Posted by Joshua on Thursday, October 11th, 2012
Arms supplies to Syrian rebels drying up: No sign of heavy weapons to fight tanks and aircraft Regional rivalries hamper struggle against Assad
Martin Chulov and Ian Black – Guardian, 11 October 2012
In the battle for northern Syria the most important front is far from Aleppo. It is across the border in the southern Turkish town of Antakya. Here rebels, who now move around with increasing ease, are engaged in daily bids for patronage with those who keep the insurgency running….
The men with the money and influence in Antakya are envoys sent by the Sunni world’s political elite or business leaders. One name comes up more than any other – a Lebanese MP named Okab Sakr.
“Every time Okab is in town the weapons start to move across the border,” said a rebel colonel from the Jebel al-Zawiya region, who calls himself Abu Wael. “The problem is he is very particular about where those weapons go.”…Sakr is a member of the Future movement of the Lebanese opposition leader, Saad Hariri. According to colleagues in Beirut he has been given the role of gun runner-in-chief…..The US, always jittery about backing the uprising, is opposed to calls by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply rebel groups with equipment needed to combat aircraft and tanks – an issue raised by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday. Jordan and Turkey appear to share Washington’s concerns. Confirmation on Wednesday that the US had sent a military mission to Jordan to help build a headquarters on the border with Syria and to improve Jordan’s military capabilities underlines worries about possible spillover.
“It’s about indirect intervention,” said Mustafa Alani of the Saudi-financed Gulf Research Centre in Abu Dhabi. “The money is there, arms can be supplied. But the Jordanians and the Turks are hesitant. Turkey is allowing some weapons in but there are a lot of restrictions. People are waiting for a shift after the US election.”
Another growing problem is a lack of co-ordination between Qatar and the Saudis – the likely subject of Wednesday’s talks in Doha between the Emir and the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar. King Abdullah is said to be growing impatient with the difficulties of the Syrian crisis. According to Syrian opposition activists, the Saudis now sponsor only rebel groups which are at odds with those backed by Qatar and Turkey, which are often linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The Qataris are much more proactive than the Saudis,” said one well-placed Arab source. “The Saudis are not interested in democracy, they just want to be rid of Bashar. They would be happy with a Yemeni solution that gets rid of the president and leaves the regime intact.”
Intelligence chiefs from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and France reportedly met in Turkey in early September along with the CIA director general, David Petraeus. But they apparently failed to reach agreement on a co-ordinated strategy….The Americans are especially against handing out anti-aircraft missiles. They will not accept these things falling into the hands of jihadis. Imagine having to do a Stinger buy-back programme like Afghanistan all over again.”
Now the Saudis are signalling that they are reaching the limits of what they will do in the face of US objections, concern about the resilience of the Assad regime, fears that extremists will dominate the opposition – as well as the risks of “blowback” from jihadis returning home…..Now the Saudis are pushing the armed Syrian opposition to form a “salvation front” with unified command and control on the ground and, crucially, an ability to collect weapons once fighting has ended – a lesson learned the hard way from Libya. The Saudis are backing brigadier-general Manaf Tlass,…
But there is little optimism about prospects for any immediate improvement. “It’s all a bit of a mess,” said analyst Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution in Doha. “Everyone is waiting for someone else to do a better job. It can’t be the Saudis or the Qataris or the Turks. It’s got to be the Americans…..
News Round Up by Foreign Policy
The U.S. military has sent a task force of over 150 planners and other specialists to Jordan to assist in dealing with the Syrian crisis. The planners’ tasks will primarily involve handling refugee flows, already estimated at 180,000; securing the border to prevent spillover from Syria; and preparing for scenarios including the loss of government control of chemical weapons. The U.S. government has avoided intervening in Syria other than providing nonlethal assistance, including communications equipment. However, the deployment to the outpost near Amman, less than 35 miles from the Syrian border, could play a critical role if U.S. policy were to shift. U.S. Pentagon and Central Command officials have declined to comment on the mission, in addition to a spokesman from the Jordanian embassy in Washington. Meanwhile, Turkey has warned Syria that it will respond with greater force if cross border shelling continues. The statement came about a week after Turkey retaliated after fire from Syrian forces hit the Turkish town of Akcakale, killing five civilians. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the military alliance has plans to defend Turkey if requested. In Syria, opposition forces reportedly took control over Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province, a strategic town on the main highway connecting Damascus with Aleppo. If the Syrian army does lose Maaret al-Numan, it will hinder its ability to send reinforcements to aid in the longstanding battle in Aleppo. The jihadist militant group, al-Nasra Front, has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing targeting the Air force Intelligence complex in the Damascus suburb of Harasta. The facility is notorious for its detention and torture of opposition members. Fierce fighting also continued in the city of Homs.
