Monday, June 17, 2013

Syria, al Jazeera and Hezbollah

Jeff Weintraub posts (Did Syria ruin the "Arab Spring"? ) Marc Lynch's remarks:  
 Syria has also profoundly affected the Arab media landscape. It has been particularly cruel to Al Jazeera, whose descent is probably the most important story in the Arab media landscape in the last decade. Whether loved or hated, the Qatari-funded station served as a crucial common public sphere for Arab politics since the late 1990s.  [....]  But Al Jazeera's one-sided coverage of Syria and perceived support of Qatari foreign policy has cost it that central position.
No, I don't agree with that. Of course there are things they don't tell you (such as Qatar's involvement in the conflict), but I don't detect any great bias in their reports. They have regular coverage (at least something every day), whereas the BBC World Service's, for example, is more patchy.  This conflict is so crucial (if very depressing and confusing) that you would think they would give it more priority ...

Secondly, they more frequently have reporters on the ground, rather than covering the conflict from Beirut (Al Jazeera's Syria blog). One recent example is Andrew Simmons' report from around Aleppo.  He says that, after the fall of al Qusayr, government (/Hezbollah/Iranian) forces seem to be preparing a major offensive on Aleppo and the highway to the Turkish border (other reports indicate that the attack will come first on the rebel-held areas of Homs) and that this may signal the beginning of the end of the war. Of course we all want to see the end of the war, but not in an Assad victory.

It seems that Hezbollah have had a critical part in reversing the tide of the war, but one wonders what the long term effect of this on its credibility will be. While they like to portray themselves throughout the Arab and Muslim world as the spearhead of "resistance" to Israel, here they are the foot-soldiers in the suppression of a revolt by a Sunni majority against a dictatorial regime. One is reminded of the mocking chants a few years ago in Hamas-controlled Gaza of  “Shia, Shia”.

As Jeff notes in another post, Hezbollah's leader has a contorted justification for their involvement. One fighter, questioned about what they were doing in Syria said, "No, we are fighting Israelis in Syria. Only they are wearing a dishdash and carrying the Koran." (The Times, 20 May)

It is unsurprising then that Hezbollah was reluctant to get openly involved and it may also be a sign of desperation on the part of the Assad regime: if what seems to be around 2000 Hezbollah fighters could make such a difference, it says something about the capacity of the government army.

The fall of  al Qusayr was seen as making it less likely for the West to intervene, for fear of playing into Hezbollah's hands (**).

* How Qatar seized control of the Syrian revolution By Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding-Smith; (18/5 21:40, BBC WS, Newshour)

** This turned out not to be correct. When the White House announced that it would be providing military aid to the opposition, 13 June, the  BBC correspondent in Washington, Paul Adams, said that the US administration had been pretty confident for some time that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons, but had held back and had acted in response to Hezbollah's involvement. Roula Khalaf says, "the unstated red line is perhaps the involvement of Hizbollah." (Financial Times, 15 June)

18/5 deserted Alawi villages,  Hama province, occupied by rebels (
Al Jazeera).

 Syrian regime battles for key rebel stronghold -  Syrian forces backed by Lebanon militant group Hizbollah pushed on Monday into the strategic city of Qusair, a key supply route for the ... May 20, 2013 5:24 pm ...
Syria: no place for back-seat drivers - William Hague hints at veto of Syria arms ban -

