Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Assad Still Confident That He Can Control Syria

January 14, 2013

Washington Post
Liz Sly

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains confident that he can ride out the maelstrom engulfing his country, casting into doubt prospects that intensified efforts to negotiate an end to the bloodshed can succeed, according to Syrians familiar with the thinking of the regime.

Although Assad isn’t winning the fight against the rebels, he isn’t losing, either — at least not yet, or by enough of a margin to make him feel he needs to abandon his efforts to crush the rebellion by force and embark on negotiations that would end his hold on power and expose his loyalists to the threat of revenge, the Syrians and analysts say.

It is hard to imagine Assad ever being in a position to restore his authority over the many parts of Syria that have slipped beyond his control. The rebels seeking to topple him have steadily been gaining ground, most recently seizing control of a strategically important airbase in the north of the country, and if the current trajectory continues, the eventual demise of the four-decade-old Assad family regime seems all but inevitable, analysts say.

But concerns are growing about how long that might take, and at what cost, prompting many Syrians to question whether Assad’s confidence might not be merited, given the realities of a conflict so brutally complex, so finely balanced and so entangled in global geopolitical rivalries that there is still no clearly identifiable endgame in sight nearly two years after the uprising began.

“From Day One, Bashar al-Assad was underestimated by the opposition and by the international community,” said Malik al Abdeh, a Syrian journalist based in London who is one of a number of opposition activists growing increasingly gloomy about the prospects that an end to the bloody conflict could be near. “He is playing a high-stakes game, he’s playing it pretty smart and he seems to be winning because of the simple fact that he is still in power.”

When Assad delivered a defiantly uncompromising speech to supporters last week, the State Department condemned him for being “out of touch with reality.” But many Syrians wonder whether it isn’t the United States and its allies who are out of touch for continuing to press for a negotiated settlement to a conflict Assad still has reason to believe he can win, Abdeh said.

Though the Syrian army has been degraded by thousands of rank-and-file defections and heavy casualties, it is still fighting. Key units comprising members of Assad’s own Alawite sect, an obscure and little-understood offshoot of Shiite Islam, remain fiercely loyal.

Defections from his government have been few and far between. The rebels have been systematically overrunning government positions in many locations, but they have not demonstrated the capacity to make headway against the tough defenses ringing Damascus, the capital, and the key prize for whoever claims to control the country.

His allies Russia and Iran have shown no sign that their support is wavering, and they have their own reasons not to cede ground in the struggle for influence over a country whose strategic location puts it at the crossroads of multiple regional conflicts. On Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated its view that Assad’s departure should not be part of any negotiated settlement.

Henningsen on RT: ‘Syria is a gangster’s paradise right now’

January 9, 2013

21st Century Wire and UK Column’s analyst Patrick Henningsen discusses with RT about how NATO’s recent deployment of missile defense batteries in neighboring Turkey is nothing more than a chess move to prepare for western/NATO airstrikes at some point further down the timeline, and also how Syria’s so-called ‘opposition’ are using the chaos in the country to steal land, businesses and profit from the new black market that has replaced the previous economy.

Assad: War in Syria between ‘nation and terrorists’

January 6, 2013

Syria’s president has outlined a plan to end the country’s conflict, starting with a halt to international support to “al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups.” The solution proposes a new constitution and government, as well as national reconciliation

NATO Deploys Missiles & Troops On Syrian Border

January 6, 2013

NATO has begun deploying surface-to-air missiles and troops on Turkey’s border with Syria. The Alliance approved the reinforcements last month, after Ankara requested support. NATO claims the move is to help defend its member from the conflict in Syria. But Moscow said the deployment will only serve to escalate tension in the region. Germany and the Netherlands are preparing to ship six more Patriot batteries early next week, they’ll be operational by the end of January. However, Jeremy Salt, a Middle Eastern history and politics professor from Bilkent University says NATO is actually now realizing who it’s supporting, and losing its appetite for direct action in Syria.

Pre-Empty: US Ramps Up WMD Rhetoric Against Syria

December 10, 2012

 

The chemical scare around Syria is receiving a skeptical response not only from Assad’s government, but now the very people seeking to bring him down.

A senior rebel official has dismissed Washington’s reports that Assad was arming chemical warheads, saying it was all part of a media game.

