Posted by Matthew Barber on Saturday, March 23rd, 2013
Drones & Intervention
We included a report in a previous post that the CIA is eyeing Syria for the use of drones. Now a report by Chuck Hagel and David Boren suggests that the drone program is aberrant and problematic for the CIA:
U.S. intelligence too focused on killing suspected terrorists – Secret report raises alarms on intelligence blind spots because of Al Qaida focus – Washington Post
A panel of White House advisers warned President Obama in a secret report that U.S. spy agencies were paying inadequate attention to China, the Middle East and other national security flash points because they had become too focused on military operations and drone strikes, U.S. officials said.
Led by influential figures including new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and former senator David L. Boren (D-Okla.), the panel concluded in a report last year that the roles of the CIA, the National Security Agency and other spy services had been distorted by more than a decade of conflict.
The classified document called for the first significant shift in intelligence resources since they began flowing heavily toward counterterrorism programs and war zones after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
… John O. Brennan, Obama’s former top counterterrorism adviser, who was sworn in as CIA director this month, told Congress in February that he planned to evaluate the “allocation of mission” at the agency. He described the scope of CIA involvement in lethal operations as an “aberration from its traditional role.”
Following this comes the possibility that the program may be moved from the CIA to the military. From FP’s AFPAK Daily:
U.S. officials said this week that the White House is working to move its lethal drone program from the CIA to the Department of Defense, which would make the targeted killing campaign dependent on the consent of host countries and subject to international laws of war. But it remains unclear to what extent the move will bring greater transparency and accountability to the program, as the current proposal leaves Pakistan, where the vast majority of U.S. drone strikes have taken place, under the jurisdiction of the CIA. And the program could be transferred to the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, a sector of the military that is just as (if not more) secretive than the CIA.
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army run during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus, January 25, 2013. — Photo by Reuters/File
WASHINGTON: The US Central Intelligence Agency has been feeding information to select rebel fighters in Syria to try to make them more effective against government troops, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.
Citing unnamed current and former US officials, the newspaper said the new CIA effort reflected a change in the administration’s approach that aims to strengthen secular rebel fighters. The CIA has sent officers to Turkey to help vet rebels who receive arms shipments from Gulf allies, the report said. But administration officials cited concerns about some weapons going to Islamists, the paper noted.
In Iraq, the CIA has been directed by the White House to work with elite counterterrorism units to help the Iraqis counter the flow of Al Qaeda-linked fighters across the border with Syria, The Journal said. According to the report, the West favours fighters aligned with the Free Syrian Army, which supports the Syrian Opposition Coalition political group.
Syrian opposition commanders said the CIA had been working with British, French and Jordanian intelligence services to train rebels in the use of various kinds of weapons, the paper said.
The move comes as the al Nusra Front, the main Al Qaeda-linked group operating in Syria, is deepening its ties to the terrorist organisation’s central leadership in Pakistan, The Journal said. The new aid to rebels doesn’t change the US decision against taking direct military action, the paper noted.
Here’s more on drones: Daily Beast - Exclusive: No More Drones for CIA
At a time when controversy over the Obama administration’s drone program seems to be cresting, the CIA is close to taking a major step toward getting out of the targeted killing business. Three senior U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that the White House is poised to sign off on a plan to shift the CIA’s lethal targeting program to the Defense Department.
The move could potentially toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency. Currently, the government maintains parallel drone programs, one housed in the CIA and the other run by the Department of Defense. The proposed plan would unify the command and control structure of targeted killings and create a uniform set of rules and procedures. The CIA would maintain a role, but the military would have operational control over targeting. Lethal missions would take place under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs military operations, rather than Title 50, which sets out the legal authorities for intelligence activities and covert operations. “This is a big deal,” says one senior administration official who has been briefed on the plan. “It would be a pretty strong statement.”
… Lately, Obama has signaled his own desire to place the drone program on a firmer legal footing, as well as to make it more transparent. He obliquely alluded to the classified program during his State of the Union address in January. “In the months ahead,” he declared, “I will continue to work with Congress to ensure that not only our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remain consistent with our laws and systems of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”
Shortly after taking office, Obama dramatically ramped up the drone program, in part because the government’s targeting intelligence on the ground had vastly improved and because the precision technology was very much in line with the new commander in chief’s “light footprint” approach to dealing with terrorism. As the al Qaeda threat has metastasized, U.S. drone operations have spread to more remote, unconventional battlefields in places like Yemen and Somalia. With more strikes, there have been more alleged civilian casualties. Adding to the mounting pressure for the administration to provide a legal and ethical rationale for its targeting polices was the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a senior commander of al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, who also happened to be a U.S. citizen. (Two weeks later, his 16-year-old son was killed in a drone strike, which U.S. officials have called an accident.) The recent nomination of Brennan to head the CIA became a kind of proxy battle over targeted killings and the administration’s reluctance to be more forthcoming about the covert program. At issue were a series of secret Justice Department legal opinions on targeted killing that the administration had refused to make public or turn over to Congress.
… Losing its drone program will, at some level, be a blow to the CIA’s identity. The program has given the agency a prominent and—ironically—highly visible role in the terror wars. And the spies can take credit for severely degrading, if not decimating, al Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan. At the same time, according to multiple officials, there has been relatively little pushback from the CIA’s top leadership. One reason might be a sense of relief that the CIA would no longer own such a controversial program. The more likely reason? The man who engineered the idea—John Brennan—is now in charge.
Beyond drones, intervention seems to be back in the conversation, and for some voices (oddly reminiscent of Iraq) “chemical weapons” are being cited as the scale-tipping threat.
