monday said that torture is being used routinely by the Syrian government and opposition. “In armed conflict, torture constitutes a war crime. When it is used in a systematic or widespread manner, which is almost certainly the case in Syria, it also amounts to a crime against humanity,” UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said. Today, the UN Security Council will view photo evidence of Syrians who allegedly were tortured and killed by government forces. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (4/14), The Guardian (London) (4/15)
Syrian Regime Solidifies Recent Gains
‘Coalition of the Willing’ Promotes No Fly Zone
Syrian troops drive rebels out of border town, declare strategic victory
Syrian government troops this past weekend retook the pivotal town of Yabroud near the border of Lebanon, freeing the route from Damascus to Aleppo from rebel control. Reuters (3/16), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (3/16)
David Ignatius: In Syria, rebel with a cause
(WaPost) With the Ukraine crisis, any fleeting hope that the U.S. and Russia could soon broker a political settlement in Syria has vanished. The United States needs an alternate strategy for strengthening Syrian moderates who can resist both the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime and al-Qaeda extremists.
A new Syrian opposition leader who may help get the balance right is Jamal Maarouf. He heads a group called the Syria Revolutionaries Front and is the leading moderate rebel commander in northern Syria. I spoke Thursday by phone with Maarouf, who was near the Syria-Turkey border. He outlined a two-pronged strategy that sounded more pragmatic than anything I’ve heard from the opposition in recent months.
Maarouf says his forces must simultaneously fight Assad’s army and the fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, two jihadist groups with al-Qaeda roots. That’s easier said than done, but Maarouf has actually accomplished it in his home region of Idlib. His fighters drove Assad’s army from Maarat al-Numan, a town in central Idlib, back in August 2011, and two months ago they expelled ISIS jihadists from the area.
The Syrian rebel commander has widened the anti-jihadist fight. His forces expelled ISIS from northern Aleppo Province and are seeking to clear eastern Aleppo. They have just driven the extremists from their staging area of Darkush, along the Turkish border. If he can get enough money and weapons, he wants to take the fight against the extremists east, to the northern suburbs of Aleppo and eventually the eastern cities of Raqqah and Deir al-Zour.
UNHCR: World must not forget Syria as focus moves to Ukraine
The standoff over Ukraine and Crimea is diverting the U.S. and Russia from focusing on Syria, warns Antonio Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees. “I hope that those that have the most important responsibility in world affairs will be able to understand that forgetting Syria will be a total disaster,” he says. Guterres added that he hopes the situation in Crimea does not result in an influx of displaced people. Reuters (3/12)
UN-Arab League envoy remorseful for breakdown in peace talks
United Nations-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi apologized to the people of Syria on Saturday for the lack of progress during the second round of peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition. A third round of talks has been agreed upon but no date has been set. Reuters (2/15), BBC (2/15), The Guardian (London) (2/16)
‘Syria is central to Middle East peace’
‘Why not ask for a change of leadership in Qatar, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia? Is there a constitution in Saudi Arabia? Are there elections in Saudi Arabia? Why no talk of democracy in these countries?’
‘America said change the leader now, but is now ignoring the feelings of the Syrian moderate majority. Is that democracy,’ asks H E Dr Riad Abbas, Syrian ambassador to India, in an interview to Cleo Paskal.
(Rediff) In December, Ryan C Crocker, who has served as the United States ambassador to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait and Lebanon, wrote in the New York Times, ‘We need to come to terms with a future that includes Assad. A good place to start is Geneva next month and some quiet engagement with Syrian officials.’
That engagement will require at least listening to the Syrian point of view.
The Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has ruled the nation for 44 years, has been involved in a violent civil war with insurgents since March 2011.
Despite repeated requests by the West, Assad has refused to step down.
A United Nations backed peace process — comprising representatives of the Syrian government, the opposition and international mediators — is underway in Geneva. So far, it has resulted in some relief being offered to refugees from the city of Homs.
In the days leading up to meetings in Geneva, H E Dr Riad Abbas, Syrian ambassador to India, explained the Syrian position to Cleo Paskal.
(Reuters) – Russia offered assurances on Tuesday that the Syrian government will show up at a new round of peace talks next week and will soon ship more toxic agents abroad for destruction under a deal to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal.
The statements appeared intended to ease Western concerns about President Bashar al-Assad’s commitment to a peace process that started last month, and to abandoning his chemical arsenal by mid-year under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.
Syria talks end first round, government not committed to return
(Reuters) – A contentious week-long first round of Syrian peace talks ended on Friday with no progress towards ending the civil war and the government delegation unable to say whether it will return for the next round in 10 days.
Darkening the atmosphere further, the United States and Russia clashed over the pace of Syria’s handover of chemical arms for destruction. Washington accused Damascus of foot-dragging that put the plan weeks behind schedule, and Moscow – President Bashar al-Assad’s big power ally – rejected this.
Syrian delegations agree on using Geneva 1 as starting point
Syrian opposition and government delegations at the United-Nations-led peace talks have agreed to use the 2012 communique from Geneva 1 as the basis for negotiations. But the sides remain at odds over which subject — terrorism or political transition — should be tackled first. Reuters (1/29), BBC (1/29), The Washington Post (tiered subscription model)/The Associated Press (1/29)
Syria talks bring offer of exit from siege of Homs
(Reuters) – The Syrian government said women and children could leave the besieged rebel city of Homs on Sunday as negotiators from the warring sides discussed humanitarian gestures on a second day of face-to-face talks in Geneva.
Government and opposition delegates also spoke of releasing prisoners and enabling access for aid convoys during what the U.N. mediator acknowledged was a slow process but one which he hopes will lead on Monday to broaching the central issue that divides them after three years of civil war – namely Syria’s political future and that of President Bashar al-Assad.
Talks between Syrian government, opposition back on despite tense day in Geneva
(PBS Newshour) The U.N. lead envoy on Syria was able to press the reset button Friday for talks aimed at ending the country’s civil war. Despite strong disagreement over conditions of the talks, the two sides have agreed to meet Saturday.
Margaret Warner: There’s just a huge experience gap here. Walid Moallem, former — the Syrian foreign minister, former ambassador to Washington, he knows how to negotiate. And the government gets to speak with one voice. And this opposition is a fractious coalition that doesn’t represent but maybe 25 percent of the opposition anyway, and they’re all exiles.
So they have got a huge experience gap. And, as one adviser said to me, you know, this is not like the Russians and Soviets sitting down to discuss arms control. The opposition has to learn it on the fly.
Dr. Charles Cogan: Tower of Babel
(HuffPost) The situation is full of anomalies and contradictions. Iran has been disinvited because it doesn’t accept the idea of a transition process in Syria. But the Syrian Government doesn’t accept the idea of a transition either. It only talks of a conference aimed at stamping out “terrorism” in Syria. … So far, Russia has given no indication that it is ready to drop Bashar al-Assad as part of a transition process. In Syria. Unless the Russian position changes, the departure of Assad, who is ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent Syrian civilians, does not seem in the cards anytime soon.
