Posted by Joshua on Sunday, December 23rd, 2012
Robert Wright (Bloggingheads.tv, and Joshua Landis
- How Syria’s Alawites created their own worst enemy 7:06
- Is there a way out for the Assad regime? 5:09
- The anti-American perspective of a Syrian rebel 6:32
- Why a no-fly zone ain’t happening 5:28
- Joshua: Washington doesn’t care about Syria 5:28
- When Assad might use chemical weapons 1:34
In Ravaged Syria, Beach Town May Be Loyalists’ Last Resort
By an EMPLOYEE of THE NEW YORK TIMES in SYRIA and NEIL MacFARQUHAR
Published: December 22, 2012
There are no shellings or air raids to interrupt the daily calm. Families pack the cafes lining the town’s seaside corniche, usually abandoned in December to the salty winter winds. The real estate market is brisk. A small Russian naval base provides at least the impression that salvation, if needed, is near.
Many of the new residents are members of the Alawite minority, the same Shiite Muslim sect to which Mr. Assad belongs. The latest influx is fleeing from Damascus, people who have decided that summer villas, however chilly, are preferable to the looming battle for the capital.
“Going to Tartus is like going to a different country,” said a Syrian journalist who recently met residents there. “It feels totally unaffected and safe. The attitude is, ‘We are enjoying our lives while our army is fighting overseas.’ ”
Should Damascus fall to the opposition, Tartus could become the heart of an attempt to create a different country. Some expect Mr. Assad and the security elite will try to survive the collapse by establishing a rump Alawite state along the coast, with Tartus as their new capital.
There have been various signs of preparations.
This month, the governor of Tartus Province announced that experts were studying how to develop a tiny local airfield, now used mostly by crop-dusters, into a full-fledged civilian airport “to boost transportation, business, travel and tourism,” as the official Syrian news agency, SANA, reported…..
Azzam Dayoub, the head of the political office in Beirut, Lebanon, for the underground revolutionary council in Tartus, said there were at least 230,000 war refugees in the city. Others said the population of the entire province, once around 1.2 million, is now closer to two million. Most are Alawites, including countless government employees who have returned to their home province. But many are Sunnis, Christians or others close to the government who no longer felt safe elsewhere.
Mr. Dayoub said Alawites in the town have barred other minorities and members of Syria’s Sunni majority from entering their neighborhoods, and the two sides no longer frequent each other’s stores. The Sunni population has been collecting weapons to fight any future attempt to drive them out, he said…..
Privately, some Alawites dismiss the chances of having their own state. Abu Haidar, 55, the owner of a small import and export business in Tartus, said dreams were one thing, but reality was something else. “What do we have in Tartus Province that would aid us to stand alone as a state?” he asked. “We have neither the infrastructure, nor the resources. It is basically lemon and olive orchards along with a small city with simple services.”
But until the day of reckoning arrives, Tartus seems bent on blocking out the war raging over the horizon….
Air strike on Syria bakery ‘kills dozens‘ – al-Jazeera
At least 90 people queuing at a bakery in the town of Halfaya in Hama were killed in the attack, activists say.
Rebels have threated to storm two predominantly Christian towns in central Syria if residents do not “evict” government troops they say are using the towns as a base to attack nearby areas.
A video released by rebels showed Rashid Abul-Fidaa, who identified himself as the commander of the Ansar Brigade for Hama province, calling on locals in Mahrada and Sqailbiyeh to rise up against President Bashar Assad’s forces or prepare for an assault.
“Assad’s gangs in the cities are shelling our villages with mortars and rockets destroying our homes, killing our children and displacing our people,” said Abdul-Fidaa, who wore an Islamic headband and was surrounded by gunmen. “You should perform your duty by evicting Assad’s gangs,” he said. “Otherwise our warriors will storm the hideouts of the Assad gangs.”…
Ethnicity and Naming: Yamin writes
“The Salafi Emirate of Ras al-Ain” by independent journalist Jehad Saleh caught my attention. As a 5-8 year old child, I visited Ras al-Ayn (Ras al-Ein or Ras al-Ain) often before the Baath Party took power in Syria in 1963. My family, relatives, and friends are from Assyrian, Syriac, Armenian, Arab, and Kurd ancestry. I have always heard them saying “Ras al-Ayn”. The 1915-16 Armenian death camps were documented to be in “Ras al-Ayn”. I have never heard the ancient name of “Serekani” being used. Serekani was founded by the Assyrian and Syriac civilization thousands years ago. Now the Kurds want to spread this name which is fine but they should not claim it as a part of their history. This is annoying. It is Ras al-Ayn or the ancient Assyrian town of Serekani. It is Semite not Indo-European. The Arab Baath Party did not invent the name Ras al-Ayn.
