Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 31, 2012

Syria: Washington Needs To Climb Down

About a thousand insurgents are trying to hold territory in Syria's biggest city Aleppo. The Syrian army is certainly capable of defeating them with an all out assault but that would be costly in lives and it would lead to the destruction of those neighborhoods. So far the Syrian army has not tried to assault the insurgents in those suburbs but so far uses only probing skirmishes to find their exact position. It may be going for a kind of siege. That again may be part of a plan to suck more insurgents into the fight before fixing them in place and finishing them off.

It could also be a sign of a weakening army. But I have yet to see any other symptom for that to be the case. Sure the army has made and makes mistakes. There recently was a video showing a platoon of tanks trying to assault an insurgent stronghold in urban terrain without infantry support. As any capable tactician would have predicted they got slaughtered by RPG volleys from the side streets. But the Syrian army still has lots of resources. There has been no attack by the air force yet and helicopters have been used only sparsely. There are certainly more troops and reservists available and willing to join the fight on the government side.

But my impression is the general situation in Syria is still deteriorating. The Syrian insurgency consist of unemployed youth, some army defectors and bandits and criminal gangs. But more and more foreign Jihadist arrive every day with seasoned al-Qaeda fighters in the lead. The insurgency is increasingly sectarian and brutal in its behavior. Today some insurgents overran two lightly armed police stations, killed all 40 policemen (video, graphic) and ransacked the buildings. Christians and other minorities are starting to arm to defend themselves. If this downward spiral continues as more Jihadists come ine Syria will get wreaked.

The Obama administration is only now starting to understand that a continuation of its confrontational policy of arming the rabble and Jihadists will lead to the total destruction of the Syrian state with bad secondary effects all around. Yesterday it sent out defense secretary Panetta to warn the opposition that it will have to keep the Syrian state and its institutions intact.

But the insurgents will not listen to that and will continue their destructive path. They just revealed a plan to create a military dictatorship in Syria with their local leadership in the role of the dictator. The Wahabbi U.S. allies in the Gulf states will also not agree with Panetta's begging. They want a Sunni dominated Islamic state in Syria that will put Christians and Allawis into a second class citizens role (if not to death) and will exclude them from any relevant posts. They will continue to send their unwanted revolutionary youth and lots of money to the most radical parts of the insurgency.

Schemes like a junta in a box around the playboy soldier Manaf Tlass are stupid dreams and like the bickering Syrian National Council very unlikely to be acceptable to the Syrian people.

There is only one way to stop the carnage and to keep Syria intact. That is to let Assad win enough to make a political deal possible. For that all foreign support for the insurgency has to stop and new negotiations will have to be started including Russia and Iran. There is no guarantee that such negotiations will lead to an outcome that is acceptable to everybody. But as it is becoming more and more clear the alternatives are worse.

Washington is not yet ready to climb down. It may need another six month, a new secretary of state and more serious consequences of the destruction of the Syrian state coming into view before a different policy will be pursued.

Posted by b on July 31, 2012 at 12:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (107)

July 28, 2012

Syria: A Turn In Western Media Coverage?

There seems to be slight turn in the western media coverage of Syria. Here in Germany the press has now more reports showing the "rebels" as what they really are: traveling jihadists and foreign paid rabble. Commentators on the news websites are now mostly highly critical about the usual propaganda pieces and the German government policy of supporting the SNC. There also seems to be a slight shift in international media.

Alex Thomson is in Syria for the British Channel 4. He put up a Q&A at his blog. Some excerpts:

What will happen in Aleppo?

Probably what happened in Damascus – the rebels will lose.
...
But the rebels look to be doing well on TV?

That’s because they are winning the propaganda war better than the real war.
...
But why is the Syrian army shelling its own people?

You could just as easily ask why are the rebels using the Syrian people as human shields? It’s a dirty civil war and the rebels sometimes choose to fight in residential areas.
...
So what do Syrians want?

Hard to tell. But for sure this is not Egypt – there are no Tahrir Squares or vast protests against the regime.

There is no discernible sign in any of the big cities – Homs, Aleppo and Damascus for example,that the people even wish to rise up against the regime.

On Twitter Thomson also said that there he observed no food shortage and that last weeks queues in front of gasoline stations in Damascus are now gone. For now the center certainly holds.

The Irish Times finds two Libyan born naturalized Irish guys fighting in Syria. There aim is an Islamic state:

According to Harati, who first came to Syria some 10 months ago for what he says was initially humanitarian work, the brigade emerged after Syrians approached him due to his experience as commander of the Tripoli Brigade in Libya last year. The Tripoli Brigade was one of the first rebel units into the Libyan capital last August.

Liwa al-Umma is made up of more than 6,000 men, 90 per cent of whom are Syrian. The rest are mostly Libyans and other Arabs, including several who live in Ireland.

What will those "several who live in Ireland" and are now fighting Syria do once they come back home to Ireland?

The Guardian, which has since the very beginning been one of the worst propaganda outlets on Syria, is having second thoughts. Today's editorial is calling not for more war but for negotiations:

But what if Assad continues to hold on? For weeks, for months, even longer? That is why the second option, a return to diplomacy and, in particular, a new start by America and Russia in dealing with this terrible problem, cries out for consideration.

This may be a sign for a turning point in western coverage and media attitude towards the situation in Syria.

Posted by b on July 28, 2012 at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (121)

July 27, 2012

Schwerpunkt Aleppo

As I wrote four days ago:

The insurgents have now brought the war to Aleppo. Today several tweets from the insurgent side pointed to videos that claim to show insurgent reinforcement going to Aleppo. The Syrian government was also said to have reinforcement coming in and there is now unconfirmed reporting of its use of air force assets against the insurgency. That might all be the fog of this war or it might be the buildup to the Clausewitzian Schwerpunkt of this conflict. The place where both sides concentrate their forces for a decisive battle.

It seems that I was right with the prediction in that paragraph. The Schwerpunkt is Aleppo. Tony Karon compares the situation with the Ted offensive in Vietnam. There the North Vietnamese made a surprise attack on U.S. positions in all South Vietnamese cities and were beaten back. Militarily it was a near catastrophic loss for the North Vietnamese. But politically it was a great victory. The attack convinced the U.S. people that the fight was lost and it quickened the U.S. withdrawal.

What the Syrian insurgents are trying now looks quite similar. Militarily they are likely to loose big time. But they can not achieve a political victory against the Syrian government. The Syrian army has nowhere to withdraw to. The only political victory a battle around Aleppo could bring would be more active support from the outside like with a no-fly zone or something similar.

But that is not going to happen. The U.S. government and the Turkish government tell the insurgents that they are on their own:

Ms. Nuland[, a State Department spokeswoman,] also indicated that the United States was not reconsidering its stance against military intervention, saying, “We do not think pouring more fuel onto the fire is going to save lives.” And she drew a sharp distinction between Aleppo and the Libyan city of Benghazi, where fears of a slaughter by government troops led to a NATO bombing campaign that proved decisive in toppling Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi last year.

“The kind of groundswell call for external support that we’ve seen elsewhere is not there,” Ms. Nuland said.

and

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he hopes the “real sons of Syria” will respond to an armed assault the Syrian regime is getting ready to launch in Aleppo.

