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March 2, 2015 / 11 Adar , 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

With Syria, at Least Israel Seems Ready

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Several websites have picked up on a UPI report that the Israeli Air Force attacked a chemical weapons site in the Damascus area on Saturday. (Here’s the original UPI report). The report is unconfirmed by any official source, but it is credible.  There are caveats, however.

The site in question, if it was struck, was probably the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), long known to be a key facility in Assad’s chemical and biological weapons program.  (See here as well.)

The blogger, “Mossomo” at Flopping Aces put together an excellent timeline back in February on the events leading up to a previous unconfirmed report that the IAF had struck the SSRC.  This strike was reportedly conducted on 30 January 2013. Hours later, Israel targeted a truck convoy west of Damascus which was carrying sophisticated new surface-to-air missiles for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

I doubt the convoy’s cargo itself was related to the chemical weapons site; if Israel went after both targets in January, it was because they were close, geographically, and Israeli military authorities wanted to maximize the gain from a rare and dangerous penetration of Syrian air space.

But it’s not actually clear that the SSRC was hit at the end of January.  David Barnett at Long War Journal was among many who picked up a few days afterward on satellite imagery shown by Israel’s Channel 2, which seemed to show the SSRC completely unscathedafter the date of the reported attack.  Barnett concluded that the IAF probably meant to attack only the truck convoy, which was in a parking lot close to the SSRC at the time of the strike.

If the IAF actually attacked the SSRC on 28 April, the urgency of hitting it may relate to the battle being waged in its vicinity at this very moment.  According to the Lebanese Daily Star, Assad’s forces are engaged in an all-out assault to retake the area around the compound from the rebels.  Fighting in the immediate vicinity of the SSRC increases the danger that its inventory will fall into rebel hands – and thence into the hands of Islamist jihadists, including Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Qaeda.

It’s also possible that Israel attacked something near the SSRC on Saturday, but not the SSRC itself.  One factor arguing for that assessment is that attacking the SSRC would be a big job.  There’s a lot of industrial square footage to thump; the IAF would want to put more than a couple of strike fighters over the target.  Ideally, there would be sequential strikes; I would envision two strike-fighter pairs delivering an initial ordnance package, followed by another wave of pairs an hour later delivering a second one.  Additional restrikes could well be necessary – if, that is, the objective is to “k-kill” the installation, or destroy it completely so that it could not be reconstituted within a timeframe useful to the current civil war.

If that’s not the objective, it’s hard to think of one that would justify putting IAF aircraft in Syrian air space in order to strike the SSRC.  Either you go in to take it out for the duration of the civil war, or you don’t hit it at all.

So perhaps the IAF visits have been for other purposes, and the SSRC hasn’t been hit.  Assad’s forces hold the compound itself and they may well be using it to marshal other kinds of military equipment, which, like the truck convoy in January, can from time to time present a lucrative target for the IAF.

It’s hard to say, without any idea of how big the reported attack was on Saturday.  If the Israelis did attack the SSRC, however, it’s a good bet that they did whatever was necessary to achieve a useful effect.  In our brave new world, someone will put out satellite imagery in a few days, and then we’ll have a better idea.

Originally published at the Optimistic Conservative.

Syria Using Chemical Weapons: Will the US Act?

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

News item:

The Syrian regime has used lethal chemical weapons, mostly sarin gas, against armed rebels several times in the past few weeks, and is continuing to do so, the head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Research Branch, Brig. Gen. ltay Baron, said on Monday.

Baron said that photographs showing victims with foam coming out of their mouths and contracted pupils were signs that deadly gas had been used.

Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Baron confirmed that “to the best of its [the IDF’s] knowledge,” weapons of mass destruction had definitely been used by the Syrian regime, a development which the United States and others say they are still trying to determine.

In his briefing, Baron said the lack of an “appropriate international response” to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons was “very worrying” and was leading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his forces to believe that there were no consequences to their use of WMDs.

This follows on a report that appeared last week:

Britain and France have informed the United Nations that there is credible evidence that Syria has used chemical weapons on more than one occasion since December, according to senior diplomats and officials briefed on the accounts.

In letters to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the two European powers said soil samples, witness interviews and opposition sources support charges that nerve agents were used in and around the cities of Aleppo, Homs and possibly Damascus, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, expressed serious concern over evidence of chemical weapon use, but left open the possibility that it was the rebels that had used them. But there is no evidence that the rebels have control of such weapons, while there is plenty that the regime does and has been preparing to use them.

