“Syria’s Opposition Must Find a Different Way,” By Ehsani

Syria’s Opposition Must Find a Different Way
By Ehsani for Syria Comment
February 10, 2012

As the death toll mounts on the streets in Syria, it is important to remember how we got here. Damascus has decided to reassert control over its restive cities by using the full might of its military. This should not come as a surprise to observers and policy makers. Indeed, the surprise is that the government has taken this long to order its offensive.

In the first three months of this crisis, it is fair to suggest that the opposition was largely peaceful. By the summer of 2011, this was beginning to change. The uprising was morphing into an armed resistance as weapons started to surface on Syrian streets. The defining moment was at the beginning of Ramadan.  Contrary to consensus opinion, the government was not deterred by the start of the Holy month. Hama was stormed and taken back from the opposition to the shock of the region. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made its first defining public comment on Alarabiya Television Channel immediately following Hama’s fall to the government, after withdrawing its ambassador from Syria.

Since Hama, Syrian opposition members have begun increasingly to  call to demand weapons and a military response to overpower the regime. For the next 6 months, Syrian streets and neighborhoods became armed enough that the mighty Syrian army had to think twice before entering the developing mini enclaves ruled by the opposition within its cities. Not surprisingly, taking up arms suddenly became the accepted modus operandi of the opposition and the uprising. Those cautioning against such strategies were referred to as ignorant or regime supporters.

Young opposition activists who followed the advice to arm and fight the regime are now being left to fend for themselves against the military Goliath of the Syrian Army. As I wrote following my return from the country, many assured me that the armed forces were yet to use more than 20% of their capacity. As I listened to pronouncements by opposition leaders about the necessity to arm, I could not help but wonder what would happen when Damascus would unleash its full  military might. We will now find out.

While Rastan, Homs and Zabadani were becoming hell for its residents, I was dismayed to see that the so-called brains of this revolution were landing in Doha airport. The purpose of the meeting is of course to focus on “the situation on the ground in Syria” and find ways of “helping the rebels”. How infuriating to see men in suites sit in the comfort of Doha hotels instructing the poor men, women and children of the restive neighborhoods of Syria on what they should do next.  The fact is that since the first calls to arm the population, the brain trust of this revolution sent the people of Syria into a kamikaze mission. Did anyone really think that the Syrian army was going to be defeated at the hands of poor young men with Kalashnikovs?

Sadly, following the double veto at the U.N., many capitals have announced that they are willing to further arm the rebels. This is a travesty. The fact is that no amount of arms in the hands of such untrained rebels will come even close to defeating the Syrian army. This insanity must stop. The Syrian National Council and regional powers must come up with a different strategy if they truly care about the Syrian people who are now dying on the streets and in their homes.  Some have argued that had it not been for the veto at the U.N., the Syrian army would not have responded this way over the past 48 hours. This is false. The decision to storm Homs and Zabadani was made before the vote. The central government decided to restore its control over all its cities before a Syrian Benghazi could be established.

At the beginning of this crisis, I was skeptical that the opposition was as armed as the government media claimed. By the end of Ramadan, I had no doubt that armed elements were indeed committing violence against government forces and others. This was confirmed to me by a first-rate reporter who has spent months in the most troubled cities and neighborhoods of Syria. This is not to give a pass to the government. It is the stronger of the two parties, and it must assume most blame for the violence. The leadership has been very consistent in its defiant attitude. In spite of this, many still speculate that the President will soon step down or leave the country. Such false signals have convinced those taking up arms that their strategy is somehow working and that a “win” is around the corner. This is regrettable and dangerous.

Those of us living in the comforts of the West are only too familiar with how politicians in democratic countries compete over their “records”. My wish is to see the Syrian opposition begin to discuss President Assad’s  record on the economy, the public sector, illegal housing, the environment, health care, education, the media, and individual liberties. Instead, we seem to hell bent on steering our country straight into an iceberg with 23 million on board.

The Syrian National Council and many Arab and International policy makers who are now pontificating on Syria’s future were nowhere to be seen in 2007, when the President’s second 7-year term began. We have gone from being in a coma to calling for the downfall of the regime and even the hanging of its leader. This is insanity. The Syrian National Council must call for all rebels and opposition groups to stop arming themselves. Instead, it should declare that the opposition set its sights on 2014, when President Assad’s second presidential term will come to an end.

What is needed is a smart and innovative strategy that helps spare lives but effectively convinces the leadership that the old ways of doing business are over. Popular efforts must be spent in writing a new constitution, a bill of rights to calm minority fears, and an economic plan to reassure the business community and workers alike. The standard of living of most Syrians is appalling, so is the education level and health care system. The opposition must channel their energies towards such topics rather than the senseless calls to arm the rebels in what is clearly a suicide mission.

