Posted by Joshua on Friday, August 19th, 2011
Ehsani on Why Europe’s Impending Petroleum Product sanctions Will Hurt Syria
You ask how the trade embargo will affect Syria.
The answer to this will depend on the EU tomorrow. A draft circulated today that the region will ban the exports of refined petroleum products to Syria. Why is this important? Because while Syria may find buyers for its exports of crude (heavy type), what it really needs is to import refined crude. Iran also suffers from such a deficiency. This is why you see cars lined up at its gas stations in spite of the ample oil that it exports.
By placing the five different Syrian oil companies and agencies on the OFAC list, many countries and financial institutions will find it problematic to trade and do business with them. Iran will be an exception of course as it is under similar sanctions already.
By all accounts, Syrian businessmen report near 40-50% drop in general activity. The stock market is down by a similar amount largely reflecting this sentiment.
Again, what the EU does tomorrow with the export ban on refined petroleum will be key. The U.S. and the EU are likely to keep adding to the list of sanctions as this standoff continues. The pressure on the economy and the country’s finances are likely to intensify. Iran has been under similar sanctions and survived. I guess one argue that Syria can do the same. But, one must not underestimate the repercussions of these actions. When such measures are put in place, they are very hard to cancel and do away with.
The Syria Expert at the Economist Intelligence Unit responds
Ehsani, you are right to pick up on the importance of refined products imports (mainly mazout/diesel/gasoil), but it would be a mistake to rule out Iran as a potential supplier. Iran was dependent on product imports, but has turned that situation round through abolishing subsidies and upgrading its refineries, and is now in a position to export significant volumes of gasoline and diesel.
Syria’s products consumption has also been distorted by subsidies, and we can assume that if imports are curtailed consumption would fall either through rationing or increased prices.
Syria’s requirement for petroleum products has also been eased somewhat by significant increases in natural gas production over the past two years.
Assad to address Syrians on crisis
Thu Aug 18, 2011, Iranian TV
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly plans to deliver a televised speech in the upcoming days to address the ongoing crisis in the country.
Informed sources say Assad plans to address the nation in the next two days about the months-long unrest in Syria that is feared to seriously harm the national unity in the country, a Press TV correspondent reported on Thursday….
Syrian human rights activist Ammar Abdulhamid says democracy protesters are disgusted with Iran’s support of Assad regime.
Syria to allow UN investigators access
August 19, 2011 – AP
The United Nations said a humanitarian mission would go to Syria this weekend as European powers launched a campaign for UN Security Council sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos announced the much delayed mission after a Security Council briefing which was told of a shoot-to-kill policy against protesters, stadium executions and children feared killed in Syrian government custody.
The civilian death toll from protests which erupted in mid-March has now passed 2,000, UN under secretary general B. Lynn Pascoe told the 15-nation body.
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Assad promised UN chief Ban Ki-moon in May that a UN humanitarian team could go to protest towns. His government had since blocked the mission. But Amos told reporters: “We have been guaranteed that we will have full access to where we want to go.”
Turkey and Syria – Economist
One problem with a neighbour: Turkey’s tough talk on Syria is unlikely to be matched by action
IN A small café outside Istanbul’s Fatih mosque, a slight bearded man lifts his shirt to reveal two deep bullet wounds. “Assad’s soldiers did this to me,” says Motee Albatee, who served as an imam at a Sunni mosque in the besieged Syrian town of Deraa until he fled the country several weeks ago. Mr Albatee is among a growing number of Syrian dissidents who have found sanctuary in Turkey, many of them in refugee camps near the border. Some are angry over the reluctance of Turkey’s government to get tougher with Bashar Assad, Syria’s president. “Turkey must set up a buffer zone [inside Syria]” to protect more refugees from the fighting, insists Yayha Bedir, a member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Like many seated around the table, he believes only drastic action will force the Syrian army to defect en masse, bringing down Mr Assad’s brutal regime.
