Saturday, October 20, 2012

Price of Inaction: Spillover, Warlordism and Hate!

Many Syrian activists and rebels are now blaming the continued bloodletting by pro-Assad militias on American inaction. Nothing captures their frustration more than the name they assigned to this Friday: “America, haven’t you had enough of our blood?” America’s actions do not earn her many friends, but her inaction makes her even more enemies.

Friday October 19, 2012

Today’s Death toll: 230 (Thursday), 245 (Friday). The Breakdown: Toll for Thursday includes 10 women and 15 children: 69 martyrs in Damascus and suburbs (most in Hamouriyeh and Saqba, 9 executed in Yarmouk, 4 executed in Qadam), 53 in Idlib (most in Maarrat Al-Nouman), 35 in Aleppo  (including 6 found in Jam’eyat Alzahra), 24 in Homs, 18 in Daraa (including 7 executed in Ma’raba and 4 executed in Inkhel), 14 in Deir Ezzor, 8 in Hama, 6 in Qunaitra and 3 in Raqqah. Toll for Friday includes 20 children and 12 women: 86 in Deir Ezzor (including 75 executed and found in a local cemetery), 57 in Damascus and Suburb, 32 in Aleppo, 25 in Idlib (including 7 in Maarshourine), 14 in Homs, 11 in Raqqah (including 7 victims of execution), 10 in Daraa, 8 in Hama, and 2 in Lattakia.

Other Developments: On Thursday, the LCC counted 134 points where regime randomly shelled civilians including 22 points bombarded by war planes. Regime forces also dropped explosive drums at 6 points: Hamouriyeh, Saqba, Shifoniya and Douma (Damascus Suburbs), Ma’arrat Al-Nouman (Idlib) and the Western suburbs of Aleppo. FSA also documented 36 points of clashes with loyalist forces and carried out 13 operations. On Friday, the LCC counted 109 points of random shelling by regime forces: 42 points by heavy artilleries, 22 shelled by missiles, 18 by mortar rounds, 17 by warplanes, 12 by explosive drums. FSA recorded 42 clashes with regime forces and carried out 8 operations against regime forces in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. Also on Friday, 430 anti-regime rallies took place throughout the country (LCC).


Special Reports
War has come to Damascus. Not on the scale of Aleppo or Homs, at least not yet. But the difference from just a few months ago is unmistakable. With sandbagged checkpoints every half-mile and soldiers methodically searching vehicles for weapons, simple movement is becoming impossible.
Many of the large-scale massacres of civilians known to have taken place, such as those in the villages of Houla and Qubair this summer, were blamed on Alawite shabiha, however. And though there have not been any recorded retaliatory massacres of Alawite civilians by the rebels, "the danger of widespread sectarian reprisals . . . is frighteningly real," the International Crisis Group said in a recent report.
Fears rise that portable antiaircraft weapons could wind up with terrorists.
For months, rebels of the Free Syrian Army have been waging battles with government forces in parts of Syria's most populous city, Aleppo. The fight is largely at a stalemate with rebels kept at bay by government snipers and poundings by planes and helicopters.
In Syria's largest city, rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad have found ways to destroy government tanks and have managed to hold their positions despite attacks by jets and helicopters. But four months into their campaign to take Aleppo - much of it a jungle of concrete tower blocks - many are pinned down by pro-Assad snipers on the rooftops of the front line and even inside rebel areas.
For more than three months, Syria's rebels have imposed a smothering siege on the villages, home to around 35,000 people, maintaining they are a den of pro-regime gunmen responsible for killing and kidnapping Sunnis from nearby towns.
Despite a recent push to unify the disparate armed opposition groups under a single command, rebels are struggling to form stable alliances even at a local level, a problem opposition sources say is exacerbated by the array of different donors competing for influence in Syria.
ALEPPO PROVINCE, Syria — Lightly-armed Syrian rebels who face the warplanes, artillery and tanks of loyalists have turned to making their own weapons, even rigging a video game controller to fire mortar rounds.
As odd as it may seem, however, we are lucky that Syria’s chemical stockpile marks Damascus’s most serious weapons of mass destruction risk.  Had Israel not bombed the country’s weapons reactor in 2007, the embattled nation — and the rest of us – could have been staring at the globe’s first civil war with a nuclear dimension.
The Syrian crisis has disrupted food imports and exports in the region, raising food prices in Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, but governments have so far been able to contain the impact on consumers by finding new trade routes and absorbing some of the increased cost, according to food vendors, truck drivers and analysts.
On Thursday, jubilation turned to horror as government airstrikes sent fountains of dust and rubble skyward and crushed several dozen people who had returned to what they thought was a new haven in a country mired in civil war, according to reporters on the scene for a Western news agency, and antigovernment fighters and activists who backed up their accounts with videos posted online.
To mourn Syria's devastated archaeological and architectural heritage may seem trivial. Yet with it die precious traditions
The fiercely anti-Assad stance Turkey is taking in Syria is aggravating long-running troubles with its own 14m-odd Kurds
The localized, disjointed nature of the rebel forces makes it impossible to know how much money and equipment have been donated, either via the Web or by other means. Media reports and recent interviews with brigade officers indicate donations come from wealthy individuals, businessmen, and clerics from the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Europe. Donors can contact brigades directly, as each Facebook page has an administrator who can be messaged about receiving funds or supplies.
Students who faced beatings and worse for opposing Assad's regime are on front lines in Aleppo with almost no military training.
Turkey will gain what Syria gained from supporting the PKK. The organization would first harm their neighbor and turn around and radicalize its home country. This would mean confronting the United States, the European Union, Russia and Iran altogether and opening the way to radicalization internally and in the region. Had the strategy to provoke armed rebellion in our neighboring country worked, Assad would not be in the position he is in today.
Assad may not have lost the backing of Syria's business elite, but some are losing faith. Many of those who can have fled abroad, hoping to ride out the turmoil, which is now in its 19th month and is only getting worse as rebels and regime forces tear apart the country in their fight for power.
The car-bomb in Beirut raised fears that the war in Syria could be dragging Lebanon back towards the dark days of its civil war.
Despite the huge risks involved, the time has come for the West and the Arabs to intervene in Syria.
Amateur footage appears to show an influential British-based preacher that is leading an armed gang made up of more than a hundred Islamist fighters in Syria. The Poplar preacher leading an armed gang of jihadis in Syria.
Hizbollah has been accused of intervening directly in Syria's civil war by launching rocket attacks over the border from Lebanon in support of President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Arabic Press (Prepared by Steven Miller, FDD Research Associate)
At a time when the pace of Syrian military operations is increasing, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) counted 114 areas across the country yesterday that faced indiscriminate shelling by heavy weapons and Syrian warplanes. The regime dropped explosive barrels from helicopters on parts of Homs, Aleppo, Lattakia, and the outskirts of Damascus. The LCC also documented 24 different clashes between the rebels and regime forces in various cities, and the Free Syrian Army shot down a helicopter in Kafrouma in Idlib Province. Furthermore, the LCC reported that 171 people were killed yesterday, including 48 in Damascus and its outskirts, and 10 who were executed in eastern Ghouta.

