Thursday, September 19, 2013

Syria: notes, Sept. 2013

In this month, the US backed away from air strikes in response to the chemical weapons attacks around Damascus. I've finally got around to putting a jumble of notes into some sort of order. 

First, Ian Pannell's report on the BBC (29/8): an incendiary bomb dropped on to a school playground in the north of the country. Eyewitnesses describe a fighter jet dropping the device ...

Syria crisis: Incendiary bomb victims 'like the walking dead'. A BBC team inside Syria filming for Panorama has witnessed the aftermath of a fresh horrific incident -  - which has left scores of children with napalm-like burns over their bodies. ... , a low explosion, followed by columns of fire and smoke.
30/9 : For those outside UK, clip of devastating . Saving Syria's ChildrenFirst broadcast: 30 Sep 2013 (available 1 year).

31/8 Syria: The rhetoric and the repercussions - Inside Syria, with presenter Hazem Sika, guests: Meir Javendanfar, an Israeli Middle East analyst and co-author of The Nuclear Sphynx of Tehran; Gilbert Achcar, a professor of International Relations at the School of Oriental and African studies (SOAS), University of London; and Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian defence analyst who writes for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
Rough notes
Javendanfar (Tel Aviv): chances of retaliation against Israel low, but he shows no mercy against his own people
Achcar (London): scale; if limited? Lebanon? Hezbollah no interest in opening new front against Israel, don't want to change balance of forces except very slightly, want to get agreement with regime, not supporter of Syrian revolution.
Felgenhauer (Moscow): violation of international law, Russia strategic interests ? rhetoric in Moscow stepped up, agression, must help Assad win this war, Assad would not use CW because he would not, there was no CW attack. Achcar: if Assad is winning, why did he need help of Hezbollah, recent shipments of weapons have allowed rebels to go on offensive, as in Latakia; BBC, incendiary bombs on playground, from jet fighters. Javendanfar: gap in Iranian leadership, Rouhani condemns any side using CW; hardliners want to continue supporting regime, defensive shield, would strengthen Saudis and Israel, after strikes would turn into even more of a liability. Felgenhauer: cut Assad loose? Would not disrupt supply line, essential. Possible escalation, destabilize. US-Russia relations bad. Javendanfar: Iranian nuclear programme, Russia to scrap S-300 missiles to Iran. Why focus on [CW] rather than > 100,000? Achcar: good question, restoring credibility, maximum, restore balance, regime will not compromise unless it faces difficult military situation. Let them fight it out? As in Iran-Iraq war, that's why Washington not showing urgency, same for Israel.

Why the very bad arguments for intervening in Syria matter (Washington Post, 5 Sep):
They’re invested in Syria because they want Assad to stop killing his people with any kinds of weapons right now.
The problem is that achieving that goal requires a military intervention of a size and length that America is not willing to countenance. So they’re increasingly trying to justify the military intervention that Americans might countenance by using the arguments for the military interventions they won’t consider.
7/9 Can Obama win support for a strike on Syria? Inside Syria, guests: Richard Murphy, a former US ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia; Saleh Mubarak from the Syrian National Council; and Vyacheslav Matuzov, a former Russian diplomat and currently the chairman of the Russian Friendship Society with Arab Countries.
Rough notes
Murphy (New York): use of chemical weapons unacceptable, deter. Matuzov (Moscow): Russia agrees not acceptable, but who is that side that used ... Mubarak (in studio): 1500 killed by CW in Ghouta, 125 - 150,000 elsewhere, no question who is killing civilians. What support? Murphy: limited, not publicly, US public and congress, strong interest in evidence. France waiting for UN report, why? French public opinion hostile. Ashton endorses French position. Timing not a problem. Mubarak: depend on public opinion, WMD in Iraq, Afghanistan, not taking step back; we do know who is behind attack, but we want to prove it, willing to accept neutral committee. Matuzov: embarrassing me personally, Turkish police captured people carrying 3-5 Kg of Sarin from N Iraq to Syria, 2nd Aleppo, chemical materials used. Afraid to confront Assad? not at all. Support, not Hezbollah, don't need, heard from Lavrov, numbers from midE even Europe, 40,000. Mubarak: foreign fighters on both sides, numbers not as great; support to mainstream FSA would marginalize those groups. strike, propaganda by regime, lesser of 2 evils, going on with status quo, Americans advanced in precision hits, target not people, but facilities of WMD. Murphy: backlash if innocent people die? focusing on facilities, fixed targets, that were involved in attacks.
Matuzov: when announced, million rushed to neighbouring countries; civil war in Lebanon. Mubarak: accidents could happen, but ... Aleppo, ... defected, evidence it was the regime.

