Monday, November 21, 2011

Syrian News Roundup

There seems to be confusion about who was responsible for the attack at the Baath party headquarters in Damascus on Sunday:

The commander of a group of Syrian army defectors retracted earlier claims that his followers launched an unprecedented attack inside the capital, Damascus, in an embarrassing turnaround for an armed movement trying to oust President Bashar Assad's regime.
So who was behind it if not the defectors? But perhaps even more worrying is the attack on a bus carrying Turkish butchers back from Saudi Arabia after the Eid holidays:
"We had stopped at a checkpoint," Surmeli told The Associated Press by telephone. "Syrian soldiers emerged from behind sandbags and cursed (Turkish Prime Minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan when we told them we were Turks. Then they suddenly opened fire at the bus."
If this is confirmed to be from the Syrian army, then it looks bad for a regime that is already trying to mend fences because of the thugs that had attacked foreign embassies in Damascus last week. I can't imagine anything more damaging to Syria at this time than its soldiers starting to shoot busloads of people from Turkey just because their government criticised his regime.

The thought did occur to me that maybe somebody from the Free Syrian Army has engineered this attack in order to draw the Turkish government further into the Syrian crisis, but: A) I hate conspiracy theories, especially when there are so many real conspiracies; and B) that is even more stupid than the regime's thugs having done it. If I were to take an educated guess, I'd say that the regime doesn't have the iron grip on its soldiers and thugs that it likes to think it does, and an over-enthusiastic bunch of pro-Assad goons might have thought they'd gain brownie points.

Canadian Navy stays in the Mediterranean because of Syrian Crisis

This is something I hadn't heard of before, the Royal Canadian Navy, which came to this little sea surrounded by an ocean of turbulence, as part of the NATO campaign against Gaddafi's Libya. The Canadian Defence Secretary said:

"I think it's fair to say that a lot of dictators are on notice that this type of behaviour isn't going to be tolerated," he said. "How we go about it and what comes next is done on… an escalating scale before making any final decisions around intervention."
I guess what he means by the escalating scale is the route that is slowly taking us from the Arab League back to the UN Security Council. To be honest, I used to think that NATO involvement in Syria was far-fetched and impossible, but I think I was wrong. It might have been impossible this time last year, or even in March, when the protests began, but with a regime that has lost all its friends and enjoys minuscule domestic support, the idea doesn't seem to be so unlikely anymore.

Still, the Russians still seem to be giving Assad some form of cover, and are now seeing the Syrian revolution as a civil war in which nobody else must get involved. The Jerusalem Post reports that the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, is accusing the West of "fanning the flames" of the Syria conflict. I don't doubt for an instant the sheer relish with which countries in the West, and Saudi Arabia in particular, are watching events in Syria unfold. We have to recognise that alongside the legitimate demands of the Syrian people, and their complete humiliation and oppression by the Syrian regime, there is also a wider conflict between different powers. The trick I've been trying to manage is to avoid getting sucked into either axis as I might have before. Tehran and Riyadh are just as bad as each other, and Washington DC and Moscow will do what is good for them, and not what is good for the Arabs. Unfortunately the Syrian Opposition seems to be clutching at straws like a drowning man, and doesn't seem to be looking that far ahead yet.

It was interesting to hear on al Jazeera earlier that the Syrian National Council has released its plan for a future, democratic and inclusive Syria (sounds lovely on paper). Conveniently mentioned near the end is their commitment to the return of the Golan Heights according to international laws and agreements. I have a sneaky feeling that this won't look very good once it is applied into practice, and there will be a lot of favours that the SNC will have to return once, or if, they ever manage to form a government in Damascus.

From Lebanon:
Sheikh Naim Qassem, the deputy secretary general of Hezbollah, has said that the unrest engulfing Syria is a foreign conspiracy fueled by the United States and its allies.
 I like Qassem, and I remember his book being invaluable as I researched my undergraduate thesis on Hezbullah. His position with regards to Syria is hardly surprising, and I've written before about why I think Hezbullah will stick with the Syrian regime, come rain or shine. That he would make a statement about what is happening in Syria is the latest indication of how concerned Hezbullah is with the Syrian regime failing. Clearly they see its removal as an existential threat and I expect they will fight tooth and nail to let Assad, or at least his regime, continue in power. Ignore Hezbullah at your own peril.

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