February 18, 2013 by Conn M. Hallinan
Now that the dust has settled—literally and figuratively—from Israel’s Jan. 29 air attack on Syria, the question is, why? According to Tel Aviv, the bombing was aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-craft missiles to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, which one former Israeli military intelligence officer said would be “a game-changer.” But there are major problems with that story.
First, it is highly unlikely that Damascus would turn such a system over to Hezbollah, in part because the Russians would almost certainly not have allowed it, and, secondly, because the SA-17 would not be terribly useful to the Lebanese Shiite organization. In fact, we don’t even know if an SA-17 was the target. The Syrians deny it, claiming it was a military research center 15 miles northwest of Damascus that was bombed, killing two and wounding five. The Israelis are refusing to say anything. The story that the anti-aircraft system was the objective comes mainly from unnamed “western officials.”
December 15, 2012 by Timothy W. Coleman
While the Obama administration has for many months stressed the need to give diplomacy another chance to work in Syria, the administration has now decided that if Assad were to employ his vast chemical weapons stockpile against the rebels, the U.S. would have no choice but to intervene in the nearly two-year old conflict. Fears about the potential fallout of the demise of the Assad regime are running high, as a post-Assad Syria could likely degenerate into a sectarian civil war that would make Iraq look like a picnic, given the complex religious and ethic fabric of Syrian society.
With the rebels making significant advances throughout Syria, and inching closer to the heart of Damascus, the fear is that Assad could launch chemical weapon attacks against rebel positions in a bid to halt their advance. Employing chemical weapons is not a precision game – numerous factors would impact the success or failure of their use, including prevailing winds. Collateral damage would likely be immeasurable, essentially constituting mass murder on a scale not witnessed in decades. Assad could be using the threat of chemical weapons as a bargaining chip to secure more preferential terms, should he decide to flee – which is becoming increasingly likely.
December 9, 2012 by Binoy Kampmark
An old story – a vicious local conflict, fought within by those who are systematically unravelling a state; and the external backers who feel they have a stake in the outcome. The greatest pretence of civil wars and conflicts it that they are not “civil” in any sense of the term. They are particularly vicious, for one, marked by the familiarity that breeds contempt; in another sense, supporters can be also found from without. They are the pretenders who aspire to the role of puppeteers. The misplaced wisdom here is this: Manipulate the marionettes in revolt, and they will do your bidding.
In the case of the Syrian conflict, the main ersatz puppeteers are Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These governments have made little secret of their objective: the overthrow of the Assad regime. More perplexing is the chaotic force they are backing. To wit, a directive has been issued by both regimes to the rebel forces to conduct operations under one unified command. The sweetener here is a greater and improved supply of weapons. Unite, goes the message, and we will give you more. The big question being asked by everybody is whether such a front will hold.
October 12, 2012 by Ramzy Baroud
It seems that media consensus has been conclusively reached: Turkey has been forced into a Middle Eastern mess not of its own making; the ‘Zero Problems with Neighbors’ notion, once the foreign policy centerpiece of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), is all but a romantic notion of no use in realpolitik.
Turkey’s “policy’s goal – to build strong economic, political, and social ties with the country’s immediate neighbors while decreasing its dependency on the United States – seemed to be within sight,” wrote Sinan Ulgen nearly a year ago. “But the Arab Spring exposed the policy’s vulnerabilities, and Turkey must now seek a new guiding principle for regional engagement.”
September 28, 2012 by Conn M. Hallinan
“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war, That this foul deed shall smell above the earth, With carrion men, groaning for burial”
– William Shakespeare
“Blood and destruction,” “dreadful objects,” and “pity choked” was the Bard’s searing characterization of what war visits upon the living. It is a description that increasingly parallels the ongoing war in Syria, and one that is likely to worsen unless the protagonists step back and search for a diplomatic solution to the 17-month old civil war. From an initial clash over a monopoly of power by Syria’s Baathist Party, the war has spread to Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq, ignited regional sectarianism, drawn in nations around the globe, and damaged the reputation of regional and international organizations.
August 21, 2012 by Hamoon Khelghat-Doost
Syria is in dire straits. The once regal and prosperous cities of Damascus and Aleppo have now become the primary battlefields of the Syrian Army against opposition forces. Since the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, the calm and serenity of both Damascus and Aleppo were often touted by the Syrian regime to the world as indicators of Syrian stability. The swift change from peace to turmoil however, has happened almost overnight, with President Assad describing the current battle in Aleppo as decisive of Syria’s fate.
The massive explosion which occurred on July 18 in the heart of the Syrian regime’s security organization in Damascus killed a number of people within Assad’s security and military inner circle, shocking the Syrian government and severely shaking the stability of the regime’s pillars.
August 12, 2012 by Deepak Tripathi
The revelation about President Barack Obama’s decision to provide secret American aid to Syria’s rebel forces is a game changer. The presidential order, known as an “intelligence finding” in the world of espionage, authorizes the CIA to support armed groups fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government. But it threatens far more than the regime in Damascus.
The disclosure took its first casualty immediately. Kofi Annan, the special envoy to Syria, promptly announced his resignation, bitterly protesting that the UN Security Council had become a forum for “finger-pointing and name-calling.” Annan blamed all sides directly involved in the Syrian conflict, including local combatants and their foreign backers. But the timing of his resignation was striking. For he knew that with the CIA helping Syria’s armed groups, America’s Arab allies joining in and the Security Council deadlocked, he was redundant.