Such talk is particularly loud online, where Syrian tweeters have voiced disdain for Turkey’s attempts to get Mr Assad to end the bloodshed. Their fury grew earlier this month when Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, flew to Damascus to deliver what Turkish officials tautologically called a final ultimatum. “We are at the end of our tether,” roared Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister.
In this section
Mr Assad’s response was to intensify his assaults against unarmed civilians, notably in the Mediterranean port of Latakia (see article). This prompted Mr Davutoglu to issue yet another warning: Turkey would not, he said, “remain indifferent” to continuing massacres. Yet he also ruled out intervening to create a buffer zone. So what leverage does Turkey actually have over its erstwhile Ottoman dominion?
None whatsoever, say critics of Mr Davutoglu’s much-vaunted “zero problems with the neighbours” policy. That is unfair. But as Soli Ozel, a political scientist, puts it, the Syrian crisis has revealed that “Turkey isn’t as influential as it thought.”….
Turkey’s Western allies are not about to mount an invasion of Syria. But they are turning the diplomatic screws, and are eager for AK to sever political and trade links with Mr Assad. But a bigger prize would be to drive a wedge between Turkey and Iran. Turkey’s mollycoddling of the mullahs has angered America, most recently when Mr Erdogan’s government voted against imposing further sanctions on Iran at the United Nations last year. Turkey has since sought to make amends. It has agreed to NATO plans for a nuclear-defence missile shield that is clearly aimed at Iran. And after some dithering, it is co-operating with the alliance’s military operations in Libya.
Yet Turkey is understandably wary of openly confronting Iran, one of its main sources of natural gas and the primary transit route for Turkish exports to Central Asia. Iran has also helped Turkey in its battle against the PKK—though it continues to flirt with hardliners who oppose any deal with the Turkish government. Lately the PKK has been stepping up the fight—some 30 Turkish soldiers have been killed in the past month. On August 17th, in a bid to quell mounting public anger, Mr Erdogan authorised the bombing of hundreds of PKK targets inside Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. But such actions have failed in the past and the last thing Turkey needs is a hostile Iran.
Besides, many of AK’s pious constituents see the unrest in Syria as yet another America-backed Zionist plot to pit Turkey against Iran. The ultimate goal, their thinking goes, is to cut Turkey down to size. Disappointingly, the same line is parroted by the main opposition Republican People’s Party, for all its claims of change under its new leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
So what are Turkey’s options? It can withdraw its ambassador from Damascus, continue to intercept the flow of weapons to Syria and impose economic sanctions. Other than that, as Mr Ozel suggests, it should desist from promising any more than it can deliver.
Iraq Leader Says the Arab Spring Benefits Israel
August 18, 2011, By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
BAGHDAD — While Western leaders including President Obama called on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to step down, Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, warned Arab leaders in a speech on Thursday that Israel would benefit the most from the Arab Spring.
“There is no doubt that there is a country that is waiting for the Arab countries to be ripped and is waiting for internal corrosion,” he said in Baghdad. “Zionists and Israel are the first and biggest beneficiaries of this whole process.”
Mr. Maliki, the leader of Iraq’s Shiite government, rarely mentions Israel in speeches. But he warned that those Arab countries experiencing democratic revolutions should be wary of Israel’s taking advantage of the turmoil.
“We must take notice and be careful not to be the prey of the ambitions of this usurping country,” he said.
Mr. Maliki, who has maintained a far friendlier tone toward the Assad government than many Arab leaders, did not refer to Syria in the speech. He said that Arabs deserved to have more rights, but that they should gain them through the electoral process.
Since the uprising in Syria began, Mr. Maliki has invited many Syrian officials to Baghdad to discuss stronger economic ties between the two countries. He has also said far less about the Syrian government’s bloody crackdown on dissent than he did when there was similar unrest earlier in Bahrain, where a Sunni monarchy holds sway over a predominantly Shiite population.