At least 200 members of a Syrian regime force deployed to protect Damascus’ international airport have defected as clashes broke out near the presidential palace in the capital, a member of the opposition military told Al Arabiya channel yesterday.
Abu Ahmad (right, in civilian clothes)In a December 15, 2012 article in The National, an English-language daily published in the UAE, journalist Balint Szlanko presents an interview with Sheikh Abu Ahmed, a high-ranking military commander of the jihad group Jabhat Al-Nusra in Syria. In the interview, Abu Ahmed describes his vision for a Syria ruled by Shari’a law.The following is the full text of the interview:“The man wearing the balaclava had eyes that never stopped smiling. Reclining on a pillow in an otherwise empty room, this burly, 41-year-old commander of Jabhat Al-Nusra – the most fearsome jihadi group in Syria – exuded an almost disturbing calm, in marked contrast to the loud, chatty air that often characterises more mainstream groups of the Free Syrian Army…”
An Al-Hayat report presents information on the Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihad group Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN), which is operating in Syria, based on interviews with its operatives and with field commanders in the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The following are the main points of the report.
On December 18, 2012, Khatab, a member of the leading jihadi forum Shumoukh Al-Islam, announced that Muhib Ru’yat Al-Rahman, a prominent writer on the major jihadi forums, had died in Syria. Khatab, described as a “student at Shumoukh’s College of Media,” provided no further details about the death of Muhib, whose last post was dated from two weeks ago, a day or two prior to the shutdown of all major jihadi forums.
Rigorous new sanctions against Iran’s banking, shipping and industrial sectors took effect yesterday, as part of the European Union’s effort to force Tehran to scale back its nuclear programme….they include bans on financial transactions, sales to Iran of shipping equipment and steel, and imports of Iranian natural gas, adding to earlier bans, including on the Opec producer’s oil. They reflect heightened concern over Iran’s nuclear goals and Israeli threats to attack Iranian atomic installations if diplomacy and other measures fail to deliver a solution.
The Triumph and Irrelevance of Meta-Narratives Over Syria: “Rohna Dahiyyah”
Dec 17 2012
by Bassam Haddad
….The claims put forth by myself and the myriad of other Syrian analysts, including the “instant” and “sudden” analysts who keep popping up like popcorn from the oddest places (I found two in my bathroom closet), can be right or wrong, or conditionally so. But they might be on- or off-mark for the wrong reasons to the extent that one is divorced from the local context, and divorce comes in shades, from the cold calculating “methodist,” to the uninformed sympathizer, to gatekeepers of interests far removed from the well-being of Syria and Syrians. Yet, they all participate and play with equal enthusiasm. Syria is a game now, played by states, institutions, analysts, activists, journalists, bloggers, tweeters, and artists who are often only remotely connected to the real lives of real people enduring real conditions there. We produce snapshots of reality that are divorced from the cumulative history of pain and experience that have led to that reality…..Thanks to the armed groups who have now perfected—and sometimes surpassed on individual counts—the perennial brutality of the regime, one is hard-pressed in Syria to find a cause or a foreseeable scenario to cling to. Under such conditions, daily matters reign supreme over meta-narratives that are not necessarily unimportant, but have become thoroughly irrelevant for most Syrians. Hence, that smile that many local Syrians draw on their face in the face of meta-narratives spewed by all of us on the other side—to which people click “like,” or not.
Russia says government in Damascus consolidated its chemical weapons in “one or two” locations amid rebel onslaught.
To Save Syria, We Need Russia
By DIMITRI K. SIMES and PAUL J. SAUNDERS NYtimes Op-Ed Contributors
Published: December 21, 2012
Letter from Europe
In Paris, Longing for Damascus
By CELESTINE BOHLEN
Published: December 21, 2012
PARIS — Maha Assabalani can’t get Damascus out of her mind.
