Posted by Joshua on Saturday, October 4th, 2008
I usually like Robert Baer’s analysis. This time, however, both his psychology and history fail him. Writing in Time Magazine (copied below), Baer argues that Syria will continue to provoke Israel because of “the Alawites’ dark insecurity.” [They have a complex, he argues, because Salafists don’t think they are Muslims]. What is more, he argues that the only way Alawites can prove their Arab-Islamic credentials is by periodically going to war with Israel. He writes: ” they will risk war with Israel if they believe their survival requires it.”
This is pop psychology. The Alawites smashed the Muslim Brothers in Hama, January 1982, well before Israel invaded Lebanon and forced Syria into a war it did not want and sought to avoid. Israel over-ran Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries in the Baqqa valley and cut off its troops excape route to Damascus, forcing Syria to respond.
The vast majority of Sunni Muslims in Syria denounced the radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood for risking civil war and killing Alawites indiscriminately. Damascene Sunnis, led by Ratib Shallah and others, stood by Hafiz al-Assad and were duly rewarded for their loyalty and wisdom in saving their country from Iraqi type slaughter.
Hafiz did everything in his power to avoid war with Israel. He did not seek it in order to cleanse his “dark insecurity,” as Baer argues. I was living in Damascus at the time of both Hama and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The Palestinians at the University of Damascus were besides themselves with anxiety that Syria would not resist Israel’s incursion. Syria withdrew its forces to the Beirut-Damascus road in an effort to avoid confrontation with Israel. Israel sought out the Syrians, exceeding the red lines they said they would stay behind. They cut off Syria’s ability to withdraw its soldiers from Lebanon by taking the Beirut-Damascus road, the site of Syria’s anti-Aircraft missiles, and forced a confrontation with Syria that Hafiz was trying to avoid.
The reason Syria did not want to join battle with Israel is obvious. Israel shot down almost 100 Syrian MiG 23s without losing one of its own American made planes. Israel had AWACS and advance radar, which the Syrians lacked. Syrian pilots needed to make eye contact with Israel’s F15s and F16s in order to fire their missiles. I spoke to a number of Syrian pilots after the event. They never did succeed in making eye contact with the enemy. The US planes could fire their sidewinder missiles from well over the horizon, using their radar to guide them to their targets. The Syrian pilots knew they were being sent to their deaths, but they did it anyway. Those I spoke to were bitter and cynical. Hafiz called for a truce after a day. Syria’s defeat in 1982 shook the regime to its core. It did not strengthen it as Baer suggests.
Syria has scrupulously avoided direct war with Israel, because it would undermine its hold on power. That is why it must work through militias and non-state actors, which don’t have a return address. If Alawites have dark insecurities, it is because they fear getting into a war with Israel — not because they welcome it. That is why Syria wants peace with Israel and the return of the Golan. There is no upside to war with Israel – particularly not for Alawites. Syria has shown admirable restraint in the face of recurrent Israeli provocations, bombings, and assassinations. This is because the regime is secure. Its legitimacy derives from Bashar al-Assad’s ability to avoid war — both external and internal civil war — not in his desire to provoke it.
Why Syria Will Keep Provoking Israel
By Robert Baer
Time, 3 October 2008
Oddly enough, Saturday’s car bombing in Damascus will serve Iran’s interests. Tehran thrives on chaos, which presents it an opportunity to come to the aid of friendly regimes and causes in the Middle East that need backing. More than likely, Iranian leaders were on the phone with counterparts in Damascus all Saturday, telling the Syrians not to lose heart. The Iranian message to Damascus is simple: If Israel and the United States see any weakness in the Assad regime, they will drive a truck through it and bring it down. And, if history is anything to go by, that’s a message Damascus will listen to.
What we tend to ignore is why Syria has had an uninterrupted record of attaching itself to radical causes and countries like Iran. For starters, Syria is ruled by a besieged and insecure minority, the Alawites, a heterodox-Shi’ite ethnic minority. About 12% of Syria’s population, the Alawites are looked at by extremist Sunni Muslims as heretics, fallen-away Muslims, usurpers who should be put to the sword. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Sunni extremists came close to getting their way. During a February 1982 Muslim Brotherhood insurrection in Hama, Syria’s third largest city, Hafez al-Assad felt compelled to flatten it in order to stay in power…
To Americans, it may appear reckless for the Syrians to provoke Israel by beefing up Hizballah —especially with Israel now constrained in how it can respond to Iran’s nuclear program. (The U.S. has made clear to the Israelis that getting into a war with Iran is the proverbial bridge too far, and that Washington therefore won’t support or enable an Israeli military strike on the Islamic Republic.) But, again, Americans don’t understand the Alawites’ dark insecurity — and the fact that they will risk war with Israel if they believe their survival requires it.
Qifa Nabki has written up what he has been told by Lebanon’s Cabbies on the Syria-Israel Negotiations
UN seeks aid for drought affected people in Syria
Chinaview.cn, 4 October 2008
The United Nations launched an appeal Friday for 20 million U.S. dollars to help up to 1 million drought affected people in Syria for a period of six months.
