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September 4, 2015 / 20 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Homs’

Exclusive: Syrian Activist Blasts Foreign Deal to Train, Arm & Equip Syrian ‘Moderate’ Forces

Friday, February 20th, 2015

A new U.S. agreement with Turkey to train and equip five thousand moderate Syrian opposition forces “is not a serious effort at all to win a war,” a displaced Syrian activist refugee says. Aboud Dandachi, who now lives in Istanbul, Turkey says a plan to train and arm 5,000 moderate Syrian opposition forces is “not serious at all.”

The plan signed by the United States at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara is intended to train, equip and arm 5,000 troops. Congress has already allocated half a billion dollars for the project, but according to a Pentagon spokesperson, only 1,200 “moderates” have been “identified” for the program slated to begin in mid-March. How long will it take U.S. military specialists to train, equip and arm 5,000 Syrian rebels? How effective will this program be? Will it help change the picture with Daesh, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorist group? Will anything be resolved in Syria by this?

Dandachi has had first-hand experience observing the factors that led to the nightmare that once was his homeland. A business person, he became a refugee within his own country after being forced to leave his home in Homs when the Syrian Army launched an artillery and tank assault on his neighborhood. After moving from one place to the next and following the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against two Damascus neighborhoods, Dandachi made the painful decision to leave his homeland and traveled to Istanbul, arriving in September 2013.  He has a rather sardonic view of President Barack Obama’s new plan to help Syrian rebel forces. As to the American president’s international credibility …. well …

“Where do I begin with the problem with this approach,” Dandachi replied in an exclusive interview conducted via the Internet with JewishPress.com on Thursday. “If an Israeli wants a career in the IDF, he or she knows where to sign up. If any Jew anywhere in the world wants to dedicate a few years of their lives to serving Israel, they know the address.

“You can’t build a military by “scouting” soldiers; you need people to know where to come forward,” Dandachi said. “As a Syrian I can’t very well sit around and hope to be ‘discovered’ by Obama,” he continued. “And then if I were, it will be a cold day in hell before I trust him to sell me a used car, much less supply me with weapons.

“War is a potentially long term affair; will Obama keep this force supplied for the years it may take to have any effect? The Americans have proven notoriously fickle in the past,” he observed. (Ed. – More than one news commentator has made similar remarks, referencing America’s behavior in Iraq and Afghanistan, for starters.)

Somewhat taken aback by his candor, this writer asked a second time about the advisability of revealing his identity – but was told “by all means” to go ahead.

“I was never a fighter and I will never be one, I’ve never held a gun in my life, but I’m sure that’s what many potential fighters could be thinking right now,” Dandachi wrote. “When the U.S. went to war in WWII and Vietnam, it didn’t want to “vet” its potential pool of recruits – it drafted anyone above a certain age. When you wage all-out war you can’t hand-pick your fighters; you need to make sure of the widest possible amount of potential manpower available.

“Training” several thousand soldiers is not a serious effort at all to win a war,” he contended.

By the way — Dandachi’s point has some merit: how effective can 5,000 U.S.-trained troops be against the combined forces of Syrian military forces, backed and equipped by Russia and Iran, fighting side by side with the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards force and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrilla fighters?

Syrian “moderate” forces will also be facing the “other” Syrian rebel faction — that of the radical Islamist rebels linked to Al Qaeda (Jabhat al Nusra, for instance) and now also Daesh, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). That force alone numbers in the tens of thousands: the most recent estimates place the total number of “moderate” Syrian rebel fighters at best at 20,000.

Can this cause be saved?

An Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program in What was Formerly ‘Syria’

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

{Originally posted to author’s website, Liberty Unyielding}

Note: This analysis takes on renewed significance in light of the Iranians’ announcement this week that they intend to build two new nuclear reactors, and the Obama administration’s insistence that such a clear expansion of the Iranian nuclear program does not constitute a violation of the Joint Plan of Action to “freeze” the program while its ultimate status is being negotiated.  The facts on the ground are busy changing under our feet, with almost no notice by the Western media.

It was evident a year and a half ago that there would be no restoration of Syria, as we know it, under the Assad regime.