“The regime is preparing for an attack with tanks and helicopters in the city center of Aleppo. It’s not clear what’s going to happen today. The foreign minister and I have been following the developments. I hope that the regime gets the answer it deserves from Syria’s own sons,” Erdoğan said in response to questions from reporters on Friday in London.

"From Syria’s own sons" and no one else. The Syrian government will not mind that at all.

The insurgents made a mistake in now concentrating the fight on Aleppo. While the news is not really clear it seems that only some western and eastern suburbs, less than 20% of the city, have some insurgency presence. The population in Aleppo is not with the insurgency. Videos of two demonstrations in Aleppo today showed only some 300 participant each. Thin local support will make the logistics for the insurgency quite difficult. They will have to bring in whatever they need. If the Syrian army is able to cut the insurgents supply lines into Aleppo it only has to fix them on the ground to slowly fight them down. With the world news diverted to the Olympics the timing of a fight about Aleppo could not be better for the Syrian government.

But that view may be too optimistic. I am not yet sure that the U.S. and Turkey have really given up their intervention drive. This or that trick to justify more steps against Syria may still be in the offering.

There have been pictures circulating today showing insurgents with gas mask which they claimed to have taken from the Syrian army. A UN resolution that the Saudi government wants to bring to the UN General Assembly on Monday ominously includes a paragraph about chemical weapons. After days of rumors about possible false flag attacks with chemical weapons the Syrian government had publicly promised to not use any such weapons against the insurgency. Why then is that paragraph in the Saudi draft needed?

--- Bonus: Robert Fisk (for once sober) in an interview on Aleppo.

Posted by b on July 27, 2012 at 01:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (85)

July 26, 2012

"Al Qaida in Syria" As Propaganda For Intervention

It seems every news outlet is suddenly confirming what the Syrian president Assad has claimed months ago. To a quite large part the insurgency in Syria consists of foreign Salafi fighters.

As usual the NYT is propaganda and wrong in its headline and the piece. The Salafis do not have a "new role" but a quite established one.

From the TIME piece:

In another town in northern Idlib, another jihadist — belonging to a different group — also shared Ibrahim’s goal of an Islamic state. “Abu Zayd,” is a 25-year-old Sharia graduate who heads one of the founding brigades of Ahrar al-Sham, a group that adheres to the conservative Salafi interpretation of Sunni Islam.
...
The Ahrar started working on forming brigades “after the Egyptian revolution,” Abu Zayd said, well before March 15, 2011 when the Syrian revolution kicked off with protests in the southern agricultural city of Dara’a. The group announced its presence about six months ago, he said. Abu Zayd denied the presence of foreigners even though TIME saw a man in the group’s compound who possessed strong Central Asian features.
...
One prominent Syrian smuggler in a border town near Turkey said that he ferried 17 Tunisians across the night before. [...] “Before that, every day there were new people, from Morocco, Libya, and elsewhere,” he said. (In the course of several hours of waiting to cross back into Turkey, I saw at least a dozen Arabs who were clearly not Syrian, and identified as foreigners by the smuggler.)

Bashar Assad was right. These guerrilla groups formed BEFORE the start of demonstrations in Syria and many of them are foreigners. This confirms that there was indeed, as Seymour Hersh reported in 2007, a larger well prepared plan behind this whole war. The ground was obviously already prepared before the conflict was started with provocateurs enticing bloody conflicts between local demonstration and police forces by firing at both sides.

That everyone now comes out with these Al Qaeda stories might be signal that the propaganda that covered up the real conflict with blabber of "peaceful protests" and "freedom" is no longer needed. It also might have a much more sinister purpose.

Following the headlines above, some parts of the FSA are now complaining about the existance of these Salafi groups. But here the hyping of their existence and the alleged threat of them taking over is used as a justification for intervention by foreign troops:

Those pushing Western governments to play a greater role in Syria often contend that failing to do so invites extremist groups to fill the void. “Extremist groups, al Qaeda-plus and all, are definitely in Syria,” says James Prince, founder and president of the Democracy Council. “We need to learn from similar lessons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt and not leave democracy activists fighting for their own freedoms swinging in the wind.”

[FSA General] Sheikh sought to strike a similar note in his comments today, using the specter of armed extremists to call on Western governments to act. “Leaving Syria like this is very dangerous. It may become another Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said. “The international community must do something and move quickly.”

James Prince and his Democracy Council is the official conduit, according to Wikileaks documents, the U.S. government used since 2006 to funnel money to the Syrian opposition:

Several U.S. diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called the Middle East Partnership Initiative. According to the cables, the State Department funneled money to the exile group via the Democracy Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit.

James Prince is paid tool of the CIA and the State Department. When he raises the specter of an Al Qaida takeover as justification for intervention, i.e. outright war, we can be sure that he is introduces a new official propaganda line. That also explains how all these semi-official media are somewhat synchronized in now coming out with the same Al Qaeda in Syria headlines. Who briefed them?

But even without the intervention the propaganda is pressing for the conflict in Syria is threatening to become more internationalized. The Turkish premier Erdogan wants to eliminate terrorists on the Syrian side of the border. But that of course does not mean he wants to kill the foreign Salafists of the Free Syrian Army. He will continue to support those with weapons and whatever they need. Erdogan wants to go after the Syrian Kurds who, after a deal with the Syrian government, have taken control over their cities and villages. Turkey is moving additional troops to the eastern Kurdish part of its border with Syria. Erdogan claims a "natural right" for Turkey to fight "terrorists" outside of its borders. One wonders how he will feel about that "natural right" when the Syrian government claims and acts upon it.

In another development the U.S. and its allies have shunned the disunited and ineffective National Syrian Council and are trying a different exile "government in a box" game. They now want to put the former general Manaf Tlass into the key role of their new Syrian puppet dictator:

The officials said Gen. Tlass is one of the few figures in opposition to the regime who could potentially help restore order in Damascus and secure Syria's vast chemical-weapons stockpile.

But Manaf is a rather mediocre guy who no one in the Syrian opposition wants to see in any leading role. That he is a tool of the Saudis, announcing his role in Saudi Arabia and giving his first interview there, may gain him Saudi and U.S. backing but will turn off most Syrians.

Meanwhile the build up of the Schwerpunkt battle in Aleppo continues. The Syrian government seems to assemble a serious force around the three suburbs the FSA has taken control of. Before hitting them the Syrian army is likely to give a high priority to first surrounding the insurgents and to let them no way to escape.

Posted by b on July 26, 2012 at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (94)

July 24, 2012

Syria: Schwerpunkt Aleppo?

This is the Syrian opposition:

ADO, AKP, ASM, CAP, BSS, DASU, DBASP, DD, FSA, HCRS, KDP, KNC, LCC, MB, MJD, NCB, NCC, NDA, NSF, NPF, PFLC, PKK, PPW, PUK, PYD, SCP, SDP, SDPP, SNC, SNDB, SRGC, SSNP, SSNP/i, TYM, WRAP

This abbreviation soup is from a recent policy paper: DIVIDED THEY STAND - An Overview of Syria’s Political Opposition Factions by Aron Lund from the Swedish Palme Center. Each abbreviation stands for a group or coalition involved in the Syrian opposition.