August 10, 2012 by Sudhanshu Tripathi
At the start of the Syrian uprising the Obama administration had lauded the uprising as a positive step and emphasized the need for Assad to step down. While still insisting that Assad must go, there is every indication that the United States is weary of throwing its full weight behind the rebel movement to unseat Assad and the administration is now being accused of throwing the Free Syrian Army and the rebels under a bus.
Since the onset of the Arab Spring, with Syrians clamouring for democracy and democratic institutions in the region, and eventually taking up arms against the Assad regime, the nearly 17-month-old uprising against the Assad government has turned into an all-out conflict with no end in sight.
As the US support behind revolutions in North Africa proved very decisive, particularly in Libya, the Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s government were initially optimistic that the United States would intervene.
July 23, 2012 by Naili Nabil
“Let’s be clear: Washington is pursuing regime change by civil war in Syria. The United States, Europe, and the Gulf states want regime change, so they are starving the regime in Damascus and feeding the opposition.”
– Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies.
While the UN remains paralyzed on whether to extend its observer mission, or impose sanctions, Syria is drifting quickly towards what the International Committee of the Red Cross calls “a state of civil war”, a declaration, with cataclysmic consequences, and which might radically change the rules of the game.
July 19, 2012 by Franz-Stefan Gady
Thus noted T.E. Lawrence, presumptuously, in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which recounts his exploits as part of the Arab uprising against the Turks during the First World War. “They” are the Syrians, and Lawrence provides a vivid description of the land and its people, which he and a Hashemite led Arab Army where about to wrestle from Ottoman control.
The Free Syrian Army recently condemned a meeting of the Syrian National Council and representatives from France, Tunisia and Turkey in Cairo because the delegates are “rejecting the idea of a foreign military intervention to save the people… and ignoring the question of buffer zones protected by the international community, humanitarian corridors, an air embargo and the arming of rebel fighters.”
With growing international pressure for military intervention in Syria, T.E. Lawrence’s analysis, although written by an outsider of an imperialist Western power, and almost a hundred years old, may caution us to think carefully when arguing for Western involvement in the region.
July 18, 2012 by Binoy Kampmark
While the Russians are being painted as international law’s bogeymen, indifferent to choosing sides in a conflict when the only side to pick can only ever be that of peace, the Syrian opposition forces are nibbling, if not slaughtering their way, into view with their recent killings in Damascus. President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle has received a series of lethal blows in the National Security Building – four of them, according to rumour mill of press reports.
On Wednesday, Assad found himself one minister of defence and brother-in-law short. The latter was the infamous intelligence chief Assef Shawkat, though that itself has been disputed.
June 14, 2012 by John Lyman
As the Syrian conflict deepens, the Obama Administration is facing renewed calls to act before full-scale civil war erupts, with neo-conservatives in Washington pressing the administration to support anti-government rebels with military hardware. The President has been unwilling to do so, he has every reason to be wary of engaging in yet another Middle East conflict with no end in sight, and no exit strategy.
Moreover, the President knows that such support would in the end likely prove futile, given China, Iran and Russia’s ongoing support for the Assad regime, the absence of unity among opposition groups, and the failure of the opposition to control any significant Syrian territory.
May 30, 2012 by Peter Lee
If Assad loses control of his armed forces and the regime loses its legitimacy as the expression of Syrian nationalism, the ingredients don’t seem there for a Lebanon-style civil war with local proxies armed by regional or global actors.
That’s because I don’t think that Russia, China, or even Iran see any upside in arming some Ba’ath regime generals of primarily Alawite backgrounds trying to beat back an insurrection powered largely by Syria’s dominant Sunni majority. Alawites are estimated at 12% of Syria’s largely Sunni population and don’t look to do well if the Syrian uprising transforms into an explicitly sectarian confrontation.
Lebanon, on the other hand, is split between Christians, Sunnis, and Shi’ites with no one group holding a clear demographic advantage (especially since there hasn’t been an official census in Lebanon for decades), providing multiple opportunities for regional and global patrons to make mischief through their durable local proxies.
May 29, 2012 by Jo Coghlan
Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has expelled the Syrian Charge d’Affairs Jawdat Ali Syrian in the wake of the Houla massacre that have reportedly seen 32 children massacred in Syria in recent days. He has said that Australians are “appalled at a regime that could connive in or organise the execution, the killing of men women and children.” Jawdat Ali has 72 hours to leave Australia.
April 22, 2012 by Daniel Wagner
It should come as little surprise to anyone that the fragile cease-fire in Syria has failed and is evidence that – contrary to what many pundits contend – the tide continues to be on Mr. Assad’s side, given the time that has passed, the fractured nature of the opposition, and the bungled manner in which the West has addressed the subject. As Syria demonstrates, with each passing month the Arab Awakening evolves in new and unexpected ways. The question is whether the West is evolving along with the Awakening, or will remain stuck in a unidimensional view of MENA.
As pressure mounts on foreign powers to consider intervening militarily in Syria, analogies are naturally being drawn between what NATO accomplished in Libya and whether something comparable may be possible in Syria. Military intervention would perhaps make the West feel better — knowing that it attempted to do something concrete to end the bloodshed — but it is unlikely to be successful for several reasons.