Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The New “Finitiative”!

Not too long ago, Assad issued a “Finitiative,” that is, an initiative to end all initiatives, calling, allegedly, for dialogue with the opposition. Now, opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib has repaid Assad in kind by issuing his own “Finitiative” calling, purportedly, for dialogue with the regime. Both finitiatives were clearly designed for purposes other than those declared and were meant primarily as acts of continued defiance, even if some failed to detect the defiance involved in Alkhatib’s finitiative. For while, Assad’s finitiative was meant to rally troops and consolidate support and control rather than enter into any real dialogue with the opposition, Alkhatib’s came as a revolutionary act meant to break a political stalemate in the ranks of the international community and to push for a real policy to help resolve the situation in Syria in a way commensurate with the expectation of the majority of average Syrians from all communal and political backgrounds. Assad’s finitiative was, then, a defensive act, a last stand of sorts. But Alkhatib’s finitiative marked the opposition’s first real offensive on the political front.

Monday February 4, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 111 martyrs, including 5 women and 4 children. 41 martyrs in Damascus and Suburbs; 23 in Aleppo; 13 in Homs; 11 in Daraa, 6 in Deir Ezzor, 6 in Idlib; 6 in Hama and 4 in Raqqa (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 330 point, including 29 points that were shelled by warplanes, 4 points using thermal balloon bombs; 3 with thermobaric bombs and 2 points with barrel bombs, in addition, 134 were targeted by mortar shells; 121 points by heavy caliber artillery and 37 points by rockets (LCCs).

Clashes: 152 clashes. Successful operations include repelling attempts by regime forces to storm Yarmouk Camp in Damascus City, and taking control of the Wattar checkpoint in the town of Adra in Damascus Suburbs. In Aleppo, FSA rebels continued to encircle Kueiris Military Airport, and, in Raqqa, they seized control over the Munition depots belonging to the 17th Brigade (LCCs).

Syria opposition urges Assad to respond to dialogue call "The regime must take a clear stand (on dialogue) and we say we will extend our hand for the interest of people and to help the regime leave peacefully," he told the Qatar-based channel. "It is now in the hands of the regime."
Syria: UN begins delivery of safe water supplies for 10 million people “This shipment is very timely as supplies of chlorine in Syria have fallen dangerously low, making access to safe water challenging for many families,” said Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Representative in Syria. “This puts the population – and children especially – at high risk of contracting diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases.”
Captives in Syria exchanged for rebels Viktor Gorelov and Abdessattar Hassun are in the Russian Embassy in Damascus and were in good health, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Monday. It added that Italian Mario Belluomo, abducted together with them on Dec. 12, will be handed over to Italian envoys by Syria's Foreign Ministry. The Russian Embassy wouldn't say how many captured militants were set free in exchange for the three hostages, or offer any details about their release, which was also reported by state-run Syrian TV.
Ahmadinejad says war not solution in Syria "War is not the solution...A government that rules through war - its work will be very difficult. A sectarian war should not be launched in Syria," he told Al Mayadeen television. "We believe that (deciding) whoever stays or goes is the right of the Syrian people. How can we interfere in that? We must strive to achieve national understanding, and free elections."
Israel plans defence buffer inside Syria A 10-mile strip filled with troops and tanks is being considered to fend off Islamists should Assad fall, writes Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv.
Israel and Assad raise stakes on Syria With every month that passes, Syria’s neighbours become more edgy and the risk of contagion from the conflict grows. Though Israel is in a state of war with Syria, it has long considered the Assads at least a predictable enemy. With Syria in chaos, and chemical and biological weapons potentially falling into the hands of rebel groups as the regime further loses its authority, Israel might convince itself that further military strikes are necessary.
ANA Exclusive European official visits A'azaz camp of Aleppo European parliament member Koert Debeuf (ALDE GROUP) visits a camp located in A'azaz of Aleppo to witness the humanitarian situation there. our reporter joins the official in helping describe the scenes seen here.