NATO Says Anti-Missile Defense For Turkey Does Not Open Door To Syria Intervention

December 5, 2012

The Washington Post
Anne Gearan

BRUSSELS — NATO agreed Tuesday to send new American-made air defenses to Turkey’s volatile southern border with Syria, a boost to an alliance member on the front lines of Syria’s civil war and a potential backstop for wider U.S. or NATO air operations if the situation deteriorates further.

The alliance’s approval of Patriot anti-missile batteries represents NATO’s first significant military involvement in the 20-month-long crisis, even if it falls well short of rebels’ demands for help.

NATO and U.S. officials insisted that the system is entirely devoted to defending Turkey and is not a precursor to a military intervention in Syria. The Patriots will provide no protection for Syrian civilians or rebels fighting to unseat President Bashar al-Assad.

However, the system, likely to deploy early next year, could be repurposed as part of a wider air campaign or to provide air cover for action in Syria should NATO change its mind. Military experts said Patriots are as effective against aircraft as they are against missiles, and deploying the system at the border could be instrumental in quickly carving out a 25-mile buffer zone.

The threat that a besieged Assad might resort to chemical weapons as rebels gain ground gave new urgency to NATO’s debate. Syria, which is party to the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning chemical weapons in war, has repeatedly insisted that it would not use such weapons, even if it possessed them.

It has called the Patriot plan “provocative” and considers it a possible first step toward a no-fly zone, airstrikes or an invasion.

For now, U.S. and NATO officials say the system is designed to bolster the NATO member most directly affected by the Syrian civil war, and nothing more. Although the alliance counts the 2011 Libya no-fly zone as a success, it opposes similar action in the Syrian conflict. The Obama administration also remains opposed to intervention in a civil war that has claimed as many as 40,000 lives, including at least 15 on Tuesday when mortar rounds slammed into an elementary school.

“Turkey has asked for NATO’s support, and we stand with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after approval by the 28-member alliance at a meeting in Brussels. “To the Turkish people we say, ‘We are determined to defend you and your territory.’ To anyone who would want to attack Turkey we say, ‘Don’t even think about it.’ ”

Chemical weapons moved

Syria is believed to have the world’s third-largest store of chemical weapons, along with medium- and long-range missiles that could deliver them inside or outside the country. The weapons, which can kill large numbers of soldiers or civilians, can also be delivered by aircraft.

U.S. officials said Monday that satellite images showed Syrian forces moving chemical weapons into positions where they could be used more quickly. Although Rasmussen offered no specifics, U.S. officials said the White House and its allies are weighing military options to prevent or defend against a chemical attack.

Continued 

BREAKING: Russia ‘Printing Money for Syria’ Claims Latest Report

November 29, 2012

By Alex Spillius

Russia is printing bank notes and sending them by the plane load to Syria to help the besieged regime pay its soldiers and civil servants, a new report suggests.

Flight records obtained by the investigative website ProPublica showed that at least 120 and up to 240 tons of bank notes were delivered during a ten-week period between July and September.

On eight round-trip trips between Moscow’s Vnukovo airport and Damascus International Airport, the “Type of Cargo” is listed as “Bank – Notes (30 Ton)”. Neither their denomination nor value was specified however.

Seven of the eight Syria Air flights were confirmed through international plane-tracking services, photographs from amateur plane-spotters and official air traffic control records.

Each manifest detailed a circuitous route over Iran and Iraq, countries that are friendly to the Syrian regime, rather than the most direct route over Turkey, which has become a foe of President Bashar al-Assad.

The deliveries appear to have softened the damage caused to the Syrian regime by stiff European sanctions, which among other things annulled an agreement with an Austrian bank that had previously printed the Syrian pound.

The EU has passed 19 rounds of sanctions against the regime since pro-democracy protests in March 2011 descended into a civil war that has claimed an estimated 40,000 lives.

Russia has been Mr Assad’s key international ally throughout, blocking punitive resolutions in the UN Security Council on three occasions.

In the summer, it was reported that Russia had begun printing Syrian pounds and had already delivered its first shipment, while Damascus-based bankers said that new bank notes printed in Russia were circulating in trial amounts in the capital and Aleppo, the commercial capital.

Such reports were denied by the Syrian Central Bank, but in August the official Syrian news agency, Sana, quoted Syrian officials on a visit to Moscow as saying that Russia was printing money for Damascus.

