Monday September 16, 2013, no149
Weekly information and analysis bulletin specialized in Arab Middle Eastern affairs prepared by neworientnews.com
Editor in chief Wassim Raad
New Orient Center for Strategic policies
Syria is not alone on the battlefield
By Ghaleb Kandil
After the abandonment by the U.S. of their project of military aggression against Syria, many questions have been raised about the Russian initiative. Washington has tried to highlight only one of its aspects, concerning the accession of Syria to the Convention against the proliferation of chemical weapons and its approval to place its arsenal under international control. But the statements of Presidents Vladimir Putin and President Bashar al- Assad assured that the Russian plan includes a timetable for reciprocal Syrian and American commitments.
Vladimir Putin has indeed clearly stated that the accession of Syria to the convention on chemical weapons requires three things in return from the United States: clear announcement that Washington abandons his project of aggression against Syria; the withdrawal of its fleet and military capabilities gathered to carry out the operation; and finally, take immediate steps to stop supporting terrorist groups, which requires a clear U.S. commitment against countries that arm and finance the extremists and send terrorists to Syria, to stop their actions. This is why the little phrase of the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, during talks with his U.S. counterpart on the "organic link between the Russian initiative and the Geneva Conference 2". John Kerry accepted this argument later, adding that any UN resolution on chemical weapons will not include sanctions against Syria.
For his part, in the interview he gave to the TV channel Russia 24, Syrian President Bashar al- Assad said that Syria considers that the Russian initiative is built on the commitments of both his country in the United States. He said that the implementation by Damascus of the agreement on the chemical must be accompanied by simultaneous steps taken by the Americans to abandon their threats against his country and to end their support terrorism.
Putin has developed the same arguments in the tribune that he published in the New York Times. Speaking directly to the American public and members of Congress, the Russian president said that armed rebels supported by the United States and the West are classified terrorist organizations by Washington. These groups of multinational terrorist mercenaries are from 83 countries, as stated by the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem. Putin said that among these terrorists are also Russian citizens.
Syrian resistance, emergence of Russia
The control process of Syrian chemical weapons enjoys Russian guaranties, strengthened by an openly commitment to support Syria against any U.S. aggression. A calendar is currently being negotiated to implement the following equation: the control of the Syrian chemical arsenal in return for stopping the aggression against Syria at all levels, through the mechanism to stop the violence inspired by the Geneva 2 Agreement. This will allow the Syrian Arab Army to strengthen its offensive to destroy the terrorist homes and allow the state to extend its authority throughout the territory.
This new episode of the Syrian crisis resulted therefore in the emergence of Russia as an international actor that faces the unilateral American hegemony.
This new balance of power has been possible thanks to the resistance of the Syrian state, its army and people. The fact that the United States were forced to participate directly in military operations is a sign of the failure of their local and regional agents and subcontractors, that couldn't produce anything on the battlefield. Moreover, abandoning the military option by Washington is a sign of its failure as a hegemonic world power.
In the final showdown, the axis of the resistance has managed to strengthen its presence in the heart of Syria. This was made possible by the courage of the Iranian position and the strength of those of Russia, which would put Syria under the protection of its nuclear umbrella, according to reports. It is this complementarity between the actors of this axis that broke American unilateralism.
This new global balance, marked by the decline of the United States, will only worry Israel, which sees its efforts to destroy the Syrian state go in smoke.
Bashar al-Assad, President of the Arab Syrian Republic
«When we see that the United States actually want stability in the region, cease to threaten and try to attack, and deliver arms to terrorists, then we assume that we can carry through the process and that they will be acceptable to Syria. In a few days, Syria will send a message to the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which will contain the necessary technical documentation to sign the agreement. After that, work to sign the Convention banning chemical weapons will be launched. Syria then begin to transmit its information on its chemical weapons stockpiles. Syria has agreed to put its chemical weapons under international control because of Russia. Threats the United States did not affect our decision.»
Michel Aoun, Free Patriotic movement Leader
«It's no more accepted to keep silent on the serial of displacing Christians from the East. The displacement of Christians started in Palestine and reached later on Iraq and Egypt only to become a fashion. I newly received a letter from the Christians of Syria's Bloudan village who expressed fear that they are subjected to cruel assaults as in Maaloula. US Foreign Minister, John Kerry, says there is no need to protect Christians in the East. Yet, we say to him we don't want protecting Christians but respecting the human rights charter instead that secures Christians' rights. I urge those who call for respecting human rights in Europe and the USA protecting such rights in the Arab countries also.»
