News Round Up (13 August 2011)

Syria must complete reform within next two weeks – Turkish presidential adviser,
Al-Sharq al-Awsat – 12/08/2011

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Turkish diplomatic sources have expressed their hope that the events that are taking place close to their border with Syria do not represent “a Syrian response to the advice issued by Turkey” earlier this week. Senior Turkish presidential adviser Ersat Hurmuzlu informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – delivered by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during his latest visit to Damascus – informed Damascus that Ankara “does not want to see anybody in the Syrian administration regretting what happened after it is too late.”

Turkish diplomatic sources also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Ankara is closely monitoring the situation in Syria, including the ongoing Syrian security operation, particularly after the Syrian security apparatus most recently stormed the town of Bdama, close to the Turkish border. The sources stressed that “if this is the Syrian response, then the forthcoming days will be extremely difficult.” However the Turkish diplomatic source refused to “anticipate events, because the Syrians promised to take certain steps, and we are waiting to see this.”

Turkish presidential adviser Ersat Hurmuzlu also denied that Ankara had given Damascus a “time limit of 15 days” to implement reform adding that “Turkey expects Syria to take action within the next few days, if they are sincere in their intentions, for reform must be completed within the next two weeks.”

Hurmuzlu also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “a letter [by Turkish President Abdullah Gul] addressed to al-Assad and delivered by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stressed the necessity of Syria putting an end to the bloodshed, releasing all the detainees, and immediately implementing reform that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.”

The Turkish presidential adviser added that Turkish President Abdullah Gul – in this letter – stressed that “he does not want to see anybody in the Syrian administration regretting what happened after it is too late.” Hurmuzlu added that the Turkish Foreign Minister also informed al-Assad of the viewpoint of Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan, expressing “his clear message regarding the necessity of Syria immediately putting an end to the bloodshed, and not utilizing violence to suppress the peaceful protests.”

Hurmuzlu added the Syrians “listened to the Turkish advice, and they expressed an understanding of the necessity of withdrawing their military forces and apparatus from [Syrian] cities, and allowing Turkish press correspondents to enter the afore-mentioned cities.” He also revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that a group of Turkish journalists had visited the effected Syrian areas, adding that “Turkey wants this [Turkish media presence] to become a permanent state of affairs, not merely part of an organized visit.” Hurmuzlu stressed that Ankara wants to ensure that Turkish journalists are allowed access to Syrian cities in order to provide the world with accurate information regarding what is happening on the ground in Syria.

In response to questions about the “two week time limit” that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke of, Hurmuzlu stressed that Ankara expects “Syrian movement [towards reform] in days rather than weeks; if they are sincere in their intentions to implement reforms then this must be implemented before the end of Ramadan.” He added that Turkey hopes that these reforms will represent “a shock” and include “a change in the form and image of the regime which meets the demands of the Syrian people.”

In the event of Syria failing to respond to the Turkish calls and implement reform, and continuing its policy of violence and suppression, Hurmuzlu stressed that Turkey “would expect what it warned against previously to take place, namely Syria finding itself confronting the international community, with strong international resolutions being issued against Damascus, as well as foreign intervention in Syria.”

Turkey threatens to join international military action in Syria
Turkey has lost patience with Syria, according to Turkish officials quoted in the Hurriyet newspaper, and has issued an ultimatum to Assad.
By Zvi Bar’el, Aug. 9, 2011

Turkey may consider cooperating with international powers in the event they decide to intervene militarily in Syria, according to a report in the Turkish “Hurriyet” newspaper on Saturday

Turkey has lost its patience with Syria, according to Turkish officials, and Turkish President Abdullah Gul has issued an ultimatum to Syrian President Bashar Assad via Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who visited Syria on Tuesday.

According to officials, the Turkish foreign minister made it clear to Assad that in the event that Syrian forces continue to act aggressively against demonstrators Syria will no longer be able to rely on friendship from Turkey.

The Turkish officials told the Hurriyet that “Turkey had initially tried to convince its Western allies to grant Assad time to implement reforms eight months ago. We have been as friendly toward Syria as we could, but a regime that doesn’t listen to advice from its friend and neighbor cannot be a friend of Turkey’s.”

The letter from Turkish President Gul and the leaking of its content to the Turkish media is testimony to Turkey’s strategic decision to deem Assad’s regime as illegitimate, thereby allowing it to move toward an operative stage against Syria.

Arshet Hormozlo, an adviser to the Turkish president, made clear in an interview with the Iraqi newspaper “Zaman” that Turkey will not intervene militarily in Syria and will not allow international forces to enter Syria from Turkish territory.

However, Turkey’s consent to join an international coalition that may launch a military offensive against Syria is a dramatic turning point in Turkey’s stance. Hormozlo’s statement is proof that talks on military involvement have already reached the decision-making stage.

At the first stage, Turkey is expected to withdraw its ambassador from Damascus, following the example of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. The next step Turkey would take is freezing its projects and investments in Syria. Turkey will only take military action against Assad in the event that an international decision to intervene is made.