Top Democrat endorses Syria no-fly zone – FP – by Josh Rogin
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) endorsed Tuesday the idea of establishing a no-fly zone inside Syria and attacking the air defenses and air power of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Levin chaired a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning during which he asked Adm. James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, if NATO was discussing attacking Assad’s air defenses. Stavridis acknowledged the idea was under discussion but said there was no unified NATO position on the issue.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) then asked Stavridis if NATO is doing contingency planning for military operations inside Syria. “We are looking at a wide range of operations, and we are prepared, if called upon, to be engaged as we were in Libya,” Stavridis replied.
Stavridis said that the NATO Patriot missile batteries currently deployed in Turkey have the capability to shoot down Syrian military aircraft in a radius of 20 miles. McCain pressed Stavridis to give his personal opinion as to whether or not establishing a Patriot battery-enforced no-fly zone in northern Syria would speed the end of the conflict. “My personal opinion is that would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime,” Stavridis said.
After the hearing, Levin directly endorsed the idea of attacking Syrian air defenses and using the Patriot missile batteries in Turkey to establish a no-fly zone inside Syria in an interview with The Cable. “I believe there should be the next ratcheting up of military effort and that would include going after some of Syria’s air defenses,” Levin said.
… Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Tuesday called for the United States to put boots on the ground in Syria to secure chemical weapons sites, in light of new allegations that chemical weapons were used in Aleppo province.
The intervention discussion seems to be making a comeback as other voices are urging greater U.S. participation. A report from the Baker Institute says it’s time for the U.S. to “prepare a more focused strategy that strengthens the moderate political forces in Syria and engages Syria’s regional and international stakeholders…” but stops short of recommending the kind of intervention being discussed above.
The special report recommends that the U.S. should consider supplying military assistance to vetted leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in an effort to support the moderate opposition, protect Syrian civilians and abate extremists. In addition, the U.S., in conjunction with NATO, should form a joint special operations command in Turkey to monitor the distribution of this assistance and provide logistical support, communications and training to vetted commanders. “What is needed is to combine military assistance with a coordinated strategy of capacity building within the opposition, which can then have measurable results and importantly, not lead the U.S. into any overextended commitment,” Bowen said.
Coming after Tony Blair’s Iraq War-anniversary remarks that if the war had not taken place Iraq “would be worse than Syria” is this article claiming that “Syria is already more violent than Iraq:”
Syria Is Already More Violent Than Iraq And its destruction will define the Middle East for years to come. BY DAVID KENNER | MARCH 20, 2013
The year 2006 was pure horror for Iraq. It was hard to imagine the war going any worse: Sunni groups, spearheaded by al Qaeda’s powerful local affiliate, launched a series of bloody suicide bombings against
Shiite holy sites and civilian areas. On Feb. 22, 2006, a bomb ripped through the golden dome of the al-Askari mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam — though no one was killed in the attack, more than 1,000 people were killed in just the first day of sectarian bloodletting. Meanwhile, Iran-funded Shiite militias were making a mockery of the Iraqi government’s claims of authority, controlling huge swathes of territory and attacking U.S. forces that tried to stop them.
According to the Brooking Institution’s Iraq Index, a total of 36,591 Iraqi civilians and security forces died violently that year. Another 3,902 insurgents were killed in the fighting, according to figures released by the international military coalition. That means an average of 3,374 Iraqis were killed each month, or roughly 111 Iraqis died per day.
The destruction wrought by the Syrian conflict has already surpassed that horrible level of violence. The United Nations estimates that 70,000 people have lost their lives in Syria since the beginning of the conflict, and the death toll has only escalated in recent months. According to the pro-opposition Violations Documentation Center, 4,472 Syrians have been killed on average each month since December. That means over this span of time, an average of 149 Syrians have lost their lives daily.
Syria’s population is roughly two-thirds that of Iraq — it is home to roughly 22 million people, while Iraq’s population totals around 31 million. Syria’s victims, in other words, are coming from a considerably smaller population pool.
Blair’s notion that the Iraq war prevented chaos in the Middle East seems even more ridiculous considered against the article’s following paragraph:
Ten years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it is hard to escape the war’s effects on the Middle East: It shaped rising Sunni-Shiite tensions throughout the Arab world, served as the frontline in the U.S. struggle with Iran, and altered the political landscape in Damascus and Beirut.
In other words, the sectarian fallout from the Iraq war help set the stage for the sectarian character of the conflict in Syria.
Contra the intervention position is this piece maintaining that a political solution is thwarted by demands that Assad leave before negotiations take place:
Opinion: ‘Assad Must Go’ Is the Wrong Solution – By Susanne Koelbl – Spiegel
…World powers are also fighting over who is to have influence in the region. It’s the West and its allies against the old allies of the regime…
The West insists that for any negotiations on an end to the Syrian civil war to happen, President Bashar Assad must first step down. The demand is fatal and only prolongs the bloodletting, allowing Syria to slip into anarchy while radical Islamists slowly hijack the revolution.
Preconditions Prevent an End to War
…..Analysts in Ankara and Washington are underestimating the tenacity of the Syrian government. They’re also overlooking the fact that many of the Assad loyalists and the nearly 3 million Alawites, of which President Bashar Assad is one, have no choice but to fight to the last round. If they’re defeated, they’ll have to face the worst. “If the rebels come to this city, they’ll eat us alive,” said one wealthy businessman in Damascus. Thousands of others share his fear. The opposition is already kidnapping Alawites, Christians, secular Sunnis and simply the affluent, in addition to staging targeted killings of representatives of the government.