The various splits between these groups was today again on display when two different spokesperson of the umbrella organization Syrian National Council had a public spat about a possible transitional government:

"There was never any question of a national unity government led by a member of the regime," Bassma Kodmani told AFP, hours after another SNC spokesman, George Sabra, said the council was ready to agree to a transfer of President Bashar al-Assad's powers to a regime figure who would take power for a transitional period.

Sabra said on Tuesday that the SNC "would agree to the departure of Assad and the transfer of his powers to a regime figure, who would lead a transitional period like what happened in Yemen."

"We accept this initiative because the priority today is to put an end to the massacres and protect Syrian civilians, not the trial of Assad," Sabra said.

George Sabra is a secular Christian who belongs to to the SDPP, the socialist Syrian Democratic People’s Party. He recently left Syria after he was released from prison. Bassma Kodami, who rejected his transition offer, is a long time exile and a western agent:

Kodmani is not some random "pro-democracy activist" who happens to have found herself in front of a microphone. She has impeccable international diplomacy credentials: she holds the position of research director at the Académie Diplomatique Internationale – "an independent and neutral institution dedicated to promoting modern diplomacy". The Académie is headed by Jean-Claude Cousseran, a former head of the DGSE – the French foreign intelligence service.

A picture is emerging of Kodmani as a trusted lieutenant of the Anglo-American democracy-promotion industry. Her "province of origin" (according to the SNC website) is Damascus, but she has close and long-standing professional relationships with precisely those powers she's calling upon to intervene in Syria.

So we again have a real Syrian who calls for a peaceful solution and a western tool arguing for more killing.

My bet is still that there will be no outside intervention in Syria other than foreign support for the insurgents. That probably means another Algeria like fight:

The opposition needs radical changes if it is to be able to bring down the regime, while the regime resorts to operations aimed at exterminating (there is no more fitting word for it, unfortunately) its armed opponents so as to keep its grip on the state by force.

The insurgents have now brought the war to Aleppo. Today several tweets from the insurgent side pointed to videos that claim to show insurgent reinforcement going to Aleppo. The Syrian government was also said to have reinforcement coming in and there is now unconfirmed reporting of its use of air force assets against the insurgency. That might all be the fog of this war or it might be the buildup to the Clausewitzian Schwerpunkt of this conflict. The place where both sides concentrate their forces for a decisive battle.

But with the full capabilities of the Syrian army intact a battle in Aleppo would be a rather lopsided and destructive one but still not the end of the insurgency or a solution for the countries bigger problems.

With the recent moral boost from its victory in Damascus the Syrian army is unlikely to fold. To achieve peace it is the other side that has to give way. For that the outside support for the insurgency has to stop. Something that seems currently out of reach though some people somewhere are certainly working to achieve that. (Inducing Turkey to use armored vehicles (video) against Syrian refugees in Turkey is part of such work.)

Only when the insurgency comes down to a tolerable level will any talk George Sabra and other moderates in the opposition abbreviation soup prefer become possible.

Posted by b on July 24, 2012 at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (104)

July 23, 2012

Policy Change: "Terrorists" Are Now "Insurgents"

This is the biggest Orwellian rewrite I have ever experienced.

For years the label "AlQaeda" and "terrorists" were practically used as synonyms. But, following the Obama administrations lead, the New York Times has now rewritten its stylebook and relabeled "AlQaeda" from "terrorists group" to a somewhat neutral "insurgency".

Iraq Insurgents Kill Nearly 100 After Declaring New Offensive

BAGHDAD — In a coordinated display intended to show they remain a viable force, Iraqi insurgents launched at least 37 separate attacks throughout the country on Monday morning, setting off car bombs, storming a military base, attacking policemen in their homes and ambushing checkpoints, Iraqi authorities said....

So there are now "insurgents" in Iraq? Should we support them?

Further into the piece it becomes clear who these "insurgents" are:

The attacks, coming in the early days of Ramadan, the monthlong Muslim religious rite, were predicted Sunday in an audio message attributed to the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Bakir Al Baghdadi, and posted on the group’s Web site. Mr. Baghdada vowed that a new offensive, which he called Breaking Down Walls, would begin soon.

Hmm - Al Qaeda now "predicts" such atrocities? Would not "announce" be a more factual word? Are we supposed to doubt that AlQaeda in Iraq committed these killings today after it only "predicted" them? Why?

On Twitter Yemen specialist Gregory Johnsen asked: Why is the NYT calling al-Qaeda in Iraq "Iraqi insurgents"

My short answer was: b/c AlQaeda in Syria are "rebels"

The longer answer is that the Oceania no longer at war with Eurasia. It is now allied with Eurasia and at war with Eastasia. The New York Times, as the paper of record, is just documenting that shift though without acknowledging it.

The U.S. and its assorted poodles are now allied with those radical Sunni AlQaeda fighters. But as the U.S. would never support "terrorists" they now have to be renamed and rather suddenly become "insurgents" (in Iraq) or "rebels" (in Syria).

This is a bit ominous for the Iraqi premier Maliki. This relabeling after the devastating attacks today makes clear that he is now on the same regime change targeting list that Syria's Bashar is on.

Al Qaeda associated groups have for quite some time been running terrorist campaigns against the governments of Syria and Iraq. Support for them from the U.S. and its Saudi allies has been more or less open for quite some time. Relabeling them as "insurgents" and "rebels" is the official declaration of this cooperation as a new U.S. policy.

Posted by b on July 23, 2012 at 02:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (140)

July 22, 2012

Syria: Border Posts And City Raids

It is more and more difficult to get a clear picture of the situation in Syria. As a large part of the western media are obviously part of the military information operation against Syria one has to double check each and every detail. Here is the gist of what I read from various sources.

The raid-like assault on parts of Damascus failed after three days. The population of the raided quarters did not help the foreign supported insurgency but rather fled to safe quarters. The Syrian military then had little difficulty to fight the insurgents down. Today an assault attempt on a military hospital in Damascus failed after just one hour.

A similar raid-like assault is now ongoing in some quarters of Aleppo. The result will likely be the same than in Damascus.

There were many reports of successful insurgency attacks on Syrian border stations. Most of them turned out to not have happened at all or as having been defeated. One station on the border to Iraq was in insurgency hands. Two stations on the border to Turkey were also taken over. At one of them the insurgents looted 30 Turkish trucks that were taking food and medicine into Syria. They burned some of them. Another crossing at Bab al-Hawa was taken over by foreign Al Qaeda fighters:

[B]y Saturday evening, a group of some 150 foreign fighters calling themselves as Islamists were in control of the Bab al-Hawa post, an AFP photographer said.

Some of the fighters said they belonged to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), while others claimed allegiance to a group called Shura Taliban.

They were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket launchers and improvised mines.

The fighters identified themselves as coming from a number of countries: Algeria, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and the Russian republic of Chechnya.

A video they produced shows some of them with an AlQaeda flag declaring the place to be an Islamic state. Arabic speakers told me that the accent in the video is not Syrian. These foreign fighters also looted and burned Turkish trucks.

And Turkey has even more problems with the guests it took in from Syria. At two refugee camps, or rather insurgency retreats, people protested over insufficient food and water supply and Turkish riot police intervened with batons and tear gas.

That are some friendly and thankful friends you have there, Mr. Erdogan. Here is more trouble for you.

The Kurds in the north-east of Syria have taken control over their area. They clashed with insurgents and shortly also with a few government troops. Their aim is to sit the situation out while keeping any trouble away from their hometowns. If the Syrian government falls they will try to unite with the Kurds in Iraq and in Turkey.