That reality is something the mind of a global public hasn’t really caught up to yet.  But it is reality – Syria, as delineated after World War I, has fallen apart – and it should color our perception of a report from 9 January that remnants of Assad’s nuclear program are still alive and well.

We should not overestimate what’s going on with those remnants, which don’t have anyone close to a nuclear breakout.  The remnants are real – Western intelligence agencies think so – but the evidence of where they have been relocated is indirect, and mostly non-specific.  Assuming they are there, the best estimate would be that they are in approximately the same state they were four years ago: elements of a program not much degraded, perhaps, but not much advanced, if at all, from its earlier condition.

What matters more, however, is that if the analysis of experts is correct, the physical “stuff” in question was moved from one major battle site in Syria to another one, in 2012 and 2013, and ended up in a region on the border with Lebanon now controlled by Hezbollah and Iran.

In other words, the stuff was present in at least one and possibly two areas being fought over by Assad’s forces and rebel forces.   Natural-uranium stock and uranium fuel rods, for example, could have fallen into the hands of foreign jihadis, and/or the Al-Qaeda-backed Al-Nusra Front.

Now those materials, and probably others (including processing equipment), are thought to be stored in an area seized by Hezbollah in 2013, under the direction of the Iranian Qods Force.

This should alarm us.  While Assad controlled Syria, his nuclear aspirations were a big but boundable problem.  Now that he no longer controls Syria, what has happened to the elements of his nuclear program is likely to have non-boundable implications.  At the very least, it has the potential to empower Iran, Hezbollah, or both, with materials held in locations whose political control and accountability will be uncertain – from an official international standpoint – for the foreseeable future.

It’s a nightmare:  the very real potential for the most dangerous kind of nuclear proliferation.

The nuclear problem

Readers will remember that in September 2007, Israel attacked a nuclear reactor being constructed, with the help of North Korea, at al-Kibar in northeastern Syria.  No follow-on construction resumed at the reactor shell itself, although it was quickly covered with tarps and temporary structures after the strike, to frustrate foreign intelligence collection.

The type of reactor being put up was assessed to be a gas-graphite reactor like the one in Yongbyon, North Korea, which would produce enough plutonium as a byproduct for one to two plutonium bombs per year.

The gas-graphite reactor is different from Iran’s at Bushehr (a “light-water” reactor cooled by pressurized water), which would not be a significant source of plutonium.  Iran’s main path to nuclear weapons has been the separate one of uranium enrichment, with a uranium bomb as the end-product.  The enrichment path involves direct enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade purity, using centrifuge cascades as the principal method (although Iran is also thought to be working with laser enrichment).  No reactor is involved in the production of material for the weapons per se.

That said, Iran does have a heavy-water plutonium-producing reactor under construction at Arak, and is thus pursuing both paths to weaponization.

All of this matters, because it affects two things: the footprint of Assad’s nuclear program – what physical clues we have to look for – and the utility of his program to revolutionary Iran’s aspirations.

In Syria, we are not looking for centrifuge facilities like the vast enrichment complex at Natanz in Iran, or the smaller facility at Fordo, near Qom.  We will be looking instead for plants where yellowcake is converted to a usable form (in this case, uranium tetrafluoride, or UF4) and is metalized into fuel rods for the reactor.  We will also be looking for a facility at which plutonium can be separated out – harvested, essentially – from the spent fuel rods after they are removed from the reactor.  In North Korea, this process occurs at the “Radiochemical Laboratory” at Yongbyon, a six-story industrial building.

Reporting from February 2011 – the very outset of the Arab Spring – identified a probable uranium conversion plant at a Syrian military base, Marj as-Sultan, just east of Damascus.  The site had come under IAEA suspicion as early as 2008.  Specific types of major equipment present there were named in a 2011 report from Suddeutsche Zeitung, cited extensively in analysis by experts at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

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In January 2013, an article at Financial Times (subscription required; see link in ISIS’s link in this report) indicated that “unusual activity” had been taking place at the suspect area of Marj as-Sultan, where the equipment, along with 50 tonnes of uranium and possibly more than 8,000 fuel rods, were thought, based on earlier intelligence, to be stored.