Through the one-sided demonization of the Assad government and the precondition set by the US that nothing can proceed until the despot steps down, the West has essentially blocked any solution through negotiations. It has also destroyed hope for an armistice, a possible orderly division of the country or the establishment of safe zones for refugees.
The war just goes on, also because Iran cannot allow the Syrian government to be replaced by Sunnis with close ties to Riyadh and Washington. And Russia is also not about to give up its influence in the region without a fight. All this translates to the destruction of an entire country, the home to 21 million people and a unique cultural heritage. Syria could soon fall into anarchy, fractured into war zones and Islamist enclaves.
The country has a way to go before the atrocities of its civil war reach their peak. That’s true not just for Assad, but also for the various revolutionary groups, of which not a small number have already been radicalized or overtaken by radical Islamists. And the West has so far mostly sympathized with them without criticism.
This past summer, political scientist Robert Pape (University of Chicago), published his new “Pragmatic Standard of Humanitarian Intervention.” (Just to be clear: “Humanitarian intervention” = military intervention.) Pape believes that powerful nations have a responsibility to intervene in instances of “mass homicide” on the part of tyrannical regimes, in order to save lives, though measures to prevent the imperialistic abuse of intervention must be followed. He also has a criteria for when intervention can take place. Before foreign powers can intervene, there must be:
(1) an ongoing campaign of mass homicide sponsored by the local government in which thousands have died and thousands more are likely to die; (2) a viable plan for intervention with reasonable estimates of casualties not significantly higher than in peacetime operations and near zero for the intervening forces during the main phase of the operation; and (3) a workable strategy for creating lasting local security, so that saving lives in the short term does not lead to open-ended chaos in which many more are killed in the long term.
Pape’s examples of successful models for intervention are:
…four cases of reasonably successful humanitarian intervention demonstrate when and how the new standard could be effectively applied: the Kurds in northern Iraq, as well as Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and Libya today. All of these interventions occurred in response to a government-sponsored mass homicide campaign, and each saved thousands of lives at little cost to the interveners and provided lasting security to the target populations.
Aside from the ongoing question of success in Libya, the obvious point is that intervention should not take place unless the strong likelihood that it will lead to security can be demonstrated. (Pape also includes a philosophical framework as to why intervention should be conducted only at low risk to the intervening forces. See his full article in International Security, link above.) Though the mass homicide in Syria is obvious, the second two items in Pape’s criteria are what lead him to state:
At present, Syria is a case of a state-sponsored mass homicide campaign that almost surely would not meet the new standard’s requirements of a viable, low-cost intervention plan and an enduring security strategy for the threatened population. … In Syria, there is no viable plan for military action with low risks for the interveners…
This perspective seems similar to that held by Obama who, along with Jordan’s King Abdullah, yesterday articulated a clearer position on the U.S.’s lack of involvement with Syria:
Obama, King Abdullah II warn of dangers from widening Syrian conflict (Scott Wilson) Post
AMMAN, JORDAN — President Obama and King Abdullah II of Jordan warned Friday of the mounting danger Syria’s widening civil war poses to this neighboring kingdom but offered only fresh demands that the Assad government step down immediately. ….Obama pledged an additional $200 million in aid to Jordan this year to help address the growing needs of almost half a million Syrian refugees, equal to roughly 10 percent of the kingdom’s population.
But Obama, speaking inside a cavernous dark-wood hall alongside the king, also raised the question he said preoccupies his administration regarding Syria. His concern is how the fighting, which has killed an estimated 70,000 people, will shape the religious and cultural makeup of a long-repressed nation.
He warned that Syria could become a beachhead for Islamist extremism, adding “that is why the United States has a stake” in the war’s outcome. Abdullah, too, warned that the increasing sectarian cast to the war threatens to pull the country apart.
Asked by a Jordanian journalist why “the leading superpower” does not intervene in Syria, Obama suggested that the unpredictable nature of the civil conflict has left him no policy option that would guarantee more good than harm, either through a direct military strike or by arming Syrian rebels.
“The sight of children and women being slaughtered that we’ve seen so much I think has to compel all of us to say, what more can we do?” Obama said. “And that’s a question that I’m asking as president every single day.”
But, he added, “ultimately what the people of Syria are looking for is not replacing oppression with a new form of oppression.”….
Tony Blair’s idea that the war in Iraq somehow saved it from becoming “like Syria” is amusing; most saw the U.S. “intervention” in Iraq as the catalyst for its ensuing violence and instability. If the above article is correct, Syria’s violence has already surpassed Iraq’s, without any foreign intervention or support (without Western support, at least). If intervention looks like the invasion of Iraq (boots on the ground), it would obviously only exacerbate the conflict; if intervention looks like airstrikes, there’s still the problem that the real battles in Syria are in urban centers (as Pape mentions). If we abandon intervention and focus on arms, the question remains: will arming the underdog in this conflict speed the end of the violence, or merely establish a parity between two segments of the population who will not give up fighting the other? Regardless of the answer, Europe is leaning toward military support:
E.U. moves closer to arming Syria rebels (Michael Birnbaum)
BERLIN — The European Union edged closer Friday to lifting an embargo against shipping arms to Syria’s opposition, but differences remained about the feasibility of giving a boost to moderates there while bypassing militant jihadist groups….
Germany has been one of the major opponents and any shift may bring other countries along.