There are recently only few reports from insurgency strongholds like parts of Homs or Rastan. What is happening there?

All the above action is, from a military standpoint, unimportant. The insurgents can not win and hold. They can keep a few parts of the Syrian military busy but with each and every actions they also take significant casualties.

The whole point of these attack on the border stations and on Damascus and Aleppo seem to be to entice "Damascus is falling" headlines in western media and to induce panic into some Syrians. But the reports of the fall of Damascus are far from being true and the panic they induce seems to be of more help for the Syrian government than for the insurgency.

The U.S., Britain and the Gulf countries have announced more support for the - so far - failing insurgency. Especially in the case of the U.S. one is wondering to what end. Some U.S. financed so-called NGOs make cute preparations for calm after the fall of the Syrian government. But each and every expert says the reality after a fall of the Syrian government would look much different than what is planned for:

"Syria has become a convenient battlefield for everyone, a place to divide the Arab world, said Farid Khazan, a Lebanese lawmaker and a professor of political science at American University of Beirut. "You won't be able to reshape that country without messing up the entire region."
...
"The fall of the Assad regime doesn't mean it is the end," said Jihad Zein, editorial writer for Lebanon's largest daily newspaper, An Nahar. "We will have a chaotic Syria and some kind of Islamist party dominating the street for a long time."

Are State Department people like Killery Clinton really stupid enough to believe the can create a viable state out of the chaos they create in Syria? If that is not what the Obama administration wants why is it continuing its support for this regime change project?

Posted by b on July 22, 2012 at 01:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (74)

July 21, 2012

The Success Of Distributing Production Means

The NY Times finally acknowledges that there is a lot of success due to Zimbabwe's land reform:

Before Zimbabwe’s government began the violent and chaotic seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, fewer than 2,000 farmers were growing tobacco, the country’s most lucrative crop, and most were white. Today, 60,000 farmers grow tobacco here, the vast majority of them black and many of them working small plots that were allotted to them in the land upheavals.
...
The result has been a broad, if painful, shift of wealth in agriculture from white commercial growers on huge farms to black farmers on much smaller plots of land. Last year, these farmers shared $400 million worth of tobacco, according to the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, earning on average $6,000 each, a vast sum to most Zimbabweans.

“The money that was shared between 1,500 large-scale growers is now shared with 58,000 growers, most of them small scale,” said Andrew Matibiri, the director of Zimbabwe’s Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board. “That is a major change in the country.”

A "painful shift of wealth" from the rich to the poor.

There are many more countries in need of such "pain".

Posted by b on July 21, 2012 at 01:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (44)

July 19, 2012

Syria: "It Is All About Iran"

The latest western UN Security Council resolution about Syria was, as expected, vetoed by Russia and China. South Africa and Pakistan made a point by abstaining. The resolution threatened the Syrian state with sanctions should it not withdraw its troops from population centers while saying nothing about a withdrawal of the western supported insurgents or any consequences to them.

The Ambassador to the UN for the Russian Federation Vitaly Churkin made the point that the issue of Syria is about much more than Syria. It is a global geopolitical conflict.

There is no transcript yet of the press stakeout where Chrukin elaborated on that but the gist was caught by the valuable Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press:

Then Churkin went bigger picture, paraphrasing Bill Clinton by saying "It's all about Iran, stupid" (and striking the last word).

He said that after the US invasion of Iraq worked out differently than the US expected -- with an expanded Shi'a and Iranian role, that is -- now they had to try to contain Iran, by way of Syria.

After the failed policy of the war on Iraq the U.S. is now trying to correct the outcome through another catastrophic attack on another middle eastern country.

But this is even about more than Iran. It is about resistance against Israel and its occupation of Arab land. U.S. politics, under Israeli pressure, can not longer acquiesce to resistance. It has to be snuffed out. No matter what happens next.

The ongoing attack on Syria, if successful and after a long bloody sectarian civil war, will lead to the installation of another fundamentalist Sunni government in a geographically critical state. This is lunacy. Even imperial stalwarts like the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Pat Lang ask:

Are we really happy that Sunni jihadis are disassembling a government that does not represent Sunni fanatics in the likelihood that it will be replaced by one that will?

The humanitarian interventionists in the Obama administration, especially the female ones, seem to be fine with that. They will of course deny any responsibility when the predictable consequences of their action, especially for the women in Syria, will become visible for all.

Posted by b on July 19, 2012 at 02:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (296)

July 18, 2012

Syria: After Deadly Strike Gloves Will Come Off

Updated below:

The foreign supported insurgency in Syria made hit-and-run attacks in some suburbs of the capitol Damascus. But those fights were isolated by government forces and seem now to die down as the insurgency has problems to sustain them. That may well be for a lack of personal:

Rebel commanders declared that the "Battle for Damascus" had begun, with fighters drafted into the city from other areas of the country as part of an operation they called "Damascus Volcano and Earthquakes of Syria".
...
[H]e said that rebel units from Homs, Deraa and two other cities had been drafted into the capital.

This morning a suicide bomber killed the Syrian defense minister and the deputy defense minister during a security meeting. Syrian interior minister Muhammad Al Shaar and others were seriously wounded in the attack.

Ten days ago Hillary Clinton warned:

"The sooner there can be an end to the violence and a beginning of a political transition process, not only will fewer people die, but there is a chance to save the Syrian state from a catastrophic assault that would be very dangerous not only to Syria but to the region," Clinton said at a news conference.

Were the recent attacks and today's bombing the "catastrophic assault" she warned of? How did she know of them?

The news of who did these assassinations and how is currently foggy. The most interesting question is: Who gave the intelligence that enabled these assassinations?

The deputy defense minister Assef Shawkat is Bashar Assad's brother-in-law. Earlier this year the insurgency claimed to have killed the defense minister Dawoud Rajiha by food poisoning. He was an orthodox Christian. We can therefore be sure that his death will be a rather harsh part of talk the president of the Russian Federation Putin will have today with a major supporter of the insurgency, the Turkish prime minister Erdogan.

These assassination are surely as heavy hit for the Syrian government. But the result of that hit may not be what the insurgency wishes for: that the people in the government give up. My assessment is that the government's gloves will come off now and its response will be felt beyond the Syrian borders.

Update:

 The Free Syrian Army in Turkey is claiming responsibility (as did some Jihadi group):

Riad al-Asaad said in a phone interview from his headquarters in Turkey that rebel forces planted a bomb inside a room where senior government officials were meeting Wednesday.
...
The rebel leader denies government claims that it was a suicide attack, saying all those who carried out the operation are safe.

Time for another reminder: Syria went through a quite similar situation in the late 1970s when the Muslim Brotherhood led another insurrection against the Syrian state. There were many assassinations and assassination attempts, including on the then president Hafez al-Assad, as well as large attacks on government forces. The response was ferocious and the insurrection was put down.

Posted by b on July 18, 2012 at 07:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (116)

July 17, 2012

Fire Crews At Their Best

My admiration goes out to the fire crews in Istanbul who, according to these headlines, managed to extinguish this fire two minutes before it broke out.

This partial screenshot is from the current NYT homepage.

It is just another (snarky) reminder to keep a skeptic view towards internet speed news and headlines.

