Posted by Joshua on Saturday, May 26th, 2012
The United States is reportedly developing a plan to vet members of the Free Syrian Army before Arab nations transfer arms to them. It hopes to avoid arming muhahideen who turn against America should they succeed in bringing down the Assad regime. The US does not want another al-Qaida on its hands. The race to arm Syria is heating up as Saudi arms shipments are said to be getting through now. Russia reportedly also has an arms shipment en route to Syria. The UN is asking both sides not to send arms to Syria, but in vain. A new U.N. report blamed both sides for human rights violations, but explains that the Syrian army is killing many more people than the opposition. This also includes arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearance and summary execution of activists, opponents and defectors.”To underline this, Syrian activists said government troops killed at least 50 people in the town of Houla in Homs province on Friday.
As Syrians begin to suffer from the lack of food, oil and gas products, they are questioning the wisdom of sanctions, which are a blunt weapon imposed to bring about regime-change and not improve human rights or relieve suffering. A new book on the Iraq sanctions demonstrates how destructive they were to the most vulnerable Iraqis. L.C. Brown, my adviser at Princeton, writes in Foreign Affairs that most studies estimate that “at least 500,000 children under age five who died during the sanctions period would not have died under the Iraqi regime prior to sanctions.” Joy Gordon, the author of the new book, also punctures holes in the argument that the Iraqi suffering was due to the abusive manipulation of the sanctions by the Saddam Hussein regime.This is not to mention that they decrease the likelihood of Syria making a democratic transition in the future.
Haaretz writes that Israeli intelligence believes that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, and several other senior officials were indeed poisoned, just as the Free Syrian Army claims. But prompt medical treatment saved their lives. “There was an attempt to poison Shawkat and the other senior officials, but it failed, and all those who were at the meeting are still alive,” an Israeli official said.
What one fears is political money – an interview with Samir Aita – Read the whole interview – Very good
The regime cannot survive. But what is to be kept in society?
BI: Can you speak some about the impact of international sanctions in Syria? Whom are they affecting?
Aita: They are affecting–in two major ways–the population more than the regime. ….
BI: What is your vision of the exit in Syria and are you optimistic about the opposition?
Aita: These days are very bad days for the opposition. They are very bad days for the Syrian National Council. It became a hope for the uprising for the people inside, but it failed to build democratic rules inside itself.
A few guys controlled the Syrian National Council completely from the beginning. There are [other] oppositions that are weaker. They have been hit first by campaigns of denigration by al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, the Gulf media that supported the SNC, but also they failed on their own [to answer the needs of Syrians].
The opposition is somehow discredited–all of it. The situation is becoming not talking politics but talking weapons; the outcome of this will be determined by the weapons. No one knows who controls the armed opposition and what it wants, except overthrowing the regime. But the question is not only [one of] overthrowing the regime, it is what other regime should be built.
BI: You sound very pessimistic.
Aita: Some other path has to be found, built on international experience with conflict resolution, to get out of this messy thing. The US should be involved, but peacefully not militarily. My information is that the US will not intervene but is encouraging the flow of weapons into Syria. If Syria enters civil war, the image of the US will be [very] bad, like after Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. It brought war, not peace, stability and democracy.-Published 24/5/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org
Samir Aita is a writer, editor in chief of Le Monde Diplomatique Arabic Edition and president of Cercle des Economistes Arabes.
Jihad Yazigi in Bitter Lemons
a reduction in agricultural input subsidies accompanied by a severe drought forced tens of thousands of farmers from their lands and reduced the contribution of agriculture from around 25 percent of GDP to 19 percent in less than a decade.
In addition, in order to respond to its dwindling revenues, the government drastically reduced its investment and spending and applied what in practice was a copy of the structural adjustment programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund on emerging countries. This contraction of the government’s role in the economy was most obvious in rural areas, where the core constituency of the Baath party resided.
In the midst of all these difficulties and state divestment, there was one positive consequence: the government managed to accumulate billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves and save them for future generations, thanks to its short oil boom that lasted most of the 1990s.
This is exactly what Syria is set to lose through the international sanctions imposed on its crude exports. The loss of billions of dollars incurred by the government in the last few months because of the sanctions will render the reconstruction of the country and future investment requirements more difficult to fund.