Chemical weapons are difficult to use effectively and so far have not lived up to their destructive potential. Huge quantities of poison gases like chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas were used during WWI, leading to perhaps 1,000,000 casualties and less than 100,000 fatalities — a horrendous number in absolute terms, but not when compared to the overall carnage. Iraq used mustard gas and nerve agents against Iran during their war in the 1980′s, causing perhaps 100,000 casualties and 20,000 immediate deaths.

There is something deeply terrifying about these weapons, even more so than the far more potent and dangerous nuclear bombs, which have the potential to kill millions in a single attack. It has been reported that Israel informed its enemies that it would consider nuclear retaliation in response to a chemical attack, and Egypt, Syria and Iraq — all of which had developed chemical warfare capability and had used it in other conflicts — apparently believed it, and did not employ them against Israel in several wars. Such is the power of deterrence.

Last August, President Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil war would cross a “red line” that would bring about some form of active intervention by the U.S. and its allies:

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus,” Obama said. “That would change my equation. . . . We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans.”

The president’s remarks represented his strongest language to date on how the United States might respond to contain Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. In July, he warned that Assad would be “held accountable by the international community” if he made the “tragic mistake” of deploying chemical munitions.

Immediately afterwards, an anonymous official softened the statement a bit:

On Monday, an administration official said that Obama did not intend to flag any change in policy in his latest remarks and that the appetite for military intervention remains low.

Refugees, Hypocrisy and Arab Unity: Just Follow the Money

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

The Arab-on-Arab bloodbath just across Israel’s northern border goes on and on, and with it the incredible and worsening suffering of ordinary Syrians. That is, in significant ways, a function of politically correct but morally repugnant decision making of the “world community.”

The decades-long handling of the Palestinian Arabs as a uniquely deserving cause is revealed for the scam it always was. People are paying with their lives for the double-talk about the “refugees.” Those people are not only Arabs, but in many cases they are also the close kin of the undeserving beneficiaries of the Palestinian Arab Victimhood industry.

Evelyn Gordon writes (“How UNRWA Steals Money from Those Who Need It Most“) about the current threat by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to halt all relief operations in Syria and for the benefit of Syrian refugees. 1.3 million of them are being looked after until now; the number – given the ongoing unchecked savagery throughout Syria – is certain to grow.

$1.5 billion was pledged to the U.N. agency by donors earlier this year; only $400 million has turned up. That’s a shortfall of more than 70%. What can we learn from this?

For anyone familiar with the way Arab national giving works, this is a constant: fancy rhetoric and high flying speeches about Arab solidarity and Arab unity and Arab generosity, followed by… not much. Is there a shortage of available cash in the oil-soaked Arab world? Not really. (We wrote about the phenomenon of $600 million recreational yachts a few days ago. See 10-Apr-13: “I cannot help but cry out long live the descendants of apes and pigs”).

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that unless more money arrives (read: unless the promises of funding are honored, which so far has not happened), UNHCR is going to stop distributing food to refugees in Lebanon from May. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with the largest population of Syrian refugees, has said it will close its borders to more of them; it cannot cope without aid.

Now pause.

Evelyn Gordon writes about a different (a very different) U.N. agency that deals with refugees, one that

enjoys comfortable funding of about $1 billion a year to help a very different group of refugees–refugees who generally live in permanent homes rather than flimsy tents in makeshift camps; who have never faced the trauma of flight and dislocation, having lived all their lives in the place where they were born; who often have jobs that provide an income on top of their refugee benefits; and who enjoy regular access to schooling, healthcare and all the other benefits of non-refugee life… Their generous funding continues undisturbed even as Syrian refugees are facing the imminent loss of such basics as food and fresh water. I am talking, of course, about UNRWA.

People who have never heard this before think we’re making this up, so please read carefully and verify:

It has long been clear that UNRWA–which deals solely with Palestinian refugees, while UNHCR bears responsibility for all other refugees on the planet–is a major obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Since, unlike UNHCR, it grants refugee status to the original refugees’ descendants in perpetuity, the number of Palestinian refugees has ballooned from under 700,000 in 1949 to over five million today, even as the world’s non-Palestinian refugee population has shrunk from over 100 million to under 30 million. Moreover, while UNHCR’s primary goal is to resettle refugees, UNRWA hasn’t resettled a single refugee in its history… It has thereby perpetuated and exacerbated the Palestinian refugee problem to the point where it has become the single greatest obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement… Unfortunately for the Syrians, it seems that many of the world’s self-proclaimed humanitarians prefer harming Israel to helping those who need it most. [Evelyn Gordon]