Many analysts have said that Mr. Maliki’s stance on Syria reflects Iraq’s increasing tilt toward Iran, a Shiite theocracy and a strong supporter of Syria. In 2010, Mr. Maliki relied heavily on Iran’s political support to gain a second term as prime minister. Others have said that Mr. Maliki is concerned that unrest in Syria could spill over the border into Iraq and further destabilize the country.
Why the WikiLeaks cable about Syrian regime is spot on
US diplomats describe the Assad government as institutionally dishonest, brutal and defiant
Thursday 18 August 2011
In the Wikileaks cable the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is described as ‘nasty’ and ‘abrasive’ by US diplomats. Photograph: SANA / HO/EPA
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s apparently disingenuous statement to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, that military operations have ended comes as no surprise to diplomats with experience of working in Damascus.
Deceit is high on the list of qualities marking Syrian diplomatic relations, according to a frank US diplomatic cable from 2009 published by WikiLeaks this month.
“SARG [Syrian government] officials lie at every level,” wrote the US charge d’affaires in Damascus, Maura Connelly, as the US was beginning to re-engage with Syria after withdrawing its ambassador in 2005. “They persist in a lie even in the face of evidence to the contrary. They are not embarrassed to be caught in a lie.”
The portrait painted here fits with the behaviour of the regime towards its own people and the international community during the last five months: brutal and defiant.
In the cable the Syrian regime is described as willing to be “nasty” and using a style “at best abrasive and, at its worst, brutal” to achieve its aims.
This could involve anything from “harsh verbal attacks to intimidate and rattle foreign diplomats” to allegations made by Syrians abroad about harrassment by their own diplomatic staff. Other undesirable rules of engagement besides deceit are provided in the guide: “vanity and self-preservation” and the use of “non-sequitur” and “antagonism” as key strategies by officials, who are described as sticklers for protocol.
“The Syrians are not troubled by discord; they seek an upper hand in any relationship by relying on foreign diplomats’ instinctive desire to resolve problems,” Connelly wrote.
The cable suggests flattery may help lubricate meetings with Assad, whose weaknesses are described as vanity and abstraction – two hallmarks of his speeches during the current crisis.
The embattled president is described as less shrewd than his father, with a self-image as “a sort of philosopher king, the Pericles of Damascus” that influences policy to a “disproportionate” degree.
According to diplomats little has changed in the two years since the cable was written. “Syrian diplomats are a source of exasperation to all,” said one non-US western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity. “The security state runs the show, officials are hard to get hold of and when you do, they repeat the latest regime line ad nauseum.”
The cable also exemplifies why the regime has been caught short by a generation of young people who use social media to disseminate information about the crackdown. At the time of writing the Syrian ministry of foreign affairs had no internal email system, relying solely on phone and fax.
The cable does note, however, that a few talented individuals allow the Syrian government to punch above its weight.
Nour Ali is a pseudonym for a journalist based in Damascus
Iranian aid boosts Syrian regime’s survival chances
Wednesday, August 17 2011, Oxford Analytica
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday urged regional powers Turkey and Saudi Arabia to call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, while Iran continued to stand by its Syrian ally, warning that Western interference in the country would stoke public hatred in the region. The close alliance between Syria and Iran is based on shared ideological and strategic interests, including anti-US and anti-Israeli postures and support for the Lebanon-based Hizbollah. Together they form the pillars of what has been described by concerned Sunni neighbours as the ‘Shia Crescent’ of countries stretching from Iran to Lebanon. Damascus is critical to Iran’s rising regional hegemony, and represents its most valuable ally. If the Assad regime collapsed, Iran would lose its corridor for arms shipments to the Levant, as well as its strongest ideological bulwark.
• Increasing international isolation of the Syrian regime will increase its dependence on regional ally Iran.
• Iranian military aid will boost the Syrian forces’ efficiency and prolong the regime’s survival.
• Tehran will be the major economic beneficiary of new international sanctions against Damascus.