Posted by b on July 17, 2012 at 06:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

July 16, 2012

Syria: Russia Rejects Western Blackmail

The false reporting on the Tremseh "massacre" was supposed to put pressure on Russia and China to agree to a Chapter 7 UN Security Council resolution. Chapter 7 allows the use of force and such a resolution could be used as an excuse for armed intervention. Kofi Annan took that position when, after Tremseh, he urged the UNSC to threaten Syria with "consequences" for not retreating from cities and villages. Annan and Ban Ki Moon were dispatched to Russia and China to further press the issue.

But the Tremseh information operation fell apart when the UN observers confirmed the Syrian government version of the story. Writes the Wall Street Journal:

New evidence on last week's killings in a village in central Syria suggests the bloodshed followed a raid by government forces to arrest male rebels, rather than a deliberate massacre of around 200 civilians as some Syrian opposition leaders and their Western allies first reported.
...
The findings could ease the pressure on Russia and China to back tougher measures against Bashar al-Assad's government, underscoring how competing narratives and interpretations of events in Syria continue to divide world powers over how to end a conflict now recognized by most as a civil war.

The Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to meet with Kofi Annan tomorrow. He just held a press conference in which he laid out the Russian and Chinese position. From my notes:

  • Lavrov rejected demands of unilateral withdrawal of Syrian armed forces from cities. He insisted on simultaneous withdrawal by the army and the insurgents after local negotiations and under supervision of the UN observers.
  • He accused the west of "blackmailing" by threatening to not renew the mandate of the UN observers unless Russia agrees to a Chapter 7 resolution.
  • He asked how Russia could trust anyone with Chapter 7 when existing UNSC resolutions and the recent Geneva decisions are not followed by others as they continue to arm and support the insurgency.
  • He expressed concern about the increasing sectarian dimension of the conflict and the fate of minorities like the Christians in Syria.
  • He expressed concern about a radical "third force" in the Syrian conflict and emphasized that such AlQaeda forces are a common enemy of everyone involved in the crisis.
  • He regretted that the Syrian National Council does not relent from its "radical demands", is not helpful in creating an inner-Syrian dialog and has not named a negotiator like the Syrian government has done.
  • He emphasized that the solution of the crisis in Syria will be an example for other global crises and should be seen under that perspective.
  • Inner-Syrian negotiation on a transition as agreed upon in Geneva is the way to go and Russia will not go with any UN resolution that does not confirm with the Geneva document.
  • Russia will not permit any Chapter 7 resolution on Syria to pass the UNSC.

The attempt to use Tremseh to blackmail the Russians has obviously failed.

Will there be another trick the U.S. will try to get its will? Could the unconfirmed allegation by anonymous western officials about the movement of chemical arms within Syria be used to create another fake event that the Syrian government can then be accused of? What other malicious ideas will Hillary Clinton come up with?

Posted by b on July 16, 2012 at 05:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (104)

July 15, 2012

Tremseh "Massacre" Was A Legitimate Military Operation

This is what the foreign supported insurgency in Syria first claimed:

Syrian opposition activists said more than 200 people were killed in a Sunni village on Thursday by government forces using tanks and helicopters, which, if confirmed, would be the worst in a series of massacres that have convulsed Syria’s increasingly sectarian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
...
Activists in Hama posted a video on YouTube accusing the government of “ethnic cleansing in Hama,” and said the killings in Tremseh were “unlike any massacre that has previously occurred in Syria.” Tremseh

The massacre accusations came just in time for another UN meeting on Syria. But according to the Syrian government the incident was much different from what the insurgents claimed. It had received some intelligence about specific places in Tremseh where foreign supported FSA insurgents gathered and prepared for new attacks. It took the initiative and in the early morning of Thursday raided those places and captured or killed most of the insurgents and their weapons there.

The Syrian government version is largely confirmed by the UN observers who later visited the place:

"The attack on Tremseh appeared targeted at specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists," the spokesman for the U.N. observer mission to Syria said in an emailed statement.

That storyline is also confirmed by statements insurgency supporters made to AFP:

An activist at a media center in Hama also said "a large number of rebels were killed in fighting between the FSA and the regular army."

Identifying herself as Mariam, she told AFP by Skype that the incident occurred when government forces stormed the village in a bid to retake it and the rebels withdrew when they found themselves outnumbered.

Government troops "resorted to excessive force against around 30 members of the FSA inside the village," she added.

Thus far, amateur videos purportedly documenting the killing have shown the bodies only of men.

An NYT analysis of various videos and names of casualties also confirmed the government version:

New details emerging Saturday about what local Syrian activists called a massacre of civilians near the central city of Hama indicated that it was more likely an uneven clash between the heavily armed Syrian military and local fighters bearing light weapons.
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Although what actually happened in Tremseh remains murky, the evidence available suggested that events on Thursday more closely followed the Syrian government account.
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The picture emerging is that there was a large group of fighters from the town and the local area bivouacked in Tremseh.
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“Whenever the Syrian Army knows there are fighters concentrated in an area, they attack,” said the leader of the Observatory, who goes by the pseudonym Rami Abdul-Rahman for safety reasons. “The majority of people killed in Tremseh were either rebel fighters from the village or from surrounding villages.”

The Syrian government, the UN observers, activists, the available facts and even a spokesperson for the insurgency all seem to agree on this case. This was no "massacre" but an ordinary military surpirize attack on an enemy redoubt. The causalities were combatants.

But the truth does not hinder the usual suspects from spewing their lies. Clinton:

There was "indisputable evidence" that the Syrian regime had "deliberately murdered civilians" in a massacre in the central village of Tremseh in which more than 200 people died, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday.

Erdogan:

"This inhuman massacre, this attempted genocide, are just early signs pointing to the demise of this regime," Erdogan told a meeting of his Justice and Development party in the north-western town of Kocaeli.

"Why care for the facts when you have a bully pulpit?" those hypocrites may think. They want to create a fake democracy in Syria with their puppets in control. Just like in Libya where human rights are now worse  than under Gaddafi.

But in the end the facts will matter. The Tremseh operation shows that the Syrian government has significant intelligence about the insurgency. It also has the ability to decisively move troops against its enemy when such intelligence comes up. This was not always the case but these days the Syrian army's performance seems to be improving.

Four weeks ago the insurgency distributed maps of allegedly FSA held areas. All the battles of the last days, including the one in Tremseh, took place within the areas the FSA claimed to hold. That fact plus the successful operation in Tremseh seems to support a view that the tide has turned and that the insurgency is, for now, in retreat.

Posted by b on July 15, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (42)

July 14, 2012

Open Thread 2012-20

News & views ...

[Note to all: I just blocked two ranges of IP addresses to prevent some persistent link spam. If you have difficulty to post please let me know via email. The email address is on the About page.]

Posted by b on July 14, 2012 at 01:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

July 13, 2012

Syria: Insurgents Claim Another UN Meeting "Massacre"

Updated below

Today:
Massacre Reported in Syria as Security Council Meets

Syrian opposition activists said more than 200 people were killed in a Sunni village on Thursday by government forces using tanks and helicopters, which, if confirmed, would be the worst in a series of massacres that have convulsed Syria’s increasingly sectarian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
...
Initial reports of an atrocity in Tremseh came as Security Council diplomats were meeting in a closed session at the United Nations to work on drafting a new resolution to force Mr. Assad’s government and its armed antagonists to honor a cease-fire, allow the monitors to resume their work, and carry out a peace plan by the special envoy Kofi Annan.