The unusual activity at the suspect site was probably a consequence of the fighting in the area between regime and rebel forces, which occurred at the same time: in the autumn of 2012.  More on that in the next segment.  The point here is that there is good reason to believe that some of the remnants of Assad’s nuclear program – at a minimum uranium stock, fuel rods, and conversion equipment – were still at the Marj as-Sultan site sometime in 2012.

This brings us to the report by Der Spiegel last week, which indicated that a site in Qusayr, Syria, on the border with Lebanon between Damascus and Homs, has been identified as a nuclear-related site.  Spiegel cites government intelligence sources who have studied activity at the site since 2009, when work on it began.  The site appears to be an underground facility for which the excavation was carefully disguised:

According to intelligence agency analysis, construction of the facility began back in 2009. The work, their findings suggest, was disguised from the very beginning, with excavated sand being disposed of at various sites, apparently to make it more difficult for observers from above to tell how deeply they were digging. Furthermore, the entrances to the facility were guarded by the military…

The most recent satellite images show six structures: a guard house and five sheds, three of which conceal entrances to the facility below. The site also has special access to the power grid, connected to the nearby city of Blosah. A particularly suspicious detail is the deep well which connects the facility with Zaita Lake, four kilometers away. Such a connection is unnecessary for a conventional weapons cache, but it is essential for a nuclear facility.

Syria-nuke-Qusayr

Beyond the observed developments at the site, Spiegel quotes a source as offering communications intelligence confirmation:

But the clearest proof that it is a nuclear facility comes from radio traffic recently intercepted by a network of spies. A voice identified as belonging to a high-ranking Hezbollah functionary can be heard referring to the “atomic factory” and mentions Qusayr. The Hezbollah man is clearly familiar with the site. And he frequently provides telephone updates to a particularly important man: Ibrahim Othman, the head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission.

There is, moreover, an intriguing possibility suggested by the disappearance of the North Korean scientist, Chou Ji Bu, who has been most closely associated with the Syrian nuclear program.  The possibility is that Chou has been in Syria since sometime in 2007Spiegel again:

Chou was long thought to have disappeared. Some thought that he had fallen victim to a purge back home. Now, though, Western intelligence experts believe that he went underground in Damascus.

In sum: prior to the Arab Spring, Syria had accumulated important elements of a program to build a working reactor like the one at Yongbyon and produce material for plutonium bombs.  Although Israel destroyed the reactor itself while it was under construction, several elements of the program remained intact in Syrian hands.  It is not clear what progress, if any, has been made with them in the nearly four years since the Arab Spring began, but there is credible evidence not only that the nuclear program continues, but that the previously-accumulated elements of it are still in Syria.

The question, however, is who is really in charge of them at this point.

The political control problem

That a Hezbollah operative is making reports on the “atomic factory” to the godfather of Assad’s nuclear program – Ibrahim Othman – is hardly meaningless.  It means at least that Iran still works through Assad in Syria, for important purposes.  There is still a convention of gestures between the two governments.  Othman himself, as we should expect, retains a unique significance.

But given everything else about this situation, including the location of a suspect site at Qusayr, and the history of the site at Marj as-Sultan in the civil war, we would be wrong to think of the nuclear program in Syria as still being Assad’s nuclear program, to do with as he wants.  Like the territory of Syria itself, the true ownership of the nuclear program is now a question more of who has local control – and who will set boundaries for Assad, since he is unable to reconsolidate “Syria” in his own power.

First, we must stipulate that the activity at the Qusayr site, which began in 2009, was directed originally by the Assad regime.  Revolutionary Iran has always had an interest in Assad’s nuclear program, and some degree of influence over it, but in 2009, Assad was still making his own decisions.

Fast-forward, however, to the critical period in 2012 and 2013 when the nuclear program was imperiled by local fighting in the civil war.  The regime’s air base at Marj as-Sultan was endangered by fighting in the larger Eastern Ghouta area in 2012, and rebel forces made significant headway there throughout the year.  In late November 2012, they overran the air base as part of their campaign in Eastern Ghouta.  Later reporting revealed that Assad’s forces had evacuated the operable military equipment from the base before it was overrun; that information, and the imagery observation of unusual activity at the suspect nuclear site, support the assessment that the nuclear-program material was also removed.

