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March 27, 2015 / 7 Nisan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Arab League’

J.E. Dyer: Syria – Going, going, gone?

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

It’s not clear how much longer the US will have discretion in what – if anything – to do about Syria.  While the Obama administration pesters Russia and China in the UN, Russia and China are shuttling diplomats around the Arab world, coming up with separate plans.  The Syria crisis has become as much about a contest for leadership between East and West as it is about the terrible death toll in Syria – and there is little time left for the West to act decisively.

Clearly divided global leaders

The confrontations in the UN have been emblematic of the Asian-Atlantic divide over Syria, but perhaps not as much as a less-publicized sequence of events.  In the hours after Russia and China vetoed the Western-sponsored UN resolution in February, Nicolas Sarkozy proposed the “Friends of Syria” vehicle for coordinating international action.  The US and Turkey quickly joined forces on the Friends of Syria effort, and a first meeting was scheduled for 24 February in Tunisia.

Russia and China both declined to participate.  And their non-participation has taken the form of competing efforts to put a plan together to resolve the Syrian crisis.  On 10 March, at a meeting in Cairo – shortly before this week’s UN confrontation with the US – Russia and the Arab League announced a set of agreed principles for ending the conflict.  One of those principles is that both sides – the Assad regime and the insurgents – must lay down their arms.  Russia will not buy into any proposal that has Assad’s forces observing a unilateral ceasefire.

The Arab League’s agreement on Russia’s “five principles” is a milestone in the effort to get some kind of coalescence around a way forward.  Arab League agreement is not universal; it won’t surprise Middle East-watchers that Qatar – home of Muslim Brotherhood leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi and recent host of the anti-Israel “Jerusalem conference” – called last week for a military solution in Syria, with Arab troops in the lead.  But the Arab League agreement with Russia tends to highlight Qatar as an outlier in that regard.

It appears that Qatar is hoping to urge the West to intervene in Syria, in combination with military forces from Arab partners; i.e., replicate the action in Libya last year.  From a Muslim Brotherhood standpoint, wresting Libya from Qadhafi opened the country up to shariazation.  But the Arab League as a whole is publicly agreeing with Russia rather than backing Qatar’s play.  (And this in spite of Arab League participation in the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia.)

China chimed in a few hours ago with supportive comments about the Russia-Arab League agreement.  (Beijing has also gone Russia one better with a six-point plan.)  The Chinese had an envoy in Syria last week talking to both the Assad government and the insurgents in an effort to broker a ceasefire, and they are dispatching diplomats around the region to “explain China’s position” and affirm the need for a political solution.

Meanwhile, Turkey plans to host the second Friends of Syria meeting on 2 April.  (The dilatory schedule mimics the US-EU approach to Libya in 2011.)  Nothing much came out of the first one, and the second meeting is already haunted by the report – denied by Turkish authorities – that Sarkozy had not been invited to it because of the recent French resolution condemning the World War I-era slaughter of Armenians as a genocide.

The lack of momentum for Western-brokered proposals is a serious problem.  While it would be too much to say that the Russia-Arab League agreement has momentum at this point, it would also be too much to say that anything put forward by the West is a credible challenge to it.  The Arab League doesn’t have the unity to deal with Syria by itself, and has been looking for a strong horse to run with.  There is no guarantee at this point that the strong horse will be the US and EU.

Turkish press opined this weekend that the reelection of Vladimir Putin would induce a notable warming trend in Russian-Turkish relations.  Putin is a personal friend of President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan; this prediction is solid, although of course it will not eliminate all of the natural sources of friction between the two nations.  What it may well do, however, is change the dynamic in which Turkey has found it convenient to throw in with the US on the Syria problem.

If the US is not going to back decisive action in Syria, Turkey may quietly migrate to an accord with Russia on ending the conflict  (If Ankara can present this as Russia migrating toward Turkey, so much the better for Erdogan; but Moscow has the agreement in hand with the Arab League.).  What we may count on with both Turkey and Russia is a desire to wield the primary influence over the process of establishing a new government in Syria.  With the current US administration, the utility of the United States as a patron for this Turkish purpose may not be as great as that of Russia.

