Middle Eastern geopolitics and the proxy war in Syria - May, 2013

As the terrible carnage in Syria continues unabated, the region in question continues to hang on the verge of a major global confrontation. The conflict in Syria has unmistakably taken on an international flavor. Unfortunately for Damascus, Washington, London, Tel Aviv, Paris, Ankara, Riyadh and Doha have converging national interests in Syria. Fortunately for Damascus, so does Moscow and Tehran, and perhaps Beijing. The bitter war we have been witnessing in Syria during the past two years has little to do with the Syria's Sunni population's desire to free themselves from an Alawite led dictatorial government. Syria's woes may have started as a popular Sunni movement, but it was soon hijacked by geopolitical interests. Today, the war in Syria is purely geopolitical in nature. In fact, this war can accurately be described as a proxy war being fought between the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and their friends one side and the Moscow-Tehran axis on the other.

Syria has become the blood-soaked battlefield upon which the Western alliance and friends have been desperately trying to remake the strategically important region according to their geostrategic designs, as Moscow and Tehran feverishly try to salvage their presence in the disputed region. Therefore, it's a misnomer to call what's going on in Syria a civil war.  

Interestingly, a recent Wall Street Journal article had this to say -
"The risks of a jihadist victory in Damascus are real, at least in the short-term, but they are containable by Turkey and Israel. The far greater risk to Middle East stability and U.S. interests is a victorious arc of Iranian terror from the Gulf to the Mediterranean backed by nuclear weapons."

Wall Street Journal - May 6, 2013
And the Times of Israel reported this:
“Israel’s main strategic threat is Iran. Not Syria, not Hamas. Therefore, strategically, Israel should examine things from the perspective of what harms Iran and what serves Israel’s agenda in confronting it. If Bashar remains in power, that would be a huge achievement for Iran. A weakened Assad [remaining in power] would be completely dependent on Iran. In my opinion that’s the worst thing that can happen to Israel... “Bashar Assad must not remain in power. Period. What will happen later? God only knows. The alternative, whereby [Assad falls and] Jihadists flock to Syria, is not good. We have no good options in Syria. But Assad remaining along with the Iranians is worse. His ouster would exert immense pressure on Iran.”
Sima Shine, Times of Israel - June 23, 2013 

As the reader can clearly see, the above quotes, one by the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and the other by a high level Israel minister explains things quite well - Assad's government has to be defeated no matter what.

What's obvious here is that jihadists in Syria are really not much of a concern for West or Israeli officials. 

As I have been telling my readers for a very long time now, jihadists have never been a serious problem for them. A few dead Americans or some damaged property from time-to-time is a very small price to pay for exploiting an effective yet destructive tool such as Islamic extremism towards geostrategic gains. For further insight on the topic of Islamic terrorism and the West, please see the following blog commentary -
Tsarnaev brothers, secret services and Islamic terrorism: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2013/04/tsarnaev-brothers-secret-services-and.html
For over thirty years now, jihdists have often been acting as the Islamic paramilitary wing of Western powers.

Beware of the Iranian arc 

Their main fear is that Iran will disturb what is termed as the "balance of power" in the region. As a result, the "reputable" Jewish controlled American daily in question has been quite vociferous in calling for a preemptive war against Iran (relevant article can be found below this commentary). In other words, they fear that they will no longer have the impunity to do as they will once Iran becomes a nuclear power and begins actively projecting its interests in the region.

The growth of Iranian power and influence in the Middle East in recent decades has been keeping officials in Washington, London, Tel Aviv, Brussels, Ankara, Riyadh and Doha awake at nights. This is because, as mentioned above, Tehran threatens to disturb what the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance terms "the balance of power" in the region. This is the "balance" in which Western powers, Turkey, subservient Arab monarchies and the Zionist state enjoy total supremacy over their regional adversaries. In other words, they are afraid of a real balance of power emerging because in such a political environment, they will not feel invincible and will no longer be able to act with impunity. 

Moreover,  Tehran's rise as an independent regional power threatening the free flow of the region's Western controlled energy supplies. Being that Iran is one of the world's largest producers of energy (natural gas in particular which the economies and national infrastructures of Europe, Turkey and Israel desperately need), Tehran's rise as a major regional power is a serious strategic, long-term threat. And Iran is not their only problem; there is also Russia.

Tehran and Moscow are redefining global energy politics.

Europe, Israel and Turkey are currently very dependent on Russian energy supplies and Central Asian energy supplies, the distribution of which is also mostly controlled by Moscow. As we have seen in recent years, Russian interests are increasingly clashing with those of the US, Europe, Turkey and Israel. Their overwhelming dependence on Russian controlled energy supllies is a major concern for them. 

Therefore, as a resurgent Moscow finds itself on the opposing side of many political matters; as Iran gradually increases in power and influence; Central Asia and the Persian Gulf is increasingly coming under Russian and Iranian influence. This is cause for serious consternation in the US, Europe and in the Middle East. 

Therefore, wouldn't it be good for the Western alliance and friends if they lessened their dependence on a major geopolitical competitor like Moscow by somehow figuring out a way of tapping into Iranian energy production - by weakening Tehran? Wouldn't it be good for the Western alliance and friends if they somehow lessened Moscow's influence in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus? Needless to say, Turkey and Western client states in the Persian Gulf (Saudi Arabia in particular) would also want to see a greatly diminished Iranian presence in the region. As such, we see a convergence of interests throughout the region.

What I just outlined above is more-or-less the foundational basis of all the  volatility we have been witnessing in the region.

Ironically, their abject fear of Iran is the major motivation behind the international aggression we currently see taking place against Syria - because the road to Tehran starts in Damascus. True to their predatory spirit: Since Iran is a much tougher opponent to take on, they are going after Syria first. Before they are able to take on a large and powerful nation like Iran, they must first stamp-out Iranian support in the region. Bashar Assad's regime and Tehran are strategic partners, and arming and training Lebanon's Hezbollah has been a strategic joint venture of theirs. Therefore, the international predators see Syria and the Hezbollah as natural preys.

The Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and friends realize that if Damascus is weakened or falls, Hezbollah will not survive long in Lebanon. I personally think that as soon as Damascus is neutralized Israel will attempt to finally crush the Hezbollah and exact revenge for the IDF's humiliating defeat in 2006. Therefore, as far as the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance is concerned, Damascus is a strategic gate to Iran and the Hezbollah.  

As the reader can see, once again, the Western world's geostrategic interests against Iran are behind the reasons why Western officials have been actively collaborating with Al-Qaeda types movements. 

However, besides the Shiite factors (i.e. Iran and the Hezbollah) there are also other good reasons why the Anglo-American-Zionist global order and friends are fixated on destroying the Assad regime in Damascus. These are: Syria is seen as an ideal, cost effective, overland route to divert Persian Gulf energy westward; Syria is a strategic outpost for a resurgent Russia; Finally, Damascus had in recent years been acquiring powerful, Russian-made missiles systems that threaten the Zionist state's military dominance. The following are additional information about the three non-Shiite factors that have led to the international conspiracy against Syria -
Oil Road Through Damascus (2012 Asia Times report): http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/NB15Ak02.html

Syria: we'll host Russian missile system (2008 RT report): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNd5sznQo68&feature=fvwrel

Russian Navy to base warships at Syrian port after 2012 (2010 Ria Novosti report): http://en.rian.ru/russia/20100802/160041427.html
As you can see, what's going on in Syria is much larger than what's being reported to the sleeping public by propaganda organs disguised as mainstream news press.

One of the encouraging side-effects of the war in Syria has been closer cooperation between the region's Shiite (including Alawite) populations. Throughout the region, Shiism is militarizing and developing a political ideology. This development is exasperating the already explosive situation by increasing the level of urgency for Syria's enemies.

An Alawite dominated Syria; a Hezbollah dominated Lebanon; a Shiite dominated Iraq and a Shiite Iran is emerging as a sharp sickle, an Iranian "arc" as the Wall Street Journal calls it, cutting straight from Central Asia, through the fertile crescent and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. This Shiite dominated, Russian-backed zone cuts right through the heartland of the Western-backed Sunni/Turkish/Zionist world.


From an Armenian and Russian perspective, this zone of Iranian influence, if tapped into properly, can be used as a very effective tool against pan-Turkism, Sunni Islamic extremism, Zionism and Western imperialism. 

As the reader can see, a powerful Iran is a very serious geostratrgic concern for many major powers around the world. 


Therefore, certain power centers are hoping that by smashing Syria they can also defeat the Hezbollah; By smashing Syria, Iran will become weakened and thus vulnerable to aggression; By smashing Syria, Russia's military presence in the Mediterranean Sea will be eliminated; By smashing Syria, an excellent new route for oil distribution will open up. 

In short, it is hoped that by smashing Syria and the Hezbollah, the zone of Iranian influence will be neutralized or contained. Thus, Damascus is a very important geostrategic prize, and this is why all the sides in this conflict are taking Syria very seriously.

Old Syria may be gone forever
 

Fortunately, the bloody battle for Damascus is being won by forces loyal to the Assad regime. Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon and special units from Iran have in recent months become very active in Syria's conflict zones. With the Russian Federation indirectly securing Syria's waters and air space from a foreign incursion, forces loyal to the Assad regime, which also include many of Syria's secular Sunnis, have clearly secured the upper hand. The Assad regime has proven remarkably resilient in the face of grave adversity. Hopefully, the battle currently waging in the strategic town of Qusayr, where thousands of Wahhabi/Salafist extremists are said to be trapped will become the so-called rebels' Stalingrad. 

Barring any unforeseen setbacks such as the assassination of Bashar Assad or a full scale military invasion of Syria (which remains a possibility), forces loyal to the Syrian regime are expected to win this war. 

But at what price?

Regardless of what happens going forward, we must all come to the realization that the old Syria may be forever gone. Even if Assad survives this horrible nightmare, Syria, as we knew it won't. Therefore, in a sense, Syria's enemies have already been somewhat successful in their plans to weaken Syria. The following are recent opinion pieces appearing in Jewish controlled propaganda organs in the United State -
"When Assad loses Aleppo and Damascus—and this loss is almost a certainty—his Russian and Iranian patrons won't abandon him. They have no other horse to ride in Syria. Instead they will assist in establishing a sectarian militia, an Alawite analogue to Hezbollah. In fact, such a militia is already rising up naturally, as Sunni defections transform the Syrian military into an overtly Alawite force. If the rebels finally succeed in dislodging the regime from the main cities, it will retreat to the north, and the autonomous Alawite canton that Bashar al-Assad's grandfather envisioned will finally be born. "Alawistan," as the Mideast scholar Tony Badran called it, will join Hezbollah in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon as another sectarian island in the Iranian archipelago of influence."

Michael Doran, Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2012

"Should Damascus fall to the opposition, Tartus could become the heart of an attempt to create a different country. Some expect Mr. Assad and the security elite will try to survive the collapse by establishing a rump Alawite state along the coast, with Tartus as their new capital. There have been various signs of preparations."

New York Times, December 22, 2012
They may be signalling that they are willing to consider an Alawite state if Bashar Assad's steps down and heads to the Syrian coast. If so, this is clearly a Western/Zionist compromise. Not long ago they couldn't imagine any kind of role for Bashar Assad or his followers in Syria. However, with each passing week, the prospects of the Assad regime maintaining its hegemony in Syria is getting smaller and smaller. Many, even those in Assad's camp now admit that after all the bloodletting we have been witnessing Alawites will no longer be able to rule over Syria's majority Sunni population. The eventual break-up of Syria is increasingly looking like a real possibility.

Therefore, the terrible fighting we see taking place in Syria today may have turned into a fight over who will control what territory once an armistice is signed and the fighting subsides. In other words, this is a 'life and death' struggle for Syria's Alawites and Christians. Alawites, in particular, are literally fighting to secure their right of existence, and Tehran and Moscow are doing everything in their power to give them a fighting chance. 

At this point, the only thing the Russian Federation and Iran are vying for is not the survival of Assad regime in Damascus but how Syria will be 'divided' or reorganized after the bloodletting stops. It's increasingly looking as if Syria's death, if it happens, will give birth to an Alawite nation. 

Because of the manner with which Syria was formed by colonial France between the first and second world wars, Syria is predisposed to fragmenting into four major ethno-religious enclaves: Sunni, Alawite, Kurdish and Druze.

If Syria breaks up, Russia and Iran stand poised to be caretakers/sponsors of Alawites. The West, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar stand ready to be caretakers/sponsors the Sunnis. The Druze will most probably come under Israeli dominance. Kurds will most probably come under US and Israeli control. The port city of Tartus seems to be a good candidate for an Alawite capitol. Sunnis seem to have their sights set upon Aleppo. Kurdish regions may unite with Iraqi Kurdistan with its administrative center at Erbil. The fate of the ancient city of Damascus remains unclear at this time.
And the surviving remnants of the region's already dwindling Christian population (including Armenians) will most probably settle inside friendly Alawite territory.

From a Russian and Iranian perspective, the creation of an Alawite state on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean may be the best alternative if the Assad regime eventually pulls out of Damascus and Syria is partitioned. But any diminished role for Damascus may put Lebanon's Hezbollah in serious jeopardy. 

In my opinion, a better alternative would be the transformation of Syria into a federation consisting of multiple cantons or republics. But it's difficult to imagine how all the warring sides will agree to this. Syria may very well be an unresolved problem for many years to come.

Remaking the Middle East

Syria's enemies have already been somewhat successful in their plans to weaken Syria and move against Iran. I would like to, however, point out here that Syria and Iran are not their only targets and their overall agenda is nothing new. A sinister plan for the entire Middle East was first hatched three decades ago by one named Oded Yinon. The following is his Strategy for Israel in the 1980s” as summarized by anti-Zionist political activist, Israel Shahak -
"The plan operates on two essential premises. To survive, Israel must 1) become an imperial regional power, and 2) must effect the division of the whole area into small states by the dissolution of all existing Arab states. Small here will depend on the ethnic or sectarian composition of each state. Consequently, the Zionist hope is that sectarian-based states become Israel’s satellites and, ironically, its source of moral legitimation."
As you can see, plans to break the Middle East into smaller, more manageable states is decades old. They were basically emboldened when one of their strategic obstacles, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. And more recent calls to smash Syria and other regional nations into smaller pieces could be heard even before the foreign backed Islamic uprisings began in Syria two years ago. The following chilling words from a David Hirst was first published in 2010 -
"The total disintegration of Lebanon into five regional, localized governments is the precedent for the entire Arab world... The dissolution of Syria, and later Iraq, into districts of ethnic and religious minorities following the example of Lebanon is Israel's main long-rage objective on the Eastern Front. The present military wreaking of these states is the short-range objective. Syria will disintegrate into several states along the lines of its ethnic and sectarian structure... As a result there will be a Shiite Alawi state, the district of Aleppo will be a Sunni state, and the district of Damascus another state which will be hostile to the northern one. The Druze-even those in Golan - should form a state in Huaran and in northern Jordan... The oil rich but very divided and internally strife-ridden Iraq is certainly a candidate to fit Israel's goal... Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation... will hasten the achievement of the supreme goal, namely breaking up Iraq into elements like Syria and Lebanon. There will be there states or more around the three major cities, Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, while Shiite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni north, which is mostly Kurdish...The entire Arabian Peninsula is a natural candidate for (dissolution)... Israel's policy in war or peace should be to bring about the elimination of Jordan..."

Beware of small states, David Hirst, p. 125-126
As the reader can see, their intent has always been to divide and conquer. It is painfully clear that there have been serious, long-term designs on the much troubled region. Therefore, claims that Western/Zionist policymakers are conspiring against Syria is no longer a "conspiracy theory". For very sound reasons, Bashar Assad's enemies would like to see the Lebanonization of Syria and the containment of Iran's zone of influence. The following two RT reports touches upon this topic -
Lebanonize and Conquer: 'CIA, Mossad on Syria front line':http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mh7_z9nZsZQ&feature=plcp
'Syrian soaring sectarianism and division used to target Iran': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9AvwhXwJF0
The Zionist plan to remake the Middle East should bring to mind former US general/war criminal Wesely Clark's troubling public confession several years ago -
General Wesley Clark tells of how Middle East destabilization was planned as far back as 1991: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7NsXFnzJGw
We are in the very midst of a forced remaking of the Middle East. The old format put together by England and France between the two world wars less than a century ago no longer seems suitable for them. While they normally use Western grants, opposition politicians, rights activists, economic blackmail and cultural invasion as a way of undermining nations that are not enslaved by them, the West has resorted to remaking the region at the tip of a sharp and now very blood-covered bayonet.

If the world does not descend into yet another major world war as a result of this cruel manipulation and exploitation of humanity, we may yet live to see a stronger Turkish, Saudi Arabian, Zionist and Kurdish presence in the region.

History of the region during the past sixty years has taught us that the biggest threat the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance faces in the Middle East is the rise of secular Arab nationalism, coupled more recently with the spread of Iranian influence. From Gamal Abdel Nasser and Mohammad Mosaddegh to Saddam Husein, Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Assad, secular forms of nationalism in the region have been seen as a serious danger to Western designs. Therefore, for the West, Wahhabist/Salafist Islamic extremism is an effective antidote to Arab nationalism.

Of course there are other reasons why Sunni fundamentalism is being promoted in the region: Islamic societies tend to be tribal, backward, oppressive, economically primitive, culturally stagnant, militarily incompetent and thus easily manipulated and/or controlled. Moreover, Wahhabi or Salafist forms of Sunni Islam is an effective way to curb Iranian Shiism. Anyone familiar with the region knows that Sunni Arabs and Shiites have an almost instinctual disdain towards each other. In fact, the historic rivalry between Sunni and Shiite sects of Islam are much deeper and much bloodier than Islam's rivalry against Christianity or Judaism.

Therefore, as they go on pitting one group against the other, as they replace one leader with another, as they form and reform nations, as they divide and conquer... It could be said that the West is, simply put, managing the much troubled region. 


Nevertheless, in their blind pursuit of Western fairytales (i.e. democracy) and Islamic dreams (i.e. slaughtering Shiite infidels), Sunnis of Syria have managed to destroy their nation, and that is what they were expected to do.

Failed states are preferable


As we have seen, failed states or fragmented states are the Anglo-American-Zionist global order's best friend, not only in the Middle East but everywhere. Such
states are much easier to deal with than larger, independent ones that don't want to cooperate. Such states are easier to control and they pose no serious threat militarily or economically. Failed or fragmented states such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are also good sources for cheep energy, cheep labor, narcotics and loot (e.g. precious metals and gems). 

And what better way to create failed states than by democracy?

This should be the general perspective from which we need to observe the actions of the Western alliance around the world. As they seemingly champion the causes of "self-determination", "democracy" and "human rights" in various targeted nations, they are in fact covertly engaged in the systematic process of destroying nation-states that they no longer have any use for.

Having already conquered Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, senior officials in Washington in conjunction with the Western alliance's propaganda organs are now actively propagating military intervention against Syria and Iran. Zionist leaders and Jewish-American pundits, supported by legions of their Shabaz Goy throughout the US, have been enthusiastically beating the war drums. There is a massive and well-coordinated information war being carried-out against Damascus, Tehran and Moscow. Despite Tehran's and Damascus' surprising resilience and the steadfast support they have been receiving from Russia, their enemies are out for blood and they are not showing any signs of backing down. This situation is a clear indicator that the multi-national agenda against Damascus and Tehran is indeed very serious and that they are in this for the long-term. 

The best thing Assad's regime can do at this point is to continue delivering serious blows to the foreign backed Islamic insurgency in Syria. Hezbollah and Tehran need to be wise enough to draw their red line in Syria. Moscow, for its part needs to do everything in its power to continue discouraging a foreign military incursion into Syrian territory. If these are done, Alawite's will be able to preserve at least some of their power and influence in future negotiations.

Turkish factor

The Turkish factor in all this is quite interesting. The overall agenda for the region, including American and Israeli support for a Kurdish state in northern Iraq has been one of the main reasons of contention between Ankara and the Western alliance in recent years. Turkish leaders recognize that Western designs for the Middle East can potentially harm Ankara's state interests. However, being that Ankara is dependent on the Western world for survival and being that geopolitics is more-or-less a game of chess (or poker, depending on who's playing), Ankara seems to be cautiously going along with the current campaign against Syria, maneuvering to extract benefits from the situation along the way. 

In other words, while Western and Zionist officials have hegemonic fantasies on their minds, Ankara for its part, may be entertaining neo-Ottoman dreams. 

However, by going along with the Western plot against Syria due to its designs, Ankara may eventually come into conflict with its two most powerful neighbors, Iran and Russia. Turkish blood lust, subservience to Western powers and a neo-Ottoman wet dream may be getting Ankara into a precarious position. Moreover, the Turkish street is turning against Ankara's involvement in the Syrian conflict. This may have been the reason why several months ago the military headquarters of the anti-Syrian insurgency located in south-eastern Turkey was moved into Syrian territory. More recently, there have been major anti-war protests throughout Turkey. More encouragingly, south-eastern Turkey's relatively large Alawite population may be awakening politically.

The Syrian conflict may yet prove politically disastrous for Ankara.

Israeli Factor

Oded Yinon's, David Hirst's and Sima Shine's comments makes the Israeli factor in the Syrian conflict very easy to explain: In line with its national defense doctrine, Tel Aviv wants to see the weakening, not necessarily the complete destruction of Syria. Having said that, Tel Aviv does not want to merely weaken Bashar Assad's government. According to Sima Shine, the head of the Iranian desk at Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, a weakened Bashar Assad may make him more dependent on Tehran, and that is simply not acceptable. Therefore, Bashar Assad must go.


And if Bashar Assad's departure results in transforming Syria into an Islamic playground, no problem. Although a headache, Saudi Arabian backed Islamists won't be too much of a problem to deal with for the nuclear weapons armed, fortress nation in the Middle east. Nevertheless, Israeli officials realize that regardless of any political changes that may or may not take place in Damascus, Syria will be a weakened and wounded foe for the next few years at the very least. Therefore, what has been happening in Syria may be giving the Zionist state some breathing room. 

Traditionally, those that gave the Zionist state problems were Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon's Hezbollah, Palestinians and Iran. For Tel Aviv, times have actually changed for the good since the Soviet Union's collapse a little over twenty years ago. Today, Iraq is shattered into a bloody mess; Libya has been turned back into a desert; Egypt is fully under Washington's control; Jordan has been fully under Washington's and London's control; Gaza concentration camp poses no real threat; And West Bank Palestinian reservations pose no real threat. 

Today, Tel Aviv's only remaining threats are the Assad regime in Damascus, Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iran (i.e. the Iranian arc). And now, Assad and the Hezbollah are in a life and death struggle not against the Zionist state but against their "Muslim brothers". 

How Syria will come out of its mess is anyone's guess at this point. This leaves Iran as the only belligerent nation standing unscathed. Therefore, the long term Israeli agenda of either subjugating, destroying or weakening it's problematic neighbors has been realized in Syria to a certain degree. 

Kurdish factor

Naturally, the region's large Kurdish populations play a prominent factor in all this. Kurds are the tools of destruction that regional empires have exploited. Some time ago, the Western alliance realized that by adopting the Kurdish cause in the heart of the Middle East they are able to impact Turks, Syrians, Iranians and Iraqis in one shot. Kurds of northern Iraq have been working closely with Washington and Tel Aviv since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Today, CIA/Mossad funded Kurdish government in northern Iraq is sending arms and militants into Turkey, Iran and Syria. But as always Kurds remain hopelessly fragmented. Consequently, they will be found working for all sides.

Saudi Arabian and Qatari factors

Saudi Arabia has been subservient to Western interests for generations. Saudi Arabia was born by the West, lives by the West and will die by the West. Washington and London have invested untold sums of money in Riyadh. Behind closed doors, Riyadh and the Western alliance are in a very tight embrace. But Saudi Arabia is not the only one in so deep. 

Similar to the process we are currently seeing take place in Myanmar (the nation formerly known as Burma), Western emphasis began to be placed upon Qatar around ten years ago when the island's petty but wealthy oil kingdom decided to enter into an intimate relationship with Washington. Ever since its adoption by Washingtonians, Doha, the sponsors of the Islamo-Western propaganda outlet known as Al-Jazeera, has been a close collaborator with Western powers. 

Besides producing and distributing energy for Western interests, Riyadh and more recently Doha have also been producing and distributing Islamic extremists to fight ultimately for Western interests. Some of the Saudi Arabian and Qatari backed Islamic movements have worked so in-line with Western interests around the world that they might as well be considered Washington's Islamic brigades. 

For these Arabian client states one of the fundamental motivation factors for serving Western interests is their primordial fear of Iran. Needless to say, the other motivation is energy, how best  to distribute it. Unfortunately, Riyadh and Doha have found both factors fully at play in Syria, and this is why these powers are for the most part doing the West's dirty work there.

Looking ahead

It's clear that Western powers, Israel and Turco-Islamic interests are pushing the envelope in the Levant. What Western powers may not have anticipated, however, was the degree of resistance it has been shown by forces loyal to Bashar Assad. Another major factor that may have been unexpected for them is the steadfast support Moscow has been providing the Assad regime. 

I'd like to make one thing very clear: Had it not been for the Russian military presence in Syria, periodic threats from Moscow and advanced Russian-made arms in Syrian hands, I have no doubt NATO forces would have been operating inside Syrian territory by now. The decisive factor between Syria and Libya has therefore been Moscow.

Moscow's handling of the situation in Libya was cold and calculated. It must be said, however, that Moscow had almost no levers with which to impact the reality on the ground in Libya. Even if Moscow vetoed the infamous UN resolution calling for an intervention in Libya, the Western alliance would have found another way in; because when there is the will, they will find the way. Moreover, Moscow did not have a foothold in Libya. Moscow did not have a very close relationship with Tripoli. Libya was relatively speaking too isolated. More importantly, it seems that Moscow was hoping that by allowing NATO to militarily intervene in Libya, they would get bogged-down in a protracted fight (similar to what had happened in Afghanistan and Iraq). Finally, by sacrificing Libya (a low ranking chess piece on the grand chess board), Moscow would seek to use its plight as a legitimate excuse to protect Syria (seen by Moscow as a much important chess piece). Today, Moscow's number one argument against allowing Western intervention in Syria is the "lesson" learned in Libya. 

The Western alliance's actions throughout the region in question has given birth to an unusual alliance between Russia and Iran. Although Moscow cannot be not very excited about being in an alliance with an Islamic nation that has powerful interests in its backyard (i.e. the south Caucasus, Caspian Sea region and Central Asia), Russian officials realize that a greater sinister threat looms in the West. Policymakers in Moscow and Tehran know that Assad's defeat in Syria will eventually bring the prospect of future wars to their borders. Policymakers in Moscow and Tehran know that their energy resources are coveted by the West. Policymakers in Moscow and Tehran also know that Western powers are attempting to control vital global trade routes. Based on these and other assessments, both Moscow and Tehran see the Assad regime's preservation in Syria as crucially important to their geostrategic interests.

The following is Brazilian Pepe  Escobar's comments on Russian-Iranian relations in 2009 -
Iran/Russia - a deadly embrace (Part 1):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uowvTCtZws

Iran/Russia - a deadly embrace (Part 2):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UY_rxOlly4
Being that the battle for Damascus is significantly more urgent to Tehran and to Lebanon's Hezbollah, Iranians and Hezbollah fighters have been directly involved in the fighting in Syria. For sound political reasons Moscow has chosen to assist the Assad regime from the sidelines. However, Moscow continues to provide Damascus with sophisticated anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile batteries. These potent weapons systems, and the willingness of Bashar Assad's forces to use them in combat is more-or-less what's keeping NATO and Israel out of Syrian territory. The provision of such arms at this stage in the war is a good indicator that Moscow is confident that the regime in Damascus will survive.

Recognizing, however, that the war now raging on in Syria has gone well beyond the point-of-no-return, Syria's enemies are continuing to place their emphasis and their hope on seeking weak spots in Syria's Russian and Iranian armor. They will fully exploit any vulnerabilities they find. They have invested too much into their grand agenda. Bashar Assad's stubborn resistance is not about to discourage them because the agenda against Damascus is simply too large to abandon. Simply put, Syria is the strategic chess piece that has to fall before they are able to continue their advance in the region.

Ironically, in the big picture, if Damascus falls, it won't be the doing of Western, Turkish or even Israeli forces, it will be the doing of Arabs themselves. Although many of the Islamic extremists fighting in Syria today have been imported into the nation from places such as the Arabian peninsula, Libya, Turkey and Azerbaijan, the very base of the insurgency against Damascus remains Sunni Syrian. Large segments of the Sunni population in Syria (primarily the poor and the religious) has been the catalysts upon which foreign, Western-backed terrorist networks have been operating on. 

Once the cradle of Arab nationalism, Syria has become a victim and a symbol of Arab treachery and stupidity. Arabs for the most part remain amongst the world's most easily manipulated and sacrificed sheeples. The Western alliance has turned the stomping grounds of Mohammad into a brothel and it has done so with the willing participation of Sunni Arabs. Ultimately, if Syrians themselves choose the path of self-destruction, there is only so much Moscow or anyone else for that matter can do to stop them.

Having said that, much still remains dependent on Moscow and Tehran. 

How far will Moscow and Tehran go if NATO and its regional allies up-the-ante by invading Syria? It's easy to see how urgent this matter is for Tehran, but is Moscow's red line in the Middle East or in the south Caucasus? Will Kremlin officials decide to go to war in defense of Syria as it has been suggested by some Russian officials or will they continue supporting Damascus from the sidelines? How will Moscow respond if Russian assets in Syria get attacked? If NATO invades Syria will Moscow react by moving military units into say, Georgia? Bashar Assad's antagonists may not be too enthusiastic about finding out the answers to these questions. If Damascus is facing an imminent NATO military intervention will Iran for its part respond by sending military units into Syria via Iraq? How will Iraq's Shiite majority government react to all this? Tensions between Iraq's Shiite majority and Sunni minority remain high and blood is again freely flowing in Iraqi streets. Will renewed fighting flareup between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah? What role will Kurds play in all this? What role will Turkey play? Why role will Sunni Arab dictatorships throughout the Arabian peninsula play?

These are not simple questions to ponder for in them lies the very seeds of a major global war. I am sure that questions such as these are keeping officials awake at nights in many capitols around the world.


The massive powder-keg that is currently on the verge of exploding in the Middle East is at the very doorstep of the Russian Federation. Moscow is not taking any chances. Russian military units in the Caucasus and Armenia have been significantly bolstered and are currently playing a very important strategic role in the region.

In the meanwhile, however, let's all hope that forces loyal to Bashar Assad (Alawite, Hezbollah, Armenian, Christian as well as secular Sunni Arab nationalists) are able to survive the coming climax because how well they fight will ultimately determine what future, if any, Syria will have.

If Bashar Assad's forces come out of this nightmare victorious or simply intact, it will be a historic blow to Western powers, Israel, Turkey and the region's Arab monarchies. If Bashar Assad's regime survives, we may still see the "Iranian arc" become a reality from the borders of eastern Afghanistan to southern Lebanon.

Why we need the Russian Bear

The Russian factor has loomed large in Syria from the very beginning. Moscow is not sparing any effort in trying to preserve the Assad regime. Moscow is also not sparing any efforts in signaling that it is serious about preserving its military presence in Syria. The Russian navy has been very active in the eastern Mediterranean in recent months and Moscow is currently preparing to carry-out major naval exercises there. Moreover, there has recently been a lot of talk about Moscow shipping large quantities of modern arms to Damascus (relevant articles can be read below this commentary). As previously mentioned, the provision of such arms at this stage in the war is a good indicator that Moscow is confident that the regime in Damascus will survive.

I don't want to speak too soon, but Moscow may have single handedly saved Assad's regime from capitulation and/or annihilation and in doing so preserved the strategic status-quo in the region. Let's realize that drawing Iran and the Hezbollah into the Syrian inferno did not scare Assad's antagonists as much as the very troubling prospect of drawing Russia into the fight. 

Here again we can vividly see the great importance of Russian Bear on the global arena.

In conclusion, all this should again be reminding us Armenians of the cruel and unforgiving nature of the region in which Armenia is unfortunately located. We should be reminded that the obsessive pursuit of "democracy" in Armenia as per Western demands is a dangerous red-herring for there are much more important tasks that our underdeveloped, fledgling and inexperienced nation needs to take on before it can afford to play around with such nonsense. 

More importantly, we should also once again be reminded that we Armenians need to devote our already limited resources in developing ever-closer ties with the Russian Federation. 

I reiterate: While Armenia's military is its tactical advantage, Armenia's alliance with the Russian Federation must be utilized as its strategic advantage. Armenian lobbyists, politicians, businessmen and military leaders must be a constant presence within the walls of the Kremlin. Recent years have clearly shown us that Yerevan's alliance with the Russian Bear is Armenia's number one security guarantee for without a strong Russian presence in Armenia there won't be an Armenia in the south Caucasus. Recent years should also have shown us that Western institutions are a grave threat for underdeveloped and vulnerable nations such as Armenia.

Although many political pundits as well as Russophiles claim that Moscow needs to find a "new calling" since having shed itself of communism over two decades ago, I say it already has found one: Russia today has proven to be the last front in the world against Anglo-American imperialism, Zionism, Globalism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. Russia's presence today as an independent superpower projecting its national interests upon the global stage is ensuring the survival of western civilization, apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state.

Arevordi
May, 2013

***
Moscow Set to Resume its Influence With Damascus (July, 2010): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2010/11/to-dismay-of-tel-aviv-and-washington.html

Kremlin Seeking Naval Bases Abroad (January, 2011): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/01/kremlin-says-eyeing-new-naval-bases.html
US Launches Cyber Spy Operation Against The World (April, 2011): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/04/us-launches-cyber-spy-operation-april.html
NATO plans campaigns in Libya and Syria to tighten noose around Iran (September, 2011): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/09/nato-plans-campaigns-in-middle-east-to_03.html
Obituary: Libya 1951-2011 (November, 2011): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/11/destruction-of-libya-november-2011.html
West, Arab League and Turkey Supporting Armed Islamic Militants in Syria (December, 2011): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/12/nato-arab-league-and-turkey-supporting.html
Target Iran (December, 2011): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/12/target-iran-december-2011.html
Growing tensions in the Caucasus as the West tries to apply the "Libyan Model" to Syria and Iran (March, 2012): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2012/03/libyan-model-for-syria-and-iran-march.html
CIA arms Islamic rebels, Syria downs Turkish warplane (June, 1012): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2012/06/cia-arms-islamic-rebels-syria-downs.html

***
Putin’s Geopolitical Chess Game with Washington in Syria and Eurasia

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Since reassuming his post as Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin has lost no minute in addressing the most urgent geopolitical threats to Russia internationally. Not surprisingly, at the center of his agenda is the explosive situation in the Middle East, above all Syria. Here Putin is engaging every imaginable means of preventing a further deterioration of the situation into what easily could become another “world war by miscalculation.” His activities in recent weeks involve active personal diplomacy with Syria’s government as well as the so-called opposition “Syrian National Council.”  It involves intense diplomacy with Erdogan’s Turkey regime. It involves closed door diplomacy with Obama. It involves direct diplomacy with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

Syria itself, contrary to what most western media portray, is a long-standing multi-ethnic and religiously tolerant secular state with an Alawite Muslim President Bashar Al-Assad, married to a Sunni wife. The Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam which doesn’t force their women to wear head scarves and are liberal by Sunni standards, especially in the fundamentalist places like Saudi Arabia where women are forbidden to even hold a driver’s license. The overall Syrian population is a diverse mix of Alawites, Druze and Kurds, Sunnis, and Armenian Orthodox Christians. Were the minority regime of Al-Assad to fall, experts estimate that, like in Egypt, the murky Sunni (as in Saudi Arabia) Muslim Brotherhood organization would emerge as the dominant organized political force, something certainly not welcome in Tel Aviv and certainly not in either Russia or China.1

According to an informed assessment by Gajendra Singh, retired Indian diplomat with decades of service in the Middle East and a deep familiarity with the ethnic mix inside Syria, were the minority Alawite regime of Al-Assad to fall, the country would rapidly descend into a bloodbath that would make estimates of 17,000 killed to date a mere prelude. Singh estimates, “A defeat of Assad led regime will lead to slaughter of Alawites, Shias, Christians, even Kurds and Druzes. In all, 20 % of a population of 20 Million.”2

That would be some 4 million Syrians. That ought to be food for thought for those in the West cheering on a murky dubious opposition “Syrian National Council” that is dominated by the ominous Muslim Brotherhood, and an armed opposition “Free Syrian Army” that has been reported even by the New York Times as rife with factional armed splits. Moreover the conflict were it to descend into a Libya-like internal bloodbath, would spill over across the Syrian border into Turkey. Syrian coastal area has a significant Alawite population and a large number of Alawites live in the adjoining Turkish provinces of Hatay and Antakya.

To sort out fact from fiction inside Syria is daunting as media are limited and opposition spokesmen have been repeatedly caught lying about events. In one recent instance, a UK journalist claimed he was deliberately led into a potential death trap by rebel opposition forces to score propaganda against the Damascus regime. The UK Channel 4 News’s chief correspondent, Alex Thomson, told AP that Syrian rebels set him up to die in no man’s land near the Lebanese border, saying they wanted to use his death at the hands of government forces to score propaganda points.3 And in one brazen example of political manipulation, BBC was recently caught publishing a photograph it claimed was of a massacre at Al-Houla on 25 May 2012, in which 108 persons are known to have died including 49 children. It turned out the picture had been taken by Italian photo journalist, Marco Di Lauro in Iraq in 2003.4

The stakes in this geopolitical chess game are nothing less than survival first of Syria as a sovereign nation, whatever its flaws and defects. More, it ultimately involves the survival of Iran, Russia and China as sovereign nations together with the other BRIC states Brazil, India and South Africa. Longer term, it involves the matter of survival of civilization as we know it and avoidance of a world war that would decimate the world population not by tens of millions as seventy years ago but likely this time by billions.

The Syria stakes for Moscow

Russia’s Putin has drawn a deep hard line in the sand around the survival of Al-Assad and Syria as a stable state. Few ask why Russia is warning of possible world war if Washington persists to demand immediate regime change in Syria as Hillary Clinton is doing. It is not because Russia is intent on advancing its own imperialist agenda in the Middle East. It’s in little shape militarily and economically to do so even if it had wanted. Rather, it is about preserving port rights to Russia’s only Mediterranean naval port at Tartus, the only remaining Russian military base outside the former Soviet Union, and its only Mediterranean fueling spot. In event of a showdown with NATO the base becomes strategic to Russia.

Yet there is more at stake for Russia. Putin and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have made clear were NATO and the USA to launch military action against Assad’s Syria, the consequences would be staggering. Reliable sources in Damascus have reported the presence of at least 100,000 Russian “technical advisers” in the country. That’s a lot, and a Russian freighter carrying rebuilt Russian Mi-25 attack helicopters is reportedly bound for Syria, while several days earlier a Russian naval flotilla sailed for Tartus led by the Russian destroyer, Admiral Chabanenko.