The Telegraph’s characterization (link above) was the common one at the time: the rebels, making gains in Eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus, were “tightening the noose” on Assad.  The period from late 2012 to mid-2013 was actually a critical inflection point in the fortunes of the Syrian civil war.  Assad was on the ropes, losing strategic ground in the north as well as around Damascus.

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A big part of what changed the momentum in his favor was a decision in the early spring of 2013 to shift regime forces from the Qusayr area, where they were in a standoff with the Al-Nusra Front, and bring them to Eastern Ghouta and Daraya, east and south of Damascus.  This shift enabled the turning tide that saw regime gains later in 2013, a campaign that included the battle in Eastern Ghouta in which Assad is alleged to have used chemical weapons.

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Qusayr would not be left to fall, of course.  Situated at the north end of the Beqaa Valley, Qusayr commands the approach from Lebanon to Homs, and must be held in order to keep the entire province secure, and prevent Homs from being cut off from Damascus.

But this feature of the campaign is where the sand shifted under Assad’s feet, so to speak.  He couldn’t regain momentum in Damascus and also establish control of Qusayr.

Iran and Hezbollah, executing an Iranian plan, stepped in to do the fighting and defeat the rebels at Qusayr.

The Hezbollah campaign at Qusayr in the spring of 2013 marked a significant break in Hezbollah’s level of political and military involvement in the Syrian civil war, which had hitherto been minimal – a fact quickly noted by analysts.  There was no question who had seized control of Qusayr when the battle was won: Hezbollah was in charge, not the forces of the Assad regime.  In fact, when the defeated rebels sought safe passage out of the city, their flight was negotiated by Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a long-time associate of Hezbollah in the ever-shifting politics of Beirut.

Some of the impact on Lebanon of the disposition of Qusayr, and Hezbollah’s control of the city, is hinted at by this brief report from April 2014, which notes the arrest by the Lebanese army of a “military council leader” from Qusayr.  The report suggests he was engaged in arms trafficking; he would have been a Hezbollah operative.  Hezbollah has been an encroaching force in Lebanon for decades, controlling parts of the country and resisted in others.  With Assad’s status on the other side of the border increasingly subject to an Iranian veto, Hezbollah is on the cusp of holding a worrisome new strategic advantage.

A new picture emerges

It is no accident that the site of a nuclear facility in Syria has ended up under the control of Hezbollah and Iran.  It’s a question for another time what the Assad regime’s original purpose was in locating it in Qusayr, but we do know that in 2013, the commander of the Iranian paramilitary Qods force, Qassem Soleimani, is reported to have fully orchestrated the Hezbollah takeover in Qusayr:

According to Will Fulton, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute, Hezbollah fighters encircled Qusayr, cutting off the roads, then moved in. Dozens of them were killed, as were at least eight Iranian officers. On June 5th, the town fell. “The whole operation was orchestrated by Suleimani,” [said former CIA officer John] Maguire, who is still active in the region. “It was a great victory for him.”

There has been extensive recognition of Iran’s involvement in Syria; see here, here, and here, for example.  Much of that discussion has already understood that the battle of Qusayr was both a turning point in the civil war and a key feature of the Iranian strategy.  But the emerging information about the nuclear site at Qusayr sheds a new light on the strategic import of the Iranian involvement, and on the critical inflection point in Assad’s fortunes in late 2012 and early 2013.

Qusayr’s geographic features are an important reason for Hezbollah to have wanted to make an investment there.  But the existence of a nuclear site would have intensified Iran’s interest, explaining the focus Tehran put on orchestrating a victory there – a victory by Hezbollah, and not by Assad’s forces.  The before-and-after implied in that sentence speaks volumes.

Put that development in the context of growing recognition that there is no “Syria” anymore – see, for example, the treatments here and here – and a new picture begins to emerge of what Iran is really doing in what used to be Syria.

Take that picture, moreover, and add to it data points from the last few days.  After the Spiegel piece came out, members of the Free Syrian Army in the Qusayr area reported on 12 January that Iranian officers were there supervising the suspect facility, and that Hezbollah was mounting an “unprecedented” security presence for it.

