Weekly Comment

Conflicts Forum

24 – 31 May

Syria - This week has witnessed a powerful consolidation of critical support around the Syrian state – firstly, as a direct counter to any continuing western notion to militarily intervention in Syria; and secondly, in response to attempts by France, the UK and the US to ramp up pressure on Russia ahead of a possible Geneva II international conference (i.e. Senator McCain’s covert infiltration into northern Syria, and the EU decision, under pressure from France and the UK, to lift the embargo on sending arms to the Syrian insurgents).  So too, Russia, Hizbullah and Iraq have conducted their own escalations – and in so doing, effectively have ‘outbid’ the western attempt to lever their pressures.  Most significantly, Russia indicated that S300 missiles would be delivered to Syria – to provide, in the words of deputy FM, Sergei Ryabkov, a "stabilizing" factor designed to stop "some hotheads" from entering the conflict.  There has been studied ambiguity constructed, both by Russia and Syria, about whether these missiles are now in place, and whether they are operational, or not.  Russia additionally reacted by mounting a major exercise intended to highlight to the West – and to Israel in particular - that the new generation of S300s possess highly sophisticated new electronic warfare capabilities, and that Russia’s military is poised to enter the Syrian conflict too – if required.  Seyed Hassan Nasrallah’sspeech, in which he explicitly avowed Hizbullah’s involvement in the fighting around Qusayr (which has a component of Lebanese Shi’i living in and around the village), was clearly intended as a part of this wider deterrence and defiance of western aims.  Iraq, which is increasingly under its own pressures from radical Sunni elements – attacks and bombs have claimed more than 500 lives in just this last week – more discretely contributed its part by deploying a large military force to Iraq’s border with Syria - in order to destroy the al-Qae’da support bases just across the border in Iraq.

Geneva II - This deterrent response by Russia seems to have had its effect:  The indications are that the White House is today less ready to intervene, especially in light of US polls showing little domestic support for intervention, and in light of the violence spilling across into Lebanon and Iraq.  France and Britain continue to take a more hardline stance, though, even for them, arming the (already well-armed) opposition is more a case of posturing ahead of any negotiations – as some sort of ‘stick’ to wave at Moscow and Damascus, rather than something they really want to do.  But intimately connected with this fading readiness to contemplate intervention, must include the implosion of the western vehicle destined for the role of assuming the ‘transitional government’ in Damascus.  Here western hopes were centred firstly, on capturing Turkish co-operation for Geneva II (in which the White House was successful) and, secondly, to exert - this time - political pressure on Moscow.  Their aim was to achieve an uncompromising consensus amongst the core "Friends of Syria" and exile opposition, on a unified demand for a ‘transitional government’ that would usurp all Presidential executive and security powers - and thus effectively topple Assad.  Russia shot back that President Assad would keep his powers as a ‘wartime President’ in control of national security;, to this, President Assad has added his own rejection (since there is no constitutional provision for these Presidential powers to be relinquished) – and adding, to the bemusement of western states, that in any case, any outcome from a Geneva II conference would have to be endorsed by a referendum conducted amongst the whole Syrian people. The infighting between Saudi Arabia and Qatar however, seems to have intervened to sink the Coalition vessel completely, for the time being - before it has even sat at the table - to make such absolutist demands:  Saudi – with US and European support – was attempting (in Istanbul) to dilute the Muslim Brotherhood effective control of the Coalition by adding a further 25 members to its council.  But Qatar and its supporters succeeded in blocking this (only six were added), and a sulking Coalition since has declared it will not attend Geneva II.  No doubt further pressure will be applied for them to attend – if indeed, the conference ever comes to be held; but as Lavrov caustically has noted, these exiles in any case exert zero control over what is happening on the ground and give the impression it is "doing everything they can to prevent a political process from starting … [in order to] achieve military intervention". And on the ground, facts continue to be made, and these facts favour President Assad.

