Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Russian plan to oust Bashar Al-Assad

 'The absence of any clear political layout for the Russian government makes them stand in two contradictory positions. One position favors direct geographic expansion, as witnessed with the takeover of Crimea, while the other position attempts to be in line with international law by taking advantage of some of the United Nations regulations in order to legitimize its military interventions, thereby justifying their interference in Syria.

 Washington and Moscow only view Syria as a convenient boxing ring, and they definitely do not see eye to eye on any of its affairs. Based on a multitude of intelligence reports, the real political boxing rings that are disconcerting for both nations are the Arctic and Eastern Europe, especially since Russia previously indicated that they are about to install military bases in Belarus, as well as their desire to benefit from the creation of Arctic shipping lanes and from gas exploration in the frigid region.

 I am certain, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Assad dynasty is nothing more to the Russian political elite than a playing card that has been burnt up by 80%, and that the Russians are now salvaging the rest of the card in order to completely preserve their political interests not only on Syrian grounds, but on surrounding shores and what is commonly known as the Mediterranean “warm waters” as well.
 As expected, Russia has proven through its presence in Syria that it is the only guarantor for Bashar, as he asked for the assistance of the Iranians, which they in turn failed to sustain due to the Syrian opposition stopping them in their tracks. This is why Moscow knows for certain that they are his last option, and that Bashar has no choice but to completely give in to Russia’s demands, effectively depriving him of any free will of his own.
 Currently, what the Iranians and Bashar’s regime fear the most is that Russia would abandon Bashar after it has completely secured all of its strategic interests, especially since Tehran no longer trusts a more self-serving, less predictable Moscow. This is exemplified by Moscow ceasing to support the Iranian-backed Houthi militias after refusing to veto the UN Security Council resolution 2216 in Yemen.
 All signs currently point to a large, polarizing path in Russian politics, as the facts on the ground prove that Russia is trying to find an exit strategy from the Syrian conflict that maximizes its gains, especially since Russia knows that the Syrian people will not accept Bashar’s presence in any means whatsoever, not to mention that it is financially incapable of sustaining a military venture that has no guaranteed outcome.
 However, the most important reason of all is Russia’s desire to strengthen strategic and economic ties with Arab Gulf states that roundly reject the presence of Bashar, who has killed more than 400 thousand Syrian citizens and caused the displacement of another 12 million.
 The question now is, how will Russia be able to save face in front of its allies in the event that it is forced to make Bashar leave? More importantly, does Russia even need to save face to begin with?'

Historic letter will fail to change Obama’s approach to Syria

 'A historic letter of dissent written by dozens of United States diplomats is unlikely to spark any changes to President Barack Obama’s approach to the Syrian conflict. However, it does serve as a record of the writers’ efforts to place themselves firmly on the right side of history and it further highlights the fact that US policy in Syria has been dictated by maintaining short-term interests while continuously ignoring long-term consequences.

 The letter expresses exasperation with the current administration’s failure to address the primary reason for the entire conflict: Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its continued crimes against the Syrian people. Nonetheless, as President Obama’s eight-year term comes to a close and as the bloody Syrian conflict continues to rage, renewed calls for a total overhaul of the current administration’s strategy in Syria are sure to go ignored.

 It is difficult to pinpoint what finally prompted this letter, which the New York Times referred to as “extremely large, if not unprecedented.” Inarguably, the years of the conflict have been punctuated by a number of deeply horrifying and chilling attacks by Assad’s forces – each justifying military action against his regime. A version of this letter could and should have been written in the aftermath of the barbaric sarin attack in eastern Ghouta in August 2013 and again after each chlorine attack or barrel bombing massacre or intentional targeting of health clinics and hospitals. It could have certainly been written after Caeser bravely defected and handed the entire world thousands of pieces of evidence showing the regime’s systematic torture and starvation of civilians, which the US Holocaust Museum displayed at their own institution. With endless documentation of Assad’s crimes, the diplomats are now refusing to let history view them as partly culpable due to US inaction.

 At some point in the years to come, those that called for direct action against Bashar al-Assad’s criminal regime – the party responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths and the worst chemical weapon massacre since Halabjah – will not be criticized as warmongers but instead will be noted as those who refused to think Syrians must be forced to choose between a barbaric dictator or a terrorist organization.'

Even Assad Supporters Aren't Immune to Syria's Kings of Looting

[Image: Drawing by Abi al-Bara’ shows the map of Syria as a road signaled by coffins leading to the coast. (Source: The Cry (as-Sarkhah)’s Facebook page)].

