Four New Security Chiefs Named – all Hawks. Airplanes Used for First Time. Clinton Gives Assad “Time to Negotiate”

Bashar al-Assad announced four new security chiefs to replace those killed in the recent bombing at the national security meeting. Three of the four new security nominations are Sunnis. There is debate on the fourth (Abdul Fattah Qudsiye), who I have been told is an Alawi (correction). All are hawks. The notorious Rustum Ghazali, who ruled Lebanon with an iron fist, is among them. The message is that Sunnis will dominate the security leadership. This is an effort to keep the Sunni-Alawi alliance alive. Baathist rule has been built on the Sunni-Alawi alliance, which has all but collapsed since the beginning of the uprising. The defections of high level Sunnis recently underscores that it is moribund. Ali Mamlouk was appointed to take Bakhtiar’s position as head of the National Security Office.

High placed officers stated to Syria Steps, a regime website, that “all armed elements fighting the state will be wiped out and that they will not have the opportunity for a tactical retreat this time.”

The Syrian government is reportedly using fixed wing airplanes to intimidate neighborhoods in northern Aleppo. Zeina Karam writes that they did not bomb but were used to intimidate as they broke the sound barrier above Aleppo neighborhoods. The use of airplanes is an escalation and may suggest that next time they will be used to bomb opposition strongholds.

Helicopters Join Battle in Syria’s Aleppo
2012-07-24, By ZEINA KARAM

…Fighter jets unleashed sonic booms and helicopter gunships strafed rebels as they pressed their fight Tuesday into new neighborhoods in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Farther south, ground troops combed Damascus after the nearly complete rout of the largest rebel assault yet on the capital….

Clinton Says Assad Has Time to Negotiate Exit: Reuters Link

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Syrian rebels will eventually control swathes of territory but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad still has time to negotiate an exit, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.

Charlie Rose

Ancient Aleppo Echoes With Gunfire as War Reaches Its Cobbled Streets
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR, July 24, 2012

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The clamorous heart of Aleppo, the ancient city with its cobbled streets and mazy bazaars, fell silent on Tuesday as residents there and across Syria’s sprawling commercial capital fled the streets and cowered indoors, dreading the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire and the echoing roar of government helicopters.

Except for the helicopters, the government disappeared, said residents reached by telephone. There was no army and no traffic police, and all state employees were ordered to stay home, warned via official television broadcasts that they would be targeted by the rebel street fighters infiltrating central neighborhoods.

“People are still in shock that this is happening — they thought it would be limited to one neighborhood, but it is growing in size to other neighborhoods,” said Fadi Salem, an academic visiting his family. “They are scared of chaos and lawlessness more than anything else.”

Residents said there were clashes not just between the government and the insurgents, but also between rival militias from the countryside fighting for control of individual streets in at least one southern neighborhood. In a central old quarter, one man said a friend had warned him not to visit because young gunmen had established a checkpoint to rob car passengers.

Damascus and Aleppo had been the two significant holdouts in the fighting that has gradually engulfed the rest of Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. But now the whole country is inflamed. Guerrillas from the loosely affiliated Free Syrian Army launched major assaults in both cities via sympathetic, anti-regime neighborhoods in the two cities, which vie for the title of the oldest urban centers on earth.

Much is at stake. Whoever controls the two jewels-in-the-crown controls Syria.

In Damascus and its surroundings, a frontal assault on the rebels by some of the government’s most elite soldiers starting late last week largely smashed the toeholds they had claimed, although skirmishing continued to flare on Monday. Syrian television broadcast photographs of government soldiers kicking down doors and hauling off suspected insurgents on the city’s outskirts.

Fighting in Aleppo, on the other hand, first limited to Saleheddin, a poor, southern neighborhood, has widened as more rebel fighters spread through the city, said residents and activists.

“I am not sure if they are trying to take over neighborhoods or just to create the impression that they are everywhere,” said Mr. Salem. So far they have claimed to control neighborhoods, or at least streets, where the poor Sunni Muslim majority is most likely to give them succor, he said.

But in Aleppo, as in Damascus, the rebels will probably have to fade back into the countryside once the government mounts a major offensive. They will have made their point, however, that no place is immune.

“The government is trying to regain the initiative from the rebels,” said Jeff White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has been studying the military situation in Syria. “The government forces have not been able to do this easily, despite their numbers and use of heavy weapons.”

Free Syrian Army elements, he said in an e-mail, “are defeating some offensive actions, seizing government positions and facilities, and making road movement more difficult.”

Other analysts said the government seemed to be favoring standoff techniques, like using the helicopters in Aleppo, to avoid casualties.

“They are using this tactic because they are desperately afraid of using up too many of their most loyal troops in an urban assault,” said W. Andrew Terrill, a Middle East specialist at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa.

In Washington, the secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking as though the Syrian insurgency’s momentum was now unstoppable, said its territorial gains might be leveraged into safe havens. “We have to work closely with the opposition,” she told reporters, “because more and more territory is being taken and it will, eventually, result in a safe haven inside Syria, which will then provide a base for further actions by the opposition.” ….