An earlier attempt to send the rebuilt helicopters back to Syria which had earlier purchased them, was blocked in June off Scotland’s coast when it sailed under a non-Russian freighter flag. Now Moscow has made clear it will tolerate no interference in its traffic with Damascus. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, announced that “The fleet will be sent on task to guarantee the safety of our ships, to prevent anyone interfering with them in the event of a blockade. I remind you there are no limits,” he soberly added.5 In so many words, what Moscow is announcing is that it is willing to face a 21st Century version of the 1962 Cuba Missile Crisis if NATO foolishly persists in pressing regime change in Damascus.

As it has openly emerged that the so-called democratic opposition in Syria is being dominated by the shadowy Muslim Brotherhood, hardly an organization renowned for multi-ethnic democratic tendencies, a victory for a US-backed Muslim Brotherhood regime in Syria, Moscow also believes, would unleash a wave of Muslim-led destabilizations across Central Asia into republics of the former Soviet Union. China is also extremely sensitive about such a danger, only recently confronted with bloody riots of Muslim organization in its oil-rich Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province, quietly sponsored by the US Government.6

Russia has joined firmly with China since both nations fell into a catastrophic trap over abstaining in the UN Security Council from vetoing the US Resolution. That US resolution opened the door to NATO destruction of not only Mohammar Ghaddafi, but of Libya itself as a functioning country. This author has spoken personally in Moscow and in Beijing since the Libya debacle asking well-informed persons in both places how in effect they could have been so short-sighted on Libya. They both clearly have since concluded that further advance of Washington’s agenda for what George W. Bush called the Greater Middle East Project is diametrically opposed to the national interest of both China and Russia, hence the iron opposition to the NATO agenda in Syria for regime change. To date Russia and China, Permanent veto members of the UN Security Council, have three times exercised their veto over new US-sponsored sanctions against Syria, the latest on July 19.

Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insist on a strict adherence to the proposed peace plan of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Unlike what Washington prefers to generously read into it, the Six Point Annan Plan calls for no regime change, rather for a negotiated settlement and end to the fighting on both sides, a ceasefire.  

Washington’s Janus-faced duplicity

Aligned on the side of violent regime change in Syria are a bizarre coalition that includes, in addition to Washington and its European “vassal states” (as Zbigniew Brzezinski called European NATO members),7 most prominently Saudi Arabia, hardly a regime anyone would accuse of being a paragon of democracy. Another lead role against Damascus is being played by Qatar, home to US military as well as the blatantly pro-NATO propaganda channel Al-Jazeera. In addition, the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is providing training and space to prepare armed mercenaries and others to flow over the border into neighboring Syria.

An attempt by the Erdogan government to send a Turkish Phantom air force fighter jet into Syrian airspace flying provocatively low, apparently in order to incite a “Gulf of Tonkin” incident to fan flames of NATO intervention a la Libya two weeks ago, fell flat when Turkey’s general staff issued a statement saying: “No traces of explosives or flammable products were found on the debris recovered from the sea.” Erdogan was forced to shift his line to cover face, no longer using the phrase, “shot down by Syria” and instead referring to “our plane that Syria claimed to have destroyed.”8 NATO has established a command and control center in Iskenderun, in Turkey’s Hatay province, near the Syrian border months ago to organize, train and arm the “anything but” Free Syrian Army.9 The Obama Administration, not wanting a full Syria war before US elections in November, reportedly also told Erdogan to “cool it” for now. 

Most westerners who take their knowledge of world affairs religiously from the pages of the Washington Post or CNN or BBC are convinced the Syrian mess is a clear cut case of “good guys” (the so-named Syrian National Council and its rag-tag makeshift “Free Syrian Army”) versus the “bad guys” (the Al-Assad dictatorship with its armed forces). For more than a year western media has run footage, some as noted,  not even filmed in Syria, claiming that innocent, unarmed opposition civilian pro-democracy populations are being massacred ruthlessly in a one-sided butchery by the regime.

They never explain how it would serve Assad to alienate his strongest asset to survival, namely the support of a majority of Syrians against what he has accurately named foreign intervention into sovereign Syrian affairs. Indeed numerous eyewitness journalist accounts from inside Turkey and Syria including RT have alleged that from the beginning the “peaceful democratic opposition” had secretly been provided with arms and training, often inside camps across on the Turkish side. Professor Ibrahim Alloush from Zaytouneh University in Jordan told RT,
“Weaponry is being smuggled into Syria in large quantities from all over the place. It is pretty clear that the rebels have been receiving arms from abroad and Syrian television has been showing almost daily shipments of arms being smuggled into Syria via Lebanon, Turkey and other border crossings. Since the rebels are being supported by the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] and by NATO it is safe to assume that they are getting their financing and weaponry from the same sources that are offering them political cover and financial backing.”  10
One veteran Turkish journalist whom this author interviewed in Ankara in April, just back from an extensive tour of Syria, gave his eyewitness account of the capture of a small band of “opposition” fighters. The journalist, fluent in Arabic, was astonished as he witnessed the head of the rebels demand to know why their military captors spoke Arabic. When told that was their native language, the rebel leader blurted out, “But you should speak Hebrew, you’re with the Israeli Army aren’t you?”

In short, the mercenaries had been blitz-trained across the border in Turkey, given Kalashnikovs and a fistful of dollars and told they were making a jihad against the Israeli Army. They did not even know who they were fighting. In other instances, mercenaries recruited from Afghanistan and elsewhere and financed by Saudi money, including alleged members of Al Qaeda, make up the “democratic opposition” to the established regime of Al-Assad.

Even the ultimate US establishment newspaper, The New York Times, has been forced to admit that the CIA has been pouring arms into the Syrian opposition. They reported, “C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers. The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.”11

The International Committee for the Red Cross now classifies the conflict as a civil war.12 Peter Wallensteen, a leading peace researcher at the University of Uppsala and the director of the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, stated that, “It’s increasingly an internationalized civil war, and as we know from previous history, the more internationalized, the longer the conflict will be…there is a civil war, but now so many weapons are coming from the outside, that there is actually an internationalized civil war.” 13

According to Mary Ellen O’Connell, a respected legal scholar and professor of law and international dispute resolution at the University of Notre Dame, “The International Committee of the Red Cross statement means that the Assad regime is facing an organized armed opposition engaging in military force, and it has the legal right to respond in kind. The Syrian military will have more authority to kill persons based on their being part of the armed opposition than when Assad was restricted to using force under peacetime rules.”14 The rebel opposition groups claim it means just the opposite.

While the US State Department makes pious pronouncements of their supporting “democracy” and demanding Al-Assad step down and recognize the dubious and factionalized opposition of the Syrian National Council, an exile group dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, Russia is working skillfully on the diplomatic front to weaken the Western march to war.

Putin’s shrewd diplomacy          

Now, no sooner did Vladimir Putin again take the office as Russia’s President on May 7 than he embarked on a complex series of diplomatic missions to defuse or hopefully derail Washington’s Syrian game plan. On July 16 Putin hosted a Moscow visit of Kofi Annan where he repeated Moscow’s unflinching support for the Annan Peace Plan. 15

Because of the considerable media distortions it’s useful to read the actual text of the six-point Annan plan:
    (1) commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy;
    (2) commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilise the country.
    To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres.
    As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism.
    Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;
    (3) ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level;
    (4) intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained, immediately begin organizing access to such locations and through appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for information, access or release regarding such persons;
    (5) ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;
    (6) respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.15
There is no demand in the Annan Plan for Bashar al-Assad to step down before any ceasefire, contrary to what Hillary Clinton repeats after insisting the US also backs the Annan Plan. The Annan Plan calls for a diplomatic solution. The US clearly does not want a diplomatic solution. It wants regime change and evidently widening war across the Shi’ite-Sunni divide of the Muslim world.

Moscow and Beijing just as clearly want to draw the line and prevent chaos spreading from Syria. On July 19, again Russia and China, both veto members at the UN Security Council blocked a new US-backed resolution on Syria they insisted was designed to open the door to a Libya-like military intervention into Syria. The resolution had been drafted by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, and would have opened the door for a Chapter 7 resolution of the UN Security Council on Syria. Chapter 7 allows the 15-member council to authorize actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.17 The Hague resolution demanded that the Syrian government in 10 days pull out all its heavy weapons from urban areas and return troops to barracks. Nothing was said about disarming the “Free Syrian Army.” Washington claimed it would only be interested in economic or diplomatic sanctions, not military. Of course. Hmmmm…

Putin has more than a little leverage to use with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. Erdogan was in Moscow just prior to the July 19 UN Security Council vote to discuss Syria with Putin.18  Turkey is the second-largest buyer of Russian natural gas, some 80% of its natural gas coming from Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom. 19 Turkey’s entire “energy hub” strategy of playing a key role in gas flows from Eurasia, the Middle east to Europe depends on gas from Russia and Iran. One year ago a $10 billion pipeline deal was signed between Iran, Iraq and Syria for a natural gas pipeline from Iran’s huge South Pars field to Iraq, Syria and on to Turkey, eventually connecting to Europe.20

Putin had also gone to Tel Aviv on June 21 to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.21 Russian influence inside Israel is not minor. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union some six million Russians, mostly Jews, have emigrated to Israel over the past two decades. Ultimately Israel cannot be overjoyed at the prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood-run Syrian opposition coming to power in neighboring Syria. While few details emerged of the content of the talks, it is clear that Putin delivered the message that a “destroyed, disoriented and broken up Syria would not help Israel. Syria has the second, most well-organized Muslim Brotherhood organization after Egypt,” according to former Indian Ambassador K. Gajendra Singh.22

Then on July 11, Putin and Lavrov invited Abdel Basset Sayda, the new head of the US-backed opposition organization, Syrian National Council, to Moscow for “talks.” Sayda, who is from the Kurdish Syrian minority and has lived twenty years in Swedish exile, is a curious figure as opposition spokesman, from the Kurd minority in Syria, a man with little or no active political experience, clearly chosen mainly to hide the dominant Muslim Brotherhood profile of the SNC. Russia reportedly made it clear to Sayda they would continue to block any attempts to oust Assad and that the opposition need seriously adhere to the Annan Plan and negotiate a settlement. Sayda for his part made clear no negotiations until Assad is gone, a stance that is feeding the bloodshed.23 

There are signs in all the bloodshed and escalation of violence that Putin reached some quiet deal as well with Obama to keep war off the table until Obama is past the November elections. Russia recently agreed to reopen supply lines for US military supplies in Afghanistan at the same time Washington orchestrated an “apology” for the recent killings of civilians in Pakistan with its drones.24

Veteran roving journalist Pepe Escobar recently summed up the situation in all its grim reality:
“Turkey will keep offering the logistical base for mercenaries coming from “liberated” Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon. The House of Saud will keep coming up with the cash to weaponize them. And Washington, London and Paris will keep fine-tuning the tactics in what remains the long, simmering foreplay for a NATO attack on Damascus. Even though the armed Syrian opposition does not control anything remotely significant inside Syria, expect the mercenaries reportedly weaponized by the House of Saud and Qatar to become even more ruthless. Expect the not-exactly-Free Syrian Army to keep mounting operations for months, if not years. A key point is whether enough supply lines will remain in place – if not from Jordan, certainly from Turkey and Lebanon.”24
Source: http://www.globalresearch.ca/putin-s-geopolitical-chess-game-with-washington-in-syria-and-eurasia/32019


The Importance of Being Russia

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It has been a long time since I was as acutely aware of Russia’s importance as during the recent conference on the Syrian crisis in Ankara. The conference participants, mostly delegates from Turkey, the Syrian opposition and several regional countries, said that everything depends on Russia, which alone can tip the scales. They said that if not for Russia’s veto in the UN Security Council and military assistance to Bashar Assad, the country would have a new regime and would be democratizing by now. They said it again and again, closing their ears to Russia’s arguments about other circumstances that may be more important and painful.

Representatives of the opposition and the majority of Turkish experts said, often quite convincingly, that the Syrian government could fall any day. However, belief in Assad’s imminent fall has diminished in the past two months. What is the reason for the relative stability of the Syrian regime, which has withstood the impact of the Arab Spring for over a year?

First, there is a large group of people in Syria who stand to lose from a revolution. According to Russian experts, only 15 to 20 percent of Syrians firmly support Assad but a third of the population, comprising of influential minorities, Christians (including Armenians), Kurds, Druze and Ismailis fear that any change would only worsen their lives and that the overthrow of the Alawis would bring Sunnis to power who would start persecuting them all. This is why the Syrian population is split in two, creating conditions for a protracted civil war and allowing the government to claim that they have popular support. The opposition claims that the minorities are gradually shifting towards it but there are no facts to prove this.

Second, the military balance is not in favor of the opposition; the fall of Homs was a major victory for Assad, changing the international view of events in Syria and quelling speculation about Assad’s imminent defeat.

Third, the regional context is favorable to Assad. The Libyan operation, which was hailed as a NATO success, has dampened arguments for military intervention. On the one hand, European countries, which bore the brunt of the conflict in Libya, have used a considerable part of their military potential. On the other hand, the rise of Islamic parties in the wake of the Arab Spring has increased Western doubts about actively supporting the opposition. Although the recent meeting of the Friends of Syria group of Western and Arab nations sought to bolster the opposition, the West is not eager to expedite the delivery of weapons.

Fourth, Gaddafi’s Libya had no friends because it had harmed neighboring and more distant countries too much, but Assad’s Syria can expect support from Iran, Russia and China and at least silent neutrality from neighboring countries ranging from Iraq to Jordan, which dislike the idea of an all-out war so close to home.

And lastly, after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that ultimately led to the invasion of Libya, Russia and China have refused to support any document if it leaves the window open even a crack for military intervention. They say that NATO and other participants in the Libyan operation took advantage of the resolution to overthrow Gaddafi.

Russia has never been criticized so sharply as in the case of Syria. For its support of the Syrian regime, Russia has been accused of complicity in mass murder and a desire to profit from arms deals. Less emotional people wonder why Russia is supporting a doomed regime instead of diversifying its ties and building bridges into the future. Yet Moscow continues to stand its ground, disregarding the possibility of its own isolation.

The game is far from over and Russia has not lost the latest round. Of course, business with Syria cannot be carried on as before because Assad will be pressured to step down, although the conditions of his departure may differ. Those who will replace him will not favor ties with Russia anyway, as the Libyan experience has shown. Russia played the key role in the overthrow of Gaddafi as its veto could have prevented the intervention and hence the revolution. And yet, the first thing the new authorities did is refuse to honor contracts with Russia.

Moscow is not trying to preserve its Syrian contracts but to reaffirm its status in international affairs. By resisting powerful psychological and diplomatic pressure, Russia has shown that although it has lost ground in the Middle East (Syria is its last close partner in the region), it is still a power whose opinion cannot be disregarded. Russian diplomats have clearly said that it will not allow intervention to be legalized through the UN Security Council. No country has so far risked acting without a UN mandate in Syria, even though the opposition is urging them on, as the Iraqi example is still fresh in their memory. As a result, the Arab League and the West have launched dialogue with Russia, which they condemned only the day before. Kofi Annan’s plan and the UN Security Council’s statement in its support were mostly brought about by Russia’s firm stance.

But Russia’s possibilities are not unlimited; it can hardly achieve much more. As for Annan’s plan, it should have been enacted a year or six months ago at the latest. The sides have likely reached the point of no return, as too much blood has been shed to hope for compromise. Besides, talks cannot be held with unconsolidated opposition groups.

Russia must decide what it will do if violence in Syria erupts with fresh force. Supporting the Syrian government may be logical but there is a limit, after which Russia should think about selling its critical vote in the Security Council to the highest bidder since the Syrian opposition and their allies put so much stock in it.

Source: http://indrus.in/articles/2012/04/06/the_importance_of_being_russia_15391.html

NATO plans campaign in Syria, tightens noose around Iran - Rogozin

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NATO is planning a military campaign against Syria to help overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad with a long-reaching goal of preparing a beachhead for an attack on Iran, Russia's envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said. The UN Security Council condemned on Wednesday ongoing violence in Syria and urged the country's authorities to stop using force against peaceful protesters, while saying the current situation in the country has not yet called for NATO interference.

"[This statement] means that the planning [of the military campaign] is well underway. It could be a logical conclusion of those military and propaganda operations, which have been carried out by certain Western countries against North Africa," Rogozin said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper published on Friday. The Russian diplomat pointed out at the fact that the alliance is aiming to interfere only with the regimes "whose views do not coincide with those of the West."

Rogozin agreed with the opinion expressed by some experts that Syria and later Yemen could be NATO's last steps on the way to launch an attack on Iran. "The noose around Iran is tightening. Military planning against Iran is underway. And we are certainly concerned about an escalation of a large-scale war in this huge region," Rogozin said. Having learned the Libyan lesson, Russia "will continue to oppose a forcible resolution of the situation in Syria," he said, adding that the consequences of a large-scale conflict in North Africa would be devastating for the whole world.

Source: http://en.rian.ru/world/20110805/165570384.html

Libya and Syria: The Neocon Plan to Attack Seven Countries in Five Years

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Clark’s revelation is nothing new, although it reminds us that the attack on Libya fits into a larger context and there are horrific conflicts to come if the globalists have their way. Following the election of Obama and a reshuffling of the same old deck in Congress in 2008, it was believed the bad old days of neocon wars were finally behind us. Obama said he would close down the wars and bring home the troops. Instead, he intensified the effort to spread chaos, mayhem and mass murder in the Middle East and South Asia, thus underscoring the fact there is absolutely no difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to creative destruction (it is telling that the neocon Michael Leeden has used the term – creative destruction is a Marxist concept).

Clark has talked about the neocon plan on several occasions. He said the following during a speech at the University of Alabama in October of 2006, recounting a conversation with a general at the Pentagon:
I said, “Are we still going to invade Iraq?” “Yes, Sir,” he said, “but it’s worse than that.” I said, “How do you mean?” He held up this piece of paper. He said, “I just got this memo today or yesterday from the office of the Secretary of Defense upstairs. It’s a… five-year plan. We’re going to take down seven countries in five years. We’re going to start with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, then Libya, Somalia, Sudan, we’re going to come back and get Iran in five years. I said, “Is that classified, that paper?” He said, “Yes Sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me, because I want to be able to talk about it.”
The neocons, of course, are merely one of a number of establishment factions, all of them reading from the same script. Obama’s attack on Libya and the impending attack on Syria under the ruse popularly known as the “Arab Spring” (pushed by elite NGOs and the CIA) is interchangeable with the Bush regime’s call to action against the Axis of Evil. The only difference between Democrat Obama and the (supposedly) Republican neocons (who have roots in Trotskyism) is that the neocons are decidedly Israeli-centric in their geopolitical stance.

The global elite do not care about Israel or any other nation-state, but are not above using the neocons – who are highly organized and motivated (despite propaganda depicting them as inept) – in their quest to destroy Arab and Muslim nationalism that directly threatens their drive for hegemonic rule (in particular, Sharia law with its restrictions on banking poses a threat to the banksters).

Syria is the next target followed by the big Kahuna, Iran. For the globalists, who are determined to wreck all nation-states and eradicate national sovereignty and borders, the fact this effort will precipitate the destruction of the “world’s policeman,” the United States, is an extra added bonus. Multiple wars in multiple and far-stretched “theaters” will ultimately bankrupt the United States, as Ron Paul and a handful of others have warned. Obama has made if perfectly clear that the U.S. will not leave Iraq and Afghanistan and plans to continue attacking Pakistan and failed states in Africa where the CIA cut-out al-Qaeda has appeared on cue. Wesley Clark’s warning is prescient, but nearly a decade too late. Clark is, at best, disingenuous because he himself a war criminal for the role he played in the slaughter of civilians in Yugoslavia.

Source: http://www.infowars.com/libya-and-syria-the-neocon-plan-to-attack-seven-countries-in-five-year

Former French Foreign Minister: The War against Syria was Planned Two years before “The Arab Spring”

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In an interview with the French TV station LCP, former French minister for Foreign Affairs Roland Dumas said:

‘’ I’m going to tell you something. I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria.

This was in Britain not in America. Britain was organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer minister for foreign affairs, if I would like to participate. Naturally, I refused, I said I’m French, that doesn’t interest me.’’ Dumas went on give the audience a quick lesson on the real reason for the war that has now claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

‘’This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned… in the region it is important to know that this Syrian regime has a very anti-Israeli stance. Consequently, everything that moves in the region- and I have this from the former Israeli prime minister who told me ‘we’ll try to get on with our neighbours but those who don’t agree with us will be destroyed. It’s a type of politics, a view of history, why not after all. But one should know about it.’’

Dumas is a retired French foreign minister who is obliged to use discretion when revealing secrets which could affect French foreign policy. That is why he made the statement ‘I am French, that doesn’t interest me’.  He could not reveal France’s role in the British plan as he would be exposing himself to prosecution for revealing state secrets.

There have been many disinformation agents in the British and French press, many of them well known ‘leftist’ war correspondents and commentators, who have tried to pretend that Israel secretly supports Assad.  Those who make such arguments are either stupid, ignorant or deliberate disinformation agents of NATO and Israel. Israel’s support for Al Qaeda militants in Syria has even been admitted by the mainstream press. For example, Germany’s Die Welt newspaper published a report on June 12th on Israel’s medical treatment of the Al Qaeda fighters.

Israel planned this war of annihilation years ago in accordance with the Yinon Plan, which advocates balkanization of all states that pose a threat to Israel. The Zionist entity is using Britain and France to goad the reluctant Obama administration into sending more American troops to their death in Syria on behalf of Tel Aviv.

Of all the aggressor states against Syria, Israel has been the quietest from the start. That is because Laurent Fabius, Francois Holland, William Hague and David Cameron are doing their bidding by attempting to drag Israel’s American Leviathan into another ruinous war so that Israel can get control of the Middle East’s energy reserves, eventually replacing the United States as the ruling state in the world. It has also been necessary for Tel Aviv to remain silent so as not to expose their role in the ‘revolutions’, given the fact that the Jihadist fanatics don’t realize they are fighting for Israel.

This is the ideology of Zionism which cares no more for Jews than it does for its perceived enemies.   The Jewish colony is determined to become a ruling state in the Middle East in the insane delusion that this will enable it to replace the United States as a global hegemon, once the US collapses fighting Israel’s wars.

Israeli Prime Minister once told American talk show host Bill Maher that the reason why Israel always wins short conflicts, while the United States gets bogged down in endless wars. ‘’ The secret is that we have America’’, he said.

But Israel is itself slowly collapsing. If one excludes the enslaved Palestinian population, the Jewish state still has the highest level of poverty in the developed world with more and more Jews choosing to leave the ‘promised’ land, a garrison state led by mad men, an anti-Semitic entity threatening to engulf the world in war and destruction. Israel cares no more about its own working class Jews than any other ethnic community.

In fact, if the Likudnik crooks running the Israeli colony get their way, working class Israelis will be among the first to pay as they are conscripted to fight terrorists created by their own government. With orthodox Jews protesting in the streets of New York against Israel and Haredi Jewish minority opposing Israel’s rampant militarism, Zionism is coming under increased attack from Jewish religious authorities and non-Zionist Jews both inside and outside of the occupied territories.

This is not the first time that Roland Dumas has spoken out against wars of aggression waged by successive French regimes. In 2011 he revealed that he had been asked by the United States when he was foreign minister in the Mitterrand administration to organize the bombing of Libya. On that occasion the French refused to cooperate.  Dumas, a lawyer by profession, offered to defend Colonel Gaddafi, at the International Criminal Court in the event of his arrest by Nato.

Dumas was also vocal in condemning France’s brutal neo-colonial bombing of the Ivory Coast earlier in 2011, were death squads and terrorists similar to those later deployed in Libya and Syria were unleashed upon the Ivoirian population in order to install a IMF puppet dictator Alassane Quattara in power. Gbagbo was described as one of the greatest African leaders of the past 20 years by Jean Ziegler, sociologist and former member of the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council.

Gbagbo had plans to nationalize banks and wrest control of the country’s currency from the colonial finance institutions in Paris. He also wanted to roll back many of the worst effects of IMF restructuring by nationalizing industries and creating a functioning, universal free health service. All of this threatened the interests of French corporations in the former French colony. So, the Parisian oligarchy went to work to find a suitable replacement as caretaker of their Ivoirian colony.

They sent in armed terrorist gangs, or ‘rebel’s in the doublespeak of imperialism, who murdered all before them while the French media blamed president Gbagbo for the violence that ensued. Gbagbo and Gaddafi had opposed Africom, the Pentagon’s plan to recolonize Africa. That was another reason for the  2011 bombing of their two African countries.

The formula is always the same. Imperialism backs ‘rebels’, whenever its interests are threatened by regimes that love their country more than foreign corporations.  One should not forgot that during the Spanish Civil War of 1936, General Franco and his cronies were also ‘rebels’ and they, like their counterparts in Libya in 2011, were bombed to power by foreign powers, replacing a progressive, republican administration with fascism.

There are pro-Israeli fanatics in France who have used the analogy of the Spanish Civil War as justification for intervention in Libya and Syria. The pseudo-philosopher Henry Bernard Levy is one of them.  Of course, the ignoramus Levy doesn’t realize that the reason France, England and the USA did not officially intervene in the Spanish Civil War is because they were covertly helping the ‘rebels’ from the start. They enabled arms shipments to the Francoist ‘rebels’ while preventing arms deliveries to the Spanish government, who, like Syria today, were helped by Moscow. Anyone who has studied the Spanish Civil War knows that all the imperialist countries wanted Franco as a bulwark against communism.

There is nothing imperialism loves more than a rebel without a cause. What imperialism hates, however, are revolutionaries. That is why the ‘rebels’ which imperialism sends into other countries to colonize them on behalf of foreign banks and corporations, have to be marketed as ‘revolutionaries’ in order to assure the support of the Monty Python brigade of petty-bourgeois, ‘ leftist’ dupes such as Democracy Now! and their ilk.

Dumas is not the only top French official to denounce the New World Order.  Former French ambassador to Syria Michel Raimbaud wrote a book in 2012  entitled ‘Le Soudan dans tous les états’, where he revealed how Israel planned and instigated a civil war in South Sudan in order to balkanize a country led by a pro-Palestinian government. He also exposed the pro-Israeli media groups and ‘human rights’ NGOS who created the ‘humanitarian’ narrative calling for military intervention by the United States in the conflict.

The subject was covered extensively by African investigative journalist Charles Onana in his 2009 book, Al-Bashir & Darfour LA CONTRE ENQUÊTE.

There are many more retired French officials who are speaking out about the ruinous policies of this French government, including the former head of French domestic intelligence Yves Bonnet. There have also been reports of dissent in the French armed forces and intelligence apparatus.

After the assassination of Colonel Gaddafi in October 2011, the former French ambassador to Libya Christian Graeff told French radio station France Culture that it was responsible for the diffusion of lies and war propaganda on behalf of Nato throughout the war.  Graeff also warned the broadcasters that such disinformation could only work on the minds of serfs but not in a country of free minds.

The power of the Israeli lobby in France is a subject rarely discussed in polite circles. In France there is a law against questioning or denial of the holocaust. However, denial of the Korean holocaust, Guatemalan holocaust, Palestinian holocaust, Indonesian holocaust and the dozens of other US/Israeli supported genocides is not only perfectly legal but is the respectable norm.

The same lobby which introduced the Loi Gayssot in 1990, effectively ending freedom of expression in France, would also like to ban any independent investigations of genocides whose narratives they have written, such as the Rwanda genocide, where Israel played a key role in supporting the ‘rebels’ led by Paul Kagame, who invaded Rwanda from Uganda from 1991 to 1994, leading to the genocide of both Tutus and Tutsis. Many serious scholars have written about the Rwandan genocide, which the Israel lobby repeatedly uses as a case study to justify ‘humanitarian’ intervention by Western powers.  The Zionist thought police would like to see such authors prosecuted for ‘negating’ imperialism’s disgusting lies on African conflicts.

Now, the Israeli Lobby is forcing the (their) French government to prosecute twitter messages which the lobby deems ‘anti-Semitic’. This is one further step towards the creation of a totalitarian state where any criticism of imperialism, foreign wars, racism, oppression, perhaps eventually capitalism itself could fall under the rubric of ‘anti-Semitism’.

These people are sick, and those who cow down to them are sicker. Perhaps the etymology of sickness, a word cognate with the German Sicherheit (security) according to dictionary.com, is not a coincidence. For what is particularly sick about our society is the cult of security,  endless surveillance, ubiquitous cameras, the cult of the all seeing eye, the prurient gaze as part of the incessant discourse on terrorism by those who specialize in the training of the very terrorists they claim to be protecting us from.  Whether or not the words security and sickness are linguistically related, they are certainly cognate in a philosophical sense.

Roland Dumas and others like him should be highly commended for having to guts to say what so many others are too morally corrupt, too weak and cowardly to admit. As the French government and its media agencies drum up hysteria for war on Syria, Roland Dumas, now in the twilight of his years, is warning people of the consequences of not understanding where Israel is leading  the world. Will enough people heed the warning.

Russia Is ‘Defending the Entire World From Fascism,’ Is Ready to Use Military Power to Defend Iran, Syria


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Former member of Russian Joint Chiefs of Staff Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov appeared on Russia Today TV to boldly announce that Russia is “defending the entire world from Fascism” — waged, of course, by the U.S. and Israel — and that his country is ready to use military force to defend Iran and Syria from its aggressors. He added that an attack on Syria or Iran would be an indirect attack on Russia. The retired colonel also compared U.S. presence in Libya to Hitler and his armies’ aggression against Poland and later, Russia. The Following are excerpts from an interview with Ivashov on RT February 1, 2012. Translations provided by the ever-vigilant staff at MEMRI:

Interviewer: “Dr. Leonid, do you think that these preparations and very large maneuvers, which will soon be conducted by Russia, are meant as preparation for war, or rather, a military strike against Iran?” […]

Leonid Ivashov: “These maneuvers and training will demonstrate Russia’s readiness to use military power to defend its national interests and to bolster its political position. The maneuvers show that Russia does not want any military operations to be waged against Iran or Syria. I assume that the people in the West and in Israel who design the schemes for a large geopolitical operation in the greater Middle East region draw a direct connection between the situation in Syria and in Iran. Indeed, these two countries are allies, and both are considered guaranteed partners of Russia. The only question, therefore, is who they will try to destroy first as a stable country: Syria or Iran. […]

“A strike against Syria or Iran is an indirect strike against Russia and its interests. Russia would lose important positions and allies in the Arab world. Therefore, by defending Syria, Russia is defending its own interests. “In addition, Russia is thus defending the entire world from Fascism. Everybody should acknowledge that Fascism is making strides on our planet. What they did in Libya is nearly identical to what Hitler and his armies did against Poland and then Russia. Today, therefore, Russia is defending the entire world from Fascism.”

Source: http://blog.alexanderhiggins.com/2012/02/16/passes-resolution-calling-syria-regime-change-russia-threatens-military-force-83901/

Reset Regret: Russian Global Strategy Undermines American Interests

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According to the Obama Administration, the U.S. is not competing with Russia for global influence. Unfortunately, Moscow has not received this memo. Instead, Russia attempts to extend its influence to constrain U.S. policy. Russian leaders like Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov habitually invoke a “polycentric” or multipolar model of the world, with Russia working with her partners toward a future where U.S. power is so diminished that it cannot act without Moscow’s permission.

Moscow has continuously promoted in word and deed the idea that there is or should be a multipolar world order that constrains U.S. foreign policies. Moscow’s concept of multipolarity entails an uncontested sphere of Russian influence in the CIS and with key actors in critically important regions: Europe, East Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Anti-American Partnerships

Moscow has formed partnerships with China, Iran, and Venezuela to prevent the U.S. from consolidating a regional order under its auspices. Like the U.S.S.R, its predecessor and inspiration, today’s Russia pursues key allies in the Middle East and Latin America, such as Syria, Iran, and Venezuela, with whom it can jointly frustrate American and Western efforts to consolidate a peaceful regional order. Such partners may resist U.S. policies and actively counter them to distract the U.S., force the U.S. to accommodate Russian interests, or compel an American retreat.

In East Asia, Moscow joins China to advocate “a new Asian security order” based on “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, and cooperation.”[1] According to the two great powers, all states would respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, not criticize their domestic politics, and support each other on outstanding territorial issues.

To translate: Beijing, Moscow, and their allies will respect Russia’s claims to the Kurile Islands (the Northern Territories) and Georgian territories of Abkhazia/South Ossetia, as well as China’s claims to Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Tibet; China’s territorial claims against Japan regarding the Senkaku Islands; and possibly even China’s claims on the Spratly Islands.

Both countries also support non-alliance principles, equal and transparent security frameworks, and equal and indivisible security. Russia also seeks India’s assent to this formulation and covertly solicits Japan’s endorsement—even as it humiliates Japan over the Kurile Islands, a sure sign of Moscow’s endemic desire to play both sides against the middle and its fundamentally anti-liberal and anti-American orientation. The proposal’s vagueness benefits only Russia and China and squarely denounces the U.S. alliance system in Asia. Ultimately, Russia’s concept of Asian, if not global, multipolarity is self-serving.

Moreover, the joint proposal resembles Russia’s equally self-serving, anti-American, and Anti-NATO proposal for a European Security treaty of 2009–2010. Moscow even applies the same rhetoric to this Asian security proposal that is present in its European Security Treaty draft. At the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue conference in Singapore in 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said:
Russian–Chinese proposals are aimed at helping the countries of the region to realize that security is indivisible and at abandoning attempts to strengthen one’s security at the expense of others. New regional security architecture should be based on the universal principles of international law, non‑aligned approaches, confidence and openness, with due regard to the diversity of the APR and an emerging polycentric balance of forces.[2]
The Unsavory Clients: Tehran, Damascus, Caracas

In addition to diplomatic support for China, Russia has sold Iran, Syria, and Venezuela large amounts of weapons. Despite the laudable cancellation of the S-300 air defense missiles sale to Iran, Moscow still preserves the option of selling other weapons to Tehran. It signed major energy deals with Tehran in 2010 and this summer has advocated easing sanctions on Iran provided it cooperates with the International Atomic Energy Agency—an institution that has long since demonstrated how easily Iran can deceive it concerning its nuclear program.

Moscow clearly wants to retain ties to Iran, which it regards as the rising great power in the Gulf and Middle East and with whom it wants to collaborate against any Western effort to consolidate a peaceful order. Moscow has sold weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Iran and Syria, and these weapons continue to migrate to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Russia defends Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime despite its bloody repression of its own citizens. This is, among other reasons, because Russia has signed an agreement with Syria to return Soviet naval bases in Latakiye and Tartus to Russian control. Therefore, Russia obstructs U.N. resolutions of censure against Syria. French diplomats who negotiated with Russia believe that Moscow most fears the loss of another ally in the Middle East.

Moscow has also sold billions in weapons to Hugo Chávez’s regime in Venezuela, including fighter jets, tanks, and whole Kalashnikov assault rifle factories. Chávez used his increasing military power to aid the terrorist group FARC directly and run narcotics from West Africa and Latin America into Central and North America.

The notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who now awaits trial in a New York federal court, was caught offering to sell weapons to the FARC. Given Bout’s longstanding connections to senior officials of the Russian government, Moscow moved heaven and earth to prevent his extradition from Thailand, where he was arrested, to the U.S. It is quite likely that Bout’s weapons would have been earmarked for the FARC and/or similar narco-terrorists throughout Latin America.

Likewise, Russia has been China’s largest source of foreign weapons since 1990, even though those sales have declined due to Russian fears about Chinese intentions and anger over Chinese piracy and subsequent sale of weapons in competition with Russia in third-party markets. Nevertheless, arms sales and advanced technology transfers from Russia to China still occur.

What Should the U.S. Do?

The optics of Moscow’s ties to anti-American states, which build power to challenge the U.S. regionally and support and control extensive terrorist and intelligence networks, clash dramatically with the optics of the Obama Administration’s “reset.” Tehran, Damascus, and Caracas have an interest in destabilizing their regions and in acquiring advanced conventional—and likely nuclear—weapons. Such proliferation makes for a most problematic multipolarity, which piles up obstacles to U.S. interests and security.

Despite the “reset,” it is in U.S. interests to find out to what degree Moscow orchestrates or participates in joint activities among these problematic states, including arms sales from Iran and Syria to Hamas and Hezbollah. Moscow surely knows of the expansion of the Iranian intelligence, military, economic, and political infrastructure in Iraq, as well as Iran’s ties to Venezuela and those two states’ collaboration in uranium prospecting.

U.S. policymakers should reassess the “reset” and develop regional strategies that counter Russia’s (and China’s) agendas. Such policies should increase pressure on Iran, the most anti-American regional power, and cause the Assad regime in Syria and the Chávez government in Venezuela to stop supporting terrorism.

The Trying Times Ahead

A “reset” policy that ignores Russia’s global efforts to undermine the U.S. recalls the ill-fated détente of the 1970s. It ran aground on Russian expansionism and wars in the Third World, especially Afghanistan. Despite profound changes since then, Russia’s basic anti-American strategic orientation, “reset” rhetoric aside, seems to be the same. In the trying times ahead, when it comes to global challenges, the U.S. should relearn and practice international balance-of-power politics.

Russian warships enter Mediterranean to form permanent task force
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Warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet have entered the Mediterranean for the first time in decades. Russia’s Navy Chief says the task force may be reinforced with nuclear submarines, as the country starts building up a permanent fleet in the region.

“The task force has successfully passed through the Suez Channel and entered the Mediterranean. It is the first time in decades that Pacific Fleet warships enter this region,” the Pacific Fleet spokesman, Capt. First Rank Roman Martov told RIA.

The vessels are now heading to Cyprus and will make a port call in the city of Limassol, he added. The group includes destroyer “Admiral Panteleyev,” two amphibious warfare ships “Peresvet” and “Admiral Nevelskoi,” as well as a tanker and a tugboat. The ships left the Far-Eastern port city of Vladivostok on March 19 to join Russia’s Mediterranean task force, which currently consists of vessels from Northern, Baltic, and the Black Sea Fleets, including a large anti-submarine ship, a frigate and a Ropucha-II Class landing ship. Russian Navy Commander Adm. Viktor Chirkov on Sunday announced plans for the Mediterranean task force and said that it may “possibly” be enlarged to include nuclear submarines.

“Overall, already from this year, we plan to have 5-6 warships and support vessels [in the Mediterranean Sea], which will be replaced on a rotating basis from each of the fleets – the Black Sea, Baltic, Northern and, in some cases, even the Pacific Fleet. Depending on the scope of assignments and their complexity, the number of warships in the task force may be increased,” Chirkov said, as quoted by RIA.