 'An undeclared conflict of interests has split regime supporters into various groups. The community is split between benefiters of the status quo, backed by influential groups, and everyone else. The benefiters carry out “thuggish” (tashbihiyyah) abuses against harmless regime supporters, who do not dare to assert their basic rights.

 “A new mobile phone model shakes me into action and occupies me more than the news of the death of someone I know,” said Nader, a techie college student, to describe how he relates to the numerous daily casualties around him.

 “I don’t think of tomorrow. I live my day with minimum damage possible. I wait for the beginning of each month to collect the pension of my recently deceased mother, although it doesn’t even cover a quarter of my needs, and so days wipe out days.”

 On the other end of the government supporters’ spectrum there is Wasim, an ex-telecommunication professional in his thirties, and a current member of the National Defense Forces (NDF). “I hope the crisis lasts for years. I got my back watched (by influential people) and no one can mess with me. I go on a stroll on the Latakia-Aleppo highway with my guys and they take whatever they want and no one dares to speak out or object. I now have several houses and cars,” flaunts Wasim.

 He pauses for a few seconds, then continues loudly, as if to justify himself: “In this war I have lost my brother and by nephew and I have the right to make up for it!”

 Regime militia members exploit their presence at checkpoints to extort tolls from drivers, and blackmail anyone whose ID points to an area out of government control.

 They are also the kings of “de-furnishing” (taʿfish), which is the term used to describe furniture thefts from the houses of those who have been displaced as a result of military action. NDF member Muhammad commented ironically that their excuse is that those are “war spoils” (ghana’im) they have earned through their efforts to defend the homeland against the enemy.

 He explained that the thefts reach even the houses of people living in regime-controlled Latakia and its devastated countryside. In these areas “the defender is the thief,” concluded Muhammad.

 “Patriotic” ideologies control the minds and hearts of many of those who consider death a duty in the defense of the homeland. The violations committed by some opposition groups, or their extremism, become a pretext to convince themselves that defending the regime despite all its faults is the guarantee for the lives of their families.

 Umm Ahmad is more than 70 years old. She lost four of her seven sons in the past five years. The old woman tearfully says: “ We must all sacrifice in self-defense so that we can survive. Of course the price will be very high, and I don’t mind losing my other three sons.”

 On the other hand, Umm ʿAli, a woman in her sixties, takes a very different stance. After losing her middle son in the war, she says: “I am not willing to send my youngest to the military. I cannot imagine losing another son, come hell or high waters. My son never leaves the village in fear that his name might be called on for the draft, so he only leaves (home) to help his father work in the orange grove.“

 Many changes have almost radically affected the stance of lots of regime supporters. Corruption has spread to an undeniably obvious extent and those who were desperately defending the regime and its symbols have been directly or indirectly subjected to an injustice that made them reconsider their stance.

 Shadiah, an employee in her thirties, commented on this point saying: “In the beginning there was a majority of enthusiasts willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the homeland and its leader. In every heated debate, any critic of regime practices was considered a traitor. […] The apologists used the opposition’s silence against violations committed in the name of the revolution as an excuse to undermine the values and credibility of the revolution.”

 Today, after five years, according to Shadiah, the vehement defense of the regime “has disappeared for many who suffered unjustified abuses, while it has remained frequent in individual instances. Nonetheless, the absence of the spirit of citizenship and the lack of respect for the human individual have left each person alone with their suffering.”

 Having said that, the grievances of the “loyalist areas” from the war are not limited to the abuses committed by the regime and its militias. Car bombs, mortar shelling and the daily arrival of the corpses from battlefronts give the locals a taste of the Syrian tragedy as other Syrians have experienced it. Today numerous government supporters feel trapped between both sides.'

Rebels Recapture Key Town in West

 'Rebels have retaken an important town in Latakia Province in western Syria, pushing back regime-Russian gains since last autumn. The rebel bloc Jaish al-Fatah moved into Kinsabba on Friday morning, capturing at least six tanks and BMP armored vehicles.

 Pro-regime reporter Eyad al-Hussein, embedded with the Syrian army, offered a frank assessment that points to wider problems for the regime forces. Al-Hussein said that, while defenses at one of two lines had “honest and heroic officers” with troops, those in Kinsabba were marked by “few and bad” patterns of fire. He said there were few or no technical vehicles, ambulances, and other resources, either because they were left behind in coastal cities or because the army was no longer obtaining them: “The officers collected money from their own pockets to buy a used tire. The situation in Kinsabba and what’s next is very bad and getting worse moment by moment.” '

 "Rebels seized a lot of weapons."*

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Obama proposes new military partnership with Russia in Syria

 'The Obama administration has proposed a new agreement on Syria to the Russian government that would deepen military cooperation between the two countries against some terrorists in exchange for Russia getting the Assad regime to stop bombing U.S.-supported rebels.