Update: The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has retracted his invitation for Iran to attend Wednesday’s summit on Syria, after Tehran said it did not support the June 2012 political transition deal that is the basis for the talks. More
“Urgent discussions” ongoing over Iran’s presence at Syrian peace talks
Iran has accepted an invitation from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to attend Syrian peace talks slated to begin Wednesday in Switzerland, though Ban said today that “intensive and urgent discussions are underway” regarding the invitation. The Syrian National Coalition says it won’t attend the talks unless the UN withdraws Iran’s invitation. Separately, President Bashar al-Assad suggested he may seek another term in voting this year. Westport News (Conn.)/The Associated Press (1/20), Reuters (1/20), Thomson Reuters Foundation/Reuters (1/20), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (1/20)
Germany will help dispose of Syrian chemical weapons
(Reuters) – Germany will help destroy Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons materials as part of an international disarmament program, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday.
Iran Cut out of U.N. Invitations to Syria Talks
(Foreign Policy) The United Nations extended initial invitations to 30 countries yesterday to participate in negotiations to resolve the Syrian civil war. Talks are slated to begin on January 22 and the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China are expected to attend.
Notably absent from the list of invited nations is Iran, the Assad regime’s primary regional supporter. The United States and Russia will meet next week to discuss amending the list of nations participating in talks, but Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on Sunday that there may be a role for Iran at the talks “from the sidelines,” saying the United States would be “happy for Iran to be helpful.”
But yesterday, a spokeswoman for Iran’s foreign ministry brushed aside Sec. Kerry’s remarks. “Iran has always announced its readiness to participate without preconditions,” she told state news service IRNA, but said that “Tehran will only accept offers that preserve the honour of the Islamic republic.”
Syria rebels unite and launch new revolt, against jihadists
(AFP) – Syrian rebels have united to kill and capture dozens of jihadists in a new “revolution” against an Al-Qaeda affiliate they accuse of worse abuses than the hated President Bashar al-Assad, activists said Saturday.
Three powerful rebel alliances have taken on fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant during two days of fierce combat in Aleppo and Idlib provinces that Syria’s main opposition National Coalition said it “fully supports.”
And in new signs the nearly three-year conflict is spreading, ISIL seized the city of Fallujah in neighbouring Iraq, and claimed a suicide bomb attack in a Beirut stronghold of Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite movement fighting alongside Assad’s forces.
Bessma Momani: The War in Syria Spills Over [into Lebanon]
(CIC OpenCanada.org) The assassination of Mohamad Chatah, a prominent critic of Assad, in Beirut last week is a testament to the fact that Syria is not just imploding, it is also exploding. Its first victims are Lebanese, but I doubt they will be its last. The entire region could slide into further chaos while the international community watches with distaste, yet seems impotent to help militarily.
Few doubt that Hezbollah or its proxies are responsible for the bombing that killed the former Lebanese finance minister. Mr. Chatah was a vehement critic of the Assad regime and Hezbollah’s military and logistical support for it.
UN makes $6.5 billion appeal for Syria
The worldwide appeal to help victims of the Syrian conflict is the largest ever UN appeal for a single crisis.
(Al Jazeera) The United Nations has appealed for a record $6.5 billion for Syria and its neighbours to help 16 million people, many of them hungry or homeless victims of a conflict that has lasted 33 months with no end in sight.
Insight: Syria uses red tape, threats to control U.N. aid agencies
(Reuters) – It is a 15-minute drive from the five-star hotel that houses U.N. aid staff in Damascus to rebel-held suburbs where freezing children are starving to death.
Yet it is months since convoys from the United Nations and other agencies have delivered food or medical care to many such areas – prevented by a Syrian government accused of using hunger as a weapon of war against its people.
As the United Nations launches an annual appeal on Monday for funds to help more than 9 million Syrians who need aid, divisions among world powers that have crippled peacemaking are also denying U.N. staff the power to defy President Bashar al-Assad’s officials and push into neighborhoods now under siege.
Dr. Charles Cogan: Rewind in Syria
(HuffPost) An attack on Syria, no matter how “unbelievably small,” as the Administration at one point characterized it, has now almost certainly been avoided. Such an attack would have placed the West irretrievably in the public eye as a supporter of the rebels and as an opponent of the Assad regime. Instead, a rewind of Western policy has set in.
The rewind began on Thursday, August 29, eight days after the massive gas attack on Syrian civilians at Ghouta by the Assad forces. The House of Commons, in a close vote, unexpectedly rejected the idea of a British attack on Syria. In a related development, President Obama … disclosed his intention to turn over to the Congress the issue of whether to attack Syria… to a surprised circle of advisers. …
We are now faced with a “Geneva 2″ conference opening on January 22, with the aim of achieving a political compromise in Syria. On the one hand we have a weakened, but not defeated, rebel side, with the Islamist groups increasingly in the lead, and on the other hand Bashar al-Assad, whose credibility has probably been irremediably undermined from the fact that his regime has killed thousands and thousands of its own citizens.
It remains to be seen whether Russia has the willingness, or the capability, to tip the balance away from its client Bashar and towards an acceptable compromise candidate for the leadership of Syria.
Syria Peace Talks To Take Place Jan. 22: UN
(AP) — Syria’s government and opposition will hold their first peace talks on Jan. 22 in Geneva, in an attempt to halt the nearly 3-year-old civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people, the United Nations announced Monday. … The roadmap for a Syrian political transition, adopted in June 2012 in Geneva, starts with establishing a transitional governing body with full executive powers agreed to by both sides and ends with elections. But there has been no general agreement on how to implement it, and one of the biggest sticking points has been the future role of President Bashar Assad.
Chemical weapons watchdog wins Nobel Peace Prize for Syrian mission
(Reuters) – The global chemical weapons watchdog working to eliminate chemical arms stockpiles around the battlefields of Syria’s civil war won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a relatively small organisation with a modest budget, dispatched experts to Syria after a sarin gas attack killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus in August.
Their deployment under a U.N. mandate helped avert a U.S. strike against President Bashar al-Assad and marked an unusual step into the limelight for a group more used to working behind the scenes overseeing the destruction of chemical weapons worldwide. (11 October)
OPCW confirms destruction of Syria’s chemical-weapons machinery
The equipment used to make Syria’s chemical weapons has been destroyed ahead of Friday’s deadline, says the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. “They are not now in a position to conduct any further production or mixing of chemical weapons,” says Jerry Smith, OPCW head of field operations. BBC (10/31), The Washington Post (tiered subscription model) (10/31), Voice of America (10/31), Reuters (10/31)
Final 2 Syria chemical-weapons sites are in conflict zones
The United Nations-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons team has visited 21 chemical-weapons sites in Syria, but two sites remain and both are in conflict areas. OPCW’s Ahmet Uzumcu told the Security Council on Monday that Syria provided information on 41 chemical-weapons facilities located at the 23 sites, with the team confirming information at 37 of the facilities. ABC News/The Associated Press (10/29), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (10/29), BBC (10/28)
Ban names UNDP official to lead Syria chemical-weapons team
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has named Sigrid Kaag of the UN Development Programme to head up the international team working to dismantle Syria’s weapons stockpile. Meanwhile, Syrian rebels are being pressured to allow inspectors to access chemical-weapons sites under their control. Al Arabiya (United Arab Emirates) (10/14), BBC (10/14), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (10/14)
Analysis: Syrian uprising’s cautionary tale
Unintended consequences of the struggle to oust Bashar al-Assad could be a warning to other revolutionaries.