• Iran’s promise of over 5 billion dollars in aid will compensate any loss Syria suffers in trade with Turkey.
• With Riyadh leading Arab efforts against the regime, Syria is set to become the newest battleground between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Iranian penetration into Syria will become more obvious in coming months, particularly on the military and economic fronts. Its recent offer of a short-term loan and free oil deliveries will be the first of several aid measures aimed at propping up Assad’s regime. Iran’s moves will balance any threats coming from Ankara to cut trade or engage militarily. The Alawi-dominated regime’s crackdown on its largely Sunni population and its increasing isolation alongside Iran will polarise the already tense standoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Sectarian tensions will increase in the region as both countries corral support for their respective Sunni and Shia constituencies.
Syria’s violent crackdown on a five month civil uprising has increasingly isolated it from its Sunni neighbours in the Middle East. Amid mounting diplomatic pressure for an end to the violence, Iran has stood firmly in support of its Syrian ally, criticising any outside interference. In contrast to mainstream Arab TV stations, Iran’s media is providing only cursory coverage of events, adopting the Syrian regime’s line that ‘gangs and terrorists’ are the primary instigators of the violence (see SYRIA: Regime to hold firm against growing pressure – August 2, 2011).
Iran is contributing arms and military personnel to the Syrian secret service, as well as increasing its economic aid to the embattled Assad regime. …..
International isolation will bring Iran and Syria closer together, increasing economic, military and political ties. With Iran’s support, the Assad regime will be able to withstand sanctions, and continue to attack the opposition. Having so far avoided serious reforms, the Assad regime is unlikely to undertake these now. With Riyadh bolstering the Sunni majority, and Iran the Alawi minority, a stand-off can be expected for some time to come.
U.S. favors Muslim Brotherhood over pro-democracy Syrian opposition
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 World Tribune
WASHINGTON — The administration of President Barack Obama has selected the Muslim Brotherhood over the pro-democracy opposition to lead Syria after the expected ouster of President Bashar Assad, a report said.
The Hudson Institute, a leading consultant to the Defense Department, asserted that the administration has decided to work with Turkey and the Brotherhood in Syria for a post-Assad government. In a report by Herbert London, the institute said Obama has dismissed the pro-democracy opposition as an alternative.
“It would seem far more desirable to back the democratic influences — the political organizations that require cultivation and support — despite their relative weakness at this moment,” the report, titled “U.S. Betrays Syria’s Opposition,” said. “It is these religious and secular groups that represent the real hope for the future and the counterweight to the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
London, president of Hudson until 2011, said the State Department has ignored non-Brotherhood opposition groups. In July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited Brotherhood operatives and urged them to work with Turkey to help oust Assad.
“Missing from the invitations are Kurdish leaders, Sunni liberals, Assyrians and Christian spokesmen,” the report said. “According to various reports the State Department made a deal with Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood representatives either to share power with Assad to stabilize the government, or replace him if this effort fails.”
Hudson cited the Syrian Democracy Council, which contains a range of ethnic and religious minorities, including Alawites and Christians. SDC was not invited to the State Department.
Obama roars. World trembles. If only. Obama says Assad must “step aside”. Do we really think Damascus trembles? Or is going to? Indeed, the titan of the White House only dared to go this far after condemnation of Bashar al-Assad by Saudi Arabia, … A Swedish government agency recently concluded that Syria was largely unaffected by the world economic crisis – because it didn’t really have an economy……
UN report says brutal crackdown in Syria ‘may amount to crimes against humanity’
By FRANK JORDANS
18 August 2011
GENEVA (AP) – Government forces in Syria may have committed crimes against humanity by conducting summary executions, torturing prisoners and targeting children in their crackdown against opposition protesters, a high-level U.N. human rights team said Thursday.
Their report recommends that the U.N. Security Council refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for prosecution of alleged atrocities, a move that is likely to be discussed by the council at a closed-door session in New York later Thursday…..