A vast majority of the funding is required for livelihoods and food, said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Syria is currently experiencing a drought that is by far the worst over the past four decades, according to OCHA.
The Syrian government estimated that up to 1 million people — predominantly herders and subsistence farmers — are at risk of losing their livelihoods and of increased malnutrition.
Up to 59,000 small herders lost almost all their herds and 47,000 herders lost 50 percent to 60 percent of their livestock.
Food prices have risen at a rate that has outstripped household incomes and the purchasing power of the general population, especially in the drought-affected areas, Byrs said.
Anemia, malnutrition and diarrhea are on the rise in the country, especially among children under the age of five, as well as among pregnant women.
Availability of drinking water also decreased in the rural areas of north-eastern Syria, particularly in those villages depending on protected wells as their only water source.
The situation is not expected to improve until the spring 2009,if the rains do not fail for a second year in a row.
Danger lies in ties with Kurdish opposition
03 October 2008
By Michael Howie
AN EXPERT on Syrian politics believes any links Jojo Yakob has with Kurdish opposition parties could land him in bigger trouble than his homosexuality if he is returned to his home country. He claims Mr Yakob could be arrested for any ties he might have with Kurdish groups.Joshua Landis, the co-director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said: “They will be watching him like a hawk.”
About 200,000 Kurds in Syria have no passport and are on society’s margins.
Offering Mr Yakob a small glimmer of hope, he said gay people could avoid state aggression “if they keep their heads down”.
But he admitted: “I don’t know what the secret police would do to him.”
A spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in London said: “Homosexuality is illegal, but there are no special units to deal with this problem.
“People are not prosecuted – society looks at this as a disease for which they can be treated – it is a similar position to that taken by the Vatican. I cannot give a clearer answer. But we are not Switzerland.”
Syria rebuffs nuclear inspectors
BBC, 3 October 2008
The head of Syria’s nuclear programme has said that the country’s military sites will remain off-limits to international nuclear inspectors.
Damascus said it would co-operate with an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inquiry only if it did not threaten its national security……
Afghanistan wins spot on IAEA board after Syria withdraws
The Daily Star, 4 October 2008
Afghanistan won a place on the 35-member board of the UN atomic watchdog on Friday, after Syria pulled out of the race for the seat. Syria had been competing with Afghanistan for a spot in the body that oversees the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that had become vacant for the so-called Middle East and South Asia (MESA) group after Pakistan’s one-year term expired.
…. “For the sake of unity within the MESA group, Syria has decided to drop its candidacy,” said Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, and added: “There will be only one candidate for the MESA group.”
Had MESA nations been unable to decide on a consensus candidate, the matter would have had to go to a vote by all of the IAEA’s 145 member states.
Syria’s bid for a greater say in the IAEA had run into fierce opposition by the US, which alleges that Damascus was building a covert nuclear facility at a remote desert site called Al-Kibar until it was destroyed by an Israeli strike in September 2007….
Afghanistan, which is a US ally, had announced its candidacy on Wednesday. …
Judge orders Syria to pay families of hostages
By Kate Brumback
AP, 3 October 2008
An attorney acknowledged Friday that it will be difficult to force Syria to pay more than $400 million to the families of two American men kidnapped and decapitated while working as civilian contractors in Iraq…..
U.S. High School Joins Forces With Syria to Tackle Iraqi Refugee Crisis
The Wall Street Journal, 3 October 2008
Using drawings from Iraqi children who fled to Syria to escape the war in Iraq, American Conserve School and Syrian Al Enawi Secondary School have published a book in hopes of raising awareness of the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees. A U.S. high school worked with a secondary school in Syria to publish a book that hopes to raise awareness of the Iraqi refugee crisis. The book contains drawings by Iraqi children who fled to Syria to escape the Iraq war.
The book, entitled Through the Eyes of Children: The Iraqi Refugee Crisis 2008,…..
Senior Salafi cleric issues stark warning to Damascus
By Nicholas Kimbrell
The Daily Star, 3 October 2008
Lebanon’s leading Salafi cleric, Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal, has warned Syria to stay out of North Lebanon or risk opening “the gates of hell.” In an interview to be published in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Anbaa, Shahhal made clear that Syrian intervention in Lebanon would be met with stiff opposition.
A military incursion would open “the gates of hell and lead to what is similar to Iraq and its misery,” he said, according to excerpts received by the Lebanese news outlet Naharnet.
“The Syrian command and its allies in Lebanon,” Shahhal added, “are keen on driving a wedge between the Salafi movement and the Lebanese military establishment in order to drag the whole Sunni community into conflict….”
Major powers warn against any Syrian move into Lebanon
By Hussein Abdallah
The Daily Star, 4 October 2008
….. An-Naharnewspaper quoted an official US source Friday as saying that US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch had told Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem that the United States totally rejected any Syrian military intervention in Lebanon.
The source said Welch made it clear to Moallem that recent bombings in Damascus and Tripoli should not be used to justify any kind of military intervention in Lebanon…