(Al Jazeera) For disaffected populations and communities in the Middle East and beyond who find themselves torn between suffering in silence and staging a full-blown revolt, there is a cautionary tale in the ongoing uprising against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, many experts say.
They say that from Sudan to Uzbekistan and from Bahrain to Belarus, where public discontent simmers just below the surface of state-enforced normalcy, organisers of anti-government protests need only to look at developments involving Syria in recent months for evidence of the unintended consequences of a spontaneous political conflagration.
“Promising” start to UN’s chemical-weapons team’s work in Syria
The United Nations chemical-weapons team working to dismantle Syria’s stockpile says initial progress on the project is “promising.” The team will need to verify the documents turned over by the Syrian government as well as take care of planning and security details for the mission. Al Arabiya (United Arab Emirates)/Reuters/Agence France-Presse (10/3), The Guardian (London) (10/3), The Conversation (Australia) (10/4)
Russia doubts mid-November date for Syria peace talks
(Reuters) – Russia expressed doubt on Tuesday that Western nations can persuade Syrian opposition representatives to take part in an international peace conference in time for it to take place in mid-November. The doubts of Damascus’s most important ally followed remarks in which the international envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the target date of mid-November was “not 100 percent certain” and cited disunity among rebel forces. Not much of a surprise.
David T. Jones: Puzzling Our Way Through Syria
(The Metropolitain) … we should be able to tolerate some Putin preening where our interests coincide. He is an amoral former-KGB operative, but smart enough limit his specific objectives to available Russian resources.
Ensuring Removal of Chemical Weapons Ensures Assad’s Survival
Experienced weapons inspectors say that it is untenable to move the vast store of chemical weapons out of Syria. If an agreement is reached, they will have to be protected while inventoried and later destroyed within Syria by an outer ring of Syrian security forces supplemented by some UN troops. Assad can only keep his promise as long as he is in power. He must stay in power as long as it takes — and in the US we have been dismantling our chemical weapons since the Nixon era.
So, ensuring the removal of chemical weapons from Syria is to ensure the survival of Assad.
Welcome to the inescapable complexity of the Middle East.
Nathan Gardels, Editor, NPQ, Global Services of Los Angeles Times Syndicate/Tribune Media (12 September)
There’s Almost No Chance Russia’s Plan for Syria’s Chemical Weapons Will Work
(Foreign Policy) Experts in chemical weapons disposal point to a host of challenges. Taking control of Assad’s enormous stores of the munitions would be difficult to do in the midst of a brutal civil war. Dozens of new facilities for destroying the weapons would have to be built from scratch or brought into the country from the U.S., and completing the job would potentially take a decade or more. …
Finding and securing all of Assad’s sites would be the first major challenge of implementing the Russian plan, but it would be far from the only one. The U.S. and allied personnel would then have to separate the chemical substances themselves from the warheads of his rockets, artillery shells or missiles that had been designed to carry them to their targets. The work itself would be carried out by either robots, contractors or specially-trained troops, but it would still be time-consuming and dangerous.
The next step would be to physically destroy all of chemical weapons, which can be done through one of two basic options. … either type of destruction would have to be done at individual Syrian weapons sites because it wouldn’t be safe to move the munitions to a centralized collection point inside Syria while the fighting was raging. (10 September)
Texas-based Wednesday Nighter Rick Sindelar writes:” Here is a link to a brief discussion I had this morning on air here. We didn’t reach the question of the actual dismantling of a chem warfare stockpile, but I was prepared to share similar views on the dense level of difficulty your reports lay out had Jose gone that route in his questions.”
Syria vows to give up chemical weapons, Obama cautious about deal
(Reuters) – Syria accepted a Russian proposal on Tuesday to give up chemical weapons but U.S. President Barack Obama said it was too early to tell if the initiative would succeed and he vowed to keep military forces at the ready to strike if diplomacy fails.
The Great Gas Game over Syria
Syria is a key link in [two] rival pipeline projects; the one originating in Iran and the one originating in Qatar.
(IDSA) Syria alone is estimated to have discovered proven gas reserves of 284 bcm, oil reserves of 2.5 bb and shale reserves of 50 billion tonnes with the possibility of more findings. The production levels are, however, drastically falling. …
On June 25, 2011, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in the Iranian port city of Bushehr to construct a gas pipeline from the Iranian gas field of Assaluyeh through Iraq and Syria. To be built at a cost of $10 billion, its projected capacity of 110 mcm per day was tentatively allocated among Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. It was proposed to extend it to Greece through a submarine line and from there on to the markets in Europe. Named the “Islamic Pipeline”, it was to be supplemented by the export of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the Syrian ports on the Mediterranean. Latakia and Tartous are two major Syrian ports. Russia has leased Tartous and constructed a naval base there. …
Qatar has the third largest reserves of gas after Russia and Iran. Estimated at 25 tcm, most of its gas exports are in the form of LNG. The shale gas production in the US will impact the sale of Qatari LNG, therefore, Qatar seeks to secure long-term contracts via pipelines to the European countries. The EU has secured its energy imports till 2030, and is looking for secure infrastructural investments for the future thereafter. The Nabucco pipeline project from eastern Turkey to Austria is stalled due to insufficient gas available. … In 2009 … it was agreed to build a pipeline and link it up with the Nabucco in Turkey. It is to originate in Qatar and move through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria reaching Turkey. The European markets would share the resource with an insatiable Turkey.(11 September)
A Better Syria Option: Cyber War
(The National Interest) Well-targeted cyber attacks will send Assad and interested parties a strong message that we’re serious and put a meat axe into his command-and-control capabilities by sowing confusion, distrust, and chaos into those systems. The key is to direct attacks against Syrian cyber assets. That means find, fix, and finish activities against Syrian Electronic Army operatives – many of whom operate outside of Syria in the Gulf and Maghreb countries – and who can be identified and taken off the battlefield.
Rafal Rohozinski, whose firm the SecDev Group monitors Internet activity in Syria, has it right in observing: “The Syrian conflict is the world’s first cyber civil war. Cyber communications are central to strategy and tactics employed by both Assad and the rebels.” They are used for command and control; to maneuver forces for operations and tactical engagements; for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; for psychological warfare; and to influence and shape attitudes, opinions and behavior among their own audiences and both Syrian and international audiences.
Cyber attack is ideal for undercutting Assad’s ability to execute strategy, operations, and tactics. Unlike missiles or bombs, it is very unlikely to kill or physically injure anyone. The damage from a cyber attack may be repairable, but the impairment of cyber capabilities can significantly undercut the ability of Assad’s forces to operate effectively. (6 September)
Max Fisher: 9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask
(Washington Post) The United States and allies are preparing for a possibly imminent series of limited military strikes against Syria, the first direct U.S. intervention in the two-year civil war, in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.