Turkey is furious with Iran for its criticism of Turkey for its stance toward Syria. Iran called Turkey a “subcontractor of U.S. policy”.

In the event that military action is taken against Syria, other fronts may be opened if Iran decides to protect Assad’s rule beyond sending monetary aid and equipment by way of Iraq. In such a scenario, Iran could open a tactical front in the Gulf, send forces to Bahrain or start large-scale military maneuvers in the Gulf.

Turkish and foreign journalists enter Syria for Hama
Thursday, August 11th, 2011 | Posted by Editor

A group of journalists including an A.A cameraman and a reporter who would follow the recent situation in Syrian city of Hama entered from Turkey to Syria from Bab al-Hawa border crossing on Thursday.

The journalists left for Syria following the statement that Syrian army withdrew tanks and heavy weapons.

Turkish police escorted the journalists till Cilvegozu border pass and later officials of Syrian Consulate General in Hatay welcomed the journalists after they passed the buffer zone.

The team of journalists are on their way to Hama.

A.A cameraman Vural Elibol and A.A reporter Mustafa Keles are among the 10 journalists of Turkish and foreign press organizations who would follow the situation in Hama.

“The United States Is Not Qualified to Intervene on Behalf of Democracy in the Region”: Al-Jazeera Interview with Jadaliyya Co-Editor

3 Reasons Assad is Here to Stay
Bilal Y. Saab, June 30, 2011, National Interest

Syrian President Bashar Assad will not listen—not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow—to the U.S. government. If you can’t manipulate the decision-making of an authoritarian government during peacetime, imagine how difficult or almost impossible that task would be during times of existential crisis when that government is fighting a brutal war against its own people for survival.

President Obama’s policy on Syria is haphazard. It is also pragmatic. Crises and wars usually present opportunities for policymakers to overhaul policy and make necessary changes. Unfortunately, the Syrian case is an exception to the rule. One would think that the ongoing popular uprising in Syria, which is making the Syrian regime more vulnerable at home and less cocky in its dealings with the West, would make the job of breaking the policy logjam easier for the American president. But it is not. In a carefully worded op-ed for the Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threw the kitchen sink at Assad but fell short of asking him to leave. Why?

Three reasons, as enumerated to me by a State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, explain why Obama and his foreign policy team are not likely to go all the way and ask Assad to step down.

One, war weariness: The American people are dead set against another war in the Middle East. Polls show that even the Afghanistan war Americans no longer support. And that is a war that most Americans tie to 9/11 and in which the American national interest is supposedly clear and well defined. A forceful policy toward Syria that is backed by the credible threat of military intervention will not be supported by the American people simply because Syria does not undermine the national interest and does not threaten the homeland. These are election times and Obama is running next year with the promise of drawing down in Afghanistan and focusing on economic problems at home, not waging more wars abroad. Furthermore, Libya killed all chances of more aggressive US action in Syria. Had the crisis in Libya not happened, the United States and NATO may have thought about making a move in Syria to teach it a lesson. Unless a major breakthrough happens in Libya (Qaddafi dies or the rebels win), the United States and NATO will not lift a finger on Syria.

Two, no regional consensus: The one truly remarkable aspect about NATO’s intervention in Libya is that the crushing majority of Arabs, governments and publics alike, supported it. On Syria, there is no regional consensus whatsoever and that complicates matters for Obama significantly. The Saudis may not like Assad and co. due to his regime’s awful treatment of their allies in Lebanon and partnership with Iran and Hezbollah, but they still see strategic value in the survival of the regime because they can do business with it. The Turks have issued some harsh statements against Syria lately, but in reality, their preference is a reformed regime not a new regime in Damascus because their priorities are security along the borders and control of the Kurds, two matters which Assad has delivered on. And then there is Israel, which can say all it wants about supporting the course of democracy in Syria but in reality is more than fine with Assad in power largely because he is predictable and keeps the Syrian-Israeli borders calm.

Three, no critical mass: It might have been easier for Obama to ask Assad to step down had the Syrian protestors reached a critical mass. Unfortunately and for several reasons primarily related to organizational weaknesses and division among the ranks, the Syrian popular uprising is viewed in Washington as a “rural phenomenon” and until it becomes more “urban” serious attention and more forceful action by Americans and the international community will remain elusive. The images of thousands of Egyptians demonstrating in Tahrir Square signaled the end of the Mubarak regime, making it relatively easy for Washington to pick up the pieces and call for Mubarak to leave. No such images have appeared in Damascus.

The fact is this: Assad is here for now.

Support for Assad Government Shows Signs of Weakening
by Anthony Shadid

Cracks have begun to emerge in a tight-knit leadership that has until now managed to rally its base of support and maintain a unified front, officials, dissidents and analysts say.

Though there are no signs of an imminent collapse, flagging support of the business elite in Damascus, divisions among senior officials and even moves by former government stalwarts to distance themselves from the leadership come at a time when Syria also faces what may be its greatest isolation in more than four decades of rule by the Assad family…..