Special Reports
two ideas emerged on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference that could draw Russia into a more constructive role in solving the crisis, rather than allowing it to remain an obstructionist bystander… 1) Vice President Joe Biden is said to have proposed, in his private meeting Saturday with Lavrov, that Russia and the United States work jointly to maintain secure control of Syria’s chemical weapons, in the event that Assad’s government should fall… 2) Sheik Mouaz al-Khatib, the leader of the umbrella coalition group of the Syrian opposition, repeated Friday night in Munich his willingness to meet with acceptable representative of the Assad regime, “to ease the suffering of the Syrian people.”
For Syria, it is likely too late. Notwithstanding something sudden and entirely unexpected, the international community will not intervene. That does not mean that the Syrian people are doomed. They will likely "win" in the end, but their victory, if we can even call it that, will have come at a much greater cost - in the sheer number killed - than was necessary. It will have come at the cost of a country destroyed, of sects polarized beyond any hope of reconciliation, of Salafis and Jihadists ascendant, of a state too torn and divided for real governance.
Whether or not the United States should have established a red line over the movement and use of Syrian chemical weapons is now an academic question; the issue at play yet again for the current administration in regards to foreign policy is national credibility. If a red line can be cavalierly declared, and then shifted for convenience, then it is no red line at all. It is worse to declare such and not fulfill national obligation than not to have done anything in the first place.
Her fame has spread throughout Aleppo. Her comrades have nicknamed her 'Guevara', but to many of the city's residents she is known simply as: 'the female sniper'.
So: we speak about humanitarian aid and the vulnerable, and we learn about mass-violence in one specific location. Yet the media do not link what is happening in Syria to larger questions of global politics. And, the risk, therefore, is that neither do we. We are witnessing a critical moment in Syria. Yes, let us focus on the material and everyday questions of ongoing violence and forced migration: tents, blankets, water, and food. But let us not use the focus on aid as an excuse to avoid identifying the interconnected, regional, and global factors at work. I would like to hear more about the global arms trade. I would like to hear more about the role of, and control over, natural resources. And I would like to see a more sophisticated gender analysis.
"Skype was big in Libya, but it was just kind of emerging and the conflict was shorter," said Lara Setrakian, founder of Syria Deeply, the dedicated Syria news startup. "Skype is now where you go first. And we've been invited into private chat rooms, we've had some of them translated for us in real time. That is where rebel groups are posting updates and activists inside and out are having conversations."
The secular and nationalist spirit that initially sparked the Syrian revolution is also still alive and well. Many grassroots activists and religious leaders are working to forge a country that is built on secular principles, against sectarian revenge, and supportive of equal rights for all its citizens. Even some of the sharia courts that have sprung up to administer justice in areas the Syrian government has abandoned contain surprising, nonsectarian trends.Whether such a movement can survive as the uprising drags on is not yet clear. For the time being, however, these figures embody the sliver of hope that Syria may avoid an all-out sectarian war.
After two years of sitting and watching civilians being massacred by the people who are in charge of protecting them, the “international community” now points at the consequences of its own inaction. Sectarianism, terrorism, jihadist elements, radicalization, and civil war are not inherent to Syrian society, but the direct consequences of backing dictatorship. These are the direct consequences of watching peaceful demonstrators being arrested and tortured, their neighborhoods bombed, their children killed, and every big or small non-violence initiative crushed without any country doing anything to stop the regime, and some going out of their ways to support it. These are the direct consequences of listening to Assad supporters chant “Bashar, or we will set Syria on fire” and not take it seriously. Assad supporters have kept their promise in a literal sense.
Given these factors and reports of growing operational coordination with JN, the SIF is not a faction the Obama administration should work with politically or militarily. According to recent rumors, however, KAS may soon join the Supreme Military Council (SMC), an armed affiliate of the U.S.-supported National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC). This would constrain potential U.S. efforts to help the opposition. Even if its brigades do not join the council, the SIF is still an important player on the ground, not only because of its fighting capabilities, but also in terms of providing some form of proto-governance in parts of Syria. The United States will have to contend with this reality when deciding how it wants to approach the current state of play.

My new paper, prepared for a briefing in Washington, D.C. that took place on January 15, 2013, is now out and is titled “Syria 2013: Rise of the Warlords.” It should be read in conjunction with my previous briefing “The Shredded Tapestry,” and my recent essay “The Creation of an Unbridgeable Divide.

