Posted by Joshua on Monday, October 22nd, 2012
The US Must Supply anti-Aircraft Missiles to the Syrian Opposition
by Joshua Landis
October 22, 2012
The US government should tell Assad that he must launch serious negotiations for a transition government. If he does not, Western governments should supply opposition militias with ground to air missiles in sufficient numbers to bring down the Syrian air-force. Circumstantial evidence suggests that US officials in Libya may already have been working to facilitate the transfer of portable heat-seeking missiles—the bulk of them SA-7s—from Libya to Syria.
As soon as the elections are over in the US, Washington should redouble its efforts at changing the balance of power in Syria, if Assad does not begin to form a transitional government in earnest. He must come to terms with the most powerful rebel leaders or see his air force neutralized.
Lakhdar Brahimi of the UN should be empowered to monitor and report on these negotiations, judging if they are sincere.
Assad should be encouraged to work toward some sort of agreement comparable to the Taif Agreement — or National Reconciliation Accord — that ended the Lebanese civil war. It may be impossible to get the Sunni militias to accept such a solution, particularly as they remain so divided. All the same it is worth trying.
It is unclear whether Assad will chose to fall back to the Alawite Mountains, where he can may struggle to protect Alawites from uncontrolled retribution, but where his capacity to damage to the rest of Syria is severely limited.
Assad has no possibility of regaining control of Syria. He does not have soldiers enough to retake lost cities. But he insists on using his air force to destroy what remains of rebel held towns. This is senseless destruction. He has no hope of recapturing them. It should be stopped. He has been carrying out a scorched earth policy that is killing thousands, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, and destroying Syria’s precious architectural heritage.
I have long resisted supporting US intervention, believing that the US should refuse to get sucked into Syria. It cannot determine what is fair. No one truly understands the “real” Syria today, as Syrians are only beginning to emerge from 40 years of sever authoritarianism that stopped politics in its tracks. What new social forces will emerge in the coming years is impossible to determine. Most importantly, the opposition has been too fragmented to replace the Syrian Army as a source of stability and security. Syrians need to find their own way forward and to create a new balance among the sects and regions. Decapitating the regime too suddenly, I believe, would likely result in a number of unhappy endings: a massacre of the Alawites, a civil war among militias that could bring even greater suffering, or a melt-down of security as happened in Iraq.
The various Syrian factions have to find a new equilibrium, which would not happen with an overpowering US intervention. Even one limited to the use of American air power, such as that carried out in Libya, could be too much force, used too quickly.
The supply of portable heat-seeking missiles, however, seems to be increasingly justified. US politicians fear that elements of the Syrian opposition may misuse ground to air missiles, but surely they cannot be misused more than are Assad’s jets and helicopters. Assad’s air superiority combined with his inability to rule Syria, is causing endless misery. Air power is so destructive that it should be denied to both sides. Fewer people would be killed and a new balance would emerge as an expression of regional forces.
Assad and his increasingly Alawite manned army can no longer control Aleppo and Damascus, which are overwhelmingly Sunni. Assad may not even be able to defend the Alawite Mountains from the growing strength of Sunni militias. The fate of the Alawite region is likely to depend on whether Sunni forces can unify — an eventuality that is not assured. The US should stay out of the struggle to define the internal arrangement of Syrian factions. Who knows how Syria will look when the fighting is over? Will the Kurds gain independence or a large measure of autonomy? How will the Alawite Territory be connected to Syria? Will the city of Latakia become an Alawite or Sunni dominated city? Will the government in Damascus hold central power as firmly in its hands as it has over the last 50 years? Or will Syria find unity in a larger measure of federalism? One can change views on these questions every day — the outcome depends on decisions yet to be made by Syria’s many leaders — but it seems clear that the Syrian air force has simply become an instrument of destruction. The day of reckoning for Alawites and for Syrians at large is only being put off by the lopsided use of air power. The US has already played a decisive role in tipping the balance of power in Syria against the Assad regime. It is time to help the Syrian opposition stop the government use of air-power.
Aleppo May Be Soon to Fall into Rebel Hands — Notes from an Aleppine friend
One of My wife’s sisters lives in Abu Dhabi. Her apartment in the Sabeel area of Aleppo was taken over this morning. Homeless people found out it was empty. They broke the lock and made it their home.