To be sure, the opposition if anything is likely to go in the opposite direction to what I am suggesting. Just this morning, a young member of the opposition (Mr. Mohammad Al Abdallah) is calling for Mr. Ghalioun to step down accusing him of failing to do anything while Homs residents are being slaughtered. While his anger is understandable, he offers no precise prescription of what to do next. I am not sure how you make a revolution and succeed in toppling this regime peacefully. Perhaps Mr. Abdallah can nominate a Syrian Ghandi for the next phase of this country’s future.

Comments (207)

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201. zoo said:

MIT spy kidnapped Syrian army defector (Mustafa Harmus), delivered him to Assad: report
Istanbul – Hürriyet Daily News
February 12, 2012
Former Turkish intelligence officer Ö.S., who was discharged from the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) last week, was detained for alleged connection to the kidnapping of a Syrian officer who had defected from the Syrian army, reports have said.

Free Syrian Army (FSA) founder Col. Mustafa Harmuş had defected from the Syrian army in June and started living in a camp in Turkey’s Hatay province. Harmuş had drawn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ire after he appeared on numerous TV channels and accused the Syrian regime of crimes against humanity. The Syrian government had placed a $100,000 reward for his capture before Harmuş disappeared on Aug 29.

Ö.S., an active Turkish intelligence officer at the time, became a suspect in the disappearance after police found out about phone conversations between him and four other people, talking about the kidnapping, according a report by the daily Hürriyet said.

Ö.S. had forged official letters to take Harmuş out of the camp in Hatay, claiming he would take Harmuş to another location in Gaziantep province, the report said. Instead, Ö.S. delivered Harmuş to two of his accomplices, who then handed him over to the Syrian police, it added.

Turkish police has been running a surveillance operation on Ö.S. and four others for five months and waited for Ö.S.’s return from Syria, where he had gone to on Feb. 3 allegedly to collect the reward for handing over Harmuş.

Col. Mustafa Harmuş was claimed to be executed by the Syrian regime after he was delivered by the suspects.

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February 11th, 2012, 4:44 pm


203. zoo said:

Turkey should watch out for a tsunami of the US media and be ready for retaliation from Israel and the lobby in the US.

‘Enough is enough,’ Turkey’s Davutoğlu tells Israel

WASHINGTON – Anatolia News Agency
[‘Enough is enough,’ Turkey’s Davutoğlu tells Israel]

Turkey’s top diplomat lashed out at Israel yesterday over its uncompromising stance on core issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The U.S. veto on the recognition of Palestine was wrong as was the Russian veto on Syria,” Davutoğlu said

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February 11th, 2012, 4:53 pm


204. Tara said:

I somehow like French doctors…

Syria: veteran French surgeon saves lives after 44 years in world’s war zones
‘We are just here to help in some way’, says Dr Jacques Bérès, 71, pressed into action within hours of arriving in Homs area

Saturday 11 February 2012 15.21 EST

Syrian people protest against president Bashar al-Assad in Homs. Photograph: Reuters
When Dr Jacques Bérès crossed into Syria by truck last week, his hulking suitcase full of surgical kit was perched against an awkward cargo – two dozen rocket launchers.

The retired French surgeon – who has volunteered his services in nearly every major global conflict since Vietnam in 1968 – said he rarely had to share transport with gunrunners on his mercy missions. But nothing about this war in Syria seems to be going to script.

“It’s not good,” Bérès said of his arrival. “In principle, it is forbidden for humanitarian people to travel with weapons. But it is their country and their war. We are the observers. We are just here to help in some way.”

In the three days that the 71-year-old orthopaedic surgeon Bérès has been near Homs, he has been at the centre of an escalating uprising. Hours after arriving on Thursday he helped to save the life of a gunshot victim and gave first aid to five seriously wounded opposition fighters.

On Saturday he operated in Zabadani on a civilian shot in the leg, as the victim’s family and Free Syrian Army soldiers waited anxiously outside. The fighting has seen opposition fighters launching attacks last week against key government posts.

But the destruction during the past week of the two most prominent resistance hubs in Homs, Baba Amr and al-Khalidiyah, had its effect in the city’s outskirts, where residents are waiting for an invasion.

“It’s 100% certain that they will do the same here that they have done in Homs,” said Abu Mahmoud, a Free Syrian Army captain, as he arrived at Zabadani’s medical clinic. “We know they are coming and we are preparing for them. We only have light weapons,” he said, pointing at the webbing around his waist that carried five ammunition clips for a Kalashnikov and a hand grenade.

Only six weeks ago, this hard-bitten rebel was a career officer in the Syrian army. “But they wanted us to kill our own people, our own families,” he said, standing in the muddy courtyard of the improvised clinic. “I waited for the chance to run. There were a group of officers who they thought were going to escape and a military firing squad killed 17 of us. I got away.”

Abu Mahmoud is a recent defector; he waited for almost 10 months before fleeing and was party to some of the most prominent operations of the regime crackdown, in Idlib, Deraa and Homs. But the time it took him to defect is not being held against him in his home town, where he is now one of the Free Syrian Army’s local leaders.