If you found the above sentence kind of confusing, or aren’t exactly sure why Syria is fighting a civil war, or even where Syria is located, then this is the article for you. What’s happening in Syria is really important, but it can also be confusing and difficult to follow even for those of us glued to it.
Here, then, are the most basic answers to your most basic questions. First, a disclaimer: Syria and its history are really complicated; this is not an exhaustive or definitive account of that entire story, just some background, written so that anyone can understand it. (29 August) – A very good simplified explanation of the situation and an excellent map
Responsibility to Protect — Or to Punish
Morality and the Intervention in Syria
(Foreign Affairs) There are two distinct conversations going on about the legitimacy of the West’s expected military campaign against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The first has to do with whether military action is an appropriate response to the wanton violation of a near-universally held norm — in this case, the taboo against the use of chemical weapons, which the Assad regime allegedly violated last week. The second centers on whether military action is an appropriate means for protecting civilian populations from atrocities (of whatever kind) committed by their governments. These conversations, although often conflated, have very little to do with one another, since each policy goal suggests a very different form of intervention.
Despite diplomatic rhetoric, the goal of upholding the chemical weapons taboo is not the same thing as the goal of protecting civilians. It has more to do with protecting a set of shared international understandings about the proper conduct of warfare. If the goal were really to protect civilians, the West would have intervened long ago: bombs and guns have killed far more civilians, at least as horribly, as last week’s gas attack. (29 August)
Does Backing Rebels Militarily Increase Civilian Deaths?
(The Atlantic) Regimes retaliate so forcefully when opponents gain support in civil wars that more innocents wind up dead, researchers report.
Joseph S. Nye: The Intervention Dilemma
(Project Syndicate) When should states intervene militarily to stop atrocities in other countries? The question is an old and well-traveled one. Indeed, it is now visiting Syria.
Drawn from traditional “just war” theory, R2P rests not only on right intentions, but also on the existence of a reasonable prospect of success. Many observers highlight the important physical and military differences between Libya and Syria that would make Syrian no-fly zones or no-drive zones problematic. Some Syrians who oppose President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, pointing to Baghdad in 2005, argue that the one thing worse than a cruel dictator is a sectarian civil war.
Such factors are symptomatic of larger problems with humanitarian interventions. For starters, motives are often mixed (Roosevelt, after all, was referring to Cuba). Moreover, we live in a world of diverse cultures, and we know very little about social engineering and how to build nations. When we cannot be sure how to improve the world, prudence becomes an important virtue, and hubristic visions can pose a grave danger. Foreign policy, like medicine, must be guided by the principle, “First, do no harm.” (first published June 2012)
Syria on Wednesday-Night.com
Stratfor: Syria – small but strategic
The U.S. has left Iraq, and Iran is ready to fill the resultant power vacuum and raise its stature in the region. Syria is the current battleground for this wider struggle. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States want to add Syria to the coalition of states counterbalancing Iran. Iran, on the other hand, needs to keep Syria as a strong ally in the Levant as a check on Israel. Then there are the Russians, whose relationship with the Syrians grants them access to the Mediterranean Sea and gives them leverage on the West. (20 July 2012)
Gwynne Dyer: The real reason why Russia and China back Assad
(Japan Times) Both Putin and the Chinese leadership are appalled by the growing influence of the “responsibility to protect” principle at the United Nations, which breaches the previously sacred doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of member states. “R2P” says that foreign intervention can be justifiable (with a U.N. Security Council resolution, of course) to stop huge human rights abuses committed by member governments.
The Russian and Chinese vetoes on the Security Council give them complete protection from foreign military intervention, but they still worry about it. (20 June 2012)
Asharq Al-Awsat: The al-Assad’s Syria: A history of violence
PBS Frontline: Syria undercover
BBC: Inside Homs, besieged centre of Syrian resistance
BBC: Syria protests: The forgotten decades of dissent
The Guardian: Syria news and archives
Alawite State – As the Syrian Civil War progresses, the repressions by President Assad and the military, which is largely dominated in the higher levels by Alawites, has led to increasing numbers of civilian deaths amongst the largely Sunni population. Reprisals have been feared against the community, leading to speculation of a re-creation of the Alawite State as a safe haven for Assad and the leaders should Damascus finally fall. The breakup of Syria and the re-creation of an Alawite State is however seen critically by most political analysts. King Abdullah II of Jordan has called this scenario the “worst case” for the conflict, fearing a domino effect of defragmentation of the country along sectarian lines with consequences to the wider region.
UN Security Council votes unanimously to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons
(Globe & Mail) The vote on Friday night after two weeks of intense negotiations was a major breakthrough in the paralysis that has gripped the council since the Syrian uprising began. Russia and China previously vetoed three Western-backed resolutions pressuring President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to end the violence.
Assad: Syria needs one year to destroy chemical weapons
(BBC) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he is committed to a plan to destroy his country’s chemical weapons, but warned it could take about a year.
UN affirms chemical-weapons report is “thoroughly objective”
The United Nations’ findings on the Aug. 21 chemical-weapons use in Syria are detailed in “a thoroughly objective report on that specific incident,” said Martin Nesirky, a UN spokesman. Russia has said the report is one-sided. Reuters (9/18), The Guardian (London) (9/18), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (9/18)
Rockets armed with sarin used in Syria, UN report says
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon revealed the UN chemical-weapons team’s findings on Syria to the Security Council today. Sarin-loaded rockets were used, according to the report, which did not release a determination of who used the chemical weapons. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (9/16), Reuters (9/16), ABC News (9/15), The Washington Post (tiered subscription model) (9/16)
UN affirms Syria has signed chemical-weapons ban treaty
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirms that Syria has signed the 1992 international treaty banning use of chemical weapons. Meanwhile, Lakhdar Brahimi, UN special envoy for Syria, is meeting jointly with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today in Geneva about restarting Syrian peace talks. International Business Times (9/13), Reuters (9/13), Reuters (9/13) - cannot believe how little comment there is about Syria’s about-face on the chemical weapons it did not have.
Assad delivers his ransom note
(WaPost) The discussion around the Syria disarmament deal has mostly focused on defusing the U.S.’s threat to bomb Assad. But what Assad is saying here is that’s not good enough: The U.S. also needs to stop arming his enemies. That means the real cost of destroying Assad’s chemical weapons is watching him crush the opposition and retain power.
UN commission says both sides in Syria are violating human rights
The United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria says that the Syrian government and rebels have each committed acts that go against international law, and they fear no repercussion. “The perpetrators of these violations and crimes, on all sides … do not fear accountability,” the commission’s report says. BBC (9/11), Voice of America (9/11), Thomson Reuters Foundation/Reuters (9/11), The Huffington Post/The Associated Press (9/11)
UN report on Syria lists at least eight massacres allegedly perpetrated by the Assad regime and one by the rebels
(AP via National Post) The commission’s probe highlights the worsening pattern of violence against civilians, including executions and hospital bombings, as the government battles to retake lost territory from the rebels, including Islamist foreign fighters who also have carried out war crimes.
“The perpetrators of these violations and crimes, on all sides, act in defiance of international law. They do not fear accountability. Referral to justice is imperative,” says the report by the U.N. commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria.