[FSA official] Al-Bitar said the Friday report [in] Der Spiegel has been discussed at length in command meetings of rebel factions in the Kalamoon area.

He went on to say that “what can be confirmed is that what’s going on there is happening under direct Iranian supervision and the Syrian regime is only a cover-up for this.”

On 13 January, Adam Kredo reported at Washington Free Beacon that Iran acknowledges building missile manufacturing plants in Syria.

IRGC Aerospace Commander Haji Zadeh touted Iran’s capabilities and bragged that Iran has gone from importing most of its military hardware to producing it domestically, as well as for regional partners such as Assad.

“A country such as Syria which used to sell us arms, was later on to buy our missiles,” Zadeh was quoted as saying earlier this week by the Young Journalists Club. “Right now the missile manufacturing firms in Syria are built by Iran.”

Iran’s involvement in weapons manufacturing in Syria was already well known.  But the statement by Zadeh is a reminder of the scope of what Iran does in Syria – and the potential created by that array of activities for hemispheric power projection, through terror and intimidation.

The beauty of the territory of “Syria” for Iran is not only that it is in political turmoil.  It’s also that Syria is a wedge into the West, with a coastline on the Mediterranean: on the “other side” of both Israel and the Suez Canal from Iran’s regional encroachments on the Red Sea.  Under today’s chaotic conditions, Iran has an “interior” line of communication between her territory and Syria.  She can move men and material in and out of Syria via that LOC for many purposes, without being interdicted.  Eventually, Iran can foresee consolidating her position on the Syrian Mediterranean coast, and using it for purposes that can’t be accomplished without that unfettered access to points west.

Opportunity for Iran

All that said, however, Syria is now uniquely important to Iran’s nuclear aspirations because of the internal turmoil.  There is no meaningful mechanism for enforcing “national” Syrian accountability to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.  This is an ideal situation for Iran, and is only enhanced by the fact that the Syrian nuclear program has been on the alternate path to a plutonium bomb, as opposed to Iran’s well-advanced path to a uranium bomb.

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Omri Ceren, an analyst with The Israel Project, made the following point in correspondence with me this week:

Between Hezbollah and the IRGC, Syria hasn’t existed as Syria for a long time. Even without the IRGC and Hezbollah physically there – which they are – a Syrian nuclear plant is an Iranian nuclear plant. The Iranians are building redundancy into their program. They’re just putting some of their facilities across what used to be the Syrian border. It’s the equivalent of building a new plant inside northern Iran, except it’s a little farther out in their frontier.

It’s actually better than building a new plant inside Iran.  It’s taking the work already done in Syria under Iran’s wing, and, by keeping it geographically distinct, putting a whole segment of the Iran-supervised effort outside any reasonable prospect of international inspection or accountability.

The State Department made it clear on Monday that the Obama administration has no intention of pursuing this as an issue with Iran.  Under questioning from reporters, Marie Harf was adamant about that (emphasis added):

QUESTION: On the Spiegel story, you said you’re seeking – who are you seeking more – I mean, you know – you should know this area better than anybody –

HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — certainly better than a German, although highly respected, news magazine

HARF: I would agree with you that we probably have information they don’t.

QUESTION: So who are you seeking information from or are you —

HARF: Seeking internally or from our partners to see what more we can – if we can cooperate this, but again, not sure we can.

QUESTION: Is that – well, you couldn’t corroborate it because of intelligence reasons or because the story’s false and you want to leave it out there?

HARF: We don’t know yet. We just saw the reports and we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: Will you discuss this issue with the Iranians in the upcoming talks?

HARF: No. The upcoming talks are about the Iranian nuclear program.

QUESTION: Yeah, but if they are helping the –

HARF: Yes, but we don’t discuss other issues with them at those talks, as you all know.

QUESTION: But if they are –

HARF: Let’s move on to North Korea and let’s —

QUESTION: But if they are helping the Assad regime to build a nuclear facility –

HARF: I just said we’re not going to. I’m not sure what you don’t understand about that. We’re moving on to North Korea.