The New “Finitiative”

Even intelligent observers of the Syrian revolutionary scene seem to oppose the recent initiative launched by Syrian opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib calling for conditional dialogue with the Assad regime. At the heart of their opposition lies the fear of the uncertainty that a political process brings with it and of the potential for re-legitimization of the regime as a byproduct. They fear that the revolution itself might be undermined and suffocated. But their fears are misplaced.

As Alkhatib himself has clearly said in his Al-Arabiya interview (some of the main points were covered by NBC as well), the armed struggle will continue irrespective of his call. Indeed, Alkhatib is under no illusion that he could stop the armed struggle nor does he want to. That is exactly what makes him different from other figures calling for dialogue: he endorses the dialogue and the armed struggle (not to mention nonviolent action). As such, what he is doing can in no way undermine the revolution. The armed struggle has become self-sustaining by now, even if arms flow remains unsteady. Unless Alkhatib, or whoever, can at one point produce a political vision and a plan that can be adopted by the majority of rebel leaders, then, nothing will change. So, where is the danger to the revolution then in what Alkhatib is doing? Opposition members need to understand is keeping pressure on the regime on all fronts, the political, the economic and the military, is a duty and not a choice. The rebels are doing their part, but the  political opposition remains missing in action. It’s this maligned initiative by Alkhatib that has finally put them on the map.

Reports from various activists on the ground, and social media chatter indicate that the average Syrian seems to have responded well to Alkhatib’s initiative. While the emotional plea that Alkhatib made to Assad when he told him in his Al-Arabiya interview to “look into his children’s eyes and find the solution there” may not have an effect on Assad, and sounded all too naïve to so many opposition members, it does seem to have hit home for many average Syrians, further denuding Assad in the eyes of still silent segments, and adding to Alkhatib’s credibility. Indeed, in the public eye, Alkhatib now appears as one of very few members of the opposition who can support the revolution without being oblivious to the suffering of the people as well.

Moreover, and to set the record straight, again, Alkhatib's initiative is not meant to change the policies and attitudes of the Russians, Iranians and Assad supporters, but the attitudes and policies of the American and other western governments, by showing them there are those in the opposition with real leadership potential, and that the Syrian Opposition Coalition can be relied upon to produce a viable provisional government. As such, Syrian opposition groups need to give Alkhatib more time to act and should judge the success or failure of his initiative by the change it can produce in western policies towards supporting the opposition and the rebels. And we don’t have to postpone our judgment for too long. If, by May, the Obama Administration has not adopted a more proactive attitude towards inernveion in Syria, then, we can judge the initiative to have failed. Personally, I would still judge it as a laudable effort that deserves to have been made, and I would still see in Moaz a good and courageous leader for having embarked on this course and tried something different for change.

Some may find it strange that I support Alkhatib’s initiative, because, somehow, I am considered to be a hawk. But what I actually stand for is adopting a set policies based on a real understanding of the Assad regime and the realities on the ground. I have longed argued that military and political processes are not mutually exclusive, and should not be thought of with an either/or mentality. For unless rebels make serious military gains, including neutralizing Assad’s airpower, no viable political process can be launched. Moreover, no political process can be seen as credible if it is not led by figures who can appeal to the grassroots and to the average Syrian, irrespective of his political stands at the moment. We did not have such a figure until Moaz Alkhatib entered the scene. The fact that many believe that U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford played a key role in facilitating the emergence of Alkhatib on the scene is a good argument in favor of greater U.S. involvement in support of the opposition. Perhaps by offering military support to the rebels, the U.S. can help empower the credible and moderate leaders emerging in their ranks as well.

Meanwhile, one thing is clear: by failing to be more proactive, the Obama Administration has done a lot of damage to the cause of democratic change in Syria and the region. But course correction is still possible.

Roger Cohen makes an excellent argument for U.S. “Intervene in Syria,” and hits it on the head with his assertion that a “political solution cannot be achieved unless the balance of power is altered.”