The issues highlighted above point to the tremendous economic problems faced by Syria’s society. There must, indeed, be no illusions. A happy end to the current protest movement, including the establishment of a democratic political system, will not mean an end to Syria’s economic woes. Syrians must recognize the challenges ahead and adopt a new economic strategy that puts economic development and employment at its center.
-Published 24/5/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org – Jihad Yazigi is the editor of the Syria Report.
“The devastation of much of Iraqi society between 1990 and 2003 through [UN economic] sanctions … is a story that has been buried for the most part under layer on layer of diplomatic technicalities, obfuscation and sheer indifference … Her book deserves to be read and discussed widely.” —Eric Herring, Times Higher Education – In a powerful, original book, Gordon offers the most sophisticated and comprehensive analysis of the origins, administration, and impact of the Iraq sanctions regime. This is a damning account of how international administration was used by the U.S. and the UK for policy ends. Despite the rhetoric of humanitarianism, the sanctions were, in Gordon’s term, a humanitarian catastrophe.
This profoundly troubling story about U.S. foreign policy under three administrations reveals the shameful manner in which the United States relentlessly subverted the UN sanctions regime for Iraq, twisting it toward a purpose not approved by the Security Council. It is time Americans knew of the cruelty inflicted on Iraqis in our name behind closed doors at the UN in one of the morally most disastrous foreign policy decisions in American history. Gordon has documented it, calmly, courageously, meticulously, and convincingly.
–Henry Shue, University of Oxford, author of Basic Rights
She reports, most studies estimate that “at least 500,000 children under age five who died during the sanctions period would not have died under the Iraqi regime prior to sanctions.” She also punctures holes in the argument that the Iraqi suffering was due to the abusive manipulation of the sanctions by the Saddam Hussein regime. –L. Carl Brown (Foreign Affairs )
Provocative and sure to stir debate, this book lays bare the damage that can be done by unchecked power in our institutions of international governance.
As the United Nations’ observer mission has neared its full deployment of 300 monitors, international envoy Kofi Annan is preparing to travel to Syria to meet with the government to discuss the failing peace plan. The mission’s mandate is for 90 days and is set to expire in July. However, demonstrations and extensive violence continue throughout the country. Protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, and Deir el-Zour. According to the activist Local Coordination Committees, about 40 civilians were killed across Syria Thursday, and eight more on Friday. Prominent opposition member, Brigadier General Aqil Hashem, spoke to Britain’s House of Commons Thursday, appealing for an international intervention, in the form of targeted air strikes, to halt the fighting in Syria. His comments, however, highlighted the increasing divisions within the opposition. Meanwhile, Syria’s diplomatic mission in New York has been prevented from opening a bank account, and has complained that the United States, as the host country of the United Nations, is adopting “discriminatory” practices.
Russian arms shipment en route to Syria: report
By Louis Charbonneau | Fri May 25, 2012
Reuters) – A Russian cargo ship loaded with weapons is en route to Syria and due to arrive at a Syrian port this weekend, Al Arabiya television said in a report that Western diplomats in New York described on Friday as credible.
Syria is one of Russia’s top weapons customers. The United States and European Union have suggested the U.N. Security Council should impose an arms embargo and other U.N. sanctions on Syria for its 14-month assault on a pro-democracy opposition determined to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But Russia, with the support of fellow veto power China, has prevented the council from imposing any U.N. sanctions on Syria and has refused to halt arms sales to Damascus….. Western diplomats and officials said the report was credible.
In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had seen reports of countries supplying arms to the government and rebels. He urged states not to arm either side in the Syrian conflict.
“Those who may contemplate supporting any side with weapons, military training or other military assistance, must reconsider such options to enable a sustained cessation of violence,” he said.
Russia has defended its weapons deliveries to Syria in the face of Western criticism, saying government forces need to defend themselves against rebels receiving arms from abroad. [ID:nL5E8GEE2G] Damascus says Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Libya are among the countries helping the rebels…..
Israel steps up security ties with China
Associated Press, by Josef Federman – May 25, 2012
JERUSALEM — After a prolonged chill, security ties between Israel and China are warming up. With Israel offering much-needed technical expertise and China representing a huge new market and influential voice in the international debate over Iran’s nuclear program, the two nations have stepped up military cooperation as they patch up a rift caused by a pair of failed arms deals scuttled by the U.S...
(Reuters) – Syria is struggling to meet its grain import needs because of sanctions, raising the risk of bread shortages.