Syria: Shabiha Militia Member Tells It Like It Is
An active member of Syria’s feared shabiha militia says he is in a “win or die” fight for his president (and a little bit of cash).

LATTAKIA, Syria and BEIRUT, Lebanon | As Syria descends into civil war, Abu Jaafar said he is ready to kill women and children to defend his friends, family and president….

“If I get a call from my boss then my whole day is changed,” he said. “When I leave the house, I don’t know when I will be back.”

Packing up the Kalashnikovs, pistols, machine guns and grenades he said were given to him “by the government,” Jaafar joins his gang of 100 shabiha – the Alawite militia named either after the Arabic word for ghosts or the old Mercedes shahab popular for its smuggling-sized trunk – and sets off to crush the Sunni Muslim protesters who dared rise up against his president.

In an interview with a GlobalPost reporter in Lattakia, Jaafar gave a frank and unique insight into the violent, disturbed world of the shabiha, a group that suffers from a dangerous cocktail of religious indoctrination, minority paranoia and mafia roots.

The massacres in northern Syria, which U.N. officials, eyewitnesses and Human Rights Watch all concluded were perpetrated mainly by shabiha from neighboring villages, triggered a wave of international revulsion.

U.S. officials raised the prospect of military action even as analysts described the marauding shabiha as a “Frankenstein” now beyond the control of the president. The regime blamed both massacres on foreign terrorists.

Like many of Syria’s estimated 2.5 million Allawites, a small mystic off-shoot of Shiite Islam which forms just 12 percent of the country’s population, compared to Sunni Muslims who represent 75 percent, Jaafar said he grew up struggling with poverty.

“My story is similar to all shabiha: I was born in a small village and didn’t finish school. Instead I went to work with my father in our lemon farm,” he said….

Five Syria Nightmares: The Middle East Can’t Live with Assad, but Living Without Him Won’t Be Easy
Nobody’s expecting a happy ending any time soon to Syria’s civil war. Here are just five things that could go badly wrong when the Assad regime falls
By Tony Karon – Time

Syria Is Iraq
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, July 24, 2012, NYTimes

Lord knows I am rooting for the opposition forces in Syria to quickly prevail on their own and turn out to be as democratically inclined as we hope. But the chances of this best-of-all-possible outcomes is low. That’s because Syria is a lot like Iraq. Indeed, Syria is Iraq’s twin — a multisectarian, minority-ruled dictatorship that was held together by an iron fist under Baathist ideology. And, for me, the lesson of Iraq is quite simple: You can’t go from Saddam to Switzerland without getting stuck in Hobbes — a war of all against all — unless you have a well-armed external midwife, whom everyone on the ground both fears and trusts to manage the transition. In Iraq, that was America. The kind of low-cost, remote-control, U.S./NATO midwifery that ousted Qaddafi and gave birth to a new Libya is not likely to be repeated in Syria. Syria is harder. Syria is Iraq….

Jihad Makdissi said in a televised statement that unconventional weapons would “never be used against the Syrian people,” but might be used “in the event of external aggression.”

By Simon Henderson, Foreign Policy
July 24, 2012

Saudi Arabia is bringing back its most talented operator to manage the Arab Spring. He was appointed the new intelligence chief. But can Bandar stem the rot in Riyadh?…. At the very least, his appointment is a reflection of King Abdullah’s concerns about developments in the Middle East, particularly Syria, and the limited talent pool in the House of Saud to meet the challenges. Frankly, it suggests panic in Riyadh.

Where does one start? Bandar certainly used to be a firm pair of hands, but recently that grasp has been shakier. Although Bandar endeared himself to successive U.S. administrations for being able to get things done — as well as the sumptuous parties he hosted at his official residence in Virginia overlooking the Potomac — the prevailing story recently has been about his mental state. William Sampson, a (friendly) biographer, noted that Bandar’s “first period of full-blown depression” came in the mid-1990s. Another biographer, David Ottaway, described Bandar as a “more than occasional drinker,” and most conversations about him seemed to revolve around, only partly mischievously, whether he had finished detoxification or not….

Preparing for Bashar al-Assad’s exit
Marc Lynch – CNN

Marc Lynch writes: The stunning assassinations of several key Syrian leaders and the outbreak of serious combat in Damascus last week momentarily held out the possibility that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime will rapidly fall. Many hoped for a cascade of defections, a rise in popular demonstrations and a rebel surge to bring down the government. […]

The day I met Syria’s Mr Big
24 Jul 2012, Guardian, Ammar Abdulhamid

Ammar Abdulhamid describes being interrogated by Assef Shawkat, Syria’s deputy defence minister and former military intelligence chief who was killed in a suicide bomb attack on July 18: “The country is not ready for revolutions and civil disobedience,” he told me. “That’s your opinion,” I replied. “We won’t imprison you and let your friends in ….