Expert doubts Syrian leader has Swiss stash
Thelesklaf says it would be hard to prove a direct link between Assad and assets (Keystone)
by Simon Bradley, swissinfo.ch
Swiss financial crime expert Daniel Thelesklaf has told swissinfo.ch he seriously doubts Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has assets hidden in Swiss banks.
Switzerland announced on Tuesday it was extending sanctions against Syria to include travel bans and asset freezes against Assad and nine senior officials, in a move that follows the European Union and the United States.
Syria is Switzerland’s fifth major case of frozen assets this year.
So far it has frozen SFr60 million ($69 million) belonging to former Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his clan.
It has also identified about SFr400 million belonging to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his close entourage and some SFr360 million belonging to Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi and his clan. Switzerland has also frozen SFr70 million in assets belonging to former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and his entourage.
Thelesklaf, who is executive director of the Basel Institute on Governance, recently accompanied a Swiss delegation to Egypt and Tunisia as an independent observer to discuss the return of any illicit funds held in Swiss banks.
swissinfo.ch: Do you think Assad and his clan have a secret Swiss fortune stashed away?
Daniel Thelesklaf: I would be very surprised if Assad held assets in Switzerland. That would be a very weak signal.
I have no idea about the possible size of the assets, but I would be surprised if a direct link to Assad could be detected. His negative track record is well known.
THREE WAYS TO HELP PUSH ASAD ASIDE, By Andrew J. Tabler, August 18, 2011, WINEP
Experts Skeptical Syria’s Assad Will Resign
By Cecily Hilleary, VOA, Washington
…. Five months into the Syrian uprisings, Bashar Al-Assad may have lost credibility, but he has not lost his stranglehold over the country. “I think the main thing that is maintaining Bashar al Assad in power is the inability to see beyond him from Western policy makers,” says Nadim Shehadi, an Associate Fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House. In other words, Shehadi explains, “Assad creates smokescreens that prevent the world from seeing beyond him, by creating the circumstances whereby people would be afraid of what comes after he falls.”What exactly are those smokescreens? To Shehadi they are a myriad of Western worries he says the Syrian President deliberately feeds: “Iran would come in, Al Qaeda would take over, the Muslim Brotherhood, there would be civil war like Iraq…chaos in Lebanon, chaos in the whole region.”….
“The opposition is very fragmented,” says Shehadi. “There is no leadership. That’s because this regime doesn’t allow for an opposition to be united, coherent and credible.”
Stephen McInerney, Executive Director of the Washington, D.C.-basedProject on Middle East Democracy, agrees. “A lot of the key people that will emerge as leaders,” he says, “are keeping a low profile, and a lot of people who are being active in this protest movement don’t want to be known at this point, because if they are prominently known as leaders of the opposition and the protest movement, they are more likely to be targeted, and their work more likely to be eliminated.”
At a recent press conference in Washington, D.C, Radwan Ziadeh, who is also a Visiting Scholar at The Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs, acknowledged the lack of unity among Assad’s opponents. “It’s not easy,” he said, “to come up with a united opposition after 47 years of dictatorship. But even though the Syrian opposition does not have a united leadership, they do have a united agenda: A free Syria, for all Syrians.”
Fears of Civil War
Ziadeh also addressed concerns about religious, ethnic and sectarian divisions. In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and other diplomatic officials he stressed that the new Syria will be politically, ethnically and religiously inclusive. “We don’t want anybody to be excluded by the transition.”
Not even the Baath party, he adds.
Still, Washington has publicly stated that it is looking for clearer signs from the opposition. The State Department said this week said that U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford continues to meet with the Syrian government and the opposition on a daily basis.
“I think where we are in our discussions with the opposition,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, “is to continue to encourage them to work together, to be unified in their message, and to come up with a clear roadmap of their own for a democratic future for Syria.”