By Jonathan Saul and Michael Hogan. Fri May 25, 2012
Trade sources said a reluctance among foreign banks, shipowners and grain traders to sell to import-dependent Syria – even though food is not itself subject to sanctions – has forced Damascus into an array of unusually small deals, many arranged by shadowy middlemen around the Middle East and Asia.
“The main producer regions are very much at the centre of the civil war and although it is difficult to evaluate the impact this will have on the harvest, a significant disruption seems certain,” the firm said in its latest report last week.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, a benchmark for global grains traders, estimated last year’s wheat harvest at 3.85 million tonnes and barley at 700,000 tonnes. It estimates total annual grains consumption in Syria at 6.9 million tonnes.
U.N. officials have estimated at least a million Syrians need help with food and other essentials but have failed to agree a supply deal because the Syrian government wants to have control of the distribution of the aid.
“Food security of vulnerable populations in Syria is currently fragile,” said World Food Programme spokeswoman Abeer Etefa. “Overall poverty levels are also increasing and access to basic supplies and services is deteriorating.”….
“The middle men are driving this trade and can make serious money. Syria is making cash payments in euros or dollars through foreign exchange bureaux in places like Lebanon and the middle men will make the transactions from their accounts,” one trade source said. “They need to conceal deals.”
Private entrepreneurs, many previously unknown to major traders and based in Lebanon, Turkey, India and elsewhere, have been appearing to make purchases on the international market.
One Middle Eastern grain trader said the unusually small vessels arriving at Syrian ports with shipments of grain a fraction the size of a normally commercially viable shipment was an indication that Syria was losing the trust of major operators.
“Syria is in big trouble and can no longer call the shots on terms and conditions,” the trader said. “So they will try and take whatever they can even on tiny vessels.”
Port and ship tracking data, indicated three ships this week docked at Tartous carrying respectively from Turkey, Ukraine and Egypt: 27,000 tonnes of wheat; 8,000 tonnes of soybean; and a cargo of animal feed of 2,000 tonnes. Typical commercial grains cargoes are around 60,000 tonnes apiece.
Further up the Mediterranean coast at Latakia, Syria’s main general cargo port, just a single vessel, carrying less than 10,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat from the Black Sea port of Mikolaiv, or Nikolayev, made a delivery in the past two days.
HARVEST FORECASTS SLASHED
In better times, Syria has been a net exporter of grain. But intensive, state-sponsored production drives since the 1990s have drained the water table in areas like the Hauran plain, where the uprising began last year in the southern city Deraa among a population hit hard by drought and crop blight.
On Friday, an Agriculture Ministry official gave estimated harvest figures for this year that were a quarter lower than targets cited by the state news agency SANA. A production forecast of 3.7 million tonnes of wheat and 843,000 tonnes of barley compared to targets of 4.6 and 1.6 million respectively.
Independent analysts suggest state statistics may be optimistic. Influential French forecaster Strategie Grains said it had slashed its harvest estimate for Syria’s 2012 crop for soft and durum wheat by 900,000 tonnes to 2.5 million tonnes. That compared with a harvest of 3.3 million tonnes in 2011.
Divided Syrian Opposition to Choose New Leader
By: Khaled Yacoub Oweis | Reuters
The main Syrian National Council opposition group said it had accepted the resignation of its president, setting the stage for a showdown between the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and its political rivals over who will be the new leader.
Top Assad intelligence official said killed
Opposition sources said Col. Iyad Mando was killed in an ambush by Sunni rebels on March 26 near Damascus International Airport. They said Mando, identified as commander of a key unit in Air Force Intelligence, was shot to death after a rebel search that lasted several months [...]
Reports of Mando’s death were published on several opposition web sites. The Assad regime did not confirm the reports.
Love in the Time of Syrian Revolution
Justin Vela – Thursday, May 24, 2012 – The Atlantic
A story of two young students, torn apart by one of the world’s most brutal regimes and reunited by the uprising against it
When Farah said goodnight to her boyfriend one evening in January 2007, she had every reason to expect to see him the next day. Though she’d only been dating Omar for a month, the two students at Syria’s Damascus University already shared a special connection. Their first date had been over coffee. Soon, they were wearing matching clothes. “See you tomorrow,” they told each other that evening. But that “tomorrow” would not come for five turbulent years…..He was angry, he told me. He had been tortured, his family virtually deserted him, and classmates informed on him. He wanted to “hurt” the regime. Compiling the reports were one of the few ways he could use its crimes against it.