U.S. still doesn’t know who’s who in Syria
By Greg Miller and Joby Warrick, 24 Jul 2012

Sixteen months into the uprising in Syria, the United States is struggling to develop a clear understanding of opposition forces inside the country, according to U.S. officials who said that intelligence gaps have impeded efforts to support the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. U.S. spy agencies have expanded their efforts […]

Assads’ family rule makes an Alawite state impossible
Faisal Al Yafai, Jul 24, 2012 – The National

….There are strong reasons to believe such an Alawite state would not be welcomed by ordinary Alawites, and would not succeed in any event.

The Assad regime, although composed mainly of Alawites, is not about one sect – it is about one family. Many Alawites have remained poor, even though they have received preferential treatment in the armed forces. If they could be persuaded that a Sunni-led Damascus would not threaten them, they would be unlikely to side with this brutal regime that, once secure in its own state in the west, would certainly continue its systematic repression.

Moreover, the position of ordinary Alawites in that state would be terrible. …

There is real fear among Alawites about reprisal attacks after the fall of the Assads, but just as much there also appears to be a recognition that the future of Alawites will remain in Syria. There have been demonstrations against the regime even in Latakia. Alawite soldiers have defected to the Free Syrian Army; one accused Mr Al Assad of fomenting sectarian war to stay in power. Already, Syrian rebels have tried to give assurances by saying they are preparing to protect Alawite regions from reprisals.

A majority of Alawites would probably side with a new Syria – if they could be persuaded that their safety would be assured…..

Kelly McParland: The only thing worse than Assad may be no Assad
2012-07-24, By Kelly McParland

July 24 (National Post) — The revolt in Syria is one our times’ great examples of the warning that we should be careful what we wish for, because we might get it. Given the nature of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, public opinion has been eagerly awaiting his downfall. But as his departure looks increasingly imminent, we are confronted with the uncomfortable question: is it really in the interests of the western world for him to go? Given his government’s acknowledgement that it does indeed possess large supplies of chemical and biological weapons, as long suspected, are we happier having those weapons in the hands of a repressive but stable regime, or would we prefer they fall into the hands of an ill-defined agglomeration of armed insurgents, whose only shared interest is in seizing Assad’s power for themselves?

We don’t know a lot about the Syrian rebels. There are so many disparate factions involved, it’s impossible the characterize the nature of the revolt, other than being anti-Assad. Damascus insist its opponents include foreign terrorists, Islamic extremists and al Qaeda zealots. It’s entirely possible – in fact likely – that that’s true. They may not dominate the anti-Assad forces, but it’s a safe bet that they’re there, and working to ensure they get their share of the spoils. No matter how much you hate Assad, and rightly so, do you want his chemical supplies falling into the hands of religious crazies and committed jihadists?….

Comments (52)

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51. Dawoud said:

Bilal was lucky that Ummayah, not Bashar, was torturing him! This was my thought last night while watching al_Faouk “Omar” on MBC! Bilal survived torture, but Hamza al-Khateeb didn’t!

Free Syria & Palestine!

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July 26th, 2012, 8:45 am


52. Christopher Rushlau said:

I listened to your remarks made in Maine quite recently. Public radio in Maine played it today. They seem to have developed a slight sense of journalistic urgency.
I give you an 80%. You seem to know 80% as much as I do (is that how professors grade?).
The 20% you ignored is about the inertial frame–the observer’s standpoint. The fact that the Midcoast Forum invited you and Maine public radio played you, and promptly, too, shows big changes in the Israel lobby. Mac Deford used to refer to Afghan insurgents as germs.
You cited Lebanon as a marvel of stability, by some miraculous means, since its 50% Shiites are not a big enough mass to impart stability–or at least haven’t been able to–per the National Pact or National Accord or Taef Accord (you cited “national pact” in an unrelated context???) whereas 60% Shiites in Iraq are and 70% Sunnis in Syria are even more so. What does this teach us?
Let me propose a question about authority. Why do people do what they’re told? Either they are in denial and are dealing with the devil, or they would do it anyway and are happy that authority is being reasonable.
I might even coin a phrase: the comedy of the commons. Almost all people can agree on the wisdom of toppling the tyrant, and need almost no coordinating hand to stage-manage their efforts. The insurgency in Afghanistan is a marvel in that respect, even to the point of keeping on the pressure even though the enemy has already admitted defeat.
That is the inertial frame for political science. Israel is the anomaly, the anti-democratic enterprise, so it stands to reason most people are aligned against it. Opposition requires power for expression and success. Tyrants fail, die of fatigue, because “in order to subdue nature you must follow its rules” (Aquinas). So Israel is slated, fated, to fail. The question is, when? But we can say that inroads are made on it wherever they can be.
If there is a tide metaphor to be made here, it would be in regards Israel, and the most crucial beach may be in the US. The New Yorker’s first cartoon of this week, after “Talk of the Town”, shows a couple looking across the Hudson from Manhattan and one saying, “I think of it as a moat”.
Given the New Yorker’s editorial slant, Zionism-defined Jews are in their Goetterdaemmerung, appropriate for the 19th Century venture of Zionism. Understanding Israel as an international phenomenon, regional events like Syria makes sense most as indicators of the decline of the West in its last embodiment: Zionism.

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July 26th, 2012, 4:38 pm


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