Samir Geagea, Lebanese Forces leader
«The Baabda Declaration is the minimum without which the Lebanese state cannot be considered. Nothing of this declaration has been implemented so far, and as long as this is the case our situation will remain the same. Hezbollah's participation in the fighting in Syria is scaring tourists and investors away and affecting our financial situation.»
Three rockets struck some 30 kilometers north of the city of Baalbek, Saturday. There were no casualties, but some trees in the area went up in flames. They were launched by Syrien extremist groups. Last month, dozens died when massive car bombs a week apart hit Rweiss in Hezbollah's Beirut stronghold, and then the majority Sunni city of Tripoli.
Al Akhbar daily believes that the battle over the presidency of the Republic started on 14-March. The kickoff was given by Samir Geagea, who has profiled the new president, tailored to suit a candidate who belongs to the same policy as the leader of the Lebanese Forces camp.
The Islamic State group in Iraq and the Levant, Iraq-Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, announced the commencement of hostilities against its former ally, the Free Syrian Army (FSA). This is the first open confrontation in the Syrian rebellion. According to a statement posted on an extremist website, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant group plans a "punitive operation" against the Free Syrian Army in the eastern suburbs of Aleppo reports the daily Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
A Mauritanian Muslim cleric, Abdullah bin Baya, vice-president of the World Association of Scholars, based in Doha and directed by the controversial Sunni preacher Youssef al-Qaradawi, announced his resignation Saturday. "The path of reform and reconciliation requires a speech," which is now "incompatible with my position in the Union," writes Ben Sheikh Baya in his resignation letter.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist)
(September 13, 2013)
The Baabda Palace, which kept silent on the open letter by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to U.S. President Barack Obama calling for a military intervention in Syria, decided to respond indirectly to statements made by the head of Marada, MP Sleiman Franjieh, during a television interview, announcing that the Declaration of Baabda, which focuses on putting Lebanon away from regional and international conflicts, hasn't mentioned the resistance and its weapons. Franjieh considered that the main point in the Declaration of Baabda was to place the weapons of resistance under the authority of the state. Informed sources note that this presidential statement could also be a response with retroactive effect to the head of Hezbollah's parliamentary block, Mohammad Raad, who said a month ago, the Declaration of Baabda is dead-born. The sources believe that this presidential response is mostly to remind all parties involved in the national political and diplomatic dialogue about the value of this statement, especially on the eve of the participation of President Sleiman at the session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, in New York, in September 23, and the meeting of the International Group for Lebanon to be held at the initiative of France, during which a policy will be discussed mainly to support Lebanon's stability, report sources. Moreover, a political source believes that the confusion caused by the Declaration of Baabda, given the different interpretations which it is subject, shows that it is necessary that this issue be discussed at the table of dialogue.
As Safir (September 12, 2013)
Diplomatic sources say that the U.S. war against Syria began and ended with the second when two ballistic missiles were launched; an event that have been subject of conflicting information: Israeli denial, than confirmation that the missiles which were fired in a joint US-Israeli operation, fell into the sea, and have no relation with the Syrian crisis. The same sources indicate that two missiles were fired from a U.S. base under NATO, located in Spain, and were immediately detected by Russian radars. Russian defenses were activated to monitor the missiles, then one of them was self-destructs and the trajectory of the second was deflected so that it falls into the sea The source continued that the statement issued by the Russian Ministry of defense merely to indicate that radar detected two missiles east of the Mediterranean, while deliberately didn't specify the place from where they were launched and that they were destroyed. Because when the projectiles were fired, command of Russian intelligence services came into contact with American intelligence to prevent that bombing Damascus mean bombing Moscow.
An Nahar (Lebanese daily close to March-14 coalition)
(September 13, 2013)
There is no link between the news release of the Presidential Palace on the Declaration of Baabda and efforts to form a government. The Presidency of the Republic explained that this statement is an attempt to dispel the confusion lately aroused around the national dialogue session that led to the adoption of the declaration. Informed political circles consider that the presidential statement aim at sending a message sign to March-8 coalition that it is possible to reach a compromise that respects the Declaration of Baabda and permits to resume dialogue on defense strategy.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)
Ibrahim Al-Amine (September 13, 2013)
There is still a long and arduous road ahead for the Russian initiative, which defused the recent showdown around Syria. Nevertheless, it has cleared the way for the emergence of a new global order where Washington no longer calls the shots.
