Posted by Joshua on Monday, June 13th, 2011
What happened in the initial attack on Jisr al-Shagour? Many of the stories that were reported by both sides seem to have been filled with falsehoods and exaggeration. The real story is not the fake Gay Girl in Damascus – a juicy distraction that has dominated the airwaves for the last two days – but the way so many journalists cannot check their stories before deadlines because they are not permitted into Syria and don’t understand Arabic. The Syrian government doesn’t even try to add English subtitles to its version of events and Youtube recordings, making them useless to the thousands of foreign reporters who cannot understand Arabic. The result is bad reporting that often relies on one side of the story.
There is little evidence of wide-scale mutiny of Syrian soldiers. No solid evidence that they shot at each other, and some evidence that the young men of Jisr set a trap for Syrian soldiers with simple weapons and dynamite. Individual soldiers do seem to have deserted. Some turned up in Turkey. They seem to have been instructed to exaggerate the defections and to follow a common narrative of soldiers shooting each other in a large conflagration at Jisr. This story is hard to verify, making it seem dubious.
Contrary to the claims of Syrian authorities, 120 Syria soldiers do not seem to have been killed. A single mass grave turned up 10 dead soldiers. Four had their heads cut off. This would seem to have been done by the militia of Jisr, which had some success in fighting the soldiers initially sent to pacify them.
On the question of a scorched earth policy, both sides are claiming that the other is burning crops and threatening innocent civilians with retribution and the destruction of their farms if they side with the enemy. The Syrian government issued these interviews with people from Jisr. My last few posts have linked to accounts from refugees in Turkey that insist that the Syrian authorities are burning crops to punish local inhabitants of Idlib province from giving assistance to the assistance.
The refugees in Turkey told stories of revolt, mutiny and mayhem. Government stories that 120 members of the police and military were killed were explained by the opposition as security forces shooting themselves. The Syrian government then published tapped phone calls of activists in Jisr that it collected on the eve of the initial combat. If they can be taken at face value, the activists establish a plan to send all the women and children of the city to Turkey. They were instructed to tell foreigners that Syrian military personnel shot each other. When enlisted men refused to shoot on unarmed demonstrators, their Alawi officers mowed them down – that was the story to be told to the Western press.
Meanwhile, the men of Jisr organized an ambush. One phone call between two activists goes over how to bury the dead; they discuss whether to bury them in a one grave or divide them up an bury them two by two, so as to better conceal the fact that the opposition had abandoned passive resistance in order to take up arms. They discuss how not to be photoed during prayers so as not to give the regime a pretext to claim that they were Salafists. They wonder how to combat tanks with dynamite. Above all they are anxious to get their story out to the West in the most favorable light so as not to reveal they they have established an armed insurgency and to blame any killings on the Syrian army.
The Syrian army has exaggerated the number of its dead in order to justify ever harsher repression of the inhabitants of Jisr and Idlib province. The governent is thrashing about in a failed effort to stop the demonstrations from spreading. Syrian authorities have utterly failed to get out their version of events and have lost the media contest to demonstrate that they stand for anything good. The West is entirely convinced that “the people” stand with the opposition and favor revolution. Government attempts to explain to Western authorities that they stand with the people and are serving anything other than bloody-mindedness with the repression of the revolt, have been such a failure that Rim Haddad, the head of the government’s media effort has been fired.
Despite all talk of army defections, we really have to remember that, until recently at least, they remained minor and would not pose a serious threat to the regime. In the few instances when the number of defectors amounted to few dozens, defectors simply tried to play a protective role of the local population rather than going on the offensive. We don’t know what’s happening in Jisr Ashoughour at this stage. The eyewitnesses we contacted don’t seem to support the theory that a major defection has taken place. In this light, the troops-buildup in the northern region could be construed as theatrics meant for domestic consumption. The more tension, the great the fear, the less likely that people will take to the streets in Damascus and Aleppo.
See the excellent article – “Syria on the Boil, US Warship in Black Sea” by Amb. M K Bhadrakumar in the Asia Times, excerpted below.
NEWS ROUND UP (End on my comments)
Turkish PM Backs Pressure on Syria
By Andrew Woodcock,2011-06-13
June 13 (Press Association) — The newly re-elected prime minister of Turkey has given his support to a British-backed effort to put pressure on neighbouring Syria through a resolution at the United Nations Security Council, it was
revealed today. Recep Tayyip Erdogan assured David Cameron of his backing for the move in a phone call last night, in which the Prime Minister congratulated him on securing a third successive election victory for his Justice and Development Party. More than 5,000 Syrians have fled across the border intoTurkey from the town of Jisr al-Shughour as the Damascus regime cracked down on unrest which it claims cost the lives of 120 members of the security forces last week.