Russian submarines may be deployed in the region “in perspective,” the Navy Commander said, reminding that both nuclear and diesel submarines were present in the Soviet Union’s 5th Mediterranean Squadron.

“Everything will depend on the situation,” Chirkov said, also leaving the door open for missions in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The task force will be “comprehensively trained” to meet situations that may arise in these regions too, he said.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced setting up a naval task force in the Mediterranean in April, while the country’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has said a permanent naval task force was needed to defend Russia’s interests in the region. The permanent fleet’s headquarters will be set up in the summer of 2013, although their actual location is yet to be announced.

The Mediterranean has recently become a hotspot of military muscle flexing as global powers seemingly vie for influence. NATO has been staging major naval war games involving several countries, last October holding an exercise code-named Noble Mariner 12. Russia held its largest naval exercises in the region this January, with drills spanning both the Black and Mediterranean Seas. The media quickly linked both the NATO and Russian war games to the situation in Syria.

Another recent naval display, seen as provocative by Israel, was the deployment of the Iranian Navy’s 24th fleet to patrol the Mediterranean and convey a “message of peace.” Since then, Israel has acquired its fifth Dolphin-class submarine allegedly capable of launching cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.

China has also been increasing its involvement in the area, with the country’s warships sailing through the Suez Canal, and several key ports of the region becoming partially China-owned. Major naval groups serving in the Mediterranean Sea include NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, French Naval Action Force, and the US Navy 6th Fleet. The only Russian naval installation in the region has for decades been the maintenance facility in the Syrian city of Tartus.

Source: http://rt.com/news/russian-pacific-fleet-mediterranean-374/

Russia Sends More Advanced Missiles to Aid Assad in Syria

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Russia has sent advanced antiship cruise missiles to Syria, a move that illustrates the depth of its support for the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, American officials said Thursday.

Russia has previously provided a version of the missiles, called Yakhonts, to Syria. But those delivered recently are outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them more effective, according to American officials who are familiar with classified intelligence reports and would only discuss the shipment on the basis of anonymity.

Unlike Scud and other longer-range surface-to-surface missiles that the Assad government has used against opposition forces, the Yakhont antiship missile system provides the Syrian military a formidable weapon to counter any effort by international forces to reinforce Syrian opposition fighters by imposing a naval embargo, establishing a no-fly zone or carrying out limited airstrikes.

“It enables the regime to deter foreign forces looking to supply the opposition from the sea, or from undertaking a more active role if a no-fly zone or shipping embargo were to be declared at some point,” said Nick Brown, editor in chief of IHS Jane’s International Defense Review. “It’s a real ship killer.”

Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former senior American intelligence official, said Syria’s strengthened arsenal would “tend to push Western or allied naval activity further off the coast” and was also “a signal of the Russian commitment to the Syrian government.”

The disclosure of the delivery comes as Russia and the United States are planning to convene an international conference that is aimed at ending the brutal conflict in Syria, which has killed more than 70,000. That conference is expected to be held in early June and to include representatives of the Assad government and the Syrian opposition.

Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly said that it is the United States’ hope to change Mr. Assad’s “calculations” about his ability to hold on to power so that he will allow negotiations for a political solution to the conflict. Mr. Kerry indicated that he had raised the issue of Russian arms deliveries to Syria during his recent visit to Moscow, but declined to provide details.

“I think we’ve made it crystal clear we would prefer that Russia was not supplying assistance,” he said. “That hasn’t changed.”

American officials have been concerned that the flow of Russian and Iranian arms to Syria will buttress Mr. Assad’s apparent belief that he can prevail militarily.

“This weapons transfer is obviously disappointing and will set back efforts to promote the political transition that is in the best interests of the Syrian people and the region,” Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement on Thursday night. “There is now greater urgency for the U.S. to step up assistance to the moderate opposition forces who can lead Syria after Assad.”

Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the committee chairman, added in a statement, “Russia is offering cover to a despotic ruler and defending a bankrupt regime.” Syria ordered the coastal defense version of the Yakhont system from Russia in 2007 and received the first batteries in early 2011, according to Jane’s. The initial order covered 72 missiles, 36 launcher vehicles, and support equipment, and the systems have been displayed in the country.

The batteries are mobile, which makes them more difficult to attack. Each consists of missiles, a three-missile launcher and a command-and-control vehicle. The missiles are about 22 feet long, carry either a high-explosive or armor-piercing warhead, and have a range of about 180 miles, according to Jane’s. They can be steered to a target’s general location by longer-range radars, but each missile has its own radar to help evade a ship’s defenses and home in as it approaches its target.

Two senior American officials said that the most recent shipment contained missiles with a more advanced guidance system than earlier shipments. Russia has longstanding interests in Syria, including a naval base at the Mediterranean port of Tartus.

As the Syria crisis has escalated, Russia has gradually augmented its naval presence in the region. In January, more than two dozen Russian warships sailed to the Black and Mediterranean Seas to take part in what the Defense Ministry said was to be the country’s largest naval exercise in decades, testing the ships’ ability to deploy outside Russian waters.

A month later, after the Black Sea exercises ended, the Russian Defense Ministry news agency said that four large landing vessels were on their way to operations off the coast of Syria. “Based on the results of the navy exercises in the Black and Mediterranean seas,” the ministry said at the time, “the ministry leadership has taken a decision to continue combat duty by Russian warships in the Mediterranean.”

Russia’s diplomatic support of Syria has also bolstered the Assad government. At the United Nations, the Russians recently blocked proposals that the Security Council mount a fact-finding trip to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to investigate the burgeoning flood of refugees, according to Western diplomats. Jordan had sought the United Nations visit to make the point that the refugee situation was a threat to stability in the region, but Russia said that the trip was beyond the mandate of the Security Council, diplomats said.

When allegations that the Assad government had used chemical weapons surfaced, Russia also backed the Syrian government’s refusal to allow the United Nations to carry out a wide-ranging investigation inside Syria — which Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said was an attempt to “politicize the issue” and impose the “Iraqi scenario” on Syria.

Russian officials have repeatedly said that in selling arms to Syria, they are merely fulfilling old contracts. But some American officials worry that the deliveries are intended to limit the United States’ options should it choose to intervene to help the rebels.

Russia, for example, previously shipped SA-17 surface-to-air missiles to Syria. Israel carried out an airstrike against trucks that were transporting the weapons near Damascus in January. Israel has not officially acknowledged the raid but has said it is prepared to intervene militarily to prevent any “game changing” weapons from being shipped to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group.

More recently, Israeli and American officials have urged Russia not to proceed with the sale of advanced S-300 air defense weapons. The Kremlin has yielded to American entreaties not to provide S-300s to Iran. But the denial of that sale, analysts say, has increased the pressure within Russia’s military establishment to proceed with the delivery to Syria.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/world/middleeast/russia-provides-syria-with-advanced-missiles.html?_r=0

Assad Ally Bolsters Warships in Region; U.S. Sees Warning
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Russia has sent a dozen or more warships to patrol waters near its naval base in Syria, a buildup that U.S. and European officials see as a newly aggressive stance meant partly to warn the West and Israel not to intervene in Syria's bloody civil war.

Russia's expanded presence in the eastern Mediterranean, which began attracting U.S. officials' notice three months ago, represents one of its largest sustained naval deployments since the Cold War. While Western officials say they don't fear an impending conflict with Russia's aged fleet, the presence adds a new source of potential danger for miscalculation in an increasingly combustible region.

"It is a show of force. It's muscle flexing," a senior U.S. defense official said of the Russian deployments. "It is about demonstrating their commitment to their interests."

The buildup is seen as Moscow's way of trying to strengthen its hand in any talks over Syria's future and buttress its influence in the Middle East. It also provides options for evacuating tens of thousands of Russians still in Syria.

The deployments come at a time of heightened tensions. U.S. officials said Thursday that another round of Israeli airstrikes could target a new transfer of advanced missiles, anti-ship weapons known as Yakhont missiles, in the near future. Israeli and Western intelligence services believe the missiles, which have been sold by Russia to Syria in recent years, could be transferred to the militant Hezbollah group within days. Russia has strongly protested previous Israeli strikes in Syria.

Yakhont missiles are an offensive system. Moscow has told Western diplomats it will supply only defensive weaponry to the Syrian regime. But U.S. and Israeli officials have long been worried about Syria's existing stocks of the weapon. If transferred to Hezbollah or other militant groups, they could provide a serious threat to both Israeli and U.S. warships in the region.

Russian Navy and foreign ministry officials didn't respond to requests for comment about the deployments of the warships. Russia supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the U.S. has called for his removal. Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled this week that he is pushing ahead with the sale of an advanced air-defense system to Syria, according to U.S. intelligence reports, over Israeli and U.S. objections.

Hezbollah and its chief sponsor, Iran, also have rallied around Mr. Assad, sharing Russia's interest in keeping the regime in place. Recent Israeli airstrikes inside Syria have targeted missiles believed to be bound from Tehran to Hezbollah, Western intelligence officials have alleged.

Moscow and Washington have worked publicly in recent days to assemble an international conference involving Damascus. But expectations are low that the meeting could lead to a political transition, as tensions have heightened around the region, and with the U.S. and Russia backing opposing camps. Amid the strategic turmoil, U.S. and European defense officials say Russia appears to be trying to project power to deter outside intervention in Syria, which it sees as its foothold in the Middle East.

U.S. and European officials believe Mr. Putin wants to prevent the West from contemplating a Libya-style military operation inside Syria. President Barack Obama doesn't want to intervene militarily, but he has said the calculation could be changed by suspected use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad's forces. Likewise, the Pentagon has stepped up military contingency planning in the event of spillover of fighting into neighboring Turkey and Jordan, both close U.S. allies.

Moscow's deployments appeared designed to show that Russia intends to keep Tartus, its only remaining military outpost outside the former Soviet Union, senior U.S. officials said. Though spare by Western military standards—it consists of a pair of piers staffed by about 50 people, according to Russian data—the base provides a toehold in the region that has grown in strategic and symbolic importance for Moscow.

"It's not really a base," said Andrei Frolov, an analyst at CAST, a Moscow military think tank. "It's more like a service station" that can do limited resupply and very modest repairs.

U.S. officials say, however, that Russia has drawn up plans to expand the base, which it negotiated with Mr. Assad. Washington's interest in the base has likewise grown—not because the U.S. sees it as a threat, but because U.S. officials believe that by assuring Russia that the base will remain under Moscow's control in a post-Assad Syria, the U.S. has a better chance of convincing Mr. Putin to break with Mr. Assad. Mr. Obama held out some hope Thursday that the coming conference with Russia would help the major powers reach a consensus on how to end the bloodshed in Syria.

"There's no magic formula for dealing with an extraordinarily violent and difficult situation like Syria's," Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Washington with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "I do think that the prospect of talks in Geneva involving the Russians…may yield results."

Moscow's diplomacy notwithstanding, U.S. officials believe that in addition to the naval deployments, Russia is moving more quickly than previously thought to deliver S-300 surface-to-air defense systems to Syria. U.S. officials say the S-300 system, which is capable of shooting down guided missiles and could make it more risky for any warplanes to enter Syrian airspace, could leave Russia for the port of Tartus by the end of May.

Russia's delivery of such missiles could create a new dilemma for Israel, which has carried out what Western intelligence officials say are at least three airstrikes inside Syria in recent months against suspected weapons shipments to Hezbollah. Israel has yet to target Syrian forces directly, seeking to avoid direct conflict with Mr. Assad, say U.S. and Israeli officials.

Russian officials first announced the navy was deploying ships to the eastern Mediterranean near Syria starting in late 2012, but few details about the deployments have been made public.

In January, the Russian navy used these and other ships to conduct what it billed as some of the largest exercises in recent years in the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea for a force that has had relatively low international presence since the Cold War. State media reported that as many as 21 ships and three submarines were involved, as well as planes and other forces.

Before the start of the Syrian civil war, Russian ships stopped at the port only irregularly. But in the last three months, 10 to 15 Russian ships have been near the Syrian port at any one time, U.S. and European officials say. They say Russia currently has 11 ships in the eastern Mediterranean, organized into three task forces, that include destroyers, frigates, support vessels and intelligence-collecting ships. Another three-ship group of amphibious vessels is headed to the region. But U.S. officials said they expect that group to replace one of the groups currently in the region.

"You have more and more warships" concentrated between Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey, a senior European defense official said, adding that Russia is protecting its sphere of influence in the Middle East and "staking its claim" to Tartus.

Many of the Russian ships in the eastern Mediterranean have stopped in Syria, conducted exercises, port visits or training in the area, and then moved on to the Gulf of Aden to conduct counterpiracy missions, U.S. and European officials said. Others in the aging fleet have returned to Black Sea ports for repairs and resupply in recent weeks, Russian state media reported.

The stops in Syria, according to a U.S. official, signal that Russia wants to show it remains a naval power, even though its strength is diminished from the Soviet era and no longer matches Western capabilities. "They are stretching their legs," the official said. "They are very much interested in letting people know they are a blue-water navy."

The Soviets had ships in the Mediterranean during the Cold War whose mission was to counter the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet. The Russians ended that mission in 1992. But in the last few months, the Russian navy has talked about reviving a similar mission to signal Russia's influence in the region.

For now, senior U.S. officials said the Russian buildup "is not seen as threatening" to the U.S. Navy, which has two destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean and an aircraft carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf. "Nobody is forecasting the battle of Midway in the eastern Med," the senior defense official said.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323398204578487333332405720.html

Russian Navy plans to reestablish Mediterranean presence

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The Russian Navy is planning to reinstate in the Mediterranean the squadron it dissolved 20 years ago. Its presence should become a stabilizing factor for the region. “We are planning to assign five or six vessels and support ships to the formation from this year. They will rotate from each of our fleets in the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Northern Sea, and in some cases even the Pacific. Depending on the scope and complexity of our missions, the number of vessels in the formation could increase," said Commander-in-chief, Admiral Viktor Chirkov to RIA Novosti. Chirkov also told the news source that the squadron could look forward to submarines.

“It’s possible – in the future. They used to be deployed there at the time of the Fifth Squadron. There were nuclear- and diesel-powered submarines there. Everything will depend on how the situation develops."

According to the Admiral, the Navy Command is also considering including Mistral-class helicopter carriers as staff vessels for the squadron.

A symbol of the rebirth of Russia’s might

A Russian squadron in the Mediterranean is a symbol of the rebirth of Russia’s military might, according to Andrei Frolov, Editor-in-Chief of Eksport Vooruzheny (Arms Export) magazine. “Creating such a formation makes sense because its vessels could be used in case of a crisis in the region and also as a launch pad for sending ships further afield – to Somalia and other parts of Africa. Our sailors are familiar with Tartus, which has the necessary infrastructure for vessels to fuel up and restock on water while the crew rests," Frolov told Kommersant.

Vladimir Batyuk, a military expert with the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, believes that the idea of establishing the squadron could only be viable if the situation in Syria, its intended home base, becomes stable. Batyk shared that he believes "a permanent strengthening of the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean will be perceived with understanding. An overwhelming majority will treat the Russian Navy’s presence with understanding, because it will stabilize the military and political situation there. Russia maintains constructive and even friendly relations with some of those countries."

On the other hand, Irina Melkumyan, a professor at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, believes that the appearance of a Russian squadron in the Mediterranean could cause anxiety in some of the region’s countries.

“I think this is probably ill-conceived. I believe Russia should not become the object of criticism from the region’s countries once again, because Russia’s position is known to diverge from those of the Arab League, Turkey and, of course, Israel. Most Middle Eastern countries have a different position, and right now such a step by Russia will only worsen the situation and weaken Russia’s position in the region,” she said.

Source: http://rbth.ru/international/2013/05/15/russian_navy_plans_to_reestablish_mediterranean_presence_25999.html

Are America and Russia Set for a Showdown in Syria?

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A showdown between Russian and American forces has been talked about during every confrontation between Russian and American interests. And the closest we came to it was in Yugoslavia at Pristina Airport where a demented Wesley Clark did his best to start WW3, before being relived of duty prematurely by Clinton. But despite all the blustering from both sides, Russia was unable to save Yugoslavia. Similarly the United States was unable to save Georgia, which is back in the grip of the Russian bear.

Russia has relied less on force, aside from Georgia, than on subversion through its network of agents and on being the alternative to the United States. That was why Russia could afford to lose Saddam knowing that whoever replaced him would eventually come calling. And that is what happened as Iraq’s Maliki has turned to Russia for weapons and support as a member of the Shiite axis.

Syria is important to Russia, especially since Putin has bet big on the Shiite axis of Iran, Syria and Iraq, because it’s the last remaining Arab Socialist power which has old ties with Moscow dating back to the Soviet era. It also has a large Russian emigre population, particularly of women who married Syrian men. But Russia can afford to lose Syria.

The Cold War is over and China is on the way up, but the global map is still divided in somewhat similar ways. You’re either dealing with the United States or looking for alternatives. And Russia is the big alternative. If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Syria, they will want American weapons, but sooner or later they’ll also want Russian weapons because they come with fewer restrictions which comes in handy when using them against the United States or American allies. All that is important to keep in mind when reading stories like these about the gathering storm clouds of war.
Russia has concentrated five landing ships in the eastern Mediterranean in a show of force  meant to deter Western nations from intervening militarily in Syria, The Sunday Times quoted a Russian diplomat as saying. According to the report, the ships are carrying military vehicles and hundreds of Russian marines, and are being accompanied by combat vessels. While officially Russia has claimed the ships have been deployed to partake in an exercise to “improve the management, maintenance and testing of the interaction of naval forces,” the Times quoted the diplomat as saying the marines were meant to deter the West from deploying ground forces in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
No doubt Russia does not mind doing a little extra intimidation. But it’s even more likely that any such noises are an empty bluff.
However, a Russian intelligence source was quoted on Sunday as saying that the presence of over 300 marines on the ships was meant as a deterrent to keep countries hostile to the Bashar Assad regime — a key ally of the Kremlin — from landing special forces in the country.
300 Russian Marines aren’t likely to do much to stop even the Turkish and Qatari special forces operating with Sunni terrorists in Syria. It’s even less likely that Russia would try to use them against the British and French special forces, or some of the CIA sneakers on the ground, who are probably already in Syria. Even the USSR would have hesitated at that. Still in 1967, the Soviet Union apparently contemplated an invasion of the Israeli city of Haifa during the Six Day War using its shipboard marines.
The British newspaper on Sunday quoted an Israeli source who said that it was conceivable that a Russian ground force would step in “to defend the Alawite corridor stretched between the Lebanese border in the south and the Turkish border in the north.”
Again that would take a sizable force for a messy fight and a significant long term investment, which it is doubtful that Russia is interested in making. If the Alawites lose Syria, then Russia may be willing to send them some military supplies and use them for propaganda purposes, but any kind of Russian military intervention is unrealistic. The USSR was at least somewhat motivated to protect politically sympathetic states. Russia is no longer interested in a world revolution. It knows that 10 years down the road, it will have a deal with the new Syria.

Source: http://frontpagemag.com/2013/dgreenfield/are-america-and-russia-set-for-a-showdown-in-syria/

The US Is Waging An All-Out Proxy War With Russia In Syria

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Let's call it what it is: a proxy war. Ben Brumfield of CNN reported that U.S. troops arrived in Turkey today to man Patriot missile systems. The systems themselves are officially NATO property, but the people with the finger on the trigger are decidedly American. From Brumfield's report:

In response [to Assad launching Scud-B missiles on Allepo], the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands deployed Patriot air defense missiles to the border region to intercept any Syrian ballistic missiles.

Just across the border, manning similar systems, Russian military officers "pose a challenge" to U.S. intervention, according to the Guardian. It's more than a "challenge," it means that if Assad drops chems, and the U.S. launches an assault, America will see Russia on the battlefield. Though Russia denies sending troops and resources to Syria (actually, they called the idea "nonsense" and said their Navy ships were rescuing Russian nationals), the country has a long history of arms shipments to Syria — it's become almost reflexive.

There's little reason they shouldn't arm the Syrians after Obama came out last month and said that America has plans to ship heavy weapons systems from Libya to rebels in Syria. The administration's announcement came following a thwarted attempt by Russia to fly supplies (and personnel) in to the embattled Assad regime using a Syrian jet liner. Turkey, likely reacting to pressure from the U.S., forced down the Syrian passenger plane over its air space in order to search them for "heavy weapons."

The U.S. is also training Syrian rebel commandos in Jordan, which explains why some reports of Russia arming Syria with 24 Iskander surface-to-surface ballistic missiles also noted that 12 of them were pointed at Jordan while the other dozen were pointed north at Turkey. So there's a chance Russia and the U.S. will fill each other's crosshairs, unless the U.S. responds to chemical weapon use by allowing Russia enough time to exit prior to an assault.

Independent analysts have told BI that Russia is very focused on "self preservation," and that chemical weapons would trigger withdrawal of support — which is why Russia promptly denounces every report of chemical weapon use or preparation. When the U.S. expressed concern, to put it lightly, that Assad's movement of chemical weapons constituted "mixing," "loading," and "preparation," Russia responded immediately, labeling the actions "securing" of the weapons, rather than prepping — and later referred to use of chemical weapons as "political suicide."

The suicide would be that Russia would pull its support, and the U.S. (NATO) would have a free hand with Assad. It would also lose the proxy war for Russia, who has officially expressed its goal is to 'protect Syrian sovereignty' and in so doing wear down America's power (and its ability to provoke regime change). From the BBC:

By standing up for Damascus, the Kremlin is telling the world that neither the UN, nor any other body or group of countries has the right to decide who should or should not govern a sovereign state.

Then there's also the fact that arms shipments to Syria are big bucks. Without Assad, with the rebel Free Syrian Army in place, those contracts would likely go to the West, and Russia would lose influence right in its own backyard.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/us-proxy-war-russia-syria-2013-1

The End of the EU-Russia Relationship As You Know It

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The EU-Russia summit last week in Brussels seemed almost routine. Gas, visas, Syria, and human rights were all on an agenda that proved largely fruitless. Yet, something is different and no one seems to have noticed. Relations between the European Union and its biggest neighbor are changing fundamentally. The Europeans, of course, are focused on their own crisis and the restructuring that’s necessary to pull the continent back from the brink. Beyond their own union, they are mostly looking across the Mediterranean toward the Middle East and North Africa.

The Eastern Partnership between the EU and Russia’s six former Soviet neighbors is, frankly, languishing, and Ukraine is what the Russians call a “suitcase without a handle. ” In other words, it can neither be carried forward, nor abandoned. But it is Russia itself that is Europe’s biggest disappointment.

Until last fall, Europeans believed that then president Dmitry Medvedev was taking Russia in the direction they themselves desired and in the fashion they preferred by promoting modernization through gradually introducing the rule of law, encouraging innovation, and opening up more to the West. Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted Medvedev to succeed so badly that she publicly called him a candidate in Russia’s presidential elections in 2012 before Vladimir Putin had a chance to announce his final decision.

After Putin announced his plan to reassume control, the political mood in Europe began to sour. Europeans were briefly encouraged by the sudden rise in Russian protests last winter, but this was quickly lost when the Kremlin cracked down on protestors, opponents, and foreign-funded NGOs. Merkel has turned openly critical of Moscow and this week’s Economist placed Putin right in the middle of hell in the unholy company of Kim Jong Un, Bashar al-Assad, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Business is running and gas is flowing, but Russia’s behavior is unacceptable in Europe. Something fundamental has changed on the Russian side, too. Putin believes Europe—and the West more broadly—is in decline, and wants to reposition Russia vis-à-vis the main centers of power in the twenty-first century. Moscow’s “European choice” proclaimed by Putin himself in the German parliament in 2001 has been replaced with a focus on Russia’s near neighborhood.

The idea is not to create a new empire, as Hillary Clinton has wrongly suggested—Moscow lacks the material resources, political will, and social drive for that. But the plan is to improve Russia’s bargaining positions with the two real centers of power in Eurasia: the EU in the west and China in the east. Longer term, Putin hopes for a new compact between the Eurasian Economic Union he is constructing and the European Union. Such a compact, however, should in his view be based on rough parity rather than a Russian association with the EU.

The change on the Kremlin side runs deeper than geopolitics or geoeconomics. Not only is the EU no longer accepted as a mentor—or even a model—but Moscow has also accepted the values gap argument that the Europeans were using for a long time, simply turning it against its critics. The decline of Europe, one hears in elite Russian circles, is due to the Europeans becoming too “soft” and giving up their former strengths that once made Europe the world’s leader in favor of multiculturalism, mindless tolerance, and dilution of national or religious identities.

The Kremlin harbors few illusions about Russia’s own values deficit as Putin focused on it in his address to parliament several weeks ago, but it has no appetite to follow what it considers a failed example. Rather, Putin approvingly cites the handling by the attorney general of Texas of a request from the OSCE to place its monitors at polling stations during the U.S. presidential election in November. The response: come to these stations and get any closer than 300 yards, and you will be arrested.

Putin, always a Russian nationalist, recently mounted a major campaign to stop or severely limit any political influence or interference in Russia from abroad. Moscow is now busy dismantling agreements with Western countries signed in the 1990s that Putin no longer sees as equitable, from USAID assistance programs to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to children’s adoption.

This is more than a response to the Magnitsky Act just passed by the U.S. Congress, or a way to deter the Europeans from adopting anything similar. In fact, Putin himself has amplified the U.S. legislation by ordering government officials to transfer their private funds from abroad and park the money in Russia. This kills two birds with one stone—it reduces outsiders’ ability to pressure Moscow, and it places Russian officials under even tighter control from the Kremlin.

Russia famously “left the West” politically in the mid-2000s by veering off the U.S. orbit and reaffirming its strategic independence. Now, Moscow is “leaving the West” mentally by finally stopping to pretend that it shares the same values as EU countries and aspires to join them in some creative way.

By clearly dissociating Russia from the West—and the response to the Syrian crisis serves as a perfect example—Putin may be aiming to position Moscow to hold inescapable influence as the world scene reshuffles in the coming century. Russia is too weak to be a major power center on its own, but with strategic independence it may try to tip the scales of the global (or at least Eurasian) balance of power as it wants. If so, this is a serious change and the policy implications need to be carefully assessed.

Source: http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/12/25/end-of-eu-russia-relationship-as-you-know-it/ewmq

Russia and Iran Prop Up Syria's War Machine, and Tell the West to Butt Out

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While Europe and the U.S. hem-and-haw about finding ways to support Syria's rebel army—and get threatened for even considering it—Iran appears to have no reservations about funneling money to their enemies. On Wednesday, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Larov, went to London to meet with his British counterpart, William Hague. But after the meeting Larov warned the UK that any attempt to send weapons to "non-governmental actors" would be considered a violation of international law. They seem less concerned about the laws Bashar al-Assad might be breaking by bombing his own cities with SCUD missiles.

Russia also doesn't seem to have a problem with Assad apparently getting most his weapons from Iran. Reuters reports today that the Iranians have increasingly become the Syrian government's military "lifeline" in its ongoing civil war. The report says that Iran has been using civilian aircraft to fly personnel and weapons to Assad, while also funneling arms through their Shi'ite proxy groups in Lebanon and Turkey, like Hezbollah. That actually would be a violation of international law, since Iran would be breaking U.N. sanctions that bar them from trading weapons.

Iranian support for the Assad regime has only grown in recent months, as the Syrian civil war morphs into a more sectarian battle, with Shi'ites aligning with Assad's Alawite sect to target Sunni militant groups (as well as minority Christians) and vice versa.

Meanwhile, Russia's concern about the West is mostly misplaced. Britain and the United States have made a lot of noise about supporting the rebel effort, but have shown few signs that they're willing to actually give weapons to the rebels. So while Russia and Iran remain free to pump up the Assad regime, the rebels are left mostly to their own devices, buying arms on the black market, stealing them from the Army, and crafting their own makeshift weapons—like this very real howitzer being towed by a Chinese-made smart car. Effective, even it's not very intimidating.

Source: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2013/03/russia-and-iran-prop-syrias-war-machine-and-tell-west-butt-out/63101/

In Ravaged Syria, Beach Town May Be Loyalists’ Last Resort

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Loyalists who support the government of President Bashar al-Assad are flocking to the Mediterranean port of Tartus, creating an overflowing boomtown far removed from the tangled, scorched rubble that now mars most Syrian cities. There are no shellings or air raids to interrupt the daily calm. Families pack the cafes lining the town’s seaside corniche, usually abandoned in December to the salty winter winds. The real estate market is brisk. A small Russian naval base provides at least the impression that salvation, if needed, is near.

Many of the new residents are members of the Alawite minority, the same Shiite Muslim sect to which Mr. Assad belongs. The latest influx is fleeing from Damascus, people who have decided that summer villas, however chilly, are preferable to the looming battle for the capital.

“Going to Tartus is like going to a different country,” said a Syrian journalist who recently met residents here. “It feels totally unaffected and safe. The attitude is, ‘We are enjoying our lives while our army is fighting overseas.’ ” 

Should Damascus fall to the opposition, Tartus could become the heart of an attempt to create a different country. Some expect Mr. Assad and the security elite will try to survive the collapse by establishing a rump Alawite state along the coast, with Tartus as their new capital.

There have been various signs of preparations. This month, the governor of Tartus Province announced that experts were studying how to develop a tiny local airfield, now used mostly by crop-dusters, into a full-fledged civilian airport “to boost transportation, business, travel and tourism,” as the official Syrian news agency, SANA, reported. The announcement coincided with the first attacks on the airport in Damascus, forcing it to close temporarily to international traffic.

More important, security forces are continuously tightening an extensive ring of checkpoints around the potential borders of an Alawite canton. The mountain heartland of the Alawites rises steeply to the east of Tartus, separating it from much of Syria. Across the mountains, the Orontes River creates a rough line separating Alawite territory from central Syria. Rebel military commanders from adjoining Hama Province said government soldiers vigorously maintain checkpoints on routes leading up into the mountains.

“If we bomb a checkpoint, it is back in place sometimes within hours,” said Basil al-Hamwi, a rebel fighter, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of opposition military commanders in Turkey. “Once, in Hama Province, we destroyed five in one day and they were all back the next day. This area is even more important for them than Damascus.”

Mr. Hamwi and other rebel leaders said there were about 40 government checkpoints along more than 60 miles in Homs and Hama Provinces alone. Many Alawite commanders of Mr. Assad’s army have sent their families to their home villages, so they are particularly aggressive in protecting the area, said Hassan M. al-Saloom, a rebel battalion commander. They have formed committees to guard the outskirts of their villages, he said, and often negotiate local truces.

“Nobody goes inside, and they don’t come out,” he said.

There are widespread suspicions within the opposition that the military is shipping weapons into the Alawite hinterland, or has already positioned them. “The mountains and the coast make it hard to raid,” Mr. Saloom said.
Castles left by the Crusaders dot the coastal range, a testament to its strategic value.

If Mr. Assad fled to Tartus, he could seek protection from the Russian naval base here, or flee aboard a Russian vessel. Russia announced Tuesday that it was sending a small flotilla toward Tartus, possibly to evacuate its citizens who live in Syria. But Tartus residents said that the Russian families from the naval base had already left, while the officers do not leave the base, which is little more than an enclosure near the civilian port.

There is a precedent for a rump state. France, the colonial power in the region in the early 20th century, fostered an Alawite state from 1920 to 1936, but it eventually merged with what became an independent Syria.
Opposition military commanders vow to block any attempt to create an Alawite state.

“We want to prevent the regime from leaving Damascus at all, to ensure that when Damascus falls, the regime falls, too,” said a senior rebel military commander from Homs, who asked not to be named for security reasons. At a recent meeting of opposition military commanders in southern Turkey, none showed up from the meager forces around Tartus.

The war has only augmented the reputation of people from Tartus for living the indolent life of a relaxed resort. Unlike much of Syria, the town still has bread, diesel fuel and electricity, with minimal power cuts. The local cinema club maintains a robust schedule and recently screened both “Finding Nemo” and “Cinema Paradiso.”

The city experienced a few small antigovernment demonstrations after the revolution first started in March 2011, but none since. Abu Mohamed, 35, a real estate agent here, has tracked the fighting elsewhere in Syria by the license plates showing up outside his office. First they were from Homs, then Deir al-Zour, then Aleppo and now Damascus. He gets 20 to 30 calls a day, he said, from people looking for houses to buy or rent.

“Most of them have never been here before, but they seem to be rich or at least middle class because they have nice cars,” he said. Recently, he said, more black government limousines have appeared, and middlemen have materialized, telling him that they are looking for big houses for some unidentified “important and influential figure who wants it for his family.”

Ahmed Jibril, a Palestinian commander still loyal to Mr. Assad, fled with his son to Tartus from Damascus after rebels there gained the upper hand in the Palestinian neighborhood of Yarmouk, activists said. “Usually at this time of year, the city is empty,” said Abu Mohammed, using a nickname to avoid alienating any clients. “But now it is the opposite. All the hotels, motels, small sea cottages, anything furnished is full.”

Precise numbers are difficult to gauge. Azzam Dayoub, the head of the political office for the underground revolutionary council of Tartus, said there were at least 230,000 war refugees in the city. Others said the population of the entire province, once around 1.2 million, was now closer to two million. Most are Alawites, including countless government employees who have returned to their home province. But many are Sunnis, Christians or others close to the government who no longer felt safe elsewhere.

Mr. Dayoub said Alawites in the town barred other minorities and members of Syria’s Sunni majority from entering their neighborhoods, and the two sides no longer frequent each other’s stores. The Sunni population has been collecting weapons to fight any future attempt to drive them out, he said.

The large presence of non-Alawites along the coast prompted many residents to suggest that building an Alawite state would be impossible. Latakia, for example, a larger coastal city to the north with an international airport, would seem a more natural choice for a capital, but it is considered less safe for its large Alawite population because of repeated clashes there.

There are few public conversations in Tartus about the crisis enveloping Syria, several residents said. “No one on either side discusses their feelings openly,” said a 29-year-old woman who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the tensions there. “They want to keep things calm because both sides are scared.”

Privately, some Alawites dismiss the chances of having their own state. Abu Haidar, 55, the owner of a small import and export business in Tartus, said dreams were one thing, but reality was something else. “What do we have in Tartus Province that would aid us to stand alone as a state?” he asked. “We have neither the infrastructure, nor the resources. It is basically lemon and olive orchards along with a small city with simple services.”

But until the day of reckoning arrives, Tartus seems bent on blocking out the war raging over the horizon.

“The people who came to Tartus are looking to live their lives, not to sit and remember what happened to their brothers and other relatives in their hometowns,” Abu Mohamed said. Given the lavish wedding parties here, the mobbed restaurants and the buzz of daily activity, he said, “Sometimes, when I drive around the streets and squares of Tartus, I forget what is happening in Syria.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/world/middleeast/syrian-resort-town-is-stronghold-for-alawites.html?ref=middleeast

Danny Ayalon: Syria, then Lebanon, will eventually fragment

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Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Friday that first Syria and then Lebanon would eventually fragment, Army Radio reported. Speaking at a meeting in Kibbutz Gavim, Ayalon added that he does not expect an Arab alliance to form against Israel within the next decade, and that Arab countries would come to see the advantages of cooperation with Israel. Turning to Iran, Ayalon said he believes there is still time to stop the country's nuclear program through economic pressure. "Even as of now, the measures taken have placed significant internal pressure within Iran," Ayalon said.


Source:http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=28080

Michael Doran: Syria's Coming Sectarian Crack-Up

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Assad's forces will retreat to the north, and an Iranian-backed Alawite canton will be born.

The Obama administration has been decrying the spread of sectarianism in war-torn Syria and calling for the preservation of state institutions there. A "managed transition" is the new mantra in Washington. This isn't a policy but a prayer. Syrian state institutions are inherently sectarian, and they are crumbling before our eyes. Syria is like Humpty Dumpty. Made up of four or five diverse regions glued together after World War I, the country is an accident of great-power politics. Like neighboring Lebanon, it has now dissolved into its constituent parts. The Free Syrian Army isn't a unified force but rather a network of militias, each with its own regional power base and external patron.

Consider Aleppo. Syria's largest city, its economic hub, is the central battleground in the current civil war. In the early 1920s, the French dragged Aleppo kicking and screaming into the new Syrian state, which they created. Today, Bashar al-Assad's schools teach that Ibrahim Hananu, the leader of the Aleppine rebellion against the French, was a great patriot who fought for independence. He did fight the imperialists, yes, but for Turkey—not Syria.

In 1920 Aleppo was closer—economically, socially, and geographically—to Turkish Anatolia than to Arab Damascus. It was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, who armed and equipped Hananu and his men. When the Turks were forced to cut a deal with the French, Hananu's rebellion collapsed. As a result, the border between Syria and Turkey fell 40 miles north of Aleppo. It could just as easily have fallen much further south, with Aleppo nestling comfortably in the bosom of modern Turkey.

It was anything but comfortable in the new Syria. In the decades that followed, two parties dominated the country's political life—one representing the interests of Aleppo, the other of Damascus. Each had its own separate foreign policy: Aleppo aligned, naturally, with Turkey and Iraq; Damascus with Egypt. By the mid-1950s, the Syrian state was disintegrating. Iraq, with the help of Turkey, stood poised to take control of the country—a development that would have privileged Aleppo over Damascus.

Then Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt's charismatic proponent of pan-Arab nationalism, came to the rescue of his Damascene allies (just as, today, Iran is rescuing Assad). Nasser quickly founded the United Arab Republic, a Syrian-Egyptian amalgamation, in 1958. Within four years, the Syrians bolted from the union. The country descended into a period of turmoil that ended only in 1970, when Hafez al-Assad imposed a new order with an iron fist. The core of the new regime was a group of close associates of Assad, almost all of them from the Alawite sect, a despised religious minority concentrated in the mountains of the north, above Latakia. The Alawites, who were marginal to the life of the main cities of Syria, rose to power through the military.

The new regime disguised its sectarian character by, among other tactics, stressing its pan-Arab credentials and its hostility to Zionism. There is no little irony in the fact that Assad, an Alawite, played the scourge of Israel. Historically, his sect was immune to the call of Arab nationalism. In 1936, for instance, Hafez al-Assad's father joined a delegation of notables who petitioned the French to establish an autonomous Alawite canton—one centered on the mountains of the north, the minority's heartland.

The delegation justified their demand as a necessary defense against Muslim intolerance. As evidence, the Alawite notables cited the unjust treatment that the "good Jews" of Palestine were receiving. The Jews, their petition stated, "scattered gold, and established prosperity in Palestine without harming anyone or taking anything by force, yet the Muslims declare holy war against them and never hesitated in slaughtering their women and children." As a result, "a dark fate awaits the Jews and other minorities" when the Muslims would receive their independence.