Not only will we not address this with Iran: we have only long-term and ineffectual plans to address the turmoil in Syria.  Our plan to train and equip an opposition force capable of fighting either the ISIS jihadi group or the Assad regime hasn’t even started yet.  It is, in any case, a plan with a long lead-time – at least a year – which the Obama administration does not intend to accomplish through its longstanding association with the Free Syrian Army.  (See here as well.)  Just this week, the commander of Special Operations Forces in CENTCOM met with Syrian opposition leaders to begin laying out a strategic vision.

The plan, moreover, doesn’t envision pacifying or unifying Syria, or taking territory from Assad or ISIS.  It’s a wholly defensive plan, which will apparently result only in setting up defended enclaves in a Syria left divided and unsettled.

In other words, nothing we plan to do will make the slightest headway against the very real problem of Syria as an unsupervised storage shed and back-room manufactory, for Iran or for whoever can manage to get hold of its contents.  Some of those contents are still from the Assad regime’s nuclear program.  It’s by no means impossible for ISIS to get hold of them; we don’t know where everything from the old program is.

If they are under the active supervision of Iran today, and are incorporated in a strategic plan of the mullahs’ devising, it is suicidal to be complacent about where they may end up, or how they may be used.

Suicide Attack Helps Rebels Take Over Syrian Military Airport

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Syrian rebels staged a suicide attack that enabled its forces to overcome government troops and take over a key air base in northern Syria Tuesday morning. Rebels also seized tanks and arms.

The victory was both military and moral, coming after last week’s Syrian offensive that took back control of areas in Homs and in the commercial city of Aleppo and appeared to be devastating the rebels. Taking over the air base deprives Syrian President Bassar al-Assad’s military of a key supply route in the Aleppo region.

Two foreign fighters in an armored vehicle blew themselves up to help break through Syrian army defense at the air base, according to The New York Times. After the rebels’ victory, dozens of Syrian soldiers reportedly defected.

The rebellion, well into its third year, has divided the country into different regions, a situation that could be the best for Israel if it means that the next regime will be far less powerful with control of a smaller area.

Gigantic Explosion at Syrian Ammo Depot Kills Dozens (Video)

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Syrian rebels carried out a massive rocket attack on a Syrian army ammunition depot in Homs Thursday, killing more than 40 people and wounding more than 100.

The blast stopped, for the time being, slowed down a relentless Syrian army offensive to take back control of Homs, a key commercial center and a stronghold of rebel forces in the civil war.

The ammunition depot is located in a pro-government area of the city, and the casualty count is expected to rise.

The Syrian official news agency SANA denied there was a blast and said that “terrorists” struck at the entrance of Homs, wounding dozens of civilians, four of whom “were later martyred.”

“Those reports broadcast by channels, which are partners in the Syrian bloodshed, are categorically untrue and aim at raising the morale of the armed terrorist groups after the big losses they inflicted in many regions of Homs, particularly in al-Khaldiye,” it reported from “a source.”

“The source added that this coward [sic] act will not affect the army courageous soldiers, but it will increase their determination to rescue Syria from the dirtiness of terrorists,” the news agency stated.

Meanwhile, the United Nations continues to talk and set up teams to investigate the use of chemical weapons in the war, which officially has killed 100,000 people while unofficial estimates warn of twice as many deaths.

Millions of people have fled their homes, many of them to neighboring countries.

The Troubling Timing of Obama’s Syria Epiphany

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Originally published at The American Thinker.

Last August, President Obama declared that the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons was a “red line.” About four months later, Al Jazeera released unconfirmed reports that a gas attack killed seven civilians in a rebel-held neighborhood of Homs. Last April, the UK, France, and Israel each claimed that there was evidence that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in Aleppo, Homs, and/or Damascus. By April 25th, the U.S intelligence assessment was that the Assad regime had likely used sarin gas, but President Obama dodged his red line by announcing that a thorough investigation was still needed (as if the Syrian government would ever allow one). Meanwhile, reports from foreign intelligence agencies and journalists continued to corroborate the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. So why did Obama’s requirement of a thorough investigation to confirm the crossing of his red line suddenly vanish last Friday?