TIME’s reporter in Syria meets up with military defectors, even as the Assad regime rushes to find and exterminate them Syrian Regime Hunts Army Defectors Who Seek to Save Citizens…
The group of soldiers, all of whom were lieutenants from Rastan, had mainly been stationed in the southern city of Dara’a, where the antiregime uprising erupted in mid-March, as well as in the capital of Damascus. The men had each escaped from their various deployments and returned to their hometown. Two days before TIME visited them, they had donned their uniforms again to publicly announce their defection as a group in a brief, boilerplate video statement that was uploaded to YouTube and later aired on al-Jazeera. They made individual videos too, like a 48-second clip showing First Lieutenant Fadi Kism, a bearded man with dark eyes and plump lips, announcing his defection from the army’s Third Division. “I’m doing it because of the destruction that I saw in Rastan, and in Homs, in Dara’a and Hama,” the 23-year-old tells the camera. (See “A Visit to Hama, the Rebel Syrian City That Refused to Die.”)
The next day, around 1 p.m., shortly after his mother had watched the video of Rastan’s defectors on al-Jazeera, Kism was dead, killed in an ambush by loyalist soldiers who had tricked him and his colleagues into thinking they wanted to join them. A firefight broke out, the defectors say, in an account verified by several civilian witnesses interviewed independently. The official Syrian news agency SANA ran a short piece the next day saying that “an armed terrorist group” had “set an ambush, four kilometers east of Rastan city, opening fire on a convoy carrying officers to their workplaces.” An officer and two soldiers were killed, the report said, adding that three loyalists were wounded. “We only protected ourselves,” says Lieutenant Ibrahim Mohammad Ayoub, one of the remaining eight defectors. “We are not interested in attacking unless civilian lives, or our lives, are in danger.”
The defectors say they are being hunted down by a regime that won’t forgive disloyalty. They insist they are only protecting their townsfolk, but it seems like they themselves are in need of protection.
There are reports, difficult to verify, of soldiers being killed by their colleagues for refusing to shoot protesters. Low-level military defectors are breaking away in small numbers, but there have been very few high-ranking deserters, largely because the military’s upper echelon is made up of officers from the same Alawite minority sect that President Bashar Assad belongs to. TIME spoke to one of the most senior defectors, Colonel Hussein Harmoush, in northern Syria in June, just hours before he crossed into Turkey. Harmoush now claims to speak for the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose grouping of defectors that is reportedly headed by Colonel Riad al-As’ad, whose whereabouts are unclear. Still, beyond a few amateur video statements — which encourage other soldiers to desert and offer promises to protect civilians — there is precious little proof of the FSA’s existence, at least in any regimented form…..
Syrian American group urges Russia, China, Brazil, India to end support for Syrian dictator
(Washington, D.C., 8/18/11) – The Syrian American Council (SAC) welcomed the statement today from President Barack Obama calling for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to “step aside,” and expressed optimism about new measures introduced to further isolate the Assad regime…….
In a statement, SAC Chairman Dr. Louay Safi said:
“We applaud President Obama and his administration for finally calling for Bashar Assad’s immediate resignation. We appreciate the leadership from the United States over the past month to further isolate the Assad regime, and we welcome the Executive Order from the President with hopes that it will hasten the end of the Assad regime and stop the bloodshed of innocent men, women and children.
“We urge the United Nations to follow with an immediate resolution that holds the Assad regime accountable for its crimes against humanity that President Obama referenced, which include the ‘imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering’ of thousands of innocent Syrians.
“We specifically urge the leaders of Russia, China, Brazil, and India to immediately cease protecting the Assad regime, and to stand on the right side of history by supporting Syria’s peaceful revolution. By opposing a UN Security Council resolution, these governments are directly facilitating the massacres we have witnessed in the past month. Any government or organization that can exert pressure on the Assad regime to step aside and allow the Syrian people to take control of their destiny must do so immediately.
“Finally, we wish to commend President Obama for reminding all people that the fate of Syria is firmly in the hands of the millions of Syrians who have admirably taken to the streets ….