Difficult negotiations lie ahead of Russia’s initiative to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Washington and Damascus are still far apart on many issues, not to mention that the Syrian side, in the words of President Bashar al-Assad, expects complementary steps from the US, “first and foremost among them is that the United States end its policy of aggression toward Syria.”
What happened in the days since President Barack Obama threatened to strike Syria, and what is the fate of the political settlement being discussed today between the US and Russia?
Close observers reveal that Moscow told its allies in Tehran and Damascus that the planned military operation was not at all limited as was claimed, but it would be the first phase of a wider campaign intended to soften up regime forces, which in turn would allow the opposition to surround Damascus and re-take Homs.
Syria’s allies took the matter seriously and moved quickly to mobilize their forces and prepare for a major confrontation, executing a defensive strategy that surprised even the Russians in its scale and the speed with which it was implemented. A special effort was placed on readying Syria’s strategic weapons, which was accompanied by messages relayed to the Americans about the consequences of any attack.
Moscow told their American contacts that Damascus, along with its allies Iran and Hezbollah, will not accept any kind of limited strike and are preparing themselves for a major confrontation, even suggesting that the Russians themselves cannot sit idly by and will support the regime, just as the US backs the opposition.
There were two crucial and loaded messages – one sent from Tehran and the other from Moscow – that had a powerful impact on the course of events, the sources say. The first was from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who told Oman’s Sultan Qaboos something along the lines of “whoever intends to destroy Syria should be prepared to lose their oil and gas in the region.”
The second came from Russian President Vladimir Putin who told his American counterpart that Syria is as important to his country as Israel is to the US, adding that Washington’s attack could destabilize the world, not just the region.
But both the Iranians and the Russians realized that in order to stop Obama from carrying out his attack and convince him to move in the direction of a political solution, they had to find a compromise that would be acceptable to all sides.
In doing so, they were met halfway by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who were working on a separate track to achieve the following:
First, to prevent any spoilers – such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, and Israel – from influencing the UN weapons inspectors’ report on the alleged chemical attack in Damascus. And second, to get Geneva II back on track, especially after Brahimi received encouragement from a number of leaders at the G20 meeting in that direction.
All this will not prevent potential losers in a political settlement from doing their best to undermine such an outcome. Israel will likely try to interfere with the process underway to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons by adding conditions that they hope would include Iranian weapons.
Turkey will continue to insist that Assad must be punished in order to prevent him from using chemical weapons again, while Saudi will try to limit any kind of settlement to the Russian initiative, fearing that a diplomatic solution through Geneva II will be to Assad’s advantage. Thus both countries are now anxious to get back to the battlefield, hoping to redress the balance of forces on the ground before the two sides begin to negotiate.
And just as the opposition has received reassurances from their allies that they will be more than compensated for whatever setbacks they may have suffered after the failure of Washington to strike, the Russian side has also stated that it “will not leave Syria without strategic weapons to confront its enemies.”
There are indications that both Moscow and Tehran have decided to raise the capabilities of the Syrian armed forces to an extent that would allow them to make further strides against the opposition.
Al Akhbar (September 13, 2013)
Until this moment, the identities of the leaders of the two al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria – al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – remain unknown. The only public communication from the two leaders are voice recordings or written messages leaked through unknown sources, or perhaps even through the same source.
Also unclear is the groups’ funding sources, despite reports that point to Iraq or other centers where the global jihadi organization is active. The two radical groups have also been able to seize local revenue streams, for example, with fees collected at border crossings and profits from crude oil sold to Turkish companies and local vendors through unofficial channels.
Activists familiar with the two groups spoke to Al-Akhbar, saying that al-Nusra Front and ISIS, like other armed factions in Syria, are constantly seeking to recruit more fighters with a view to expand their territorial holdings. Consequently, the two groups are looking to attract local “mujahideen,” especially in rural areas.
To this end, the activists said, the two al-Qaeda affiliates entice recruits by highlighting the riches that await them, thanks to the “spoils” of war.