A Yemeni citizen of Iranian origin and living in Paris, Ms. Assabalani, 27, spent just two years in the Syrian capital before she had to flee on a snowy day last February, crossing the border to Lebanon, with little idea of where to go next.
Yet Damascus has marked her forever. The day before she left, she watched in horror as Syrian security forces rounded up 15 friends and colleagues at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. Five are still in Syrian prisons, held without charge. ….. She was released and went first to a friend’s house, before returning home at midnight to face her father. “He wasn’t happy,” she said. Not only had she lied to him about her job, but she had crossed a forbidden line. “He never wanted any of us to be in politics, and he considers activism to be politics,” she said.
The next day, she left Syria, borrowing money from friends. Her father refused to help. To this day, he will not speak to her. …
Can Turkey’s ‘Soft’ Power Work in Syria?
Huffington Post 12/20/2012
Daniel Wagner and Giorgio Cafiero
Neo-Ottomanism and Kemalism are competing ideologies that have driven Turkey’s foreign policy for many years. Neo-Ottomanism is focused on promoting ‘soft power’- ensuring Turkey is well-placed diplomatically, politically and economically to take on a larger role in the Middle East and beyond. Kemalism seeks to preserve the secular legacy of Turkey’s founder (Atatürk), and is focused on the Kurdish nationalist threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity and regional security. Foreign relations have for years been conducted with the goal of minimizing this threat and preserving the secular foundation of the modern Turkish state…..Until the onset of the Spring, Turkey’s soft power engagement with the Middle East was reasonably successful.
Since that time, it has been as powerless to shape the course of events as virtually every other nation – and its zero problems foreign policy has become a foreign policy filled with problems, from the crisis in Syria to a resurgent Kurdish movement to ongoing tension with Israel. Ultimately, Turkey is now in the same boat as the majority of Western countries, and other countries in the region – it does not know how the evolving political change in the region will ultimately turn out, whether the ultimate successor regimes are likely to be pro-Western or Turkish, or what the impact on the regional power balance will be…..21 months into the Syrian uprising, the limits of Turkey’s capacity to influence the course of events inside Syria have been demonstrated.
If the Syrian crisis leads to the establishment of a semi-autonomous Kurdish state in northern Syria, whereby the Kurdistan Workers’ Party acquires a safe haven from where it may launch attacks against Turkey’s armed forces, the ongoing turmoil in southeastern Turkey could greatly expand. If a desperate Assad wages a chemical attack in Aleppo – prompting a NATO military operation in Syria – Turkey could find itself at war with forces supported by the countries Turkey depends on for natural gas imports – Russia and Iran. Furthermore, if radical Salafist factions (including Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Ahrar Al-Sham Brigades or the Suqur Al-Sham Division) were to acquire power within Syria, new security dilemmas will arise for all states in the region.
In sum, the Syrian crisis has pushed Turkey away from its idealistic “zero problems with neighbors” approach to foreign policy and more toward a pro-democracy, moderate, Sunni Islamist foreign policy….. Turkey is betting that Assad will fall, and it wants to be first in line to influence the successor government. There’s nothing ‘soft’ about that approach to foreign policy, nor is it likely to result in zero problems going forward. It may all backfire, depending on who takes control in Damascus.
Which Islamists?: Religion and the Syrian Civil War
Adnan Zulfiqar Interviewed by Haroon Moghul,December 19, 2012
Zulfiqar recently traveled to Turkey, meeting with Syrian opposition figures, religious scholars, rebel fighters, Turkish officials and Turkish think tanks, in an effort to get a handle on what’s happening in the Syrian civil war as it approaches the two-year mark.
How did Salafis come to take such a dominant role?
does the Syrian opposition in general want a more democratic Syria?
With the rebel push for Damascus, is Syria about to fall? Everyone is bracing for a prolonged fight. But Assad cannot hold power without Sunni support, so a seemingly intractable situation could change if the Sunnis of Damascus begin to openly abandon him.
Some fear that if the regime falls, there will be a repeat of Afghanistan, with competing militias and warlords. I think these are uninformed predictions.
When speaking of Islamists, for example, the first question should be “which ones?” There’s a fair amount of diversity among Islamists despite some ideological similarities.
