Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
“Three Scenarios for Syria’s Future,” by Joshua Landis w. Lara Setrakian of Syria Deeply
- Why Assad may last longer than this summer
- The Sunni Arab Majority and Syrian Nationalism
- The future of the Alawites
- How the “Turkish”, “Iraqi”, and “Lebanon” models play out for Syria
[News Round Up Follows]
Top news: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters on Tuesday that the Syrian government no longer appears to be preparing chemical weapons for use against the rebels. “At this point the intelligence has really kind of leveled off,” he said.
Meanwhile, the United States officially designated the Nusra Front, one of the leading Islamist rebel militias, a foreign terrorist organization. Nuland said, Al-Nusra “has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by AQI to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes,” she said. Illness forces Clinton to briefly delay trip to meeting on Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based opposition group, said fighters from the al-Nusra Front were among rebel forces who it says have seized control of a government military base in the Sheikh Sleiman area of western Reef Aleppo.
Syrian Minister of Information Omran al-Zoubi told Lebanese al-Manar TV on Monday that Damascus understood why Washington wanted to blacklist the al-Nusra Front.
“When the U.S. places Jabhat al-Nusra on the international terrorist organizations list, that is because it realizes the nature of these groups which are fighting the Syrian armed forces,” he said.
But the Syrian National Council, a largely expatriate opposition group, on Sunday voiced its “full rejection of any accusation of extremism and terrorism to any of the forces that are fighting the Syrian regime.”
Any accusations made against factions within the Free Syrian Army, which brings together disparate groups, were intended to cause division within its ranks and between its forces and the Syrian people, it said.
“Terrorism is a characteristic that can only be attributed to the Syrian regime,” it said.
The Treasury also sanctioned two armed militia groups that operate under the control of the Syrian government, Jaysh al-Sha’bi and Shabiha, it said.
Since the conflict in Syria began nearly two years ago, the UNHCR has registered or is in the process of registering more than 500,000 refugees in neighboring countries.
Egypt: Masked gunmen fired on protesters camped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, injuring nine ahead of planned demonstrations on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack, but supporters as well as detractors of President Mohamed Morsy are expected to demonstrate today.
Be Careful What You Wish For In Syria
by Theodore Kattouf Dec 7, 2012 – Daily Beast
Just prior to ending my tour in Syria as U.S. Ambassador in August 2003, I sent off an analysis of what de-stabilizing the Assad regime could mean for U.S. regional interests. It was chosen as my valedictory because some Administration officials with a neocon bent were leaking stories that Syria “should be next” after our invasion of Iraq. Entitled, “Be Careful What You Wish For,” this analysis predicted that substantially weakening the Assad regime would likely ignite a civil war. That war in turn could result in a failed state or an Islamist dictatorship led by the types that had already begun attacking coalition forces in Iraq.
Mideast Syria The Long War
In this Thursday, June 7, 2012 file photo, Free Syrian Army members raise their weapons during a training session on the outskirts of Idlib, Syria. A dark realization is spreading across north Syria that despite 20 months of violence and recent rebel gains, an end to the war to topple President Bashar Assad is nowhere in sight. (Khalil Hamra / AP Photo)
Major events in the Mideast region rarely go according to script, but the Syrian people are indeed suffering a merciless and increasingly sectarian civil war that has shattered the country’s physical infrastructure and rent its social fabric. Over 40,000 are dead. The human suffering is immeasurable. Let’s hope that the remainder of my long-ago analysis proves wrong. In any case, Bashar Al-Assad may soon be little more than the warlord of the best equipped militia in Syria whose forces control only parts of Damascus and some contiguous territory between it, Homs, and the Alawite/Christian heartland in the coastal mountains to the west. The armed opposition as currently constituted will find it difficult, if not impossible, to coalesce around a platform for the country’s future. As territory is secured and victory seems at hand, these groups will start to fight one another for power in earnest. In contrast with Egypt and Tunisia where the armed forces quickly abandoned the dictator, the Alawite core of the Syrian armed forces and regime’s institutions of repression identify with the President’s family. A formerly downtrodden and despised minority, most Alawites understandably fear that unmerciful revenge will exacted against them and their families. The Christians and Druze communities, while not culpable, know what al-Qaida did to minorities in Iraq and elsewhere.