Elite Syrian troops backed by helicopters and tanks seized control of the town yesterday in the most significant use of force since protests began in mid-March. Townspeople who reached the Turkish border said that elements of the security forces had mutinied against the Government forces in Jisr al-Shughour on June 3 rather than obey orders to turn their guns against unarmed civilians….
Army uncovers mass grave in northern Syria: witnesses
DAMASCUS, Jun 12, 2011 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Syrian army troops uncovered Sunday a mass grave near a security detachment in the violence-hit area of Jisr al-Shughour in northern Syria, local witness said.
According to the witness, the mass grave is believed to contain the remains of 120 police and security men, who were allegedly killed by armed groups in the northern area.
He said more than seven decomposed and decapitated bodies had been exhumed from the mass grave in which marks of torture and distortion were seen. He added that security agents got a confession from Ahmad Rafa, a detainee who has admitted that he, along with another 25 armed men, attacked security and army forces and caused the massacre.
Earlier in the day, Syria’s official SANA news agency said that army units have entered the area of Jisr al-Shughour and began cleansing the national hospital of the elements of armed groups. SANA said the army units have entered the area after dismantling explosives planted by gunmen on roads and bridges, adding that “severe” clashes broke out between the army units and gunmen inside Jisr al-Shughour and its surroundings. It added the army arrested a large number of gunmen and confiscated machine guns from them.
Witnesses in the scene said the army entered under heavy gunfire by armed groups, adding that the army has arrested a large number of gunmen and many others fled the area. They said the hospital has been damaged from inside with smashed windows, adding that the gunmen have set up their own sand barricades and tired to guard against the entry of the army that has been surrounding nearby villages since Friday. A torched ambulance is seen in front of the hospital.
Syrian Troops Find Headless Bodies in Mass Grave
By Andrew Osborn, 2011-06-12
June 12 (Telegraph) — A MASS grave containing the bodies of at least 10 soldiers was discovered by Syrian troops last night in a town stormed by government forces in the north of the country. At least four of the corpses in the grave, found outside the military police headquarters in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, near the Turkish border, had been decapitated or struck on the head by an axe, according to those present. The government claimed the bodies, all still in uniform, were evidence of an attack by “armed gangs” on security forces, which it said claimed 120 lives last week. But residents and some defecting soldiers who have fled over the border claimed the dead were local recruits shot by officers for refusing to open fire on peaceful protesters.
US Calls For Stepped Up Pressure On Syria’s Assad, 2011-06-10
WASHINGTON (AFP)–The United States and its allies are looking to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar al Assad to step down or allow for a peaceful transition, a State Department spokesman said Friday. “[Assad] has refused to reform, refused even to make any gesture towards reform other than empty rhetoric,” Mark Toner said, as Syria expanded its military crackdown on pro-democracy protests, killing at least 22 people. “We will continue to look at ways we can up the pressure on him. What’s important here is that we make it clear to him that there’s growing pressure against his actions,” he told reporters.
“Political analysts in Middle East affairs have accused Ankara of playing a double game — claiming to support the Damascus government in order to have greater influence in the Middle East, while at the same time supporting and providing a safe haven for armed gangs seeking to incite revolt in Syria.
Iranian analyst Hadi Mohammadi says that the United States has now formed operational headquarters in southern Turkey close to the border with Syria to direct the riots in the Arab country after its attempts to cause unrest in southern Syria were unsuccessful.
Mohammadi said that the United States has assigned Turkey to carry out its anti-Syria plan. It has hence provided aid to the Turkish Army to assist Syrian dissidents in crossing into Turkey and settle in tent villages set up in Turkey’s Hatay Province. “
Syria on the Boil, US Warship in Black Sea
Amb. M K Bhadrakumar, Asia Times, June 13, 2011
…..The US is stepping up pressure on Russia’s Black Sea fleet. The US’s provocation is taking place against the backdrop of the turmoil in Syria. Russia is stubbornly blocking US attempts to drum up case for Libya-style intervention in Syria. Moscow understands that a major reason for the US to push for regime change in Syria is to get the Russian naval base in that country wound up.
The Syrian base is the only toehold Russia has in the Mediterranean region. The Black Sea Fleet counts on the Syrian base for sustaining any effective Mediterranean presence by the Russian navy. With the establishment of US military bases in Romania and the appearance of the US warship in the Black Sea region, the arc of encirclement is tightening. It is a cat-and-mouse game, where the US is gaining the upper hand.