8/9 The BBC reached an activist in Muadhamiya: "Since the chemical strike, the bombing is coming more and more heavier ..."  You must worry if there are American strikes ...?  "We have absolutely no regrets ... we will be more than happy to see that coming. This time the missiles won't be on us, it will be against the people who are killing our sons and our daughters and our mothers since over 2 and a half years ... We have the FSA to protect us and we also have God who has been very merciful with us during these 2 and a half years." These strikes are not about changing the regime, are you worried that you will be disappointed? "... I will welcome any kind of help, even the smallest kind of help. We wish that there will be once and for all action, that they will bring down Bashar al-Assad, but even if the strike was limited, it is better than no strike, because [if] there wasn't going to be any kind of military intervention, Assad will understand, like he understand it before, that the world is giving him green light to keep on killing us without any kind of consequences, while we see that just Russia and China and Iran and Hezbollah mercenaries are the ones who are truly taking serious action on the ground. We have seen Iranians in our own eyes fighting next to the Assad regime ... : we have seen the dark side of humanity taking action, while the good side of humanity, which is supposed to be the western world ... civilised places, we have seen them do absolutely nothing." ... (explosion) "It's just a nearby shell."   (Newshour, 21:24,+17:30-22:48)
Juan Cole, When Syria was a US Ally (or at Least Helpful):
 4. Syria fought as an ally of the US against Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991.
As I wrote in 2003, [an international coalition], including Egyptian, Syrian and Saudi forces, fought for the defined objective of reversing Saddam Hussein's aggression against Kuwait. These Arab states in the region, Sunni Muslim, in particular Saudi Arabia, feared that if further action were taken [to change the regime], Iraq could fragment, strengthening Iran. Alternatively, you could have an Iraq run by its majority, heaven forbid, the Shi'a - another Iran. [..] Syria was the only country in favour of further action against Iraq.

Former Iranian President Slams Syria for Gassing own People: Sign of deep Divisions in Tehran Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani

Military-Ruled Egypt Opposes US Strike on Syria

11/9 Bernard Kouchner, on the Russian plan "it was under the international pressure, mainly [..] by the US and France, that it has been forced. For the time being, the Russians are not ready to accept a resolution with a timetable and with the threat of rétorsion [reprisals, retaliation, punishment]. We should maintain our military pressure." (BBCR4, World at One, 13:33-13:38)

Battle for Maaloula continues, Jeremy Bowen reports, gov't trying to retake from al-Nusra Front (BBCWS, 16:00) Obama puts Syria strike on hold  - Jeremy Bowen's reports from Syria. Lina Simjab: the army betrayed us. (BBCWS) Rand Paul: taking same side as AQ (see next post). Even, Douglas Murray, self-proclaimed neocon, opposes intervention on the grounds that it's too late. (Channel 4 News, 10/9)
Is the religious importance of Syria being ignored? - video
Battle for Syria Christian town of Maaloula continues

14/9 In The Financial Times, A long week: Putin’s diplomatic gambit, James Blitz (Registration, limited access):
Many will also judge that Mr Obama has emerged weaker. Over the past three weeks he has zigzagged from one initiative to another. “I can’t think of a foreign policy issue in my lifetime where America has offered us so little sense of strategy and such a strong sense of making things up as it goes along,” says one British official. Others will see this judgment as too harsh. For one thing, Mr Obama can argue that his initial threat of military action has forced Mr Putin to give ground on Syria, putting some heat on Mr Assad for the first time.
War stories How Max Hastings went from being seduced by the thrill of the battle to discomfort about intervention in Syria - we are uncertain of the outcome, in a "war of choice" you can't "flatten cities".

Published 11 Nov 2013


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