Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012
I received many responses to my post on Sunday evening recommending that the US play a larger role by insisting that Assad carry out talks with the opposition. The threat would be to supply anti-aircraft missiles to the opposition. Here are a few replies.
Nir Rosen writes
Lets leave aside issues of right and wrong, right to intervene, all that moral and political stuff for now and focus on the practical issue. Your proposal does not make much of a difference, removing the ability of the air-force to operate in one part of the country alone does not solve the problem. It only creates more space for the groups in the north, it would do nothing to stop regime infantry, tanks and artillery in the north let alone in the rest of the country.
The security forces are not all Alawite, nor are their leaders, and they are not all fighting as alawites (though some are), many are fighting as the army, or as the state (in their view), they have a strong esprit de corps now since they feel like they have had some victories, their brothers in arms have been killed, and also the regime media has been embedding journalists with them and focusing on the war instead of denying it like it used to the problem is western journalists are only operating in northern Syria, parts of Aleppo and idlib, where the regime is using its airforce because it cant use its ground elements as easily, so it creates the impression that the airforce is more important to the regime than it actually is. Only a fraction of civilians killed by the regime have been killed by its airforce anyway your proposal does not force assad into the alawite mountains, that would take ethnic cleansing, sunni militias would have to decide to attack alawite neighborhoods in Damascus and homs, which they have not yet decided to do and which they might not even have the strength to do. Regardless, they would need a lot more than anti aircraft missiles, they would even need more manpower and of course a lot of anti armor rockets.
The regime has those areas under pretty tight control these days and while you are correct that in the short term the regime lacks the troops to retake much of the country, the opposition also lacks the troops to hold much of the places where it operates, hence the stalemate. It would take a lot more than anti aircraft rockets to change the balance one way or the other (incidentally, the media being mostly limited to Aleppo and some villages in idlib is a problem in many other ways because its difficult to extrapolate lessons from one part of the country and apply them to the Syrian conflict as a whole, or even to Aleppo as a whole. for example most journalists have access only to rural Aleppo, the most conservative poor salafi part of the country, so the groups there might not resemble the groups in daraa or hama or elsewhere.
Few conflicts in recent years have taken place in a greater media blackout and with so much rumor and so little fact as Syria’s uprising. With almost no independent journalists on the ground, no NGOs and with little freedom of movement for foreign diplomats, policy makers have little information about what is actually happening inside Syria. On the other hand there is a flood of “information” coming out of Syria. Knowledge is being produced but it explains nothing and only obfuscates. This is because journalists reporting from Syria often rely on local activists who have an agenda that is not accurate reporting but the overthrow of the regime with international assistance. Those journalists who do go in stay for very little time and see very little (its not their fault of course) or they have to embed with the regime and provide an even more skewed and silly version of events (one particular british journalist comes to mind here). They either receive a one week visa from the regime, in which case their movement is limited, or they go in for a similarly short time with the opposition armed groups in a remote town either in Idlib, Halab or in the Homs countryside close to the Turkish or Lebanese border (thats where they all go). As a result all we see is villagers fighting an invisible an enemy and we dont really know whats going on
A Syrian friend writes to my wife
Do you think this is the best way to have a better Syria? We all supported Josh during the past few years, and we believed in him and his thoughts. It hurts me and [.....] and many people to Syria. Josh is spreading hatred and he is tolerant towards terrorists and Jihadists. I feel ashamed to have known him wallahi. I am sorry to say that, but he should have uncovered his face looooong time ago. Did Prof. Landis think for a second how many jihadists and salafists are NOW slaughtering and raping our Alawite and christian daughters? or he supports this too? I lost 14 relatives during this nasty war, while Prof. Landis is agitating for more killings and hatred. Shame!
The man is the biggest two-faced hypocrite I know. Clearly the man doesn’t want to be on the losing side. Clearly he doesn’t [want] him and his wife to be banned from entering Syria for being a proponent of Bashar through out the revolution…..Congrats Landis if you’re trying to establish a reputation as a chameleon that shape shifts based on the winning side you’ve done that or at best a professor with a high level of cognitive dissonance.
Don’t be happy if a few disconnected individuals praise you for your article. The majority have already seen through what you stand for and where your support lies. So you can go back to whitewashing for the Assads and go back to glamorizing they’re so called “resistance to Israel.