“We must prevent heavy weaponry from falling into the wrong hands,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Dublin on Friday. But in a separate interview published Friday in Sueddeutsche Zeitung, he said that “at the same time we know that we must be ready to change our policy if there is a change in the situation.”…..The Syria embargo will expire at the end of May if the E.U. takes no action before then, and Britain and France have urged that sanctions continue on Assad’s government but that exceptions be added to allow antiaircraft and antitank missiles to be sent to rebel groups….
But Europeans are split on whether there is anyone to arm within Syria’s fragmented opposition. Weapons such as shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles would be useful in the fight against Assad, but they would also be useful in taking down a Western airliner. Some European countries, including Germany, believe that the only rebel group in Syria with the organization to effectively use heavy weaponry against Assad is the Jabhat al-Nusra, or al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States for its suspected ties to al-Qaeda.
“What makes us very nervous is that al-Nusra is stronger than people believe it is,” said a senior European official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal intelligence assessments.
That official said that lifting the weapons embargo may be largely symbolic, because Britain and France may not have significant stockpiles of weaponry to send to rebel groups. But lifting it would give Europeans greater leeway to channel arms from Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to rebels training in Jordan and Turkey….
Another voice reluctant to see intervention take place is Noam Chomsky:
What does Chomsky, who has infuriated some with his dismissal of the “new military humanism“, think should be done in Syria, if anything? Should the west arm the opposition? Should it intervene? “I tend to think that providing arms is going to escalate the conflict. I think there has to be some kind of negotiated settlement. The question is which kind. But it’s going to have to be primarily among Syrians. Outsiders can try to help set up the conditions, and there’s no doubt that the government is carrying out plenty of atrocities, and the opposition some, but not as many. There’s a threat that the country is on a suicidal course. Nobody wants that.”
How does the Western public feel about intervening? The Iranians seem happy to report that they’re against it:
Americans, Britons against Syria regime change by war: Survey
Sat Mar 23, 2013 – Press TV
The poll was conducted in mid-March on 3,646 British and 1,022 American adults aged 18 and over.
A new survey indicates that the American and British public are against any foreign military intervention in Syria aimed at overthrowing the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the binational YouGov-Cambridge poll, Britons, by a 59-point margin (68%-9%), reject the idea of military intervention in Syria with the aim of toppling Assad’s government.
In the US, the Americans are against the idea of regime change in Syria through foreign military intervention by a 26-point margin (42%-16%), the survey says. The poll also showed a deep public skepticism about arming the militants in Syria.
The study shows that, with a 29-point margin, 45 percent of Americans, versus 16 percent of them, are against any Western plan to supply lethal support to the militants in the Arab country.
In Britain, the poll indicates that 57 percent of the Britons oppose arming the militants, while only 16 percent of the British public are in favor of that idea. The poll was conducted in mid-March on 3,646 British and 1,022 American adults aged 18 and over.
The news comes as European foreign ministers have failed to reach an agreement on whether to lift an arms embargo on Syria to pave the way for sending weapons to militants. The European Union should decide on the thorny issue on June 1 when Syria sanctions are largely expected to be renewed.
Whether or not intervention or arms support would worsen the casualty levels of the conflict, not intervening likewise means a continuing spiral of violence and the growing exodus of people from a destroyed country. One current example amidst the worsening violence are Armenians fleeing in greater numbers, awakening recollections of their history:
A century after their ancestors fled mass killings in Ottoman Turkey, Armenian communities are again on the move – amid fears they could become victims of violence in Syria.
…”The good thing here in Armenia is that you know the language, the alphabet, the religion,” says Mr Atamian, as he sips aniseed-flavoured tea in one of the new Syrian-Armenian restaurants, which have been opened in Armenia’s capital Yerevan by people fleeing the war. “When I came here, I thought: ‘the people look like you. The faces, physically, they’re like you!'” he added.
… Increasing numbers of ethnic Armenians from Syria are now joining him. More than 10,000 have fled here since the fighting started two years ago – and 7,000 have applied for residency. Aleppo, which is home to most of Syria’s 100,000 Armenians, has seen some of the heaviest fighting. People fleeing the city say the street battles and the bombings have become too dangerous. Armenians, who are traditionally middle-class merchants, say their businesses are being ruined by the chaos of war.
But when you ask Armenians which side they want to win the war in Syria, they avoid expressing support for either the rebels or the government – and tell you they only want peace. The official line of the Armenian government is neutrality. Many Armenians are terrified that relatives back in Syria will be targeted by the rebels, if the Armenian community is portrayed as pro-Assad. Others, who want to return one day, fear reprisals from the Syrian authorities if they are seen as supporting the uprising.
Click for Video: Dr. Landis and Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, discuss intervention and other options on the Charlie Rose Show
The emergence of a visible Alawite opposition?
Fearing stark future, Syrian Alawites meet in Cairo
Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Reuters, March 22, 2013
Opposition campaigners from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect will meet this weekend to support a democratic alternative to his rule and try to distance the community from wholesale association with the government’s attempts to crush a two-year uprising.
The two-day meeting in Cairo, the first by Alawites supportive of the revolt, will draft a declaration committing to a united Syria and inviting the mainstream opposition to cooperate on preventing sectarian bloodletting if Assad falls and agree on a transitional justice framework, organizers said.
A statement by the organizing committee of the Alawite conference said: “The regime, which is becoming more isolated and weak, is working on turning sectarian zealotry into bloodshed. There are anti-regime forces also pushing toward sectarian warfare.”
“Depriving the regime of the sectarian card is crucial for its ouster and for negotiating a Syrian national covenant on the basis of a modern statehood and equal citizenship and justice,” the statement said.
About 150 Alawite figures, including activists and religious leaders, who were mostly forced to flee Syria for supporting the revolt, will attend the conference in Cairo, which will start on Saturday.