 The United States transmitted the text of the proposed agreement to the Russian government on Monday after weeks of negotiations and internal Obama administration deliberations, an administration official told me. The crux of the deal is a U.S. promise to join forces with the Russian air force to share targeting and coordinate an expanded bombing campaign against Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, which is primarily fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

 “One big flaw is that it’s clear that the Russians have no intent to put heavy pressure on Assad,” said former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. “And in those instances when the Russians have put pressure on, they’ve gotten minimal results from the Syrians.”

 There’s not enough reliable intelligence to distinguish Jabhat al-Nusra targets from the other rebel groups they often live near, Ford said. And even if the Syrians agreed not to bomb certain zones, there would be no way to stop Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups from moving around to adjust. Moreover, increased bombing of Jabhat al-Nusra would be likely to cause collateral damage including civilian deaths, which would only bolster the group’s local support.

 Kerry has been threatening for months that if Assad doesn’t respect the current cease-fire, known as the “cessation of hostilities,” that there was a “Plan B” of increasing arms to the Syrian rebels. But the White House has now scuttled that plan in favor of the proposed Russia deal, which could actually leave the rebels in a far worse position.

 Because most Jabhat al-Nusra fighters are fighting Assad, if the plan succeeds, Assad will be in a much better position. Meanwhile, the other Sunni Arab groups that are left fighting Assad will be in a much weaker position, said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The strategy could allow Assad to capture Aleppo, which would be a huge victory for his side in the civil war.
 “If the U.S. and Russia open up on Jabhat al-Nusra, that changes the dynamics on the ground in Aleppo and Idlib,” he said. “It would definitely benefit the Assad regime and it could potentially benefit the Kurds and ISIS.”
 If the price of getting Russia on board with the Syrian political process is to further abandon the Syrian rebels and hand Assad large swaths of territory, it’s a bad deal. It’s an even worse deal if Russia takes the U.S. offer and then doesn’t deliver on its corresponding obligations. The Obama administration is understandably trying to find some creative way to salvage its Syria policy in its final months. But the proposal that Obama offered Putin will have costs for the U.S. position vis-à-vis Russia as well as for the Syrian crisis long after Obama leaves office.'

Time for US to act in Syria

Civilians inspect a burnt car at a site hit by an airstrike in the rebel-controlled city of Idlib, Syria June 29, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

 "Left unchecked, Syria’s war will continue for another five to 10 years at least, with a full breakdown of the remaining national order. Syria will become a patchwork of villages ruled by competing warlords, without national institutions to govern and provide services. It will continue to export human suffering, refugees, and virulent ideologies like sectarianism and the Islamic State’s version of takfiri jihad.

 President Obama tried to steer a middle course, backing away from direct intervention, despite initially drawing a red line if Assad used chemical weapons. While seemingly every country with a finger in the Middle East has funneled weapons, trainers, or fighters into Syria, the United States has spent billions of dollars on humanitarian aid and has provided just enough military assistance to the armed opposition to prevent it from being wiped out. But it has studiously avoided any action that would topple Assad.

 Nearly a year ago, in September, Russia stepped into the void with a major military campaign to help Assad reclaim territory he had lost. Even Russia’s massive aid has failed to restore the regime’s position from a few years earlier, despite indiscriminate bombing of civilians in rebel-held areas and a systematic campaign to destroy hospitals, clinics, and other key infrastructure.

 Furthermore, the United Nations has strained under the pressure of the Syria conflict, which officials describe as the greatest challenge in the UN’s history. UN officials have chosen to partner with Assad’s government, allowing it to block access to areas inhabited by rebel supporters. As a result, the supposedly impartial UN has become party to starvation and siege tactics employed by the government to force rebel communities to surrender.

 Even with a history of failure and seemingly endless complications of future engagement, America can still positively shape the situation. It’s time for more action — humanitarian, military, and political — in order to reduce the catastrophic human toll, contain the strategic fallout, and reduce the chance of Syria becoming a fully failed state.

 If we stay on the same course, Syria is guaranteed to collapse with even more of the toxic consequences we’re already suffering — the Islamic State, refugee flows, violence spreading into neighboring countries that are allies. It might already be too late to prevent a full meltdown, but if the United States doesn’t try to stave off the collapse, a vacuum is guaranteed."

Activists: Regime Targeted Rebel-held Jobar With Poison Gas

Activists: Regime Targeted Rebel-held Jobar With Poison Gas

 "The Jobar Media Center reported that regime forces targeted the district of Damascus with poison gas from the direction of the southern highway Wednesday, June 29.