“They’re starting to be divided, and you have people in the government who are really getting frustrated with Assad and his security circles,” an Obama administration official in Washington said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad.

“It’s almost like watching a dysfunctional marriage,” the official said…..

In Damascus this week, 41 former Baathists and government officials took a step that would have been unthinkable for party stalwarts not long ago: They announced an initiative for a political transition. Led by Mohammed Salman, a former information minister with deep connections to the leadership closest to Mr. Assad, the group urged an end to the crackdown, the deployment of the military and the relentless arrest campaign…

But officials and analysts say more and more businessmen have reached out to the opposition, including a leading figure from the Alawite minority, from which Mr. Assad’s leadership disproportionately draws its support. Others seem to be trying to keep channels open to both sides, as they wait to see which party gains a decisive edge, analysts said.

“They’re starting to turn to us, to the United States, and say, ‘What can we do? How can we help?’ ” the American official said. “The domino effect is going to go even faster for the Sunni business elite, and that’s when you’ll see Damascus go up in flames.”…

Arab autocrats get hit by legitimacy
August 13, 2011, By Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star

…. If domestic challenges do not change or sufficiently modify an Arab regime, what then is the appropriate role for external intervention?

This question has again come to the fore with several international calls for the Syrian regime headed by President Bashar Assad to leave office or make a serious transition to democracy….

Iraqi Leader Backs Syria, With a Nudge From Iran
By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and YASIR GHAZI

BAGHDAD — As leaders in the Arab world and other countries condemn President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on demonstrators in Syria, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq has struck a far friendlier tone, urging the protesters not to “sabotage” the state and hosting an official Syrian delegation.

Mr. Maliki’s support for Mr. Assad has illustrated how much Iraq’s position in the Middle East has shifted toward an axis led by Iran. And it has also aggravated the fault line between Iraq’s Shiite majority, whose leaders have accepted Mr. Assad’s account that Al Qaeda is behind the uprising, and the Sunni minority, whose leaders have condemned the Syrian crackdown.

“The unrest in Syria has exacerbated the old sectarian divides in Iraq because the Shiite leaders have grown close to Assad and the Sunnis identify with the people,” said Joost Hiltermann, the International Crisis Group’s deputy program director for the Middle East.

Syria: Clinton urges states to cut ties over crackdown
BBC, 12 August 2011

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged all countries to cut their political and economic ties with Syria.

She said buying oil and gas from Syria and exporting arms there were giving President Bashar al-Assad “comfort in his brutality”.

Mrs Clinton’s comments came as large anti-government protests continued despite a harsh army crackdown.

Activists said at least 16 people died on Friday as protesters came under fire in towns and cities across the country.

More than 1,700 people have died and tens of thousands have reportedly been arrested since the uprising against the 41-year rule of Mr Assad’s family began in March.

Correspondents say there is little the US can do to directly pressure the Syrian regime, with which it has few ties or shared interests.

So Washington has been stepping up the pressure on Europe, Russia and China, to use the leverage that they do have, and on Friday Mrs Clinton extended the pressure to all those with ties to Damascus.

“We urge those countries still buying Syrian oil and gas, those countries still sending Assad weapons, those countries whose political and economic support give him comfort in his brutality, to get on the right side of history,” she said.

Washington has stopped short of calling for Mr Assad to stand down, instead seeking unity in the international community so Mr Assad cannot say it is only the US or the West that is against him,

But Mrs Clinton reiterated the view that he has “lost the legitimacy to lead and it is clear that Syria would be better off without him”.

The US has imposed sanctions against Damascus and has said these could be increased, while calling on other countries to follow.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have all recalled their ambassadors from Damascus while Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has described the methods used by the Syrian security forces as “unacceptable”.
‘Worshippers shot’

Activists say thousands of people took to the streets again on Friday to demand an end to Mr Assad’s rule. Protesters came under fire in the central city of Homs, Hama, the capital Damascus, Deir al-Zour in the east and Aleppo and Idlib near Turkey’s border.

Syrian state television admitted there had been small demonstrations after Friday prayers, but activists said they were far bigger and more widespread.

The highest reported casualties were in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, where a woman and a 16-year-old were named among those who died. Syrian state TV said two security men had been shot dead in the capital.

Thousands of people came out to protest in Deir al-Zour, said activists. Soldiers reportedly fired live ammunition as people left two mosques, sending worshippers running for cover in alleyways.

“Assad wants to finish off the uprising before international pressure becomes too much for him. But people have gone out of almost every major mosque in Deir al-Zor, metres away from tanks that occupy every main square and roundabout,” one resident told Reuters news agency.

Abdel Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there had been a major army assault with tanks and troop carriers on Kahn Sheikhun, in north-western Idlib province, killing at least one woman.

In Hama, which came under heavy bombardment last week, activists said mosques were surrounded by soldiers and people were being stopped and searched at checkpoints “every 200m”.