By the time Hafez al-Assad took control of the Syrian state, he and his fellow Alawites had learned to embrace the anti-Israeli norms that prevailed among their Sunni neighbors. But beneath this veneer of agreement, the fear of the Muslim majority remained. The sectarian nucleus of the state has always been a defining characteristic of the Assad regime. But the Alawite order is collapsing today, and it will never be reconstituted. Syria is now a regional battleground, with Tehran and Moscow backing Assad while Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan back the rebels.

When Assad loses Aleppo and Damascus—and this loss is almost a certainty—his Russian and Iranian patrons won't abandon him. They have no other horse to ride in Syria. Instead they will assist in establishing a sectarian militia, an Alawite analogue to Hezbollah. In fact, such a militia is already rising up naturally, as Sunni defections transform the Syrian military into an overtly Alawite force. If the rebels finally succeed in dislodging the regime from the main cities, it will retreat to the north, and the autonomous Alawite canton that Bashar al-Assad's grandfather envisioned will finally be born. "Alawistan," as the Mideast scholar Tony Badran called it, will join Hezbollah in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon as another sectarian island in the Iranian archipelago of influence.

If the breakup of Syria and the rise of an Iranian-backed canton are indeed undesirable, then Washington must get to work immediately to create an alternative. The planning should begin in Turkey, which borders not just Aleppo but also the future canton of Alawistan.

Mr. Doran, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense from 2007-08, is a senior fellow in the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443537404577580820175784572.html

Israeli Minister: If only to deal a blow to the ayatollahs, Assad must go

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Iran would need a year and a half to complete the creation of a nuclear bomb if it decided to do so today, an Israeli security official tasked with the Iranian threat told The Times of Israel. Sima Shine, who heads the Iran desk at Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, told The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the Israeli Presidential Conference that it would take Iran “a few months” to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear bomb and around a year and a half to produce the bomb itself.

“If the Iranian leader decided today that he wants to build a bomb, and he will probably want more than one bomb … it will take him a few months to enrich uranium to weapon’s grade level. Then it would take a little while to create the bomb itself. The common presumption today is that [the entire process] will take him around a year and a half, assuming not too many things go wrong along the way.”

Shine’s comments seemed to contradict a statement by Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence, who said in April that by summer Iran will have crossed the nuclear “red line” set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his UN speech last September. Netanyahu warned that Iran must not be allowed to produce enough 20%-enriched uranium for a single bomb, or some 240 kg. (529 lbs).

Shine is no newcomer to the Iranian portfolio. As former head of the Mossad’s research department and deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council, she spent years monitoring Iran’s nuclear proliferation efforts, which she analyzes with great detail.

On June 10, Shine’s boss, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, told foreign reporters that Iran was between “weeks and two months” away from enriching enough uranium at the level of 20% — easily convertible to weapon’s grade levels of over 90% — for a nuclear bomb. But Shine said the exact timetable is of little consequence to Israel.

“It doesn’t matter, we don’t build our security strategy on months or weeks. If they [the Iranians] decide they’re going for nuclear weapons, they are very close. Even a year or a year and a half is not a long time.”

Iran is so far wary of crossing Netanyahu’s red line, and has diverted some of its 20%-enriched uranium into fuel rods for a small civilian reactor in Tehran, Shine said. But at the same time, Iran is adding centrifuges for uranium enrichment and is working on a parallel plutonium-based nuclear track through its reactor in Arak.

“They are slowly but surely establishing a wide and diverse [nuclear] program, without actually crossing the red line.”

How will the election of Hasan Rowhani as Iran’s new president affect the country’s nuclear program? “God knows,” Shine said, but she expressed fear that countries like Russia and China will take advantage of Iran’s ostensible new moderation to demand the removal of American and European sanctions. A new set of sanctions are set to be imposed this July.

A Russian announcement last week that Iran was willing to halt its uranium enrichment to 20% in return for the lifting of sanctions was a first, ominous, indication of that trend, she said. With such large enrichment capabilities at Iran’s disposal, halting enrichment could hardly be considered an Iranian concession, since it could replenish its 20%-enriched uranium in a matter of weeks.

“Here we expect the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, engaged in nuclear negotiations with Iran) to remain steadfast in their basic position that ‘you [Iran] will receive no easing of the sanctions unless you comply with our demands’.”

‘Assad must go’

When Israel debates whether the fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad is “good or bad for the Jews,” it should consider the devastating impact his ouster would have on Israel’s sole strategic foe, Iran, Shine said.

“In my personal opinion, the ‘devil we know’ is worse than the devil we don’t,” said Shine, adding that the Israeli security establishment is gradually becoming more convinced that Assad remaining in power would be far worse than his ouster, although that position has not yet been adopted as official Israeli policy.

Israeli officials have largely been cautious when speaking out on the Syrian civil war, raging since March 2011. In April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his cabinet ministers to keep silent on Syria following a radio interview by deputy foreign minister Ze’ev Elkin, in which he seemed to be calling for international military action in Syria.

“Israel’s main strategic threat is Iran. Not Syria, not Hamas. Therefore, strategically, Israel should examine things from the perspective of what harms Iran and what serves Israel’s agenda in confronting it. If Bashar remains in power, that would be a huge achievement for Iran. A weakened Assad [remaining in power] would be completely dependent on Iran. In my opinion that’s the worst thing that can happen to Israel.”

Those sentiments echo the outlook sounded by former defense minister Ehud Barak, who in an interview with CNN in May 2012 said that Assad’s fall would deal a severe blow to his allies Iran and Hezbollah. But one year and some 90,000 casualties later, Shine is less equivocal in the words she chooses.

“Bashar Assad must not remain in power. Period. What will happen later? God only knows.”

“The alternative, whereby [Assad falls and] Jihadists flock to Syria, is not good. We have no good options in Syria. But Assad remaining along with the Iranians is worse. His ouster would exert immense pressure on Iran.”

Shine said she hoped the Syrian rebels were being assisted, though was cautious in admitting Israel was indeed providing any such aid. “I hope Israel is doing more than I know of,” she said. In an event, Israel would not publicly admit assisting the rebels for fear of harming their domestic posture.
“That would be bad for the rebels themselves. They do not want to be perceived as being supported by Israel, which — as the occupier of the Golan Heights — is the enemy.”

Did the Israeli security establishment fail in predicting the Syrian uprising? Shine rebuffs that criticism. Israeli intelligence gathering, she noted, always focused on government officials in Syria — who themselves never anticipated the revolution — not on the common Syrian citizen. “If Assad himself didn’t know [the revolution was imminent], how are we expected to have known?”

“Even if we had remarkable sources in the Syrian public, who ever attributed any importance to the Syrian public? Everyone thought they were a group of people scared of the regime. Who ever thought they would take to the streets and kill each other?”

Asked whether with its back to the wall following Assad’s ouster Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah could attack Israel, Shine answered in the negative.

“I don’t think so. Why would Hezbollah take on Israel alone?”

Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com/iran-needs-a-year-and-a-half-to-produce-the-bomb/
Anxious Turks suspect US plot is behind Syria's implosion

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In an empty coffee house in Antakya, local tradesman Ahmet Sari's face crumples in anger as he speaks about Syria. “What's happening in Syria is all part of America's great project to reshape the borders of the Middle East.  America and its allies don't care about bringing democracy to the Syrian people.  Look at what happened to Iraq!” he fumes. “The imperialist countries are only after oil and mineral resources.”

Nineteen months into Syria's conflict, resentment of Ankara and anti-US sentiment simmer in Antakya, which lies just over the border with Syria. The province is grappling with an ailing trade and tourism sector and an influx of refugees and rebel fighters. Locals blame the Turkish government for dragging them into the conflict by backing the Syrian opposition and aligning Turkey with the opposition's Western allies.

The current administration's "zero problems with neighbors" foreign policy, which stood strong for several years, now rings hollow as Turkey's diplomatic ties with Syria and its ally Iran sour due to Ankara's support for the rebels. And many say that all of these problems can be traced back to the US, who they are convinced got involved with, and perhaps even fomented, the Syrian unrest to loosen up regional powers' grip on oil, enlisting Turkey as a pawn in the process. It had little to do with support for democracy, they believe. 

Stirring up the 'beehive'

The beliefs stem in part from a bold Bush administration political proposal that has faded into obscurity in the West, but remains lodged in the minds of many here. Known as the Greater Middle East Initiative, it was formally introduced by then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006 at a conference in Tel Aviv. Her references to "the birth pangs of a New Middle East" and the unveiling there of a new map of the region featuring a "Free Kurdistan" are still remembered with resentment.

Even with a new administration in the White House that has sought to distance itself from the previous administration's Middle East policies, many in the region are suspicious of US motives and don't believe that the various uprisings began as indigenous, people-driven movements, independent of any US involvement.

Refik Eryilmaz, a Turkish parliamentarian from Antakya with the opposition Republican People's Party, says that Western superpowers are trying to incite a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites so that countries in the region fragment along ethno-religious lines, becoming weaker in the process. Syria is predominantly Sunni, but President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite, a Shiite offshoot, as is most of his government.

"The access to oil will be made easier when people in these regions are divided and fighting amongst themselves. Both the US and Israel want to weaken Iran and strengthen their own position in the Middle East.  But to do this, first they must weaken Syria and replace the current government with someone who supports them instead of Iran," says Mr. Eryilmaz.

This suspicion – that outside intervention is stirring up sectarian strife in Syria – is a view shared by many in Antakya, Turkey's most ethno-religiously diverse province. Although Nihat Yenmis, president of the Alevi Cultural Foundation (AKAD) in Iskenderun, is convinced that sectarian violence will not seep into Turkey, he laments the plight of Syrian civilians, caught up in the cross-fire of a conflict that he interprets as planned and stoked by outside intervention.

“All ethno-religious groups have lived side by side in this region for centuries.  But if someone hits a beehive from the outside, they will destroy the peace within the hive. All the bees inside the hive will fight with one another. That's exactly what the US is doing in the Middle East,” says Mr. Yenmis.

Gilbert Achcar, a professor of international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, says that the Greater Middle East Initiative has long since been abandoned, and all that remains is the deep skepticism of US motives that it spurred. Those in the Middle East tend to attribute more power to the US than it actually has, he says.

“The US is overwhelmed by the situation in the Middle East and is not in control, let alone plotting something. The GMEI never took root. It just provided a grand name that fueled people's imaginations, and conspiracy theories were invented," he says. 

A penchant for conspiracies

The region's penchant for Western conspiracy theories is long-standing, beginning with the then-secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement that divided up the region between the British and the French, Mr. Achcar says.

That history influenced the perception of the Bush administration's Greater Middle East Partnership Initiative, later renamed the New Middle East Project, that was drawn up in 2004 in response to potential "threats of terrorism" in the wake of 9/11.  The mission was to bolster democracy and socio-economic development in the Middle East and North Africa and build a bulwark against the expansion of radical terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda.

But the initiative stalled in the face of heightened anti-American sentiment in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Prominent Arab figures were quick to criticize it as another US attempt to "reform" a region it did not fully understand.  In an article published in pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat in 2004, the chief editor of the Arab Human Development Report, Nader Fergany, criticized the "arrogant" worldview of the the Bush administration which "causes it to behave as if it can decide the fate of states and peoples.”

Tasked with alleviating Arab mistrust, the US selected Turkey as a key bridge between the US and the Middle East. The ruling Justice and Development Party's promotion of "conservative democracy" appealed to the West because of its reformist stance, and to Islamic countries in the Middle East due to its emphasis on a traditional Muslim identity.

But today, Turkey's role as a bridge between the West and the Arab world on the Syrian conflict has again raised suspicions. Its alliances with the US and autocratic countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who have also come out as strong backers of the Syrian opposition, have provoked accusations that Turkey is more intent on weakening secular Syria and reinstating a Sunni government than in democracy.

While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed last year on a live broadcast that the US initiative never took root, some in the Middle East still refer back to Mr. Erdogan's older statements of being GMEI's co-chairman, and remain convinced that a US-inspired scheme – with Turkey taking the lead – is underway.

“Perhaps the US is doing what's right for its own country and implementing a foreign policy that will protect its dominance in the world, but we have to inquisition the countries that are acting as a US pawn.  Many people in Turkey think that Turkey is merely serving US interests in the region to its own detriment,” says Eryilmaz. 

Back in Antakya's coffee house, with no end in sight to the Syrian conflict, local trader Ahmet Sari shows how deeply this sentiment reaches.

“So many people have died unnecessarily in Syria – children are dying," he says, wearily. "We just want this war to stop and for there to be peace. We don't hate the American people.  We just want the US administration to stop trying to spread its expansionist policies.”

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2012/1020/Anxious-Turks-suspect-US-plot-is-behind-Syria-s-implosion

Turkish Public Sours on Syrian Uprising


As the war in Syria rages next door, Turks have grown increasingly weary of nearly daily reports of troubles at home: Iranian spies working with Kurdish insurgents, soldiers ambushed and killed, millions spent caring for a flood of refugees, lost trade and havoc in border villages.

“This is how we start our morning,” Mehment Krasuleymanoglu, a bookseller in a narrow alley in central Istanbul, said recently as he laid out several newspapers, each with a blaring headline about an explosion at a munitions depot that killed more than two dozen soldiers. The government called it an accident, but in the current environment, many Turks, including Mr. Krasuleymanoglu, are not so sure.

“What do we have to do with Syria?” he said. “The prime minister and his wife used to go there for tea and coffee.”

The Turkish government is facing a spasm of reproach from its own people over its policy of supporting Syria’s uprising; hosting fighters in the south, opposition figures in Istanbul and refugees on the border; and helping to ferry arms to the opposition. While many Turks at first supported the policy as a stand for democracy and change, many now believe that it is leading to instability at home, undermining Turkey’s own economy and security.

Turkey’s call for military intervention, which much of the international community opposes, has only added to the domestic frustration. Now, in the wake of the anti-American protests that have convulsed the Muslim world in reaction to a film that denigrated Islam, it seems less likely that Turkey will find partners in the West to join its call for military action in Syria.

The souring mood presents the first obvious setback for the foreign policy of Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ridden the turmoil of the Arab Spring to promote Turkey’s influence abroad and his standing at home. Suddenly, Turkey appears vulnerable on multiple fronts.

“A lot of Turks are seeing this as a direct result of Turkey’s aggressive posture against Assad,” said Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, referring to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

In the face of criticism from columnists and opposition politicians, and signs of rising public opposition to its Syria policy, the country is being compelled to reassess its overall strategy for spreading its influence and interests across the Middle East, including Egypt, Iraq and Iran. Increasingly frustrated with its efforts to join the European Union, Turkey turned noticeably toward regaining and elevating its standing in the Muslim world, especially amid the chaos and reordering of alliances caused by the Arab Spring.

“Turkey’s Syria policy has failed,” wrote Dogan Heper, a columnist for the newspaper Milliyet. “It has turned our neighbors into enemies. We have been left alone in the world.”

Selcuk Unal, the spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, acknowledged that the Syria policy had become a domestic policy issue. Even though it may not be popular, he said, “that doesn’t mean it is wrong.” “I don’t think we are wrong so far,” Mr. Unal said. “Turkey is on the right side of history on this.”

Before the Arab uprisings, economic and political engagement with Syria was a centerpiece of Turkey’s regional strategy, which some described as an effort to integrate the Middle East along the lines of the European Union. Visa restrictions were lifted and trade increased. Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Assad even vacationed together. Initially, Turkey urged dialogue and reform in Syria, but as the killing increased, Turkey turned against the government.

That shift was part of its broader regional strategy. Last year Prime Minister Erdogan toured Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, offering Turkey’s support for the democratic aspirations of the Arab world’s revolutionaries, and holding up Turkey’s mix of Islam, democracy and economic prosperity as an inspiration for those countries in turmoil.Turkey, it seemed, was ascendant, and the public was largely supportive.

“We loved it,” said Soli Ozel, an academic and columnist. “It was like, we’re back. The empire is back.” Perhaps causing the greatest unease for Turks these days is an increase in violence by Turkey’s separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., which seems emboldened by the success of Syria’s Kurds in gaining territory. The P.K.K. has waged an insurgency against Turkey since the 1980s in a conflict that has claimed an estimated 40,000 lives.

More than 700 people have died in the past 14 months, the deadliest level in 13 years, according to a report published last week by the International Crisis Group. The P.K.K. has now set up daylight checkpoints in villages in the southeast, carried out deadly ambushes against Turkish forces and kidnapped lawmakers. Recently, the Turkish military carried out an offensive involving F-16 fighter jets and 2,000 soldiers, Reuters reported.

The Assad government has effectively ceded some territory near the Turkish border to Syria’s Kurds, who have not joined the opposition in large numbers. These gains have fanned the flames of Kurds’ historical ambitions for an independent state that would include Kurdish areas in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, analysts say.

“There has been a thunderbolt in the minds of people there,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu, a Kurdish member of Turkey’s Parliament, referring to Kurdish areas in southeast Turkey. P.K.K. fighters have become more visible, he said. “They are trying to create the idea among Kurds there that the authority in the area is the P.K.K.”

An influx of refugees — more than 100,000 Syrians have sought safety in Turkey — has tested government resources and raised tensions in border areas, prompting the Turkish government to try to relocate refugees further inland. The government has said it has spent $300 million providing for refugees and has complained of a lack of support from the international community.

According to Mr. Cagaptay of the Turkish Research Program, Turkey remains “the only country that is economically and politically stable in the region.” Turkey’s ambitious Middle East policy has been centered on Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s much-heralded vision of “no problems” with neighbors. But that approach has stalled amid the hard realities of the region and the limits of Turkish power, most evident in its policy in Syria, where nearly 23,000 people have been killed and the Assad government clings to power. Now the joke is that there are “no neighbors without problems.”

Last year Mr. Davutoglu spoke expansively about a political, economic and military alliance with Egypt that could serve as a linchpin of a new regional order. Almost nothing has come of that, although a spokesman for Mr. Davutoglu said Turkey would soon begin a high-level dialogue with the government of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s new president, who was a member of the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Now, the talk is more about a rivalry between Egypt and Turkey over which will become the region’s power broker.

“Egypt will try to restore its central role in Arab affairs, and it will be interesting to see Morsi and Erdogan compete for influence in the region,” Mr. Cagaptay said. Mr. Ozel, the columnist, was more emphatic. “The fact of the matter is that when all is said and done, Turks are Turks and Arabs are Arabs,” he said. “Egypt believes it is the crown jewel of the Arab world, and it will not share the spotlight with anyone, including Turks.”

Analysts say Turkey has hardened sectarian divisions in the region by working with Saudi Arabia and Qatar in backing Syria’s Sunni rebels against Mr. Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and by supporting Sunnis in Iraq against the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite. And tensions with Iran, the region’s largest Shiite power, have been heightened since Turkey agreed to allow NATO to place a radar station on its territory as part of a missile defense system.

To its credit, analysts say, Turkey will quickly shift from policies it deems mistaken. For example, it opposed NATO intervention in Libya and then swiftly changed tack. But it may be too late to change course on Syria. “They are stuck in this conflict so deeply, there is no way out,” said Mr. Tanrikulu, the Kurdish lawmaker

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/world/europe/turks-weary-of-leaders-support-for-syria-uprising.html?ref=middleeast&_moc.semityn.www

Turkey may be Obama's key to solving Syria crisis

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Almost every American ally in the Middle East is desperately calling out for help, and we are ignoring them. Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain -- and behind closed doors, even Egypt -- want American involvement in Syria to stop the blood bath. But the twin ghosts of Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have paralyzed America in the Arab world.

On Thursday, Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will visit President Barack Obama in Washington. This is an ideal opportunity to throw American weight behind greater Turkish leadership in resolving the Syrian conflict -- and declare as much from the White House. The conflict is spreading fast outside of Syria, and unless regional powers such as Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia are empowered to act militarily, and swiftly, many more lives will be lost and the Middle East further destabilized.

Only this weekend, Bashar al-Assad's intelligence agencies were linked to two car bombings in Hatay, Turkey, that killed more than 50 people and injured more than 100. Syria is now home to radical Sunni Islamists from across the globe who want to bring down al-Assad, and Shiite fighters from Hezbollah who support the Syrian president.

Beyond geopolitics and games of nation states, Syria is a raw human disaster: Some 80,000 people have been killed, 1 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries, and millions more are displaced inside Syria. For how much longer will we stand by and watch?

I oppose direct U.S. military intervention in Syria, but recent actions by Israel, daring attacks on Turkey and last month's rapprochement between these two important nations means that there is now new scope for greater regional involvement in Syria.

Secretary of State John Kerry is right to pursue a new diplomatic settlement through Moscow, but his hand is only as strong as the force gathering on al-Assad's doorsteps. In other words, let us say yes to diplomacy, but not be naïve and think that al-Assad and his Iranian backers cannot outmaneuver the wiliest diplomats. They have rebuffed at least five other such attempts. Diplomacy must be backed by force. Al-Assad understands the language of military strength -- of armies keeping fighting factions apart, aircrafts enforcing a "no-fly" zone, bombs on his runways, tanks outside his presidential palace, ships on the seas.

That is not to say that the killings continue. Erdogan has been sensitive when dealing with PKK terrorists in not killing them for fear of collateral damage. That same spirit of protecting human lives must inform Turkish leadership in Syria.

First, al-Assad and his family need to leave Syria for Russia, Iran or elsewhere. Their days of ruling like a mafia are over. Large segments of the Syrian people have lost their fear of al-Assad, and will not settle for anything less than his departure. He must either do so freely and immediately, or meet the fate of Moammar Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein.

Second, al-Assad is not the protector of Syria's minorities, as many mistakenly believe. He is the cause of mass killings that are likely to get worse without external intervention. Genocide of Syria's minorities will have a ripple effect on tribes and religious minorities in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. Turkey and regional and NATO forces should make it their utmost priority to prevent it.

Third, with all their divisions and sectarian pettiness, it is the Syrian opposition that must own Syria. Colin Powell's admonition that "If you break it, you own it" cannot be applied to outside countries with Syria -- the owners must be the Syrian opposition (with all its flaws), not Turkey, far less Israel or Saudi Arabia or others who "break" al-Assad's grip.

Fourth, removing al-Assad and safeguarding Syrian communities is not the end, but a new beginning. Syria can go in any number of directions. The challenge from Islamist radicalism and terrorism inside Syria is real -- they can be confronted there, and prevented from traveling elsewhere and spreading their virus of violence. As Syria works toward rebuilding its infrastructure, economy, society and polity, the United States cannot turn its back on a country that shares borders with Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Israel and Lebanon.

For now, Washington needs to respond to the calls of our allies in the Middle East, and in doing so, bring Turks, Israelis and Arabs closer in cooperation as they seek to liberate Syria from the clutches of a corrupt clan and ensure it remains free from the fanatics of Islamist fundamentalism. Closer engagement by these three regional forces through U.S. assistance now also puts in place roots for a post-al-Assad Syria that is less hostile to Israel. America does not need to lead always; it can and must support its allies.

Ed Husain is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The author of "The Islamist" can be followed on Twitter via @Ed_Husain.


Pepe Escobar: Why Turkey won't go to war with Syria [alone]

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan never saw it coming. He knew he was in trouble when the Pentagon leaked that the Turkish Phantom RF-4E shot down last week by Syrian anti-aircraft artillery happened off the Syrian coastline, directly contradicting Erdogan's account, who claimed it happened in international air space.

And it got worse; Moscow, via Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, offered "objective radar data" as proof. There was not much to do except change the subject. That's when Ankara introduced a de facto buffer zone of four miles (6.4km) along the Syrian-Turkish border - now enforced by F-16s taking off from NATO's Incirlik base at regular intervals. Ankara also dispatched tanks, missile batteries and heavy artillery to the 500 mile (800km) border, right after Erdogan effectively branded Syria "a hostile state". What next? Shock and awe? Hold your (neo-Ottoman) horses. 

Lord Balfour, I presume

The immediate future of Syria was designed in Geneva recently, in one more of those absurdist "international community" plays when the US, Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council's Qatar and Kuwait sat down to devise a "peaceful solution" for the Syrian drama, even though most of them are reportedly weaponising the opposition to Damascus. One would be excused to believe it was all back to the Balfour Declaration days, when foreign powers would decide the fate of a country without the merest consultation of its people, who, by the way, never asked them to do it on their behalf.

Anyway, in a nutshell: there won't be a NATO war on Syria - at least for now. Beyond the fact that Lavrov routinely eats US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for breakfast, Russia wins - for now. Predictably, Moscow won't force regime change on Assad; it fears the follow-up to be the absolute collapse of Syrian state machinery, with cataclysmic consequences. Washington's position boils down to accepting a very weak, but not necessarily out, Assad.

The problem is the interpretation of "mutual consent", on which a "transitional government" in Syria would be based - the vague formulation that emerged in Geneva. For the Obama administration, this means Assad has to go. For Moscow - and, crucially, for Beijing - this means the transition must include Assad.

Expect major fireworks dancing around the interpretation. Because a case can be made that the new "no-fly zone" over Libya - turned by NATO into a 30,000-sortie bombing campaign - will become Syria's "transitional government", based on "mutual consent".

One thing is certain: nothing happens before the US presidential election in November. This means that for the next five months or so Moscow will be trying to extract some sort of "transitional government" from the bickering Syrian players. Afterwards, all bets are off. A Washington under Mitt Romney may well order NATO to attack in early 2013.

A case can be made that a Putin-Obama or US-Russia deal may have been reached even before Geneva. Russia has eased up on NATO in Afghanistan. Then there was the highly choreographed move of the US offering a formal apology and Pakistan duly accepting it - thus reopening NATO's supply routes to Afghanistan.

It's crucial to keep in mind that Pakistan is an observer and inevitable future full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) - run by China and Russia, both BRICS members highly interested in seeing the US and NATO out of Afghanistan for good. The "price" paid by Washington is, of course, to go easy on Damascus - at least for now. There is not much Erdogan can do about it; he really was not in the loop.

Keep the division of labour intact

So here's the perverse essence of Geneva: the (foreign) players agreed to disagree - and to hell with Syrian civilians caught in the civil war crossfire. In the absence of a NATO attack, the question is how the Assad system may be able to contain or win what is, by all practical purposes, a foreign-sponsored civil war. Yes, because the division of labour will remain intact. Turkey will keep offering the logistical base for mercenaries coming from "liberated" Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon. The House of Saud will keep coming up with the cash to weaponise them. And Washington, London and Paris will keep fine-tuning the tactics in what remains the long, simmering foreplay for a NATO attack on Damascus.

Even though the armed Syrian opposition does not control anything remotely significant inside Syria, expect the mercenaries reportedly weaponised by the House of Saud and Qatar to become even more ruthless. Expect the not-exactly-Free Syrian Army to keep mounting operations for months, if not years. A key point is whether enough supply lines will remain in place - if not from Jordan, certainly from Turkey and Lebanon. Damascus may not have the power to strike the top Western actors in this drama. But it can certainly wreak havoc among the supporting actors - as in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and, of course, Turkey.

Jordan, the weak link, a wobbly regime at best, has already closed off supply lines. Hezbollah sooner or later will do something about the Lebanese routes. Erdogan sooner or later will have to get real about what was decided in Geneva. Moreover, one can't forget that Saudi Arabia would be willing to fight only to the last dead American; it won't risk Saudis to fight Syrians. As for red alerts about Saudi troops getting closer to southern Syria through Jordan, that's a joke. The House of Saud military couldn't even defeat the ragtag Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen.

A final juicy point. The Russian naval base at Tartus - approximately a mere 55 miles (90km) away from where the Panthom RF-4E was shot down - now has its radar on 24/7. And it takes just a single Russian warship anchored in Syrian waters to send the message; if anyone comes up with funny ideas, just look at what happened to Georgia in 2008.

Time to shuffle those cards

Erdogan has very few cards left to play, if any. Assad, in an interview with Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper, regretted "100 per cent" the downing of the RF-4E, and argued, "the plane was flying in an area previously used by Israel's air force". The fact remains that impulsive Erdogan got an apology from wily Assad. By contrast, after the Mavi Marmara disaster, Erdogan didn't even get an unpeeled banana from Israel.

The real suicidal scenario would be for Erdogan to order another F4-style provocation and then declare war on Damascus on behalf of the not-exactly-Free Syrian Army. It won't happen. Damascus has already proved it is deploying a decent air defence network. Every self-respecting military analyst knows that war on Syria will be light years away from previous "piece of cake" Iraq and Libya operations. NATO commanders, for all their ineptitude, know they could easily collect full armouries of bloody noses.

As for the Turkish military, their supreme obsession is the Kurds in Anatolia, not Assad. They do receive some US military assistance. But what they really crave is an army of US drones to be unleashed over Anatolia. Turkey routinely crosses into Northern Iraq targeting Kurdish PKK guerrillas accused of killing Turkish security forces.  Now, guerrillas based in Turkey are reportedly crossing the border into Syria and killing Syrian security forces, and even civilians. It would be too much to force Ankara to admit its hypocrisy.

Erdogan, anyway, should proceed with extreme caution. His rough tactics are isolating him; more than two-thirds of Turkish public opinion is against an attack on Syria. It's come to the point that Turkish magazine Radikal asked their readers whether Turkey should be a model for the new Middle East. Turkey used to be "the sick man of Europe"; now Turkey is "becoming the lonely man of the Middle East", says the article.

It's a gas, gas, gas

Most of all, Erdogan simply cannot afford to antagonise Russia. There are at least 100,000 Russians in Syria - doing everything from building dams to advising on the operation of those defence systems. And then there's the inescapable Pipelineistan angle. Turkey happens to be Gazprom's second-largest customer. Erdogan can't afford to antagonise Gazprom. The whole Turkish energy security architecture depends on gas from Russia - and Iran. Crucially, one year ago a $10bn Pipelineistan deal was clinched between Iran, Iraq and Syria for a natural gas pipeline from Iran's giant South Pars field to Iraq, Syria and further on towards Turkey and eventually connecting to Europe.

During the past 12 months, with Syria plunging into civil war, key players stopped talking about it. Not anymore. Any self-respecting analyst in Brussels admits that the EU's supreme paranoia is to be a hostage of Gazprom. The Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline would be essential to diversify Europe's energy supplies away from Russia.

For the US and the EU, this is the real game, and if it takes two or more years of Assad in power, so be it. And it must be done in a way that does not fully antagonise Russia. That's where reassurances in Geneva to Russia keeping its interests intact in a post-Assad Syria come in. No eyebrows should be raised. This is how ultra-hardcore geopolitics is played behind closed doors. It remains to be seen whether Erdogan will get the message.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is named Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Source: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/07/20127581333324728.html

Obama Signed Secret Order to Aid Syrian Rebels

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Earlier this year, President Obama signed a secret order authorizing US support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to US officials. Obama’s order, known as an intelligence “finding,” gives broad authority to the CIA and other agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad, like communications equipment, intelligence, and other kinds of non-lethal assistance. According to reports, this specifically does not include directly giving the Syrian rebels weapons. The Obama administration is, however, using the CIA to help facilitate the delivery of weapons to rebel militias from other allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. 

This news doesn’t change what has been known for months about the Obama administration’s approach to Syria, but it does emphasize how explicit their goal of regime change by proxy is. This US support, technically both lethal and non-lethal, is dangerous policy. Al-Qaeda militants and other Sunni extremists are becoming a greater and greater part of the opposition in Syria, which has been shown to have committed human rights abuses. This has prompted criticism from Russia and others that America is aiding terrorists. 

The CIA is supposedly employing a “vetting process” to avoid having the aid get into the hands of Islamic extremists, but the process is made up of untrustworthy, third-party sources and intelligence officials have recently told the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times that the truth is that the US doesn’t know who is getting the money and weapons. Apparently, even arming and strengthening al-Qaeda isn’t enough to disrupt Washington’s plan to change the regime in Syria, in order to eliminate Iran’s main ally in the Middle East and to gain an even stronger foothold in the region. But extremist infiltration of the Syrian opposition carries other problems. 

The Obama administration runs the risk of helping to bring these extremists to power if and when the Assad regime finally does collapse. Moreover, as happened in Afghanistan after the US proxy war there with the mujihadeens, the potential for deadly blowback is very real.

Source: http://news.antiwar.com/2012/08/02/obama-signed-secret-order-to-aid-syrian-rebels/


Turkey’s Hatay Province, Mossad, CIA spy hub: Turkish MP

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A member of Turkey’s parliament says the country’s Hatay Province on the border with Syria has become a hub for swarms of CIA and Mossad spies infilterating into Syria freely. The legislator of the Republican People’s Party, Refik Er-Yilmaz, said that thousands of CIA and Mossad agents are currently in the province and are moving freely in the area, Turkish media reported.
He noted that local people in the province are getting agitated over the presence of the strangers.
Turkish police remain mute spectators as the spies carry various types of identification, Er-Yimaz went on to say. He also accused the authorities of allowing American and Israeli troopers on Turkish soil without any approval from the parliament.
Er-Yilmaz’s comments came after the deputy of the Republican People’s Party, Osman Faruk Logoglu, on Monday blamed Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party for fomenting the unrest in Syria.
Logoglu criticized the Turkish government for aggravating the situation by sending military forces and vehicles towards the Syrian border. The former Turkish ambassador to the United States also criticized Turkey’s foreign policy towards its neighbor, saying it has been irrational and unsuccessful. Syria has been the scene of unrest since March 2011. The violence has claimed the lives of many people, including large numbers of security forces. Damascus blames “outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest, asserting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.

Source: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2012/07/31/253605/turkish-province-mossad-cia-spy-hub/

Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From the CIA
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With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.

The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.

As it evolved, the airlift correlated with shifts in the war within Syria, as rebels drove Syria’s army from territory by the middle of last year. And even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than “nonlethal” aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments — albeit mostly in a consultative role, American officials say — has shown that the United States is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war.

From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. The C.I.A. declined to comment on the shipments or its role in them.

The shipments also highlight the competition for Syria’s future between Sunni Muslim states and Iran, the Shiite theocracy that remains Mr. Assad’s main ally. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq on Sunday to do more to halt Iranian arms shipments through its airspace; he did so even as the most recent military cargo flight from Qatar for the rebels landed at Esenboga early Sunday night.

Syrian opposition figures and some American lawmakers and officials have argued that Russian and Iranian arms shipments to support Mr. Assad’s government have made arming the rebels more necessary.

Most of the cargo flights have occurred since November, after the presidential election in the United States and as the Turkish and Arab governments grew more frustrated by the rebels’ slow progress against Mr. Assad’s well-equipped military. The flights also became more frequent as the humanitarian crisis inside Syria deepened in the winter and cascades of refugees crossed into neighboring countries.

The Turkish government has had oversight over much of the program, down to affixing transponders to trucks ferrying the military goods through Turkey so it might monitor shipments as they move by land into Syria, officials said. The scale of shipments was very large, according to officials familiar with the pipeline and to an arms-trafficking investigator who assembled data on the cargo planes involved.

“A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,” said Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who monitors illicit arms transfers. “The intensity and frequency of these flights,” he added, are “suggestive of a well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation.”

Although rebel commanders and the data indicate that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been shipping military materials via Turkey to the opposition since early and late 2012, respectively, a major hurdle was removed late last fall after the Turkish government agreed to allow the pace of air shipments to accelerate, officials said.

Simultaneously, arms and equipment were being purchased by Saudi Arabia in Croatia and flown to Jordan on Jordanian cargo planes for rebels working in southern Syria and for retransfer to Turkey for rebels groups operating from there, several officials said. These multiple logistics streams throughout the winter formed what one former American official who was briefed on the program called “a cataract of weaponry.”

 American officials, rebel commanders and a Turkish opposition politician have described the Arab roles as an open secret, but have also said the program is freighted with risk, including the possibility of drawing Turkey or Jordan actively into the war and of provoking military action by Iran. Still, rebel commanders have criticized the shipments as insufficient, saying the quantities of weapons they receive are too small and the types too light to fight Mr. Assad’s military effectively. They also accused those distributing the weapons of being parsimonious or corrupt.

“The outside countries give us weapons and bullets little by little,” said Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a commander in Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist fighting group in northern Syria.

He made a gesture as if switching on and off a tap. “They open and they close the way to the bullets like water,” he said. Two other commanders, Hassan Aboud of Soquor al-Sham and Abu Ayman of Ahrar al-Sham, another Islamist group, said that whoever was vetting which groups receive the weapons was doing an inadequate job. “There are fake Free Syrian Army brigades claiming to be revolutionaries, and when they get the weapons they sell them in trade,” Mr. Aboud said.

The former American official noted that the size of the shipments and the degree of distributions are voluminous.
“People hear the amounts flowing in, and it is huge,” he said. “But they burn through a million rounds of ammo in two weeks.”

A Tentative Start

The airlift to Syrian rebels began slowly. On Jan. 3, 2012, months after the crackdown by the Alawite-led government against antigovernment demonstrators had morphed into a military campaign, a pair of Qatar Emiri Air Force C-130 transport aircraft touched down in Istanbul, according to air traffic data. They were a vanguard.

Weeks later, the Syrian Army besieged Homs, Syria’s third largest city. Artillery and tanks pounded neighborhoods. Ground forces moved in. Across the country, the army and loyalist militias were trying to stamp out the rebellion with force — further infuriating Syria’s Sunni Arab majority, which was severely outgunned. The rebels called for international help, and more weapons.

By late midspring the first stream of cargo flights from an Arab state began, according to air traffic data and information from plane spotters. On a string of nights from April 26 through May 4, a Qatari Air Force C-17 — a huge American-made cargo plane — made six landings in Turkey, at Esenboga Airport. By Aug. 8 the Qataris had made 14 more cargo flights. All came from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, a hub for American military logistics in the Middle East.

Qatar has denied providing any arms to the rebels. A Qatari official, who requested anonymity, said Qatar has shipped in only what he called nonlethal aid. He declined to answer further questions. It is not clear whether Qatar has purchased and supplied the arms alone or is also providing air transportation service for other donors. But American and other Western officials, and rebel commanders, have said Qatar has been an active arms supplier — so much so that the United States became concerned about some of the Islamist groups that Qatar has armed.

The Qatari flights aligned with the tide-turning military campaign by rebel forces in the northern province of Idlib, as their campaign of ambushes, roadside bombs and attacks on isolated outposts began driving Mr. Assad’s military and supporting militias from parts of the countryside. As flights continued into the summer, the rebels also opened an offensive in that city — a battle that soon bogged down.

The former American official said David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director until November, had been instrumental in helping to get this aviation network moving and had prodded various countries to work together on it. Mr. Petraeus did not return multiple e-mails asking for comment.

The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft.

American officials have confirmed that senior White House officials were regularly briefed on the shipments. “These countries were going to do it one way or another,” the former official said. “They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’ from us. But if we could help them in certain ways, they’d appreciate that.”

Through the fall, the Qatari Air Force cargo fleet became even more busy, running flights almost every other day in October. But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft.

Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought. These complaints continue. “Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.