Ibrahim Saif of the Carnegie Middle East Centre said that 30 tons of bank notes was a significant amount for a country of Syria’s size.

“I truly believe they are printing money because they need new notes. Most of the government revenue that comes from taxes, in terms of other services, it’s almost now dried up.

But, he added, “they continue to pay salaries”.

“They have not shown any signs of weakness in fulfilling their domestic obligations. The only way they can do this is to get some sort of cash in the market.”

Source: Telegraph

BREAKING: 100 Percent of Syria’s Internet Just Shut Down

November 29, 2012

Washington Post
Max Fisher

It appears that the Syrian government may have just taken a drastic measure it has conspicuously avoided over the nearly two years of fighting: cutting itself off from the Internet.

Renesys, a Web-monitoring service, reported Thursday morning that sweeping outages in Syria had shut down 92 percent of the country’s routed networks. Shortly after, it updated to report that the remaining IP address blocks had gone down, “effectively removing the country from the Internet.” The “Syrian Internet Is Off The Air,” it announced.

Shutting down nationwide Internet service is a remarkable step, one with significant implications for Syria’s economy and security. Still, the country has already taken far more severe action, including reports of targeting children, so the government’s apparent decision not to switch off Web access until now was in some ways surprising. Egypt and Libya both shut down Internet service early in their own uprisings last year. Those were seen as major steps, as is Syria’s today, if the Renesys report is accurate.

Still, maybe one question here is why Syria didn’t do this sooner. Its uprising long ago exceeded Egypt’s and Libya’s in severity by the time those countries had instituted their own blackouts. One possible explanation is that Syria has been far more assertive online, using it as a tool for tracking dissidents and rebels, and sometimes even tricking them into handing the government personal data using phishing scams. President Bashar al-Assad has a background in computers, unlike the much older Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gaddafi, and once even directly mentioned his “electronic army.” Assad’s regime may have seen opportunity as well as risk on the Web, where perhaps the Egyptian and Libyan authorities saw primarily a tool of the uprising. Or, perhaps the Syrian simply feared the economic consequences of an Internet blackout, or lacked the means to conduct it.

Perhaps the most important question is whether this reported shutdown represents a setback for the rebels and activists who have used the Web to coordinate, a sign of the regime’s desperation that it would take this measure, or maybe even both.

Update: The Associated Press says that a second web-monitoring company is also reporting a complete shutdown.

Six Gulf monarchies recognize rebel bloc as Syrian voice

November 13, 2012

The Arab League has hailed the formation of Syria’s new rebel coalition, but stopped short of recognizing the group as the sole legitimate voice of the Syrian people.

Leaders of Syria’s exiled opposition, beset by mutual suspicion and infighting, formed the new bloc on Sunday and are now seeking full international backing.

Military Escalation: Israel launches Missile Attack Against Syria

November 12, 2012

Global Reseach
Niall Green

Following the re-election of Barack Obama in last week’s US presidential poll, Washington and its allies have stepped up their war drive against Syria. In the most serious escalation of the 20-month conflict in the Middle East country, the Israeli armed forces fired a missile into Syrian territory Sunday.

The strike, by an advanced Tammuz guided missile, is the first acknowledged attack by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israeli warplanes struck the site of an alleged Syrian nuclear project in 2007, but neither regime ever officially confirmed the action.

The Israeli missile reportedly struck a Syrian army base, though the government in Damascus has not released any details of the damage caused.

The IDF strike was reportedly carried out in response to a Syrian mortar that landed in the Golan Heights, the Syrian territory illegally occupied by Israel since 1967. Nobody was reported killed or injured by what appears to have been a misdirected 120mm Syrian tank shell.

A statement issued by the IDF shortly after the Tammuz missile struck Syrian territory claimed, “IDF forces fired warning shots and relayed a message to the Syrian forces via the United Nations that warns against additional fire. Additional fire will prompt a quick response.”

The IDF acknowledged that eight Syrian shells had fallen within the Israeli-controlled section of the Golan Heights over the past two months, likely the inadvertent result of fighting between Syrian government forces and “rebel” fighters, without any military response from the IDF.