Witnesses say the number of people being killed has risen during the current fasting month of Ramadan, as opponents of the regime stage protests after evening and early-morning prayers.

“We used to have 20 killed every Friday but now this number is being killed almost on a daily basis,” one man told the BBC.

Meanwhile, rights groups accuse the regime of targeting hospitals and arresting doctors for treating injured protesters.

“Any doctor who is discovered giving help to the injured is targeted and arrested,” one Syrian doctor – who did not want to be named – told the BBC.

There are reports of troops preventing the wounded from reaching hospitals in some areas, and even of removing the bodies of dead protesters from hospitals. Activists say this is to make it harder to calculate the number of people killed in the regime’s campaign to quash dissent….

SYRIA: Chaos erupts on streets of Aleppo [Video]
August 12, 2011 |

Chaos was reported on the streets of Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, during another day of intense confrontations between security forces and anti-government protesters.

Some have speculated that the city’s residents have been reluctant to take to the streets because they’ve developed too cozy a relationship with the regime of President Bashar Assad.

But new video posted to the Internet suggests another possible rationale: that unlike in Hama, Dair Alzour or Homs — where the regime allowed protesters to congregate before moving in and opening fire, killing many — security forces are brooking no dissent in Aleppo.

In the videos above and below, young men can be seen running through a poor district of the city as gunfire is heard in the distance.

First legal political party established in syria under the new law..

A reassertion of Mr. Al-Assad’s power may be seen as the lesser evil
There’s no happy ending to Syria’s power struggle
MICHAEL BELL
From Friday’s Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Aug. 12, 2011

Syrians who value freedom and are willing to die for it are going to be bitterly disappointed. Even if the Alawite-dominated Baathist regime of President Bashar al-Assad collapses and the opposition takes power, the challenges will be overwhelming.

Syria is no Egypt or Tunisia, with their relatively homogeneous societies and militaries able to act independently. Nor is it the tribal wasteland of Yemen. The considerable obstacles to political reform in Cairo and Tunis pale beside the dilemmas that would confront new and contending Syrian leaderships, however progressive many might be.

There are three possible outcomes to the current struggle for power, none of them comforting: The regime may suppress the rebellion; the “opposition” may take over; or Syria may break into a series of contesting micro-states. All possibilities have profound implications not only for Syrians but for the Arab revolt writ large, for the region’s fragile state system and for the international community, including Western interests.

Most likely, the Assad regime will survive, despite sanctions, diplomatic isolation and economic dislocation. Syria has been through this before, with the Americans alternating between labelling the regime a pariah and making overtures aimed at drawing Damascus into dialogue. Neither has worked.

Syria’s leadership is now subject to intense worldwide scrutiny and criticism, from Washington to Riyadh to Moscow. The language of human rights, however defined, may be pervasive, but the reality is different. It’s quite possible that many in the international community view a reassertion of Mr. al-Assad’s power, as distasteful as it is, as the lesser of evils, in a situation where chaos seems the most likely alternative.

In Syria, the existing elite, the military command and the intelligence services are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. While there are differences at the top, these focus on the tactics of repression, not its substance – in 1982, between 10,000 and 20,000 people were killed during the Sunni-dominated Muslim Brotherhood revolt in the city of Hama. And Mr. al-Assad can’t move against corruption, because he’s now dependent for his own survival on members of the decadent elite, which his long-ruling father had empowered.

Syria’s population is highly fragmented along ethno-religious lines. Sunnis represent the traditionally privileged majority. Alawis and Druze, breakaway sects of Shia Islam, as well as Christians, constitute significant minorities that, during the interwar French mandate, were recruited into the security services to contain Sunni nationalism. It’s these groups that supported the now ruling Baath Party, which put heavy emphasis on secular values. And it’s these groups that fear majority Sunni rule will put them at risk.

If the current opposition took power, its greatest challenges would be its own heterogeneity, even among Sunnis, its lack of cohesiveness and leadership and its consequent inability to assert itself in any concerted manner. The resulting internecine impasse, in the absence of any institutional base or developed civil society, would result in a fierce internal struggle. The demise of the current Baathist regime in Syria would be a severe blow to Iran and Hezbollah, Israel’s bêtes noires. A Sunni-based Islamist takeover, however, would be a real possibility. Think Hama, 1982.

The third scenario might be the most unstable: a division of the country into sovereign ethnic enclaves with the Alawis grabbing their demographic littoral (as rumoured in the Lebanese press). While it would be simplistic to argue that ethnicity rules all and that the quest for freedom has little resonance beyond tribe, the power of identity and narrative should never be underestimated in the Middle East.

Michael Bell, a former Canadian ambassador to Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, is the Paul Martin (Sr.) Scholar in International Diplomacy at the University of Windsor.

BBC World interviews Sheikh Sayyid Yaqoubi of Syria.