Syria: US drones, Iranian warships

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Because there is no international security problem that can’t be ameliorated with drones, the Obama administration has deployed its platform of choice to perform reconnaissance over Syria.

We’ll get to the Iranian warships.  The drones – according to Pentagon officials, a “good number” of them – are reportedly being used to collect information on Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on his people.  They will provide supporting evidence to justify an international intervention in Syria.  The US officials say the intelligence collection is not a precursor to military operations in Syria.

The US has actually done this before.  During the gruesome internal conflict in Rwanda (back in the Clinton administration), when Hutus were massacring Tutsis, the US dispatched military reconnaissance aircraft to collect intelligence on the fighting.  We have also, of course, operated drones over Somalia and Yemen at various times in the last decade, both to collect intelligence and to target terrorists.  But in Syria, the interested parties include Russia, Iran, China, and a collection of Islamist groups.

The US administration’s interlocutors are not wrong to wonder if sending in the drones is a preparatory measure for sending in troops to intervene: the intelligence collected by tactical drones is more immediate, dynamic, and ephemeral than that gathered by standoff collection assets.  If you want to know what Assad’s overall posture is, you use the standoff assets; if you want to know what his forces are doing on a moment-to-moment basis, you use operational-level (e.g., Predator) or tactical drones.  (If there are a “good number” of drones being used, most of them have to be operational or tactical drones – and are probably Predator operational-level drones, with good range and altitude.)

Meanwhile, as if on cue, the Iranian warships that stopped in Jeddah earlier this month have transited the Suez Canal – without any prior brouhaha in the press – and arrived in Syria.  They are in Syria exactly a year after their last visit, and presumably will offload weapons and/or ammunition from the supply ship Kharg, which is accompanying the Iranian destroyer.  Reporting from a Syrian defector (see last link) indicated that last year’s Iranian naval task force delivered weapons and ammunition to the Assad regime.

The ships’ arrival makes Iran the third foreign government that has been able, without hindrance, to enter a Syrian port and offload whatever it wants, in spite of the sanctions being imposed on the Assad regime.  Hugo Chavez has delivered diesel fuel to Syria since the sanctions were imposed, and Russia, besides sending her carrier task force to Syria during its recent deployment, used a commercial cargo ship to deliver arms to Syria in January.  The sanctions thus look pretty perfunctory (not to mention perforable).

Could a US drone be shot down over Syria?  Yes, the capability is there.  I don’t assess that Assad wants to do anything so provocative, and Russia – the supplier (and very possibly the current operator) of anti-air missiles in Syria – will want to keep things calm as long as possible.  But drones watching Syria will inevitably end up watching Russian forces there, and at a certain point Russia may well find that intolerable. If a combination of Assad’s and Moscow’s preferences should cause them to want to exclude the drones, the question will really be whether anyone thinks President Obama would retaliate for a drone shoot-down or two.

There are too many variables in this situation to predict narrowly which direction things will go.  The reason for that is largely that the Obama administration’s policy is to avoid securing an outcome with the use of US power.  If the US will not seek a particular outcome, we will be consigned to waiting on others to do so.  There are many players, and numerous potential reactions.  The permutations of hostility and resistance along the way are endless.

What should the US do?  Our first principle should be that Assad must go, but that principle can’t stand on its own. It would not be better to have a new government of Islamist radicals than to have Assad in power.  It matters who takes over, and how.

A key problem, however, is that we have put our chips on Muslim Brotherhood groups and the brokerage of the Erdogan government in Turkey.  That is a very bad policy move, one guaranteed to generate enemies (Russia, China, Iran) for our non-policy policy while giving nations like Saudi Arabia less reason to endorse our activities.  We can’t make the Muslim Brotherhood good for the Middle East by throwing our weight behind it.