No true Syrian revolutionary wants your counsel, and if they do don’t expect theirs to be wanted by democratic citizens in Syria. No Syrian that has read your comments and seeks democracy is going to be ok with your justification of continuing the status qou due to the lack of sophistication and maturity of the Syrian people. “You’re unsophisticated, sectarian, and too young therefore Bashar is good for you” was your dogma/identity. Or did you forget?
You think intelligent people are going to buy that new garbage???
Joshua’s criticizers’ logic is warped. Who sent the tanks immediately to crush peaceful demonstrators chanting silmiyyeh silmiyyeh? Was it not the regime who drove the demonstrators to bear arms, small arms at that?
Then, the Qaeda and other thugs infiltrated. Even if terrorists hide in a building, is it right to demolish buildings over the heads of their inhabitants? The country is ruined mainly because of the pig pigheadedness of the Assad mafia.
From an expat Aleppine
I still think Aleppo is a stalemate. I conclude from reading various reports that the Free Syrian Army does not control more than one third of the neighborhoods. I read that one third of Aleppo is contested with changes here and there. And, there is little support for the FSA among the population even in the areas they have “liberated”. Aleppo neighborhoods have few barricades and stops and thus small armed bands
can still infiltrate everywhere giving the impression of control. Control is a different matter. Aleppo is critical for the Syrian State and the Syrian Regime. Losing Aleppo is not fatal to the Syrian regime. To the Syrian Regime and the Free Syrian Army, the fight for Aleppo is the fight for the support of or control of the 25 percent moderate Sunni block, a huge block needed for any one wanting to control Syria. Also, Aleppo is too close for comfort to the mountains along the Syrian coast.
The Syrian Army can still control parts of Hasakeh, Raqqa, and Deir Azzor using the direct road between Damascus and Deir Azzor. The Syrian regime is fighting intensely to control Deir Azzor and will fight hard for Raqqa. The fight for Jezzera is for agriculture and oil revenues. Deir Azzor is closer to Iraq (60 percent Shiite) and the Kurds and farther away from Turkey and thus I think the Syrian Army have a fair chance of holding up there. The nearby Sunni of Iraq are pre-occupied by their own enemies to the east, north, and south and thus have not been able to assist the FSA.
I think that Damascus will not be taken from the Syrian Regime due to its special ethnic mix, its proximity to Lebanon where half the population supports it, and its backing to Israel. Damascus is critical
for the Syrian State and the Syrian Regime. Losing Damascus is fatal to the Syrian Regime for prestige and also due to the stretch between Damascus and Homs is where the north-south Sunni line (the old hajj road to Mecca) intersects the east-west Shiite line (the road to Kharasan). These are the two major land routes of Islam. The Syrian Army is firmly in control of the road between Damascus and Homs.
Backing to Israel and Lebanon compared to backing to Turkey makes all the difference in the world for the Syrian Army and also for the Free Syrian Army.
News Round Up
Massacre at Syrian Bakery Dims Hopes for a Holiday Truce
By RICK GLADSTONE
Syrian artillery gunners shelled a bread bakery full of workers and customers on Tuesday in an insurgent-held neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 30 in what activists and videographers described as a sudden and devastating attack.
The shelling at Al Zura Bakery was among the more graphic episodes of violence to hit Aleppo and the capital, Damascus, on Tuesday, casting further doubts on the already dim prospects of a nationwide cease-fire for the coming Id al-Adha holiday, which the newly appointed peace envoy from the United Nations and Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been trying to negotiate for the past week.
Disturbing video uploaded to the Internet, which appeared genuine but could not be corroborated independently, showed what was described as the aftermath of the bakery shelling in Aleppo’s Hanano district, with mangled bodies interspersed with upended loaves of freshly baked pita on the bakery’s bloodied floor, as screaming rescue workers hauled the dead and wounded to waiting pickup trucks and taxicabs. Some of the victims were children, including a girl who was decapitated.
Abu al-Hasan, an activist from the Aleppo suburb of Maree, said in a Skype interview that most of the dead were bakery workers. He said it was unclear whether the attackers had been aiming for the bakery, located in a large warehouse. “The problem is those kinds of missiles are not guided to their intended targets,” he said. “They’re not precise. They fall on random buildings.”