Turkey buys more time for Damascus
Friday, August 12, 2011
SEVİL KÜÇÜKKOŞUM

Turkey has convinced the US to wait for two weeks before pressing against Syria, but so far sees little sign that President Assad will end the bloodshed
As Turkey urges the international community to wait more before launching tougher measures on Syria, the U.S. has postponed its call for Assad to step down.

“Assad promised us to take some steps in short span of time. We told Assad there was not much time to give. So that it seems there is nearly two weeks of time,” a senior official from Turkish Foreign Ministry told the Hürriyet Daily News on Friday.

The U.S. was not willing but “they accepted to give some more time by means of us,” the official said.

In a phone conversation late Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “agreed to monitor closely the steps taken by the Syrian government and to continue consultations,” the Prime Ministry’s press office said. Both agreed on the need for a transition to democracy in Syria, a statement from White House said.

Following his talks with Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has held several phone conversations with his counterparts from around the world. Ankara is playing a coordination role, the senior official told the Daily News, since Turkey is the “sole actor that can talk to Assad.”

It would be better not to confront Assad at the moment, the official said, adding that if he did not fulfill his promises then international actors would increase the pressure. “Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt,” he said, describing Turkey’s position. ….

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected to call on Assad to step down Thursday, but postponed. “The U.S. is looking to explicitly call for Assad to step down. The timing of that is still in question,” a U.S. official told AFP. The official did not rule out the possibility that the announcement could come next week.

Asked why the U.S. had not called on Assad to step down, the official said Washington had been “very clear” in its statements about Assad’s loss of legitimacy and wanted other nations to add their voices.

Gül’s letter to Assad

President Abdullah Gül also has called on Assad to implement reforms before it is too late, in a letter handed over to Assad by Turkey’s foreign minister.

“I would not want you to look back some day and regret that you acted too little, too late,” Gül said in his letter. “It is time to show your leadership and courage and lead the way for change instead of getting caught up in the winds of change.

“People’s legitimate demands for democracy must be fulfilled sincerely and rapidly, which I believe would improve the current negative circumstances in Syria at an equally rapid pace,” he said.

‘Turkey must adopt wise policy on Syria’
Fri Aug 12, 2011, Interview with Youssef Rahma , Professor of University of Michigan

A political analyst says that Turkish government must adopt a wise and careful policy towards the ongoing unrest in Syria.

Why the Syrian regime won’t fall
By Pepe Escobar

Suppose this was a Hollywood script conference and you have to pitch your story idea in 10 words or less. It’s a movie about Syria. As much as the currently in-research Kathryn Hurt Locker Bigelow film about the Osama bin Laden raid was pitched as “good guys take out Osama in Pakistan”, the Syrian epic could be branded “Sunnis and Shi’ites battle for Arab republic”.

Yes, once again this is all about that fiction, the “Shi’ite crescent”, about isolating Iran and about Sunni prejudice against Shi’ites.

The hardcore Sunni Wahhabi House of Saud – in yet another towering show of hypocrisy, and faithful to its hatred of secular

Arab republics – has branded the Bashar al-Assad-controlled Ba’ath regime in Syria “a killing machine”.

True, Assad’s ferocious security apparatus does not help – having killed over 2,400 people since unrest erupted in March. That is much more, incidentally, than Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces had killed in Libya when United Nations Resolution 1973 was rushed in to allow foreign interventions. The Diogenes the Cynic response to this “where’s the UN” discrepancy would be that Syria, unlike Libya, is not sitting on immense oil and gas wealth. more………

Turkish President Calls on Assad to Make Political Reforms

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has reiterated a call on his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad to make democratic reforms rapidly in a letter Turkish foreign minister relayed to Assad.

“People’s legitimate demands toward democracy must be fulfilled sincerely and rapidly, which I believe would improve the current negative circumstances in Syria with an equal rapid pace,” Gul told Assad in his letter conveyed by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to the Syrian leader last Tuesday during a visit to Damascus.
“I would not want to see you in a position where you look back and regret that what you have done was late and not enough,” Gul said in his letter.

Gul said Syria was passing through critical and historic times, telling Assad, “it is time to show your leadership courageously and lead the way for change instead of getting caught up in the winds of change.”
(İMB-MS)

Strike on Syria is technically feasible, former French general says
10.08.11 EU Observer By Andrew Rettman

A Nato strike to disable the Syrian army is technically feasible according to experts, such as former French air chief Jean Rannou. But it could make the country’s internal situation worse.

Nato member countries would begin by using satellite technology to spot Syrian air defences. A few days later, warplanes, in larger numbers than Libya, would take off from the UK base in Cyprus and spend some 48 hours destroying Syrian surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and jets. Alliance aircraft would then start an open-ended bombardment of Syrian tanks and ground troops.

The scenario is based on analysts in the French military, from the specialist British publication Jane’s Defence Weekly and from Israel’s Channel 10 TV station.

The Syrian air force is said to pose little threat. It has around 60 Russian-made MiG-29s. But the rest – some 160 MiG-21s, 80 MiG-23s, 60 MiG-23BNs, 50 Su-22s and 20 Su-24MKs – is out of date.