As Conflicts Forum argued last week, the Russian S300 stance has huge implications for Israel and its Iranian policy. Russia has evinced strong confidence that its latest generation S300 missile system cannot be defeated by Israeli electronic warfare capabilities. (Putin effectively suggested as much to Netanyahu at Sochi).  If this is so, its placement in Syria potentially undercuts Israel’s unchallenged control of the air space above Lebanon and Syria. Additionally, Russia has made clear that the Syrian S300 missile systems will be accompanied by Russian technicians, and any attack on them effectively would amount to an act of war against Russia - as well as risking the loss of Israeli aircraft and crew.  Plainly, were Israel to contemplate the risky attempt to destroy the systems in Syria – and thereby possibly enter into direct conflict with Russia - it could not contemplate opening such a dangerous Pandora’s box - without the full support of President Obama. But if the supply of S300 missiles effectively grounds the Israeli Air Force in respect to Syria and Lebanon, by extension, Israeli threats unilaterally to attack Iran also will lose credibility.  President Obama may never say this openly, but it is easy to imagine that quietly he would welcome the removal of that particular sword held over his head: the threat of an Israeli independent strike on Iran.  US support for Israeli military action against Russia’s missiles in Syria therefore, may be appearing somewhat questionable for Israel as it contemplates what to do next.  In retrospect, their strike on Damascus earlier this month, may have cost them heavily.

An article written by Edward Dark, a nom de guerre for one of the organisers of middle class, liberal opposition in the city of Aleppo (and who is still there), a city more noted for its loyalty to President Assad,considers poignantly the collapse of the hopes of these educated, middle class, urban elites, aspiring to an idealistic political revolution in Syria, when faced with the shattering reality of the aggrieved, embittered and hate-filled rural Sunni poor marching into Aleppo, intent on pursuing "revenge against the perceived injustices of years past" against the urban elites of Syria, rather than any inspiring revolutionary ends – and who killed at whim, looted and destroyed: "Their motivation wasn’t like ours, it was not to seek freedom, democracy or justice for the entire nation, it was simply unbridled hatred and vengeance for themselves". His description of the stifling "primordial fear, terror and despair" that these "rebels", "profiteer warlords" and "radical Islamists" induced, and the bitter self-recriminations it produced in reaction amongst his idealistic companions - for their earlier naivety and stupidity - paints in a vivid microcosm how, in the wider context, public opinion has against turned, and become embittered against the "rebels", from their brutality, but above all, from the realisation that there was no revolution – there had been no revolution, no giddy vision of the future; only a slaking of the desire from a deprived segment of society to avenge long-nursed grievances.



5 Comments

  1. Brunella wrote:

    Thank God fro the sanity you are introducing into western discourse.It has become an urgent necessity …

  2. Name * wrote:

    well researched, comprehensive, convincing

  3. nasser wrote:

    Very helpful analysis .

  4. Eric Green wrote:

    The Edward Dark article was an interesting and helpful read, and it attracted a large and often vociferous series of comments with “Amjad of Arabia” accusing Edward of being an “arm chair critic”. I dare not pontificate about individual views on Syria because I just do not know enough about what is really happening and realise I am also an armchair critic myself sat in the sun in the garden reading and trying to follow what is happening! The book I am currently reading is extremely helpful as a scholarly survey of Western( particularly British) collusion with radical Islam over the last 60-70 years in order to further Western economic interests. The Title is “Secret Affairs” by Mark Curtis, very up to date and so helpful in understanding what is happening in Syria today and even indirectly shedding more light on the recent murder in Woolwich of the British soldier. Most of the research is based on declassified Government files and is extremely comprehensive and over-arching. Another source of information is Mai Yamani’s website( she is the daughter of the famous Saudi Oil Minister of the 70s who made the country fabulously wealthy and provided the cash for world wide spread of Wahabhi ideology)…read her article on “Bin Laden’s ghost” and then note that her site has fallen silent since that time. You might want to relate this to the capitulation to the Saudis of our government in the Al Yamuma investigations by the Serious Fraud Office in 2006-7? To me that is what makes the mainstream narrative of the Syrian conflict so suspicious…look at our allies. That is not necessarily to say that all the Assad regime’s actions are justifiable..I have seen no serious effort to pin the blame on the Syrian rebels for the recent massacres in Baniyas etc whereas a lot was written in the past about possible alternative culprits of earlier massacres( we should never forget the Katyn forest murders of Polish officers when investigating massacres).

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