He said the shelling came as residents of the neighborhood, who had been too afraid to venture outside for the past few days, finally took the risk in order to buy food for Id al-Adha, a widely celebrated Muslim holiday that starts on Friday.
Aleppo, near Syria’s northern border with Turkey, has been under siege for three months and has become a focal point of the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad. Rebels have frustrated attempts by Syrian forces to retake the entire city and have threatened to cut off the military’s supply lines there.
At the same time, bakeries in rebel-held areas of Aleppo have emerged as vitally important resources that are clearly potential targets for Syrian forces seeking to starve insurgents and their sympathizers into submission. Many of the bakeries are run by the insurgents, who have learned how to bake bread as part of the war effort…..
Insight: Village cafe shootout spells trouble for Assad
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
AMMAN | Tue Oct 23, 2012
…..LOYALTY IN QUESTION?
Recent events around Qardaha, however, suggest to some observers, including Western diplomats, that clan rivalries, thousands of deaths among Alawite fighters and economic crisis could break the loyalty of leading Alawite commanders, even as the community finds itself increasingly a target of rebel anger.
With the government severely restricting media access, there is a lack of independent information within Syria but several residents of Latakia region gave similar accounts of events.
One Alawite who has joined the opposition to Assad, Majd Arafat, said there was growing resentment at the suffering of the local population while elite families remained aloof: “The talk all over the mountains is that Alawites are being killed in droves, but none of them are called Assad, Makhlouf or Shalish.”
The latter two families are closely related to the Assads.
A Western diplomat, noting the failure of defections by Sunni generals to sap the strength of Assad’s forces, speculated that were even a less senior Alawite to break ranks, it might raise expectations of a more damaging split: “The defection of one, even a colonel, would be significant,” he said.
Estimates of casualties are hard to establish in Syria. One activist group which compiles reports has said some 7,300 Assad loyalists have been killed, out of a total of 30,000 war dead.
But many believe the overall toll is higher. One who thinks so is a Syrian businessman, not himself an Alawite, who says he funds units of the mostly Alawite “shabbiha” militia, partly to protect his businesses in the area. Speaking to Reuters anonymously, he reckoned the Alawite community in the coastal mountains alone might have lost 15,000 fighters since last year.
In the immediate area of Qardaha, residents estimated that as many as 300 men may have died in the past year, either in battles with rebels or in sectarian ambushes and assassinations.
But the burden, as the riches of the past 40 years, has not been shared equally among the Alawite clans.
The likes of the Makhlouf and Shalish families are cousins of the Assads, and rose from humble beginnings to make fortunes by virtue of winning government tenders – much to the chagrin of more established Alawites sidelined by Assad and his father.
Now those divisions seem to be resurfacing in an environment where the wealth some Alawite mountain leaders have built up through officially sanctioned smuggling and other illicit trades is being threatened by the anti-Assad uprising – and now that many Alawites fear collective retribution from Assad’s enemies.
“Qardaha and its mountains used to be an incubator for regime support. But Assad’s relatives may now have to think twice before walking in the streets,” said the Alawite opposition activist Arafat. “The Alawites are starting to ask themselves ‘why we should back the Assads?’.”
The non-Alawite businessman who funds some loyalist militia said abuses in the clandestine economy run by shabbiha chiefs was turning other Alawites against their rulers: “The regime has been turning a blind eye to the criminality of the shabbiha,” the businessman said. “And it is beginning to hurt it.”
Nonetheless, many Alawites, whose religion is an offshoot of the Shi’ite Islam practiced in Assad’s ally Iran, still support the armed forces and the militia units blamed for sectarian atrocities. Many see them as a bulwark for self-preservation:
“They are afraid of the other side, which has also proved capable of massacres,” Arafat said. “They still see the Assad regime as providing them with a sort of immunity.”
Details of the cafe shootout at Qardaha on September 29, show internal strains are surfacing as the community suffers losses.
The man killed in the gunfight was Sakher Othman. Among prominent members of his family was Isper Othman, a cleric killed in a crackdown by the elder Assad in the 1970s. At Sakher Othman’s funeral, a mourner shouted a demand that Assad quit, prompting loyalist gunmen to open fire, killing four people.
Alawite opposition activists said several pro-Assad fighters were also killed and wounded as fighting spread.