I sent Zaki the driver I use to the house. An elderly woman and a child were inside the house. He said if I offer you money would you leave? How much the lady asked, while the driver had the apartment owner in Abu Dhabi on the line. The offer came at 10 k Syrian pounds [$150]. Shockingly the lady took the offer and left the house. Man oh man. This just happened 5 minutes ago.
The driver just called me. He went with three armed men he rang the bell. He said this is my house. He paid the three armed men 5k too. He said when free Syrian army moved into his neighborhood in Bustan al Basha he called authorities and pleaded with them to come and clean the area up from the Free Syrian Army. They kept saying, “Yes, we know.” After a few weeks they came with planes. He had to leave the house with his kids. He called me to ask if he could stay in an empty office I have. He has been living there for the past two months.
After speaking to contacts in Aleppo, I think that the regime will have a very difficult time taking back the city now. The battle lines have tipped in favor of the rebels if you look at the map of the city. There are only one or two key regime holdouts before the city falls totally under their control….
[An update sent 24 hours later] One of my relatives was kidnapped this morning from Syrian Jdide area (super safe untill now). Five armed guys took him away while his driver was waiting for him outside. They scared the driver away and snatched him. He is on medications. They called his son, a doctor, and told him that they had bought him the proper medications and that he was taking them. An hour later they called demanding SYP 15 million.
The whole family is crying.
How US Ambassador Chris Stevens May Have Been Linked To Jihadist Rebels In Syria
Michael Kelley | Oct. 19, 2012, Business Insider
The official position is that the US has refused to allow heavy weapons into Syria. But there’s growing evidence that U.S. agents—particularly murdered ambassador Chris Stevens—were at least aware of heavy weapons moving from Libya to jihadist Syrian rebels.
In March 2011 Stevens became the official U.S. liaison to the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan opposition, working directly with Abdelhakim Belhadj of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group—a group that has now disbanded, with some fighters reportedly participating in the attack that took Stevens’ life.
In November 2011 The Telegraph reported that Belhadj, acting as head of the Tripoli Military Council, “met with Free Syrian Army [FSA] leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey” in an effort by the new Libyan government to provide money and weapons to the growing insurgency in Syria.
Last month The Times of London reported that a Libyan ship “carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria … has docked in Turkey.” The shipment reportedly weighed 400 tons and included SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Those heavy weapons are most likely from Muammar Gaddafi’s stock of about 20,000 portable heat-seeking missiles—the bulk of them SA-7s—that the Libyan leader obtained from the former Eastern bloc. Reuters reports that Syrian rebels have been using those heavy weapons to shoot down Syrian helicopters and fighter jets.
The ship’s captain was “a Libyan from Benghazi and the head of an organization called the Libyan National Council for Relief and Support,” which was presumably established by the new government.
That means that Ambassador Stevens had only one person—Belhadj—between himself and the Benghazi man who brought heavy weapons to Syria.
Furthermore, we know that jihadists are the best fighters in the Syrian opposition, but where did they come from?
Last week The Telegraph reported that a FSA commander called them “Libyans” when he explained that the FSA doesn’t “want these extremist people here.”
And if the new Libyan government was sending seasoned Islamic fighters and 400 tons of heavy weapons to Syria through a port in southern Turkey—a deal brokered by Stevens’ primary Libyan contact during the Libyan revolution—then the governments of Turkey and the U.S. surely knew about it.
Furthermore there was a CIA post in Benghazi, located 1.2 miles from the U.S. consulate, used as “a base for, among other things, collecting information on the proliferation of weaponry looted from Libyan government arsenals, including surface-to-air missiles” … and that its security features “were more advanced than those at rented villa where Stevens died.”
And we know that the CIA has been funneling weapons to the rebels in southern Turkey. The question is whether the CIA has been involved in handing out the heavy weapons from Libya.
In any case, the connection between Benghazi and the rise of jihadists in Syria is stronger than has been officially acknowledged.
By BENJAMIN HALL, October 18, 2012, Nwe York Times
IN the Syrian city of Aleppo, there are neighborhoods that are almost entirely abandoned; blocks of buildings with their facades blown off, apartments open to the street; and other buildings, intact but empty, their curtains billowing out the windows. Broken water pipes have turned roads into debris-clogged rivers. And tribes of cats stalk around like predators; every now and then you pass one lying dead on the ground, its body torn apart by sniper fire.