Alawites were prominent in a leftist Syrian political movement that was crushed by Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, in the 1970s and 1980s, along with Islamist opposition.
Among prominent Alawites currently in jail is free-speech advocate Mazen Darwish, who worked on documenting the victims of the crackdown against the revolt, and Abdelaziz al-Khayyer, a centrist politician who advocated peaceful transition to democratic rule.
Issam Ibrahim, a lawyer who is helping organize the conference, said the uprising had given the Alawites a chance to show the sect was not monolithic, and that it aspired like the rest of the population to live under a multi-party democracy, while fearing the rise of Islamist extremism.
Ibrahim recalled taking part in a pro-democracy demonstration at the beginning of the uprising in the Sunni district of al-Khalidiya in the central city of Homs when the protesters came under attack by a pro-Assad militia.
“A group of us took refuge in a house, and the house owner, who did not know I was Alawite, began cursing Alawites. When my comrades told him I was one, he came to me and gave me the keys to his house.”
“We are in a sectarian crisis and the political forces of the opposition are falling into a serious error by not discussing it,” Ibrahim, whose father was jailed for years under the rule of the elder Assad, told Reuters.
He said the document that would emerge from the conference “will affirm Alawite commitment to national unity and inter-communal existence and civic peace,” mirroring a stance the sect’s leaders took during French colonial rule in the 1920s in opposition to proposals for partition of the country.
“There is an Islamist current that is expanding at the expense of the democratic civic current, which needs to unite,” Ibrahim said. “We as Alawites are Syrians first. We are trying to be part of a real change.”
There seems to be more than one version of the same article, with different info:
Fearing stark future, Syrian Alawites meet in Cairo – Orlando Sentinel
Followers of the religion of Bashar al-Assad who oppose the Syrian president met in Cairo on Saturday to support a democratic alternative to his rule, seeking to untangle his fate from their own.
In the first meeting of its kind by Alawites who support the revolt, delegates aimed to draft a declaration supporting a united Syria and to invite other opposition groups to cooperate on preventing sectarian bloodletting if Assad falls.
“We are inviting all of the opposition to confront the sectarian problem being ignited by the regime. The last card the regime can now play is civil war and the partition of Syria,” said veteran opposition campaigner Bassam al-Youssef, an Alawite who spent more than a decade in jail under the iron rule of Assad’s father, the late President Hafez al-Assad…
Muslim Brotherhood Holds Sway Over Syrian Opposition By: Hassan Hassan for Al-Monitor. Posted on March 21.
…The appointment has been a significant victory for the Brotherhood and its allies, restoring its control over the opposition after a period in which talks of dialogue threatened the group’s vision for regime change in Syria. The Brotherhood, along with Qatar and Turkey, hopes for a complete downfall of the regime to steer the transitional period and ensure its enduring control over the state. As US academic and Syria expert Joshua Landis pointed out, the move was partly aimed to kill Khatib’s initiative of dialogue with the regime.
“To this end, Hitto’s first words were that he would not negotiate with the Assad regime,” Landis wrote on his website, Syria Comment. This argument is further bolstered by the fact that neither Saudi Arabia, Jordan nor other key (Western) players were informed of Hitto’s appointment, according to a senior diplomat familiar with the process…..
Dismissing concerns at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ford insisted that Hitto, narrowly elected this week by the Syrian National Coalition as interim premier, was “not a religious extremist — far from it.”
A militant Islamist/jihadi nexus is emerging in northern & eastern Syria. Some thoughts on an increasingly cooperative militant alliance
by Charles Lister, 22nd March 2013
….Led by Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya and Jabhat al-Nusra, this nexus is having a significant strategic impact on the northern Syrian insurgency. Recent examples of this jihadi operational alliance include the seizure of Al-Raqqah city on 4 March (Operation al-Jabaar); the seizure of Brigade 113 air-defence base in Deir ez Zour on 10 March; and the 15 March Khan Touman operation….
Abou Ayman is a young Tunisian architect who left everything behind to wage holy war thousands of kilometers from his home. He is one of several thousand foreign jihadists currently fighting against the Syrian regime….
Key dissidents leave Syria opposition
Last updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
ISTANBUL — At least 12 key members of Syria’s National Coalition said on Wednesday they had suspended their membership in the main opposition body, a day after the election of the first rebel prime minister. The group of 12 included the Coalition’s deputy Soheir Atassi and spokesman Walid Al-Bunni.
Their decision came amid bitter disagreement over the election of Ghassan al-Hitto as the first opposition premier. Other members who said they had “frozen” their membership in the Coalition included Kamal Labwani, Marwan Hajj Rifai, Yehia Al-Kurdi and Ahmad Al-Assi Jarba, with sources saying more such announcements were expected.
Though the dissenting members said they had different reasons for their decisions, some expressed their opposition to Hitto’s election, and the process by which he was chosen. “The Coalition is a non-elected body, and as such it does not have a right to choose a prime minister on a majority vote. There should have been consensus,” Labwani told AFP.
Hitto was elected Tuesday by 35 of approximately 50 Coalition members present in Istanbul, after some 14 hours of consultation. Some members who opposed his election walked out before the vote.
“We Coalition members weren’t elected to represent the Syrians. So the only person Hitto represents is the 35 Coalition members who voted for him. This government is a gift to (President) Bashar Al-Assad’s regime,” Labwani said. “The key issue is the timing and way in which the voting took place. The Coalition pushed for a majority in a group that was not elected,” Bunni told AFP.
“Each of us had different reasons for freezing our membership. We will release a statement that represents us all in the coming days,” Bunni added.