Ostensibly, the regime headed by Bashar al-Assad is repressive since almost everyday reports are coming out that more bloodshed has taken place. But the Western reports are completely silent as to the assistance that the Syrian opposition is getting from outside. No one is interested in probing or questioning, for instance, the circumstances in which 120 Syrian security personnel could have been shot and killed in one “incident”.
The Western, Saudi, Israeli and Turkish involvement in Syria’s unrest is almost crystal clear but that is beyond the zone of discussion when we speak of “Syria on the boil”. In short, Russia has lost the information war over Syria. Henceforth, its dilemma will be that it will be seen as being obstructionist and illogical when a laudable democratization process is unfolding in Syria and the “Arab Spring” is straining to make an appearance.
Moscow has made it clear that it will not brook a resolution at the United Nations Security Council over Syria, no matter its wording or contents. It also voted against the Western move at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week to open a Syria nuclear file – similar to the Iran file – at the UN Security Council.
Moscow’s dilemma is that it cannot openly explain its side of the US’s geopolitical agenda toward Syria. Any such explanation will expose the hollowness of the US-Russia reset, which the Kremlin under President Dmitry Medvedev assiduously worked for. But Washington is not going to let Russia off the hook either. It is certain to tighten the noose around Assad’s neck.
Put simply, the US wants Russia to leave Syria alone for the West to tackle. But Russia knows what follows will be that the Russian naval base there would get shut down by a pro-Western successor regime in Damascus that succeeds Assad.
The stakes are very high. Last year, the deputy head of Russian military intelligence was killed in mysterious circumstances while on an inspection tour of the naval base in Syria. His body was found floating on the Mediterranean off the Turkish coast. To be sure, many intelligence agencies are deeply embroiled in the Syrian broth.
First and foremost, a regime change in Syria has become absolutely critical for breaking Israel’s regional isolation. The US-Israeli hope is that the back of the Hezbollah can be broken only if the regime of Assad is overthrown in Damascus and the Syrian-Iranian alliance is ended. Again, a regime change in Syria will force the Hamas leadership to vacate Damascus. Hamas chief Khalid Meshaal has been living in Damascus under Assad’s protection for several years.
En rejoignant l’Alliance atlantique, Nicolas Sarkozy a déclenché une mécanique meurtrière en Libye qui est en train de tourner à une veillée guerrière incompréhensible à l’encontre de la Syrie. Cette façon de prendre fait et cause pour cette croisade moderne est contraire aux intérêts de la France.
…… Laissons les peuples arabes développer leur « printemps ». Et faisons attention, au nom de la protection des populations civiles, à ne pas instrumentaliser l’ONU pour choisir tel peuple, tel interlocuteur qui nous plaît. Ce n’est pas à nous d’imposer notre vision de la démocratie aux peuples arabes. C’est à eux de la faire émerger.Roland Dumas :
Sen. Graham: Military Force Against Syria Should Be On Table
Out of the Shadow of Fear
A rare inside look at Syria, a land where the regime rules with a murderous impunity.
The Fall of the House of Assad – By Robin Yassin-Kassab | Foreign Policy
As Islamists Flex Muscle, Egypt’s Christians Despair
BY YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, JUNE 11, 2011 Wall Street Journal
QENA, Egypt—Five weeks after the fall of the Egyptian regime, Ayman Anwar Mitri’s apartment was torched. When he showed up to investigate, he was bundled inside by bearded Islamists.
Mr. Mitri is a member of the Christian Coptic minority that accounts for one-tenth of the country’s 83 million people. The Islamists accused him of having rented the apartment—by then unoccupied—to loose Muslim women.
Inside the burnt apartment, they beat him with the charred remains of his furniture. Then, one of them produced a box cutter and performed what he considered an appropriate punishment under Islam: He amputated Mr. Mitri’s right …
Syrians, not Westerners, will topple Assad The regime is mortally wounded — but British military force cannot finish it off
Malcolm Rifkind, 13 June 2011, thetimes.co.uk
One of my least pleasant experiences as Foreign Secretary was meeting President Hafez al-Assad in Damascus in September 1995. The father of Syria’s current dictator was a cold, ruthless despot. He occasionally smiled with his lips but never with his eyes. He had much blood on his hands. The Hama massacre of 1982 resulted in an estimated 20,000 deaths and has been described as the single deadliest act by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East.
His son, Bashar al-Assad, is not yet in that league but soon may be. The current army assault on Jisr al-Shughour, a town of 50,000 people only 12 miles from the Turkish border, is merely the latest brutal attack by the Syrian military on its own people since the popular uprising began in March.
