Saturday, 13 June 2015

General Your Tank is A Powerful Vehicle

Image result for Syrian civil war: Can Assad's regime survive the onslaught from Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra?

 Robert Fisk shows how embedding himself in Assad's propaganda machine has completely detached him from reality.

 "The Syrian army, outgunned and at times frighteningly outnumbered by its Islamist enemies, is not about to collapse...The insurgents have hundreds of anti-armour wire-guided TOW and Milan anti-tank missiles...Dr Mekdad spoke of new weapons for the army – it sorely needs them to replace the clapped-out Warsaw Pact tanks that litter Syria."
Assad has tanks, the rebels at best have anti-tank weapons, and it is Assad who is outgunned. Who do you think you are kidding, Mr.Fisk? This is a war in which Assad has been armed to the teeth by Russia, has had tens of thousands of Iranian troops and proxy forces like Hezbollah back him up since the popular insurgency had him on the ropes in 2013, not "scattered in twos and threes around the battlefield, learning rather than fighting," as Fisk claims. In fact to take priority over Syrian troops, to give them orders, to have their remains exchanged for prisoners when Syrians can rot where they lie, to be given priority treatment in hospitals. Meanwhile the Syrian rebels have been prevented from getting the most effective defensive measures to Assad's bombing and shelling, and have had to rely on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to survive at all. When they finally got a decent supply of anti-tank weapons they took Idlib quickly, and have had a string of other victories, not because of mythical Turks and Chechens, but because the Syrian Army is a disorganised rabble, only continuing because of the arrest and torture facing them if they do not, so as to keep Assad in power even if it destroys Syria.

 "But here are a few grim facts. Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra are now attacking the Syrian military in rows of suicide trucks."
Not facts, things Fisk has been told by his Syrian Army handlers. Jabhat al-Nusra only attack one suicide bomber at a time as far as I am aware. Incidentally, before the anti-tank weapons, suicide bombing was one of the few ways the rebels could attack fortified government positions at all. That's why the lack of support for the Free Syrian Army has led to support going to more jihadi groups, because they had the tactics that could prevail in a war of survival against a genocidal government. Which is again why much of their support and indeed membership can be seen as practical rather than purely ideological, these are people who want to free Syria, and go home when that is done.

 "Rebel logistics are hi-tech and better than the Syrian army’s, and a lot of their communications systems are American."
How does Fisk know what rebel communications are like, when he is embedded on the government side? This is by the way the only evidence he has of any American aid to the rebels, which hardly equates to the billion dollars worth a month from Russia that have been arriving throughout the war. If they don't communicate well, it scarecly seems like a financial problem.

 "American “experts” talk glibly now of how the Syrian army will make a “planned retreat” to the mountains of the Alawites."
Fisk doesn't bother to name any of them. I suspect he is talking about Joshua Landis, who is more of a fan of the Syrian régime than he is of the opposition. It is indicative that the only debate he acknowledges is over the options for Assad to maintain his power.

 "Syrian “experts” – a lot closer to the battle than the think-tank boyos in Washington – speak of a more political strategy. What the regime must do, they say, is hold on to the major cities in a line from Aleppo south through Hama and Homs to Damascus (Deraa in the south may or may not be included in the plan) and deprive either Nusra or Isis of a potential capital in Syria."
Again no names, though Fisk's experts are going to be régime supporters arm deep in the carnage. It is a fantasy that they could hold on to everything they've got given the way the battles have been going, but it's Fisk's job to retail that fantasy. Deraa of course isn't threatened by Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS, but by the Southern Front coalition that fights ISIS and Assad, and has excluded Jabhat al-Nusra until their behaviour improves. But that doesn't fit the Assadist claim that it is Assad or the terrorists, so it isn't relevant to Fisk's mission.

 "Execution is as important to the rebels as the suicide bomb. Army sources in Damascus say that 250 army families were taken for execution when Palmyra fell."
To ISIS perhaps, not to the actual rebels Fisk wishes to confuse them with. Daily there are defections from Assad's army to the rebels. And those families were forced by Assad's commanders to stay in Palmyra while they and their families hotfooted it to Damascus, and so are another important way in which Assad and his ruling circle are showing that they protect nobody but themselves.

 "With perhaps 50,000 dead, the Syrian army needs men. Conscripted troops now serve indefinitely. And if that army falters or ceases to exist, no other force is capable of holding Syria together."
If you a priori rule out the groups fighting to free Syria from Assad's tyranny.

 “President Assad has not put himself as the No 1. He will work for Syria – and the most important thing is for Syria to survive.”
An exact reverse of the truth from Dr. Mekdad, but Fisk laps it up.

 "The further you travel from Syria, the more imaginative become the stories to convince you of its destruction. The Americans have done a deal with the Russians to ship Assad off to exile in Moscow. The Iranians will “close down” the Syrian war if the nuclear talks are successful. The Iranians don’t have confidence in the Syrian army. The most extraordinary theory suggests that the “moderate” rebels will destroy both Isis and Assad."
Probably not true, ridiculous, probably true, hopefully true.

 "There is no point in romanticising any side in this war. The government militias and the barrel-bombers and the torture chambers eliminate the use of pink eye-shades."
So it's alright to support the rape gangs, the barrel bombers, and the torture, as long as you don't romanticise them, or pretend not to. What a scumbag.

 There was a far more reasoned analysis this week of the military situation and the growing dominance of Iran in Syria by Josef Olmert*, though when I read, "No Islamist group in Syria, whether ISIS, al-Nusra, the Fath army, or the Free Syria Army [FSA], will give up on Damascus, the capital of the Umayyad dynasty [661-750 A.D]. The rebels are divided between themselves and fighting each other, which surely something that the regime will be happy to see happening in the areas that are falling under their control, but they are united about one cherished desire: the need for an historic revenge exacted from the hated Nusayris [a derogatory term for the Alawites]," I did think he may have a fairly primitive understanding of the relationship of religion to political action, such as many Western and Israeli political commentators suffer from. Still, unlike Fisk, trying to understand what is going on in Syria, and communicate that understanding.

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