It will be news to no one observing the situation in Syria that the civil war there is also a proxy war, but this fact is generally suppressed in mainsteram media reporting. -- This is so even in an article like that published Saturday by Reuters about a meeting of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahme Davutoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Istanbul after which Clinton said that the U.S. and Turkey would be "setting up a working group" to undertake "greater in-depth analysis" of possible measures to assist rebels in Syria, including a no-fly zone. -- "Though any intervention appears to be a distant prospect, her remarks were nevertheless the closest Washington has come to suggesting direct military action in Syria," Hadeel Al Shalchi said. -- COMMENT: The closest Washington has come officially. -- Unstated -- because although it is "covert" although well-known -- in this as in most reports is the fact that a number of foreign powers, including the U.S., have been involved in funding, equipping, arming, and organizing Syrian rebels. -- The civil war in Syria is also a proxy war of Western powers and some Gulf states against Iran, as Seumas Milne noted in the London Guardian on Aug. 7: "[T]he Syrian struggle [has turned] into a proxy war against Iran and a global conflict," and one that threatens "the entire system of post-Ottoman Middle East states and borders." -- Just as after Vietnam the U.S. went through a period of relying on proxy war rather than direct intervention (the so-called "Nixon Doctrine"), so the U.S. is now entering into such a phase in the aftermath of two long wars that turned unpopular....
U.S., TURKEY TO STUDY SYRIA NO-FLY ZONE
By Hadeel Al Shalchi
August 11, 2012
ALEPPO, Syria -- The United States and Turkey indicated they were studying a range of possible measures over Syria, including a no-fly zone, as battles between rebels and President Bashar al-Assad's forces shook Aleppo and the heart of Damascus.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after meeting her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul on Saturday that Washington and Ankara should develop detailed operational planning on ways to assist the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
"Our intelligence services, our military have very important responsibilities and roles to play so we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that," she said.
Asked about options such as imposing a no-fly zone over rebel-held territory, Clinton said these were possibilities she and Davutoglu had agreed "need greater in-depth analysis," while indicating that no decisions were necessarily imminent.
"It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions, but you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning," she said.
Though any intervention appears to be a distant prospect, her remarks were nevertheless the closest Washington has come to suggesting direct military action in Syria.
No-fly zones imposed by NATO and Arab allies helped Libyan rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi last year. Until recently, the West had shunned the idea of repeating any Libya-style action.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are believed to be arming Syrian rebels, while the United States and Britain have pledged to step up non-lethal assistance to Assad's opponents.
Davutoglu said it was time outside powers took decisive steps to resolve the humanitarian crisis in cities such as Aleppo, where Assad's forces have fought rebels for three weeks.
JETS, TANKS IN ACTION
In the latest battles, tanks and troops pummeled rebels near the shattered district of Salaheddine, a former opposition stronghold that commands the main southern approach to Aleppo.
Tank fire crashed into the adjacent Saif al-Dawla neighborhood as military jets circled over an abandoned police station held by rebels, firing missiles every few minutes.
Insurgents said they had been forced to retreat in the latest twist in relentless, see-saw battles for Salaheddine, part of a swathe of Aleppo seized by rebels last month.
Some rebels, outgunned and low on ammunition in Aleppo, have pleaded for outside military help, arguing that more weapons and a no-fly zone over areas they control near the Turkish border would give them a secure base against Assad's forces.
"The reason we retreated from Salaheddine this week is a lack of weapons," complained Abu Thadet, a rebel commander in Aleppo who said his fighters would regroup and fight back. "We can handle the bombing. It's the snipers that make it hard."
In Damascus, where Assad's forces have regained control of districts overrun by rebels last month, a resident reported an explosion near the Central Bank, followed by gunfire.
"The explosion was huge. There has been fighting for the past half-hour along Pakistan Street. I am very close. Can you hear that?" she told Reuters, a bang audible over the telephone.
Syrian state TV said authorities were hunting "terrorists" who had set off a bomb in Merjeh, an area near the central bank, and who were "shooting at random to spark panic among citizens".
At least 11 people were killed on Saturday when government forces mounted an armored attack to try to regain the area the Sunni Muslim north Damascus suburb of al-Tel, activists said.
"The army pushed tanks, armored personnel carriers, and pick-up trucks equipped with heavy machine-guns toward Tel in the morning and fighting has been raging for the last 12 hours," said Alam, one of the opposition activists, who gave only his first name for fear of retribution.
"They did not manage to go in. The Free Syrian Army had booby trapped the entrances to Tel and four armor pieces have been destroyed," he added.
END GAME BEGINS?
Despite their superior firepower, Assad's forces have been stretched by months of warfare against increasingly skilled and organized fighters who have taken them on in every city and in many parts of the countryside at one time or another.
Germany's spy chief said the Syrian army had been depleted by casualties, deserters, and defectors.
"There are a lot of indications that the end game for the regime has begun," said Gerhard Schindler, head of the BND intelligence agency, in an interview with *Die Welt* newspaper.
"The regular army is being confronted by a variety of flexible fighters. The recipe of their success is their guerrilla tactics. They're breaking the army's back."
Syria's torment, however, is far from over and several signs point to how the conflict could spill over into its neighbors.
Jordanian and Syrian forces clashed along the border in the early hours of Saturday when refugees tried to cross to Jordan, a Syrian opposition activist who witnessed the fighting said.
Thousands of Syrians have fled into Jordan, but tensions heightened after Assad's newly installed prime minister, Riad Hijab, defected and escaped across the border this week.
Assad's main outside allies are Shi'ite Iran and Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah movement. His ruling system is dominated by members of his Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
His foes are mostly from Syria's Sunni majority, who are backed by Sunni-ruled states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, which are also regional rivals of Iran.