The Syrian Government is doing what Gaddafi would like to do. We are witnessing the worst killing and repression since the Arab Spring began and, in Syria, it is likely to get much worse. Libya is calm, if only in comparison. Why then does the world seem silent as peaceful Syrian civilians are mown down? Where are the Nato planes? Why does the UN Security Council not act?
The case for diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions against the regime is unanswerable. If the Security Council cannot agree, Britain, the US and the EU should act unilaterally with all the sanctions at their disposal, such as freezing assets and banning the regime’s leaders from travelling.
A military response, however, as is happening in Libya, is not possible, nor would it be sensible. The Arab League would be hostile, the Russians and Chinese would veto it and military strikes by the United States or Britain, without the legitimacy conferred by the UN Security Council are impossible since the ill-conceived Iraq war.
In any event, a no-fly zone and air strikes similar to those being used in Libya would be pointless in Syria. Libya is very unusual in having a vast territory but with a small population living, almost exclusively, close to the main highway running from Tripoli to Benghazi along the northern coast. It is all desert; there are few mountains or valleys. There is no hiding place for Gaddafi’s tanks or artillery on the road between the main towns and cities.
Syria, in contrast, has a large population of around 22 million throughout a country of largely hilly terrain. The Syrian Army is well over 200,000 strong and Nato air power would have little impact except as part of an all-out war.
There is also the not insignificant fact that with operations ongoing in Afghanistan and Libya, neither Britain nor France has the aircraft or the munitions that would be required to be involved in a third conflict in the region.
While these considerations will bring some comfort to the regime in Damascus it is difficult to see how it can survive in the longer term…….
‘A Gay Girl in Damascus,’ Comes Clean
By Melissa Bell and Elizabeth Flock, 2011-06-12
June 12 (Washington Post) — In recent days, the world has followed closely the saga of Amina Araff, the blogger who presented herself online as “A Gay Girl in Damascus” and who drew attention with her passionate writings about the Syrian government’s crackdown on Arab Spring protesters. Those writings stopped suddenly last Tuesday, and a posting to the blog, ostensibly written by a cousin, said she had been hauled away by government security agents. News of her disappearance became an Internet and media sensation. The U.S. State Department started an investigation. But almost immediately skeptics began asking: Has anyone ever actually met Amina? Two days after her disappearance, images presented on her blog as being of Amina were revealed to have been taken from the Facebook page of a London woman. And on Sunday, the truth spilled out: The gay girl in Damascus confessed to being a 40-year-old American man from Georgia……
Jun 13, 2011 … Tom MacMaster said he created an online character and suddenly he didn’t know how to end it. In an interview with NPR, he said that if his … Got Out Of Hand’
Nikolaos van Dam: Tragically, a bloodbath may now be inevitable
Saturday, 11 June 2011, Telegraph
The latest actions of the Syrian regime yesterday indicate that all this is bound to lead to further bloody confrontation. The leadership knows that it is in danger, but it simply will not give up peacefully.
After all, it has seen what happened in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak faces jail or perhaps even the death penalty.
So who is controlling the situation? It is clear that Bashar al-Assad doesn’t have his own army and security people under control, and indeed, maybe never did. Bashar was parachuted on to the top of the regime to prevent disunity among the officers and ensure continuity, taking over from his father, Hafez, but that doesn’t mean he has much power. He is not the one who issues the orders to shoot and kill; it is those who for tens of years have got used to acting with violence and intimidation. It was telling that a few weeks ago, the President’s spokeswoman said Assad had ordered that there should be no more shooting, but it simply went on. He was apparently not in charge. But that does not mean that as president he is not fully responsible.
The situation is very different to Egypt, where the military is, more or less, still in place after the downfall of Mubarak. In Syria, the military is much more closely linked to the president. If he goes, his inner circle goes, albeit not without bloody confrontation. The leadership faces a major dilemma: reform could end this conflict, but they realise that any real reform will in the end lead to the disappearance of the present regime and the monopoly of the Baath Party.
The Syrian government is trying to start a national dialogue but I haven’t seen any signs yet to suggest that the opposition wants to talk, unless certain preconditions are being met. The regime, after all, started this violence, and now it seems to be receiving it back. The regime reported that 120 of its forces died in Jisr al-Shughour at the hands of armed gangs, while some witnesses have suggested that it was in fact fighting between the military and its own defectors. If the violence at Jisr al-Shughour was because of defections then the regime really is in trouble.
The biggest danger to the regime is from within the armed forces. There will be some in the military who simply completely disagree with the atrocities which are taking place. Events may encourage them to plot against the regime and that could lead to the bloodiest confrontation yet.