The report updates the commission’s work since 2011 to mid-July, stopping short of what the United States says was an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas that killed hundreds of civilians.
Syria seeks reprieve from U.S. strikes with Russia plan
(Reuters) – Syria accepted a Russian proposal on Tuesday to give up chemical weapons and win a reprieve from U.S. military strikes, while its jets returned to the sky to bomb rebel positions in Damascus for the first time since the West threatened force. … While the diplomatic wrangling was under way in far-flung capitals, Assad’s warplanes bombed rebellious districts inside the Damascus city limits on Tuesday for the first time since the August 21 poison gas attacks. Rebels said the strikes demonstrated that the government had concluded the West had lost its nerve.
Stratfor Analysis: Syria, America and Putin’s Bluff
There are many reasons that the United States might not wish to engage in Syria. But if we are to understand the U.S.-Russian crisis over Syria, it makes sense to consider the crisis within in the arc of recent history from Kosovo in 1999 to Georgia in 2008 to where we are today.
Obama: Diplomatic Solution to Syria ‘Overwhelmingly My Preference’ (video and transcript)
President Barack Obama told PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill today that he favors diplomacy to a military strike against Syria and that he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about a potential plan for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons.
Russia urges Syria to cede control of chemical arms
(Reuters) – Russia urged Syria on Monday to put its chemical weapons under international control in the hope that this would avert U.S. military strikes over an alleged gas attack, and President Bashar al-Assad’s government said it welcomed the proposal. … Russia, which is Syria’s most powerful ally, appeared to seize on an idea voiced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Kerry: Syrian surrender of chemical arms could stop U.S. attack even though the American swiftly made clear he had not been making a serious offer. [or was this a very clever ploy?]
Syrian forces may have used gas without Assad’s permission: paper
(Reuters) – Syrian government forces may have carried out a chemical weapons attack close to Damascus without the personal permission of President Bashar al-Assad, Germany’s Bild am Sonntag paper reported on Sunday, citing German intelligence.
Syria: Playing the Waiting Game
By David T. Jones
(The Metropoltain) It is instructive that all ostensible allies and countries theoretically concerned with Syrian domestic structure and political status have declined to do more than “hold our coat” at best. Thus you have the UN SYG stating that action should be taken against Assad (presuming his government used CW), but insisting that action taken without a UN mandate would be illegal. And you have the NATO SYG saying in effect that Assad should be punished while simultaneously saying NATO isn’t going to do anything kinetic/physical. (In the past, the “NATO” abbreviation has been said to stand for “No Action; Talk Only.”) The Arab League has refused to endorse a U.S. military strike. Indeed, other than Israel, which would be delighted if the entire region returned to depopulated prehistoric desert with Israel as the regional oasis, we are hard pressed to identify any country that is “willing” on this one.
Germany backs G20 statement on Syria a day late
(Reuters) – Germany said on Saturday it would sign a Group of 20 statement that calls for a strong international response to Syria’s alleged gas attack, agreeing a day after other European powers because it wanted to ensure unity within the European Union.
Iran-Contra Redux? Prince Bandar Heads Secret Saudi-CIA Effort to Aid Syrian Rebels, Topple Assad
(Democracy Now) The Wall Street Journal recently revealed new details about how Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud — Saudi’s former ambassador to the United States — is leading the effort to prop up the Syrian rebels. Intelligence agents from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Jordan and other allied states are working at a secret joint operations center in Jordan to train and arm hand-picked Syrian rebels. The Journal also reports Prince Bandar has been jetting from covert command centers near the Syrian front lines to the Élysée Palace in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, seeking to undermine the Assad regime. “Really what he’s doing is he’s reprising a role that he played in the 1980s when he worked with the Reagan administration to arrange money and arms for mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan and also worked with the CIA in Nicaragua to support the Contras,” says Wall Street Journal reporter Adam Entous.
David vs David
David Jones: Attack on Syria: Wrong effort, wrong time against the wrong enemy
David Kilgour: Attack on Syria: We must act to support the abused people of Syria
UN’s Brahimi to push for conference on Syria as G20 convenes
Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations special envoy for Syria, will meet with Group of 20 attendees to solidify plans for an international peace conference on Syria. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, “While the world is focused on concerns about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, we must push even harder for the International Conference on Syria to take place in Geneva. Reuters (9/5), RawStory.com/Agence France-Presse (9/5), The Guardian (London) (9/4)
Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in West
… a previously unseen video smuggled out of Syria shows rebel forces executing seven captured regime soldiers as they lie bound and shirtless on the ground. The footage, shot in April, adds to the mounting body of evidence of atrocities carried out by anti-regime forces, whose increasing radicalization has given Western policymakers pause.
(NYT via Foreign Policy) As the United States debates whether to support the Obama administration’s proposal that Syrian forces should be attacked for using chemical weapons against civilians, this video, shot in April, joins a growing body of evidence of an increasingly criminal environment populated by gangs of highwaymen, kidnappers and killers.
The video also offers a reminder of the foreign policy puzzle the United States faces in finding rebel allies as some members of Congress, including Senator John McCain, press for more robust military support for the opposition.
Turning Point panel: Syria
The National’s panel of experts weighs in on the situation in Syria and the possibility of a military response (video)
Jonathan Kay: ‘Responsibility to protect’ is no basis for bombing Syria
(National Post) … It is doubtful that these two factors outweigh the massive costs associated with a U.S.-led bombing campaign against Syria. But at least such utilitarian arguments are rooted in the firm earth of consequentialism — rather than appeals to well-intentioned, but airy, notions of R2P.
One-third of Syrians are displaced, UNHCR says
The number of Syrian refugees increased by 1 million people in six months, with the total at or exceeding 2 million, says the United Nations refugee agency. The refugee rate and the 4.5 million internally displaced in Syria means one-third of the country’s population is affected by the civil war, says UNHCR head Antonio Guterres. “It clearly demonstrates that we are witnessing a conflict in constant escalation,” he says. BBC (9/3), Reuters (9/3)
Sarin gas used in Syria, Kerry says, building case for U.S. military action
(AP via Globe & Mail) A day after President Barack Obama stepped back from his threat to launch an attack, Kerry said in a series of interviews on the Sunday news shows that the administration learned of the sarin use within the past 24 hours through samples of hair and blood provided to Washington by first responders in Damascus.
Amy Davidson: Going to Congress — Obama’s Best Syria Decision
(The New Yorker) President Barack Obama announced two decisions today—one his own resolution, the other potentially far more historic. It might not be immediately obvious which was which. He began by saying that, ten days after what very much appears to have been a chemical-weapons attack outside of Damascus, “I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.” He spoke of the emotional reasons why (the children who died in their sleep) and what he hoped the national-security benefits would be (that part is still muddled) But note the verb: “should take military action”—not will—which set up Obama’s second, more important, and quite correct decision: “I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.”
Kyle Matthews interview on CTV; Topic of discussion was Syria, the Responsibility to Protect and Canada’s role.