Last year, we asked [in a post called “5-Jun-12: If there’s one single thing about UNRWA that we wish people understood, it’s this“] a question that, if it were to get an honest answer, might point to a genuine breakthrough in resolving our neighborhood’s problems:

If (to borrow the laughable claims made by its many supporters) UNRWA’s work is so important, if it brings us closer to peace, if it restores dignity to the lives of dispossessed and destitute Arabs, then why, when you look at the top twenty list of donors to this agency that exists entirely from donations, do you see that only one is Arab (the Islamic Development Bank). What is it about UNRWA that the Arab states understand better than the nations and tax-payers of the West?

Allow us to restate this in a simpler way:

Arab leaders, many of whom preside over phenomenal cash resources, (a) simply don’t give to the strange U.N. agency that exists specifically to support the most beloved cause that exists in the Arab world – the Palestinians. And (b) they fail to honor their pledges (as we noted above) to fund the one organization that can do something to relieve the genuine suffering of the Syrians, tens of thousands of whom have been killed in the past two years’ Arab-on-Arab fighting and millions of whom are now desperate to find shelter.

The role of rampant hypocrisy in explaining what happens in global politics is under-appreciated.
Visit This Ongoing War.

UN Rebukes Assad, Rebels, Equally for Millions Suffering in Syria

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Almost seven million people need humanitarian assistance in Syria as a result of the two-year civil war there, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Ann Amos said on Thursday.

She explained that “the needs are growing rapidly and are most severe in the conflict and opposition-controlled areas” of Syria.

She cited data showing there are 6.8 million people in need—out of a rapidly shrinking population of 20.8 million—as well as an estimated 4.25 million people who have been internally displaced and an additional 1.3 million refugees who fled to neighboring countries.

The 15-member Security Council then urged both sides in the conflict “to ensure safe and unimpeded access for aid organizations to those in need in all areas of Syria.”

In the statement the council also deplored “the obstacles to the provision of humanitarian assistance and underlined the urgent need to remove all such obstacles, including those which are bureaucratic in nature.”

Under-Secretary-General Amos said that bureaucratic obstacles have grown since January, “inhibiting our ability to respond.” She added: “The limitations on the ground have forced us to being precariously close to suspending some critical humanitarian operations. We are approaching a point of no return.”

So the council statement also requested that shipments of food and medicine be allowed to cross borders if necessary, and called on all sides to “protect civilians and respect international human rights and humanitarian law, recalling the primary responsibility of the Syrian authorities in this regard.”

OK, so now we’re good, let’s go have a nice pizza…

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, addressing the UN Security Council by video link, said the number of refugees could surpass 3.5 million by the end of the year.

“These figures are terrifying. This is not just frightening, it risks becoming simply unsustainable,” he said, calling for more international support for countries hosting refugees, including Lebanon and Jordan.

Amos told the council that the number of approved non-governmental organizations in Syria was recently cut from 110 to 29, and the UN has just been told that every truck needs a permit signed by two ministers to pass government checkpoints.

“When I tell the council that a convoy from Damascus to Aleppo goes through 50 checkpoints—half of them government controlled—you will appreciate the impossibility of this request.”

In some ways it’s actually gratifying to observe how the UN Security Council is dealing with a situation that technically mirrors the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—except that both sides are crazy violent lunatics, making even the Hamas and the PLO look relatively civilized in comparison—and is just as paralyzed and totally unable to help anyone do anything right.

“We cannot do business this way,” Amos said. She’s so right.

Report: US Fears Syria Rebel Victory, for Now

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

The commentariat universally rejected my Apr. 11 column arguing that Western governments should “Support Assad” on the grounds that he is losing and we don’t want the Islamist rebels to win in Syria but prefer a stalemate. An Arabic website in France threatened me.

Fine. But the Wall Street Journal today reports in “U.S. Fears Syria Rebel Victory, for Now” by Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes that the Obama administration is in fact following my counsel. To start with, the U.S. government fears “an outright rebel military victory”:

Senior Obama administration officials have caught some lawmakers and allies by surprise in recent weeks with an amended approach to Syria: They don’t want an outright rebel military victory right now because they believe, in the words of one senior official, that the “good guys” may not come out on top.