The Breakout

Soon, other players joined the airlift: In November, three Royal Jordanian Air Force C-130s landed in Esenboga, in a hint at what would become a stepped-up Jordanian and Saudi role. Within three weeks, two other Jordanian cargo planes began making a round-trip run between Amman, the capital of Jordan, and Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, where, officials from several countries said, the aircraft were picking up a large Saudi purchase of infantry arms from a Croatian-controlled stockpile.

The first flight returned to Amman on Dec. 15, according to intercepts of a transponder from one of the aircraft recorded by a plane spotter in Cyprus and air traffic control data from an aviation official in the region.

In all, records show that two Jordanian Ilyushins bearing the logo of the Jordanian International Air Cargo firm but flying under Jordanian military call signs made a combined 36 round-trip flights between Amman and Croatia from December through February. The same two planes made five flights between Amman and Turkey this January. As the Jordanian flights were under way, the Qatari flights continued and the Royal Saudi Air Force began a busy schedule, too — making at least 30 C-130 flights into Esenboga from mid-February to early March this year, according to flight data provided by a regional air traffic control official.

Several of the Saudi flights were spotted coming and going at Ankara by civilians, who alerted opposition politicians in Turkey.

“The use of Turkish airspace at such a critical time, with the conflict in Syria across our borders, and by foreign planes from countries that are known to be central to the conflict, defines Turkey as a party in the conflict,” said Attilla Kart, a member of the Turkish Parliament from the C.H.P. opposition party, who confirmed details about several Saudi shipments. “The government has the responsibility to respond to these claims.”

Turkish and Saudi Arabian officials declined to discuss the flights or any arms transfers. The Turkish government has not officially approved military aid to Syrian rebels. Croatia and Jordan both denied any role in moving arms to the Syrian rebels. Jordanian aviation officials went so far as to insist that no cargo flights occurred. The director of cargo for Jordanian International Air Cargo, Muhammad Jubour, insisted on March 7 that his firm had no knowledge of any flights to or from Croatia. “This is all lies,” he said. “We never did any such thing.”

A regional air traffic official who has been researching the flights confirmed the flight data, and offered an explanation. “Jordanian International Air Cargo,” the official said, “is a front company for Jordan’s air force.” After being informed of the air-traffic control and transponder data that showed the plane’s routes, Mr. Jubour, from the cargo company, claimed that his firm did not own any Ilyushin cargo planes.

Asked why his employer’s Web site still displayed images of two Ilyushin-76MFs and text claiming they were part of the company fleet, Mr. Jubour had no immediate reply. That night the company’s Web site was taken down.

The CIA Is Training Syria's Rebels: Uh-Oh, Says a Top Iraqi Leader

 
The United States is slipping and sliding down that proverbial “slippery slope” in Syria toward something that looks increasingly like war.
Most worryingly, according to The New York Times, the CIA is training Syrian fighters in Jordan. Buried in its story today about Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the United States will increase aid to the rebels, including medical supplies and those always tasty MREs (“Meals Ready to Eat”), was this previously unreported nugget:

"A covert program to train rebel fighters, which State Department officials here were not prepared to discuss, has also been under way. According to an official in Washington, who asked not to be identified, the CIA since last year has been training groups of Syrian rebels in Jordan.

The official did not provide details about the training or what difference it may have made on the battlefield, but said the CIA had not given weapons or ammunition to the rebels. An agency spokesman declined to comment."

Now, let us not be shocked, shocked that the CIA is doing this; in fact, it’s very likely that this is the tip of a very large iceberg. Undoubtedly, the CIA, and the Pentagon, is coordinating a regional effort involving the Sunni bloc involving Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Qatar to topple the Assad government in Damascus. That, folks, is called “regime change.” And we’ve seen it before.

The additional $60 million in US aid to Syria’s rebels is headed to the coffers of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) and to the Syrian Military Council (SMC), a newly created body that purports to represent the so-called Syrian Free Army. Interestingly enough, although Egypt has pretty much stayed out of the fray in Syria officially, the SOC and the SMC are based in Cairo, Egypt, whose Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni secret society, is backing the Muslim Brotherhood–led rebels in Syria. At a background briefing yesterday, a State Department official said this:

"The United States will be sending technical advisors through our implementing partners to support the SOC’s staff at their Cairo headquarters in the execution of this assistance. This will ensure that the assistance continues to comply with U.S. rules and regulations on the use of foreign assistance, including vetting, oversight, and monitoring. To remind that this additional $60 million for the SOC is in addition to the more than $50 million in nonlethal support we have already provided to help Syrian activists organize opposition efforts across the country and to amplify their message to Syrians and to the world through communications and broadcasting equipment."

There’s a long analysis of the Syrian Free Army and the SMC published by the Institute for the Study of War, a neoconservative think tank in Washington. Here’s an excerpt:

"The Supreme Military Council was created on the heels of a three day conference held in Antalya, Turkey, from December 5-7, 2012. During this conference, rebel leaders from across Syria announced the election of a new 30-member unified command structure called the Supreme Military Command (SMC). The SMC is led by Chief of Staff Major General Salim Idriss and includes 11 former officers and 19 civilian leaders.

The SMC differs from previous efforts to unify the military opposition because more groups and support networks are included. It could prove to be a more sustainable organization than its predecessors. The SMC includes all of Syria’s most important field commanders, and its authority is based on the power and influence of these rebel leaders including: Abdel Qadir Salah, head of the Tawhid Brigade in Aleppo; Mustafa Abdel Karim, head of the Dara al-Thawra Brigade; Ahmed Issa, head of Suqour al-Sham Brigade in Idlib; Jamal Marouf, head of the Syrian Martyrs Brigade in Idlib; Osama al-Jinidi, head of the Farouq Battalions; and General Ziad al-Fahd, head of the Damascus Military Council.

The SMC was organized to incorporate the supply chains and networks that already existed inside Syria and eventually channel them through the centralized units of the SMC. In order to achieve this goal, the command is divided into five geographic fronts with six elected members each: the Eastern front, the Western/Middle front, the Northern front, the Southern front, and the Homs front."

That all sounds organized enough, but on the ground, inside Syria, the lines of authority and the lines of command are less than clear, and many of the anti-Assad fighters are radical and extreme Islamists and Al Qaeda types. Although the United States would like to “vet” the recipients of its aid, and although the people that the CIA is training in Jordan are probably from the more-moderate rather than less-moderate part of the anti-Assad spectrum, there’s just no telling what Syria after the fall of Assad might look like.

One person who’s worried about exactly that is Faleh al-Fayyah, the national security adviser of Iraq, who spoke yesterday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. In his talk, he was asked about recent comments from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who worried about Syria spinning out of control. Iraq, of course, ruled by a Shiite coalition, is petrified at the idea that a bunch of Sunni radicals and Muslim Brotherhood types might take over in Damascus, leading to civil war, partition and a spillover into Iraq. As Fayyah said:

"I believe that the statement by his excellency, Prime Minister al-Maliki, yesterday was an analysis for the potential and possible repercussions that would happen given the developments in Syria. And if it’s a bad, negative end to the – to the issue in Syria, then you will see the partition of the country, you would see a civil – a civil war, you would see a potentially a – (inaudible) – and also you would see – and also if the extremist factions come into power in a new regime, in a new order in Syria, then this will export an array of problems to Iraq."

He went on:

"We have also started to see that some of these problems started being shipped to Lebanon, exported to Lebanon, and the ripple effect is now being seen in Lebanon. The prime minister’s analysis is an accurate and correct one. And if the situation keeps going in that direction that it is taking today, we feel there might be a civil war, there might be a sectarian partition of the – of the country and also we feel that terrorist groups may try to get the upper hand in that environment. Therefore, we feel if the situation goes into that direction, the future of the Middle East will witness tension, will witness further problems, and in that effect, the analysis of his excellency the prime minister, Prime Minister Maliki, was accurate and correct."
So what are we looking at? The very regime that the United States installed in Baghdad, now closely aligned with Iran, is fearful that the regime we are now trying to install in Damascus might be a bitter enemy—which, naturally, will drive Baghdad into the waiting arms of Tehran.
Source: http://www.thenation.com/blog/173149...-iraqi-leader#

WSJ: The U.S. failure to lead on Syria has resulted in a wider regional conflict

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he supported a recommendation to arm Syrian rebels.

When Syria's uprising began two years ago, we were told that U.S. intervention would lead to tens of thousands of casualties and refugees, the rise of jihadists, the use of chemical weapons, and perhaps even a wider regional war. President Obama refused to intervene—even overruling his senior security advisers last year—and all of those bad results have happened in triplicate. Welcome to the non-interventionist Middle East.

By non-interventionist we mean those for whom the main lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan was that the U.S. must shrink from world leadership, defer to a U.N. chain of diplomatic custody, and above all not use military force. This has been the guiding impulse of the Obama Administration since 2009. America would engage dictators, not overthrow them. The great test case of this strategy has been Syria. The result is a widening conflict that threatens to become a regional war that could damage U.S. interests from the Levant to the Persian Gulf and perhaps even reach the homeland.

The latest escalation came in a pair of Israeli attacks on targets inside Syria. The attacks struck advanced missiles headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon and military sites near Damascus. U.S. officials concede that Israel didn't alert the U.S. before the strikes, which shows the degree to which the Obama Administration has become a regional bystander.

The attacks aren't likely to be the last, especially if Israel concludes that Syria is transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah. These weapons should also greatly concern the U.S., because the Lebanese militia and Iranian subsidiary could transfer such weapons to terror groups to use against Americans.

Israel's calculation is that Syria won't retaliate given its struggle to survive against the rebels. But Iran may not feel as constrained, and Hezbollah is a giant missile force for hire. The point is that the realists who thought the Syrian rebellion would be contained inside Syria were mistaken. It was always a proxy war involving Iran, which can't abide the loss of its ally in Damascus.

The biggest difference now, compared to two years ago, is that the Syrian war is also evolving into a regional Sunni-Shiite conflict that is helping al Qaeda. The Islamist al-Nusra front has become the strongest rebel force in Syria, thanks to the U.S. refusal to help other rebels. These al Qaeda allies aim to establish a caliphate in Damascus and are already helping to revive sectarian strife in Iraq.

For all of its costs, the U.S. intervention in Iraq did impose the worst defeat on al Qaeda since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The 2007 U.S. surge and the Sunni Awakening killed thousands of jihadists and all but eliminated al Qaeda in Iraq as a threat to the Baghdad government. Rather than leave a residual antiterror force in Baghdad, however, Mr. Obama declared mission accomplished and withdrew in toto.

Syrian refugees wait for trucks to transport them after receiving aid and rations at Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. Now the jihadists have descended by the thousands on Syria, but with little countervailing force in the opposition. They are also moving men and weapons to and from Iraq, which is increasingly sinking back into Sunni-Shiite civil war. The Sunni tribal sheikhs of Anbar province are no longer counseling compromise and nonviolence.

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad during the surge, warned last week in the Washington Post that Iraq is heading back to the terrible days of 2006 without active U.S. diplomacy. But Mr. Obama gave up most of America's leverage when he withdrew from Iraq to make a re-election campaign point. If Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki feels threatened by al Qaeda and a Sunni rebellion, he will increasingly look to Iran to help him stay in power.

Much of this might have been avoided had the U.S. marshalled a Syrian coalition two years ago, armed the rebels, and set up a no-fly zone. Bashar Assad may have fallen and the civil war might have been contained. Now even the Obama Administration is rethinking its strategy as it sees the results of its long abdication, but the costs and risks of intervening will be that much higher.

The U.S. could still steer this conflict toward a better outcome if Mr. Obama has the will. At this stage this would require more than arming some rebels. It probably means imposing a no-fly zone and air strikes against Assad's forces. We would also not rule out the use of American and other ground troops to secure the chemical weapons.

The immediate goal would be to limit the proliferation of WMD, but the most important strategic goal continues to be to defeat Iran, our main adversary in the region. The risks of a jihadist victory in Damascus are real, at least in the short-term, but they are containable by Turkey and Israel. The far greater risk to Middle East stability and U.S. interests is a victorious arc of Iranian terror from the Gulf to the Mediterranean backed by nuclear weapons.

At this stage, too, any U.S. intervention would require a full Presidential commitment. Mr. Obama couldn't merely make an announcement, deploy some troops and drop the subject as he did on Libya and Afghanistan. He has to make the case to the American public and commit himself both to toppling Assad and to shaping the aftermath. Such a commitment is not in Mr. Obama's political character, to put it mildly.

If nothing else, events in Syria are proving once again that in the absence of U.S. leadership, bad actors fill the vacuum. Sooner or later—usually sooner—the troubles they create implicate U.S. interests. By striving so hard to avoid U.S. intervention, the Obama Administration has made a wider war far more likely.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323372504578466783346309210.html

WSJ: The Case for Pre-Emptive War, From Goliath to the Dardanelles

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When—and it is most probably now a question of when, rather than if—Israel is forced to bomb Iran's uranium enrichment facilities, the Israeli government will immediately face a cacophony of denunciation from the press in America and abroad; the international left; the United Nations General Assembly; 20 secretly delighted but fantastically hypocritical Arab states; some Democratic legislators in Washington, D.C.; and a large assortment of European politicians. Critics will doubtless harp on about international law and claim that no right exists for pre-emptive military action. So it would be wise for friends of Israel to mug up on their ancient and modern history to refute this claim.

The right, indeed the duty, of nations to proactively defend themselves from foes who seek their destruction with new and terrifying weaponry far pre-dates President George W. Bush and Iraq. It goes back earlier than Israel's successful pre-emptive attacks on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 (not to mention other pre-emptive Israeli attacks like the one on the Syrian nuclear program in 2007). It even predates Israel's 1967 pre-emption of massed Arab armies, a move that saved the Jewish state. History is replete with examples when pre-emption was successful, as well as occasions when, because pre-emption wasn't employed, catastrophe struck.

When it became clear that the Emperor Napoleon was about to commandeer the large and formidable Danish navy stationed at Copenhagen in 1807, the British Royal Navy attacked without a declaration of war and either sank, disabled or captured almost the entire fleet. No one screamed about "international law" in those days, of course, any more than statesmen would have cared if they had. Neither did Winston Churchill give any warning to the Ottoman Empire, a German ally, when he ordered the bombardment of the Dardanelles Outer Forts in November 1914, also without a war declaration.

Similarly—though there were plenty of warnings given—Britain was formally at peace with her former ally France in July 1940 when Churchill ordered the sinking of the French fleet harbored near Oran in French Algeria, for which he was rightly cheered to the echo in the House of Commons. The sheer danger of a large naval force falling into Hitler's hands when Britain was fighting for its survival during the Battle of Britain justified the action, and the exigencies of international law could rightly go hang.

Looking further back, and thinking counterfactually, as historians are occasionally permitted to do, there have been several wars in which devastating new weaponry spelled disaster for the victims of the power developing them, and the victims would have been much better off using pre-emption.

In the Middle Eastern context, Goliath ought to have charged down David long before he was able to employ his slingshot and river pebbles to such devastating effect. The Egyptians should have attacked the Hittites as soon as the Egyptians suspected they were developing the chariot as a weapon of war. Had the Mayans and Incas assaulted the conquistadores as soon as they stepped ashore—and thus before the Spaniards could deploy their muskets, horses, metal armor, hand-held firearms and smallpox to crush them—they might not have seen their civilizations wiped out.

The Mamelukes and Janisseries shouldn't have waited to be slaughtered by Napoleon's cannon at the battle of the Pyramids; the Khalifa needed to hit Kitchener on his way to Omdurman in the River War of the late 19th century, not once he'd set up his machine guns on the banks of the Nile; and so on.

Often in history, massive pre-emption has been the only sensible strategy when facing a new weapon in the hands of one's sworn enemy, regardless of international law—the sole effect of which has been to hamper the West, since those countries that break it can only be indicted if they lose, whereas civilized powers generally have to abide by its restrictions.

Consider a counterfactual analogy that will weigh heavily on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he struggles with his historic decision. If the French Defense Minister André Maginot, instead of investing so heavily in his defensive line in the mid-1930s, had thought offensively about how to smash the German army the moment it crossed the Versailles Treaty's "red lines" in the Saar and the Rhineland, some six million Jews might have survived.

The slingshot, chariot, musket, cannon, machine-guns: All were used to devastating effect against opponents that seemed to be stronger with conventional weaponry but were overcome by the weaker power with new weapons that weren't pre-emptively destroyed. Since President Obama's second inaugural address has made it painfully obvious that the U.S. will not act to prevent Iran from enriching more than 250 kilos of 20% enriched uranium, enough for a nuclear bomb, Israel will have to.

Mr. Netanyahu might not have international bien pensant opinion on his side as he makes his choice, but he has something far more powerful: the witness of history.

Mr. Roberts, a historian, is the author, most recently, of "The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War" (Harper, 2011).

If Iran Gets the Bomb

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You don't have to fire a nuclear weapon to gain a strategic advantage from it. This is perhaps the most important lesson from the decades of the Cold War. Yet many commentators on the possibility of a nuclear Iran overlook this truth and argue that we could handle this radically new situation.

A nuclear Iran is usually discussed at a cosmic level of abstraction, in terms of deterrence and containment. But it needs to be examined from the bottom up, in concrete detail. War games, which have a long history in U.S. defense planning, are one way to do this. These simulations bring out insights that never show up in academic theories. Over the past five years, games featuring an Iran that possesses a small, crude nuclear arsenal have been played repeatedly by government officials, the military and outside strategic experts in the U.S. and Israel—games in which participants are assigned roles as decision makers in different countries—and I have been involved in several of them.

The insights that have emerged from these exercises are not necessarily true, of course. They have to stand on their own merits. But I have not been encouraged by what I have seen.

The game might begin with a seemingly familiar train of events, not unlike what has unfolded this week in the Middle East: The Shiite militant group Hezbollah kidnaps Israeli soldiers. Israel hits back with airstrikes on villages in Lebanon believed to be Hezbollah ammunition dumps. The West Bank and Gaza flare up, and Hezbollah begins firing long-range missiles into Haifa and Tel Aviv. The weapons come from Iran, and there are even Iranian "advisers" with them.

But then the tempo of the game slows down. Everyone notices caution, even hesitation, in the Israel team. The Israelis refrain from airstrikes on Syria (Hezbollah's other key patron), and the Israeli navy backs off from the Lebanon-Syria coast for fear of losing a ship. If a ship were lost, Israel would have to escalate, and that is the heart of the matter: Escalation in a nuclear context isn't like escalation in earlier conflicts without the bomb.

Israel knows how to escalate in a conventional war or against an intifada or insurgency. But this is different. The conflict is no longer about how much pain to inflict before the other side gives up. It is about risk. An unwanted spiral of escalation might drive the game in a very bad direction.

The Israel team considers firing a demonstration nuclear shot, a missile warhead that would explode 100,000 feet over Tehran. Israeli plans since the 1970s have called for doing this as a last-ditch alternative to firing all-out atomic attacks. The blast would shatter windows in downtown Tehran, but it wouldn't kill anyone, or hardly anyone. Surely it would shock Iran into a cease-fire.

But before that can happen, Iran ups the ante by declaring a full nuclear alert. Rockets on truck launchers are flushed from their peacetime storage bases, along with hundreds of conventionally armed rockets and shorter-range missiles that can hit U.S. bases throughout the Middle East.

The Iran side in this game has given a great deal of thought to the political uses of its primitive nuclear arsenal. A few of its nuclear missiles are in hardened, underground silos. These are for quick-reaction firing, ready to launch on short notice. Mobile missiles can take hours to move and set up. Iran also understands the psychology of its enemies. The West does not want to kill millions of innocent people, so the Iran team places some mobile missiles in city parks in Tehran, Esfahan and Mashhad. Camouflage nets are placed over many parts of these cities to conceal the missiles and to mislead American satellites.

To bring attention to their dire situation, the Israel team orders two Jericho missiles to go on alert. They are timed to move to their launch positions just as the U.S. satellites are passing overhead. The intent, obviously, is to shock the White House. "We hope it leaks to the media, too, maybe we should make sure it does," one member of the Israel team says.

Israel's move forces a U.S. decision. Washington wants to restrain Israel, defend Israel and scare the living daylights out of Iran. So the U.S. publicly gives Israel a guarantee: If one atomic missile hits Israel, the U.S. announces, that would be it for Iran. The guarantee is cleverly worded. Maybe too cleverly. It doesn't specify which weapons America would use. The term nuclear refers only to Iran's attack on Israel.

The U.S. hasn't fired an atomic bomb in anger since 1945. It hasn't conducted a realistic nuclear exercise since the end of the Cold War, and in this war game, the person playing the U.S. president says that he doesn't want to go down in history as the first leader to kill five million people in an afternoon.

Some on the U.S. team call instead for a massive conventional strike, one that would destroy Iran's military power for decades. The person playing the president asks if Iran might simply sit back and watch such an attack unfold over several weeks. And he is angry: Why haven't better options and intelligence been developed over the years? Iran's bomb program isn't exactly a surprise, after all. It is the most closely watched in history. Why hadn't anybody thought about this before?

The Iran team's next move jacks up the tensions to a fever pitch. Without saying anything, Iran evacuates its big cities. The urban population packs into buses, cars and trucks and rides out to distant suburbs and beyond. In a day, Iran's big cities are at 25% of their normal population. Iran is now poised to absorb a nuclear attack. Its missiles are on a hair trigger, and most of the country's population will survive an Israeli counterstrike.

Israel, by contrast, is in chaos. There is nowhere for the Israelis to go. Ben Gurion Airport has been closed by rocket fire. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are mobbing the coastal marinas, desperately trying to escape to Cyprus in small boats. TV shows the panic. Deterrence, and the myth of Israeli invincibility, the bedrock of Israeli security, is disappearing.

Suddenly, Iran declares that, in the interest of world peace, it will step back from the brink, having exposed the true nature of "the Zionist nuclear entity." So the game ends. Nuclear war has been avoided. Deterrence worked. But who in Israel, the U.S. or Iran will claim that this was the real lesson? Iran had used a small nuclear force to undermine long-standing perceptions of Israeli military strength and to rupture the Middle East order.

Among the U.S. and its allies, there is widespread agreement that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Some favor sanctions, some favor pre-emptive strikes, some favor espionage and sabotage. All agree, however, that a nuclear Iran would be a danger to the world. But despite everyone's best efforts, Iran may still get the bomb. Then what? American strategic planning has avoided this uncomfortable question, but we can no longer afford to keep our heads in the sand.

—Mr. Bracken, a professor of management and political science at Yale, is the author of "The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger and the New Power Politics" (Times Books), from which this article is adapted.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324735104578121513378501702.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

UN Sources Say Syrian Rebels - Not Assad - Used Sarin Gas

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A member of the United Nations commission of inquiry announced on a Swiss-Italian television show that they believe the Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons on Assad's troops. "Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated," said Carla Del Ponte, a member of the commission. "This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities."

Well, this complicates matters. It was just ten days ago that the United States shook its fist and officially declared that chemical weapons were being used by the Assad regime against its own people. This indicated that the Syrian government had crossed the "red line" that Obama determined last year and opened the possibility of greater U.S. involvement. But if it was the other way around — if the good guys sprayed sarin gas on the bad guys? That makes assisting the rebels a much more complicated transaction. Chemical weapons are horrible, no doubt about that. And sarin gas is absolutely off limits, according to the Geneva Protocol, and with three reported uses in Syria, it's not like it was an accident. Also, chemical weapons are horrible.

Before anybody does anything, though, the U.N. commission's claims need to be verified. There's been nothing but misinformation spewing out of Syria, as the conflict turned to an all out civil war, and it's not unimaginable that the Assad regime has been able to spin some information to their advantage. Plus how in the world would the rebels even get sarin gas? It doesn't grow on trees, and though the government does have a bunch on hand, they've been guarding it heavily. That said, it's not like it's the Syrian state news agency that's making the sarin claim. It's the United Nations — or at least their sources. They seem like honest, human rights-loving world citizens, right?

While it'll take a little more sleuthing before we can positively confirm who's using what weapons, one thing is for sure: Things have gone from bad to worse to really bad in Syria these past few months. And now that Israel's started shelling the country, it'll probably keep getting worse before it gets better.

Source: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2013/05/un-sources-say-rebel-forces-not-assad-used-sarin-gas/64897/

Implosion of Syria Myths a 'Nervous Breakdown' for US, Allies

The New York Times has finally reported what many watching the Syria insurgency have noticed all along: US-facilitated weapons shipments are ending up in the hands of radical jihadists. Of course while getting those facts right, the NYT, blinded as it is by ideology, gets the conclusion wrong. The Times has for some time been pushing the line that the US must act fast militarily in Syria lest the mythical "people's uprising" be hikacked by radicals. In short, they have been — surprise — distorting facts to propagandize for war. The NYT line is that US "inaction" on Syria is leading to the radicalization of the rebels. Earlier this month the Times reported/opined that:
"Many Saudi and Qatari officials now fear that the fighting in Syria is awakening deep sectarian animosities and, barring such intervention, could turn into an uncontrollable popular jihad with consequences far more threatening to Arab governments than the Afghan war of the 1980s."
Now we get the news from the Times that:
"'The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,' said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry."
Then the Times pushes its propagandistic conclusion to color the facts according to its own ideology:
"That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments...casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States." (emphasis added)
Ah yes, the fault is all with the "minimal and indirect" intervention of the US in the conflict. Surely a Libya-type operation would already be reaping US foreign policy the same kinds of rewards we are getting in Libya! So what is the truth? The truth is hard to swallow for the propagandizing media and the propagandized public: Assad was telling the truth when he told Barbara Walters in an interview earlier this year:
“Not everybody in the street was fighting for freedom. You have different components, you have extremists, religious extremists...like-minded people of Al Qaeda... [F]rom the very first few weeks we had those terrorists they are getting more and more aggressive, they have been killing. We have 1,000– over 1,100 soldiers and policeman killed, who killed them? peaceful demonstrators? This is not logical.”
Of course no one wanted to listen to him because he, like Saddam, Milosevic, Gaddafi, etc before him, had been branded a "madman" in the media. Who could listen to a madman? Who could possibly negotiate with a madman? They only understand one thing, force. We have all heard this interventionist neo-con garbage for decades but for some reason it still seems to work. Likewise, Mother Agnes Miriam of the Cross, a Melkite Greek Catholic nun, was telling the truth earlier this summer when she told the Irish Times that the rebels were targeting Christians in Syria. She continued:
“The West and Gulf states must not give finance to armed insurrectionists who are sectarian terrorists, most of whom are from al-Qaeda, according to a report presented to the German parliament. ... They bring terror, destruction, fear and nobody protects the civilians. [There were] very few Syrians among the rebels. ...Mercenaries should go home.”
The reason that the weapons being funneled to the Syrian rebels are ending up in the hands of radical Islamists is because the rebels are radical Islamists. The founder of Doctors Without Borders noticed it after working with the wounded in Syria. German intelligence noticed it after an investigation suggested that up to 95 percent of the Syrian rebels are not Syrian.

It is a myth that the initial peaceful protests only turned violent reluctantly after they were met with force by the regime. In fact we see plans early on to turn events in Syria toward regime change. We saw it early in the 1996 US neo-conservative "Clean Break" study for then-Prime Minister Netanyahu, which urged him to "contain, destabilize, and roll-back" Syria and other countries in the region. We saw it more recently in numerous influential think tank studies like that of Brookings' Saban Center's oft-cited report early this year tellingly titled, "Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change." Like the authors of the "Clean Break" paper, the Saban Center is heavily neo-conservative and pro-Likud.

In conclusion, here is the really bad news: As the US Syria policy falls apart, there is increasing danger that the built up tension in the region — particularly the disastrous decision of the Turkish government to support the rebels in Syria — is leading to a wider conflict that threatens to spin out of control. Turkey and Armenia are at each others throats, Armenia and Azerbaijan are preparing for war, Iraq warily watches chaos on its borders, Russia is installing its next-generation S-400 anti-aircraft missiles in its southern military region near Turkey, and so on.

Backed into a corner by a failed policy, the US as usual is doubling down on a bad bet, feeding Turkey bogus intelligence about chimeral arms shipments aboard Syrian passenger planes carrying Russian passengers, etc. Rebel mortars lobbed into Turkey give a desperate Erdogan government the pretext it needs to establish a buffer zone in Syria and hope for NATO reinforcements, which are not coming. French observer Thierry Meyssan writes that "Turkey [is] on the verge of a nervous breakdown" after NATO "packs it in" on Syria.

Source: http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/123392.html

Who Are the War Criminals in Syria?

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According to the Huffington Post poll, Americans oppose U.S. air strikes on Syria by 3-to-1. They oppose sending arms to the rebels by 4-to-1. They oppose putting U.S. ground troops into Syria by 14-to-1. Democrats, Republicans and independents are all against getting involved in that civil war that has produced 1.2 million refugees and 70,000 dead. A CBS/New York Times poll found that by 62-to-24 Americans want to stay out of the Syrian war. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that by 61-to-10 Americans oppose any U.S. intervention.

But the numbers shift when the public is asked if it would make a difference if the Syrian regime used poison gas. In that case, opposition to U.S. intervention drops to 44-to-27 in Reuters/Ipsos. Yet on the Sunday talk shows and cable news, the hawks are over-represented. To have a senator call for arming the rebels and U.S. air strikes is a better ratings “get” than to have on a senator who wants to stay out of the war.

In that same CBS poll, however, the 10 percent of all Americans who say they follow the Syrian situation closely were evenly divided, 47-to-48, on whether to intervene. The portrait of America that emerges is of a nation not overly interested in what is going on in Syria, but which overwhelmingly wants to stay out of the war.

But it is also a nation whose foreign policy elites are far more interventionist and far more supportive of sending weapons to the rebels and using U.S. air power. From these polls, it is hard not to escape the conclusion that the Beltway elites who shape U.S. foreign policy no longer represent the manifest will of Middle America. America has not gone isolationist, but has become anti-interventionist. This country does not want its soldiers sent into any more misbegotten adventures like Iraq and Afghanistan, and does not see any vital national interest in who comes out on top in Syria.

But who is speaking up for that great silent majority? Who in the U.S. Senate is on national TV standing up to the interventionists? Who in the Republican Party is calling out the McCainiacs? Another story that came out this weekend, smothered by news of Israeli air strikes on Syrian military installations and missile depots, might cool elite enthusiasm — and kill any public desire to intervene.

“Syrian Rebels May Have Used Sarin Gas,” ran the headline in Monday’s New York Times. Datelined Geneva, the story began: “United Nations human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria’s civil war and medical workers indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said Sunday.”

The U.N. commission has found no evidence that the Syrian army used chemical weapons. But Carla Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general and a commission member, stated:

“Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals, and according to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels.”

In short, the war criminals may be the people on whose behalf we are supposed to intervene. And if it was the rebels who used sarin gas, and not the forces of President Bashar Assad, more than a few questions arise that need answering. For just two weeks ago, the White House informed Congress:

“Our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin. A clamor then arose demanding Obama make good on his threat that the Syrian regime’s use of poison gas would cross a “red line” and be a “game changer,” calling forth “enormous consequences.”

If the Syrian military did not use sarin, but the rebels did, who in the U.S. intelligence community blew this one? From whom did U.S. agencies get their evidence that sarin had been used by Damascus? Were we almost suckered by someone’s latest lies about weapons of mass destruction into fighting yet another unnecessary war? When allegations of the Syrian government’s use of sarin arose, many in Congress, especially in the Republican Party, denounced Obama for fecklessness in backing off of his “red line” threat.

It now appears that Obama may have saved us from a strategic disaster by not plunging ahead with military action. And the question should be put to the war hawks: If Assad’s use of sarin should call forth U.S. air strikes, ought not the use of sarin by the rebels, if confirmed, cause this country to wash its hands of those war criminals?

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?” To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Source: http://original.antiwar.com/buchanan/2013/05/06/who-are-the-war-criminals-in-syria/

NYT: "Nowhere in Rebel-Controlled Syria is There a Secular Fighting Force to Speak Of"



Time to end Western support for terrorists in Syria.

Image: (Edlib News Network Enn, via Associated Press) Al Qaeda terrorists in Idlib, Syria. It is now admitted by the New York Times that the entire armed so-called "opposition" is comprised entirely of Al Qaeda, meaning the torrent of cash and weapons sent to the "opposition" by the West and its regional allies, were intentionally sent directly to listed terrorists guilty of a multitude of unprecedented atrocities.
....
April 27, 2013 (LD) - In an astounding admission, the New York Times confirms that the so-called "Syrian opposition" is entirely run by Al Qaeda and literally states
 Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.
From the beginning, it was clear to geopolitical analysts that the conflict in Syria was not "pro-democracy" protesters rising up, but rather the fruition of a well-documented conspiracy between the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to arm and direct sectarian extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda against the Syrian government.

This was documented as early as 2007 - a full 4 years before the 2011 "Arab Spring" would begin - by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh in his New Yorker article titled, ""The Redirection: Is the Administration’s new policy benefiting our enemies in the war on terrorism?" which stated specifically (emphasis added):
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
For the past two years the US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey have sent billions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into Syria along side known-terrorists from Libya, Chechnya, neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. In the Telegraph's article titled, "US and Europe in 'major airlift of arms to Syrian rebels through Zagreb'," it is reported:
It claimed 3,000 tons of weapons dating back to the former Yugoslavia have been sent in 75 planeloads from Zagreb airport to the rebels, largely via Jordan since November
The story confirmed the origins of ex-Yugoslav weapons seen in growing numbers in rebel hands in online videos, as described last month by The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers, but suggests far bigger quantities than previously suspected.
The shipments were allegedly paid for by Saudi Arabia at the bidding of the United States, with assistance on supplying the weapons organised through Turkey and Jordan, Syria's neighbours. But the report added that as well as from Croatia, weapons came "from several other European countries including Britain", without specifying if they were British-supplied or British-procured arms.
British military advisers however are known to be operating in countries bordering Syria alongside French and Americans, offering training to rebel leaders and former Syrian army officers. The Americans are also believed to be providing training on securing chemical weapons sites inside Syria.
Additionally, The New York Times in its article, "Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With C.I.A. Aid," admits that:
With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.

The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.
And more recently the US State Department had announced hundreds of millions of dollars more in aid, equipment and even armored vehicles to militants operating in Syria, along with demands of its allies to "match" the funding to reach a goal of over a billion dollars. The NYT would report in their article, "Kerry Says U.S. Will Double Aid to Rebels in Syria," that:
With the pledge of fresh aid, the total amount of nonlethal assistance from the United States to the coalition and civic groups inside the country is $250 million. During the meeting here, Mr. Kerry urged other nations to step up their assistance, with the objective of providing $1 billion in international aid. 
And as this astronomical torrent of cash, weapons, and equipment was overtly sent by the West into Syria, the US State Department since the very beginning of the violence has known that the most prominent fighting group operating inside Syria was Al Qaeda, more specifically, the al Nusra front. The US State Department's official press statement titled, "Terrorist Designations of the al-Nusrah Front as an Alias for al-Qa'ida in Iraq," stated explicitly that:
Since November 2011, al-Nusrah Front has claimed nearly 600 attacks – ranging from more than 40 suicide attacks to small arms and improvised explosive device operations – in major city centers including Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah, Dara, Homs, Idlib, and Dayr al-Zawr. During these attacks numerous innocent Syrians have been killed.
The State Department admits that from the very beginning, Al Qaeda has been carrying out hundreds of attacks in every major city in Syria. Clearly for those who read the 2007 Hersh piece in the New Yorker, and then witnessed the rise of Al Qaeda in Syria, the explanation is quite simple - the West intentionally and systematically funded and armed Al Qaeda to gain a foothold in Syria, then overthrow the Syrian government in an unprecedented sectarian bloodbath and subsequent humanitarian catastrophe, just as was planned years ago.

However, now, according to Western leaders, the public is expected to believe that despite the US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey flooding Syria with billion in cash, and thousands of tons of weapons, all sent exclusively to "secular moderates," somehow, Al Qaeda has still managed to gain preeminence amongst the "opposition."

How can this be? If a 7-nation axis is arraying the summation of its resources in the region behind "secular moderates," who then is arraying even more resources behind Al Qaeda? The answer is simple. There never were any "secular moderates," a fact the New York Times has now fully admitted. In its article titled, "Islamist Rebels Create Dilemma on Syria Policy," the New York Times admits:
Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government. 
Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.
However, in an explanation that defies reason, the article states: 
The Islamist character of the opposition reflects the main constituency of the rebellion, which has been led since its start by Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, mostly in conservative, marginalized areas. The descent into brutal civil war has hardened sectarian differences, and the failure of more mainstream rebel groups to secure regular arms supplies has allowed Islamists to fill the void and win supporters. 
To "secure regular arms supplies" from whom? According to the West, they have been supplying "mainstream rebel groups" with billions in cash, and thousands of tons of weaponry - and now according to the BBC, training as well.Where if not intentionally and directly into the hands of al-Nusra, did all of this cash, these weapons, and training go? The NYT also admits (emphasis added):
Of most concern to the United States is the Nusra Front, whose leader recently confirmed that the group cooperated with Al Qaeda in Iraq and pledged fealty to Al Qaeda’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s longtime deputy. Nusra has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide bombings and is the group of choice for the foreign jihadis pouring into Syria. 
Not only is the Syrian government fighting now openly admitted Al Qaeda terrorists, but terrorists that are not even of Syrian origin. More outrageous still, is that the New York Times fully admits that the very oil fields the European Union has lifted sanctions on and is now buying oil from in Syria (see BBC's "EU eases Syria oil embargo to help opposition"), are completely controlled by Al Qaeda - meaning the European Union is now intentionally exchanging cash with known international terrorists guilty of horrific atrocities, in exchange for oil.  The NYT reports:
Elsewhere, they [al-Nusra] have seized government oil fields, put employees back to work and now profit from the crude they produce. 
And:
In the oil-rich provinces of Deir al-Zour and Hasaka, Nusra fighters have seized government oil fields, putting some under the control of tribal militias and running others themselves.
The Times continues by admitting (emphasis added):
Nusra’s hand is felt most strongly in Aleppo, where the group has set up camp in a former children’s hospital and has worked with other rebel groups to establish a Shariah Commission in the eye hospital next door to govern the city’s rebel-held neighborhoods. The commission runs a police force and an Islamic court that hands down sentences that have included lashings, though not amputations or executions as some Shariah courts in other countries have done. Nusra fighters also control the power plant and distribute flour to keep the city’s bakeries running.
This last point, "and distribute flour to keep the city's bakeries running," is of extreme importance, because that "flour" they are "distributing" comes admittedly, directly from the United State of America. In the Washington Post's article, "U.S. feeds Syrians, but secretly," it is claimed that:
In the heart of rebel-held territory in Syria’s northern province of Aleppo, a small group of intrepid Westerners is undertaking a mission of great stealth. Living anonymously in a small rural community, they travel daily in unmarked cars, braving airstrikes, shelling and the threat of kidnapping to deliver food and other aid to needy Syrians — all of it paid for by the U.S. government.
The Washington Post then claims that most Syrians credit Al Qaeda's al-Nusra with providing the aid:
“America has done nothing for us. Nothing at all,” said Mohammed Fouad Waisi, 50, spitting out the words for emphasis in his small Aleppo grocery store, which adjoins a bakery where he buys bread every day. The bakery is fully supplied with flour paid for by the United States. But Waisi credited Jabhat al-Nusra — a rebel group the United States has designated a terrorist organization because of its ties to al-Qaeda — with providing flour to the region, though he admitted he wasn’t sure where it comes from.
Clearly, the puzzle is now complete. Indeed Mr. Mohammed Fouad Waisi was correct, Jabhat al-Nusra, a listed terrorist organization by the US State Department, is supplying the people with flour, flour it receives by the ton directly and intentionally from the United States in direct contradiction to its own anti-terror laws, international laws, and the US State Department's own frequent denials that it is bolstering terrorists inside of Syria.