 Last update: 19 Jun 2013

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Syria and Jihad

Osama Bin Laden's successor has spoken - Ayman al-Zawahiri Rants about Syria (Posted by Aron Lund on June 6th, 2013), on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, so around May 14 :
Zawahiri claims that jihad in Syria is a way of achieving all goals of the Muslim world: it will aid in [..] overthrowing the corrupt Arab and faux-Islamist governments now in place; it is also a way of combating Shiism and the global US hegemony, and therefore, so conveniently, a great way to liberate Jerusalem.
The USA is accused of trying to exploit the sacrifices of the Muslim world. It wants jihadis to do the heavy lifting in the battle against the Baath, while it is quietly building up a pro-Western opposition that can swoop in and seize power after Assad falls. This will serve the purpose of (again momentarily recalling his original subject) securing Israel’s borders. He calls on his followers to realize the danger and avoid falling into this trap – don’t leave the trenches and do not put down your arms until you’ve set up a proper Islamic state, he says.
To realize this goal, Doc Zawahiri says all Muslims must support the jihad in Syria, either by going there or by – for example – sending money. Such support is, by his reasoning, a “fard ein”, an individual duty incumbent on every able-bodied Muslim. It’s not something you leave to your government, or to the mosque, or to anyone else: but something YOU must do or suffer God’s punishment for neglecting. He makes no similar call for the conflicts in Algeria, Somalia, Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq and so on – at this moment in history, it’s to Syria you should go. The priorities are clear.
C4 News had a report, 14/6, about the first British jihadist killed in Syria. His progress is revealing: 2011, Libya; 2012, humanitarian work for Syrian refugees; 2013, joined the fighting.
Rough notes:
28/5 Syrian activists document 'massacre' -

1/6 Inside Syria (Syrian opposition: Battling on all fronts),  As of now, SNC also says it will not take part in proposed international peace talks in Geneva next month. The head of the SNC, George Sabra, announced the decision on Thursday saying they are suspending their participation, until the international community intervenes to end the siege in Qusayr.
The Syrian opposition says a thousand fighters have arrived to fend off government troops in Qusayr. There are reports that government forces, supported by Hezbollah fighters, have almost completely regained control of the strategic city.
presenter Hazem Sika, guests: Colonel Abdel-Hamid Zakaria, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army; Haytham Sbahi, Syrian political activist; and Louay Safi, a senior member of the Syrian National Coalition.
Zakaria: (4:25) negative impact. Disappointment ? Safi: did not come for duel with colonel, progress; one enemy - regime. Conditions ? Transition to democracy; statement - Hezbollah to get out. Sbahi: test the waters (8:33) where do loyalties lie ?  (Assad on al-Manar TV) (11:14) Zakaria: situation in Qusayr? Cannot disclose, our situation is good, humanitarian situation deteriorating, international community, Iran. Rebel forces not strong enough to overthrow Assad? No alternative but to continue ... Safi:  disconnected from situation on ground? More bickering than I would like to see. Sbahi: 2 different stories, military and political, al Nusra front, terrorist org. Zakaria: European Union is to lift its arms embargo on the rebels.

8/6 Inside Syria, (What next after the fall of Qusayr?)  with presenter Ghida Fakhri, discusses with guests: Robert Densemore, a defence and military analyst, and the editor of Defence Report - an online publication about global defence and security; Aron Lund, a writer and Syria analyst; and Saleh Mubarak, a member of the opposition SNC. Saleh Mubarak: we appealed, we do not need foreign fighters, we need weaponry. EU ban lifted, but we have not received anything yet. Lund: military defeat, up and down.
Densemore:"I am worried that the nature of the conflict may have reached and passed a tipping point and that now this is very much a full-scale sectarian conflict - there is no doubt that President Assad has initiated this by recruiting Hezbollah forces and inviting Iranian aid and forces into his country ... The problem is that the worst thing that can happen right now is for Assad's regime to fail because now that we have reached this point of inviting foreign fighters in on both sides - both Sunni and Shiite - this is no longer about achieving democratic ends to the protests that began two years ago."
Mubarak: Damascus, shelling, but no retreat; Israel allowed Assad forces through neutral zone. Mubarak: external powers. Qatar and Saudi Arabia ? And the USA. They demand less representation for Islamic forces, but Syria is 80% Muslim, 75% Sunni.

12/6 State media and Hezbollah accuse 'rebels' of massacre (22:00, BBC WS).  Syria rebels 'kill Shia villagers' Rebels have attacked a village in eastern Syria, killing dozens of Shia Muslims, most of them pro-government fighters, activists say." Syrian Rebel Attack Kills 60 Shiites, Activists Say - 8 hours ago
Lindsey Hilsum - War, politics and sectarianism in Syria,

Posted 9 Sep 2013