The search for sarin’s fingerprint comes down to 3 numbers, lots of testing and retesting
Doubts surround Syria chemical weapon attack; no ‘slam dunk’ Assad ordered it, say experts
(AP via Toronto Star) … while Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that it was “undeniable,” a chemical weapons attack had occurred, and that it was carried out by the Syrian military, U.S. intelligence officials are not so certain that the suspected chemical attack was carried out on Assad’s orders.
Bob Rae: Missiles alone won’t solve the Syria crisis, or assuage our consciences
From the Economist’s Chief Economist: The West’s dilemmas over Syria
… The EIU’s analysts have been covering the civil war extensively, and we note that military intervention—even on a limited scale, as seems likely—presents a number of dilemmas. It would be diplomatically fraught, and vulnerable to “mission creep”. And while military action could hasten the fall of an unsavoury regime in Damascus, the ensuing power vacuum would bring with it severe problems of its own. Indeed, the crisis is already threatening to destabilise neighbouring states, and to complicate the many economic problems they face..
Ban urges Security Council to act for peace, not conflict
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the UN Security Council “must use its authority for peace” in Syria, adding “the Syrian people deserve solutions, not silence.” Meanwhile, the U.K. is preparing a draft Security Council resolution to authorize the use of force in Syria. Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)/Agence France-Presse (8/28), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (8/28), Reuters (8/28), Al Jazeera (8/28)
Christians in the Middle East unanimously oppose potential raid on Syria
(Vatican Insider) All Christian communities in the Middle East are unanimous in their opposition to military action, which the U.S., Britain and France are considering taking against Syria, with the backing of Turkey and the Arab League. The raids would be in response to the use of chemical weapons by President Assad’s army. Churches are adamant that military action would exacerbate problems rather than bring an end to the two-and-a-half-year war that has been tearing Syria apart.
The strongest signs of opposition came from Deir Mar Musa, the Syrian monastery founded by the missing Jesuit priest Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio and made headlines. Fr. Dall’Oglio was kidnapped about a month ago in Raqqa.
Assad’s Brother Seen Linked to Syria Chemical Attack
(Bloomberg) [Maher al-Assad] The powerful brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is suspected of authorizing the chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of Syrian civilians, according to a United Nations official who monitors armed conflicts in the region..
Analysis: U.S. strike would aim to punish Assad, not turn tide of war
(Reuters) – Any strike by the United States and its allies on Syria will probably aim to teach President Bashar al-Assad – and Iran – a lesson on the risks of defying the West, but not try to turn the tide of the civil war.
U.S. and European officials say a short, sharp attack – perhaps entirely with cruise missiles – is the preferred response to what they believe is Assad’s responsibility for a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas last week.
George Friedman: Obama’s Bluff
(Stratfor) The United States has learned to be concerned not just with unfriendly regimes, but also with what could follow such regimes. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have driven home the principle that deposing one regime means living with an imperfect successor … the outcomes of which have not been worth the price. In the case of Syria, the insurgents are Sunni Muslims whose best-organized factions have ties to al Qaeda.
… Washington does not have a direct interest in the outcome, since all possible outcomes are bad from its perspective. Moreover, the people who are most emphatic that something be done to stop the killings will be the first to condemn the United States when its starts killing people to stop the killings. People would die in any such intervention, since there are simply no clean ways to end a civil war.
President Barack Obama therefore adopted an extremely cautious strategy. He said that the United States would not get directly involved in Syria unless the al Assad regime used chemical weapons, stating with a high degree of confidence that he would not have to intervene. After all, Syrian President Bashar al Assad has now survived two years of civil war, and he is far from defeated. The one thing that could defeat him is foreign intervention, particularly by the United States. It was therefore assumed he wouldn’t do the one thing Obama said would trigger U.S. action.
Al Assad is a ruthless man: He would not hesitate to use chemical weapons if he had to. He is also a very rational man: He would use chemical weapons only if that were his sole option. At the moment, it is difficult to see what desperate situation would have caused him to use chemical weapons and risk the worst. His opponents are equally ruthless, and we can imagine them using chemical weapons to force the United States to intervene and depose al Assad
[see Atlantic online of 5 May 2013 UN Sources Say Syrian Rebels — Not Assad — Used Sarin Gas]. But their ability to access chemical weapons is unclear, and if found out, the maneuver could cost them all Western support. It is possible that lower-ranking officers in al Assad’s military used chemical weapons without his knowledge and perhaps against his wishes. It is possible that the casualties were far less than claimed. And it is possible that some of the pictures were faked [Less likely now that UN inspectors have gained access]. Read more: Obama’s Bluff
U.N. inspectors reach Syria gas victims, despite coming under fire
(Reuters) – U.N. chemical weapons experts interviewed and took blood samples on Monday from victims of last week’s apparent poison gas attack in a rebel-held suburb of Syria’s capital, after the inspectors themselves survived sniper fire that hit their convoy. Syria chemical evidence fades as U.N. team under fire
Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock: Looking back at Kosovo can move the Syria conflict forward
(Globe & Mail) What strengthens the hand of the President and others who must plan these steps is that in 2005, subsequent to the Kosovo intervention, UN member states unanimously adopted the principle of Responsibility to Protect or “R2P”, establishing the basis for international action to prevent or stop the wholesale murder of innocent people by their governments. The principle that holds that military action, as a last resort, is justified to protect civilian populations from mass murder, provided that the force used is proportionate to the threat, likely to succeed and unlikely to cause more harm than good. R2P has been reaffirmed more than once since 2005 by the General Assembly and continues to enjoy wide-spread support. It was the basis for the successful UN/NATO intervention in Libya.
Dr. Charles G. Cogan: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!
The Sunni uprising against the Bashar al Asad regime is spearheaded by bad guys — the al-Nusra Front, which has declared its affiilation with another Sunni organization, al-Qaeda. For the U.S. to join in and help overthrow the Bashar regime would not necessarily leave the good guys, led by General Idris, in power. They are in the minority among the rebels in terms of numbers and guns and fighting capability
What to do? To declare a no-fly zone or conduct air strikes would clearly pit the United States against the Bashar regime and in favor of the Sunni rebels and the many jihadi groups that are among them.
More importantly, we don’t know how things would develop. What would be the reaction of Iran? Of Russia? Of Hizballah in Lebanon? Of the Maliki regime in Iraq? So far, the United States has kept out of things but for propaganda and minor clandestine arms support to the rebel side. Additionally, there is also the prospect of igniting a wider regional conflict, possibly also involving Israel, if the United States steps in.
Syria crisis: ‘very little doubt’ chemical weapon was used, US official says
US intelligence assessment to the White House comes as Obama debates options over military intervention in civil war
“US military intervention will create a very serious fallout and a ball of fire that will inflame the Middle East,” Syrian information minister Omran Zoabi was quoted by state news agency SANA as saying to Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen TV. …
President Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally Iran also said Washington should not cross the “red line” on Syria, where doctors accused his forces of a poison gas attack that killed hundreds last week.
Syrian opposition accounts that between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed this week by gas in munitions fired by pro-government forces, and video footage of victims’ bodies, have stoked demands abroad for a robust, US-led response after 2-1/2 years of international inaction on Syria’s conflict.