Across the Middle East, people strongly identify with Islam and in many countries this identification has been suppressed in one way or another by authoritarian regimes. Having secured their freedom, it shouldn’t be surprising that the people, in places like Egypt and Tunisia, are strongly asserting their religious identity.
Syria’s Next Problem
By Adnan A. Zulfiqar, December 22, 2012, Diplomat
Sectarian conflict might dominate coverage of Syria today, but internal Sunni dynamics will define its tomorrow. Tensions between Alawis and Sunnis won’t be settled over night, but the demographics in Syria do not suggest a prolonged conflict similar to Iraq or Lebanon.
…An impending power vacuum is inevitable so focus must shift to the competitors aiming to fill that space. The common consensus is that the opposition’s political and military factions are poised to battle for authority. In reality, this competition highlights a more fundamental confrontation: traditionalist Sunnism versus its more puritanical Salafi strain. …Al-Khatib, a Sunni traditionalist, can counter the growing appeal of Salafism. Rebel militias are dominated by an ideological spectrum of Salafi fighters, but are united by both the cause and their interpretive approach to Islam’s foundational texts. Despite Salafism never having mass appeal in Syrian society, there is potential for that to change.
….. Salafis do dominate the fighting force, but revolutions only involve a fraction of the people; elections involve many more. As Egypt has taught us, people’s support for revolution is not always an endorsement of the revolutionaries. It is also true that Salafism has never had mass appeal in Syria and, more importantly, opposition to it has been rooted less in sensational caricatures than in its religious heterodoxy. Yet, prolonged conflict changes a society. Already support for Salafis appears to be far higher than before; people may not always reward revolutionaries, but they don’t often discard them either.
… The revolution is rebranding Syrian Salafis, even the extreme ones…..The United States’ recent labeling of Jabhat al-Nusra, the most prominent Salafi militia, as a terrorist group only bolstered its mass appeal. As the conflict prolongs, the Sunni balance of power will shift resulting in serious long-term consequences. A speedy end to the conflict must be the highest priority.
…First, we should increase our support for local councils in opposition-held northern Syria. Not only is the north a vital safe haven for Syrian civilians, but its security will contribute to Syria’s future stability.
Second, we must engage in symbolic acts of public diplomacy. High profile visits to refugee camps or inviting Mu’az al-Khatib to the White House…
Finally, a forward-located embassy near the Syrian border in Jordan or Turkey would not only demonstrate serious engagement,
Adnan A. Zulfiqar is a Fellow at the Truman National Security Project.
Syria bags Pyrrhus victory on the soccer pitch
By James M. Dorsey
Supporters of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad portrayed this weekend’s winning of the West Asian soccer championship by defeating Iraq as a unifying, national achievement against all odds. Yet, Syria’s success 22 months into an increasingly brutal civil war hardly constitutes the equivalent of Iraq’s winning of the Asian Cup in 2007 at the peak of that country’s sectarian violence.
The letter from a Syrian child offers Santa Claus some advice for his visit this year. He should not come in his sleigh, because “not even a fly” can now survive the fight for the skies going on between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebel opponents. But most important of all, Santa must not wear his traditional outfit.
Can Lebanon Survive the Syrian Crisis?
Paul Salem Paper, December 2012, Carnegie Paper
- Russia: Chemical weapons under control by the Syrian government – Yahoo! News
- Lavrov says neither side will win Syrian civil war, Russia would be unable to persuade Assad to quit if it tried – Yahoo! News
- Syria’s ‘No-Nonsense’ Air Defenses Praised by Russian General – RIA Novosti
- US – Russia reach agreement on al-Assad ouster: Opposition sources – Asharq Alawsat
- Execution of Ukrainian woman in Syria postponed until December 26: Voice of Russia
- Syrian TV cameraman assassinated outside Damascus by ‘armed groups’ — RT
- Car bomb kills five in Damascus: Syrian Observatory – Yahoo! News
- VIDEO: Islamist Insurgents Announce ‘Syrian Islamic Front’ – YouTube
- VIDEO: Turks in Antakya Protest Against Turkish Government Interference in Syria – YouTube
- Qatar Provides Syrian Terrorists with US-Made Stinger Missiles – abna.ir