Arab foreign ministers will meet on Sunday in Jeddah to discuss the Syria crisis and who should replace Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy, a League official said.
(Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Andrew Quinn and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul, Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin, Louis Charbonneau in New York and Tamim Elyan in Cairo; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Jon Hemming)
INTERVENTION IS NOW DRIVING SYRIA'S DESCENT INTO DARKNESS
By Seumas Milne
** Western and Gulf regime support for rebel fighters isn't bringing freedom to Syrians but escalating sectarian conflict and war **
August 7, 2012
The destruction of Syria is now in full flow. What began as a popular uprising 17 months ago is now an all-out civil war fuelled by regional and global powers that threatens to engulf the entire Middle East. As the battle for the ancient city of Aleppo grinds on and atrocities on both sides multiply, the danger of the conflict spilling over Syria's borders is growing.
The defection by Syria's prime minister is the most high-profile coup yet in a well-funded program, though unlikely to signal any imminent regime collapse. But the capture of 48 Iranian pilgrims -- or undercover Revolutionary Guards, depending who you believe -- along with the increasing risk of a Turkish attack on Kurdish areas in Syria and an influx of jihadist fighters gives a taste of what is now at stake.
Driving the escalation of the conflict has been Western and regional intervention. This isn't Iraq, of course, with hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground, or Libya, with a devastating bombardment from the air. But the sharp increase in arms supplies, funding, and technical support from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and others in recent months has dramatically boosted the rebels' fortunes, as well as the death toll.
Barack Obama has so far resisted the demands of liberal hawks and neoconservatives for a direct military assault. Instead he's authorized more traditional forms of CIA covert military backing, Nicaragua-style, for the Syrian rebels.
The U.S., which backed its first Syrian coup in 1949, has long funded opposition groups. But earlier this year Obama gave a secret order authorizing covert (as well as overt financial and diplomatic) support to the armed opposition. That includes CIA paramilitaries on the ground, "command and control" and communications assistance, and the funnelling of Gulf arms supplies to favoured Syrian groups across the Turkish border. After Russia and China blocked its last attempt to win U.N. backing for forced regime change last month, the U.S. administration let it be known it would now step up support for the rebels and co-ordinate "transition" plans for Syria with Israel and Turkey.
"You'll notice in the last couple of months, the opposition has been strengthened," a senior U.S. official told the *New York Times* last Friday. "Now we're ready to accelerate that." Not to be outdone, William Hague boasted that Britain was also increasing "non-lethal" support for the rebels. Autocratic Saudi Arabia and Qatar are providing the cash and weapons, as the western-backed Syrian National Council acknowledged this week, while Nato member Turkey has set up a logistics and training base for the Free Syrian Army in or near the Incirlik U.S. air base.
For Syrians who want dignity and democracy in a free country, the rapidly mushrooming dependence of their uprising on foreign support is a disaster -- even more than was the case in Libya. After all, it is now officials of the dictatorial and sectarian Saudi regime who choose which armed groups get funding, not Syrians. And it is intelligence officials from the U.S., which sponsors the Israeli occupation of Syrian territory and dictatorships across the region, who decide which rebel units get weapons.
Opposition activists insist they will maintain their autonomy, based on deep-rooted popular support. But the dynamic of external backing clearly risks turning groups dependent on it into instruments of their sponsors, rather than the people they seek to represent. Gulf funding has already sharpened religious sectarianism in the rebel camp, while reports of public alienation from rebel fighters in Aleppo this week testifies to the dangers of armed groups relying on outsiders instead of their own communities.
The Syrian regime is of course backed by Iran and Russia, as it has been for decades. But a better analogy for Western and Gulf involvement in the Syrian insurrection would be Iranian and Russian sponsorship of an armed revolt in, say, Saudi Arabia. For the Western media, which has largely reported the Syrian uprising as a one-dimensional fight for freedom, the now unavoidable evidence of rebel torture and prisoner executions -- along with kidnappings by al-Qaida-style groups, who once again find themselves in alliance with the U.S. -- seems to have come as a bit of a shock.
In reality, the Syrian crisis always had multiple dimensions that crossed the region's most sensitive fault lines. It was from the start a genuine uprising against an authoritarian regime. But it has also increasingly morphed into a sectarian conflict, in which the Alawite-dominated Assad government has been able to portray itself as the protector of minorities -- Alawite, Christian, and Kurdish -- against a Sunni-dominated opposition tide.
The intervention of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf autocracies, which have tried to protect themselves from the wider Arab upheaval by playing the anti-Shia card, is transparently aimed at a sectarian, not a democratic, outcome. But it is the third dimension -- Syria's alliance with Tehran and Lebanon's Shia resistance movement, Hezbollah -- that has turned the Syrian struggle into a proxy war against Iran and a global conflict.
Many in the Syrian opposition would counter that they had no choice but to accept foreign support if they were to defend themselves against the regime's brutality. But as the independent opposition leader Haytham Manna argues, the militarization of the uprising weakened its popular and democratic base -- while also dramatically increasing the death toll.
There is every chance the war could now spread outside Syria. Turkey, with a large Alawite population of its own as well as a long repressed Kurdish minority, claimed the right to intervene against Kurdish rebels in Syria after Damascus pulled its troops out of Kurdish towns. Clashes triggered by the Syrian war have intensified in Lebanon. If Syria were to fragment, the entire system of post-Ottoman Middle East states and borders could be thrown into question with it.
That could now happen regardless of how long Assad and his regime survive. But intervention in Syria is prolonging the conflict, rather than delivering a knockout blow. Only pressure for a negotiated settlement, which the west and its friends have so strenuously blocked, can now give Syrians the chance to determine their own future -- and halt the country's descent into darkness.
|< Prev||Next >|