A UN meeting and a "massacre"? Haven't we seen that before?

January 27, 2012
Violence surges in Syria as U.N. Security Council meets

BEIRUT — Violence surged in Syria on Friday, with government forces using heavy artillery to bombard several towns, while the United Nations debated a resolution on ways to end the bloodshed, intensifying the diplomatic pressure on Damascus.
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“In some areas, the shelling has not stopped for three days in a row,” said an activist in the central city of Homs who uses the name Hadi al-Homsi. “The regime is now waging full-scale war against the people.” He described what he called a “massacre” in the district of Karm al-Zeitoun, a focal point of government military operations in the city.

February 3, 2012
U.N. Security Council to meet on Syria as deaths mount

More than 200 people were reported killed in Syria, hours before the U.N. Security Council was scheduled to meet and likely vote on a draft resolution intended to pressure the government there to end its months-long crackdown on demonstrators, diplomats said.
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The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said early Saturday that 217 people, including women and children, had been killed in Homs in what the group characterized as a "massacre."

June 1, 2012
12 Syria workers 'executed' on eve of UN watchdog meet

Syrian government forces summarily executed 12 civilians on their way home from work in a fertiliser factory in Qusayr, activists in the central town told AFP by telephone on Friday.

The reported killings late on Thursday afternoon came on the eve of a special session of the UN Human Rights Council called to discuss the conflict.

June 6, 2012
Syria accused of new massacre as U.N. meets

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian troops and militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad stood accused by opponents on Thursday of a new massacre of scores of villagers hours before a divided U.N. Security Council convenes to review the crisis.

If confirmed, the killings of at least 78 people at Mazraat al-Qabeer, near Hama, will pile on pressure for world powers to act, but there is little sign they can overcome a paralysis born of sharp divisions between Western and Arab states on the one hand and Assad's defenders in Russia, China and Iran.

There was and is clearly a pattern recognizable here. Before any big UN event on Syria the opposition sets out to balme the government of committing a "massacre".

The Syrian government denies to have perpetrated the current "massacre" as it did in the other cases. It asserts that there was a big fight in Tremseh with "many" terrorists killed.

Tens of terrorists overrun the village of al-Trimsa in Hama Countryside yesterday, killing or wounding tens of Syrian civilians.
...
The competent security units, in response to al-Trimsa inhabitants' pleads, clashed with the terrorists, inflicting huge losses upon them, capturing scores of them, confiscating their weapons, among which Israeli-made machineguns.

3 security personnel were martyred during the clashes, according to SANA reporter in Hama.

A first graphic video of the aftermath of the "massacre" uploaded by the opposition shows 14 dead man of fighting age with seemingly typical battle wounds.

The Syrian government certainly has no advantage by committing any mass atrocity before important UN meetings while the insurgency and its western sponsors are clearly using them for their propaganda purpose.

But this UN meeting "massacre" scheme is getting stall as even some journalists finally recognize this scam for what it is.

Liz Sly, the Washington Post Foreign Correspondent on Syria, remarked today:

The pattern of massacres on the eve of UNSC meetings on Syria is starting to look very real. Reports of 200 dead near Hama; UN meets tmrw.

And Paul Danahar, the BBC Middle East Bureau Chief tweeted:

'Massacre in ‪#Syria‬ as UN meets' is headline everywhere....again. This is either an increasingly odd coincidence or it isn't one at all

That was, I believe, a rather rhetorical question.

The Wall Street Journal has some anonymous "U.S. officials" claiming that Syria is moving nerve gas it is alleged to have out of storage. Is such an unverifiable claim a preparation for another "massacre"? One perpetrated with whoever's nerve gas?

Update

AFP now reports:

Separately, two Syrian activists said most of those killed in the Thursday incident were rebels, and that they died in fighting.

"At this stage, though we do not yet have the final count, the number of civilians killed by shelling is not more than seven," said Jaafar, an activist at the anti-regime Sham News Network.

"The rest were members of the [rebel] Free Syrian Army," he told AFP.

"An army convoy was on its way to the region of Hama when it was attacked by the FSA," he said. "The army staged a counter-attack with the support of [pro-regime] reinforcements from [nearby] Alawite villages. The FSA resisted for an hour before it was defeated."

An activist at a media center in Hama also said "a large number of rebels were killed in fighting between the FSA and the regular army."

The heavily armed insurgents lost a battle. How this is supposed to be a "massacre" is beyond me.

Posted by b on July 13, 2012 at 03:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (125)

July 12, 2012

Syria: How U.S. Pays SNC, Auxiliaries Pull Back, Fake Rape

Is the Syrian National Council of expats that demands war against Syria a western political intelligence operation?

Sure. And if there ever were any doubts about that this piece should bury them.

This is a story about the storytellers: the spokespeople, the "experts on Syria", the "democracy activists". The statement makers. The people who "urge" and "warn" and "call for action".

It's a tale about some of the most quoted members of the Syrian opposition and their connection to the Anglo-American opposition creation business.
...
As we will see, several of these spokespeople have found support, and in some cases developed long and lucrative relationships with advocates of military intervention on both sides of the Atlantic.
...

The piece goes into the well sourced details of years-long western finance for several of the leading SNC functionaries including for one of their main promoters the neocon Michael Weiss who we flagged here half a year ago.

Remember that Turkish jet Syria shot down? Erdogan and his sidekicks were so up in arms about that  they ran to their NATO daddies to ask for help. They claimed that the jet was shot down outside of Syrian air space. NATO help was denied because, as I interpreted it, NATO was sure that the jet was shot down within Syrian airspace while it tested the Syrian air defense.

Erdogan is under fire from the Turkish opposition and is now heavily backtracking on his original claim:

There are growing numbers of question marks surrounding last month’s downed Turkish plane as the prime minister admitted yesterday that all details from the incident were not yet known as Washington said it knew everything about the downing but was refusing to share the information with the media.

The sense of confusion was enhanced by an Air Force general who said the plane, which was downed June 22, might have been hit by a personally operated missile from a Syrian ship rather than a surface-to-air missile. At the same time, the military also altered the way it is has been describing the event, referring to the plane as the jet that “Syria claimed to have shot down” rather than the jet that “Syria shot down.”

It seems that Erdogan and his military will soon claim that the jet went down for "technical reasons" or because of a "pilot error".

That news comes as the Washington Post claims that arms deliveries to Syrian rebels are delayed:

Activists give differing interpretations of what they say are shipments of weapons that are not making it across the usual route — the Turkish-Syrian border.

One leading opposition member attributed the blockage to Turkish anxiety in the wake of Syria’s downing of a Turkish jet last month.

Or anxiety about Russia doubling its troops in Armenia near the Turkish border ?

The Lebanese government is reinforcing its troops on the Syrian border to prevent smuggling and cross border fighting.

Jordan is also tightening its border with Syria as it fears infiltration of loyal Syrian troops.

All these steps by Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan may be to just starve off various freelance groups and Salafis fighting in Syria and to channel the guns to groups selected by the CIA and its new friends in the Muslim Brotherhood.