Russia has negotiated a $4.2 billion arms sale to Iraq becoming the country’s second biggest arms supplier after the United States.
‘Syrian massacre is veiled in silence‘ (Michael Peel, The Financial Times)
“Daraya’s continuing anguish says much about the evolution – or regression – of Syria’s 18-month-old conflict and the world’s attitudes to it. More than a month after what local people say was the massacre of at least 500 people, the town is in a ghastly limbo, still surrounded by regime forces and aware that another blow could fall at any time with hardly anyone watching. When 108 people were slaughtered in the central Syrian district of Houla in May, it was widely talked of as a possible turning point in international attitudes to what has now become a war; when several times that number were reported dead in Daraya over several days in late August, it triggered a brief round of condemnation – and then near-silence. As a diplomat who covers Syria put it: “It’s like the Syrian conflict has become something with which the international community can live.””
….Recent visitors say the 47-year-old president has taken over day-to-day leadership. They speak of a self-confident, combative president convinced he will ultimately win the conflict through military means.
“He is no longer a president who depends on his team and directs through his aides. This is a fundamental change in Assad’s thinking,” said a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician with close ties to Assad. “Now he is involved in directing the battle.”
The endgame may have changed too. “Nobody is now talking about the control of the regime over all of Syria, they talk about the ability of the regime to continue.”
Until recently, the Lebanese politician said, people asked daily who would defect next. But for some time now there had been no significant military defections.
“The fighting nerve is steady. The Iranians and the Russians may have helped them. Their ability to manage daily and control the situation has improved.”
The government has decided to focus its effort on essential areas – the capital Damascus, the second largest city of Aleppo, and the main highways and roads.
Other close observers of the conflict say Assad is deluded if he believes he can prevail.
“The problem is the regime lives in its own world. It is clear the people are rejecting this idea – the regime’s narrative – that it is a secular regime set upon by extremists, a battle between good and evil and Bashar will one day be vindicated. Bashar is not the victim. He is the cause of the violence,” said a Western diplomat.
In the Land of the Free Syrian Army – fascinating article. Must read
October 4, 2012 Ilhan Tanir
Ilhan Tanir writes firsthand on the efforts of Syrian towns to self-govern after driving out regime forces….
Tensions Escalate as Turkey Forces Down Syrian Passenger Jet
By ANNE BARNARD and SEBNEM ARSU, NYTimes
Turkey sharply escalated its confrontation with Syria on Wednesday, forcing a Syrian passenger plane to land in Ankara on suspicion of carrying military cargo, ordering Turkish civilian airplanes to avoid Syria’s airspace and warning of increasingly forceful responses if Syrian artillery gunners keep lobbing shells across the border. ….
Syria’s main opposition bloc to restructure, seek new impetus
by Irish, Oct 10, 2012, Reuters
Syria’s main opposition bloc will restructure itself in Qatar next week to seek fresh impetus, Syrian National Council leader Abdulbaset Sieda said on Wednesday, after months of criticism that it is too fractious and influenced by Islamists….Sieda, who is due to resign from his position next week, said the first step would be a general assembly of the Syrian National Council in Doha from October 15-17 to elect a new leadership and increase the numbers of women and young members.
It will also incorporate some 20 new groups into the organization, including local coordination committees, business groups and smaller Kurdish, Turkmen and Syriac Christian representatives.