Ammar Abdulhamid & Khawla Yusuf: The Shredded Tapestry: The State of Syria Today

Briefly Noted

* Missing in the context of Syrian politics is often a synonym for dead. After all, we still have over 17,000 people missing from the crackdown of the 1980s.

* Should Obama get reelected, he would need a new Syria attitude, new Syria team, or both, because the previous policies that he has adopted so far have had disastrous consequences. Indeed, one of the strangest features of Obama’s approach to Syria was that he kept listening to the same set of people who had been advocating engagement with Assad under the assumption that he was truly a reformer. Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown University and a Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation, has some advice in this regard: The Case for Intervention... In Obama's dysfunctional foreign-policy team.

On Intervention

After embedding himself with a rebel group in Aleppo City, Benjamin Hall argues against military intervention for the following reasons: 1) growing rivalry and extremism among rebel groups, and 2) establishing a no-fly zone is an expensive proposition.

Great arguments, but here is the problem with them: they don’t provide a solution. The crisis in Syria has devolved to this extant exactly on account of western inaction. Toothless diplomacy hasn’t worked. With Iranian and Russian backing, Assad intends on staying the course. Spillover effect is already manifesting itself in Lebanon and Turkey. Continued inaction will allow extremism to rise even more, further fragmenting the rebel movement, and the country as a whole, providing havens for Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The specter of a wider regional conflict continues to grow.

Intervention in Syria is a must, and it will not be effective unless it has a military dimension: that means a no-fly zone and that means supporting certain rebel groups. If this is costly now, waiting will make it even more costly in the future.

Joseph Blady, Former program officer for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and senior analyst for the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, reiterates Hall’s concerns, but here it is where it gets weird,. Blady is aware of the potential regional implications of Syrian developments, but this is how he puts it:

Changes in Syria are likely to set off a chain reaction of some sort. Israel would be concerned about the uncertain attitudes of a new government. A Sunni takeover would make Hezbollah nervous and Lebanon messier in general. The Kurds of Syria would be free to make common cause with those of Iraq, Turkey and Iran, possibly resulting in a renewed quest for a Kurdistan that would try to keep possession of the oil wells in northern Iraq. Iran, in its quest for regional hegemony, would become more nervous through its loss of an ally. All of these possibilities would have implications for Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

This blasé attitude is quite troubling, because each reaction noted by Blady is a synonym for war in practical terms. Long before there is a Sunni take-over in Syria, a civil war will have unfolded in Lebanon. In fact, the trigger event for such civil war in Lebanon might have already taken place with the assassination of security chief Wissam al-Hassan. Meanwhile, and as Kurds in Syria assert their autonomy, Turkey is already set on a path of intervention, a step that will have dangerous repercussion for Iraq as well. This is not something that the U.S. can afford to let happen. You can sit this one out. As such, the interventionist path advocate by the Economist, which Blady finds objectionable, is actually the only rational approach at this stage.

