Monday, October 24, 2011

The Syrian Update

A lull in coverage from Syria in the past few days, most of the focus has been on the death of Gaddafi and the future of Libya, but of course there are plenty of people who are now looking to Syria to see what happens next. A point to note is how easily, and relatively unnoticed, a UN Security Council resolution against Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh was passed. Unlike with Syria, it seems that nobody cares whether he leaves, and in all likelihood we'll see him leave before the faintest inkling of change begins in Damascus. But that's speculation.

From Jordan, the American Senator John McCain warns about military options against the Syrian regime:

"Now that military operations in Libya are ending, there will be renewed focus on what practical military operations might be considered to protect civilian lives in Syria," McCain said at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. "The Assad regime should not consider that it can get away with mass murder. Gadhafi made that mistake and it cost him everything," he added, referring to ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi who was captured and killed last week by fighters loyal to the new government.
This kind of talk surfaces every now and then, and it's been around since 2008, when it became clear to the United States government that they have lost Iraq to Iran and this was in no small part due to Syria's allowing supplies and Islamic fundamentalists to cross the enormous border that the two countries share. Frankly, unless this senator knows something that everybody else does not, NATO intervention in Syria is about as likely as Gaddafi becoming the next pope.

Ahmedinejad's interview with Fareed Zakaria shed some interesting light on his views regarding Syria. In line with the Russian position regarding Syria in the Security Council, there seems to be a consensus reached between the West and the Rest that Syria is to be a zone of non-interference. The Syrian people are alone, and the problem must be mediated, preferably with Arab League assistance. There are the first hints that a genuine round of talks between the Syrian regime and the Syrian Opposition will be brokered, probably a few months from now. At the moment the Syrian regime isn't hinting at anything, but it is interesting to see that they haven't ruled such talks out. Let's see what happens. Ahmedinejad's comments about Syria, a tad hypocritical, but then again I don't think 2009 was anywhere near as bad for the Iranian people as it was for the Syrians (with the greatest respect, of course):
 "We say that governments must be responsible for the requirements and desires of their own people, the security of the people and their rights. And this is general for Iran, for Libya, for Syria, for Europe, United States, Africa, everywhere. And this is a general rule for all. We have announced that many times."
In other news, Syria appears to be strengthening her ties with Iran's Iraq with the possibility of establishing two joint Free Trade Zones. This is according to SANA, so the news must be taken with caution, as the Syrian regime is keen to boost investor and merchant's confidence in the Syrian economy. This story could just be a morale boosting exercise because the rest of the Syrian economy is in tatters.

A very interesting development is that UN nuclear inspectors are to visit Syria in the next few days. It's worth recalling that Israel bombed an alleged Syrian nuclear facility (built with North Korean help) in 2007. Syria's regime famously retorted that they will respond, "in a time and place of their choosing", and most Syrians today use that famous phrase to ridicule the Syrian regime's impotence against foreign foes which is in stark contrast to the brutal repression of the eight month old uprising that has engulfed most of Syria's cities and towns.

The timing of the visit raises several questions. Was there a deal struck? Did Assad offer this as a concession to the West in order that they ease their political pressure on Syria? We can dismiss such questions as conjecture, but when it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, then in all probability it is a duck. For the Syrian regime this could be an excellent opportunity to buy time, along with their attendance of the Arab League meeting which set a two week deadline (a week ago) to end the killing in Syria. Watch this space.

In other news, the African Union has insisted that Syria must yield on democracy. This is a far bolder position than they took with regards to the Libyan civil war. But Gaddafi is dead, I suppose, so the old Syrian saying, "feed the mouth and the eye will be ashamed" no longer applies. Wonders!

Finally, it seems that the US ambassador to Syria has "temporarily" left the country and gone back to Washington DC. Hmm...sounds suspicious.
That's it for today folks.

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