Since then thousands of shabbiha loyal to the president and commanded by Assad relatives have imposed their order on Qardaha and surrounding villages, but anger and disputes have continued.
Activists list members of a number of prominent families which now oppose Assad, including from the Othman, Qouzi, Muhalla, Iskandar, Issa, Khayyer and al-Jadid clans. Homes have been ransacked and several shops owned by anti-Assad Alawites in Qardaha were torched this month, local residents said.
Among notable clan hostilities is that opposing the Khayyers to the Assads. Abdelaziz al-Khayyer, a doctor from Qardaha, spent 12 years as a political prisoner under Hafez al-Assad. He was detained again in September and has not been heard of since.
A delegation arrived from Damascus to try calm passions. It was headed by another prominent Alawite, Walid Othman, father-in-law of Assad’s cousin and Syria’s richest man Rami Makhlouf.
Yet within days there was further trouble, with local people saying youths from rival Alawite families clashed in Qardaha.
These tensions may spell problems ahead for the unity of the Alawite officer corps. And Assad’s forces may also be finding difficulties recruiting in their Alawite heartland – opposition activists say more young Alawites are evading conscription.
“They are seeing that the rebels are getting stronger and that their friends are getting killed,” said activist Lubna Merei, from the coastal town of Jableh, south of Latakia.
However, for all that Alawite communal cohesion may face problems, some believe that the way the civil war has taken on such a bitter sectarian dimension – helped in part by the way Assad himself treated his opponents – may mean the moment has passed when many Alawites might side with the rebels.
Munther Bakhos, a veteran Alawite member of the exile Syrian opposition in France, said the rebels lost an opportunity to make allies in the Alawite heartlands in the early stages of the conflict and he believed that it would now be harder for the mainly Sunni opposition to benefit from the in-fighting there.
“It is naive to think the regime is protecting the Alawites. They are hostage. The regime is using them to defend itself,” Bakhos said. But the sectarian bitterness of the war had made it harder to persuade Alawites to ditch Assad:
“There was an opportunity to pull the rug from under its feet in the first few months of the revolution,” he said. “But now the picture has gotten complicated.”
Losing Syria (And How to Avoid It)
In light of the Syrian regime’s continued campaign of violence on its own people and the opposition’s inability to unify its ranks, is the collapse of Syrian society approaching a point of no return? Is there a way to hold Syria and its people together and, in doing so, prevent the spread of sectarianism across the Middle East?
In a new paper from the Brookings Doha Center, Losing Syria (And How to Avoid It), Salman Shaikh proposes a path forward for addressing Syria’s spiraling crisis.
Based on months of first-hand interviews with opposition leaders, activists, and rebel commanders, Shaikh provides new insights into the current state of fragmentation within Syria’s opposition. He offers a set of five policy principles for the international community – with the leadership of the United States – to help unify the political opposition, reassure minority communities, and coordinate the flow of arms. Shaikh argues that the actions – or inaction – of Syria’s international partners will have critical consequences for the viability of the post-Assad order, and urges immediate planning for the “day after.”
Download » (PDF)
Darkness descends upon the Arab world. Waste, death, and destruction attend a fight for a better life. Outsiders compete for influence and settle accounts. The peaceful demonstrations with which this began, the lofty values that inspired them, become distant memories. Elections are festive occasions where political visions are an afterthought. The only consistent program is religious and is stirred by the past. A scramble for power is unleashed, without clear rules, values, or endpoint. It will not stop with regime change or survival. History does not move forward. It slips sideways.
Determining the suitability of armed opposition elements as potential recipients of military assistance is complex and challenging. In Syria, such groups are numerous, rapidly evolving, and highly varied in ideology. Nevertheless, they do not pose an impenetrable mystery. Some are longstanding actors in the rebellion and currently hold or are contesting important areas of the country; a number of Free Syrian Army commanders are public personalities and can be contacted with relative ease. Vetting such actors is a critical prerequisite to providing military assistance, based on the recognition that not all armed elements should receive aid, and that some units are more worthy of aid than others.Moreover, vetting must not be done just in terms of outcomes on the battlefield — equal consideration must be given to the roles that armed units will play after the regime falls. Given the fragmented nature of the Syrian opposition to date, and the lack of Western intervention to support the protest movement, those who are taking literal shots at Bashar al-Assad now are almost certain to be calling the shots as the regime gives way.