The best hope to avoid Syria becoming a failed or radical Islamist state is for the U.S. and Russia to cooperate. Together, and in concert with NATO, regional states, and U.N. bodies, they can help shape a more hopeful future for people whose forbears established some of the earliest human civilizations. The Obama Administration has already worked effectively behind the scenes to help birth a new, more representative coalition of the Syrian opposition in Doha, Qatar, last month. That some of the most radical and violent Jihadi groups denounced its formation is a good sign. This new umbrella group should be an improvement over the ineffective, Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council that was absorbed into it.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and then Russia have long been the major arms supplier and trainer of the Syrian armed forces. The Russians know some of the key Alawite flag rank officers in the military quite well. With the feared Syrian G-2 (military intelligence bureau) preoccupied, they presumably have the ability to contact some senior officers on whether sticking with the Assad regime serves the best interests of the country and their community. It should be noted that, while calling for Assad’s ouster, the Obama Administration repeatedly has made clear that is does not seek to disband the Syrian armed forces, as was done in Iraq.
The main obstacle to any U.S.-Russian cooperation has been Vladimir Putin’s deep-seated suspicions of U.S. policy in the region. Stung by Qaddafi’s demise and what he views as NATO’s exceeding its U.N. Security Council mandate to protect the civilian population there, Putin is determined to safeguard Russia’s interests and great power status. He fears another precedent of foreign intervention in the “internal” affairs of sovereign states (think Chechnaya) and believes that the U.S., in cahoots with Saudi Arabia, is intent on establishing radical Islamic regimes on Russia’s borders (delusional). Until now, some U.S. officials have concluded that Putin is willing to let Syria go down in flames rather than permit a U.S.-led international community to broker a transition away from the Assads’ 42-year rule.
With the Assad regime reeling from its loss of territory and military bases, it’s time to test Russian intent once more. Is Putin beginning to believe that his country is playing a losing hand in Syria, while alienating much of the Islamic world? Russian officials are publicly striking a new, more conciliatory tone. It may be too much to hope that they will allow immediately a UNSC resolution under Chapter VII that calls upon Assad to hand over power to a transitional government or face the consequences. It is not too much to ask that, in cooperation with the U.S., the Russians try to persuade Syria’s military professionals to break with Assad in return for strong guarantees that they will have an honorable role to play and that their families will be protected in the wake of the regime’s fall. I never believed that the Assad regime could be quickly or easily brought down. But I certainly do believe that Bashar, if facing defeat, prefers guaranteed safe-passage into exile rather than an ignoble death.
The U.S. and Turkey, meanwhile, are best positioned to prevail upon the moderates, whether secular or religious, within the opposition to forego revenge and seek a new accommodation with elements of the armed forces. Both sides must accept that the worst of the war criminals will be brought to justice. Yet, it is unrealistic, just as it was in Iraq, to bring to account everyone with the blood of innocents on his or her hands.
The stakes are enormous. Similarly divisive identity politics prevail across an arc stretching from Lebanon, through Syria and Iraq, down to Bahrain and the oil-rich eastern province of Saudi Arabia. If Syria experiences prolonged de facto partition among warring Alawites, Sunnis, and Kurds, what happens in Syria will not stay in Syria. Already Shiite powers, Hizballah and Iran, are aiding the regime, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are providing funds and materiel to the largely Sunni revolutionaries. Some Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds are making common cause with their Syrian compatriots.
Yes, it will be satisfying to see Assad’s regime fall and to cut the Iran-Hizballah supply line through Syria. However, if that is all that isaccomplished, it will be a Pyrrhic victory.
Watching Syria’s descent
By Jackson Diehl, Published: December 9
The scariest thing about Syria, from the West’s point of view, may be the gap between the hair-raising scenarios senior officials are discussing about what may happen next and their limp strategies for preventing it.