Its latest SAMs could shoot down a handful of Nato pilots. In the past three years, Syria deployed hundreds of Russian-made SA-17s, which come up on radars for a very short time before firing. Israel in 2007 bombed a suspected nuclear site in Syria using a cyber attack to cut electricity to air defences. The SA-17s are believed to be cyber-insulated and Israel might not share its secrets with Nato, however.

Syria in 2006 bought around 30 Russian-made Pantsyr-S1 anti-aircaft cannon. But these are said to be in Iran. It has stocked up on modern SA-18 missiles from Belarus and Russia. But these are short-range weapons that would only pose a danger to Nato helicopters in a later stage of the operation.

There are also assymetric threats – Nato countries have troops in Unifil, the UN mission in neighbouring Lebanon which could become targets.

Syria is said to have two Scud missile brigades armed with conventional and chemical warheads (VX, Sarin and Mustard gas), as well as M600 chemical-ready missiles, which it could fire at Israel in retaliation.

“I don’t see any purely military problems. Syria has no defence against Western systems … [But] it would be more risky than Libya. It would be a heavy military operation,” Jean Rannou, the former chief of the French air force, told EUobserver.

Assad allies, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, could also attack Israel. But experts say Hezbollah would not start an Israel-Lebanon war to save Syrian President Bashar Assad. And Hamas needs international support for the Palestinian bid to seek UN membership.

Guardian (GB): How youth-led revolts shook elites around the world
2011-08-12, Jack Shenker guardian.co.uk

Protests against austerity measures in Athens were just some of the examples of youth-led protest in the first half of 2011. Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Of all the millions of words …

Saudis, in effort to aid Syrian rebels, open airwaves to Sunni clerics

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia has increased its support for Islamic rebels in their revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad, a report said. The Institute for Gulf Affairs Policy asserted that the Saudi leadership has been working to destabilize the Assad regime. The institute, which represents the Saudi opposition, said Saudi television stations have given Syrian Sunni clerics a forum to mobilize against Assad and his Alawite minority.

BBC Ex-USSR: Paper views Russia’s change of attitude to Syrian president
2011-08-12

Text of report by the website of Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, often critical of the government on 12 August

[Aleksandr Shumilin report: “‘Russia, You Are Defending Bashar the Killer': Why the Russian Leadership Is Turning its Back on Our Friend Asad”]

It seemed in the first days of August even that Russia would under no circumstances permit in Syria a “Libyan scenario ” and, as the Russian Federation Foreign Ministry said, would emphatically counter” international interference in the internal affairs of a friendly country” experiencing a crisis. But in the second week of August first
President Dmitriy Medvedev, and hot on his heels, Sergey Lavrov, head of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, also began to speak in strong terms about the violence being perpetrated by the Syrian leadership.

Something is beginning to change in Moscow’s rhetoric: instead of the phrase “our friend Asad,” another – “Syrian leadership” – is being heard, in an increasingly less positive context, what is more. We recently observed this reverse (in the explanatory dictionary – “change of a mechanism’s motion backward, opposite”) in relations
between Italian Premier Berlusconi and the Libyan Colonel Al- Qadhafi.

Now, by all accounts, the same reverse between Moscow and Damascus is possible. And it is not at all a matter of “our friend Asad” having since March already dispatched more than 2,000 of his peaceful citizens. Friendship Is Strong, but Not Eternal….

Time: Dissent in Damascus’ Shadows: Driving Around Syria’s Capital 2011-08-12

It was 9.30 p.m. on Friday last week, and the Syrian capital Damascus was a ghost town. There were few cars on the streets, and even fewer families enjoying the warm Ramadan evening. Still, the streets were not completely deserted; Groups of men, …

Israel army plants new mines along Syria border

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli army magazine says the military is planting new land mines along the border with Syria to dissuade protesters from rushing
into the Golan Heights.

The army decided to go ahead with the move after older mines failed to detonate when Syrian demonstrators rushed into the border area in June during a protest against Israel’s occupation. Israeli forces opened fire, killing some 20 protesters in efforts to push the crowd back.

The mines are also part of beefed-up measures Israel is taking ahead of rallies that Palestinians are planning to hold in September.

Syria:the hot month of Ramadan
Anisimov Sergey, Fedoruk Vladimir
Aug 13, 2011 15:42 Moscow Time

Anti-government protests rage on Syria with protesters demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and the release of all political prisoners, including those detained in the course of the recent protests. Qatar’s Al Jazeera TV Channel reports dozens of deaths daily.

No one can see the end of the conflict for now and few can say what President Bashar al-Assad’s so-called “deafness” will lead to. President of the Middle East Institute Yevgeny Satanovsky has this to say.