The snipers, both rebel and regime, are everywhere. The MIG jets are always overhead, and shelling continues day and night. You cannot escape the smell of dead bodies, and it feels as if it is only a matter of time before you are hit, too.
This is life on the ground for the remaining residents of Aleppo. With only this in mind, it is easy to argue that the West should intervene — arm the rebels, help them overthrow the vicious rule of the Assads, and try to create something good from the chaos. After all, the rebels are outgunned, outsupplied and outfinanced. They are battling a force that is aligned with Iran and Hezbollah, and one that commits daily atrocities.
And yet, all things considered, I can’t argue for intervention in Aleppo, or in the wider Syrian conflict.
For a few days in September, I was embedded with the Ahrar al-Sham, or Free Men, rebel faction in the city. These men are fierce and battle-hardened. They sit chatting or sleeping while shells fall all around, and seem nonchalant while lobbing homemade bombs into government compounds. Some taunt the enemy. Others seem almost excited to fire their guns — for them the conflict is jihad, a badge of honor. We sat with one rebel marksman as he followed government soldiers through his scope and laughed as he shot at them. “My throat is full of victims,” he said.
But every couple of streets in Aleppo is under the watch of a different brigade, and while they sometimes work together, they are just as often at odds. I have seen one brigade lay down covering fire to allow another group to retrieve the dead body of one of its fighters, only to see the same two factions scream at each other later in the day and refuse to cooperate in a battle that did not benefit them both. I have met some members of the Free Syria Army who prefer to enter Aleppo illegally rather than go through the gate held by the Northern Storm Brigade, a strict Islamist group under the umbrella of the F.S.A. “They’re not our guys,” one explained.
In addition to great mistrust, there is a general lack of leadership. The opposition coalition in exile, the National Syrian Council, debates from Istanbul but gets no respect from the fighters on the ground. Last month, the leader of the F.S.A., Riad al-Assad, announced that he was moving his headquarters to Syria in an attempt to unify the different battalions under his watch, but rumors abound that he remains in Turkey. Other leaders who have tried to command respect are defectors from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and they are not often trusted.
Many of the rebels are fighting for a noble cause, and have no motive beyond protecting their homes and families. But it is hard to pick them apart from those who seek to take advantage of the chaos to transform Syria into a Shariah-based fundamentalist state. In Aleppo, I heard Salafi jihadists talk of slaying the minority Alawites, and call for both the immediate support of America, and its immediate demise. These extremist groups are getting weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar already; they are not groups that the West would choose to arm. Compared with them, it is not clear that Mr. Assad is the bigger foe.
It would be an error for the United States and the European Union to supply arms to the rebels or intervene on the ground. No one would be happier to see America mired in the country than Iran, which sees a chaotic Syria as the next best thing to an allied Syria.
The most the West can do is impose a no-fly zone under the auspices of NATO to ground the government’s air force. This would level the playing field, giving the rebels space to try to form a more unified leadership near the Turkish border, while preventing the slaughter of civilians and the destruction of more cities like Aleppo. Since the rebels took over an air defense base near the city last week, this seems to be an ever more feasible option. But it won’t be easy: no-fly zones are hugely expensive, and Syria is no Libya; its air defense system is far more sophisticated.
And even with a no-fly zone, it’s hard to see a way out of this quagmire. Turkey has been in discussions with the rebels and the government about the possibility of beginning a peace process, but it seems unlikely at this point that the rebels will stop until they have taken Damascus.
So for all the horrors on the ground, it seems almost impossible that the United States and Europe can do much to help while the future is so blurred and so bleak. As President Bill Clinton once said, “Where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must act.”
Despite what I have witnessed, I am not convinced we can in Syria.
Benjamin Hall is a freelance journalist who writes on conflict and the Middle East.
Military intervention in Syria: Time to act
OUR foreign editor explains why, despite the huge risks involved, the time has come for the West and the Arabs to intervene in Syria
Oct 20th 2012 | Economist
Turkey calls on major powers to intervene in Syria
19 Oct 2012 , The Guardian
Turkey has called on the US, Britain and other leading countries to take immediate action to intervene in Syria to prevent a looming humanitarian “disaster” that it says threatens the lives of millions of internally displaced people and refugees as winter approaches and could soon ignite a region-wide conflagration. Appealing to the [...]
