Monday, March 11, 2013

Syria: obstacles to action

Kerry will no doubt do his best to avoid leaving the Syrian opposition completely abandoned, but this is likely to be ineffective while President Obama is so completely opposed to any decisive action.

In Europe, Germany seems to be the main obstacle (German foreign policy remains a bit of an enigma: in 2011, they unprecedently broke European unaminity, standing out against France, Britain and Italy over intervention in Libya; recently, France has been disappointed that Germany was the only European country that declined to offer any assistance in Mali).

Robert Fisk,  on al Jazeera, 5 Mar, says he had it from a Syrian Arab source that David Cameron raised the issue of arming the Syrian opposition with Obama. He was told: I didn't get re-elected to intervene in Syria, don't bring this up again. Fisk notes that Israel has condemned the Syrian regime only once and therefore really wants al-Assad to remain in power, while Qatar & Saudi Arabia, who are arming the opposition, are hardly democracies. He says that the West may be preparing a Yalta-like betrayal, with the installation of an Assad-lite regime.

Aside from Fisk weakening his credibility in my view by saying that the US lost the war in Iraq and is losing in Afghanistan, this assumes that the only alternatives are the islamists and a "secular" (Assad-lite) dictatorship. In  any case, what means does the West have to bring about such an outcome in Syria, apart from encouraging Saudi Arabia & Qatar to provide weapons to the favoured parties? How can we be sure that these countries would not prefer the jihadists to prevail?

Juan Cole, though, suggests there are differences between the two countries:
  a new plan to arm moderates via Jordan in Syria’s southern district of Deraa may, behind the scenes, have American backing or at least the US isn’t vetoing it. (The Saudis are said to be buying the weapons and cooperating with Jordan in this effort because they are afraid of Jabhat al-Nusra and angry at Qatar winking at its growing prominence in the ranks of the northern rebels)
The Syrian Civil War comes to Iraq, as 8 Iraqi and 48 Syrian Troops are Killed on Iraqi Soil
Update: in a previous post I spoke about the shameful silence of the Left. Of course, it has not been completely silent. Nikolas Kozloff had this useful analysis some time ago - Syria and the moral decline of the American Left
 Far from decrying the government in Damascus, the left has either remained silent or alternatively chosen to dodge, evade and obfuscate what is really happening in Syria.

Syria: the price of inaction (part 2)

From The Economist's Briefing, The country formerly known as Syria:
 Western intelligence sources say that jihadists are now arriving in Syria by the busload. Jabhat al-Nusra, the most devout Syrian battalion, which shares al-Qaeda’s worldview, is getting stronger. In December an armed group trashed a Shia prayer house in Zarzour, a town in Idleb. Though many Syrians reject the jihadists the war is becoming religious.
Arab League and Russia meeting, Weds (20/2). 500 women recruited to regime armed forces. 'Hands off Syria' spokeswoman in Sydney. Silence amounts to paticipation. Transitional government to run liberated areas by 2 Mar. (Inside Syria, al Jazeera, 23/2)

28/2 Kerry in Rome, recognizes opposition coalition as legitimate voice of Syrian people, will provide food & medical aid. SNC spokesman: US aid could include communications equipment, vehicles, bullet-proof vests, but non-lethal. On the "busloads of jihadists", it's the West's fault, but anyway the proportion is small (al Jazeera). U.S. Pledges $60 Million to Syrian Opposition - Secretary of State John Kerry says the US will provide "non-lethal" support to Syrian rebels for the first time, as well as extra aid to the opposition (US extends aid to Syrian rebels). Rebels claim to have taken ancient mosque in Aleppo (BBC WS). Hague does not rule out arming opposition in future - risks of action, or inaction. Opposition spokesman: end to scud missiles, some sort of zone to prevent them ... (C4News).