“That’s the maximum that we could do,” Omar said of the reports. “There was no revolution. You were alone.”
When Omar met Farah, she, like most Syrians, was working neither for nor against the regime. He cared for her, but knew that bringing her into his activist world would put her unfairly at risk. So, when he disappeared, she had no way to know what had happened. “She was upset because she thought I had left her with no words,” Omar said. ….
Farah knew nothing of Omar’s life as an activist, his time in prison, or his struggle to find meaning until, four years after their last conversation, she flipped on the London-based Syrian satellite news station Barada TV and saw an interviewer discussing Syria’s burgeoning revolution with her one-time boyfriend. “It was a shock to see him on TV,” Farah said. “I was happy to know that he is a real activist and I said to everyone that he is my boyfriend, although me and my friends called him a bastard before and it was illegal to mention his name in front of me. But his attitude towards the revolution made me forgive him.”….
When Farah called him the next day, Omar did not answer. She looked for him in the dormitory and asked his friends, but no one would tell her where he was. She began to suspect that Omar, who was several years older and claimed to occasionally “travel,” had been playing games with their relationship. “I was angry, hated him a lot, and did not forgive him,” she recalled.
What she only learned later was that, in the early hours of the morning, eight Kalashnikov-wielding mukhabarat state police had arrested Omar in an Internet café where he had been chatting on MSN with a Syrian opposition member outside the country and e-mailing reports on detained students to international human rights organizations and Western embassies. At the time, Farah didn’t know he was involved in opposition activities, which had gotten him arrested before. Omar had so internalized his awareness of the regime’s reach that he’d kept this part of his life even from her.
“He never told me that he had been arrested, but I noticed that he had ideas [that were] anti-regime from his speech,” Farah told me after we first met in Istanbul this past February. “But in general he was a cold man that did not express everything to me.” His demeanor could be so cool, she said, that she and her friends would teasingly call him “Iceman.”
Omar was released from the feared Sednaya prison in 2008, having completed most of his three-year sentence. He looked for Farah, but she no longer lived in the university dorms, and he’d kept touch with few mutual friends who might be able to help. His time was also short. State security forces had kept his identity documents, which would only be returned when he reported for compulsory military service. But Omar had resolved to never join in service of the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad. He needed to go underground and assume a new identity, and quickly, even if that meant leaving Farah behind.
Paul Salem argues that the international community needs to recognize the danger of using Lebanon as a proxy battle for another Arab country.
Uneasy New Players in a Precarious Lebanon
by Rudy Sassine
Recent events in Lebanon have reinforced a widespread belief that civil war is imminent. As the uprising in Syria has spilled over to the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, with clashes erupting between Alawites and Sunnis, and a number of Salafist factions turning increasingly belligerent after the arrest of one of their militant members by general security agents, some have begun to wonder how long Beirut will remain immune to the kind of sectarian conflagrations that will pit Sunnis against Shiites and plunge much of the country into mayhem.
There is no doubt that the answer lies in a number of interrelated domestic and regional factors. Key factors determining the course of events in Lebanon are Hizballah’s alignments with the Assad regime’s interests in addition to its domestic electoral calculations in anticipation of Lebanon’s 2013 parliamentary elections….
Charles Glass in the National
May 23, 2012
The rebellion against tyranny is turning into a sectarian and class war that could destroy Syria for a generation and drive out those with the talent, education or money to thrive elsewhere. Neither side speaks of conciliation. The end game for both requires the destruction of the other. Foreign backers appear to encourage confrontation, when they should seek agreement to save Syria from the fate of its neighbours Lebanon and Iraq.
Colonial threads combine to strangle a sectarian Syria
The National 23/5/12
Twenty-five years ago, I travelled by land through what geographers called Greater Syria to write a book. I began in Alexandretta, the seaside northern province that France ceded to Turkey in 1939, on my way south through modern Syria to Lebanon. From there, my intended route went through Israel and Jordan. My destination was Aqaba, the first Turkish citadel of Greater Syria to surrender to the Arab revolt and Lawrence of Arabia in 1917. For various reasons, my journey was curtailed in Beirut in June 1987. (I returned to complete the trip and a second book in 2002.)
