Friday, May 3, 2013

Bridge Down!

President Obama sought tooth and nail to distinguish himself from his predecessor but ended up adopting foreign policies that produced similar results: mayhem. Overindulgence and aloofness are two faces of the same coin. He was too clever by half. Both his reboot and reengagement policies ended up backfiring, and his desire not to step into a minefield in Syria ended up creating a black hole that is slowly sucking all in. President Obama has always sought to project an image of high intelligence, if not genius. But the key to success in politics lies more in diligence and the readiness to wade in even if, if not especially when, results are not guaranteed and the stakes high. It’s hubris to think that you can choose your crises. The best you can do is often, in the words of President Obama himself, “look before you leap.” Just don’t confuse staring vacantly with looking. On a related note, and rather than invoking Dr. Seuss when mocking President Obama’s (in)famous red line on Syria, Jon Stewart would have been more accurate if he used the term he had earlier reserved for Congress: procrasturbator. 

Thursday May 2, 2013

Death Toll: 158 martyrs, including 15 children,11 women and 3 martyrs under torture. 31 in Aleppo; 29 in Homs; 28 in Banyas; 23 in Damascus and Suburbs; 10 in Daraa ; 14 in Hama; 10 in Raqqa; 6 in Idlib; 5 in Deir Ezzor; 2 in Lattakia. In addition, there are dozens reportedly dead in the village of Bayda in Banyas, but the tally is not clear yet (LCC).

News
Obama: We must "look before we leap" on Syria After evidence of chemical weapons use inside of Syria, President Obama said today during a news conference in Mexico, "We're going to look at all options" to hasten the conflict's end, including providing arms to the Syrian rebels. But he cautioned, "We want to make sure that we look before we leap and that what we're doing is actually helpful to the situation as opposed to making it more deadly or more complex."

Syrian Forces Strike Rebels in Wide-Ranging Assaults The new fighting may have left at least 200 people dead just in the area of the seaport, Baniyas, and a nearby village, Bayda, according to activists affiliated with two antigovernment groups, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees. They said entire families had been found dead in Bayda, including the mayor and his children. Efforts to corroborate those reports were difficult because of restricted access for journalists in Syria. There were also reports of sectarian fighting near the border with Lebanon around the Syrian town of Qusair, a flash point between Sunni fighters of the insurgency and Shiite militants loyal to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization that has sided with President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict and partly depends on him for weapons. Activists and medical workers reached by telephone said that civilians were trying to evacuate the area and that there had been many people wounded.

Assad forces on the offensive from Damascus to Mediterranean The recapture of Wadi al-Sayeh, which links the besieged rebel stronghold in Khalidiyah to the opposition-held old city, appears to be part of a series of carefully focused counter-offensives that mark a shift from the indiscriminate campaigns earlier in the two-year-old conflict. Homs is a link in the corridor connecting Assad's Damascus powerbase with the traditional Mediterranean heartland of his minority Alawite community. It was an early center of the mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against four decades of Assad family rule.
Following recent gains in rural areas around Homs, Assad's forces surrounded the towns of Baida and Maqreb on the road to the coastal city of Banias on Thursday, activists said, the latest stage in a campaign to secure the corridor. They also seized Qaysa town on the eastern edge of Damascus, part of a steady move north from airport on the city's south-eastern edge which would create a line of control locking down the eastern approaches to the city and close off weapons supplies from the Jordanian border. A call issued by several activists in the area warned the disparate rebel forces to pull together or face defeat.

US officials say more are becoming in favor of arming Syria rebels Officials insisted Wednesday that no decisions have been made but said arming the rebels is seen as more likely and preferable than any other military option. One U.S. official described a new "reconsideration" within the administration of the military options. The officials, who all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss publicly the options under consideration, said most U.S. leaders prefer that the Syrians determine their own fate, so arming the opposition is more palatable than direct U.S. intervention.

Dozens killed in Syria's Banias: watchdog The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out in the morning in the northwestern region, killing dozens of people. Among them were at least seven soldiers, as well as women and children, some of whom were "summarily executed." Syria's official SANA news agency said troops killed "terrorists" -- the regime term for insurgents -- and seized arms in an operation targeting rebels. The opposition Syrian National Coalition accused the regime of seeking revenge from the people of Banias because they were among the first to rise against the government of President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011. "Since this morning, the army and pro-regime forces have been besieging the village of Bayda at the southern entrance to the town of Banias," said the Britain-based Observatory.

Syria chemical weapons evidence 'too degraded' for proof British defence secretary Philip Hammond fears West can no longer prove chemical weapons attacks because blood and soil samples 'degrade over time'

U.N. head, Security Council envoys discuss Syria as mediator wants out Diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that Brahimi wanted to resign from the joint U.N.-Arab League role because he is frustrated with international deadlock over how to end Syria's two-year war that has killed 70,000. The envoys from the permanent five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council declined to comment after meeting with the secretary-general. A dispute between Russia and the United States over Syria has left the council paralyzed.