Clearly the US and its allies are propping up terrorism, and more alarming is that the "aid" they have been providing the Syrian people, appears to have been used as a political weapon by Al Qaeda, allowing them to take, hold, and permanently subjugate territory inside Syria. It should be noted again, that the New York Times itself admits that the ranks of al-Nusra are filled with foreign, not Syrian, fighters.

Revealed is a conspiracy so insidious, so outrageous, and a web of lies so tangled, that Western governments perhaps count on their populations to disbelieve their tax money is being used to intentionally fund and arm savage terrorism while purposefully fueling a sectarian bloodbath whose death toll is sounded daily by the very people driving it up to astronomical heights. The cards are down - the US has been exposed as openly funding, arming, and supplying Al Qaeda in Syria for two years and in turn, is directly responsible for the death, atrocities, and humanitarian disasters within and along Syria's borders that have resulted.

While the US attempts to sell military intervention on behalf of Al Qaeda in Syria, using the flimsy, yet familiar pretext of "chemical weapons," it appears that before even one American boot officially touches Syrian soil, an already horrific crime against humanity of historic proportions has been committed by the US and its allies against the Syrian people.

Source: http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2013/04/nyt-nowhere-in-rebel-controlled-syria.html?utm_source=BP_recent

Rebels film cannibalism and execution of Syrian soldiers, Obama continues anti-Assad rhetoric

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As a new video is published showing fighters of the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front in Syria executing 11 men they say are Bashar Assad’s soldiers, Obama talks to Turkey’s Erdogan, renewing threats of action against the Syrian government. The video, which was posted on YouTube on Thursday, is believed to have been filmed in the eastern Deir-al Zor province and appears to date from some time in 2012, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group with a network of activists in Syria.

The footage shows the commander, his face obscured in a black balaclava, shooting each prisoner in the back of the head as they kneel blindfolded lined up in the sand. The Islamic militants shout “God is great” each time a man is shot. In some cases the executioner comes back and fires more bullets to make sure they are dead. The Al Nusra Front, which is thought to be behind the footage, has links to Al-Qaeda, and itself has ended up on America’s terrorism list in December 2012.

Rami Abderrahman, the head of the Observatory, told Reuters that the Al Nusra Front has been releasing several videos of their gruesome operations. The Observatory said that such videos have become increasingly common in Syria’s bloody civil war, which has now claimed 80,000 lives, according to latest UN estimates. The Nusra video is the second to appear online in the last two days to show executions by fighters who claim links to al-Qaeda.

It comes after horrific footage was released on Sunday of a Syrian rebel commander apparently eating one of the lungs of a dead government fighter. Time magazine said they had first seen the footage in April and identified the man as Khaled al-Hamad. Hamad admitted to the magazine that he had mutilated the corpse of the soldier as an act of revenge for allegedly defiling a naked woman and her daughter. The footage was swiftly condemned by the Syrian opposition.

Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch told the Guardian that it is “not enough for Syria’s opposition to condemn such behavior or blame it on violence by the government. The opposition forces need to act firmly to stop such abuses.” But Hamad, who is also known as Abu Sakkar, has also received support amongst the more hardline rebels in Syria. Sakkar’s supporters often make portraits of him with the inscription “We Love You”.

Obama repeats warnings of a ‘military option’

The controversy comes as a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minster, Tayyip Erdogan, and President Obama was held Thursday. Obama said that the US reserves the right to resort to diplomatic and military options if there is conclusive proof that Assad has used chemical weapons.

"There are a whole range of options that the United States is already engaged in…  And I reserve the options of taking additional steps, both diplomatic and military, because those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term as well as our allies and friends and neighbors." 

U President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan hold a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, May 16, 2013. (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

Erdogan, for his part, added that “ending this bloody process in Syria and meeting the legitimate demands of the people by establishing a new government are two areas where we are in full agreement with the US. We also agree that we have to prevent Syria from becoming an area for terrorist organizations. We also agree that chemical weapons should not be used.”

But Aleksandr Lukashevich, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Monday that the accusation that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons could be a sign that public opinion is being prepared for the possibility of military intervention in Syria.

A lot of reasoning appeared in a number of Arab and other international mass media regarding the use of chemical weapons in the standoff between the government forces and the opposition guerrillas,” he warned.

Speaking to Lebanon's Al Mayadeen TV channel Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow will make no “backstage” agreements on Syria in exchange for Western concessions on missile defense or any other disputed issues.

“This is not serious. I think that those who try suggest that indulge in wishful thinking,” Lavrov said in an interview with Lebanon's Al Mayadeen TV channel.

Everyone knows well that Russia’s stance on a whole range of crucial issues is not opportunistic,” the Russian top diplomat emphasized.  

On Wednesday, the UN passed resolution 6a, which has condemned Assad’s regime for re-escalating the Syrian conflict. The document was passed with a vote of 107 to 12, and with 59 abstaining. The support was far lower than a resolution last august, which condemned Assad for cracking down on dissent. The decline in support is seen as a sign of growing unease at increasing extremism among Syria’s fractious rebels. Russia voted against this year’s resolution, saying it was "counterproductive and irresponsible" to promote a one-sided resolution when Moscow and Washington are trying to get the Syrian government and opposition to agree to negotiations. 

At a meeting in Geneva last year the major world powers reached a degree of consent between the positions of Russia and the West who do not often see eye to eye on Syria. They agreed that any future government in Syria could include members of the current regime as well as opposition groups. There was also no specific demand that Assad must step down – something the West has insisted on – and instead an agreement pushed by Russia and China that the future makeup of any Syrian government would be decided by the Syrian people. A follow-up meeting on the conference has been agreed by Lavrov and US State Secretary John Kerry; it is reported to be preliminary scheduled for June.

Source: http://rt.com/news/syria-rebel-execution-video-392/

Iraqi wing of al-Qaida says Syria's al-Nusra Front is part of its network
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Al-Qaida in Iraq has said, for the first time, that the Syrian jihadi group al-Nusra Front is a part of their network, AFP and the SITE Intelligence Group reported. According to SITE, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced in an audio message published on the Al-malahem and hanein jihadi websites that his group and Syria's al-Nusra Front would be merged.

 "It is time to declare to the Levant [the people of Syria] and to the world that the al-Nusra Front is simply a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq " Baghdadi said, adding that the groups will now be united under the name Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

Al-Baghdadi denied any connection between the al-Nusra Front and any terrorist operation inside Syria, as alleged by the Syrian regime, stressing that they are fighting Shabiha gangs loyal to the Syrian regime. Baghdadi also stressed that after the fall of dictatorial rule led by the Syrian regime, his group will never fight to rule Syria, but will leave the country to be ruled by a man or group who should be loyal to Islam and the Syrian people. It is worth mentioning that the audio message was issued by Furqan Foundation, which is the media arm of the Islamic State of Iraq.

In response, the high command of the Free Syrian Army has emphasized that the relationship with the al-Nusra Front fighters on the ground was only tactical, local and time-limited, highlighting that the FSA does not support the ideology of the al-Nusra Front. "We don't support the ideology of al-Nusra," FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad told the AFP news agency. "There has never been and there will never be a decision at the command level to coordinate with al-Nusra. The situation on the ground is what has imposed this."

Earlier, the Free Syrian Army refused to consider the al-Nusra Front a terrorist organization. They also signed a petition in support of them, as they share the same goal of fighting the transgressing regime that is shedding the blood of Syrians. However, the al-Nusra Front, which emerged in mid-2012, has been described as “the most aggressive and successful arm of the rebel force” in Syria. They claimed many attacks which targeted the Syrian regime, in particular, military bases and military institutions. In December, the US government officially declared the al-Nusra Front a foreign terrorist organization.

Source: http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/14380990-iraqi-wing-of-alqaida-admits-syrias-alnusra-as-part-of-its-network

Western Mercenaries Have Integrated the Ranks of Al Qaeda Rebels in Syria

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In April, the EU’s anti-terror chief Gilles de Kerchove told the British media that some 500 Europeans were in Syria to fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has said that a number of German nationals have teamed up with the foreign-backed militants in Syria. In an exclusive interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly magazine, Friedrich officially confirmed for the first time that there were German-born gunmen inside Syria fighting against the government.Friedrich particularly expressed concern about calls for those Europeans who have been trained in battle inside Syria.German officials say that 20 German nationals are currently fighting in Syria. Some have reportedly even taken their wives there and live directly on the frontlines of battle.

A recently published study reveals that between 2,000 and 5,500 foreign nationals are active in Syria. Senior counter-terrorism officials within the European Union have stated that at least 500 of those nationals come from the EU countries.
Pan-European police force Europol said in its annual EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report released on April 25 that Syria was the “destination of choice for foreign fighters in 2012.”
The report cited the risk that the foreign fighters pose on Europe – after their return – through using new training and knowledge that they acquired in Syria for conducting terrorist activities. “The threat from terrorism… remains strong in Europe. It also continues to evolve from structured groups and networks to smaller EU-based groups and solo terrorists or lone actors,” the report said. Europe has seen a rise in the number of its citizens entering Syria as ‘jihadists.’

On April 24, EU’s anti-terror chief Gilles de Kerchove told the British media that some 500 Europeans were in Syria to fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Kerchove said Britain, Ireland and France were among the EU countries to have the highest numbers of militants in Syria. Unrest has gripped Syria for over two years and the Syrian government maintains that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country.

Source: http://www.globalresearch.ca/western-mercenaries-have-integrated-the-ranks-of-al-qaeda-rebels-in-syria/5336043

Syrian army, fighting alongside Hezbollah guerrillas, launch assault on rebel stronghold

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Syrian government forces, backed by militants from the Lebanese group Hezbollah, are reported to have made significant advances into the rebel stronghold of Qusair near the Lebanese border. The army launched a sustained assault on the small but strategic town Sunday morning, bombarding it with airstrikes and shelling. Syrian state television said 70 “terrorists” were killed, while activists said that at least 52 people, including three women, died. The Syrian government refers to rebel forces as “terrorists.”

In addition to the attack from the air, opposition groups have reported clashes between rebel forces and Syrian army units fighting alongside Hezbollah guerrillas at several points around the town, which sits six miles from the Lebanese border in Homs province. The Syrian Opposition Coalition has warned that a “civilian massacre” may occur, and there have been reports of residents fleeing across the border to Lebanon.

The violence has spilled over the undefined border between the two countries, with Lebanon’s state news agency reporting that at least eight Grad rockets hit parts of the northeastern town of Hermel. Fighting has been going on around Qusair for nearly six months, but it appears that the government has decided to make a major push to take the town from opposition forces. 

Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese army general who teaches at the American University of Beirut, said that besides giving the government “a certain morale-boosting value,” Qusair is also the link between the Syrian capital and Homs, as well as the Alawite coastal area. “If you want to control the country’s main highway, you have to have a secure area here,” Hanna said. President Bashar al-Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect.

Qusair is strategically important for anti-government forces as well, giving them an access point to Lebanon and potential ­weapons-smuggling routes. The timing of the assault may be significant. Peace talks brokered by the United States and Russia are to be held next month, but both the government and the opposition have refused to give any ground.

In a rare interview with Argentine newspaper Clarin, published Saturday, Assad said he would not step down and suggested that any peace talks should focus on stopping the flow of money and weapons to “terrorists.” According to analysts, if the regime wins a decisive victory in Qusair, it may have the upper hand at the negotiating table.

The Syrian Opposition Coalition has condemned the attack on the town. “What the regime and Hezbollah have done in Qusair is not acceptable. How can we sit down with them while they kill our people?” said Salim al-Muslit, a member of the coalition, speaking on the phone from Turkey. The opposition group has called on the Arab League to hold an emergency meeting on Syria, which the body has provisionally said will be held Thursday.

There also were reports of another military gain for Syrian forces Sunday, with serious clashes reported in Halfaya, a town near Hama, about 25 miles north of Homs. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group based in Britain, the army stormed the town, setting fire to houses along the way and forcing rebel fighters to retreat.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/syrian-army-fighting-alongside-hezbollah-guerrillas-launch-assault-on-rebel-stronghold/2013/05/19/7da48428-c09b-11e2-ab60-67bba7be7813_story.html

Hezbollah’s Role in Syria War Shakes the Lebanese

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Down the road, another dead fighter’s uncle, Fayez Shukor, welcomed mourners under a tent overlooking the valley as the sun set on a day that had seen Hezbollah’s death toll rise to unexpected heights as the group joined Syrian forces trying to storm the rebel-held Syrian city of Qusayr. His nephew, he had said earlier, died on Sunday alongside 11 other Hezbollah fighters killed in a single rebel attack.

Lebanon reeled Monday from the twin realizations that Hezbollah, the nation’s most powerful military and political organization, was plunging deeper into a war the country has tried to stay out of, and that the group was taking unaccustomed losses. Mr. Shukor, a former government minister from Lebanon’s Arab Socialist Baath Party, walked a careful line between supporting a declaration by Hezbollah that Syria’s fight is its fight and acknowledging the contradiction of fighting fellow Arab Muslims instead of Israelis.

“I wish all this blood had been shed in the south, fighting Israel,” Mr. Shukor said, but added that the rebels battling Hezbollah’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, were “infidels and garbage” serving Israel; the West, he said, should recognize that they are Al Qaeda-linked extremists and help wipe them out.

He then repeated the charge that extremists among the Sunni Muslim rebels have flung at Hezbollah’s Shiites. “They are not Muslims,” he said.

Lebanon and the region have been electrified by the fierce fighting in Qusayr and the role of Hezbollah. Fighters on both sides said rebels continued to hold the north of the city against Hezbollah, the Syrian Army and pro-government militias. Ali, a Lebanese Shiite with ties to Hezbollah, said that a relative and other fighters, updating him by text message from the battlefield, were struck by the rebels’ tenacity. One Hezbollah fighter, he said, told him that even after being shot, rebels “got up and attacked in a brutal way.”

The growing stream of funerals suggests that in Qusayr, Hezbollah is asking followers for their deepest sacrifice in Syria yet, one that it has no choice but to embrace and explain. The exact toll is unclear, as Hezbollah does not always announce deaths right away or specify dates and locations.

At least 14 Hezbollah fighters were killed over the weekend, according to Hezbollah Web sites and relatives of fighters. Phillip C. Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who studies Hezbollah, listed on the Jihadology Web site 20 fighters whose deaths were announced by official and unofficial Hezbollah sites, a number he said could grow. Syrian opposition activists, eager to claim an underdog victory, say more than 40 have died.

Either way, the numbers stand out. In its 34-day war with a stronger foe, Israel, in 2006, Hezbollah acknowledged losing 250 fighters, about 8 a day. (Outside estimates hover around 500 total.) Hezbollah supporters explain the toll in Syria by noting that Hezbollah trains to defend its own territory, not to attack opponents who are defending their own turf.

The scale of the fighting — among the most intense ground battles in Syria’s war — has forced Lebanon to contend anew with a perennial problem. Hezbollah, stronger than the Lebanese Army, has the power to drag the country into war without a government decision, as in 2006, when it set off the war by capturing three Israeli soldiers.

Hezbollah’s critics also complained that the Lebanese Army’s seeming complicity in allowing a large Hezbollah force to cross the border could be viewed as Lebanon’s entering the war — a charge that Hezbollah and Mr. Assad’s supporters have leveled for the opposite reason, as Lebanese Sunnis flow into Syria to join the rebels.

An official with the March 14 movement, Hezbollah’s main political rival, said that with Hezbollah’s help Mr. Assad could probably take Qusayr, a crucial area because it lies near the border and links Damascus with the rebel-held north and the government-held coast. But, the official said, it could cost Hezbollah hundreds of fighters.

He questioned why Hezbollah would want to sink itself into “Dien Bien Phu,” a barbed suggestion that the group would endure the fate of French troops defeated by the Vietnamese in 1954 in a decisive blow to French colonial power.

The Free Syrian Army, the loose-knit rebel umbrella group backed by the United States, issued a statement bound to fuel its frontal battle with Hezbollah, attacking the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah. “We are today calling Nasrallah a killer of the Syrian people,” a spokesman, Louay Mekdad, told the Al-Arabiya channel.
The battle also increasingly seemed to pit Hezbollah, the region’s most battle-hardened Shiite force, head-on against 

Sunni jihadis, some accused of affiliation with Al Qaeda. Rebels flying the black banner often used by Al Nusra Front, the extremist rebel group — listed, like Hezbollah, as a terrorist group by the United States — filmed themselves attacking armored vehicles at close range with machine guns and taking deadly fire.

The heat of the fighting brought into sharp relief the danger of a regional nightmare, all-out war between Shiites and Sunnis. Some rebel supporters urged on the fighters against the “impurity” of Hezbollah, a phrase that resonates as a slur against Shiites. Echoes of the fight rippled across Lebanon, divided between supporters and opponents of Mr. Assad roughly, though not entirely, along sectarian lines. In the northern city of Tripoli, which supplies Sunni fighters to rebel ranks, three Lebanese soldiers were killed Monday in clashes with rebels.

In Shiite areas, people prayed for relatives fighting with Hezbollah, and for victory in a battle the group has framed as both a proxy fight with Israel and an intervention to defend Lebanese and Syrian Shiites and other minorities from an uprising they view as driven by Sunni extremists.

In the Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah’s normally airtight public-relations machine seemed momentarily off balance. The group has vowed never to “hide our martyrs,” and Mr. Shukor proudly invited reporters to his nephew’s funeral. But Hezbollah operatives politely barred them and escorted them out of town. They were allowed back only after Mr. Shukor raised a fuss.

Bouquets of roses lined the marble banisters leading to a terrace where a dirge played quietly for the fighter, Hassan Faisal Shukor, 23. Mr. Shukor said he was the son of his favorite sister, “like a son to me.”

“This is a very deep loss for us,” he said. “But it’s an honor.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/21/world/middleeast/syria-developments.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Rebel group won’t fight Israel if it enters Syria

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Arebel group that operates on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights stated Thursday that it would not fight Israel if Israel sends forces into Syria. A spokesman for the rebel group, which is based in Quneitra, made the comments to Al-Jazeera. “We’ll leave the fighting to Hezbollah and to [Syrian President] Bashar Assad’s men,” said Abu Jafar. “We won’t fight Israel.” Israel has said repeatedly that it has no desire to intervene in the Syrian civil war.

Hezbollah, which has taken an increasing active role in defending Syrian President Bashar Assad, threatened recently to open up a new front against Israel in the Golan Heights. Also, in comments attributed to Assad in a Lebanese daily last week, the embattled Syrian leader allegedly said that opening a new front against Israel in the Golan could serve to unify his people.

Amid the rhetoric, a mortar shell fired from Syria landed on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights early Thursday morning. There were no reports of injuries or damage from the rocket, which landed just over the border, according to Army Radio.

Mortar shells have struck Israel several times over the past year as fighting in the Syrian civil war has spilled over into Israel, though they largely tailed off during June. The rockets and small arms fire are usually assumed to be errant strikes, but Damascus recently boasted that it had retaliated against Israel for reported air strikes against Damascus weapons sites.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has vowed to respond to spillover of the Syrian civil war into Israel, and the IDF has shot at Syrian army positions in the past after incidents of cross-border fire.


Iran, Russia, Hezbollah Top Backers in Syrian Regime's Success

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The protracted fighting in Syria is not happening within a bubble, amid reports of clandestine support for the Bashar al Assad regime from Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, and an ongoing effort to establish an international peace effort. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned at a press conference Friday that stability should remain a top priority for the region around Syria, which could be engulfed in conflict if the two-year-old civil war spins out of control. He chastised the Russian government for agreeing to sell advanced anti-ship missiles to the Syrian government, which seems at odds with that country's latest diplomatic dialogue with the U.S.

Russia committed to work with Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent visit there to organize a peace summit in Geneva this summer. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that any peace summit must include Iran, which he says has played a direct role in the fighting in Syria. "If we admit that Iran has a very solid influence on what is going on, then it is obliged to be represented in the negotiations as a participant in the 'external ring' [of Syria's neighboring states]," Lavrov said on Sunday, reports Press TV.

The Russian delegation at a similar summit last year refused to call for the ouster of Syrian President Assad, who said over the weekend that negotiations would likely fail. "There is confusion in the world between a political solution and terrorism. They think a political conference will halt terrorists in the country. That is unrealistic," he told the newspaper Clarin, according to a Reuters report.

Iran and Russia are not the only outside powers that appear to have a hand in the Syrian government's recent surge against the rebel forces. The Associated Press reported Monday that 28 Hezbollah fighters died and roughly 70 were injured in the Syrian town of Qusair near Homs and the Lebanese border. The Shiite militant Lebanese political party is an historic ally of the Assad regime and receives support from Iran.

President Barack Obama spoke with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman by phone on Monday, about what Obama calls "Hizballah's active and growing role in Syria, fighting on behalf of the Assad regime, which is counter to the Lebanese government's policies."

"The two leaders agreed that all parties should respect Lebanon's policy of disassociation from the conflict in Syria and avoid actions that will involve the Lebanese people in the conflict," according to a statement from the White House.

Hezbollah's involvement also indicates the fighting in Syria is becoming more deeply sectarian, says the AP. The rebellion, which began in March 2011, is largely driven by the Sunni majority in Syria. This fight for Qusair represents the larger battle between the rebels and the regime, as Assad's forces fight to gain control of a route to the coastal region controlled by the loyalist Alawite religious group. This will likely be where Assad retreats if he is forced from Damascus.

"He desperately needs to keep Homs open," says Dan Layman, head of media relations for the Syrian Support Group. "Qusair is a big, big deal."

The regime has regained control of roughly 60 percent of the town, putting a strangle hold on supplies and additional manpower for the rebel fighters. Assad, too, likely sees this as a lifeline. "He sees the writing on the wall that things are going badly for him, so he'll be drastically changing in the next six months," Layman says, adding that it will be very difficult to regain control if Qusair falls to Assad. "If Qusair is taken back by the regime, it's going to be a huge morale blow [for the opposition]."

The regime's recent success in and around Qusair and Homs is due largely to support from Iran, Russia and Hezbollah, according to private security firm Stratfor.

"Hezbollah has long been involved in the fight over Homs, but the May 19 offensive marks a clear escalation in Hezbollah's involvement," it says in a report released Monday. "Tensions in Lebanon have grown alongside this increased involvement. For example, rebels struck the Lebanese town of Hermel with rocket artillery on May 19. And the anger Lebanese Sunnis feel toward Hezbollah threatens to spill over into a full-blown armed conflict."

Iran and Russia also continue to deliver much-needed supplies to the Assad regime, including supplies for its air force which it uses to deploy cluster bombs and other ordnance against the rebels.

"External help also enabled Syria to create a new militia, known as the National Defense Force, to offset the losses incurred by the army," Stratfor says. "With the help of Iranian and Hezbollah advisers, the regime was able to rapidly train and deploy members of this militia."

"Over the past few months, fighting has regressed to battles of exhaustion and campaigns of attrition," Stratfor adds. "Instances where the rebels could quickly seize a major city in only a few days -- as they did in Raqqa -- are the exception rather than the norm."

Source: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/05/20/iran-russia-hezbollah-top-backers-in-syrian-regimes-success

For Russia, Syria is not in the Middle East

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A string of leaders and senior emissaries, seeking to prevent further escalation of the Syria crisis, has headed to Moscow recently to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. First, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, then British Prime Minister David Cameron, next Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now, most recently, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon These leaders see Russia as the key to resolving the Syria quandary. But to get Russia to cooperate on any stabilization plan, the United States and its allies will have to take into account Russia’s significant interests in the Mediterranean region.
 
[2]Moscow’s refusal thus far to act on Syria seems puzzling. Russia has let other of its Middle East client regimes fall without much action on its part in the past. Why is Syria different to Moscow than those other Russian allies in the Middle East? Because, in Russia’s view, the outcome in Syria affects Moscow’s core strategic interests – including its global naval strategy and energy exports. To understand Moscow’s policy toward Syria, it is important to understand that Russia sees Syria as part of its Mediterranean policy and not a part of the Middle East. The Arab Middle East has been a relatively low priority in Russia’s foreign policy. The Mediterranean, however, and especially the Eastern Mediterranean region, is a policy priority for Moscow.

During the winter, when most of its ports freeze and are not accessible, Russia’s warm Black Sea port is the country’s lifeline and critical to its oil export business. Thus, Moscow’s ability to keep the Mediterranean open to uninhibited Russian shipping and naval activity is a top policy priority. Russia’s naval presence in Syria supports and provides an anchor and protection for its activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially in the energy sector. In order to get Russia on board in resolving the Syrian crisis, it is important to grasp its vital Eastern Mediterranean interests.
 
[3]In diplomatic conversations with Moscow, Russia’s concerns should be recognized and discussed. A policy should be designed, for example, that would allow Russia to maintain its naval presence in the region. Russia’s naval fleet is a dominant presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Russia is the major player in oil and gas markets throughout the region, especially in Turkey, Italy and Greece. Russia is now the lead bidder to gain control of Greece’s gas transmission system. It is also attempting to gain a foothold in Israel’s and Cyprus’s newfound natural gas resources. Russian companies have significant investments in the region and possess critical infrastructure. Indeed, Russia offered Cyprus a large loan in 2011 to protect its own investments on the island and to lure Nicosia to orient toward Moscow.

Moscow also has influence in the domestic politics in many of the regions’ states because of its close relationships with local political elites (for example, in Italy and Israel) and through the increasing numbers of Russian nationals and immigrants in countries across the region. There are now, for example, roughly a million Russian immigrants in Israel. Washington and its allies might consider making a concession to Moscow and also refrain from undermining Assad’s regime in Syria, while getting explicit recognition from Moscow that it would, in turn, abstain from undermining the stability of U.S. allies in other regions, such as the Baltics or Caucasus.

The United States and the European Union may not like it that Russia is a thorn in their side in a number of regions, but when Russia’s interests are not recognized by the West, Moscow shows its displeasure by retaliating against U.S. allies around the globe. When the Bush administration, for example, ignored Moscow’s requests not to recognize Kosovo, Moscow responded by destabilizing neighboring Georgia in 2008. If its interests are ignored, Moscow will find the outlet for influence against U.S. interests in other arenas, especially those bordering Russia.

Russia might have only relative power in comparison to the United States, but in many regions, it has more “relevant” power. Thus, in certain regions in the world, Russia can both contribute and undermine U.S. policy goals. With that in mind, its interests should be recognized in order get its cooperation on a plan to stabilize Syria.

Source: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2013/05/20/for-russia-syria-is-not-in-the-middle-east/

 Pepe Escobar: Assad talks, Russia walks

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So Bashar al-Assad has spoken - exclusively, to Argentine daily El Clarin (there's a huge Syrian diaspora in Argentina, as well as in neighboring Brazil). Cutting through the fog of Western hysteria, he made some valuable points. The record shows that, yes, the regime has agreed several times to talk to the opposition; but myriad "rebel" groups with no credible, unified leadership have always refuted. So there's no way a ceasefire, eventually agreed on a summit - such as the upcoming US/Russia Geneva conference - can be implemented. Assad makes some sense when he says, "We can't discuss a timetable with a party if we don't know who they are."

Well, by now everyone following the Syrian tragedy knows who most of them are. One knows that the Un-Free Syrian Cannibals, sorry, Army (FSA) is a ragged collection of warlords, gangsters and opportunists of every possible brand, intersecting with hardcore jihadis of the Jabhat al-Nusra kind (but also other al-Qaeda-linked or inspired outfits).

It took Reuters months to finally admit that jihadis are running the show on the ground. [1] A "rebel" commander even complained to Reuters, "Nusra is now two Nusras. One that is pursuing al Qaeda's agenda of a greater Islamic nation, and another that is Syrian with a national agenda to help us fight Assad." What he didn't say is that the real effective outfit is al-Qaeda-linked.

Syria is now Militia Hell; much like Iraq in the mid-2000s, much like the Western-imposed, "liberated" Libyan failed state. This Afghanization/Somalization is a direct consequence of NATO-GCC-Israel axis interference. [2] So Assad is also right when he says the West is adding fuel to the fire, and is only interested in regime change, whatever the cost.

What Assad didn't say

Assad is not exactly a brilliant politician - so he wasted a golden opportunity to explain to Western public opinion, even briefly, why GCC petro-monarchies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, plus Turkey, have the hots for setting Syria on fire. He could have talked about Qatar wanting to hand over Syria to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Arabia dreaming of a crypto-emirate colony. He could have talked about them both being terrified of Shi'ites in the Persian Gulf harboring legitimate Arab Spring ideals.

He could have pointed to the absolute shambles of Turkey's "zero problems with our neighbors" foreign policy; one day there's a triad of collaboration Ankara-Damascus-Baghdad, the next Ankara wants regime change in Damascus and routinely antagonizes Baghdad. And on top of it Turkey is puzzled to see Kurds emboldened from northern Iraq to northern Syria.

He could have detailed how Britain and France inside NATO, not to mention the US, as well as their petro-monarch puppets are using the disintegration of Syria to hit at Iran - and how none of these actors supplying the weaponizing and plenty of cash give a damn about the suffering of the "Syrian people". The only thing that matters is strategic targets.

While Bashar al-Assad was talking, Russia was walking. President Vladimir Putin - well aware that the Geneva talks are being derailed by various actors even before they happen - moved Russian naval vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean; and offered Syria a batch of ultra-modern ground-to-sea Yakhont missiles plus a batch of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles - the Russian equivalent to the American Patriot. Not to mention that Syria already has Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles.

Now try, any one of you NATO-GCC gang, even bypassing the UN, to unleash a mini-Shock and Awe on Damascus. Or to install a no-fly zone. Qatar and the House of Saud, militarily, are a joke. The Brits and France are seriously tempted, but they don't have the means - or the stomach. Washington has the means - but no stomach. Putin was dead sure the Pentagon would read his message accordingly.

And don't forget Pipelineistan

Assad could also have talked about - what else - Pipelineistan. It would have taken him two minutes to explain the meaning of the agreement for the US$10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline that was signed in July 2012. This crucial Pipelineistan node will export gas from the South Pars field in Iran (the largest in the world, shared with Qatar), through Iraq, towards Syria, with a possible extension to Lebanon, with certified customers in Western Europe. It's what the Chinese call a "win-win" situation.

But not for - guess who? - Qatar and Turkey. Qatar dreams of a rival pipeline from its North field (contiguous with Iran's South Pars field), through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and finally Turkey (which bills itself as the privileged energy transit hub between East and West). Final destination: once again, Western Europe.

As in all Pipelineistan matters, the crux of the game is bypassing both Iran and Russia. That's what happens with the Qatari pipeline - frantically US-supported. But with the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, the export route may originate nowhere else than in Tartus, the Syrian port in the Eastern Mediterranean that hosts the Russian navy. Gazprom would obviously be part of the whole picture, from investment to distribution. Make no mistake; Pipelineistan - once again tied up with bypassing both Russia and Iran - explains a great deal about why Syria is being destroyed.

The EU oil-for-al-Qaeda scheme

Meanwhile, the real Syrian army - backed by Hezbollah - is methodically retaking strategic Al-Qusayr out of "rebel" control. Their next step would be to look east - where Jabhat al-Nusra is merrily profiting from another typical EU blunder; the decision to lift oil sanctions on Syria. [3]

Syria Comment blogger Joshua Landis drew the necessary conclusions; "Whoever gets their hands on the oil, water and agriculture, holds Sunni Syria by the throat. At the moment, that's al-Nusra. Europe opening up the market for oil forced this issue. So the logical conclusion from this craziness is that Europe will be funding al-Qaeda." Call it the EU oil-for-al-Qaeda scheme.

Southwest Asia - what the West calls the Middle East - is bound to remain a privileged realm of irrationality at play. As things stand in Syria, instead of a no-fly zone what should really fly is an "all fly peace" - with everyone and his neighbor involved; US, Russia, the EU, but also Hezbollah, Israel and of course Iran, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has keenly stressed. [4]

Way beyond the Western obsession with regime change, what the already troubled Geneva conference could yield is a deal following the Syrian constitution - which, by the way, is absolutely legitimate, adopted in 2012 by a majority of votes of the real, suffering, "Syrian people". This could even lead to Assad not running for president in elections scheduled for 2014. Regime change, yes. But by peaceful means. Will NATO-GCC-Israel let it happen? No.

Source: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-200513.html

Netanyahu: Israel will take action to prevent Syrian 'weapons leakage' to Hezbollah

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held out the prospect on Sunday of further Israeli strikes inside Syria, pledging to act to prevent advanced weapons from reaching Hezbollah and other militant groups. Although Israel has not publicly taken sides in the civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to topple him, Western and Israeli sources say it has launched air strikes in Syria to destroy weapons it believed were destined for Lebanon's Hezbollah.

In public remarks at the weekly meeting of his cabinet, Netanyahu made no direct mention of those attacks, but said Israel was prepared to take action in the future and was "preparing for every scenario" in the Syrian conflict.

Israel had a policy "to prevent, as much as possible, the leakage of advanced weapons to Hezbollah and terror elements," he said. "We will act to ensure the security interest of Israel's citizens in the future as well." Tzipi Livni, a member of Netanyahu's security cabinet and a former foreign minister, said: "I don't think there is anyone in Israel eager to take action" in Syria, hinting at concerns that any strike could provoke a wider conflict.

In an interview with Israel's Army Radio, Livni also said Israeli politicians ought to avoid taking sides. "Israel isn't popular in Syria. Therefore any such statement could only be used as ammunition by one of the sides to try and divert the debate or the violence toward Israel and that's the last thing we need," Livni said. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied reports that it attacked Iranian-supplied missiles stored near Damascusthis month that it believed were awaiting delivery to Hezbollah, which fought a war with Israel in 2006 and is allied with Assad.

SUPERSONIC MISSILE

A Russian shipment of Yakhont anti-ship missiles to Syria was condemned by the United States on Friday, andIsrael is also alarmed by the prospect of Moscow supplying S-300 advanced air defence missile systems toDamascus. Netanyahu held talks in Russia on Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin on the Syrian crisis but gave no public indication whether Israel's concerns over the Russian weaponry had been eased.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defence Ministry official, said on Saturday the S-300 and the Yakhont, weapons that could complicate any plans for foreign military intervention in Syria, would likely end up with Hezbollah and threaten both Israel and U.S. forces in the Gulf. "Yakhont is a cruise missile that can hit targets at sea and strategic targets. (It is) a supersonic missile, (with) a range of 300 km, very sophisticated," Gilad said on Israel's Channel Two television on Saturday.

"The Russians sent it to Syria, beside the strategic defence system called the S-300. There are a number of versions, and they are sending them one of the good versions," he said.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Friday Russia's delivery of anti-ship missiles to Assad was "ill-timed and very unfortunate" and risked prolonging a war that has already killed more than 80,000 Syrians. A spokesman for Putin, while not responding directly to assertions Russia had sent the anti-ship missiles, saidMoscow would honour contracts to supply Syria, a long-time weapons customer.

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Latest-News-Wires/2013/0519/Netanyahu-Israel-will-take-action-to-prevent-Syrian-weapons-leakage-to-Hezbollah

The Israeli-Jihadist Alliance

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It’s seems counterintuitive, to say the least. Indeed, it seems quite mad. And yet we now have all the evidence we need to point to a de facto Israeli alliance with Al Qaeda. The bombing of Damascus suburbs by Israeli jets – purportedly in order to prevent the Syrians from supplying Hezbollah with long range missiles – at precisely the moment when the Syrian “rebels” are demanding Western intervention on their behalf highlights one of the most bizarre alliances in history. Bizarre, yes, but inexplicable? Not at all.

The Syrian government is claiming the Israelis “coordinated” their attack with the rebels, but this seems problematic – and is largely irrelevant. Yes, a rebel spokesman “blessed” the Israeli strike, but I rather doubt there’s ongoing communication between the rebel leadership and Tel Aviv. It’s simply not necessary: after all, their goals in the region are complementary, if not identical. The Sunni extremists who comprise Al Qaeda have been in the front lines in the battle against Bashar al-Assad, and are also bitterly hostile to the mullahs of Tehran, whom they consider heretics: Israel, for its part, has launched its own holy war against Iran for quite different reasons, and is eager to take out Assad: regardless of motives their goals do coincide. Both want chaos in Syria – the Israelis, in order to eliminate a longstanding thorn in their side, and the jihadists because they thrive in failed states, like Lebanon.

Why would the Israelis aid a “rebel” army made up almost exclusively of hardened jihadists who supposedly hate Israel and want to see its non-Arab inhabitants driven into the sea? For the same reason they initially nurtured Hamas – because they believe it serves their long range purposes. The reason the Israelis granted official legal status to the group that eventually morphed into one of the Jewish state’s most implacable enemies was simple: to divide the Palestinian resistance, and therefore weaken it. At the time, Fatah, the largest component of the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization, was the most effective opposition to the Israeli occupation. The Israelis thought aiding an Islamist competitor would achieve certain desired ends: the decline of the PLO’s influence, the alienation of Arab governments from the Palestinian cause, and the marginalization of that cause in Western eyes. All three goals have since been achieved.

The Israelis are assisting the Syrian jihadists for similar reasons: because it fits in rather neatly with their long-range goals. For a look at those goals, all you have to do is peruse a 1996 document prepared for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by leading neoconservatives, proposing a radical new Israeli “defense” strategy. Reading “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” is like reading a timeline of events in the Middle East for the past ten years. As I wrote in October of 2003, on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War – a day when Israel bombed alleged “terrorist camps” in Syria:

“The paper, co-authored by Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser, portrayed Syria as the main enemy of Israel, but maintained the road to Damascus had to first pass through Baghdad: “‘Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right – as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions. Jordan has challenged Syria’s regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq.’”