2/3 Syrian FM in Tehran. Heavy fighting around Damascus, Daraya - video, shelling of Douma,  Raqqa, Aleppo, Yarmouk- video of looting. Almost 1 million refugees and 4 million internally displaced. Kerry in Cairo - Arab League (al Jazeera).
(Inside Syria, al Jazeera, 2/3)
3/3 Assad, Sunday Times interview. Hague, on BBC, says Britain may arm rebels in future. Rebels moving closer to centre of Damascus, capture most of Police Academy in Aleppo, shoot down 2nd helicopter. Khatib in northern Syria. (C4News)

4/3 Prices of basic goods have shot up. Casey Kauffman report from Aleppo - warehouse recently taken over by rebels (al Jazeera).
22:00 Rebels take control of Raqqa, pull down a statue of Hafez Assad with a rope (BBCWS) Syrian soldiers 'killed in Iraq'.

5/3 al-Raqqa - video, attack led by al-Nusra front and Islamic Front, city is between Aleppo and Deir Ezzor, 160 km E of Aleppo, will be run by religious committee.  One military base under government control, but surrounded. Airport still under government control. Kerry in Doha. Israel warns about Syrian shells falling in Israel (al Jazeera). Syrian planes 'bomb rebels in Raqqa' -

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Syria: the price of inaction

7/2 "Syria capital Damascus sees heavy Jobar fighting". Qaboun ... SOHR - rebels attacked a security checkpoint between the northeast Qaboon district and Abassid Square near the centre of the capital ...

22:30 Leon Panetta says he supported and still supports supply of arms to Syrian rebels. (BBC WS). More on this (C-span, 10/2). John McCain asks Panetta and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, did you, like then Secretary of State Clinton and and then head of the CIA David Petraeus, support arming the rebels ? "We did". C-span's coverage (shown on BBC Parliament) of the congressional hearing ends rather abruptly there, but The Economist continues: "the White House vetoed the idea."

8/2  Government shelling of ringroad in Damascus, also Deraa. Ansari, Aleppo (report, Zeina Khodr): some residents don't agree with Khatib's offer of talks (al Jazeera).
9/2 Khatib names Syrian deputy president, Farouk al-Sharaa, as possible partner for talks. (Inside Syria)
Syrian army steps up offensive to try to recapture southern ringroad in Damascus - Jobar and Qaboon, NW of road. Rebels make gains in Aleppo, Zeina Khodr reports, cutting off link from airport  (al Jazeera).
11/2 Report from Homs (Newsday, 8:20) Khatib, in Cairo, calls for foreign intervention, because regime is not just (al Jazeera).
12/2 Rebels claim capture of airbase in Aleppo (al Jazeera).
13/2 Qatar recognizes opposition control of embassy (BBC WS, 9:00; al Jazeera).  FSA control village of al Giza (?), Deraa. Rocket attack on al Rastan, Homs.
Funeral for senior officer of Iranian revolutionary guard, killed in Syria, Zabadani, near Lebanon border, Hessam Shateri (al Jazeera).
Fighting around Damascus and on 2 major highways in Homs (BBC WS, 22:00).
14/2  Video shows 2 government planes shot down in Idlib province (al Jazeera).
16/2  Rebels capture Sfeira military base near Aleppo. Airstrikes on Damascus and Zaizoun, Deraa province. Kidnapping of women in Idlib province: 2 busloads taken, 1 government retaliation for rebel action; interview with SOHR; shows increasing sectarianism; Maarat al Numan; bus from al Foua, N of Idlib, to Damascus  (al Jazeera). Zaizoun: important border post (BBC WS, 21:30). 

17/2 Brahimi proposes talks on UN premises (BBC WS, al Jazeera)
18/2 UN report: army and pro-government militia spreading terror. Opposition also committing crimes, but not on same scale (al Jazeera).
EU ministers maintain arms embargo, after disagreement with Britain, which had been pushing for more arms to opposition. Rebels take checkpoint near 2nd largest airport (BBC WS, 17:00) Britain and other countries wanted more, but EU promises more aid to civilians and "technical support" (whatever that means). A compromise was reached (BBC R4, 18:00, Jim Muir). It was Britain and Italy, against Germany (BBC WS, 00:00).
19/2 Rebel-held areas ... 2,500 cases of typhoid, people drinking from Euphrates. Smuggling into NE Syria, Latakia province. Scud missile attack - huge damage, 19 killed *, east of Aleppo. "Where are the Arabs?", people defiant, Youtube video (al Jazeera). * 31 killed, bodies still being dug out - SOHR.  (26/2, it is said that 140, including 71 children were killed by these missile strikes - C4N.) Rebel gains around airport, imans' call to Allah (BBCR4, Ian Panel).
20/2 Continued shelling around Dara, in suburbs of Damascus. Rebels claim to have shot down government fighter jet  (al Jazeera).