Syria: eastern Raqqa 'hit by air strikes' – video Amateur footage purports to show heavy shelling on the eastern city of Raqqa, Syria. A clip shows what is believed to be a government warplane firing at the city on Wednesday, as more footage shows the aftermath of more strikes in Raqqa, reportedly on Thursday. Raqqa is the biggest city to fall into rebel control since the uprising began in 2011. The Guardian cannot independently verify the contents of these clips

Syria conflict: 'My father wants me dead' Nearly one-and-a-half million people have fled the fighting in Syria, according to the latest estimates. The conflict, which has now lasted for more than two years, has not only divided communities but also families. Twenty-one-year-old Loubna Mrie has been denounced by her own family and says she believes her father wants her dead.


Investigative Reports
Where Are Syria’s Chemical Weapons? Multiple U.S. officials tell Eli Lake the scary truth: in many cases, we simply don’t know. Plus: irregular militias loyal to Assad have reportedly been training in how to use them… The assessment that Syria is moving large amounts of its chemical weapons around the country on trucks means that if Obama wanted to send in U.S. soldiers to secure Syria’s stockpiles, his top generals and intelligence analysts doubt such a mission would have much success, according to the three officials. “We’ve lost track of lots of this stuff,” one U.S. official told The Daily Beast. “We just don’t know where a lot of it is.” The large-scale movement of weapons, if it is in fact occurring, would violate one of Obama’s earliest declared red lines concerning Syria. Last August he said, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized.”

Even With U.S. Guns, Syria’s Rebels Still Might Lose Obama is considering a range of weaponry to the rebels, as described in the Washington Post, including surface-to-air missiles. The idea would be to ship them the weapons, bolster their war effort, and watch them topple the blood-soaked dictator — without a deeper U.S. military commitment. Except that few strategists consider that realistic. Assad has a variety of advantages — an adaptive military estimated at over 50,000; complete air superiority; chemical weapons — that he will retain even if Obama opens a new arms pipeline. Overcoming those advantages means getting, at the least, U.S. and allied airpower involved — a step the Obama administration, and especially the military, want to avoid. Especially since it might involve shooting down Iranian planes, a fateful step.

Analyses & Op-Eds
A strong U.S. response to Syria? Experts say not likely Many analysts now see the Obama administration taking a more limited approach that would not draw the country into a wider war. "It's unlikely we would do anything open-ended like a no-fly zone," said Kenneth Pollack, an analyst at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Israel prepares for the worst as militants eye Syria's chemical weapons Israel has warned it will do whatever is necessary to prevent the Syrian government's large stockpile of chemical and biological weapons from falling into the hands of militants, believing that one day they may be used against Israel. It would be better, Israeli leaders believe, to fight in Syria against Islamists armed with non-conventional weapons than wait for them to attack Israel with them. According to army sources quoted in the Maariv newspaper, Israel is sending fresh troops to man forward bases that have not been used for years because it was so quiet. The roads to the bases will also be paved and improved, the paper said.

Ilan Berman: Redrawing Syria's red line If Washington doesn't enforce its own red lines on Syria, why would it hold Iran or North Korea to account for their actions either?

Dithering over Syria: Horrors in Syria expose wishful thinking at the heart of the president’s foreign policy It is true that the president faces only bad choices in Syria. But he is partly to blame. While America and its allies have dithered over calls to arm more moderate wings of the opposition or to impose no-fly zones, the most alarming militants have grown in clout, including fighters who have sworn fealty to al-Qaeda. In a cruel echo of his Cairo speech, Mr Obama must now choose between tolerating conscience-staining massacres and intervening at the risk of empowering violent extremists. Completing his misery, cavilling over chemical weapons in Syria places in peril Mr Obama’s credibility when he warns Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons—a blunder that in turn would raise the nuclear stakes for other countries, just as he observed four years ago… Alas, it is not in the gift of politicians—even American presidents—to choose their own trade-offs. True, Syria’s horrors are not Mr Obama’s fault. The blame lies with Bashar Assad and the callous intransigence of such outsiders as Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But the slaughter still mocks Mr Obama’s pieties about interdependence, and his glib plans for win-win diplomacy. Balancing American interests and values is hard. Right now, in Syria, he is advancing neither.

What We Know about Chemical Weapons in Syria Gary Schmitt, co-director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, however, believes Washington needs to act as soon as possible, even in the absence of definitive evidence of chemical weapons use. “It’s rare that you ever get 100 percent certainty of the kind that the administration is saying that it wants right now, and that sort of chain of custody—i.e., who did what, who’s to be blamed—it’s rare that you get that kind of intelligence,” Schmitt said.  “And if you use that kind of standard, what happens is that you delay making decisions, which in this case are really causing an immense amount of instability in the region, in addition to the loss of lives.” Specifically, he thinks the United States should create a no-fly zone and a safe zone to harbor civilians.  “And then—again this is not an easy thing to do—we ought to be able to define who it is in the Syrian opposition that we want to support and arm, with the idea that if we give them sufficient military assistance, [they] will flock to our side.”