But another interpretation is that they finally found sense and recognized that further fighting in Syria will inevitably deliver serious blowbacks to their countries. They recognize that the U.S. project for regime change in Syria has for now failed and are winding down their part of it.

As I currently read it the second interpretation is a bit more likely one. This does not mean that Washington has stopped the war mongering. But its auxiliaries seem to leave the field or at least have second thoughts.

To instigate war one needs propaganda and here is a very typical piece of such: The Ultimate Assault: Charting Syria's Use of Rape to Terrorize Its People. The piece is simply fake news based on very dubious third hand tales and propagated by one of the U.S. government sponsored fake humanitarian endeavors. In the comments thereto Don Bacon points out that the piece was commissioned by Joe Lieberman, the neocon Senator for Israel.

That fact as well as the trails in the first linked piece tells us where this whole operation against Syria was thought up and is coming from.

Posted by b on July 12, 2012 at 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

July 11, 2012

Syria: SNC Convinces Russia To Increase Help For Assad

The exile Syrian National Council was invited to Moscow and when there tried to convince the Russian of their cause. The way they did it shows a grotesque and amateurish stupidity.

Russia needs to understand that the conflict in Syria is not a dispute between the opposition and regime but a revolution, the chief of the main exiled opposition group said in Moscow on Wednesday.

“The events in Syria are not disagreements between the opposition and the government but a revolution,” Syrian National Council (SNC) chief Abdul Basset Sayda told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, comparing the events in his country to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

To set fall of the Soviet Union, which wasn't caused by revolution but by the wrangling within the political leadership, as an example for Syria's future will have convinced all Russians to double their effort to stand by the Syrian government. Here is why:

Speaking to the nation in his annual address, Putin used some of his strongest language to describe his country's fate over the past 14 years.

"The collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century," Putin said. "For the Russian people, it became a real drama. Tens of millions of our citizens and countrymen found themselves outside Russian territory. The epidemic of disintegration also spread to Russia itself."

That the fall of the Soviet Union was a catastrophe is not only Putin's opinion:

"It is very clear that for the great majority of Russian people, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was a personal catastrophe," [Boris] Kagarlitskii[, the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies in Moscow,] said. "It was also a catastrophe for a tremendous majority of people in Tajikistan, quite a lot of people in Uzbekistan, and so on, including many people in Ukraine. Because families were divided, people's lives were ruined, living standards collapsed, the minimal standards of human justice, and very often of freedom, were also neglected."

That is indeed also the likely the perspective for the majority of Syrians should the western sponsored insurgency win.

To remind the Russians of that is the most dumb thing the SNC chief could have done in Moscow. Putin's support, and that of the Russian people, for the Syrian government may well increase after this SNC lecture.

Posted by b on July 11, 2012 at 11:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (123)

NYT: There Is A Right Time For Illegal Jewish Settlements

Today's New York Times editorial is headlined:

Wrong Time for New Settlements

That headline implies that there could be a right time for racist east-European colonizers to build more settlements on stolen west-Asian land. And indeed that seems to be the standpoint of the editors.

Their reasoning in rejecting some Israeli kangaroo-commission's finding that the Zionist state should just swallow-up the West Bank is that this would hurt other Zionist projects:

If its conclusions are not firmly rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there is likely to be new international anger at Israel. That could divert attention from Iran just when the world is bearing down with sanctions and negotiations to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. It would also draw attention to a dispiriting anomaly: that a state founded as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people is determined to continue ruling 2.5 million Palestinians under an unequal system of laws and rights.

So Israel should not annex the West Bank because it would hinder attempts to bomb Iran back to the stone age and it would "draw attention" to what the Zionist state does on a daily base.

That is of course something the editors of the "paper of record" would not want. To draw attention from the Iran diversion to what the Zionist state is doing day by day. That would be committing something like journalism. And that is not what the New York Times, with regards to Israel, is used to do.

Posted by b on July 11, 2012 at 06:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

July 10, 2012

Syria: Various News

The situation on the ground in Syria is difficult to assess though judging from the names of towns mentioned in various news accounts and insurgency videos the Syrian army's operations are moving to smaller towns in the countryside and nearer to its borders with Turkey and Lebanon.

Yesterday Kofi Annan met with Bashar Assad and if this leaked account is true agreed on a plan to implement local ceasefires on a case by case base. Some of the insurgent groups may agree to such ceasefires, other may not and will thereby then attract special attention by the Syrian army.

Annan also traveled to Iran and Iraq to find support for his plan. Russia is offering Moscow as the next place for an international meeting on Syria and, like Annan, wants to include Iran in those talks.

Next week Erdogan will make a one day visit to Moscow and will likely get an earful from Putin. As Putin said yesterday:

I believe that we must do everything possible to press the parties in this conflict into negotiating a peaceful political solution to all issues of dispute.

Turkey depends on natural gas imports from Russia and Iran and a reminder on that may be a way to move Erdogan away from supporting the insurgents. Russia also has troops in Armenia, another neighbor to which Turkey is rather hostile, and is said to increase its troop size there to divisional strength. (The Armenia - Azerbaijan conflict is heating up and, with western support for Azerbaijan, may become one of the hot spots if the conflict over Syria or Iran escalates.)

The Russian troop increase and the next two items seem intended to keep keep any western power away from stupid ideas.

Syria held two days of military maneuver with an emphasis on coastal and air defense.

Russia is sending a small fleet into the Mediterranean which will also visit the Syrian harbor of Tartus. The fleet will stay until September.

That may then be the time frame Russia thinks is needed for the Syrian government to achieve a situation on the ground that allows for a better negotiation position and a solution the Syrian government and Russia can live with.

Posted by b on July 10, 2012 at 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (29)

July 08, 2012

Open Thread 2012-19

So what's on your mind ...

Posted by b on July 8, 2012 at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (122)

July 06, 2012

Syria: NATO Smacks Turkey And Other News

Continuing its current offensive the Syrian army took control of the rebel stronghold of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province. Throughout the last weeks the insurgents have lost ground wherever the army went. It is likely that they will now try to capture some other town and for the chase to continue for a while.

Hillary Clinton is ignoring the sorry state her mercenaries are in and tried to push the other participants of today's "enemies of Syria" conference to make Russia and China "pay a price" for not agreeing to her imperial project in Syria. Those other will nod and silently agree that to ask for 5 cents might be sufficient.

The Syrian brigade general Manaf Tlass has left the country. He has been under the Syrian governments scrutiny for some time and had lost his command in May 2011. His first cousin, Abdul Razak Tlass, is the leader of the infamous Al Farouq brigade in Rastan/Homs. As Manaf Tlass is a former regime stalwart he may not be welcomed by the exile opposition.

In other news:

The Iraqi foreign minister warned that further Al-Qaeda fighters are infiltrating into Syria.

It appears that Turkey had indeed asked for NATO to create a contingency plan for a no-fly zone over Syria after its reconnaissance jet was shot down by the Syrian air-defense. The request was turned down. This NATO smackdown news is another loss of face for Erdogan.

Bashar Assad appears self confident and straight in his interview with the Turkish daily Cumhurieyt: Part 1, 2, 3 and 4.