While Israel appears to have turned a blind eye to errant Syrian shells in the weeks leading up to the US election, the decision by the IDF to launch a strike now indicates that Washington and its allies are entering into a new phase of their conflict with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Further evidence of a shift toward open conflict between the major powers and the Syrian regime was provided by General Sir David Richards, Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff, who on Sunday revealed to the BBC that plans were in place for a military intervention by British forces into Syria.

General Richards told BBC television’s Andrew Marr Show that he expected the humanitarian crisis in Syria to worsen over the winter, which would increase pressure to “intervene in a limited way.”

“Obviously we develop contingency plans to look at all these things. It is my job to make sure that these options are continually brushed over to make sure that we can deliver them and they are credible,” Gen. Richards revealed.

While the UK’s top soldier couched his comments in “humanitarian” language, any invasion of Syrian territory by British and allied forces would be an act of war that would throw Syria and the entire region into even deeper turmoil, threatening to spark military counter-measures by Damascus.

Such a military intervention by Britain and the US, acting with their NATO and Middle Eastern allies, could spark a wider conflict with countries such as Iran, Russia, and China, which have retained close ties to the Assad regime and feel threatened by the explosion of militarist aggression, led by Washington, in the region.

In preparation for such a major offensive against Syria, the Obama administration has initiated a tactical shift away from some of the opposition political forces it has relied upon until now.

Addressing a press conference in Zagreb, Croatia, October 31, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the US was transferring its support from the Syrian National Council (SNC) to a new opposition leadership.

After promoting the SNC for more than a year as the “legitimate” representative of the Syrian people, Clinton declared that they “could no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition.”

The SNC could “be part of a larger opposition,” Clinton allowed. “But that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard.”

A Turkish-based gathering of affluent Syrian exiles with links to the CIA and the Muslim Brotherhood, the SNC is deeply unpopular and wields almost no influence inside Syria. The fact that Washington has abruptly and unilaterally jettisoned the SNC only exposes the bogus character of US claims to have been working to secure “peace” and “democracy” in Syria.

Secretary Clinton then called for the formation of a new Syrian opposition bloc, declaring that the US State Department had compiled a list of “names and organizations that we believe should be included in any leadership structure.”

Washington moved rapidly to convene a meeting of its Syrian assets at a luxury hotel in the Qatari capital, Doha. The four-day gathering, which ended Sunday, saw officials from the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates broker a tentative deal between various opposition groups and individuals to establish a 55- to 60-member assembly.

As late as 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, the Doha talks seemed on the brink of collapse, as SNC representatives fought to maintain their influence over the new opposition bloc. One source inside the talks told the Reuters news agency that the SNC finally agreed to take a backseat role within the new assembly only after being threatened that the umbrella group would be set up and recognized by the US and its allies with or without the participation of the SNC.

The Obama administration expects that this new opposition leadership, which has been named the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, will be even more directly subordinate to the orders coming from State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA.

Washington also hopes that the refurbished opposition bloc will provide a more “inclusive” face for the US-led proxy war against Syria, proving more able to wield influence inside the country than the discredited SNC.

Cobbled together from various religious figures, exiled academics, disgruntled businessmen, defectors from the Assad regime, and Islamist militia commanders, the new Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces is unlikely to prove any more popular than the old SNC.

The new head of the Syrian opposition assembly is Moaz al-Khatib, a Sunni Muslim cleric. The former imam of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, Khatib fled Syria in July after being repeatedly detained by Syrian authorities for voicing criticisms of the regime.

Considered to be a political and religious “moderate,” Khatib is a compromise candidate between the rival factions of the Syrian opposition, all of whom are scrambling to secure foreign backing and a share in the spoils of victory in the event that the Assad regime falls. Given these divisions, which were evident during the conference in Doha, it is doubtful that Khatib will be able to unify the opposition forces.

Khatib’s prominent position at the head of a major Damascus mosque is intended to garner support for the opposition from moderate Sunnis and the urban population of Syria’s capital city. Despite widespread popular hatred of the Assad dictatorship, many Syrians remain deeply hostile to the Sunni sectarian-based “rebel” militias that Washington and its allies are using as their shock troops to weaken and destabilize Assad’s forces.

But the main purpose of Khatib’s sudden elevation is to provide Washington with another face — without widespread support, and just as disposable as SNC — behind which it can work to suppress the social demands of the Syrian masses and enforce the interests of imperialism in the Middle East.