21/2 Massive car bomb in Damascus, at checkpoint near Ba'ath HQ, al-Nusra front accused. Number of smaller explosions, according to opposition, unconfirmed. One in al-Mazra'a, says Syrian state TV. Opposition coalition, in Cairo, denies involvement - we do not target civilians. Syrian government confiscates assets of al Jazeera presenter (al Jazeera). Opposition considers options for political solution (BBC WS, 17:00). Damascus bomb: opposition sites claim that the same man is seen repeatedly on state TV footage, sometimes as a civilian, sometimes in uniform, expressing the regime's line (C4N).  I think it is likely that the bombing was carried out by al-Nusra or some similar group.

23/2 Syrian Opposition Coalition pulls out of talks with Friends of Syria and in Moscow & Washington due to failure of West to condemn missile attacks on civilians (al Jazeera), due to continued Russian supply of Scud missiles, even technicians to help fire them (BBC WS, 21:00).
24/2 Fighting in Aleppo. Airstrikes in Douma, north of Damascus. Report - war gear sold in Antakya (al Jazeera). US condemns rocket attacks on Aleppo (BBC WS, 21:00).
25/2 Kerry & Hague, in London, make strong pleas for opposition to attend talks (BBC R4, 18:00). Opposition to attend talks in Rome, reversing previous decision (BBC WS, 22:30). Large explosion, followed by gunfire in Damascus (C4News, 19:00) ... , eastern suburb (BBC WS, 22:00)
26/2 Helicopters shot down. Saudis supplying weapons via Croatia to moderates (C4N). Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms

27/2 US may directly assist FSA - joint US-EU action (al Jazeera).

The Economist's leader, 23/2, concludes:
Mr Obama’s policy of waiting for the conflagration in Syria to burn itself out is failing. Rather than see things deteriorate still further, he should act.

His aim should be to preserve what is left of Syria. That means trying to convince the people around Mr Assad that their choice is between ruinous defeat and turfing out the Assad family as a prelude to talks with the rebels. A no-fly zone is still needed to ground Mr Assad’s air force and destroy some of his missiles. It would be a big, bold signal of America’s resolve to Mr Assad’s supporters. America should recognise a transitional government, selected from Syria’s opposition. It should arm non-jihadist rebel groups—including with limited numbers of anti-aircraft missiles. France and Britain would back this, even if other Europeans would not. Russia supports Mr Assad in part to frustrate Mr Obama. Europe and America should keep on trying to tempt it to give him up, by promising it a stake in a liberated Syria.

There are no guarantees that this policy will work. But it will at least build links with the non-jihadist rebels whom
America will need as allies in the chaos if Mr Assad stays. Today those moderate Syrians feel utterly abandoned.
It's difficult to disagree with that. Incidentally, as I mentioned at the end of a previous post, it is said that March 6th could be "the catalyst ... for an international solidarity movement". The man on al Jazeera hoped that this might include the "anti-war" movement. I don't think there's much chance of that. The silence of "the Left" has been deafening ... and shameful.

How Hackers ...

Watched this a few weeks ago: How Hackers changed the World, Storyville (BBC4). When, 27-8 Jan 2011, Egypt shut down all the country's Internet connections, one of the "hacktivists" said that they coordinated around 500 dial-up connections to bypass this.

On a slightly ligter note, when the "hacktivists" of Anonymous came out of the online world ("mom's basement") and organized real-life demonstrations on the streets of Australia, Tel Aviv, Berlin, London and the US, a surprising number of the people who turned up were women. This gave many of the geeks the chance to "get laid" that they otherwise probably wouldn't have got for several years.

Some engineer jokes, old but amusing nonetheless.

Posted 25 Mar 2013