A new UN Secretary General report on the UN mission and the situation in Syria was published today. The observer mission is currently unable to work and is likely to be downsized. Some details from the report confirm aspects of the opposition that are missing in western reporting:

15. From 8 June, coinciding with the Free Syrian Army’s withdrawal of commitment to the six-point plan, citing lack of progress in its implementation, UNSMIS noted the intensification of armed conflict. The armed opposition and at least some elements of the political opposition, as well as the Government had, it appeared, determined to pursue a military strategy.
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The opposition escalated and intensified its attacks on Government checkpoints and positions in proximity to opposition locations, bombing of critical infrastructure, and assassinations of Government officials and senior officers.
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22. Daily shelling of Homs has continued since 25 May. The evacuation of civilians has not yet been possible, as armed opposition groups have not yet agreed to observe the necessary humanitarian pause, despite UNSMIS facilitation.
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29. UNSMIS also received reports from members of the public as well as of the Government of persons deprived of liberty by armed opposition groups. In most cases, these groups denied to UNSMIS that they had any persons in their custody. In several cases, opposition contacts confirmed to UNSMIS that such persons were in their custody. UNSMIS received reports from pro-Government individuals of demands for payment or ammunition in exchange for release of abductees held by armed opposition groups. Though not able to verify the claim, one reliable source informed UNSMIS that persons deprived of liberty by armed groups are frequently subjected to a quick “trial”, followed by arbitrary executions.

How can anyone suggest it would good for the Syrians to hand over their country to these folks?

Posted by b on July 6, 2012 at 12:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (107)

July 05, 2012

Banks Are As Criminal As Advertised

One wonders why anyone would be astonished that Barclay and other banks fix the game to their advantage by fixing key interest rates. This has been obvious for a long time. The banks do this with the knowledge of every politician and regulator involved. They even publicly advertise it.

What might help against such overt and greedy market manipulation? Simple: put the management of any bank that breaks the rules into jail. For a long time. And throw away the keys.

The public should not work for the banks' interest but banks should work for the public interest. If they can not do that under private ownership, seize them and run them as public property.

Posted by b on July 5, 2012 at 07:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (34)

July 04, 2012

Syria: Assad Attacks Erdogan

Each time the Syrian opposition meets to show a united face it turns out to be less united than ever. Yesterday's meeting even included fist fights and flying shoes.

With each such stunts the opposition will lose outside support. That is good for Syria.

Meanwhile Bashar Assad, in an interview with the Turkish daily Cumhurieyt, started a full attack on Erdogan. In the first part of the interview he emphasized friendship with the Turkish people. In the second part he accuses Erdogan of having a "sectarian mentality" and of being merely a stooge for the United States-Israel-Gulf axis:

President al-Assad: [...] Today, Erdogan is shedding the tears of hypocrites for the Syrian people. Why hasn’t he cried for those killed in some Gulf countries, although they are innocent, peaceful and unarmed? Why isn’t he speaking about democracy in some Gulf countries?

Journalist: Which country?

President al-Assad: Qatar, for instance. Why didn’t he do anything after the Marmara ship incident except shouting? Why did he challenge Israel, and then suddenly agreed to deploy the missile shield in Turkey? Did he deploy it in order to protect Turkey from the attack of a hostile country? Did America build these bases in order to protect itself against this region? Which country in the region has the capability to threaten America? No country. So, the answer is that he deployed it to protect Israel. These circumstances revealed Erdogan’s reality, no more, no less. Erdogan hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way the people of the region look at him. He has failed on the Arab arena. He no longer exists, neither him nor his credibility.

A good interview (which Erdogan tried to prevent) and recommended reading.

This, and the sorry state of the opposition, will increase the pressure on Erdogan to change course and to stop the support of the opposition. That will not happen immediately. But when the Syrian army has pushed the insurgents back into the Turkish border zone the question of further escalation or folding will have to be answered by Erdogan. My bet is that he will fold.

Posted by b on July 4, 2012 at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (130)

July 01, 2012

Syria: Erdogan's Threat Is Already Diminishing

When the Syrian air defense shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet, according to Pentagon officials within Syrian airspace, the Turkish prime minister Erdogan claimed the jet was downed in international air space and issued a threat:

"The rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces have changed," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech. "Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria and poses a security risk and danger will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target."

This led me to ask Is This Erdogan's Backdoor For Implementing Safe Zones?

What is the distance that is described with "approaches the Turkish boarder from Syria"? Is this a fifty meter no-go zone or a 100 miles deep buffer zone within which Turkey will go after any Syrian troop movement?

The answer is in:

Two F-16s took off from İncirlik air base in the southern province of Adana at 9:12 a.m. as a Syrian MI-17 approached Turkish airspace from the south of Hatay.

Another alert was given at 3:05 p.m. when a Syrian MI-8 helicopter again approached Hatay and got as close as four miles. Two F-16 from the "scramble wing" took off from İncirlik air base and patrolled the border area.

The final scramble order was given at 6:05 p.m. as an MI-8 helicopter approached the border near the southeastern Mardin province. Two F-16s immediately took off from an airbase in Batman in southeastern Turkey.

No air space violations occurred in the incidents, the General Staff said.

As the Turkish journalist Mahi Zeynalov commented:

The incident shows Turkey won't allow any Syrian aircraft to approach closer than 4 miles to Turkish border, creating de facto buffer zone.

Yesterdays Syrian "action group" meeting in Geneva ended with Russia winning. None of the points Clinton would have liked in the closing document survived the negotiations. Russia again made it clear that it will not push for Assad to leave as this would likely lead to a destruction of the Syrian state as well as other severe consequences. Without Russia the UN and even NATO will not take further steps and Assad will now have lots of time to fight the insurgency down.

The one person that possibly could, and maybe still wants, to escalate is Erdogan. He certainly could provoke another incident like the jet shoot down and then declare war on Syria. But NATO is not with him and the leak by the U.S. government to the Wall Street Journal and earlier to the NYT about the correct location of the shoot down destroys Erdogan's credibility and thereby his ability to get foreign backup for further steps. The Russians added to that by offering radar data that would make Erdogan's position even more uncomfortable:

Russia possesses “objective observation data” concerning the downing of a Turkish jet off the Syrian coast one week ago and is prepared to present it, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Geneva on Saturday.

“We have our objective observation data and we are prepared to present it,” Lavrov said.

That was certainly meant as a Russian threat towards Erdogan and it can be added to the dicey issue of Turkish energy security which depends on natural gas delivery from Iran and Russia. Meanwhile Erdogan's political opposition is slowly waking up and infighting in Turkey about the current policies towards Syria has started.

The four mile buffer zone does matter much at the current state of the conflict in Syria. It will be again of interest once the insurgency is driven back to only hold that zone.

By then further pressure will have build up against Erdogan. His stance is already opposed by the Turkish public. His political opposition woke up. The U.S., which wants Assad weakened but not out, as well as Russia will continue their threats to uncover his claims about the jet downing as lies. As time passes his buffer zone threat will diminish.

It is always difficult to predict what Erdogan might do next. He seems to react rather spontaneously to events and then to hyperventilate over the issue. That could lead to this or that boarder clash with Syria. But for now I do not expect him, or anyone else, to launch a full blown external war.

Syria is now safe from external military intervention. If it sustains the capability to win the difficult fight against the foreign sponsored insurgency, which I think is likely, a few month from now this crisis will be over.

Posted by b on July 1, 2012 at 12:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (153)

 
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