Well, we didn’t get the Hashemites – but Maliki will do. Or, rather, near complete chaos will suffice, as the religious civil war wracking the Muslim world takes another potential enemy out of contention. Now that Iraq lies bleeding by the wayside, King Bibi is speeding down that “Clean Break” highway, eager to turn two more regional rivals into roadkill. As I have written before, Syria is our Spain – a proxy war prefiguring a much larger conflict, with the US, Israel, Turkey, Jordan, and Al Qaeda (in the guise of the “Al Nusra Front”) versus the Syrian Ba’athists, Hezbollah, and – standing behind them – Iran.

Israel’s role in this is key. It isn’t just Israeli jets providing air cover for the jihadists in Syria: the Israel lobby has been going full tilt in a push to drag the US into the conflict. And they don’t care how they do it. The other day, in a debate on intervention in Syria on NPR, a representative of WINEP, the “educational” arm of AIPAC, accused anti-interventionist Joshua Landis of “dual loyalty” because his wife is an Alawite! Of course, the Israel lobby isn’t guilty of dual loyalty – their one and only loyalty is to the state of Israel, nothing dual about it.

The “chemical weapons” hoax topped the long list of similar scams set up by the Syrian rebels and their Western supporters in its brazen effrontery: not since the “Niger uranium” papers have we seen such a downright sloppy scheme to lie us into war. Samples taken from rebel sources tested positive for sarin – and the administration was supposed to accept that at face value? Back to the drawing board, and the same old question: how do we drag a reluctant US President into an open military confrontation with Iran?

Only a few years ago it would’ve been hard to believe the Americans weren’t clued in beforehand that Israeli jets would soon be pounding Damascus. However, given the relations between this administration and the Netanyahu government, one is hardly shocked to learn it came as a surprise. The War Party is playing its trump card – and we’ll see if the President has anything up his sleeve to beat it. In an effort to stay out of a major mess that could get far messier, the White House is up against not only the Israel lobby, the McCain brigade, and powerful members of his own party, he’s also swimming against the foreign policy current that dominated the previous administration – and also his own.

It was during the Bush regime’s effort to save face by proclaiming “victory” at the end of the Iraq “surge” that the US decided to play the Sunni card and forge a regional coalition to block Iranian dominance of the region. That this turn ended up with the US and Al Qaeda on the same side in the Syrian trenches is hardly surprising – or unprecedented. Bin Laden’s legions fought in the Kosovo war on the side of their Kosovar Muslim brothers and NATO: many present day jihadists are veterans of that conflict, just as they are veterans of Afghanistan, Libya, and Chechnya – all regions where the jihadists and the Americans are de facto allies. In the Balkans, we used them to block Russian influence in Europe: in Syria, we are using them to run interference with the Iranians. In resisting – at least publicly – the call to intervene more visibly, this President is contravening the trajectory of American policy in the region – and the US ship of state, an enormous and therefore unwieldy vessel, is not so easily turned around. It has a momentum all its own.

The White House has been besieged by the “humanitarian” interventionist crowd – by Democrats, including, in Congress, Carl Levin, Robert Menendez, and Dianne Feinstein – to “do something” in Syria, while the Republican hawks swirling around John McCain have been howling for a “no fly zone” and military aid to the rebels. Of course, the American people oppose us getting involved in the Syrian imbroglio, but they don’t count: the gaggle of foreign lobbyists and laptop bombardiers who rule Washington are, as usual, the only voices being heard.

Who will channel the populist wisdom of the war-weary and too-often-lied-to American people? While the warlords of Washington are merrily planning yet another war to benefit Israel based on lying “evidence” of WMD, where are all these supposed Republican “isolationists” we’ve been hearing so much about? Put up, or shut up, fellas.

Israel, US Threatens War with Syria as Sectarian Fighting Spreads across Region

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Israeli and Syrian forces exchanged fire across the cease-fire line in the Golan Heights yesterday, amid rising US and Israeli threats of intervention in the US-led sectarian proxy war in Syria, which is rapidly spreading throughout the region.

Fighting in the Golan Heights started overnight when Syrian forces fired at an Israeli vehicle that allegedly crossed into Syrian territory. Israeli forces fired rockets into Syrian territory and claimed to have destroyed the source of Syrian fire. The border fighting came only two days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to act “with determination” to prevent the transfer of arms from Syria to the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah. Hezbollah has now intervened in the Syrian war to support the regime of President Bashar al-Assad against the US-backed Sunni Islamist opposition.

Netanyahu’s statement was widely interpreted as an Israeli threat to mount further unprovoked air strikes on Syria.
Since Obama’s reelection last November and twice this month, Israeli forces have bombed targets in Syria. This month’s bombings, hitting Syrian army targets in the capital, Damascus, were timed to coincide with an offensive by the Sunni opposition on the city. This offensive has been thrown back and forced into retreat, however, due, in part, to the intervention of Hezbollah forces in areas of southern Syria adjacent to Lebanon.

The reversals suffered by the opposition point to the minimal support it has in the Syrian population. There are now intensifying threats of war coming from Israel as well as calls in Washington and in European capitals for stepping up the flow of arms to opposition forces or directly intervening with air strikes or a ground invasion. Speaking yesterday at the University of Haifa, Israel Defense Forces head Lt. General Benny Gantz said: “We will not allow the Golan to become a comfortable space for Assad to operate from. If he escalates the situation on the Golan Heights, he will have to bear the consequences.”

He implied that war could break out at any time, noting that “a day doesn’t go by” without the risk of a “sudden uncontrollable deterioration.”

In Washington, senators Robert Menendez (Democrat of New Jersey) and Bob Corker (Republican of Tennessee) have submitted a bill titled “Syrian Transition Support Act.” It would authorize the Obama administration to “provide defense articles, defense services, and military training” to Syrian opposition forces. The bill bluntly spells out broader strategic calculations underlying the proxy war in Syria. It notes, “A change of government in Syria could be a significant blow to the Government of Iran and Hizballah [Hezbollah], which would lose a strong ally.”

That is, the Syrian war is in line with US imperialism’s strategic interests: isolating Hezbollah, the main threat to Israeli military hegemony in the Near East, and Iran, the main obstacle to US hegemony in the entire Middle East and to US control of the region’s oil.

In its presentation of the war, the bill advances lies and evasions similar to those with which pseudo-left forces such as the International Socialist Organization in the US, France’s New Anti-capitalist Party and Germany’s Left Party have promoted the US-backed opposition. It proposes to support opposition forces that are “protecting human rights” and “protecting the Syrian population against sectarian violence and reprisals.”

In fact, Sunni opposition militias armed under CIA supervision with funds from Washington’s Middle East allies are waging a bloody sectarian war with terror bombings and massacres. This was even recognized partially by Washington, which declared one of the main opposition forces, the Al Nusra Front, a terrorist organization responsible for nearly 600 terror bombings in the period up to December 2012.

On Monday, a spokesman for the US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) threatened a sectarian genocide of Shia Muslims—including the Alawite minority from which Assad’s family is drawn—in territory still held by the opposition, as it retreats in southern Syria. He threatened that Shia communities would be “wiped off the map,” adding: “It’s going to be an open, sectarian, bloody war to the end.”

This comes a week after an opposition commander of the so-called “moderate” Farouq Brigade filmed himself desecrating the corpse of a Syrian soldier, cutting out his organs and biting into one of them. He also called for the killing of Alawites.

Washington, its allies, and its Sunni Islamist proxies fear, in particular, the loss of the town of Qusayr. This would cut supply lines connecting opposition fighters around Homs from the majority-Sunni port of Tripoli, in Lebanon, from which they receive weapons supplies. It would also open direct land routes connecting the Assad regime in Damascus to the Alawite heartland on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

According to AFP, Hezbollah sources confirmed that they had sent “new elite troops to Qusayr.” The Syrian state daily Al Watan reported yesterday that Syrian regime forces had retaken Qusayr’s official buildings and “raised the Syrian flag” over them.

Washington has denounced Hezbollah’s intervention, with US President Barack Obama calling Lebanese President Michel Sleiman to criticize Hezbollah’s “active and growing role” in Syria. The US State Department said Hezbollah’s actions “exacerbate and inflame regional sectarian tensions and perpetuate the [Syrian] regime’s campaign of terror.”

In fact, it is Washington and its allies that are backing forces advocating and carrying out sectarian massacres and terror attacks. By giving Turkey and the Persian Gulf monarchies carte blanche for an international campaign to arm rabid Sunni sectarian forces, overseen by the CIA, they are spreading sectarian bloodshed across the entire region.

Fighting continued in Iraq yesterday, with 19 people killed and one hundred wounded in bombings, as the sectarian tensions unleashed by US support for Sunni Islamist militias in Syria spilled over into Sunni fighting against the Shia-led Iraqi regime. Opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters also fired into Lebanon yesterday, targeting Hezbollah positions with Grad rockets from the Qusayr area in Syria. According to Iran’s Press TV, they targeted the villages of Hawsh al-Sayyed Ali and al-Qasr. The rockets targeting al-Qasr exploded close to the Zainul Abideen orphanage but caused no casualties, according to the orphanage’s director, Mohammad al-Saeed.

Source: http://www.globalresearch.ca/israel-us-threatens-war-with-syria-as-sectarian-fighting-spreads-across-region/5336015

Al-Monitor: Israel Rethinks Assumptions About Syria

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For the past two years, there have been a number of generally accepted assumptions about what will finally happen in Syria. By late last week, these assumptions came crashing down with the raucous force of an earthquake. We are talking about the very opinions that were considered to be conventional wisdom among the Israeli public, and which had considerable impact on political decision-makers and military strategists alike for the past two years. These are the core assumptions:
  1. International intervention in Syria is inevitable. Sooner or later the free world will be forced to take action to save the country’s civilian population from the clutches of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his army.
  2. An Israeli attack on Assad will cause him to recoil in terror and force him to avoid transferring arms to Hezbollah or responding with a counter-attack.
  3. The aid that Qatar and Turkey provide to the rebels should ultimately change the balance of power.
  4. The apple (Bashar) has fallen far from the tree (former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad). According to this assumption, Bashar is afraid of his own shadow, and even the faintest breeze can discombobulate him and throw him off balance (this is, by the way, how he is portrayed in the popular Israeli television satire "Eretz Nehederet," but more on that later).
  5. Israeli intelligence assessments provide an accurate account of the situation and should be the basis of any future decisions about how to respond to the situation in Syria.
  6. Assad’s regime will be deposed in a matter of weeks” (former Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Dec. 11, 2011).
Then, within a week, everyone woke up to the fact that the most important parameter of all was overlooked in the most recent analyses of the situation in the Middle East in general and Syria in particular. The assumption is that the geopolitical game here has remained very much the same since the signing of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. All that has changed is the players.

It was May 16, 1916, and World War I was still raging, when France and England signed a secret agreement splitting the Middle East into two exclusive spheres of influence once the war was over. All earlier promises and agreements were shoved aside so that these two colonial powers could focus on one important question: How will each of these two powers divvy up the Ottoman territories of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Western Turkey, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf. That was the whole story. Both the British and the French empires, which were also the two world powers at the time, wanted to protect their strategic interests in the region.

Almost a century has passed since then. The two world powers have been replaced, so now it is Russia and the United States, which will ultimately decide how the fighting in Syria will end, and what the country will look like in the aftermath. And they will be the only ones to decide: there will be no input from Assad or the rebels, Saudi Arabia or Qatar, and certainly not Israel.

By late last week [on May 17], 12 Russian battleships were sent to patrol the waters off the Russian naval base in Syria and to demonstrate a presence in the region. This was hardly some subtle hint. It had the volume of a Russian aircraft carrier. What the Russians were effectively saying was that no one should even consider making any decision whatsoever about the future of Syria, and by extension, of Assad, without first considering Moscow’s strategic interests. Both the United States and Israel got the hint.

The Soviet Union had strategic interests in Syria ever since the mid-1960s. So does modern Russia. It is the largest advance base that Russia still has in the Middle East, and someone like Russian President Vladimir Putin would never give it up, certainly not for “humanitarian reasons,” and even more certainly when the Russians see a certain symmetry there, and believe that Israel is the most important US advance base in the region.

Yes, Russia had strategic interests of its own in Syria, which makes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s slog to Moscow last week seem all the more ridiculous. The prime minister tried to dissuade Putin from selling S-300 [anti-craft] missiles to Assad, since that would have far-reaching repercussions on the Israeli air force. Did Netanyahu really believe that sitting Putin down for a heart to heart talk would really convince the Russian leader to forego his support for Assad?

By the end of last week, reality seemed to prove that Israeli intelligence assessments claiming Assad would soon fall were premature at best. Furthermore, an Israeli source was now quoted by the London Times as saying (May 18, 2013) that in the current circumstances, Assad is actually good for Israel: “Better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there.” The real question is: “Where were they before this?” By “they” I mean those people described as “Israeli decision-makers” and “senior officials,” who are quoted in the press.

When a political, diplomatic or military correspondent errs in some assessment or other, the greatest damage is to his reputation, or at most to the reputation of the media he represents. Commentators and journalists base what they write on public information, and frequently on intentional leaks from various interested parties. The U-turn that Israel has made this past week in its attitude toward Assad raises serious questions about the people behind our defense strategy. Did none of them know before last week what Assad has been saying for a long time now, that his country has become home to a hodgepodge of terrorist organizations?

Instead of responding to this, analyzing it, and preparing for the worst-case scenario, Israel preferred to mock Assad instead. The parodies of Assad (such as the aforementioned "Eretz Nehederet") depict him as a reluctant coward, a “wimp” to use a more colloquial term, who will not be able to withstand all the pressure being placed on him. In this, he is juxtaposed with other Arab leaders, who were once perceived as being strong: former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi both come to mind. But perhaps that is the root of the problem. People are too quick to compare him to the leaders of Egypt and Libya, who were both deposed fairly quickly. I do not want to think that Israel’s leaders are also influenced by TV satire.

As we already noted, the high point of Israel’s failure to understand what is going on in Syria came in Ehud Barak’s statement of 2011. At the time, he gave Assad just a few weeks before he would be toppled. That was a year and a half ago. Since then, Barak has been “toppled,” while Assad remains in power.

What was the basis of Barak’s assessment? The Research Division of Military Intelligence? International security experts? It is more likely that his estimation was based on the same “wimpy” image of Assad as being spineless and lacking leadership experience, as someone who inherited his position of power, and who everyone else has wrapped around their little fingers.

But Assad and his entourage realized that if he was to survive, he would first have to identify the real powers, who determine the balance of threats in the Middle East. And he proved that he knew exactly who they were. Twelve Russian warships sailing off the Syrian coast are just one proof of that. His decision to aim missiles at Tel Aviv to counter a potential Israeli attack is yet further evidence.

This leaves us with one possible conclusion: The assumption that Assad would fall if he dared to attack Israel (in response to an Israeli strike against him) was not as accurate as previously thought. But that hardly prevents Israel from carrying on with its war games. “Security sources” and “decision-makers” alike continue to ponder whether Assad or the rebels are better for Israel and what steps the country should take, as if they had any say whatsoever in the current situation.

The one person to best express this was the former Israeli Military Intelligence head Uri Sagi, who rose up like a thundering prophet, ignored by the people of his city, to ask, “Who are we to decide? What tools do we have to determine who will rule in neighboring Syria and how?” Wouldn’t it be easier to look up the “Sykes-Picot Agreement” in the encyclopedia?

Shlomi Eldar is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, and has reported on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

The Oil Road Through Damascus

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Middle East oil transit routes are at risk from Islamist revolutions and Iranian threats. Does Syria present an opportunity for the West to bypass the most troubling oil chokepoints? Is that a strong driver behind the West's interest in the Syrian rebellion? Instability all along the oil road is at its highest point in decades, and Syria's history as a perennial spoiler and location as a potential energy path cannot have been missed. Consider the recent pressures on Middle East oil shipping routes:
  • Iranian influence on the Shi'ite-dominated government in Iraq has caused significant worry in Washington. Iran's influence in Iraq can be viewed, Stratfor notes, as a greater "arc of influence" from Iran to Iraq, extended through Syria and into Lebanon. The West's strategy is to contain Iran's foreign influence and prevent Iran's development of nuclear weapons. Syria would be a natural target for this strategy.
  • Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to economic sanctions or military action aimed at its nuclear program. Over 17 million barrels of oil per day flow through the Strait , and the mere threat of closure has kept oil prices elevated.
  • Yemen, which sits in a key position on the Bab-el-Mandab strait, separating the Arabian peninsula from the horn of Africa, struggles with a rebellion against the Saleh regime. It has also been a hot zone of internecine conflict between Sunni and Shi'ite communities and has also been a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity and drone attacks against Islamist militants.
  • The Arab Spring in Egypt has seen the rise of Islamist interests inimical to the West and Israel, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which is highly-anti-Western. Since then, diplomatic tensions between Egypt and the US have risen dramatically. Because the Arab Spring was largely stoked and triggered by the explosion of food prices in a very poor part of the world, and they have not abated, the level of desperation and radicalism displayed in Egypt to the West is likely to worsen.
  • A single "Suezmax" tanker sunk in the Suez Canal would cause an explosion in world energy prices. If the Suez Canal and/or the SUMED pipeline, were closed, as the Suez was by Nasser in 1957 , then oil tankers would have to travel an additional 9,600 kilometers around Africa to reach its destination. This fact has never been lost on Western logisticians.
As a result, Middle East oil shipping lanes have always attracted a strong, expensive and provocative Western military presence.

An overland alternative?

Good generals study tactics, great generals study logistics. - General Omar Bradley

The search for non-naval oil routes is not a new topic. In 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon requested a feasibility study on the possible revival of the long-defunct Mosul-Haifa oil pipeline route. This pipeline was activated by the British in 1935 to transfer Iraqi oil to the Mediterranean. It was shut down in 1948 by Iraq in the aftermath of Israel's founding.

While there was much discussion on the pipeline's revival, the general conclusion was that such an effort would be entirely infeasible, because such a pipeline would be a magnet for terrorist attacks due to the regional stigma attached to Israel. This concern is confirmed by the recent rash of pipeline attacks on Egyptian energy flows to Israel. Thus, most pipelines in the region entirely bypass Israel.

However, properly secured, a pipeline through Israel, Syria or Lebanon to the Mediterranean would be of tremendous value. The important phrase here is "properly secured". Otherwise, one choke point would be exchanged for another, potentially more vulnerable one. Such a route would only be feasible if it were shielded from the blackmail and sabotage so common to the region. Until now, a major Syrian pipeline would have been a pipe dream.

Why not Syria already?

Although there are pipelines through Syria today, they are of miniscule importance compared to major arteries such as Egypt's SUMED and would do little to replace the Strait of Hormuz-Suez route. For decades, the Assad regime effectively locked itself out of any meaningful commercial links with the West through a combination of wars, dark alliances and support for terror groups across the region.

In the Cold War, Syria's strong alignment with the USSR, repeated attacks against Israel, both militarily and through its support and shelter of anti-Western terror groups, made it extremely unreliable as a host for pipelines upon which so many nations would depend. In particular, the alignment with the USSR was seen as a political threat by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council nations. [1]

During the Lebanese Civil War, Syria actively supported Shi'ite factions and came to dominate Lebanon in the aftermath of the country's civil war. Furthermore, the country harbored Imad Mugniyeh, the prime suspect in the 1983 bombing of a US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, in which nearly 300 US and French servicemen were killed. He was finally assassinated in 2008, in Damascus.

After the Cold War, Syria continued to dominate Lebanon, and was allegedly a key player in the assassination of president Rafic Hariri, a Sunni. Though this led to the "Cedar Revolution" that drove most of Syria's uniformed troops out of Lebanon and loosened its grip on the country, Syria's continued support of terror organizations in Lebanon and the political wing of Hezbollah kept it at odds with the West.

Hopes that Bashar al-Assad would initiate a new era of peace and openness with the West were dashed early on. He sheltered a number of key leaders from Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist Party, and did almost nothing to stem the flow of money, fighters and weapons back into Iraq.

Assad's Syria continued to pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction, which included the attempt to construct a secret nuclear reactor, with the assistance of North Korea, in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The reactor was destroyed by Israeli bombers on September 6, 2007 as part of Operation Orchard .

Syria worked hard to earn its status as a pariah nation, which is why even whispers of a super-pipeline route are so belated. Even with an Assad-dominated Syria, and there are feasibility studies underway to add significant additional crude oil pipeline capacity from Iraq through Syria, as well as an underwater pipeline to Turkey. There is also an opportunity for Syria in the natural gas transport space. Syria would be the logical choice to host a branch for Egyptian liquefied natural gas into the Nabucco pipeline network.

The dangerous road ahead

At this point there is little Bashar can do to save his regime. The high food prices that lit the fires of the Arab Spring remain, and the slaughter of so many demonstrators has made untenable any hopes Assad would have to live peacefully in Syria even if he resigned. With the exceptions of Russia and Iran, Syria's traditional commercial partners, including oil companies, have unified to isolate and starve the regime.

The ultimate question for the outcome of the overland super-pipeline is what will fill the power vacuum after Assad's collapse? If Syria descends into sectarian civil war, it would be some time before such a project could proceed. Iran will fight for control of the country in the same way it did for Lebanon and Iraq - through a combination of supporting political movements and terror tactics. Some of these have allegedly already come into play to fight for the Assad regime.

Similarly, Turkey has a major stake in the outcome in Syria. Its most immediate interest there is to prevent a destabilizing tide of refugees from Syria, but the more strategic interests are manifold.

Turkey's leadership, embodied by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, wants to see Turkey re-assert a dominant economic and political position in the region. To have that role in Syria, Iranian influence would have to be driven away. Likewise, Russian influence in Syria, projected from its military hub of Tartus, is not desirable from the Turkish point of view.

Add in the discovery of huge offshore natural gas reserves in Lebanon and Israel, and the precedent of Iranian natural gas embargos to Turkey , and the overall potential impact Syria can have on energy transport, and it becomes clear that Syria carries huge weight in Turkish foreign policy formulation.

How far will Turkey go? Is it prepared to offer its troops as peacekeepers? Will the US and its allies accept the costs of a long-term Turkish presence to contain Iran, and/or guard a critical energy artery as they guard naval routes from the Persian Gulf? The Syrian people - Alawi, Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Kurd alike, do not have fond memories of Ottoman domination. Whatever happens, the iron law remains: the spice must flow.

Note: 1. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates

Ronnie Blewer is an IT security and systems management professional with a strong interest in global economic and foreign policy issues. Mr. Blewer has degrees in Russian language and Political Science from Louisiana State University. To contact him via e-mail, he can be reached at ronnie.blewer@yahoo.com.

Source: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/NB15Ak02.html 

Al-Qaeda's Syrian wing takes over the oilfields once belonging to Assad


Up to 380,000 barrels of crude oil were previously produced by wells around the city of Raqqa and in the desert region to its east that are now in rebel hands - in particular Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda off-shoot which is the strongest faction in this part of the country. Now the violently anti-Western jihadist group, which has been steadily extending its control in the region, is selling the crude oil to local entrepreneurs, who use home-made refineries to produce low-grade petrol and other fuels for Syrians facing acute shortages.

The ability of Jabhat al-Nusra to profit from the oil locally, despite international sanctions which have hindered its sale abroad, will be particularly worrying to the European Union, which has voted to ease the embargo but at the same time wants to marginalise the extremist group within the opposition. In the battle for the future of the rebel cause, the oil-fields may begin to play an increasingly strategic role. All are in the three provinces closest to Iraq - Hasakeh, Deir al-Zour, and Raqqa, while the Iraqi border regions are the homeland of the Islamic State of Iraq, as al-Qaeda's branch in the country calls itself.

It was fighters from Islamic State of Iraq, both Iraqi and Syrian, who are thought to have founded Jabhat al-Nusra as the protests against the rule of President Assad turned into civil war. Because of sanctions, Jabhat's oil is largely shipped to thousands of home-built mini-refineries that have sprung up across the north of the country. The crude is distilled in hand-welded vats dug into the ground and heated with burning oil residue. It is not clear how much money is being channelled back to the group. But all those buying the raw product were aware that Jabhat was profiting.

"Jabhat do not ask for taxes or charges for this trade," said one of them, Omar Mahmoud, from Raqqa province. "But we are buying the oil from them so they do not need to."

Syria's oil output, never as great as that of some of Syria's Arab neighbours, fell to about 130,000 barrels a day after the outbreak of the revolution against the Assad regime. However, Jabhat al-Nusra are now putting that to good use. The homes refineries are turning out poor quality but usable – and much-needed - petrol and kerosene for cooking and home stoves. Their product might not meet the quality, and certainly the health and safety standards, demanded by Shell or ExxonMobil, but it provides a living to thousands of blackened figures willing to risk the business's inherent dangers.

In parts of north-east Syria, the stills are set up by every road-side, the produce sold like fruit from lay-bys to drivers as they pass. But the unquestioned centre of the industry is the desert outside the small town of Mansoura, a few miles west of Raqqa city and on the other side of the Euphrates River. Here, the entire horizon is a blighted scene of billowing clouds out of which dark figures occasionally emerge on foot or roaring motor-bikes. Near the road sit oil tankers carrying the raw product.

"I make 3000 Syrian pounds (about £15) a day," said Adel Hantoush, 19, his legs dripping with crude, a filthy headscarf wrapped around his face. A building site casual labourer in better times, he helps support his father, mother and nine brothers and sisters. Black smoke blew past his head as colleagues poured fuel into the burning pit under their tank. "The last thing I think about is my health," he said. "If I don't do this, my family will die."

The amateur production process is quite simple, and easily explained in school text books. The oil is heated slowly, with the different grades of product evaporating at different temperatures. The vapour is fed through pipes channelled through pits filled with water to recondense it as a liquid, which runs out into containers at the other end. Near Raqqa, they pay 4000 Syrian pounds (£20) a barrel, with the price rising for smaller quantities and as the distance increases. A single refining vat can take six barrels at a time, producing maybe 30 litres of petrol, similar quantities of cooking fuel and higher amounts of diesel.

Abdulwahad Abdullah, a wheat farmer from north of Raqqa who runs a single still through two five-hour cycles a day, says he can make 20,000 pound profit (£100) on a good day. It is a Mad Max scene, indicative of the chaos the war has unleashed in Syria, creating a landscape ideal for the methods of dominance al-Qaeda learned in post-war Iraq.

General Selim Idriss, the head of the western-backed opposition Military Council, has appealed for Western help specifically to seize the fields from Jabhat, but the forces required - he put it at 30,000 men - make that a pipe dream. Even pro-Western rebel militias in the area admit that the level of support received from the council is at present minimal. They have promised to take on Jabhat al-Nusra once the fighting is over, but they are split and fighting among themselves, with their lack of money forcing some to turn to looting and extortion to fund themselves, further alienating the local population.

Jabhat have used their greater proficiency at fighting, honed by jihad in Iraq and elsewhere, to take a leading role at the battlefront. "They are more disciplined," Abu Hamza, a fighter with a rival Islamist rebel brigade in Aleppo admitted. "When they attack, they make a plan first, and then stick to it."

Their battlefield supremacy has enabled them to seize the economic as well as the military high-ground. In Raqqa, they also control flour production, earning money from selling to bakeries, some of which they own as well. "Jabhat now own everything here," one disillusioned secular activist said. In other places they sell the flour at a loss, further endearing them to the local population. Until now it has been a virtuous circle. Well-funded anyway from foreign contributions, they are able to avoid levying the fees – some say bribes – to pay their men and for supplies that have made other brigades increasingly unpopular. That in turn has been a major boon to recruitment, with thousands defecting to them.

Jabhat al-Nusra's rule has not been easy. It has had to fight opposed local brigades, and has begun to face protests over its hardline policies – most recently last week after their public execution of three captured soldiers in Raqqa's town square. The group said this was revenge for a massacre of civilians by pro-Assad forces in the coastal town of Baniyas. Ominously, this was done in the name of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria", suggesting that Jabhat al-Nusra at least in the east is now fully under the control of the murderous Iraqi mother group.

Few are concerned about the downsides, though one man showed huge weals that had grown under his arm which he blamed on his days inhaling the dense black smoke. One Mansoura man, Mahmoud Ismail, a computer technician who had come to the desert site to visit friends and was watching them pour petrol into barrels to take away, said he had tried the work for a single day. But he then gave it up when he thought about what he was inhaling.

 "I came, did it, and then packed up and stopped," he said. "It just wasn't worth it." With that, he flicked his cigarette on to the ground, and stamped it out.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10065802/Al-Qaedas-Syrian-wing-takes-over-the-oilfields-once-belonging-to-Assad.html

Iraqi Shiites fight for Syrian government

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The Iraqi fighters in the video shoulder assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades as they walk down a highway lined with cypress trees. Grinning, some hold up cellphones and camcorders to capture the moment — the aftermath of a victorious battle to secure the Aleppo airport from Syrian rebels who had attempted to take it.

“You are the sons of Iraq and the sons of Islam!” shouts one of their commanders. The men cheer.

Weeks later in Baghdad, Abu Sajad, the nom de guerre of an Iraqi militia commander who appears in the video, proudly displayed it as proof that Iraqi Shiites are playing a critical role supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in what has become an increasingly sectarian and regional war. It was impossible to verify the location in the video or the circumstances.

Until recently, the involvement of Iraqi Shiites in Syria’s war was cloaked in secrecy here in Iraq, whose Shiite-led government has denied any role in the conflict. But recent interviews with militants, analysts, Arab government officials and residents of Shiite cities across Iraq reveal a trend that is growing increasingly open as Iraqi fighters come to view their participation as part of a regional struggle to defeat al-Qaeda and what they say is a broad effort by the region’s dominant Sunnis to wipe out Shiites.

At the center of the Shiite mobilization is Iran, which analysts and intelligence officials say is seeking to preserve its regional influence by funding and supplying an expanding Shiite network of armed support for the Syrian government, which is dominated by Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. In addition to combatants from Iranian security forces and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, pro-Assad proxy fighters include Iraqis drawn largely from militant groups known to be backed by Iran.

The role of Iraqi Shiite fighters in Syria raises questions about the possible complicity of the Iraqi government, which U.S. officials have recently criticized for allowing Iran to use Iraqi airspace for flights that allegedly transport weapons, troops and supplies to the Assad government. Iraqi officials say they have agreed to U.S. requests for inspections of the Iranian overflights. Eight recent random inspections have found “nothing illegal,” said Kareem Nouri, a Transportation Ministry spokesman.

“We support neither the opposition nor the regime in Syria, and we will not make Iraq a part of the fight in Syria,” he said.

But Iraqi officials have warned repeatedly that Assad’s fall would spell disaster for Iraq, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the Associated Press in February that a rebel victory in Syria would revive Iraq’s sectarian war. In an interview, Sami al-Askari, a Shiite lawmaker close to Maliki, said the government “turns a blind eye” to the flow of Shiite fighters to Syria, as it does in the case of Iraqi Sunnis who help Syrian rebels.

Analysts and Shiite militia leaders say it is unclear how many Iraqi Shiites have gone to fight in Syria, but Abu Sajad put the number at about 200 and said the ranks were growing quickly. He said Shiite fighters had been particularly motivated by an April statement by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who glorified the Syrian opposition in what he depicted as its fight against Assad and Iran, and by the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra’s recent pledge of fealty to al-Qaeda.

“Now it has become very common for people to say, ‘I’m going to Syria to fight,’ ” Abu Sajad said. “Why can Zawahiri say it publicly and we have to keep it a secret?”

Highly organized missions

In an interview in Baghdad, Abu Sajad and another Iraqi Shiite militia commander, Abu Aya, refused to say how they traveled to Syria or comment on Iran’s role in the process. But they said some of their operations helped tip the scale in favor of the Assad government, which has recently made gains against rebels.

Abu Sajad described his two-month mission this spring as extremely organized. He said that he took along 10 fighters, all highly skilled from years spent battling U.S. forces in Iraq, and that the Syrian army provided them with arms, vehicles and supplies. “The Iraqi groups are only doing special missions,” he said. “We fight, and when we free a place . . . then the Syrian army comes in and sets up a base.”

The men said they were members of a Shiite militia but declined to say which one. Other Shiites who know them from Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood identified them as members of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a group responsible for most attacks against U.S. forces in the final years of the Iraq war. Residents and journalists in Baghdad and several Shiite cities in Iraq’s south said the group is leading a shadowy effort to recruit and dispatch fighters to Syria.

Publicly, militia leaders, government officials and Shiite clerics in Baghdad and Tehran say Iraqi Shiites are going to Syria exclusively to protect the Shiite Sayeda Zeinab shrine south of Damascus. Massoud Jazayeri, a spokesman for Iran’s armed forces general staff, told the Lebanese al-Manar news channel last week that “many measures have taken place” to form forces to protect Syria’s Shiite shrines.

But a growing number of news media reports about bodies that have been returned to Iraq from Syria and funerals for fighters slain there indicate that Iraqi Shiites are active in battles far beyond the Sayeda Zeinab district, where the level of combat is low, said Will Fulton, an Iran analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington who co-authored a recent report on Iran’s strategy in Syria.

Abu Sajad and Abu Aya said there had been battles between Iraqi militants and anti-Assad rebels across Syria, including in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and the strategic Qusair region along the border with Lebanon.

Iraqis, Hezbollah at the front

Residents of southern Iraqi Shiite cities said that fighters are mobilized in meetings with Shiite political parties and militias and that they often travel via Iran. “Every day here, there are two or three funerals for martyrs killed in Syria,” said a journalist in Najaf who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid attracting the attention of the militias. He said about “90 percent” of the fighters had been mobilized by Asaib Ahl al-Haq and another ­Iranian-funded militia, Kataib Hezbollah.

Abu Sajad and Abu Aya said that in many instances, specialized paramilitary units of well-trained Iraqi Shiites and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters led offensives against rebel forces because Syrian army regiments were too afraid to do so. The two men showed more than a dozen cellphone videos that they said Abu Sajad and his fighters shot during battles in Syria. Several other videos that purportedly show Iraqis fighting in Syria have surfaced on the Internet in the past two months.

One of Abu Sajad’s videos purports to show Iraqi fighters in green fatigues preparing for an assault on rebel forces in the Damascus suburb of Jobar. “Look, that’s the Syrian army doing nothing because they’re scared,” Abu Sajad proclaimed, pointing to a cluster of men in half the frame. “And there’s me.”

Abu Sajad said his unit had helped deliver crushing defeats to the Syrian rebels, capture suspected spies and “liberate” Aleppo’s strategic airport from the threat of shelling. By the end of his first mission in Jobar, Abu Sajad said, his unit — with the help of regular radio communications with Hezbollah — had pushed deep into a rebel-held territory and killed “a lot” of people.

Before proceeding with the offensive, he recalled, he told a Syrian army commander: “Now you will see what the Iraqis can do.” When they were done, he said, they handed the area over to the Syrian army and moved on to the next mission.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraqi-shiites-fight-for-syrian-government/2013/05/26/6c3c39b4-c245-11e2-914f-a7aba60512a7_print.html

More than 1,000 killed in Iraq sectarian violence in May

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More than 1,000 people were killed in violence in Iraq in May, making it the deadliest month since the sectarian slaughter of 2006-07, the United Nations said on Saturday, as fears mounted of a return to civil war. Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in the last two months as al Qaeda and Sunni Islamist insurgents, invigorated by the Sunni-led revolt in Syria and by Sunni discontent at home, seek to revive the kind of all-out inter-communal conflict that killed tens of thousands five years ago.

"That is a sad record," Martin Kobler, the U.N. envoy in Baghdad, said in a statement. "Iraqi political leaders must act immediately to stop this intolerable bloodshed."

The renewed bloodletting reflects worsening tensions between Iraq's Shi'ite-led government and the Sunni minority, seething with resentment at their treatment since Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 and later hanged. Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Saturday met leaders from across Iraq's sectarian divide to try to resolve the crisis. Leaders emerged smiling, but there were only initial talks that did not address fundamental Sunni discontent.

This week multiple bombings battered Shi'ite and Sunni areas of the capital Baghdad, killing nearly 100 people. Most of the 1,045 people killed in May were civilians, U.N. figures showed. The U.N. toll is higher than a Reuters estimate of 600 deaths based on police and hospital officials. Such counts can vary depending on sourcing, while numbers often increase beyond initial estimates as wounded people die. Al Qaeda's local wing and other Sunni armed groups are now regaining ground lost during their battle with U.S. troops who pulled out in December 2011.

At the height of Iraq's sectarian violence, when Baghdad was carved up between Sunni and Shi'ite gunmen who preyed on rival communities, the monthly death count sometimes topped 3,000. Government officials say al Qaeda's wing, Islamic State of Iraq, and Naqshbandi rebels linked to ex-officers in Saddam's army, are now trying to provoke a Shi'ite militia reaction. Security officials believe Shi'ite militias such as the Mehdi Army, Asaib al-Haq and Kataeb Hizballah have mostly kept out of the fray. But militia commanders say they are prepared to act.

Iraq's defense ministry on Saturday said it had captured an al Qaeda cell that was preparing to manufacture poison gases to attack Iraqi security forces but also to ship overseas for assaults in Europe and the United States.

SLIDE INTO CONFLICT

Since April, bombings and attacks have targeted Shi'ite and Sunni mosques and neighborhoods in Baghdad and other cities, as well as security forces and even moderate Sunni leaders. Many Iraqis, especially in Baghdad, fear a return of death squads and revenge killings, with shops closing early and extra security measures in place. "Shi'ite militant groups have largely stayed out of recent violence. If they are behind bombings of Sunni mosques, that suggests that they are being drawn into conflict," said Stephen Wicken, at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.

 "That would set the conditions up for a slide into broader sectarian conflict."

Syria's war, where mostly Sunni rebels are trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad, has further frayed ties between Iraq's Shi'ites and Sunnis. Iraqi fighters from both sects are crossing the border to fight for opposite sides in Syria. Iraqi Shi'ite officials fear an Sunni Islamist take-over in Syria if Assad, whose Alawite sect is rooted in Shi'ite Islam, falls. Such fears reflect a broader regional rivalry between Shi'ite, non-Arab Iran and Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia.

Maliki has often upset his Sunni and ethnic Kurdish partners involved in a delicate power-sharing deal. Soon after U.S. troops left, Iraqi authorities arrested the bodyguards of Maliki's Sunni vice-president and a year later those of the Sunni finance minister. The arrests were officially linked to terrorism cases, but they aggravated Sunni fears. Since December, thousands of Sunnis have protested against the government in Sunni-dominated provinces such as Anbar.

An Iraqi army raid on a Sunni protest camp in the town of Hawija in April reignited violence that killed more than 700 people in that month, by a U.N. count. That had been the highest monthly toll in almost five years until it was exceeded in May.

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/more-1-000-killed-iraq-violence-may-u-072750340.html

An Eastern Mediterranean Oil War?