Doing so is, in fact, wasting and diluting the power we still have.  If the US policy were to fence in and discourage the Muslim Brotherhood, while bolstering liberalizing elements instead — elements that exist in every nation of the Middle East – we would make it more desirable for a nation like Russia to cooperate with us on the Syria problem.  Russia is the one nation that could directly help us to get rid of Assad; if one of our top objectives were to ensure that the follow-on government was not taken over by Islamists, we and Moscow would have that key objective in common.

Arab League, Western Nations to Seek Another UN Resolution on Syria

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Arab League states are partnering with western nations again to draw up a resolution on the Syrian unrest, which is to be debated and voted on in the General Assembly this week.

The resolution, aimed at maintaining the pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, is very similar to the resolution that Russia and China vetoed just over a week ago. Though General Assembly resolutions carry less significance, they can’t be vetoed.

Foreign ministers from the Arab League states also urged the formation and dispatch of a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping mission to Syria. In response, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “stressed that action on the specific requests of the League will be a matter for the Security Council to consider.”

PA to Ask Arab League to Convene Peace Conference

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

According to an AFP report, PA President Mahmoud Abbas will ask the Arab League on Sunday to hold a peace conference.

“Among other proposals, we will ask the Arab League’s monitoring committee to convene an international peace conference on the Palestinian issue,” said an official in Abbas’ delegation to Cairo.

Russian FM: Assad ‘Completely Committed’ to Ending the Violence

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Following his meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the embattled leader is willing to accept an expanded Arab League mission to Syria and is “completely committed” to ending the violence that has thrown his country into tumult.

“The president of Syria assured us he was completely committed to the task of stopping violence regardless of where it may come from,” Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying.

UN Security Council Debates: Syria

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

The UN Security Council has been engaging in contentious debate over a draft resolution concerning the ongoing strife in Syria.

The resolution, based on the contours of an Arab League plan calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and make way for a new unity government, has also increased tensions between the US and Syrian’s patron, Russia.

Russia has been steadfast in its intentions to veto the Western-Arab draft resolution unless it has language that unequivocally rules out military intervention in Syria. The draft “is missing the most important thing: a clear clause ruling out the possibility that the resolution could be used to justify military intervention in Syrian affairs from outside. For this reason I see no chance this draft could be adopted,” said Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union.

“We all have a choice,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in comments before the Security Council, “stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there.”

Russia and China vetoed a resolution last fall condemning the Assad regime, and Russia continues to supply Syria with military equipment despite Western calls to halt such transfers.

Western diplomats would like to see a Security Council vote take place this week, but the impending Russian veto figures heavily into their calculus.

Syria on the Brink: Arab League Suspends Mission, Shifts Focus to UN

Monday, January 30th, 2012

In the wake of the Arab League’s suspension of its observer mission to Syria, the UN Security Council will begin deliberations on a draft resolution this week calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign and transfer power.

The Arab League’s mission was tasked with ensuring that Assad’s regime was abiding by an agreement with the Arab League to end violence against anti-government protesters. The mission was suspended Sunday after a particularly brutal weekend of government violence that resulted in the deaths of approximately 200 civilians.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby is in New York to deliver the mission’s findings to the Security Council, but even the support and encouragement of the 22-nation Arab alliance will not ensure the passage of a harsh resolution, as Russia and China continue to obstruct any meaningful progress in halting government violence.

Last October, Russia and China both vetoed a resolution that would have condemned the regime for the violence engulfing Syria. While this latest draft resolution does not include sanctions, it has more bite because it calls for a transfer of power.

Russia, Syria’s patron and main ally, continues to supply Syria with weapons despite calls from the West to halt weapons transfers. It has also proposed an alternative UN resolution that assigns equal blame to Assad and the dissidents.

Syria scorned the new draft resolution, with its UN ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, quoted as saying “Syria will not be Libya; Syria will not be Iraq; Syria will not be Somalia; Syria will not be a failing state.”

It is estimated that over 5,000 people have died since March 2011, when the regime launched a crackdown against dissidents.

 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/syria-on-the-brink-arab-league-suspends-mission-shifts-focus-to-un/2012/01/30/

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