Of course, fearing a rebel victory gets in the way of ousting the current regime, its goal, leading to a self-contradictory muddle:

This assessment complicates the White House’s long-standing push to see President Assad step from power. It also puts a spotlight on the U.S.’s cautious approach to helping the opposition, much to the frustration of U.S. allies including France and the U.K., which want to arm Syria’s moderate rebels. The result of this shift, these officials say, is the U.S. has sought a controlled increase in support to moderate rebel factions. … “We all want Assad to fall tomorrow, but a wholesale institutional turnover overnight doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” a senior U.S. official said. “The end game requires a very careful calibration that doesn’t tip the meter in an unintended way toward groups that could produce the kind of post-Assad Syria that we aren’t looking for.”

Trouble is, Washington is attempting to thread a needle that it lacks the finesse to achieve:

Administration officials fear that with Islamists tied to al Qaeda increasingly dominating the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, too swift a rebel victory would undercut hopes for finding a diplomatic solution, according to current and former officials. It would also shatter national institutions along with what remains of civil order, these people say, increasing the danger that Syrian chemical weapons will be used or transferred to terrorists.

Officials say it will require delicate maneuvering to restrain the influence of radicals while buying time to strengthen moderate rebels who Western governments hope will assume national leadership if Mr. Assad can be persuaded to leave. … By strengthening moderates, the U.S. wants to put pressure on Assad supporters to cut a deal that would preserve governing institutions. …

Comments: (1) Obviously, I am pleased to learn that the Obama administration quietly has a adopted a sensible policy toward Syria. (2) Let’s hope that its unrealistic plan to guide the “good guys” to rule the country will fade with added experience; and that it will instead follow a balance-of-power approach such as I advocate.

Originally published at DanielPipes.org and The National Review Online, The Corner, April 17, 2013, under the title, “US Fears Syria Rebel Victory, for Now.”

What is Really ‘Broken’ In Syria?

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Among the many noteworthy aspects of President Barack Obama’s recent tour of the Middle East was a comment on March 22, during a press conference with Jordanian King Abdullah II. Obama said, “Something has been broken in Syria, and it’s not going to be put back together perfectly, immediately, anytime soon – even after Assad leaves.”

Although the characterization of Syria’s condition was accurate, Syria has been “broken” for a longer time than most Weste­rners seem to think. A religious fissure in Syrian society – a tear that has now widened into a civil war and filled up with blood, bodies, and ruins – dates at least to 1970. That was the year Hafez Al-Assad (1930-2000), father of the current dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, who are both members of the Alawite religious minority, seized power within the Syrian wing of the Ba’ath party, which had ruled the country since a coup in 1963.

Supporting both Al-Assads, and serving as their main subordinates and followers, were – and are – other members of the Alawite denomination, which some consider Muslim and others do not. The world was slow to recognize in the Syrian civil conflict, commencing in 2011, a sectarian confrontation. The Syrian war pits the Alawites, who are typically counted as about 11% of the country’s population of 22.5 million, against the Sunni Muslims, who total around 75%. There is also a small Alawite presence in Lebanon, which is vulnerable to involvement in the Syrian contest.

When Hafez Al-Assad became dictator of Syria, Alawites had already infiltrated the Syrian army on a wide scale, a pattern that began under the French mandate controlling Syria from 1920 to 1946. Hafez Al-Assad installed still more Alawites as Ba’athist leaders, at the summits of military elite and state administration in Syria – an Alawite ascendancy maintained by Bashar Al-Assad. Between the Alawites and the Sunni Arabs stand small communities of Sunni Kurds and Turkmens, Christians, Druze (an esoteric faith derived from Shia Islam), other variants of traditional Shi’ism, and even a microscopic Jewish contingent. While favoring the Alawite minority, the Al-Assad regime pursued, under both father and son, a policy of public secularism. This included protection of the marginal creeds, as a bulwark against the overwhelming Sunni multitude.

Even though the Alawites are typically described as an “offshoot of Shia Islam,” from their emergence in the 9th century until the 20th century, their identification with an Islam of any kind has been denied by Muslim rulers and theologians.

Rejection of their claim as Muslims was, and is, based above all on their worship, as God, of Ali Ibn Abi Talib – the fourth caliph who succeeded Muhammad (and three others from among Muhammad’s companions). Ali, assassinated in 661 CE, was a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and is considered by Shias to have possessed divine knowledge – one of the core differences between Shias and Sunnis, who refuse any such an assumption about Ali.

All Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, accept Ali as a righteous leader of the Muslims. The Alawites, however, have taken their devotion to Ali so far as to believe that Ali was the creator of the world, of humanity, of Muhammad of a third member of the “Alawite trinity,” Salman Al-Farsi, a companion of Muhammad and the first translator of the Koran out of Arabic, into his native Persian. Ali, as the Alawites conceive him, was the final manifestation of God.

The notion that Ali was God and created Muhammad, has been treated by Sunnis and, until the late 20th century, conventional Shia Muslims, as a departure from Islam, if not a tradition with which Islam was never directly involved. The Alawite sect has been said by foreign scholars to have roots in, and reflections of, ancient Phoenician practices, Persian religious movements derived from Zoroastrianism, and even Christianity.

Through the centuries, several important Sunni fatwas [Islamic clerical judgments] proclaimed that the Alawites were not Muslim. These fatwas include three issued by Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), an ultra-fundamentalist Sunni, considered the leading forerunner of Wahhabism, the state religion in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda frequently praises Ibn Taymiyya a a source of inspiration. Ibn Taymiyya’s knowledge of the Alawites, however, was imperfect, according to Yvette Talhamy of the University of Haifa, who summarized 650 years of fatwas made against Alawaites in a 2010 article in Middle East Studies, “The Fatwas and the Nusayri/Alawits of Syria.” In 1516 and in the 1820s, high Ottoman Sunni clerics issued even more fatwas against the Alawites which justified repression of the minority.

Israel, Syria and Double Standards

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Syria’s civil war recently entered its third calendar year. With worse still to come, in recent days it has been estimated that the number of people killed in Syria since the uprising began now stands at more than 90,000. Any death is a tragedy for someone and the people close to him; and a million deaths are not a statistic but a million individual tragedies. How can this fact glide by us with so little comment?

When it comes to Syria, there are probably a few practical reasons. One, undoubtedly, is that people get bored with long news stories. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown — in which American, British and other Western troops have after all featured prominently – public and media attention was fairly short-lived. After an initial burst of fascination, once the new norm was established, peoples’ attention wandered elsewhere. Syria has now dragged on too long to hold peoples’ ever-smaller attention spans.

There is also the fact that in Syria – as in other recent wars – journalists have found themselves becoming targets. While many journalists are willing to take the same risks as the population at large, few are willing to stay in situations where they might be the actual object of death-squads or the attentions of RPG’s. In Syria, most journalists have found it hard to get in, or once there, are unwilling to stay, so the amount of footage coming out is necessarily limited. With an absence of plentiful footage, if the story cannot be visualized, there is now rarely a story. Evidently we need pictures.

But there is another, more important, reason why this story has got so little attention. There are often underlying, as well as immediate, reasons why something does not make news. There are some situations in which a tragedy helps a political cause and others in which it hinders it. For some people, casualties are not tragedies or statistics, but simply a well-spring for political point-scoring. To compare the cases of Israel and Syria is to see this at its most stark.

Take, for instance, the highest figures for all the wars in which Israel has been involved throughout its history. The upper estimates suggest that the War of Independence in 1948 cost around 20,000 casualties in total – that is 20,000 on all sides. The upper casualty estimates of the wars of 1968 and 1973 are similar: another 20,000 and 15,000 respectively. The smaller wars in Lebanon and Gaza in the years since add several thousand more to this sad total. But something is striking here.

All the wars involving Israel, throughout its history, have caused at least 30,000 fewer deaths than have been caused in Syria in the last couple of years alone. Say that you added together all the wars involving Israel, and they had all happened either consecutively or in one go. Would we have seen the same amount of coverage that we have seen in Syria? Would there have been more or fewer protests around the world involving people of all religions, races and backgrounds, than there have been outside of Syria in recent months? Would the nations of the world, the United Nations and the U.N. Security Council, have been quieter or noisier than they have been when it has come to the matter of Israel’s neighbor, Syria, over recent months?

The answer to all these questions is that the air and ground incursions in Gaza in recent years have on each occasion led to deaths — tragic though they may be — that are a fraction of the number in Syria since the uprising there began. Yet the world, and the world’s press, and the world’s protest movements, and the world’s governments and the world’s supra-national organizations have on each and every occasion mobilized in a way which seemed at the time, and in retrospect, to demonstrate an obsession which is probably at best unhealthy, and at worst the expression of straightforward bigotry. All those people who claim that small incursions into Gaza have not been small incursions, but in fact a “holocaust,” where are they now? If the death of a hundred people is a “holocaust,” what is the death of 90,000?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/israel-syria-and-double-standards/2013/04/03/

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