Conflicts Forum’s Weekly Comment

Conflicts Forum

NEW!! This new ‘Weekly Comment’ will be produced most Fridays by Conflicts Forum and will be posted on CF’s website, with links to key articles published during the past week.

8 – 15 March 2013

  • John Kerry pursued an emollient course through the Middle East this week, by accepting apparently at face value, Qatar’s assurance that its weapons were only reaching ‘moderate’ hands amongst the Syrian opposition; by his signalling of a green light to the Arab League decision to endorse the arming of the Syrian opposition by those states wishing so to do; and by his praising of the Saudi king for his ‘reformist’ advancement of women. This ‘softly-softly’ approach, when extended to the Saudis, drew criticism – even from conservative US commentators who expressed surprise that the Secretary could not even bring himself to mention the issue of the long prison sentences just handed down to two elderly and respected Saudi intellectuals this week.
  • The open, bleeding fissures of Syria pulsate out, throughout the region: The most significant development this week, however, has been the evidence of sectarian contagion taking a hold in Iraq and Lebanon.  Iraqi ministers are saying baldly and unequivocally that the spread of sectarian violence from Syria to Iraq, is now virtually unstoppable (see here and here). The US awareness of this risk of a renewed outbreak of sectarian violence in Iraq, has been recognised through fresh American counter-terrorism assistance to combat al-Qae’da – (and wry comments from Iraqi officials that whilst the West fights al-Qae’da in Iraq, it is happy for it to help bring down President Assad in neighbouring Syria). The Security Council warned too, on Thursday, that incursions into Lebanon, the proliferation ofweapons and rising sectarianism threatened Lebanon with the prospect of civil strife, (one third of the 100,000 Syrians now in Lebanon are armed).
  • Syria: Whilst US ‘body language’ might suggest that America has decided to embark on a new military campaign against the government of President Assad; and British and French sabre-rattling over their supplying of weapons to the opposition give the appearance of a western ‘turn’ towards arming the opposition, the reports (see here and here) suggest something different.  We see American policy – in practice – moving ever closer to the Russian position, whilst still trying to convey the impression that it is Russia that finally will ‘get it’ and fall into line with US policy. In short, Kerry’s green light to the further arming of the opposition is far from unconditional.  The US aim seems to be a measured increase in weapons sufficient for a final big push – before negotiations begin; and in order to strengthen the hand of the opposition in talks scheduled to begin shortly.  We should expect yet another propaganda blitz in the international press centred on the ‘final battle’, with much talk of Damascus’ imminent fall.  The US strategy’s Achilles’ heel are two: infighting within the opposition, and the Emir of Qatar’s apparent determination to wreck the negotiations by setting up a interim ‘all Syria’ government that would both divide Syria and, as it were, erase the ‘other’ party to negotiations – i.e. the Syrian government.
  • Israel: Israeli commentators critique (see here and here) Netanyahu’s ‘success’ in forming a coalition government in Israel. Israeli commentary foresees this new political formation to have one clear aim: to enlarge thesettlements, and to achieve the vision of having “a million Jews living in Judea and Samaria”.  It is noted that the Defence and Housing and Construction portfolios – those that are most relevant to such an enterprise – have been given to hardliners from Likud and Jewish Home. In order to fulfil the objective of absorbing the West Bank into Israel, the new government may be expected to try to divert from the Palestinian issue by continuing his hitherto successful ploy of loudly and continuously threatening to attack Iran and Syria, in order to draw US and European attention away from what is occurring in the Occupied Territories.
  • Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood hopes to hold off painful economic action until after elections in Egypt are held – in order to consolidate a clear mandate for the imposition of inevitably harsh measures, seems to have been de-railed by the Constitutional Court.  The latter has decreed that elections should be postponed.  Egyptian foreign exchangereserves however now are hovering around the cost-of-two-months-of imports limit, generally thought to be the minimal sustainable for any state.  The West is pushing hard for Egypt to enter a (neo-liberal) IMF programme, which many in the region see as an offer to the MB to drink deeply from the proffered cup of hemlock.  The Brothers are hesitating, but the economy is sliding fast and the hoped for ‘lift’ from a new mandate is receding into the distance.  Crisis cannot be far away.
  • Iran: Talk of progress in the nuclear talks, following the latest P5+1 meeting, may prove to be ephemeral.  It is doubtful whether the US is now capable to lift the siege on Iran (which is hostage to Congress), and thus forfeits its crediblity as negotiator; Iran is carefully not pursuing enrichment in ways that could be interpreted as weaponisation (and the US knows this).  Iran also is effectively re-orientating away from western sanctions towards the East, (and the US knows this too).  We may witness more theatre than substance as the talks proceed – and with nothing appearing – Deus ex machina – to break the Gordian knot.  The danger rather lies with an unstable region resembling increasingly Europe of 1912 -1914, and of inadvertent war.


  1. This is a most welcome new service from CF, providing comment with a high degree of reliability on areas in which there is so much misleading and disingenous material, particularly on Syria. While it seems to this observer that the ‘war’ on Syria being conducted by its “Friends” is escalating out of control, your short comment gives credibility to the dimly perceived reports of an agreement between the US and Russia.
    Many thanks.

  2. H Walker wrote:

    Thanks and congratulations to Conflicts Forum for reducing the mass of available information into such concise,readable and useful sense.

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