Atassi announced her decision on her Facebook page: “Because I am a Syrian citizen, I refuse to blindly follow and to be an accessory. I announce I am freezing my membership in the National Coalition.”
Atassi could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. Atassi, a secular female activist, was praised for her key role in the Coalition when the group was formed in Doha in November, amid concerns the opposition was dominated by men and Islamists.
Hitto, a former IT executive who has lived in the United States for decades, is expected to name a technocratic government that will move inside Syria, attempting to bring rule of law and basic services to large swathes of rebel-held territory. — AFP
… Another Sunni family tells The Daily Star that they left fractious Harasta – one of the first Damascus neighborhoods where demonstrations broke out – out of fear.
Now running a still profitable business in the mixed neighborhood of Jaramana, Abu Ahmad says he is grateful to the army for maintaining order.
“There was not one person who demonstrated in Harasta who could read. They were illiterate and angry. They would rather see the country destroyed,” he says.
In central Abbasiyyin Square, where rebels made their most concerted push into the center from neighboring rebel-held Jobar early last month, the army is now in full control. Entry to Jobar via the square is impossible, with sandbagged checkpoints stationed at 50-meter intervals. Adjoining the square, the Hafez sports stadium has been transformed into a military compound, some say even housing tanks.
… The mukhabarat, secret police, are still omnipresent and residents talk in hushed tones about the fear of informants. Stories abound of arrests and detention merely for holding an ID card from the “wrong neighborhood” or being accused of watching “opposition channels” like Al-Jazeera…
… Weary-looking army officers and civilian militia members, or what residents call “local guardians,” are stationed at every corner, sipping tea, crouched on crates, with guns slung across their laps, in the hollowed entrances to burned-out shops and houses. All have been on duty for over a year.Some have recently returned from the front line, where they say rebel snipers are stationed, making entrance impossible. The army has positioned tanks all around, they say, but, according to one officer, they are under orders not to attack, for now.
“We have been told not to fire on them unless they attack us first. If it were up to me, we would go in and kill the lot of them,” one officer, no more than 18 years old, says.
In nearby besieged Bab Amr, taken by the rebels a year ago before being overrun by the army, fighting has resumed…
Syria’s refugee brides: ‘My daughter is willing to sacrifice herself for her family’ – Woman takes a cut to help Syrian refugee girls in Jordan find Arab grooms from all over Middle East
Um Majed, a 28-year-old Syrian refugee, procures young brides for Arab men all over the Middle East.
By: Hamida Ghafour Foreign Affairs reporter, Published on Fri Mar 22 2013
AMMAN, JORDAN—Nezar’s face is tight with expectation as she arrives for the meeting. She is a heavy-set mother of 12 and as she arranges herself on the small sofa in Um Majed’s living room she removes her black veil and the pious black gloves that allow her to shake hands with men who are not her relatives.
Um Majed sets down small cups of hot Turkish coffee to ease the tension. Nezar is a Syrian refugee and looking for a husband for her daughter. She lists the girl’s qualities.
“She is tall and pretty,” she tells Um Majed. “She finished the seventh grade.”
“There is one available. He is Saudi,” Um Majed answers.
Um Majed, 28. is a Syrian refugee, who doesn’t want her real name published because of her shame about what she does for a living: procuring young brides, zoom
This is what Nezar wants to hear. Saudis, flush with petrodollars, will pay well. She has high hopes for this Saudi. So does Um Majed who will earn a $287 fee if the two sides agree to the match….
Red Crescent volunteers accused by both sides of helping the other side: Fed up with partisanship, Homs volunteers strike – by Lauren Williams
HOMS, Syria: From her schoolroom office at the Asma High School – now a makeshift refugee camp in the central Inshaat district of Homs – a young Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteer is in tears.
… Despite the desperate and growing need, the woman – who manages the distribution of food, blankets, tents and medical supplies in coordination with U.N. agencies, such as UNHCR, and the World Food Program, at the school – is packing her things to abandon the families to their fate.
She and other volunteers in the Homs governorate – one of the most needy governorates in Syria – are striking, complaining of what they say is danger, deliberate targeting and partisanship that has made their job impossible.
“We have been stopped from going to places to provide health and emergency services, we have been threatened, we have been arrested, we have been killed for doing our job,” the woman says, holding her head in her hands with frustration. “We had an agreement with the government that the Red Crescent should not be questioned or harassed for helping people. We are volunteers and we are nonpartisan. We should be allowed to do our job.”
… At least 30 SARC volunteers have been killed in the course of the Syrian conflict, but the organization has resisted divulging the parties responsible for each death, in line with its charter.
“They accuse us of helping the terrorists and even giving them weapons. In some opposition areas, we have not been able to give food. … They either won’t let us in or they took the supplies themselves,” the woman says.
“They think these people are terrorists who do not deserve help.” The woman was speaking in the presence of government representatives. Asked whether she is worried about making the claims, she says she is certain of what she was saying. “I don’t care,” she adds. “This is what is happening.”
Government officials assured The Daily Star no harm would come to the woman following her claims, insisting she was free to express her opinion.
Obama in Israel
Haaretz – Obama’s wake-up speech to Israelis: Don’t let your freedom drown in the swamp of occupation – by Ari Shavit
A few months ago Amnon Dankner published a sharp, amusing article in the new newspaper Sof Hashavua. He described how Shimon Peres’ innovative technological project causes Israel to detach from the Middle East and sail westward through the Mediterranean Sea, like a sort of floating island.