A Syrian preacher: The charm of telesalafism
An influential rebel preacher who needs to tone things down
Oct 20th 2012 | BEIRUT | Economist
NOT so long ago, Sheikh Adnan al-Arour seemed like a gift to the Syrian regime. Keen to discredit the peaceful protesters who came out in March 2011, state media portrayed the grey-bearded preacher, an exiled dissident whose fiery blasts beam across two Saudi-owned Salafist satellite channels, as a bigoted ghoul.
Especially damning was footage in which the sheikh rose, shook a warning finger at the camera and vowed to “grind the flesh” of pro-regime Alawites and “feed it to the dogs”. The government gleefully dubbed its foes “Araeer”, a taunting plural form of Mr Arour’s name, insinuating they were just nasty Sunni chauvinists out to destroy Syria’s multi-sectarian harmony.
But as Syria’s misery has ground on, sectarian fault lines have inexorably widened. Mr Arour’s views, once widely dismissed as extreme, now look closer to the mainstream, at least among the three-quarters of Syrians who are Sunni Muslims.The sheikh’s recent return to the rebel-held swathe of northern Syria, where he starred at a rare gathering of commanders from rebel military councils, showed how popular he is among the fighters. Yet it is not just the surge in religiosity among Syrian Sunnis that gives him his cachet. Mr Arour has been a vociferous and effective fund-raiser in the Gulf.
Rather than back the most extreme of the groups, Mr Arour has now paired up with Mustafa Sheikh, a secular-leaning leader of the Free Syrian Army, and has spoken of a need to channel funding through military councils in order to reduce rivalry among the myriad rebel groups. Criticising the involvement of foreign jihadists, he has also denounced suicide-bombings as criminal. And it has been claimed that his blood-curdling video threat to Alawites, who comprise the core of the Assad regime’s support, is often taken out of context, since he directed his meat-grinder rant only at those Alawites who were actively suppressing the revolt; any of them who stayed neutral, he insisted, should be protected as equal citizens. Reassuring?
Syria’s Salafists: Getting stronger?
Salafists are on the rise but have not dominated the opposition—so far
Oct 20th 2012 | ANTAKYA AND BEIRUT – Economist
….Salafists have been on the rise in Syria since the start of the year, when Jabhat al-Nusra (The Support Front) presented itself. The group, which sees Syria’s struggle as part of a global jihad, is the only one explicitly recognised by al-Qaeda. It marks itself out with suicide-bombings that often cause civilian casualties and has a slick media operation. With its forces on the front line in the raging battle for Aleppo, Syria’s second city, its impact is getting stronger.
Ahrar al-Sham (Freemen of Greater Syria) is another slightly more moderate Salafist network, operating mainly in the north-west province of Idleb. Like Jabhat al-Nusra, it wants to impose a strict Islamist state and sees the fight in Syria as a sectarian battle of Sunni Muslims versus Alawites, the esoteric Shia offshoot to which the Assads belong. The two groups’ numbers are probably relatively small. Whereas Mr Assad’s regime encouraged the flow of jihadists into Iraq to kill Americans after the invasion in 2003, it has generally stamped on extremists. But jihadists are a minority within the Salafist trend; most Salafists are of a milder bent.
“Rebel ranks are drawn disproportionately from poor, conservative areas where Salafism has resonance,” says Noah Bonsey, an author of a recent report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based lobby, on jihadists in Syria. He thinks the regime’s reliance on Alawite soldiers and on thugs known as the shabiha, as well as the support of Shia powers, including Iran and Hizbullah, a Lebanese Shia party-cum-militia, has helped to spread the Salafist idea that the uprising is really a struggle for Sunni dominance…..
2 Zarqawi cousins detained in Jordan after fighting in Syria
By Bill Roggio October 18, 201 Long Wars Journal
Two cousins of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the slain leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, were arrested by Jordanian security forces as they returned from waging jihad in Syria.
The two cousins, Zayed Sweiti and Firas Khalailah, were detained by Jordanian border guards after spending five months in Syria, Mohammad Shalabi, a Salafist who is also known as Abu Sayyaf, told AFP.