Viewed through the lens of domestic politics, Obama’s Syria epiphany looks conveniently timed to deflect attention from an ever-swelling wave of scandals: Benghazi-gate, IRS-gate, AP/Fox-gate, and now NSA-gate and State Department prostitution-gate. As the film Wag The Dog highlights, international crises are great at diverting attention from domestic scandals.

But from the perspective of the Syrian rebels, the timing and nature of U.S. military assistance may be viewed as either too little, too late, or a cynical attempt to ensure a perpetual stalemate. After all, the outgunned rebels have needed lethal weapons from the U.S. for over two years. Chemical weapons use by the Assad regime is old news. So what has changed? The Syrian regime recently defeated rebel forces at the crucial battle in Qusayr, a town providing a strategic supply conduit for rebel forces in Homs. After the military gains enabled by the robust battlefield support of Iran-backed Hezb’allah, the Syrian regime is now preparing for a major offensive to retake Aleppo. With another crushing blow to a key rebel stronghold, the regime could ultimately prevail in the conflict, unless the U.S. provides just enough rebel support to restore the pre-Qusayr stalemate.

Obama has already made it clear that any lethal weapons or no-fly zone provided by the U.S. would be limited. Such tentative U.S. involvement is unlikely to end the carnage, given the vigorous support that the Assad regime enjoys from Iran, Hezb’allah, and Russia (which could undermine a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone by supplying Syria with its potent S-300 missile defense system). Indeed, the New York Times reported on June 14th that “the president’s caution has frayed relations with important American allies in the Middle East that have privately described the White House strategy as feckless. Saudi Arabia and Jordan recently cut the United States out of a new rebel training program, a decision that American officials said came from the belief in Riyadh and Amman that the United States has only a tepid commitment to supporting rebel groups.”

What a difference two years makes. In 2011, the relatively non-sectarian Free Syrian Army (FSA) was the main force fighting for freedom from Assad’s tyranny. Sunni Islamists had not yet felt compelled by FSA failures to join (and ultimately lead) the military effort in large numbers. In 2011, Obama also had far more credibility and political capital — important presidential assets when undertaking a foreign military intervention.

But now the Syrian crisis has deteriorated into a regional sectarian war, increasingly creeping over Syrian borders and into Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, and Jordan. The Syrian belligerents have also radicalized, decreasing the odds that the ultimate victor will be friendly to the U.S. or able to achieve a postwar reconciliation and reconstruction in Syria.

Today, with a death toll exceeding 90,000 Syrians (and increasing by 5,000/month) and millions displaced, the humanitarian need for intervention is greater than ever. But Iran and Russia are redoubling their support for the Assad regime, so the U.S. must not enter the Syrian cauldron with half-measures or it could suffer a costly setback with far-reaching repercussions. If Obama’s “red line” was crossed months ago and the tardy “consequences” are America’s feeble and ineffective entry into the Syrian civil war, then Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, and other U.S. adversaries will only feel emboldened to challenge U.S. interests.

Thus, Obama effectively has two choices: 1) continue his disengagement from Syria to preserve whatever political capital and military deterrent he has left for the inevitable showdown over Iranian nukes, 2) enter the Syrian fray in a massive way that ensures a military victory and says to the Iranian regime: “you are next, unless you discontinue your nuclear program.” After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran feared that thousands of American troops would turn eastward and offered to negotiate the dismantling of its nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration refused to engage but Iran still temporarily suspended its nuclear program out of trepidation.

U.S. entry into the Syrian conflict could defeat Assad and deter Iranian nukes, but only with the resolve and overwhelming firepower to demolish the Syrian-Iranian-Hezb’allah axis (ideally with help from NATO forces). Joining the conflict with insufficient commitment mainly to distract a scandal-weary U.S. audience could have catastrophic consequences for the U.S., and that would be the biggest scandal of all.

Turkey and Israel Should Launch Non-Violent Intervention in Syria

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

More than 1.5 million have fled Syria, 4 million more are displaced within other nations, meaning 30% of the Syrian people have left their homes. Just to give an example, Reyhanli, one of the Turkish border towns in the southern province of Hatay, where 51 people were killed by twin car bombs on May 11, has a population of 90,000—50,000 of which are Syrian refugees. Some 400,000 Syrians are now living in Turkey, nearly half of them sheltered in camps with poor conditions.