Laughter aside, Dankner nailed the spirit of the time. In recent years Israel has been feeling, thinking and behaving as though it is no longer located in West Asia and can exist as an island that has broken off from it. As if there was no Arab world, no Palestine, no Iran. No Arabs, no settlers, no occupation.
The Israeli aircraft carrier − covering a mere 20,000 square kilometers − feels that thanks to its economic and technological might it can live like an autarky with no relation to the environment.
No man is an island, the English poet John Donne wrote in the 17th century. In the 21st century it’s clear to all that no nation is an island either. Certainly not a nation of eight million Israelis surrounded by 350 million Arabs. Certainly not a nation in which six million Jews share the land with more than five million Palestinians. Certainly not a nation that insists, even in the second decade of the third millennium, on occupying another nation.
… This afternoon President Obama will say his piece to the islanders. Obama will hug us in his own way. Obama will tell us we have a glorious, humanistic, inspiring heritage. Obama will say our national enterprise is a justified enterprise of liberation. He will acknowledge our affiliation to the land and our right to it and the great things we have done here.
His words will be spiced with warm sentences that will melt hearts. But after giving us that love we thirst so much for, Obama will ask us a few difficult questions. Do we see where we’re floating to? Do we understand where we live? Are we prepared to mortgage everything we have built within the Green Line in order to subjugate the nation living beyond the Green Line?
Obama is an American president, so he will speak in a reserved manner. Barack Obama is a civilized man, so he will be polite. But the message concealed in President Obama’s speech in the International Convention Center in Jerusalem (Binyanei Hauma) will be clear − Israelis, wake up. Don’t let the freedom state you’ve established with so much labor drown in the swamp of the occupation.
Don’t let your Jewish Athens become a Sparta of eternal war. Don’t delude yourselves that you’re an island. You’re not. You must find a reasonable way to coexist with the Arabs surrounding you and with the Palestinians you still rule.
Obama’s speech will be a wake-up speech. He will give us an almost last chance to wake up from the stupefying coma we’ve sunk into in recent years. He will suggest we change course and begin to grapple with our real survival problems.
After Obama, John Kerry will come to do the dirty work. But only if the president touches the hearts and opens the heads here today, will his secretary of state have a chance to succeed.
On Passover eve, the man who was once likened to Pharaoh has come to set us free. Let their people go, he will say. Free yourselves and save yourselves by freeing their people.
While the section above mentions a “new” Alawi opposition that opposes partition, some seem to prefer a separate Alawi state:
Haaretz – Time to put an Alawite state on the map – by Ely Karmon
Obama’s visit is an important opportunity for Israel to lobby for a grand agreement between the U.S. and Russia to protect and disarm the Alawite minority in Syria after the fall of Bashar Assad’s regime.
Over 80,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, tens or hundreds of thousands have been wounded and more than a million Syrians have become refugees, most of them Sunnis. The implosion of the Syrian state and the formation of a separate Alawite mini-state, a possibility entertained by very few observers when the civil war began two years ago, is now, in the eyes of the majority of analysts, the most plausible outcome of the conflict.
The almost inevitable collapse of the Assad regime is likely to provoke tremendous acts of revenge by Sunnis against their former rulers, the Alawites, with massacres that will put the comprehensive violence that has already happened in the shade. The open and growing threats by Sunni Islamist opposition leaders are a prelude to the coming catastrophe.
The Alawite leadership is aware of this impending threat, and has prepared for a retreat to an “Alawite Fortress” in the Mediterranean coast region and the Alawite Mountains; to create a neutral “buffer zone,” the regime has already ethnically cleansed the Sunni rural areas near the big cities bordering their enclave.
Lebanese observers have mentioned a plan to build a territorial corridor between the Alawite statelet and the Shia regions in Lebanon that are controlled by Hezbollah and by sympathetic Christians, who fear a radicalization of the Lebanese Sunnis more than all else. It is possible to see the battles that some 1500 Hezbollah fighters are waging in Syria, near the north-eastern border with Lebanon, as contributing to this plan.
It appears that Iran, too, is becoming involved in the Alawite Fortress project. Iran’s active involvement in Syria is intended not only to defend the Assad regime but also aimed at bringing this future Alawite mini-state under Iran’s protection. The Assad government could transfer its huge non-conventional weapons arsenal to this territory to serve as an ultimate insurance policy against a massacre of the Alawites.
A radical Alawite state with non-conventional capabilities, with the presence of an Iranian expeditionary force, a territorial link to Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon, plus a Russian strategic military umbrella in Tartous is a recipe for a permanent threat to the rest of Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Turkey and for continuing instability in the region and beyond.
Many pundits, including American officials, are aware that a solution to the Syrian quagmire implies close cooperation with Russia. The two powers are already discussing the best approach to avoid chaos in Syria, emphasizing possible loss of control over the Syrian chemical arsenal.
To hamper the formation of such a clearly dangerous Alawite entity, the United States and Russia need to agree a “grand bargain”. Such an agreement would need to include the following:
The U.S. and Russia guarantee the security of an Alawite statelet as well as the safety of the Alawites elsewhere in Syria;
The two powers guarantee Lebanese territorial integrity;
No Iranian/Hezbollah military or para-military presence would be allowed within this statelet;
All Syrian non-conventional weapons (chemical, nuclear and biological) that may have been transferred to this statelet will be removed and destroyed under international supervision (in the same manner as the Gadhafi regime’s chemical weapons were destroyed after the regime’s fall);
The United States and NATO will recognize the legitimacy of the Russian military presence within the future Alawite territory;
As a quid pro quo, Russia will recognize the independence of Kosovo, already recognized by most Western powers.
