News Round Up (Sept 27, 2012)

From Foreign Policy: The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, has warned that up to 700,000 refugees might flee Syria by the end of the year. This number is dramatically larger than the previously estimated 100,000, which has already been surpassed. About 294,000 Syrians have already left. According to the agency, between 2,000 and 3,000 people a day are fleeing the civil war in Syria, seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Meanwhile the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has estimated more than 305 people died in clashes on Wednesday. Opposition forces have made gains in the two month long battle for Aleppo, forcing Syrian forces to curtail flights to and from the Abu Duhur Air Base after they shot down at least two MIG attack jets.

Rebels bombed the Army General Command in Damascus early Wednesday morning in what was the second day of heavy bombing in the capital. The Qatari emir called on Arab nations to intervene in Syria to end the civil war. French President Francois Hollande called on the U.N. to enforce “liberated zones” in Syria. A report from Save the Children detailed torture and imprisonment of children in Syria. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for international action to halt the killing.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan said he might be open to talks with the Kurdish militant group, PKK, as the southeast has seen a spike in violence.

5 Reasons to Intervene in Syria Now‘ (Michael Doran and Max Boot, The New York Times)

“First, American intervention would diminish Iran’s influence in the Arab world. Second, a more muscular American policy could keep the conflict from spreading. Third, by training and equipping reliable partners within Syria’s internal opposition, America could create a bulwark against extremist groups like Al Qaeda, which are present and are seeking safe havens in ungoverned corners of Syria. Fourth, American leadership on Syria could improve relations with key allies like Turkey and Qatar. Finally, American action could end a terrible human-rights disaster within Syria and stop the exodus of refugees, which is creating a burden on neighboring states.”

Absent a workable plan for saving lives or a compelling strategic rationale for intervention, the United States should stay out of the conflict—while using all means short of force to dissuade the participants and their regional backers from committing egregious human-rights abuses. Once the smoke clears, Syria will need a benefactor with clean hands to help it pick up the pieces.
Bashar al-Assad may fall, but is the worst yet to come? ….Unlike in Tunisia or Egypt, the odds of a successful transition to democracy may be even lower for Syria; research by Gene Sharp and others suggests that violent revolutions more often than not result in new, illiberal governments. This leaves Syria with a paradox: The more rebels wage a war against the Assad regime, the less likely they are to achieve democracy, reconstruction, or reconciliation. …. The lesson of past U.S. engagements in the Middle East is not that the United States should avoid intervention — but that it must try in Syria, as the country’s future without foreign assistance would be intolerable. Intervention won’t be pretty, easy, or cheap, but it is better than the alternatives.
Wissam Keyrouz, AFP – September 27, 2012

Qatar’s call for Arab military intervention in Syria would be difficult to achieve practically and politically, and would risk dragging the region into an all-out conflict, analysts say.

Qatar’s emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on Tuesday urged Arab action over war-torn Syria because of the failure of the UN Security Council and other international efforts to end the conflict.

Because of this failure, “it is better for Arab countries to intervene themselves out of their humanitarian, political and military duties and do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed,” Sheikh Hamad told the General Assembly.

But according to Mustafa al-Ani of the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, “Arab countries do not have the military capabilities to act as deterrent forces and do not have a united leadership or coordination.”

“An Arab intervention would also open the door for a counter intervention by (Syria’s staunch ally) Iran, and eventually a regional conflict,” said Ani.

Qatar’s emir cited the precedent of an Arab intervention force sent to Lebanon in the 1970s in a bid to halt that country’s civil war. He called the 1976 Arab League-backed operation “a step that proved to be effective and useful.”

But for Ani, the Lebanon intervention, as well as a similar Arab intervention to counter Iraqi forces in Kuwait based on a decision by the Arab League in 1961, “failed politically and militarily.”

In October 1976, a 30,000-strong predominantly Syrian Arab Deterrent Force was sent to Lebanon.

Three years later, Arab troops withdrew, except for the Syrians who stayed on until they eventually pulled out under international pressure in 2005.

On the Homs frontline with Syrian government snipers by – excellent short video of Homs fighting.

Fighting for Idlib, September 27, 2012 – By Ben Solomon and Christopher Chivers

Putin condemns bloody regime change in Middle East
By PETER LEONARD, Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a strong warning Wednesday against inciting violent regime change in the Middle East — an apparent rebuke to Western calls for an end to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule.