I agree with Brahimi that there is no military solution. Syria, with its mosaic of faiths and ethnicities, requires political compromise to survive. That is the endgame. But this does not mean there is no military action that can advance the desired political result by bolstering the armed capacity of the Syrian opposition, leveling the military playing field, and hastening the departure of Assad essential for the birth of a new Syria. Assad the Alawite will not go until the balance of power is decisively against him…

It is time to alter the Syrian balance of power enough to give political compromise a chance and Assad no option but departure. That means an aggressive program to train and arm the Free Syrian Army. It also means McCain’s call to use U.S. cruise missiles to destroy Assad’s aircraft on the runway is daily more persuasive.

Indeed, it is about time we saw the Obama Administration endorsing such efforts instead of blocking them:

Last summer, as the fighting in Syria raged and questions about the United States’ inaction grew, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton conferred privately with David H. Petraeus, the director of the C.I.A. The two officials were joining forces on a plan to arm the Syrian resistance.

The idea was to vet the rebel groups and train fighters, who would be supplied with weapons. The plan had risks, but it also offered the potential reward of creating Syrian allies with whom the United States could work, both during the conflict and after President Bashar al-Assad’s eventual removal.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Petraeus presented the proposal to the White House, according to administration officials. But with the White House worried about the risks, and with President Obama in the midst of a re-election bid, they were rebuffed.

Shadi Hamid, Director of Research in the Brookings Doha Center, makes a similar argument:

Another unfortunate feature of the ongoing debate was the tendency to treat the military option and the diplomatic "alternative" as mutually exclusive. They never were. On the contrary, they could have been pursued in parallel. In Bosnia, NATO power forced the Serbs to the negotiating table, leading to the Dayton Accords and the introduction of multinational peacekeeping forces. In Libya, the Qaddafi regime showed more interest in negotiating with the opposition after military intervention, rather than before (Within a few weeks of the NATO operation, Qaddafi envoys were engaging in ceasefire talks).

Albeit, Hamid might be right, perhaps, the Obama Administration is too late:

For Syria, it is likely too late. Notwithstanding something sudden and entirely unexpected, the international community will not intervene. That does not mean that the Syrian people are doomed. They will likely "win" in the end, but their victory, if we can even call it that, will have come at a much greater cost - in the sheer number killed - than was necessary. It will have come at the cost of a country destroyed, of sects polarized beyond any hope of reconciliation, of Salafis and Jihadists ascendant, of a state too torn and divided for real governance.

I have made similar arguments in my recent paper, still, I hope that we are both wrong, and that course correction is still possible.

Video Highlights

Rebels bring down a helicopter gunship in Ma’arrat Al-Nouman, Idlib (Feb 1) http://youtu.be/yYtPsqmQlZU

Rebels in Daraa City, use improvised missile launcher to target a loyalist headquarter http://youtu.be/uIcWwDbdaSc , http://youtu.be/J-Gg_7zK_SE As clashes continue http://youtu.be/6OUVd-J3OIg

Rebel encirclement of the Kuweiris Military Airport, Aleppo, continues http://youtu.be/u1c0HMx3azk

Rebels in Kafrenboudeh, Hama, try to take down a helicopter http://youtu.be/ajGEDC9axlo

In Damascus City, clashes between rebels and loyalist troops continue in several key neighborhoods: Al-Qadam a tank pound rebel positions http://youtu.be/Sty9J9RLtPg Rebels defend their positions using RPGs http://youtu.be/djwJXnBtrjY Yarmouk Camp the pounding continues http://youtu.be/LWLHBybHlTw Same in nearby Tadamon http://youtu.be/g9SFhyLyPkM

Meanwhile, aerial bombardment of Eastern Ghoutah continues: Douma http://youtu.be/Q0ojPfw_Sy0 Locals caught in a state of panic http://youtu.be/7_F2wOTm-_Y Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/py0a91xskkE Local panic http://youtu.be/gxFGwFBp1f8 Saqba http://youtu.be/d4ZqQmiC0OE

To the West, in Daraya, Damascus Suburbs, tanks continue to encircle rebel positions http://youtu.be/vgIHePQfCv0  and the pounding of the town of Zabadani by heavy artillery continues http://youtu.be/qpyRfdLNEFI To the North, MiGs pound the town of Yabroud http://youtu.be/6oH1yvdDasM