 A member of the media bureau of the local council in Jobar, Mohamed Abu al-Yeman, told Enab Baladi that the bombardment caused nine cases of asphyxiation with gas including four serious cases. All victims were militants.

 Regarding the nature of the symptoms that the victims were suffering from, Abu al-Yeman noted that they included shortness of breath, asphyxiation, and red eyes, adding that the cases were distributed throughout two medical points in the district.

 The Jobar district of Damascus is under the control of armed opposition factions and is considered the gate to the eastern suburbs. Assad’s forces have tried to storm the district from the area of the southern highway continuously but without success."

The Uncertain Future of the Syrian Revolution

Fighters from the 101st Infantry Division. Picture used with permission from the Division's media office.

 "The Syrian Regime is willing to remain in its current position for years, as long as it does not pay for this time with the blood of its own fighters, but rather with that of foreign militias and Syrian loyalists whose lives are worthless to the Regime. Most often, the Regime pushes forcefully enlisted fresh recruits to their front lines, as sacrificial lambs, while wearing down the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with daily shelling, killing its finest fighters and media activists who are the well-known targets on the front lines.

 The Regime has no problem with continuing in the current situation, as long as the loyal coastal cities and the capital remain under its control, as every day its enemies turn into friends and allies. Washington has shifted its prompt calls for Assad's overthrow to fighting terrorism, while its military operations moved to Pentagon to fight Daesh (ISIS) alone. The tactic is to fight and defeat FSA divisions one by one in order to create new units supported by the Pentagon to fight Daesh in Deir al-Zour and Northern rural areas of Syria. Other units seek to join the Pentagon program to receive extra funding in exchange for sending troops daily to fight Daesh, in what seems to be a failed strategy with no significant  advances on defeating the extremist organization for over a year now.

 With the increasing influence of the Kurdish and Syrian Democratic Forces in the north and their attempts to take leadership of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan Province) by controlling the cities of Manbij and Jarabulus, there will be new fronts for FSA to defend against such attempts to appropriate Syrian territory. This pits the FSA against the Syrian Regime, Daesh and the Syrian Democratic Forces, not to mention the back-stabbing by Islamic battalions close by. So, what will the FSA do?

 The FSA now enjoys relatively easy movement in northern Syria without being under siege, as is the case in Homs city or Eastern Ghouta in Damascus. However, despite this freedom of movement over large areas, the FSA is caged within the boundaries of international red lines which can’t be crossed. “Nubl and Al-Zahraa” is a red line. “Al-Fu'ah & Kafriya” is a red line. Coastal areas are a red line. People Protection Unitsareas are a red line. Crossing these lines could result in attacks, possibly from the very parties supporting the FSA.
 In Southern Syria, in Daraa province, the FSA military operations have been on hold for nearly a year, except for several battles against Daesh divisions. The FSA lost its momentum in rural areas of Damascus and Ghouta. It is fighting alone and under siege against al-Qaeda, its eternal enemy, in addition to defending the large fronts with the Regime to prevent any advancement. And it is unable to break this siege whether in Darya, Ghouta or rural Homs as it has been left alone in these areas without any back-up or support.
 The main purpose behind containing the opposition in the Geneva talks for eight months was to force the FSA to stop fighting and drain its support while continuously arming and fortifying Regime areas. The alleged truce is proof of this. It was imposed by Russia and the US on parties in Syria and included demands to constantly fight against Daesh and Al Nusra Front, while giving legitimacy to aerial bombardment closing in onto FSA controlled areas, and validity to the presence of Hezbollah, Iranian and Iraqi militias by including them as parties to the truce. The aim is to create dissent and send a threatening message to the FSA through the use of internationally prohibited weapons like phosphorus and cluster bombs, which gives the green light for Russia and Assad to wipe out any area they want while the US and Europe turn a blind eye.
 The FSA will be held accountable not only for what it has done, but also for what it should have done when the need arose. FSA leaders residing in Turkey, Jordan, and Europe are ready to give up certain of their battles, and even the basics and fundamentals of the revolution, in order to strengthen international relationships that support their current authority and give them hope for the future. If the FSA’s on-the-ground soldiers had dismissed their leaders, renounced external support and returned to the principles of the revolution as it was in 2012, when the FSA would self-arm from the gains of successful battles against the Regime, the situation would have been much better for the fighters, despite the fragmentation of loyalties.
 The decision of the FSA’s 101st Infantry Division, operating in northern Syria, to abandon international support that came at the price of silence regarding the administrative and financial corruption of their allies, is a first step towards demonstrating the possibility of returning to the revolution’s independence. But are other divisions willing to follow the example, or will they just carry on?"