Putin said the international community should operate as a united front to soothe the tensions in the Mideast and claimed that a bloody regime change would only fuel further unrest.

“Violence only begets violence,” Putin said in a speech to foreign diplomats in Moscow…..

Suffering in Assad-supporting village – BBC video with Lyse Doucet.

Senior Clinton deputy for Syria retiring: U.S. official

NEW YORK (Reuters) – One of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top deputies for Syria plans to retire, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday, although he played down any impact on policy.

Frederic Hof, who along with U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has been the main anchor of the State Department team handling the Syria crisis, has informed Clinton he intends to step down, the official said.

“He is going to be retiring,” the official told reporters in New York, where Clinton is attending this week’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Syria is among the top issues under discussion.

“There comes a time when it really is important for us to reconnect with our families and spend time with them, and that’s the reason he has decided to step down,” the official said.

“The secretary is extremely grateful for his leadership and all the work he has done on a variety of issues.”

Hof, a Middle East expert and special adviser to Clinton on Syria, has worked to encourage the country’s fractured opposition to find greater cohesion and present a viable alternative to President Bashar al-Assad government.

Guest Post: Qatar – Rich and Dangerous
Submitted by Felix Imonti of

Qatar: Rich and Dangerous

Qatar had ten billion dollars in investments in Libya to protect.  The Barwa Real Estate Company alone had two billion committed to the construction of a beach resort near Tripoli.

While the bullets were still flying, Qatar signed eight billion dollars in agreements with the NTC.  Just in case things with the NTC didn’t work out, they financed rivals Abdel Hakim Belhaj, leader of the February 17 Martyr’s Brigade, and Sheik Ali Salabi, a radical cleric who had been exiled in Doha.

If Qatar’s investments of ten billion dollars seem substantial, the future has far more to offer.  Reconstruction costs are estimated at seven hundred billion dollars.  The Chinese and Russians had left behind between them thirty billion in incomplete contracts and investments and all of it is there for the taking for those who aided the revolution.

No sooner had Qaddafi been caught and shot, Qatar approached Bashar Al-Assad to establish a transitional government with the Moslem Brotherhood.  As you would expect, relinquishing power to the Brotherhood was an offer that he could refuse.  It didn’t take long before he heard his sentence pronounced in January 2012 on the CBS television program, 60 Minutes by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

The Emir declared that foreign troops should be sent into Syria.  At the Friends of Syria conference in February, Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said, “We should do whatever necessary to help [the Syrian opposition], including giving them weapons to defend themselves.”

Why would Qatar want to become involved in Syria where they have little invested?  A map reveals that the kingdom is a geographic prisoner in a small enclave on the Persian Gulf coast.

It relies upon the export of LNG, because it is restricted by Saudi Arabia from building pipelines to distant markets.  In 2009, the proposal of a pipeline to Europe through Saudi Arabia and Turkey to the Nabucco pipeline was considered, but Saudi Arabia that is angered by its smaller and much louder brother has blocked any overland expansion.

Already the largest LNG producer, Qatar will not increase the production of LNG.  The market is becoming glutted with eight new facilities in Australia coming online between 2014 and 2020.

A saturated North American gas market and a far more competitive Asian market leaves only Europe.  The discovery in 2009 of a new gas field near Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria opened new possibilities to bypass the Saudi Barrier and to secure a new source of income.  Pipelines are in place already in Turkey to receive the gas.  Only Al-Assad is in the way.

Qatar along with the Turks would like to remove Al-Assad and install the Syrian chapter of the Moslem Brotherhood.  It is the best organized political movement in the chaotic society and can block Saudi Arabia’s efforts to install a more fanatical Wahhabi based regime.  Once the Brotherhood is in power, the Emir’s broad connections with Brotherhood groups throughout the region should make it easy for him to find a friendly ear and an open hand in Damascus.

A control centre has been established in the Turkish city of Adana near the Syrian border to direct the rebels against Al-Assad.  Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Saud asked to have the Turks establish a joint Turkish, Saudi, Qatari operations center.  “The Turks liked the idea of having the base in Adana so that they could supervise its operations” a source in the Gulf told Reuters.

The fighting is likely to continue for many more months, but Qatar is in for the long term.  At the end, there will be contracts for the massive reconstruction and there will be the development of the gas fields.  In any case, Al-Assad must go.  There is nothing personal; it is strictly business to preserve the future tranquility and well-being of Qatar. Read »

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