Inside the Obama administration, Syria is now likened by some to a second Somalia — only at the heart of the Middle East, and with the world’s third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons. One official recently described a near-term future in which the current, two-sided civil war breaks down into a free-for-all in which Sunni forces fight Kurds and each other as well as the Alawi remnants of Bashar al-Assad’s army; where the al-Qaeda branch known as Jabhat al-Nusra gains control over substantial parts of the country; and where the danger of chemical weapons use comes not just from the regime but from any other force that overruns a chemical weapons depot.
A senior French official in Washington last week had his own vision: After losing a battle for Damascus, Assad and his forces stage a two-phase retreat, first to the central city of Homs and its hinterland along the Lebanese border, then, as a last resort, to the Alawi heartland along Syria’s northern coast. This probably won’t happen within weeks, he added — but it’s likely a matter of months.
So how to stop this? The United States and France, along with a few Arab and European allies, are convening yet another diplomatic conference this week in Marrakesh, Morocco. They are hoping to bolster the opposition political coalition they strung together last month, known as the Syrian National Coalition. The Obama administration will probably recognize it as Syria’s legitimate government. More paper will be flung at Jabhat al-Nusra, which will be added to the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations….
A slightly more likely scenario is that the West will get lucky and Assad’s regime will soon collapse in Damascus. In the resulting vacuum, the coalition will gain recognition from the outside world, and most of the rebel forces and Syria will follow the shaky path of Libya, with a weak government coexisting with a panoply of militias — some of them allied to al-Qaeda. The difference is that any spillover of terrorists and weapons will affect not Mali, but Israel, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.
The main reason this is unlikely to happen is that for Assad and much of the Alawite elite — and for their chief sponsor, Iran — the West’s nightmare scenarios don’t look so unattractive. Better to hold out in an enclave, the minority ruling sect will conclude, than risk annihilation at the hands of vengeful Sunnis. Better to be a spoiler in an anarchic Syria, figures Shiite Iran, than to see a strategic ally flip over to the opposing Sunni bloc……
2012-12-10A former top general in Syria’s chemical weapons program says he doesn’t doubt for a moment that President Bashar al-Assad will deploy his chemical weapons arsenal as he tries to hold onto power and crush the uprising that started almost two years …”The regime started to fall and deteriorate. It’s coming to its end,” said retired Major General Adnan Sillou in an interview in a hotel near Antakya, on Turkey’s southern border with Syria. “It’s highly possible that he’ll start using [chemical weapons] to kill his own people because this regime is a killer.” ….
Rep. Lee: DR. ASSAD AND THE SYRIAN GOVERNMENT HAVE BROUGHT THIS CRISIS ON THEMSELVES
2012-12-10 17:06:25.1 GMT
DR. ASSAD AND THE SYRIAN GOVERNMENT HAVE BROUGHT THIS CRISIS ON THEMSELVES The United States cannot stand by while weapons of mass destruction may be used, says Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee Washington, Dec 10 – Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, …
New head of Syrian opposition briefs European foreign ministers
By CNN Staff
December 10, 2012
The Observatory said a rebel group seized control of a government military base in northwest Syria.
The seizure occurred in Aleppo province, where rebel fighters from the jihadi al-Nusra Front, Muhikiri al-Sham and the al-Battar battalions took over three brigades and the command center of the 111th regiment in the Sheikh Sleiman area of western Reef Aleppo, the observatory said.
Two rebels and one soldier died; five other soldiers were captured, it said, adding that 140 soldiers and their officers fled.
The rebel forces represent a variety of interests. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday that U.S. officials were concerned “that al-Nusra is little more than a front for al Qaeda in Iraq who has moved some of its operations into Syria.”
The State Department is planning to designate al-Nusra Front, a radical Islamist group, as a foreign terrorist organization, two U.S. officials told CNN last week.
The announcement is likely to come this week, the officials said.
The hope is to finalize the designation before the Friends of Syria meeting, which is slated to be held Wednesday in Morocco.
The goal of the designation is to isolate extremists groups in Syria while giving a boost to the new political opposition group unveiled last month in Doha, Qatar, they said.
Al-Nusra and several other groups announced their opposition to a new anti-government coalition last month. U.S. officials estimate al-Nusra members represent some 9% of rebel forces in Syria.