Thursday, December 6, 2012

Will He or Won’t He?

Despite worry over potential use of chemical weapons, rebels and loyalists continue their clashes. Fear is no longer a factor on the ground. If you’re not dead, you’re fighting. The fighting will outlast Assad himself, unless he launches a large-scale assault using chemical weapons. Then, what will Obama do? Will he intervene? What will intervention mean?

Thursday December 6, 2012

Today’s Death Toll: 89 (including 5 children and 7 women): 45 in Damascus and Suburbs, 21 in Aleppo, 7 in Idlib, 5 in Homs, 4 in Hama, 3 in Daraa, 2 in Deir Ezzor, 1 in Raqqa, and 1 in Hassakeh. Points of Random Shelling: 248. Clashes: 107. In Deir Ezzor Province, regime forces shelled Mouhassan and Buomar using phosphorous bombs. In Damascus, they used toxic gas against the people of Daraya. Meanwhile, rebels took control of a new base in Harasta, Damascus, and controlled two new checkpoints along the Jordanian borders (LCC).


Special Reports
A report suggests that Syria has ramped up activity at chemical-weapons sites. But President Bashar al-Assad might simply be sending a message to the international community.
No American president has talked more about the need to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction, and to lock down existing stockpiles. And no president has insisted more publicly that this is a time for the United States to exit wars in the Middle East, not enter new ones.
Activists estimate there are now about 250 fixed checkpoints in Damascus, in addition to those set up by pro-regime vigilantes known as the Popular Committees and the "flying checkpoints" that are set up briefly and then dismantled.
The once-lively capital is now filled with checkpoints, kidnappings, shelling and bombing. Many residents stay at home as much as possible, awaiting the worst.
An increasing number of civilians report that soldiers have moved into their homes and apartments while conducting operations, and trashing, looting or even burning places before leaving.
But for all of that writing on the wall, it may yet be premature to suggest that the 22-month civil war that has claimed more than 30,000 lives is near an end. The regime still has an overwhelming advantage in fire-power, analyst Joe Holliday of the Institute for the Study of War told the Washington Post this week, and the limits of rebel arms and organization may mean that their victory remains many months away.

The New York Times asked whether the U.S. should recognize the National Coalition. This was my answer:

The question before us is not whether the United States should recognize the new coalition. Rather, it is how the U.S. can recognize what is essentially an Islamist opposition that refuses to provide any real guarantees on the future of the country, even as it lobbies for the provision of arms and international support.

There is more to acquiring recognition than providing a new facade. The U.S. should recognize the coalition only after it provides credible guarantees that it will match majority rule with minority rights, and address the concerns of the secular components of the opposition and the Syrian society at large.

The leaders of the opposition must realize that, in order to successfully lead a nation through the difficult transition ahead, they will have to represent the concerns and aspirations of all Syrians, irrespective of where they fall now on the political spectrum. Otherwise the new Syrian government will doom the country to more chaos and fragmentation.

Other opinions:

Ed Hussein: Proceed With Caution - The U.S. should continue to stay one removed and allow for its allies to lead.
Rime Allaf: Too Little Too Late - Whether by design or by mistake, the Obama administration's hedging has diminished U.S. influence over Syrians.
Joshua Landis: As Good as It’s Going to Get - The big question that haunts the coalition today is how it will gain control of the armed elements of the revolution.

On rebel advances

On balance, several analysts argue the momentum has shifted in the rebels’ favor, particularly in light of their newly acquired surface-to-air weaponry. “Assad has been relying on air power to keep rebels pinned in their positions. Their ability to challenge this state of affairs has given them more confidence and enabled them to carry out bolder operations, as we are currently seeing in Damascus, Aleppo, Deir az-Zour and Daraa,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, an exiled Syrian activist and fellow at the Washington, DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “The rebels are gradually breaking the stalemate and gaining the upper-hand […] A de facto no-fly zone is being created,” he told NOW…

Moreover, it is unclear how long the rebels’ surface-to-air missile (SAM) stocks can last. “Rebel operations and fighting capabilities have always been undermined by an unsteady flow of arms,” said Abdulhamid. “That a portion of the surface-to-air missiles in rebel possession seems to have been gained from looting the military bases that rebels conquered and not from external suppliers” means that “depletion is a serious concern.” …

According to Abdulhamid, while “the growing size and involvement of Jabhat al-Nusra is pretty worrying,” it remains heavily outnumbered by non-jihadist rebels. “Jabhat has its allies among rebels who share its vision for an Islamic state, but it has more enemies, as most rebel groups refuse to endorse [this] option.” Moreover, Abdulhamid foresees “clashes between Jabhat members and other rebel groups” taking place “after or even during the liberation of Damascus, [which] will ripple elsewhere in the country.”

As for the fears of chemical weapons use by the regime, Sayigh believes it is essentially a regime bluff. “[Assad] has been using the chemical weapons issue to sort of play a little game, to say ‘Look, we can make trouble, and equally we can prevent that trouble. If you want these to be secure, you need us, so they don’t fall into bad hands, i.e., Islamists.’”

Abdulhamid, however, argues the threat is credible. “The psychopathic tendencies of Assad and his inner circle have been amply documented by now. We cannot put anything beyond them. For all their manifest corruption, we are dealing here with people who seem to believe their own lies […] Assad might decide that he is a dead man no matter what happens, so he might as well die as a ‘hero’ of the resistance to imperialism and Zionism.”

Video Highlights

In Harasta, Damascus, rebels parade a tank they have recently acquired Meanwhile, the battles in Eastern Ghoutah continues Madyara Saqba

In Deir Ezzor, rebels try to bring down a helicopter Elsewhere, clashes continue around the Mayadeen Military Airport ,

In Mray-Iyeh, Deir Ezzor, cluster bombs are used