Syria gas attack symptoms confirmed by doctors group
Doctors Without Borders says Syria ‘chemical’ attack killed 355 near Damascus
Doctors Without Borders said three hospitals it supports in the eastern Damascus region reported receiving roughly 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms” over less than three hours on Wednesday morning, when the attack in the eastern Ghouta area took place.
Syria: Patriarch Laham growls at accusations of Christian collusion with Assad regime
Gregory III Laham, the spiritual leader of the Melkite Church has rejected accusations of scheming with the Assads, stressing bishops’ responsibility for the Christian communities in a country ravaged by civil war
(Vatican Insider) As ministers are being killed in Damascus and the Syrian regime totters after the blows it has been dealt by the armed opposition, Church leaders are faced with the opening up of a dangerous home front. This is the perception given by the 24 point document published yesterday by the Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham, leader of the largest Catholic community in Syria. This is the first time, leaders of Christian Churches have dedicated a large chunk of the text to defending themselves against accusations of scheming with the Assad regime.
David Kilgour Crisis in Syria: It’s time for the West to step in
“The Russian government is very serious about winning the war. The U.S. and other countries want to talk and to have meetings in Geneva…”
More of the same neglect by governments that claim to be friends of the Syrian people will lead only to further chaos across the country and Middle East and growing violence by religious extremists in Damascus and elsewhere.
David Jones Crisis in Syria: This is one war we don’t need to get involved in
We have a praiseworthy societal tendency to cheer for the underdog — without appreciating the underdog can be as mean and vicious as the top dog, just momentarily underneath.
Syria is Spain.
Not the Spain of 2013, but the Spain of 1936-39 … Although history is hardly destiny, the Spanish Civil War provides perspective for prospective U.S./Canadian involvement in Syria. This time the government is the “bad guys” and the rebels are the “good guys.”
Diplomats losing hope for Syrian peace conference
A Syrian peace conference appears increasingly unlikely because of differences between the U.S. and Russia, diplomats say. “The Syrian civil war is likely to go on for years,” says Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations.
(Reuters) – How deep is the divide separating Russia and the United States on Syria? A photo from the recent G8 summit in Northern Ireland says it all – two grim-faced leaders slouched in their chairs, Barack Obama biting his lip and Vladimir Putin staring at the floor.
Terry Glavin: G8 consensus on Syria is brimming with make-believe
(Special to the National Post) … there was an entire world of make-believe in what Prime Minister Stephen Harper had to say Tuesday about how the leaders of the world’s wealthiest countries had finally tackled the Syrian crisis. … The G8 leaders pledged $1.5 billion towards the $5.3 billion the United Nations says it needs just to staunch the hemorrhaging of refugees from the country. Nearly six million people — almost a third of the Syrian population — are on the tramp. At least 93,000 civilians have been slaughtered in the civil war that has been smashing its way through Syria ever since the despotic lunatic Bashar Assad crushed non-violent democracy protests in 2011.
The G8 leaders also agreed to encourage the belligerents in the Syrian fighting to attend a peace conference in Geneva at some point down the road. It would be nice if there were some kind of transitional government, it would be a pity if Syria’s civil service were entirely destroyed, terrorists should go away, the chemical weapons business should be looked into and Syria should have a nicer, multicultural sort of government.
That was about all. There was no mention of Assad having to go.
Syrian rebel leader seeks to quell unrest
Gen. Salim Idriss of the Syrian rebel Supreme Military Council is seeking to unify rebel troops amid reports of unrest. “Idriss has done well as an interlocutor with the West and the Gulf, but the military situation is degenerating. … It is not too late to save it, but he does not have much time,” a source within the Syrian opposition told Reuters. Reuters
G8 stalls on Syria
A Group of Eight statement on Syria calls for peace but does not address Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who continues to receive support from Russia. Reuters (6/18), Reuters (6/17), The Washington Post (tiered subscription model) (6/17), Al Jazeera (6/18)
Obama and Putin at odds over Syria after cool exchange at G8 summit
(The Guardian) US president says talks ‘very useful’ but Russia admits ‘our opinions do not coincide’ as pair look to end conflict in Syria
Prospects of agreement between Moscow and Washington on how to end the war in Syria looked as remote as ever on Monday after a chilly bilateral meeting between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin ended with a stiff exchange of diplomatic pleasantries.
Paul Heinbecker — Syria: The G8 should call for for intervention, now
Western intervention is beginning in Syria, and it is about time. The vast human slaughter in Syria has not been enough to shock the conscience of humanity into acting. But a broader understanding of self-interest has provoked action, albeit limited, because the mounting costs of not acting are becoming clearer. It is, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the U.K. Parliament last week, a grotesque dilemma. But continued Western hand-wringing and procrastination will not solve it.
As the US wants to arm ‘nice Syrian rebels’ we must remind ourselves that weapons are not just guns. They are about money
Hardware will end up in the hands of al-Qa’ida, says Robert Fisk
The Western powers are dangerously close to flooding Syria with weapons and ammunition which will officially go to the nice rebels – but will quickly pass to the horrid rebels, who will sell some of them to al-Qa’ida, Iraqi insurgents, Syrian government troops, Malian militiamen, Taliban fighters and Pakistani hitmen. Guns are about money.
Nations Set to Clash Over Syria at Summit
(WSJ) President Barack Obama travels to Northern Ireland for an eight-nation summit that begins Monday and is certain to be dominated by Western efforts to persuade Russia to abandon Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, after Moscow criticized the U.S. decision to arm rebel forces.
U.S. allies France and Britain, who will also be at the summit, welcomed the shift in Washington on Friday. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, calling Mr. Assad “a brutal dictator who is using chemical weapons under our nose,” said Friday that it was time to work together to end the conflict.
US says it will arm Syrian rebels following chemical weapons tests
US says it will provide military aid to rebels after confirming for first time that it has evidence of nerve gas use
(The Guardian) Late on Thursday details began to emerge of the shape military aid might take. Senator John McCain, one of the strongest proponents of US military action in Syria, said he was told on Thursday that Obama had decided to “provide arms to the rebels”, a decision confirmed by three US officials, according to the Associated Press. The officials cautioned that decisions on the specific type of weaponry were still being finalised, AP said, but they might include small arms, ammunition, assault rifles and a variety of anti-tank weaponry such as shoulder-fired remote-propelled grenades and other missiles.
The CIA was expected to be tasked with teaching the rebels how to use the arms the White House had agreed to supply, AP said. The New York Times gave a similar outline of the arms involved, while adding that the anti-aircraft munitions hotly sought by the rebels were not under consideration. Syrian rebel groups have repeatedly called for both anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. White House statement on Syria regime’s chemical weapons
Syria death toll at 93,000, UN reports
Real number likely far higher, UN human rights office says
UN refugee agency seeks to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees in Europe
The United Nations refugee agency is asking Germany to accept up to 10,000 Syrian refugees. UNHCR is planning a meeting with other possible European host nations, but most resettling will occur in countries neighboring Syria. Reuters (6/11), Google/Agence France-Presse (6/11)
Syrian rebels, Hezbollah in deadly fight in Lebanon
(Reuters) – Hezbollah guerrillas fought a deadly battle with Syrian rebels in Lebanon’s eastern border region early on Sunday, security sources said, in the latest eruption of Syria’s conflict on Lebanese soil. … Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah, which supports President Bashar al-Assad, is fighting alongside his army to drive rebels from the Syrian border town of Qusair, while Lebanese Sunni Muslim fighters have joined the anti-Assad revolt.