Nikolaos van Dam is a former Dutch ambassador and has written extensively about Syria. The fourth edition of his book ‘The Struggle for Power in Syria’ has just been released.
CFR.org: After Assad, Democracy In Syria?
by Elliott Abrams, 2011-06-10
Posted on Friday, June 10, 2011 by Elliott Abrams The bloody war that the Assad regime is waging against the people of Syria will end in the downfall of the regime. Whether that will take months or years is impossible to say; how many peaceful …
“Syria Can Prove that Sanctions Do Work” Op-Ed, Financial Times June 9, 2011 Author: Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University…..
Sanctions’ sceptics trot out a familiar litany, from the failure of a trade embargo to topple Fidel Castro in Cuba to the failure of sanctions to remove Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But evidence suggests such measures can be effective. A careful study by the Peterson Institute of 115 uses of economic sanctions by major countries between 1950 and 1990 concluded that, in about a third of cases, they helped those wielding them achieve their goals. The research shows they were most likely to be successful when this objective was modest and clear, the target was in a weakened position, economic links were significant, sanctions were heavy, and the duration was limited — conditions which partly apply in Syria today.
Even such positive statistics miss the more important question, namely what the alternative might be. The probability of success via sanctions may be relatively low — as is probably the case in Syria — but the relevant issue is whether it is higher than any alternative. Military power is sometimes effective, but its costs are also often high too, particularly in regions such as the Middle East.
Analysis: In Syria, army will be the key
By JONATHAN SPYER, 06/14/2011 01:59
If the opposition can split the military, the prize will be control over the republic and the result will be impossible to predict.
In the aftermath of the taking of Jisr al-Shughour by the Syrian army, it has become clear that the direction of events in Syria depends largely on the cohesiveness of Bashar Assad’s security forces.
If the army remains largely united behind the leadership of the dictator, the brutal repression of the protests looks set to continue.
…In his victory speech, which has come to be nicknamed the “balcony speech,” as he addressed his followers from his party headquarters’ balcony, the prime minister did not mention even once Europe, the European Union or the West.
Well aware that he will be watched by international audiences, he preferred to address the world as a Middle Eastern leader, rather than a European or Western leader.
He started his speech by saluting “all friendly and brotherly nations from Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Cairo, Sarajevo, Baku and Nicosia.”</b>
Later on he said, “The hopes of the victims and the oppressed have won,” and, “<b>Beirut has won as much as İzmir. West Bank, Gaza, Ramallah, Jerusalem have won as much as Diyarbakır. The Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans have won, just as Turkey has won.”
Now that elections are over, Turkey must evaluate if it will stay on the side of Bashar al Assad or move in a confrontation that may undermine turkish investments in Syria and may also antagonize other arab countries (like Egypt) who sees with annoyance that Erdogan is seeing himself as leader of the region.
“Erdogan se voit comme le leader de la Turquie, mais aussi de toute la région”
My opinion is that he will back off from criticizing the Syrian government, he has too much to loose.
Why Syria will get away with it
By Gideon Rachman
As Syrian tanks prepared to advance on Jisr al-Shughour late last week, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, launched an offensive of his own. In a speech in Brussels, he dismissed most of America’s European allies as a useless bunch of timewasters. I paraphrase – but not much.
Mr Gates pointed out that while all Nato countries had voted to intervene in Libya, most had chosen not to participate in the actual fighting. Even those European countries that are taking part began to run short of munitions just 11 weeks into the fighting – forcing an exasperated America to step into the breach. More broadly, a situation in which the US accounts for 75 per cent of the military spending in Nato was “unacceptable” and unsustainable. If it is not rectified, Mr Gates predicted, Nato faces a “dismal” future.
The conjunction of the Gates speech and the Syrian civil war is very telling. It explains why a 20-year experiment with the idea that western military force can put the world to rights is coming to a close.
Just a few weeks ago, that would have seemed a surprising conclusion. Supporters of “liberal interventionism” hailed the decision to bomb Colonel Gaddafi’s forces in Libya as evidence of a longed-for new era, in which dictators can no longer feel free to massacre their own people.
However a western failure to intervene, as the Syrian army brutalises and kills its own citizens, is likely to be a more accurate guide to the future than the Libyan campaign…
Money is not the only problem, however. Over the past 20 years it has become apparent that swiftly agreed-upon military actions can lead to entanglements that last for many years. There is still a Nato mission in Kosovo and an EU military mission in Bosnia, more than a decade after the fighting ended in both places.
As for Afghanistan – that conflict has now lasted almost twice as long as the second world war. Western governments are also only beginning to come to terms with what may soon be required in Libya. Against this background, there are very few takers for yet another military venture – this time in Syria.