Beyond Bashar, Syria’s Rebels Are Facing Far More Significant Resistance
By: Charles Rizk | The Daily Star
the Iranian leadership still unreservedly supports its Syrian counterparts again the domestic uprising. On July 15, 2011, Iran and Syria signed a $10 billion gas agreement. And soon thereafter, in August, Tehran allocated $23 million for the development of the Syrian base in Latakia. Fighters from the Iranian Al-Quds militia have also taken part in the repression, alongside a Syrian force generously supplied with Iranian weapons.
Today, it is this powerful Iranian-Syrian bloc, with its Iraqi extension, that is covering Bashar Assad’s back and confronting the Syrian rebels. That explains the regime’s capacity for endurance and its indifference to international pressure. This indifference is all the more pronounced in that it is sustained by the backing of Russia, which has been able to reconstitute itself and stage a strong comeback in the Middle East by taking advantage of events in Syria….
For Russia, the restoration of the state and the domestic economy is a precursor to restoring its influence worldwide. This determination, coinciding with the revolt in Syria, gave Putin the opportunity to display his country’s new diplomatic assertiveness. Russian intransigence over Syria could be explained by the fact that the relationship with Damascus is all that remains from the Soviet era, which were built on three pillars: Egypt, Iraq and Syria.
…. In 2010, Moscow signed an arms contract with Damascus worth $700 million. This was followed by the delivery of Yak-130 aircraft worth $550 million.
The inflexible Russian position on Syria in recent months has also reflected a general sense of unease towards the United States, notably since NATO began installing an anti-missile shield stretching from Poland to Romania, at Russia’s doorstep.
… If Western objections to the indefensible character of the Assad regime carry little weight in Moscow, it is because they are taken out of context. Russia is not worried about Assad; it is largely indifferent to his personal fate and to the nature of his regime. What counts most for Moscow is to impose a multilateralism that turns to its advantage, on the ruins of America’s global hegemony.
The main factor driving the convergence of views on Syria between Russia and China at the Security Council is China’s mainly economic interest in Iran, the third main source of oil for China. This situation assumes even greater importance in that international sanctions on the export of Iranian oil have made the Chinese market indispensable for the Iranians. If China decides not to go along with these sanctions, its share of Iranian trade will grow and Beijing will benefit from highly advantageous prices. Iran’s objective, as announced by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2010, is to raise the level of this trade to $100 billion by 2015.
China, Russia and Iran support for Bashar Assad makes a Western military intervention in Syria impossible, given the likely catastrophic repercussions for all concerned. In the eyes of this coalition, Assad is a tool and pretext. He is the façade against which the courage of the insurgents will continue to collide as long as Russia and its allies on the one side, and the United States and its allies on the other, fail to dispassionately settle their differences, therefore reach agreement over their contending interests, through negotiations.
Is there really a Saudi – Turkish divide?
25/05/2012, By Adel Al Toraifi. As-Sharq al-Awsat
….What about the Syrian crisis? Anybody observing the Saudi-Turkish talks must realize that they are in perfect harmony regarding the necessity of ousting Bashar al-Assad. One side may be issuing stronger statements than the other, but practically speaking, there is no difference between their view and handling of the crisis. As for the claims that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are making different demands of Syria, this discourse is lacking in evidence. Of course, there are differences, but we have not seen Saudi Arabia or Turkey backing one opposition party over another. Of course, the Muslim Brotherhood constitutes an overwhelming majority of the Syrian opposition abroad, however this is in accordance with the fact that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is the largest established political party for Syrians abroad, therefore it is not wise to disregard it when considering the forthcoming period.
Developing Saudi – Turkish relations is important, because there is more that unites these two countries than divides them. However, like bilateral relations between any countries, the language of interests is the natural gauge regarding rapprochement. Of course, there are natural differences between the two countries, but to describe them as “frenemies” is an over-exaggeration.
NetApp Investigated by U.S. on Syria Surveillance System Sale
2012-05-25, By Ben Elgin and Vernon Silver
May 25 (Bloomberg) — U.S. regulators are investigating how a multi-million-dollar storage system from NetApp Inc. came to underpin a sweeping Internet-surveillance system being built last year for the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad….
NetApp Investigated by U.S. on Syria Surveillance System Sale
2012-05-25 13:23:37.883 GMT
By Ben Elgin and Vernon Silver
May 25 (Bloomberg) — U.S. regulators are investigating how
a multi-million-dollar storage system from NetApp Inc. came to
underpin a sweeping Internet-surveillance system being built
last year for the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.