Syria arms embargo lifted: Britain and France force EU to relax ban on supplying weapons to rebels
William Hague says outcome gives ‘flexibility’ to deal with worsening situation
Fighting continues for Syrian city; conflict threatens to spread
Syrian opposition forces continue to battle with government troops in Qusair, Syria, and are threatening retribution if the city falls. Meanwhile, Syrian rebel groups are adamant that President Bashar Assad leave office as part of any peace talks, and the conflict is increasingly drawing in Hezbollah and Israel. Bloomberg (5/21), Al Jazeera (5/21), The Washington Post (5/20), Reuters (5/21)
Turkey, U.S. to pressure Syria; Russia supplies advanced missiles
The U.S. and Turkey are pledging to continue political pressure on the Syrian government and rebels to come to the peace table. Meanwhile, Russia is supplying advanced missiles to Syrian government and is advocating for Iran’s participation in peace discussions. Reuters (5/17), Al Jazeera (5/17), AlertNet/Reuters (5/16), The New York Times (5/16)
Qatar bankrolls Syrian revolt
Financial support from tiny gas-rich state overshadows western backing, but is being nudged aside by Saudi Arabia as the prime source of arms to rebels
Syria’s Uprising: sectarianism, regionalisation, and state order in the Levant
(FRIDE) As the Syrian revolution enters its third year, the risks to regional stability are escalating. Violence has spilled over all of Syria’s borders. The conflict has elevated sectarian tensions in Lebanon, threatening the 1990 Taif settlement that ended 15 years of civil war. It has sharpened ethnic and sectarian frictions in Iraq and engulfed southern Turkey. It has heightened tensions across the Syrian-Israeli border. Violence has also spilled into Syria from across the region. Regional involvement in the conflict is deepening. Syrian refugees, now numbering more than a million, are straining the economies and the social fabric of receiving countries. This paper addresses the implications of the regionalisation of Syria’s conflict and the challenges it presents to the stability of the post-Ottoman state order in the Levant.
UN to vote on resolution seeking Syria political transition
The United Nations General Assembly will vote Wednesday on an Arab-supported draft resolution calling for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Russia is urging members to reject the resolution. Meanwhile, Lakhdar Brahimi will continue in his post as UN-Arab League envoy for Syria. Reuters (5/9), The Washington Post/The Associated Press (5/9)
Why There Is No Military Solution to the Syrian Conflict
by Aslı Ü. Bâli and Aziz Rana
(Jadaliyya) Today, as violence intensifies in Syria, external powers, including the United States, are openly debating direct intervention. Such intervention is justified as serving multiple goals at once: it is a means of securing chemical weapons caches; a mechanism to protect the civilian population; and a necessary measure to ensure that the successors to the Assad regime are adequately beholden to the United States and its regional allies. However, whether the intentions are humanitarian or strategic, policies of arming opposition groups, along with discussions of establishing “safe zones,” using Patriot missile batteries to enforce a “no-fly zone,” and more direct calls for military intervention, are counterproductive at best, and at worst embody goals that further undermine the interests of the local population. If anything, it is intervention, not its absence, that fuels the blood-letting in Syria.
Syria: Intervention Will Only Make it Worse
By Zbigniew Brzezinski
(Time) The various schemes that have been proposed for a kind of tiddlywinks intervention from around the edges of the conflict—no-fly zones, bombing Damascus and so forth—would simply make the situation worse. None of the proposals would result in an outcome strategically beneficial for the U.S. On the contrary, they would produce a more complex, undefined slide into the worst-case scenario. The only solution is to seek Russia’s and China’s support for U.N.-sponsored elections in which, with luck, Assad might be “persuaded” not to participate.
UN official: Syrian rebels may have used sarin; Ban warns against war’s “escalation”
A United Nations investigator says that Syrian rebel forces may have used sarin nerve gas, but the question remains open. A Free Syrian Army leader disputed the claim. Separately, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russia and China warned about the escalation of war after Israel bombed Syrian facilities storing missiles for Hezbollah. Reuters (5/6), Al Jazeera (5/6), AlertNet/Reuters (5/5), Voice of America (5/6)
Kyle Matthews: Does the lesson from Syria imply it is better to save no one?
(Globe & Mail) When NATO enforced UN Security Council Resolution 1973 by establishing a no-fly zone to halt Moammar Gadhafi’s regime from attacking the city of Benghazi, many critics voiced opposition. Their logic seemed to be that since the international community could not intervene everywhere that mass atrocities were looming, it should not bother trying at all.
Does the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine mean Canada is obligated to intervene militarily in Syria?
(CBC/The Current)The ability to get any food to those displaced and fleeing is a serious problem in Syria. And the food isn’t the half of it … Syria continues a downward spiral while an international community talks .. threatens .. muses … worries and remains unmoving. What ever happened to Responsibility to Protect? And how irresponsible would military intervention be? – with Kyle Matthews and Paul Heinbecker.
Assad calls on Syrians to unite against ‘murderous criminals’
Obama administration rejects Assad’s proposal that would keep besieged leader in power
(AP via CBC) A defiant Syrian President Bashar Assad rallied a chanting and cheering crowd Sunday to fight the uprising against his authoritarian rule, dismissing any chance of dialogue with “murderous criminals” that he blames for nearly two years of violence that has left 60,000 dead.
Iran’s economic stake in Syria
(Foreign Policy) Many analyses have been made about Iran’s strategic and geopolitical role in the Syrian regime, but not enough attention has been paid to the crucial and changing economic relations between the two countries. By analyzing Iran-Syria relations through this prism, one can shed light on the more nuanced, unconventional, and complicated aspects of Iran’s role in Syria.
Bilal Y. Saab and Andrew J. Tabler: No Settlement In Damascus
(Foreign Affairs) Any negotiated settlement would have to produce two key collective goods for Syrians: security and political power. Simply calling on the Sunnis and Alawites to give up their guns won’t work. But providing a credible security alternative and helping develop an all-inclusive governing coalition could. The larger the post-Assad governing coalition, moreover, the more Alawites and Sunnis would be interested in sustaining the peace. But a difficult question would remain: If there is no agreement on giving the UN a peacekeeping role, what kind of credible international or regional force would be required to ensure security? History suggests that third parties rarely remain involved in post-civil war peacekeeping roles for long. In addition, they can be less than effective, and the experience of Kosovo bears that out.
These possible outcomes — a negotiated settlement and a rebel military victory in Syria — both have flaws. So far, regional powers have worked toward the latter, choosing sides in the conflict and trying to help their side win. If regional powers change course, opting seriously for negotiations to stop the bloodshed and build peace, the diplomatic challenge will be enormous. At this late date, such an attempt would be a long shot at best — and would likely prolong the Syria conflict instead of finishing it off.”