Life In Berlin: A Magazine Makes Syrian Women's Voices Heard

Cofounder Yasmine Merei of the Syrian women's magazine "Saiedet Souria."

 'Yasmine Merei was about to start her master's degree in linguistics in Syria when the revolution began. The ongoing bombing destroyed her hometown Homs and forced her to move to safer areas inside Syria.
 "We started moving from a city to another and I needed to do something in order to earn money in one way or another," says Merei, "so one of the friends who I met when I started moving, he called me and said, 'Yasmine, there is a magazine, a local magazine and I think you can work as an editor because you are specialized in Arabic language, what do you think?' And I said, 'For sure.' "
 "We decided on our audience who are the women in the liberated area - what we call it - which is the area not controlled by the regime anymore. In these areas you don't have electricity, so you don't have Internet access, so they are not connected to the world at all. So you feel that you are responsible if you are able to keep giving them the information and the knowledge about life and about what’s going on outside Syria and also give them the feeling that you are interested in what’s going on with them," she says.
 "During the last months, we worked on the women who are living under the control of ISIS. We worked on a file about women who lose parts of their bodies because of shelling and then how they are able to continue to live their lives." '

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Hind Gunship Is One of Syria’s Worst Terror Weapons

 'For three weeks starting in early June 2016, the Damascus suburb of Darayya was exposed to merciless aerial bombardment carried out primarily by Mil Mi-25 — NATO code name “Hind” — gunship helicopters belonging to the Syrian Arab Air Force.

 The Hinds dropped no fewer than 564 bombs over this period, underscoring the Mi-25’s reputation as one of Syria’s worst terror weapons.

 Hinds deployed in combat starting in June 2011, in central Idlib Governorate. Through 2012, reports began to circulate that the regime in Damascus had ordered all SyAAF squadron commanders to bomb civilians in insurgent-controlled areas. Damascus instructed all commanding officers at first, and then all officers in each operational unit, to acknowledge the order with their signatures.

 Although a majority of SyAAF pilots at that time were Alawite — there were by then very few Christians, Druze and Sunnis left with the service — the order met with strong dissent. Pilots who refused to obey the order disappeared. A few re-appeared after a week or two in prison, where torture was not uncommon. Others were never seen again.

 This mistreatment led to surge in defections — not only by Sunnis, but foremost by Alawites. Tragically, regime agents retaliated against many defectors by kidnapping their families. Learning from this lesson, other aircrew continued to serve for a few months longer, preferring to find various excuses not to fly while searching for ways to bring their families to the relative safety of refugee camps in Turkey or Jordan prior to their own defections.

 Nevertheless, a majority of Alawite pilots — raised to hate the Sunnis — continued serving and thus became involved in the regime’s campaign of annihilation targeting all opponents.

 Contrary to standard practice in any other air force on the world, Syria’s notorious air force intelligence branch suppresses reporting on all incidents resulting from poor maintenance. After five years of intensive operations, the SyAAF’s Hinds and other aircraft are, once again, worn out. In recent months at least two air force helicopters literally disintegrated from vibration damage. It’s obvious that only the most fanatical supporters of the regime continue to serve.

 Under such circumstances, the tactics of Syrian Mi-25 crews are unsurprisingly conservative. Instead of operating at low altitudes and combining the effects of their machine guns and unguided rockets to saturate air defenses in the target zone prior to deploying bombs, SyAAF crews are dropping their bombs from altitudes of more than 1,500 meters.

 Because the air force has run out of stocks of conventional bombs, nowadays its Mi-25s often carry so-called “barrel bombs.” These are improvised explosive devices filled with nails and various metal trash — and TNT.

 Few crews have extensive flying experience. Some managed to teach themselves how to operate their helicopters without the benefit of standard tactical manuals. Some use Google Earth for navigation.

 Target selection is ad hoc. After five years of war, crew have abandoned all pretense of “precision.” In the words of several of SyAAF pilots, there is no other priority but to — literally — “cause mass destruction” and “burn Sunnis.” '

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Russian air strikes target Aleppo rebels

Syrians make their way through debris as they leave for a safer place part of Aleppo in this January 2016 file picture

 "Despite recent efforts to calm the situation and introduce temporary truces, the battle for the city seems to be intensifying, correspondents say."

 Stuff the BBC. The temporary truces were a trick by the Russians because Assad's forces are now so weak they can't fight on multiple fronts, and the headline should read, "Russian airstrikes indiscriminately burn Aleppo babies". It depresses me what a distorted view of this assault on humanity provided by our national broadcaster.