2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's overnight visit to Turkey has focused attention to the strategic dialogue between the two democratic nations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey is a powerful, pro-Western, not Arab but definitely Muslim country and Israelis had hoped for years that its expanding relations would break the impression that the Muslim world opposed the Jewish state. The Turks were initially cautious, but came round about a decade ago when they reassessed their policies. They felt that dangerous neighbors and hotspots of instability were across their borders, and believed that Israel's influence in the United States could help especially in countering Greek and Armenian lobbies in Washington. The Turkish army's Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Ergin Saygun was in Israel late last year discussing plans and more such visits are expected following Olmert's visit. But there seems to be much more at stake than mere diplomatic photo opportunity exchanges between Turkey and Israel.

Virtually unnoticed, the inauguration of the Ceyhan-Tiblisi-Baku (BTC) oil pipeline, which links the Caspian Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean took place on the 13th July 2006, at the very outset of the Second Lebanon War. The official reception took place in Istanbul, hosted by Turkey’s President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in the Çýraðan Palace. Many dignitaries among them, British Petroleum’s CEO Lord Brown and BP leading the BTC pipeline consortium of western oil companies and senior government officials, top oil ministers and leaders of western oil companies, from Britain, the US, Israel and Turkey were all present at the ceremony. The 1,770 km Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan pipeline, simply known by the acronym BTC, is one of the world’s longest and cost US$4 billion to build. It snakes its way from the Sangachal oil and gas terminal south of the Azeri capital of Baku on the Caspian Sea through neighboring Georgia and some of the most mountainous regions of the Caucasus to finally reach the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.

The BTC pipeline totally bypasses the territory of the Russian Federation. as it transits through the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia, both of which have become US ‘protectorates’, firmly integrated into a military alliance with the US and NATO. Moreover, both Azerbaijan and Georgia have longstanding military cooperation with Israel. Israel has a stake in the Azeri oil fields, from which it imports some 20% of its oil. The BTC pipeline dominated by British Petroleum and American interest, has dramatically changed the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean, which is now linked , through an energy corridor, to the strategic Caspian sea basin. In April 2006, Israel and Turkey announced plans for four underwater pipelines, transporting water, electricity, natural gas and oil to Israel, by-passing Syrian and Lebanese territory. The pipeline is aimed bringing water to Israel, by pumping water from upstream resources of the Tigris and Euphrates river system in Anatoli has been a long-run strategic objective of Israel to the detriment of Syria and Iraq.

In its context, the BTC pipeline dominated by British Petroleum and American interest, has dramatically changed the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean, which is now linked , through an energy corridor, to the strategic Caspian sea basin. But there is more at stage here. The geographical fact is that Ceyhan and the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon are situated only 400 km apart. Oil can be transported to that port in tankers or through a specially constructed under-water pipeline. From Ashkelon the oil can be pumped through already existing pipeline to the port of Eilat at the Red Sea, which had been very active during betters days between the Shah's Iran and Israel during the Sixties. From Eilat oil it can be transported to India and Far Eastern countries in tankers, thus outflanking the vulnerable Hurmoz straits.

Last May, the Jerusalem Post published an article that Turkey and Israel are negotiating the construction of a multi-million-dollar energy and water project that will transport water, electricity, natural gas and oil by pipelines to Israel, with the oil to be sent onward from Israel to the Far East. Antalya Mayor Menderes Turel mentioned this in a press conference. The project, which would likely receive foreign economic backing, is currently undergoing a feasibility study sponsored by the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank. The United States' ultimate strategic design is intended primarily to weaken Russia’s role in Central Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean, while isolating Iran from this important energy source.

Iran being not only a major oil producing country is also a direct stepping stone between the Caspian region and the Persian Gulf. As such, it would certainly like to see Caspian oil flowing through its territory rather than through Turkey. Moreover, having full control over the Persian Gulf shipping lanes, through its military control on the strategic Hormuz strait, Iran could virtually strangle, at will, all international oil supplies, if political pressure on its nuclear program intensifies. Iran's claim to Caspian oil dates back to the last century when the Russian Empire and Persia, later Iran signed agreements in 1921 and 1940 recognizing the Caspian Sea as a lake belonging to and divided between them. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Iran wanted this agreement to continue despite assertions of independence by the breakaway states of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Five years ago, the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted a statement of the Iranian Oil Ministry as saying that it protests prospecting by foreign companies in Iran's claimed 20 percent sector of the Caspian Sea. The warning came a day after Iran summoned Azerbaijan's charge d'affaires in Tehran to protest plans by the state-run oil company of Azerbaijan, Socar, to carry out oil exploration studies with foreign companies at the Alborz oil field "in Iran's sector of the Caspian Sea." Iran even threatened with military action if its warnings would remain unheeded and indeed, on July 23, 2001 in blatant violation of international law, an Iranian warship and two fighter jets forced a research vessel working on behalf of British Petroleum (BP)-Amoco in the Araz-Alov-Sharg field out of that sector.

In fact, the BTC pipeline is far from secure by itself. Western intelligence reports indicate that Iran republican guards (IRGC) are carefully expanding support for subversive elements in Armenia, a country which is still technically at war with Azerbaijan. It is well known, that in the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh the conflict between Armenian and Azeris is still going on. Armenian nationalists might decide to attack the BTC in order to hurt Azerbaijan, which derives most of its income from oil sales. The pipeline route passes through or near seven different war-zones. Its route passes just 10 miles from Nagorno-Karabakh, the area of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia, where a bloody conflict killed at least 25,000 people It passes through Georgia, which remains unstable, with separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – movements which the Georgian government tried to violently suppress during the 1990s. Just across the border into Russia, and still only 70 miles from the BTC pipeline route, the horrific conflict in Chechnya continues. The region also saw related conflict in neighboring Dagestan in 1999, and fighting between the Russian republics of North Ossetia and Ingushetia in 1992. In Turkey, the BTC route passes through the edge of the area of the conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), now known as Kongra-Gel. And Russia, by all means, is unlikely to view this new American strategic move without adequate response.

Moscow defense ministry sources pointed out recently, that the planned Russian naval base in Tartus will enable Russia to solidify its positions in the Middle East under the pretext to ensure security of Syria. Moscow intends to deploy an air defense system around the base - to provide air cover for the base itself and a substantial part of Syrian territory. It could also conduct underwater activities to sabotage submerged pipelines, or at least threaten to do so, if its demand will not be adhered to. A dangerous situation could emerge, if Israeli and Russian activities in the Eastern mediterranean could clash with each other on matters of highly strategic interests.

Source: http://www.defense-update.com/newsca...sis-160207.htm

44 comments:

  1. Arevordi, excellent commentary as usual.

    My comment with respect to the energy factor. I don't think the the Iraqi-Syrian oil pipeline is a major factor in the Syrian crisis as much as the Qatari-Turkish gas pipeline is. Northern Iraqi oil found its way to European markets through the Turkish corridor. However for Europe (major energy market), natural gas is more important considering that a large part of EU member states economies is powered with gas (except for nuclear driven France who did not hesitate to secure its Uranium sources in Mali-Niger). Gas is also a cleaner energy alternative, its transport is very easy via pipelines (unlike Oil that needs massive pumping stations). Unfortunately for EU, their demand for cheap gas makes them dependent on Russia as their main supplier source, therefore, part of EU's policy is diversification of sources. If EU can secure alternatives to Russian sources, it can also reduce Russian political leverage in EU affairs. It is worth to mention the struggle for political power projection on Germany (Europe's largest economy) by the Anglo-Americans from one side and Russia on the other side.

    Most of the energy resources in the Persian gulf is controlled by the US-UK duo through BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, therefore, by owning energy sources and their transit infrastructures they can also own the political decisions of the states they supply energy with.
    This fact also partially explains why UK is supporting arming the rebels in Syria whereas Germany is against it.

    The Turkish-Qatari pipeline is a vital route to carry Gas from Pars field and feed it to Nabucco, albeit it requires the agreement of Syria to allow the construction of such a pipeline on its territory, something that did not happen.

    German energy giant RWE last month sold its shares of Nabucco to Austrian OMV, one can be free to interpret such a move and its significance.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/14/omv-rwe-nabucco-idUSL5N0D10D620130414

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  2. Below is a press reference (from 2009) of Turkish-Qatari gaseous agreement. It would easily explain why these two countries where the most vocal in their support to alQaeda agents in Syria hell bent in toppling the Syrian regime. Without such a pipeline, Qatar as a state is dwarfed by the Iranian giant, and has to keep selling its gas to the world market in Liquefied form transported through vessels, not the most adequate adequate/economic form of export.

    "Other reports in the Turkish press said the two states were exploring the possibility of Qatar supplying gas to the strategic Nabucco pipeline project, which would transport Central Asian and Middle Eastern gas to Europe, bypassing Russia. A Qatar-to-Turkey pipeline might hook up with Nabucco at its proposed starting point in eastern Turkey. Last month, Mr Erdogan and the prime ministers of four European countries signed a transit agreement for Nabucco, clearing the way for a final investment decision next year on the EU-backed project to reduce European dependence on Russian gas.
    But Nabucco's future is far from assured, as its proponents have yet to reach agreements with gas suppliers. The project was originally conceived as a conduit for Central Asian gas, but recently its backers have been courting Middle Eastern producers as well. After his meeting with Sheikh Hamad last week, Mr Erdogan said Turkey wanted a "long-term and stable relationship" with Qatar in energy matters.
    "For this aim, I think a gas pipeline between Turkey and Qatar would solve the issue once and for all," Mr Erdogan added, according to reports in several newspapers. The reports said two different routes for such a pipeline were possible. One would lead from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq to Turkey. The other would go through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey. It was not clear whether the second option would be connected to the Pan-Arab pipeline, carrying Egyptian gas through Jordan to Syria. That pipeline, which is due to be extended to Turkey, has also been proposed as a source of gas for Nabucco."

    http://www.thenational.ae/business/energy/qatar-seeks-gas-pipeline-to-turkey

    Last but not least, the Chinese factor is very important in this game, as another giant gas consumer, China has its eyes set on East Mediterranean resources along the Lebanon-Syria coast, the Iranian-Iraqi-Syria gas pipeline project that has been signed among the three states should be viewed as an attempt to ship East Mediterranean hydrocarbons from West to East and not the opposite way around. The failure of which would mean more pressure and competition on Central Asian energy resources, something that Russia would not like to see happening.

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Mediterranean-China-Pipeline.jpg

    Considering all these outlined facts, Syria is the keystone for all major coming geopolitical alignments, and will certainly define how the world will look like in the coming century, the stakes are so high for all players, hence, all have drawn their red lines in Syria, the question is, who is willing to walk the talk and show some teeth. The territorial integrity of Syria cannot be easily compromised, since the consequences of such a degradation does not fulfill the goals of most of the major players.

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  3. This "Shiite Arc" leaves azergayjan in an interesting position: ethically/culturally turkish but religiously Shia (at least nominally), though the aliyev regime is secular.

    We should play up these divides to isolate them and present them as unstable and unreliable to every and any side whose attention we can get.

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  4. Aroutin,

    Thank you for your insight on this very complex and ever-evolving topic. I have attempted to comment on energy politics in this blog in the past and in doing so I have found this topic to be very complicated and somewhat out of my ballgame. When discussing energy politics there seems to be so many variables (some well known, others not so much) and they always seem to be changing. To come up with a well thought out commentary one simply has to do a lot of research. It's truly a discipline of its own. Having said that, when I began writing this commentary I actually thought about discussing the Nabucco project, which the Qatari-Turkish gas agreement seems to be a part of, but I decided not to because I thought it would greatly divert from the spirit of the commentary and make it perhaps twice as long. Anyway, I really appreciate your input as I find it to be an excellent supplement for the blog. Please feel free to post additional comments. And if you feel like putting together an article on this topic I'll gladly post it here.

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  5. Aroutin,
    Thanks for highlighting the details of the “gas-wars” as one of the important elements of this proxy war.
    Arevordi:
    The compilation of articles you have in your posting spans a bit of time, some are very recent, while other events happened months ago. Ever since the Zionist attack on Damascus earlier this month, using what are claimed to be cruise missiles, events have moved forward very very rapidly. In the aftermath what came was Bashar Al-Assad making a public statement about Hezbollah saying that “the first time ever we feel like we share the same destiny and ours is the same fight”, he said openly that every type of “qualitative weapon” will be offered “the resistance” including those never offered before. Nasrallah confirmed saying they will ask for and get and, in a mocking fashion quoting Zionist officialdom, “game changing arms”. Hezbollah is now all in. As I type they along with the SAA and NDF are conducting the final push into terrorist held town on Al-Qusair. From the most recent news, the flag of the Syrian Arab Republic has been raised. Hezbollah is very heavily engaged in this battle using their own weapons including Grads and mortars. At one pro-Syria site it was even said that Hezbollah has marched all the way Deraa near the Jordanian border. And while the overwhelming force of the Syrian Arab Army is deployed in securing the Lebanese border once and for all, they are still making progress in Idleb, Allepo, and Damascus suburbs (in areas that were deliberately ceded to the “opposition”). Russian warship deployment happened on Thursday and Europeans and Americans called the move “aggressive” and “provocative”, but I think it is a warning to keep out and let the SAA finish the job. The battle of Al-Qusair is a foregone conclusion, and if the terrorists are not able to make gains elsewhere then very shortly they will face that armada of force where they are (but they not only have not been able to make any noise – they are actually slowly losing ground in other places). There is nothing that can reverse this trend baring a straight up intervention from outside, something the RF seems determined to block. So I don’t really see the facts on the ground supporting some sort sectarian based split up of the country.
    Also, just by reading your commentary, it sounds like you are sticking all the Sunnis in the same basket. A significant part of the regime is Sunni. Please note that even a number of religious ones are essentially on the side of the state and the Army (Al-Buti who was murdered recently), the mufti of Damascus, Assad’s wife, and so on. I am also noticing from the Syrian diaspora, all those people in pro-Syria demonstrations in Melbourne, in Paris, -- many come from Sunni backgrounds, but are of secular mind. So frankly, if your worst case scenario comes to be, all those people will find themselves being betrayed. The sectarian factor is there, but it’s propagated from the opponents of the regime not the other way around.
    skhara

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  6. Thank you. Keep up the excellent analytical work! A lot of interesting detailed references, such as Pepe's article. When will our Sheeple learn that they are playing with fire thinking "the West is going to help with "democracy" in the Hayrenik. The Spyurkahays' brains are twisted with confusing patriotism with religion just like the Arabs. Thankfully, as worthless and dangerous as they are to the Hayrenik, they cannot do too much harm. A painfully significant portion of Hayastantsis to not understand the danger that the Nemesis and the AAZ pose to our Hayrenik because of the brainwashing they got from the Soviet era about all people being equal.

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  7. @Skhara

    Every single article I posted regardless of when it was first published is relevant to what's going on in Syria today. The older articles also provide current events with a proper background and helps the observer better understand what is happening today.

    I know that part of the world intimately well. Thus, I stand by my claims about the region's Sunni populations, including Syria's. Although significant numbers of Sunnis (primarily secular/Arab nationalists) are indeed standing by Assad, the bulk of the majority Sunni population (many of whom are more religious than nationalistic) remain untrustworthy and potentially destructive. Those Sunni mullahs you see standing with Assad are "collaborators".

    The following is the Sunni break-down in Syria as I see it: A significant number of religious Sunnis (supported by foreign, Western backed jihadists) are engaged in combat against their state; a significant number of secular/Arab nationalist Sunnis are standing by the regime; and the bulk of the Sunni population (perhaps the majority) is sitting on the fence, waiting to see who is going to win, but they are praying for the Alawite's defeat.

    At the end of the day, Sunnis would love to see Alawites removed from power in Damascus. At the end of the day, this is a fight between Alawites/Shiites and Sunnis.

    In the big picture, what upsets me is seeing Syrian soldiers and Hezbollah militants fighting other Arabs instead of collectively fighting the Zionist state. When was the last time we saw such an enthusiastic, international, Islamic effort in fighting Israel?!

    The same pathetic situation existed in the region almost exactly one thousand years ago when the "Franks" invaded the "holy land". Westerns back then again wreaked havoc and for generations successfully pitting one Arab tribe/sect against the other until Salahadin came along and turned the tide. Again, generally speaking, Sunni Arabs (the religious ones in particular) are one of the world's most easily manipulated and exploited sheeples.

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  8. Arevordi,
    I saw an interesting opinion poll recently about breakdowns of opinions in Lebanon. It asked a question of whether "Arab countries should intervene?". Because it came from a biased source that was selling the old and tired line of "Assad killing peaceful demonstrators", I took it as a breakdown of 'pro and anti Assad crowd".
    The Sunni were something like 70 anti, 30 pro. Christians were something like 60 pro, 40 anti, but Shia had total unanimity of opinion 99-1 (with 1% margin of error). But Lebanon has institutionalized sectarianism, while Syria for the last 40 years has been trying to institutionalize Arab nationalism/socialism, resistance to zionism. So I'd venture to guess that the Sunnis are something like 50-50, and out of the 50 that are against, only a small percentage is really willing to fight anyway. I know what you mean about fence-sitting, that's what happened in Raqqa, where the Sunni majority city were reduced to begging the Al-Nusra front not to enter the city, but Al-Nusra didn't care and entered anyway.
    This actually makes me think that the strategic withdrawl was also a ruthless decision to allow the salafist freaks to rule the fence-sitting Sunnis for a little while and then let them make up their mind of whether they prefer the regime or the Salafists -- Its democracy in action! :)
    skhara

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  9. Also take into account that Assad's regime has carried out excellent PR. They have not wasted any time in saturating social media, airwaves and the news press with reports about atrocities committed by "foreign backed, Islamic terrorists". This active PR/propaganda campaign is no doubt having an impact on Syria's moderate Sunnis.

    But again, Sunnis CANNOT be trusted because this has essentially become a fight between them and Alawites/Shiites.

    Like I said, democracy is the best way to create a failed state.

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  10. Arevordi,

    Wouldn't the Druze be on the same side as the Alawites, granted that they're both Shia Muslim? Or are the Druzes' position be similar to that of Azerbaijan? (nominally Shia, but pro-Western)

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  11. Its kind of interesting that every single militant movement that has come out of the sunnis has always been a miserable failure and they've always been a bunch of easily swayed incompetent clowns. Just look at Hamas, while every single Shia movement has been highly disciplined and successful.

    skhara

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  12. It's a lose lose situation in Syria. As Arevagal said, Syria is already lost. However, the Hezbollah has stepped up its efforts together with the re-organized and trained Syrian army, and is dealing extremely heavy blows to the terrorists.

    The Syrians tell about how amazing and trained the Hezbollah fighters are, and wish that more of them would follow. Many neighborhoods have been cleared from terrorists, and in the neighborhood Assad lives, his wife is already walking on the streets bringing her children to school, with less and less bodyguards than in the past (surprising many).

    It is clear that the rebels will not win, and could possibly even be driven back. It thus depends if the West will get involved militarily - which Russia (China) and Iran will try to prevent.

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  13. There are in fact, some "pro" consequences coming out of this for the resistance front. One is Nouri Al-Malaki and Iraq, another is Putin and Russian, another is the qualitative improvement and the securing of loyalty for the Syrian Arab Army, and finally Syria/Assad will owe Hezbollah a debt of gratitude for their sacrifice -- there is no way he can deny them any type of weapon and any type of support they desire.

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  14. Jerriko

    The Druze are yet another off-shoot of Shiism but they have been very flexible with their politics for very understandable reasons (i.e. they are a minority stuck in the middle of several larger, more powerful neighbors). The Israeli Druze for instance serve in the IDF, and Lebanon's Druze have collaborated with Israel for decades.

    But Syria may be a different situation for them because of the deep ethno-religious divide emerging in the country.

    I cannot say anything more because I have very little information on Syria's Druze population and how they have been handling the conflict.

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  15. Arevordi,
    Concerning the comment of Russian missiles, so just for the sake of clarity, not to nitpick :)-- its anti-ship and anti-air systems from Russia. Surface-to-Surface missiles that Syria procures is based on the Iranian "Fateh-110", Syria produces its own version M-600 or "Tishreen". Zionist media was reporting that satelite imagery picked up these missiles being pointed at Tel-Aviv.
    Really, in order to truly contain the zionist entity and modulate its behavior, both South Lebanon and Syria need very effective air-defense systems. To that end, I think Syria will have to rely more on their allies in Tehran than in Moscow as Tehran will always be generous in both giving their hardware as well transferring technical know-how to Syria directly. Iranians are currently working on a decent system, so lets hope they are successful.

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  16. @ Anonymous May 22, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    Thanks for your input. I have a question: How effective are Israeli, US and European electronic countermeasures such as electronic jammers against modern radar guided missiles? I know that Israel use electronic warfare to great success during the 1982 war in Lebanon. What I am asking is simply this: can they electronically disable the S-300; can they jamm the Yakhont cruise missile during its flight?

    PS: I know that in the past a pilot's health was one of the limiting factors when emitting high frequency radio waves to jamm enemy radars. Now that we have pilotless drones in the equation, high doses of radiation needed to jamm radars will no longer be a problem. Am I correct?

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  17. Arevordi,

    The more powerful the radar, the more powerful jammers are needed to degrade their performance.
    The relatively small Israeli drones can not even carry enough electrical power generating source. Let alone the big jammers themselves.
    In theory, any radar can be jammed. To jam the S-300, the Israelis will need something much much bigger and sophisticated. To complicate their task, the S-300 system has multiple counter-jamming features.
    As for the Yakhont anti ship missile, it is designed to attack and destroy the best protected US Navy aircraft carriers. It's 300 km range (export version) can virtually block sea-traffic to Israel. Jammers can not do much against the type and mode of operation of this missile's radar. Once the Yakhont is launched, it flies autonomously to its target. The radar (which is on the missile) switches on during the last leg of the journey. With a narrow beam it will illuminate the target and strike.
    Without going into technicalities, in the hands of skilled operators, both the S-300 and Yakhont are almost immune from jamming. That's why the US/Israelis are so concerned.

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  18. http://www.almanar.com.lb/english/adetails.php?eid=95030&cid=23&fromval=1&frid=23&seccatid=14&s1=1

    Nasrallah speaks on the recent Hezbollah involvement and the situation in general. Really excellent speech.

    http://www.almanar.com.lb/english/adetails.php?eid=95029&frid=23&cid=23&fromval=1&seccatid=24

    Iraq that launched operations in the west to secure the western border.


    Arevordi,
    I am highly suspicious that both the greater involvement of Hezbollah and the military action by the government of Nouri Al-Malaki could very well have been coordinated by Tehran. As Tehran wants to accelerate favorable conditions on the ground. What's interesting is that that as the foreign backers of the jihadist assault on Syria are running out of steam, and have suffered tremendous losses of rats and material, the other side appears to just be ramping up the involvement from the outside. Iraqi Shias are volunteering in droves for the NDF roles in Syria. The Iraqi army is clearly trying to help Syria on Syria's eastern frontier, while Hezbollah went on the attack.
    skhara

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  19. @Zoravar,

    I'm interested in what you thought about the Russian Military Parade which Arevordi sent an email about (Victory Day Parade 2013 on Red Square in Moscow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rh9Hu-9ZCio). Was there anything noteworthy in your opinion? From what I could tell, they did not demonstrate any new/surprise weapons, rather they just focused on putting on an impressive display of all of their modernized and newly upgraded models of their most trustworthy hardware... But military matters and weapons systems aren't my specialty, so I'd appreciate an expert opinion. Thanks.

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  20. Sarkis86,

    You are correct, there were no surprise arms displayed on that parade.
    We might see new weapons this summer at the 3 new exhibitions that are going to take place: MAKS-2013 in Moscow (Aviation), IMDS2013 in St. Petersburg (Naval) and Nizhny-Tagil (Land forces)).
    Stay tuned

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  21. Arevordi,

    You are perfectly right that every article you quote is relevant to the present situation. I just want to draw attention to a largely neglected or forgotten plan to dismantle the Middle East according to Zion's wishes.
    It was published in 1982 by Oded Yinon in Kivunim (Directions) the organ of the World Zionist Organization and entitled "A strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties". It was revealed to the world by the famous Israel Shahak. The plan of fragmenting the Arab World in smaller units is described in minute details. The plan was temporarily halted by the Iran-Irak war. To be sure the plan exists since the mythical Solomon's Kingdom!
    The West would not renounce ever to their plans for Syria, Iran, Russia because in fact these are the plans of the fanatical Zionist sect that infest all Western Governments.

    Romanian Anonymus

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  22. Romanian Anonymus, can you post a link to what your are referring to? Zionist money has been controlling the Europe and America for centuries. They are like parasites jumping from one host to the next.

    Arevordi, looks like EU has officially lifted the supposed ban on arming the terrorists in Syria and this news coincided with John McCain visiting terrorist controlled northern Syria. I think the war may really heat up in the summer.

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  23. If you Google Oded Yinon Plan you will find all links. Most recently Global Research has republished it in its issue of 2 March 2013. The best presentation.

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  24. @ Romanian Anonymous

    Thank you for your input. I now remember having read something about Oded Yinon Plan during the late 1990s. If I find a good summary on the topic I will post it on this blog. Thank you again.

    @ Anonymous (May 27, 2013 at 9:22 PM)

    It's spring time. Historically, spring time has been wartime. Since they were not successful last spring, they are trying their luck again. This time, however, I do sense some desperation on their part. While this may mean they are feeling somewhat helpless against Assad's regime, their desperation may also compel them to resort to drastic, "hot headed" measures. My main concern is that the geostrategic value of Syria is so great now that they will not back down. And if Assad, Moscow and Tehran do not back down either, we may see the entire region go down in flames. Let's hope Moscow and Tehran play their chess pieces wisely.

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  25. "Hot headed", a Russian official speaking in reference to the S-300 deliveries said they are meant to deter "hotheads".
    skhara

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  26. Sometime during July or August 2010, General Yuri Ivanov, the Deputy Chief of Russia's military intelligence (GRU) went missing in Syria. The high ranking Russian general was said to be in Syria reviewing the expansion of Russia's military presence there when he went missing. His body was found washed up on a beach in Hatay, Turkey in early August. See links to news reports about his death posted below this commentary.

    When Moscow finally did acknowledge the general's death on August 28, 2010, it claimed that the GRU official had died in a swimming accident. But rumors persisted that he may have been assassinated. If the GRU general was indeed murder, was it a signal to Moscow at the time that the operation against Assad's government in Damascus was starting?

    Mystery over Russian general found dead on Turkish beach: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/01/russian-general-yuri-ivanov

    Top Russian spy’s body washes up 'after swimming accident’: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/7973346/Top-Russian-spys-body-washes-up-after-swimming-accident.html

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  27. Before Syria descended into bloody chaos in the spring of 2011, activity between Moscow and Damascus was noticeably increasing both in frequency and intensity. Links provided below is a brief look at Syria just before the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and its friends in Ankara and Riyadh commenced their historic aggression against Damascus -

    Syria: we'll host Russian missile system (2008): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNd5sznQo68&feature=fvwrel

    Iran/Russia - a deadly embrace Part 1 (2009):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uowvTCtZws

    Iran/Russia - a deadly embrace Part 2 (2009):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UY_rxOlly4

    Inside Story - Russia's role in the Middle East (February, 2010): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOWsv2EZsoM

    Inside Story - Russia's role in the Middle East (May, 2010): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkrF_Ke5emw

    Moscow Set to Resume its Influence With Damascus (July, 2010): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2010/11/to-dismay-of-tel-aviv-and-washington.html

    Stratfor: Expanding Russian Naval Influence (August, 2010): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yz7X3uKd6d8

    Russian Navy to base warships at Syrian port after 2012 (August, 2010): http://en.rian.ru/russia/20100802/160041427.html

    Kremlin Seeking Naval Bases Abroad (January, 2011): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/01/kremlin-says-eyeing-new-naval-bases.html

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  28. Would it be such a bad thing to see the region 'go down in flames'? I'm assuming here that Israel is included in this mix as well. The large oil and gas deposits are the only reason why world powers have paid any attention to the Middle East. Most of the governments and states in the region need to be dismantled, so I say let them go down in flames.

    LG

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  29. @LG

    What you are saying here is similar to wishing that the house next to you to go down in flames. Well, if that's what you want, better pray hard that an unexpected gust of wind does not set your house on fire as well. The current situation in the Middle East is dangerous precisely because if it catches on fire there will be no sure way of containing it. In other words, it's too irresponsible and risky, especially for an Armenian, to wish for a major war in the region.

    No sane person wishes for a war, let alone a major international war.

    Western powers are pushing the envelope because they are far away from the battle zones; they control levers on the ground; and they have clearly defined, long term plans for the region. Moscow is resisting simply because they themselves control some levers and have strategic plans of their own in the same region.

    However, if Syria, Russia, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Israel and Iran somehow find themselves in a major regional war, Western nations will not be directly impacted. Therefore, westerners can go about living their lives without worrying about a sniper shooting at them, or a missile crashing into their home, or a car-bomb exploding outside their window; or being taken hostage by armed gangs. What's more, a major international war does not necessarily mean a nuclear war. Therefore, as usual, Western powers will be watching the bloodshed from a comfortably safe distance. In other words, they will be managing the chaos, after which they will seek to derive benefits.

    On the other hand, a vulnerable regional nation like Armenia will most probably suffer greatly as a result of a major regional war. And if God forbid Russia and or Iran suffer a military defeat in the Middle East, Armenia's situation will go from bad to worst.

    In other words, you don't wish for a major war if you don't have any control of the situation on the ground and/or if you are too close to the powder keg.

    What we want to see instead is the growth of Shiite power and influence in the region long saturated by Western powers, the Zionist state, Turks and Sunni Islamists. What we want to see instead in the region is an "Iranian arc" stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the borders of Afghanistan.

    To make this happen, Assad must soundly defeat the foreign-backed Islamic terrorists currently operating in Syria - as Russia and Iran scare off Western powers and Israel from intervening. If the aggressors realize that they will be dealt a very severe counterstrike, they may eventually change or modify their plans.

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  30. Too bad Russian anti-aircraft gunners didnt kill this motherfucker back in Vietnam. Presidential Candidate John McCain having lunch with cannibals - http://news.yahoo.com/u-senator-mccain-pictured-syrian-rebel-kidnapper-paper-172141362.html

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  31. You are right. He was shot down by Russians in Vietnam. I think Russian media even interviewed the gunner responsible for bringing down the war criminal's aircraft. No wonder the senile bastard is such a nasty Russophobe...

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  32. Arevordi,
    I actually watched that interview with the man that took part in the operation. He didn't pull the trigger, the Vietnamese pulled the trigger, but he was there in the role of the adviser. And he did speak of seeing McCain and saying that McCain got very lucky.

    Incidentally, anyone read Assad's interview on Al-Manar?

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  33. No what I am saying is not similar to wishing the house next door would catch on fire. That would be the case if I were to suggest that a US led war against Iran may be a good thing. Armenia physically does not border any Arab state. Moreover, because of the closed border with Turkey, as well as the small and under-utilized border with Iran, Armenia would not face a refugee crisis other than Armenians from the ME seeking safe harbor. This is something Armenia couldn't handle.

    To be 100% clear, I'm not wishing for a war in the ME, but we all can agree that the states which currently exist there (except Iran and Egypt) are fake states with fake borders drawn by West European imperialists. In other words, the map of the ME needs to be remade because it is not natural, hence why the region has been unstable for the past century. The most common and often quickest way for such a change to occur is through a major conflict.

    If a major war takes place in the region Westerners will feel the effects because oil prices will go well over $250-300 a barrel. We don't have to think too much to realize what the ramifications of super high oil prices will do to the fragile world economy, especially the EU and US economies. Furthermore, depending on how involved the EU and US are in the conflict, we could very well witness terror attacks in major Western cities. Iran alone has assets embedded throughout the Americas and Europe.

    The potential for Iran to be defeated and broken up is what should worry an Armenian the most. The top rival of Turkey is Iran, and in the scenario outlined above, the two states would be in a zero-sum game, where a loss for one side is an automatic win for the other.

    With that said, I do not expect a major war in the region and I believe cooler heads will prevail on both sides. The only certainty is, like you said, win or lose, Syria as we knew it pre-2011 will not exist.

    LG

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  34. At least indirectly you seem to be supporting the Western/Zionist/Turkish agenda for the region - namely to weaken regional states that are politically opposed to them.

    Have you really thought this through?

    Whether of not most countries in the region are fabricated (by France and England about a century ago) is ALL TOGETHER another story and has no place in this discussion. What we are presently dealing with is an agenda by the West and its allies to remake the Middle East according to their long term, strategic plans.

    And once we go down this road, direct aggression against Iran cannot be ruled out simply because that is their endgame - unless Tehran throws in the towel and joins the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance.

    PS: While I also think that cooler heads will prevail, we must take into account that alongside cooler heads there are "hotheads" (perhaps in equal numbers) actually looking for a major war. Moreover, when you have so many different armed entities operating in a relatively small and volatile location, a major war can happen simply by an accidental.

    PS: No one can forecast anything once a major war begins. A direct danger posed to Armenia as a result of developments in the region is the reason why Russia is busy beefing up their military presence in the country today.

    PS: The Western world can deal with any economic hardships brought about by a major war in the Middle East...

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  35. More westerns caught working with Al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria. This American bitch in particular seems to have been working as a military intelligence operative. Western media would have never revealed this story had it not been made public by Syrian and Russian sources -

    http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/30/world/meast/syria-civil-war/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

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  36. "PS: The Western world can deal with any economic hardships brought about by a major war in the Middle East..."

    No, they can not. The ME accounts for a large share of the world's oil supply. Any major trade partners of the West that would be affected by high prices of oil or cuts in supply, like India and China, would cause another ripple effect to compliment the direct one Western states which import from the ME would feel at first. The 2nd and 3rd order consequences would be staggering to say the least.

    The fabrication of the ME states does play a direct role because as we are witnessing today, the West is still not done meddling in the affairs of the region and they are actively working to change the geopolitical dynamics of the region. A re drawing for borders is an option for them, Iraq being the best and most recent example. Therefore, the two issues are intimately intertwined and must be considered jointly in order for us to get a clearer picture.

    LG

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  37. @LG,

    Don't forget that this conversation started with you more-or-less saying "let the whole place burn because they are fake countries".

    I have a problem with what you stated because you are implying that you are at least indirectly supporting a Western/Zionist/Islamic/Turkish plan for the region. Trust me, we all know that every single nation in the region, including Turkey and Israel, are Western fabrications. Again, this reality has no bearing on this topic.

    Western powers, US, Canada and Britain in particular, WILL NOT be adversely impacted by any energy shortage from the Persian Gulf region. Mainland European powers, India and China on the other hand will. This is partially why many powers other than Russia are not happy about the Western agenda in the region.

    Moreover, I'm sure Western powers have all kinds of 'contingency plans' on how to weather an economic downturn and keep oil flowing in case of a major war in the region.

    Having said that, fear that Tehran would be able to shutdown the Strait of Hormuz is one of main the factors behind why have been very cautious with Iran.

    Anyway, this all goes back to Syria. They are hoping that by destroying Syria and the Hezbollah, they will convince Iran to give in to their demands...

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  38. Arevordi

    Where would you fit France in all this. They seem to be going along just fine with the Western agenda.

    Arto

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  39. @ Arto

    There has been a love-hate relationship between France, America and Britain for a very long time. France was 'the' main geopolitical factor behind the creation of the United States. Then Britain returned the favor by joining an international alliance against Napoleon Bonaparte and defeated him. By the mid-19 century, however, France and Britain were politically allied and were siding with Ottoman Turks against the Russian Empire while the US was supporting the Russians. Then the German threat during World War One brought all three together. The German threat during World War Two again brought all three - plus the Soviet Union - together. During the Cold War against the Soviet Union, America and Britain were closely allied while France was having cold feet...

    Today, Paris once again seems to be betting on the West. Although I do not know much about domestic politics in France, it seems as if ever since the Hungarian-Jew took office in Paris five years ago, France has jumped on board with the Western/Zionist alliance. There seems to be a some kind of a deal/agreement between Paris, Washington and London. They seem to be divvying up zones of influence around the world. Incidentally, they have placed Armenia under the French zone. This is the reason why France gives Armenians lip-service from time to time.

    In my opinion, Paris cannot be trusted because French national interests do not jive much with Armenian national interests. Take for example French interests in Syria. As a general rule, Armenia must remain wary of western nations.

    I don't know if I answered your question.

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  40. A debate on the voice of Russia:
    http://syriareport.net/radio-debate-should-the-rebels-be-armed/

    Arevordi, you have written in some prior commentary about the religion of "democracy" of the "west". The debate is pretty interesting. Sheikh "Charlie Wolf" must be one this religions more fanatic of spiritual leaders.

    Also interesting the commentary of the Sunni young man who makes it clear that the Sunni majority represented by the business class is supporting the government.

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  41. Arevordi:

    With regards to the question another poster had on France, doesn't Germany also have a love-hate relationship with Britain and America? For Germany, they also have an important, business relationship with Russia. So why is the Merkel government throwing their bets behind the Anglo-American-Zionist cabal? One other thing that we should remember is that Germany used to be allies with Ottoman Turkey during WWI, so I'm not sure if Germany will have to choose between Turkey and Russia in getting closer if Britain and America aren't in the equation.

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  42. @Jerriko

    There never was a love-hate relationship between Germany and the Anglo-American alliance. A "hate-subjugate" relationship is the best way to describe their interaction. From the time when Otto Van Bismark unified German principalities and states into a single power in the mid 19th century to the defeat of Nazis in 1945, Germany was the main geopolitical opponent of the Franco-Anglo-American-Zionist alliance. Since Nazi Germany's defeat, Germany has been a defeated and subjugated nation. They have done their best (through anti-Nazi propaganda, multiculturalism and interacilaism) to eradicate the German people's nationalism and warlike straits. In recent years Berlin has begun to reveal limited forms of political independence, although many levers in Germany are still under Anglo-American-Zionist control. Although she is forced to play the game, I do not think Angela Merkel's government is fully on board with the Western agenda in Syria. What's more, Berlin today enjoys a very close, albeit primarily economic relationship with Moscow. As Western influence and power wanes, expect to see even closer collaboration between Germany and Russia...

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  43. Come to think of it, isn't it a bit weird and ironic that the Arab Spring like scenario is playing out in the least likeliest place in the world, Turkey? Should every nation in Europe be weary of what happens if the Erdogan government falls apart?

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  44. NATO study says 70% in Syria support government. NATO has their own spin on the situation. Could this be a sign that NATO wants to disengage in a face-saving fashion?

    skhara

    http://www.almanar.com.lb/english/adetails.php?eid=95909&cid=31&fromval=1&frid=31&seccatid=91&s1=1

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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will therefore be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis. To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what. If you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or just attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself... or else, I will not post your comments, especially if they are, in my opinion, nonsense. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.