What are the clear advantages of this agreement for both the U.S. and Russia as well as other countries in the region? Such an agreement will strategically weaken Iran and Hezbollah. The agreement could go some way toward improving the atmosphere of cooperation between Russia and the United States concerning the Iranian nuclear project and could help coordinate the necessary political and operational measures to hamper the formation of jihadist enclaves in Syrian territory.
Turkey is likely to strongly oppose the formation of an independent Alawite state, because of the possibility that the Syrian Kurds will form an additional autonomous entity, thus influencing the Kurds in Turkey and threatening Turkey’s internal stability. But Turkey must take in consideration that – in any case – it will probably not be able to prevent the formation of this Alawite entity. Moreover, Ankara has to consider that the Alawites in Turkey (some 500,000 people) and the Alevis (more than 15 percent of the population), who even now are opposed to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policy on Syria, would blame him for grievous inaction if he blocked the formation of enclaves now and stood by while their Alawite brethren were massacred.
Israel also has an interest in opposing the formation of a radical Alawite mini-state under Iranian protection, but Jerusalem would still benefit from the neutralization of the non-conventional weapons that threatened it under the Assad regime.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit is an important opportunity for Israel to lobby for a grand agreement that would save many lives in the region, while advancing critical multilateral cooperation.
Ely Karmon is the Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. He is also the Senior Research Fellow at The Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC.
JERUSALEM — Prodded by President Obama, Israel and Turkey agreed Friday to end a three-year rift caused by a deadly Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza, a rapprochement urgently sought by the United States to help contain spillover from the worsening fighting in Syria.
…Bowing to a long-standing Turkish demand, Netanyahu apologized for the deaths of nine activists aboard the Turkish ship and promised to reach an agreement on compensation to their families, according to a statement from his spokesman….A senior Israeli official said that while Israel and Turkey had come close in the past to an understanding to restore ties, Friday’s agreement was spurred by the Syrian conflict….
Soli Ozel, an international relations professor at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, said normalized relations between Israel and Turkey would free them to cooperate on intelligence sharing and containing a possible spillover of the fighting in Syria.
“Syria is very much at the center of this,” he said….
How Brown Moses exposed Syrian arms trafficking from his front room Leicester-based blogger’s monitoring of weapons used in conflict has been taken up by media and human rights groups Matthew Weaver, guardian, Thursday 21 March 2013
Thousands of Egyptian protesters clashed with riot police and backers of the president’s Muslim Brotherhood on Friday, ransacking several offices nationwide as anger over allegations of beatings and power-grabbing boiled over into the largest and most violent demonstrations yet on the doorstep of the powerful group.
As night fell, streets surrounding the Brotherhood headquarters were littered with shattered glass, charred vehicles, stones and gloves stained with blood. The number of injured reached nearly 100 from the two sides.
“We came to the stronghold of the Brotherhood. No more protests in front of the presidential palace because those ruling Egypt are here,” said 50-year-old Hamat Awat, a female protester while running away from volleys of tear gas fired by black-clad riot police guarding the headquarters.
… Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Yasser Mehres blamed opposition parties for calling Friday’s protest outside the group’s headquarters. He said it gave way for “thugs” to infiltrate and attack Brotherhood offices.
A frightened and angry Egyptian friend writes: “We couldn’t get to our home in Mokatam. All the neighborhood is under fire. We could not even approach. It seems under siege. 164 injured so far. We are gonna to spend that night at my sister’s. Clashes remained here till dawn. Main street here is like after-battle and everything is quiet now. Hope it’s not just a break. Thanks for your prayers. Please tell your people that Obama, in a different way, is supporting another “FREE” Iraq here (coming very soon)!!!”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s treatment of women reveals its agenda for Egypt – by Nervana Mahmoud
On Saturday in Cairo, a young Egyptian female activist, Mervat Moussa, was slapped to the ground by a member of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood. Her only crime was demonstrating in front of the Brotherhood’s main headquarters. Rather than apologizing for the appalling behavior of one of its members, some officials from the Brotherhood went on the offensive, claiming that their headquarters was attacked by “a number of demonstrators who devoted their efforts to insulting and cursing the Muslim Brotherhood and its leadership using the dirtiest swear-words, provoking our young people in front of their headquarters.”
The incident occurred only a few days after the Brotherhood released a strong statement condemning a draft United Nations declaration calling for an end to all forms of violence against women, claiming that it would lead to “complete disintegration of society.”
…The appalling assault on Ms. Moussa, a conservative Muslim who wears the Islamic headscarf, has finally exposed the myth that the battle for women’s rights in Egypt is between liberals and Islamists. In reality, it is a battle between one camp that uses religion as a tool and another one, equally pious, that wants to detach religion from the political equation.
Syria as an Arena of Strategic Competition – RAND
by Jeffrey Martini, Erin York, William Young
“When Duty Calls: A Pragmatic Standard of Humanitarian Intervention,” by Robert Pape – International Security, volume 37, issue 1, pages 41-80
Big Trouble in Little Greater-Syria
A Bailout for Cyprus – BBC
The coming hours will decide Cyprus’ fate as it struggles to meet the terms of an international financial bailout, the government spokesman says.
Parliament will debate plans to raise the 5.8bn euros (£4.9bn; $7.5bn) needed to qualify for the 10bn-euro bailout, having rejected an earlier deal.
Without it, the cash supply to the euro member’s struggling banks may be cut.
… German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Cyprus’ Eurozone partners are running out of patience with its efforts to secure the bailout.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades held talks on Friday with representatives of the bailout “troika”, which is made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).