“A third jihadist, Mohammad Najmi, was also arrested with Sweiti and Khalailah. The three men decided to return to Jordan because there was no fighting against Syrian regime troops in the area the were in,” Shalabi told the news agency. “The intelligence department is currently interrogating them.”
The report of the capture of the three jihadists takes place as the US has stepped up support for the Jordanian government as the situation in neighboring Syria deteriorates…..
Al Nusrah backed by radical Jordanian cleric
The Al Nusrah Front has been backed by known radical Islamist clerics with ties to al Qaeda. In May, Abu Muhammad al Tahawi, a Salafist Jordanian cleric who has encouraged jihadists to fight in Iraq and elsewhere and who is close to Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, Zarqawi’s mentor, released a statement backing Al Nusrah.
Al Tahawi’s lengthy statement, which is titled “Supporting the Victory of the Al Nusrah Front,” was posted on jihadist forums and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. In the statement, al Tahawi said that it was an obligation for Muslims to fight in Syria, and accused NATO, the UN, Arab regimes, and the media of backing Assad. He also praised suicide attacks, and said jihadists will expel the West, Israel, and Arab regimes from “Muslim lands.”
“The people who wrapped explosive belts around themselves, on their bellies, and
tore apart the idol of the era America and put its nose in the dirt of defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and very soon in the Levant, will put down the nose of the Nusayris [Alawhites], the daughter of Zionism, and extirpate them from the heart of Muslim land,” al Tahawi said….
Syria as dress rehearsal: Securing WMD in midst of civil war
By Bennett Ramberg OCTOBER 19, 2012
As Syria’s civil war spirals into mounting violence, the Assad regime’s chemical weapons stockpile is generating increased anxiety throughout the Middle East and beyond. Taking precautionary measures, the United States has reportedly placed 150 “planners and other specialists” in Jordan to work on contingencies — including the chemical weapons threat.
As odd as it may seem, however, we are lucky that Syria’s chemical stockpile marks Damascus’s most serious weapons of mass destruction risk. Had Israel not bombed the country’s weapons reactor in 2007, the embattled nation — and the rest of us – could have been staring at the globe’s first civil war with a nuclear dimension.
Consider the domestic and international panic that could ensue if rebel factions, terrorists, government insiders or looters in civil war got control of nu
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi & Oskar Svadkovskyon 7.19.12
Minority numbers aren’t adding up for Bashar Assad’s defenses.
It’s become an article of faith among policy makers and analysts in the West that Syria is a nation of minorities. Various sources put the share of non-Sunni Muslim minorities at around one quarter of the population. These minorities are believed to constitute the bulk of the support base of the Syrian regime. Some ventured as far as to suggest that the regime was deliberately stoking sectarian tensions with the massacres in Houla and Qubeir in order to consolidate its minority support base.
The commonly accepted percentages of Syrian minorities are: Alawites and Shia — 13%, Christians — 10%, and Druze — 3%. Syria, however, does not collect or publish data related to the sectarian composition of its population and trying to track the origin of common estimates usually leads nowhere.
For example, all observers commenting on Syria believe that Syrian Druze live primarily in Jabal al Druze and constitute 3% of the Syrian population. This claim, however, does not square with the results of Syria’s last population census. According to the census, in 2004 the population of the province of Sweida, where Jabal al Druze is located, had only 313,231 inhabitants against 17,920,844 of the total population of Syria. This makes for 1.7% and not 3% of the population. On top of this,…
Syrian government airstrikes hit the opposition controlled town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province killing at least 44 people and leaving massive destruction on Thursday. The opposition secured the town last week after intense fighting, and had begun providing basic services for residents. Maaret al-Numan is located on a strategic highway and supply route connecting Damascus and Aleppo. A missile hit a residential area, damaging four buildings, four homes, and a mosque. Over 20 children were reported to have been killed in the attack. The strike on Maaret al-Numan signals a shift of government tactics according to some analysts. Rather than trying to win back territory gained by the opposition and the “hearts of the people,” the regime is merely destroying and abandoning towns so that the population will resent the opposition.
Turkey and Egypt Seek Alliance Amid Upheaval of Arab Spring
By Tim Arango | The New York Times
Lebanon and Syria: The strife spreads
Oct 19th 2012, Economist
A bomb blast in Beirut kills eight people