“Every officer like him had three people from Assad’s army watching him,” said the lead physician at the clinic, Dr Qassem. “He couldn’t run. If he did, he would have been killed.”

Captain Mahmoud offered a warning: “In Homs they are firing from the hospital and other high ground. Here, they are only five or six kilometres away, in the military firing range. They have positions on every exit from town and some units are less than one kilometre away.”

He picked up a box of medicines, turned for the gate and left.


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February 11th, 2012, 4:56 pm


205. Hans said:

Many people wants Assad to go for different reasons and maybe the majority truly want Assad to go but in reality Assad is not the real problem for Syria, many of the so called revolutionists here are full of Syrians and other Arabs bloods on their hands, lies here and on the western media have been exposed well by the Russians, backdoor deals to sell syria to the devil were exposed in the back doors of the UN.
The GCC pigs goat beard trash bags are full of dirt who are trying to destroy syria.
did anyone hear that the KSA pig sorry the so called king wants to obtain nuclear weapon from Pakistan because Iran have/will have nuclear weapon, I guess the Saudi pig doesn’t care that Israel has/had 200+ nuclear war head, he only cares about Iran having the war head!!!
i am not defending Iran but it is the same mentality/analogy syria is being put in!
The GCC pigs with the help of the west want to topple Assad, put piece of shit MB regime in Syria to please the GCC, I wish Assad had an election six months ago he would definitely won against the traitor who are trying to put Syria on a plate of blood to the the pigs of GCC and the west.
Russia is still there for syria to the END will see.
History will tell who destroyed syria Assad regime or the pigs of GCC .

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February 11th, 2012, 5:08 pm


206. Halabi said:

I’m sorry the truth irritated you, Irritated. When you support Assad, by definition you back Al Qaeda in Iraq, and terrorist attacks in Lebanon, Jordan and civilians in Israel. You’re only allies are a non-Arab theocracy, an armed party in Lebanon, China and Russia, bastions of human rights and democracy. So it’s natural to be in bed with terrorists.

Has your mufti Hassoun given any menhebaks the order to attack civilians in the U.S. and Europe?

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February 11th, 2012, 5:38 pm


207. Tara said:

The last paragraph is a must read.  It is a graphic description of how shabeehas cut off heads of the protestors.  The first head was cut off “for freedom”, the second head was cut off for “the shabbeha martyrs”, the third head was cut off for “collaborating with Israel”. Read: 

Abu Suleiman was working methodically to wrap the body of a seven-year-old girl in a white shroud. He didn’t flinch as a volley of mortar bombs crashed down only a street away. He has been preparing the dead for burial since the start of the uprising. Last week he had his busiest day.

Carefully, he folded over the white cloth to cover the girl’s curly chestnut hair, matted with blood. He did not clean it off. “If they are killed by a bomb or a bullet, we don’t wash their martyrs’ blood,” he said. He wrote the girl’s name on the shroud, Nuha al-Manal.

Most of the casualties we saw were civilians and many were children. An 11-year-old boy was brought in. Most of his face had been torn off in an explosion. Everything below the mid-point of his nose was gone, bloody shreds hanging over a hole where his jaw and mouth had been.
Bombs were continually falling outside. People were screaming in the corridor. The boy was still conscious. We caught a glimpse of eyes wide with shock before the nurses pulled a screen across. We decided to try to find a surgeon outside Syria who could reconstruct his face, but the boy died of his wounds the following day.

State television denied there was a bombardment. It told the inventive lie that residents were setting fire to rubbish on their roofs to give the impression of an attack. The official media also said that most of the violence was caused by the rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army – “terrorists”, “criminal gangs” or “agents of Israel” in the language of official spokesmen.

We were smuggled into Syria and then into Homs by the rebels. Although it has a military council and a spokesman in Turkey, the “Free Army” is not a single organisation with a coherent command structure. It is more a name used by local militias. Arriving just over the border from Lebanon, we found two separate, rival Free Army groups with commanders who did not much like each other.

We followed one of the groups into an attack against an army base. The attack was big, more than 60 men, all of whom had defected from the Syrian forces. By contrast with, say, the fighters in Libya, they were trained, disciplined and followed a plan of attack. Of course, that plan failed. After an hour of firing on the base, they fled when the government troops brought up heavy weapons.

I checked with an officer. While soldiers were released, he said, members of the Shabiha were executed after a hearing before a panel of Free Syrian Army military judges. To explain, they showed me film taken from the mobile phone of a captured Shabiha. Prisoners lay face down on the ground, hands tied behind their backs. One by one, their heads were cut off. The man wielding the knife said, tauntingly, to the first: “This for freedom.” As his victim’s neck opened, he went on: “This is for our martyrs. And this is for collaborating with Israel.”


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February 11th, 2012, 6:14 pm


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