“The opposition wants Christians out and Alawis dead. President Assad is an Alawite leader, which leaves him no chances, so he will fight to the end. Fleeing the country makes no sense for him because as Iran’s only ally in the Arab world, he will be unable to find a safe refuge in a foreign country, say Saudi Arabia, and will soon be traced down and killed. It’s Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf countries that are sponsoring the riots in Syria as part of undeclared war against Iran. President Assad could sit it all out in Iran but he is unlikely to. His reforms are fairly weak and they promise little in terms of easing his grip on power. He has few chances of retaining power.”

The West has been trying to force Assad to leave. The US has introduced new sanctions against Syria and urged Russia, China and India to follow suit. For the first time in five months of riots, Washington has called on the Syrian leader to resign. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus in protest against the continuing bloodshed. A number of analysts say that Washington is behind it. Vladimir Sotnikov, from the Oriental Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, comments.

“Washington is acting through Arab countries. As the conflict in Syria drags on, no one can say when the opposition will run out of steam or how long President Assad will be able to keep the situation under control. The US is too bogged down in Libya to let itself being drawn into yet another conflict. The Arab countries are too divided on Syria to work out a consolidated approach towards the Syrian crisis. For this reason, Washington has few chances of getting Middle East and Gulf countries to form a united front against Assad.”

Given the situation, the stakes of Riyadh as Washington’s ally are fairly high, the more so since Saudi Arabia is interested in shattering the government in Damascus. Georgy Mirsky, an Oriental expert from the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations, has this opinion.

“Saudi’s number one foe is Shiite Iran, and Syria is Tehran’s main ally. Saudis would be pleased to have Assad replaced by a Sunni leader. Saudi Arabia is populated by Sunnis. 75 percent of Syrians are Sunni too but have Alawite rulers. For Saudis, Alawites are like infidels. But they are allied to Iran. Saudi Arabia would certainly welcome the departure of Assad on condition the reins of power go to groups other than the Muslim Brotherhood, its deadly enemy.”

Turkey is America’s other helping hand in handling the Syrian crisis. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sounded harsh as he told Damascus in an ultimatum-like statement dictated by Washington that it ought to end violence and call parliamentary elections. Ankara will have to declare the Syrian president illegitimate if Damascus doesn’t heed its recommendations, the statement said. The tone of President Abdullah Gul’s statement was equally harsh as he said that Ankara was prepared to assume the role of a regional leader and as such, it would inevitably affect the interests of Tehran, a traditionally influential player in the region.

Iran has agreed to fund a new multi-million-dollar military base on the Syrian coast
to make it easier to ship weapons and other military hardware between the two countries, according to Western intelligence reports.
By Con Coughlin, 12 Aug 2011

Under the terms of the deal, which was concluded after a high-level Syrian delegation visited Tehran, Iran is to assist with the development of a new military compound at Latakia airport which will be completed by the end of next year. The aim of the agreement is to open a supply route that will enable Iran to transfer military hardware directly to Syria.

Western security officials say the deal was agreed following a visit to Tehran in June by Muhammad Nasif Kheirbek,
Syria’s deputy vice-president for security affairs and an ally of President Bashar al-Assad.

more….

Syria sees fresh wave of anti-gov’t protests
2011-08-12

DAMASCUS, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) — Hundreds of people took to the streets across Syria on Friday for a fresh wave of anti-government protests.

Syria’s state television said limited gatherings were seen in the northern province of Idlib, central province of Homs and some suburbs of the capital Damascus.

About 200 people staged a protest in the eastern town of al- Boukmal near Iraq’s border and dispersed within a short time, said the TV.

In al-Qadam neighborhood, a district of the capital, the TV said around 100 people took to the streets, adding that other 20 people protested in Damascus’ central Midan neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the TV denied as baseless what the Doha-based al- Jazeera TV described as large protests in the southern province of Daraa, a main square in Homs and some areas of northern Idlib.

It cited a local resident in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, denying what al-Jazeera said that intense crackles of gunfire were reverberating in Harasta.

In a separate incident, the TV said one law-enforcement member was gunned down by armed thugs in the Damascus suburb of Douma.

In the northern province of Aleppo, the second largest city after Damascus, armed groups took advantage of some gatherings and opened fire randomly, injuring one civilian, who was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital, the TV said.

Syria regime blunders toward self-destruction
By Christopher Phillips, Special to CNN
August 12, 2011 — Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)

Editor’s note: Christopher Phillips is Syria analyst in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Middle East team. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics specializing in identity politics in Syria and Jordan and has lived for several years in Syria. His first book, “Contemporary Arab Identity: The daily reproduction of the Arab World,” will be published by Routledge in early 2012.

(CNN) — The harsh criticism leveled at the Syrian regime by Saudi Arabia and Turkey last week could prove a turning point in the popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Until now Western sanctions have been ineffective in preventing Assad’s violent crackdown on protestors in the last six months. However, the influence of neighboring Turkey and Saudi Arabia is greater than the West, and opens the possibility of damaging diplomatic, economic and even military action.
Yet Assad’s increasing international and regional isolation was far from inevitable, and is one of a growing list of miscalculations by his regime that is bringing about its own destruction.