Some Obama supporters are coming around to the need of intervention in Syria, such as David Igantius who, like Hall, recently spent some time in Aleppo as well. While aware of the pitfalls noted by Hall, he reaches a different conclusion:

… caution doesn’t mean inaction, and some modest changes in U.S. policy could make a big difference in outcome…. You don’t have to sign off on this whole war chest to agree that it’s time for the United States to experiment with strategies that could produce something other than the bad outcome that’s now ahead.

In commentary Magazine, Max Boot, also responds to Hall’s “Weak Case for Inaction in Syria”

Admittedly, stepping in to help topple Assad brings no guarantee of an idyllic post-Assad state–far from it. There is indeed, as Hall notes, a great danger of continuing instability and civil war even after Assad is gone…. There is no guarantee that the situation will be improved with Assad gone, but there is a guarantee that the situation will remain pretty awful as long as Assad is in power. And there is at least the chance that if the U.S. acts decisively, in cooperation with allies, to topple Assad, it will give us a greater say in the composition of a post-Assad regime, allowing us to help steer Syria in a more moderate direction. There is no perfect policy choice in Syria–only least bad and worst options. But the worst option of all, I would argue, is to allow the current conflict to rage unabated.

As for what American people want in this connection, according to this Maryland University poll, the majority of the American people supports the establishment of a no-fly zone, but opposes arming rebels:

Majorities of Americans favor the US, jointly with its allies, increasing diplomatic and economic sanctions against Syria and imposing a no-fly zone over Syria. However, majorities continue to oppose providing arms and supplies to ant-government groups, bombing Syrian air defenses or sending US troops into Syria.

When respondents were offered five policy options for the US to act “jointly with its allies” to deal with the Syrian conflict, they were willing to support two, including one that involved the use of military assets, but rejected the others.

“Increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria” was the most popular option at 60% support, with 29% opposed. Interestingly, both Republican and Democratic support was higher than this—at 69 and 65%, respectively—but among independents support was a plurality, 42 to 37%.

“Enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria” was almost the same: 59% supported it, and this was 63% each among Republicans and Democrats, while a plurality of independents supported it by 48 to 32%.

The options of “sending arms and supplies to anti-government groups” and “bombing Syrian air defenses” were both rejected by two-to-one margins. For sending arms and supplies 67% were opposed and only 22% in favor; there was no meaningful variation in support by party. For bombing Syrian air defenses, 68% opposed this idea and 21% supported it.

Finally, “sending troops into Syria” was the most unpopular option and was opposed by three in four respondents (77%), while it was supported by 13%

My personal stand is this: If America is willing to establish a no-fly zone there would be little justification for sending heavy weapons to rebels. However, light arms, including advanced RPGs, will be still necessary in order to help rebels neutralize tanks and armored vehicles and take out artillery positions.

The case for intervention has been clearly made in the Economist:

The briefer the conflict, the greater the chance that the militias who toppled Mr Assad would be commanded by moderates who are sympathetic to the West and want to put Syria back together… We do not call lightly for the world to undertake such a risky operation. But the stability of the Middle East and countless Syrian lives should not be hostage to Russian obstinacy. As the conflict drags on, month after bloody month, calls to act will mount—as in Kosovo 15 years ago. The sooner the world intervenes, the more lives can be saved, and the greater the chance that Syria can be made whole again.

Video Highlights

Ma’arrat Al-Nouman, Idlib Province: ten families are killed in the city as a result of pounding by MiGs MiGs drop more TNT barrels The size of the impact crater is staggering

Saqba, Damascus Suburbs: pulling bodies of dead from under the rubble , , , Nearby Kafar Batna was also pounded

Clashes in Wadi Al-Deif, Idlib Province ,

An unidentified object falls from a fighter jet in Idlib, it did not explode on impact, and local activists were unable to locate it

Leaked video shows pro-Assad troops executing their prisoners in a Damascene suburb

Homes catch fire in Midan District in Aleppo City After being pounded by MiGs Clashes Elsewhere in the city, in Sulaiman Al-Halabi neighborhood, clashes , Pro-Assad militias destroy minaret of a local Mosque Closer look Trying to bring a MiG

In nearby Sheikh Khodre, camera crew get caught in the shelling

Aleppo City: Rebels claim that the dead soldiers we see here are pro-Assad militias shot by their colleagues. The continued shooting, they say, is preventing them from helping the wounded survivor. The man hiding behind the wall is one of the rebels. Pro-Assad snipers are located in the buildings on the other side where we can see the dead bodies of Assad’s soldiers

Captured Syrian pilot speaks to Al Jazeera A Syrian air force pilot captured by rebels after his plane was shot down has told Al Jazeera that he did not know he was bombing civilians. Captain Roni Ibrahim said he and his fellow pilots were isolated from the reality of the conflict. Ibrahim said he was speaking freely, though Al Jazeera was unable to verify the claim. Anita McNaught has this exclusive report from the northern town of al-Bab.

Local fighting units in the coastal regions make another attempt at unity by forming The Sons of Al-Qadisiyyah Brigades