Sieda, who described himself as secular, reiterated that the SNC favors a secular, democratic Syria that respects minority rights and where power is to given local authorities, away from the centre in Damascus.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan has been coordinating Saudi Arabia’s policies towards the Syrian uprising since being appointed intelligence chief by King Abdullah in July. Bandar’s reputation as an inveterate networker and hawk have fuelled anticipation …
Bandar took over the Syria “file” from the king’s son Abdelaziz, a deputy foreign minister. The move also followed rumours of inefficiency at the intelligence agency. Bandar organized the visit of Manaf Tlass, the Sunni general and Assad associate who defected from Syria in July. Shortly after his appointment it was rumoured – evidently falsely – that he had been killed in an explosion in Riyadh. Iranian and pro-Assad media suggested it was retaliation for the assassination of four of Assad’s senior security chiefs in a bomb attack in Damascus a few days earlier.
Veteran Saudi-watchers say that decision-making in Riyadh, where government is highly personalised and the senior royals ageing, is currently in poor shape. The king is 88 and frail, Crown Prince Salman, 76, abroad and the foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, 72, convalescing.
In a rare public glimpse of his movements, Bandar was reported to be in the Qatari capital Doha on Wednesday, holding talks with the Emir, Sheikh Hamad. It would be surprising if the Syrian crisis was not on their agenda. “We need to wait and see what Bandar will do with the Syria file,” said one Saudi source. “People will be watching carefully.
As Assad hangs on, Turkey confronts failure on Syria
by Andrew Parasiliti in al-Monitor
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said this week that Syria is becoming the “worst-case scenario that we’ve all been dreading.”
The shelling across the Turkish-Syrian border, now entering its seventh day, gives further testimony, as if any were needed, that Turkey’s Syria policies have failed and that the civil war in Syria is also a regional, sectarian war, with no end in sight…..
Yes, I was right on Syria. (And what now?)
by Helena Cobban, September 27, 2012, Just World News
from March 2011 until today. And that, at a time when a large majority of people in the U.S. (and ‘western’) political class had a very different analytical bottom line than my own. Their bottom line was, basically, that the Asad regime was weak, hollow, deeply unpopular, and would crumble “any day now.” And since people holding to this belief– which was nearly always, much more of a belief than an analysis– have been extremely strong inside the Obama administration as well as in the western chattering classes (including among many self-professed “progressives” or liberals), their belief in the imminent collapse of the Asad regime has driven Washington’s policy all along…..
If the U.S. wants the rebels to coordinate better on the ground, it should lead the way by coordinating outside help. The shower of cash and weapons coming from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and other Arab nations is helping extremist fighters and undercutting any orderly chain of command through the Free Syrian Army.
An exiled Syrian author and journalist whose inside account of the revolution drew such ire from Syria’s government that she was forced to flee the country has won a literary award from PEN for her courage. Samar Yazbek was named by poet laureate …
A Third Option in Syria
By Robert A. Pastor | Los Angeles Times
In a Liberated Syrian City, Citizen Government Takes Shape
By: Balint Szlanko | Briefing WPR
With a 48-member council, a city manager and a criminal court, civic government is reasserting itself in Al Bab, a northern Syrian city of about 180,000 people, after rebel fighters pushed government forces out at the end of July. Al Bab is far from peaceful: Government jets bombard it almost every day, and up to two-thirds of the population has fled. But a measure of normalcy has been re-established…..
The U.S. Must Limit Saudi Influence in Syria
By: Frank J. Mirkow | Briefing WPR
As the civil war in Syria becomes more acute, the United States must reassess its strategy toward that key Middle Eastern state, in particular, its stance on the role that Saudi Arabia has been playing in the Syrian conflict. Continued Saudi influence in Syria will only further destabilize the situation on the ground, undermine U.S. interests in the region and dim the prospects for a future democratic Syria…..
ALEPPO, Syria Leading the fight in Sakhour on the eastern side of this embattled city is the Tawafuk Battalion of the Free Syrian Army. It reports to a new coordinating body known as the Military Council, according to Mustafa Shabaan, the acting …
Syria’s Up-and-Coming Rebels: Who Are the Farouq Brigades?
Amid the hodgepodge of groups that make up the armed opposition to Bashar Assad, one organization is coming dramatically to the fore
By Rania Abouzeid / Raqqa province | October 5, 2012 | TIME
CNN: Syrian defector: I worked for ‘butcher’