Of course they are more than welcome to Turkey; our doors are wide open to anyone seeking shelter in our land, but this is obviously not a solution to the suffering of 8.3 million people who are in need – not to mention the rest of the Syrians who are also living in fear – nor does it stop the ongoing bloodbath of the Assad regime.

Since March, 2011, the death toll has risen to nearly 100,000, and the real figure is, most probably, far higher.

Most of the victims are civilians.

UN top Middle East envoy Robert Serry is saying there are mounting reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria, and Israel has taken a few solitary, bold actions to eliminate these weapons while the world was still pondering what to do. Provided that there is zero human loss, I advocate that the production and storage facilities of chemical weapons and artillery ammunition be eliminated. As long as it spares human lives meticulously and guarantees that no living beings are affected, Israel’s action to stop lethal weapons from being used is a reasonable move.

On the other side, fighters from Hezbollah—which has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—have joined the battle on Qusayr, a settlement near the border with Lebanon. Because of the town’s strategic importance – since this residential area connects the capital Damascus to the coast – the Hezbollah-backed Assad regime does not want to give up this rebel stronghold in the central province of Homs and continue to kill more people to recapture the city.

While the spirit of protecting human lives is pressuring the conscience of every human being to interfere with the intention of stopping the bloodshed, some writers overseas either secretly support this situation in one sense, or embrace indifference, as long as they are not personally affected. I find this very unbecoming.

One of the Middle East experts that has disappointed me was Daniel Pipes, who has suggested overlooking the bloodbath in Syria and allowing both sides to destroy each other. In a TV interview, he restated his policy, suggesting that the West should back Assad, and keep Syrians killing each other. While he admits that his is not a humanitarian perspective, and offers this as a strategic view, we should remember that these are human beings we are discussing. I am against militant fundamentalism just like Daniel Pipes, and I am also against the communist Ba’ath regime; however, while innocent people are being killed on a daily basis, saying “Let us leave them to fight one another” is wholly unacceptable, standing in violation of both conscience and common sense.

Considering this bloodshed, it is obvious that there needs to be an intervention in Syria. However, what matters is to ensure that there will be no loss of life. Syria has a very complex and intricate structure; thus, any intervention needs to be well planned. First of all, an embargo—starting with air and trade sanctions—can be imposed. Second, world public opinion needs to be stirred up. They will be unable to withstand the pressure if the entire international public is fixed on them. We therefore need to establish a major shift in public opinion.

In addition, since the most dangerous aspect of Syria is its airforce, runways must be made unserviceable. Once it has been guaranteed there will be no loss of life, air bases should be bombarded, so that the air force is immobilized. But I would like to reemphasize: it is essential that nobody be caught up in these interventions; it must be established that the area under attack is empty.

Additionally, a game-changing force would develop from an alliance between Turkey and Israel, and that alliance will make the current Syrian regime tremble in their boots.

However, Assad must not be made to panic. It might prove dangerous if he is under the false impression that he is about to be killed. He must be treated kindly and made to feel that the aim is to save his life and his family. Since Assad is, in a way, seeking shelter behind Russia, Putin thinks he needs to protect him at any cost. An agreement can be reached between Russia, the USA, Turkey and the opposition parties: they can promise that Assad’s safety will be guaranteed, and that nothing will befall his wife and children. Since the opposition forces killed Qaddafi in a horribly humiliating way, guarantees need to be given that his honor will not be compromised, no matter what.

And as soon as we stop the shedding of blood in Syria, there must be peaceful elections accompanied by international observers. Bashar Assad should be a candidate if he wishes, and if he wins the elections, he can stay on. If the opposition is elected to govern, then they should be the ones ruling, or there can be some kind of coalition between Assad and the opposition parties. But the Syrian regime as it now stands is a dictatorship, and there must be legitimate and certified elections that will reflect the will of the Syrian people. Only in that way can a lasting and just peace come to Syria.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/turkey-and-israel-should-intervene-in-syria/2013/05/26/

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