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.

Al-Baydah Massacre & Ethnic cleansing

Observers, experts and officials who are concerned about the fate of the Alawite and other minority community in Syria are justified of course. The more violence this conflict gets the more reasons to worry we have in this connection. But, for now, we should be very mindful of the fact that the genocide currently taking place in Syria, no matter how paradoxical and mad this may sound, is being perpetrated against the majority Arab Sunni population.

More than 95% of the dead, the missing, the detained, the internally displaced and the refugees are Sunni Arabs. The Arab Sunni population makes up less than 65% of the population. Every major documented massacre that has taken place since the beginning of the revolution to date has targeted the Arab Sunni population in one part of Syria or another. But the hardest hit of all are the Arab Sunni population of central Syria, especially Homs, where ethnic cleansing targeting Sunnis have been going on for the last two years.

But the ethnic cleansing campaign seems to be slowly moving to the coastal regions, with today’s loyalist militia attack on the town of Al-Bayda where close to 200 civilians have been executed according to latest reports. It seems reasonable to assume that the massacre may not be aimed at driving the Sunni population out of coastal areas, as this would be tall order at this stage, the Arab Sunnis population makes up close to 40% of the coastal population. For now, the purpose seems to be to spread fear and keep the Sunni population under control and the coastal areas relatively quiet as Assad and his militias focus their attention elsewhere. It’s a culling process rather than an all-out extermination effort. 

Why is it important to know that? Because, as the majority population that maintains substantial presence in every corner of Syria, the Arab Sunni population is the organic cement that is holding the country together. The more beating they receive the more fractured the country gets and the more radical they themselves become. The U.S. cannot stall this radicalization process by ignoring opposition pleas for western support, and by failing to appreciate the depth of the tragedy the Arab Sunni population of Syria is living through. The Sunnis of Syria cannot be relied upon to care about anyone’s rights at this stage unless people begin caring about theirs.

The Battle in Tal Tamr

The other conflict in Syria pits Arab against Kurds, and recently it has been heating up again. In the Kurdish-majority town of Tal Tamr in the Hassakeh Province, the Kurdish local popular defense committees (YPGs) have for days being battling against tribal militias manned by former members of the Baath Party, elements that may no longer necessarily loyal to the Assad regime but which are afraid of living under Kurdish hegemony. The tribal militias were also supported by small units affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. At this stage, and after dozens of dead and wounded, the battles seem to have been resolved in favor of the local YPG fighters. But the situation remains tense. Tensions are also rising in the nearby provincial capital of Al-Hassakeh, with its highly mixed population: Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, among other minorities.

The Battle for Damascus International Airport

In the last few hours, two suicide bombings took place in and around Damascus International Airport followed by intense clashes pitting loyalists against rebel groups and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Major segments of the airport seem to have fallen under rebel control, at least temporarily. It’s not clear whether rebels intend on taking control of the airport. These videos are said to be taken from the scene http://youtu.be/G6y-XnUn9yc , http://youtu.be/M_X_Hp71_iQ

Bridge Down

The famous Suspended Bridge of Deir Ezzor City, built during the French Mandate in the mid-1920s came tumbling down today due to targeted pounding of its foundations. Deir Ezzor City and the entire northeastern parts of the country have lost a major part of their modern identity today http://youtu.be/LzyWWfCVmNg , http://youtu.be/osBCr9nODxc

Video Highlights

Aerial bombardment of Raqqah City leaves 10 dead http://youtu.be/tEzZxrGyJJA

Clashes take place between rebels and Turkish authorities near the border crossing of Akcakale http://youtu.be/konCmnh0d8Y 

The pounding of rebel strongholds in Damascus City continues: Jobar http://youtu.be/bUVHJwxwRv4 Barzeh http://youtu.be/Zr3jW6B8NqE Zamalka http://youtu.be/CmicaxLUiIg

Aerial raids continue against the towns of Eastern Ghoutah: Ain Terma http://youtu.be/N6EZ6AN7nxs Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/KWkwzV17imk , http://youtu.be/Wnv0-hY71xI Saqba http://youtu.be/-xYEzFQcSX0 Mleihah http://youtu.be/W_maeeMOLp0

Leaked video: pro-Assad militias perpetrating a massacre somewhere in Damascus Suburbs, the exact date and whereabouts are not known, but the video was uploaded on April 18. We see throats being slit and a military truck then being used to run over the corpses of the dead http://youtu.be/3RV9zlG6bL8

A second leaked video from Hama City shows a convoy of pro-Assad militias transporting corpses of dead civilians and rebels http://youtu.be/PCVFCu30GTc

Necessity is the Mother of Invention: rebels keep inventing their own smart weapons delivery systems to become a more effective fighting force on the field while protecting lives http://youtu.be/WIs-UoC7vC4 , http://youtu.be/PB8n899aoqQ

Rebels and loyalists clash in Sahel Al-Ghab, Hama http://youtu.be/FVrEzQWu9go , http://youtu.be/UoVITKRdEig