For months Syria’s security forces, under the command of Assad’s relentless brother, Maher has cracked down with relative impunity while the Arab states and Turkey have said little or remained silent. Assad’s strategy appeared to be to suppress demonstrations while cynically keeping casualties to a “manageable” level, rarely crossing 100 deaths on the worst days.

This has limited Western calls for the kind of urgent intervention seen in Libya, itself becoming a quagmire that few wished to replicate in Syria, and was grudgingly accepted by Syria’s neighbors, who feared sectarian instability were Assad to fall. Assad, however, miscalculated and his heavy assault on the rebellious cities of Hama and Deir Ezzor at the beginning of Ramadan has proven too much to bear.

Such miscalculations have characterized Assad’s response to a crisis that looks increasingly likely to end his decade-long rule over Syria. It need not have been. When the Arab Spring began in Tunisia, Syria appeared well placed to avoid unrest. Yet ever since demonstrations eventually broke out Assad has shown poor judgment and a lack of political skill, perhaps becoming someone who inherited power. One by one he and his regime have undone nearly all of their initial advantages.

Arguably the regime’s greatest asset when unrest first broke out was Assad’s personal popularity. Despite the security apparatus, the ruling Baath party and corrupt regime cronies being widely disliked, many Syrians placed their faith in Assad as a modernizing reformer. Yet his response to the unrest has shattered this carefully constructed image. He rambled in speeches about external conspiracies rather than delivering real change, and the few reforms he belatedly offered have been undermined by continuing regime violence.

Although some core supporters still hope he will deliver, most accept that in reality he is either too weak, being overawed by hardliners such as Maher, or is himself actually as ruthless a dictator as his father, Hafez. A second factor in the regime’s favor was the weakness of its opponents……

BC Ex-USSR: Iranian expert sees “rescuing” Syria as main purpose of minister’s Russia visit
2011-08-12, Text of report by Russian political commentary website Politkom.ru on 11 August

[Article written “specially for Politkom.ru” by political observer and orientalist Yelena Suponina: “Rescuing Syria and Bushehr’s Reputation”]

Iran is attempting to rescue friendly Syria from a civil war scenario and disintegration into tiny puppet entities. “This is the main objective of the visit to Moscow by our Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. It is necessary to jointly restore the balance of forces in the region with Russia’s assistance,” Mohammed Sadiq al- Husseini, the well-known Iranian political analyst and a member of the World Islamic Resistance Association leadership, told the author of these lines by telephone from Tehran today [12 August]. He has good connections with the Iranian foreign policy department and so his information can be trusted. In his words, “it is not so much about the fate of Bashir al-Asad’s regime as about the survival of that country in general.” “Iran will not allow Syria to be destroyed and handed to the Americans in pieces,” our interlocutor said…..

“It is necessary to jointly restore stability in Syria and preserve it as a unified state. But the fact that reforms are needed there is something that the Iranian authorities have been talking about for a long time. Syria today is like an old car on a modern highway. But it can still be repaired and modernized,” our nterlocutor feels. He complained that people in neighbouring Turkey “have adopted a pro-American stance on this issue” and hopes that “there is still an
understanding in Russia of the need to preserve the balance of forces in a key region of the world; otherwise the situation will become even more dangerous.”

Originally published by Politkom.ru website, Moscow, in Russian 11 Aug 11.

Secretary Of State interview on CBS

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Brooke Anderson on Syrian refugees in Lebanon – the Daily Star

Comments (9)


1. Pirouz said:

Josh, you undermine your academic credibility linking to articles written by Con Coughlin. Do a little investigating and you’ll see how utterly unreliable he is as a source.

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August 14th, 2011, 1:18 am

 

2. N.Z. said:

Posting a picture depicting a victorious army speaks volume.

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August 14th, 2011, 1:21 am

 

3. ann said:

The BBC World Service had a telephone interview with an Anglican clergyman in Latakia, Rev. Nadim Nasser who said that he was in a neighborhood far from the one under assault, and although they could hear gunfire he didn’t hear shelling and explosions. He also expressed the belief that armed groups had infiltrated the protests

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August 15th, 2011, 12:03 pm

 
 

5. ann said:

Egypt’s 5,000 troops take on 2,000 al Qaeda in Sinai. Three officers kidnapped

http://www.debka.com/article/21209/

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August 15th, 2011, 12:28 pm

 

6. ann said:

Common Fear, Opposing Reactions Define Differences between Christians in Egypt and Syria

http://www.persecution.org/2011/08/15/common-fear-opposing-reactions-define-differences-between-christians-in-egypt-and-syria/

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August 15th, 2011, 1:30 pm

 
 

8. ann said:

Why the Syrian regime won’t fall
By Pepe Escobar

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MH13Ak01.html

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August 15th, 2011, 1:47 pm

 

9. amal said:

SO, how is the independent islamist city of HAMA doing now?

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August 15th, 2011, 5:26 pm

 

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