ISIS came into existence when fighters from al-Nusra Front merged with the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda known as the Islamic State of Iraq last April, under the command of the presumed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The move was rejected by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the leader of al-Nusra Front Abu Mohammed al-Joulani. Despite the alleged dispute, the two groups did not fail to march together on lucrative areas in Syria, like border crossings and oil-rich regions.
Although Syrians have come to dominate ISIS, a considerable number of non-Syrian Arab and foreign fighters are active in its ranks as well. Recently, the leader of ISIS in Jarablos, known as Abu Hafs al-Masri, spoke out on his Facebook page about a number of his fighters – supposedly including Chechens, Moroccans, Egyptians, and Libyans – who died in battles. The occasion was the return of some ISIS fighters to their home countries, which is perhaps what prompted him to seek to recruit Syrians by offering more material rewards.
In the city of Jarablos, on the border with Turkey, one resident has been fighting for five months in ISIS’ ranks, after pledging allegiance to the radical group. According to sources in the city, the Syrian “mujahid” in question recently married after ISIS covered all his wedding expenses.
The group even seized a home for the fighter, belonging to former Homs mayor Ahmad Munir. Al-Nusra Front has seized all property belonging to Munir, whom the group deems to be “an agent of the infidel regime.”
In Yarubiyah, near the border with Iraq, a member of al-Nusra Front was killed nearly a month ago during clashes with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPD). Sources close to the fighter’s family, who hail from the nearby village of Tayeh, told Al-Akhbar that the man was paid 80,000 Syrian pounds (about $380) each day to guard an oil well.
According to the same sources, many of the residents of nearby villages have enriched themselves as a result of their work in selling oil and guarding wells, in return for fighting with al-Nusra Front or providing it with logistical and intelligence support. Reportedly, the same thing is happening in the Deir al-Zour countryside.
The number of fighters in the two radical groups is small relative to the vast area they control. However, the two groups are keen not to enter large-scale battles alone, preferring to partner up with other Islamic factions.
Although al-Nusra Front and ISIS have been able to lure many recruits who believe in their stated goals, especially foreign fighters, many observers do not rule out the possibility that the “spoils strategy” they adopt may well backfire. In this regard, an activist from the city of Raqqa purported that as soon as fighters aspiring for enrichment achieve their goals, they will desert the group. The activist said, “Many have deserted after getting their money. This is to be expected, because simply, there is no other cause.”
A resident of the city of Tall al-Abyad, near the border of Turkey, which is controlled by radical Islamic brigades, said that the residents always feared the moment when radical groups would need money themselves. The resident said that the groups would then turn to the residents, “after looting cash, equipment, grain, and so forth from government institutions.”
The residents’ fears came true. According to Kurdish sources, the radical groups recently robbed “billions of Syrian pounds from Kurdish citizens” in Tall al-Abyad. Then, “they demanded many Arab families to send men to enlist in their ranks or pay cash in return for exempting them.”
On a different note, leaders of al-Nusra Front and ISIS acknowledge that their groups have been infiltrated. In a previous interview with a local website affiliated to the Syrian opposition, Abu Musab al-Suri, deputy ISIS commander of the northern region (Aleppo, Idlib, and Latakia), admitted to breaches in the group. At the time, he said that al-Nusra Front and ISIS were infiltrated by regime-planted elements, but also by agents of foreign intelligence services.
Al Akhbar (September 12, 2013)
Just as people across the Arab world were breathing a collective sigh of relief after the postponement of Washington’s attack on Syria, a major political faction in Lebanon was cursing its bad luck, distraught at Barack Obama’s hesitation to let it rip in Damascus.
March 14 could care less by what means the “revolution” succeeds – even if it required strafing the country with napalm. All that matters to the likes of Fouad Siniora is that the regime is toppled, and by any means.
In a letter to Obama published in Foreign Policy magazine on September 10, former Lebanese prime minister and Future Party leader Fouad Siniora appeals to the American president to “step up in Syria.” He writes, “The world – and the West in particular – has a great moral obligation to stop Assad’s hateful campaign.”
This is the same man who started as an accountant for the Hariri family, only to become the kind of minister of finance who refined the art of squeezing the poor to fatten up the rich.
During the July 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, he cried crocodile tears before the world’s media to “save his country,” while behind the scenes, he was urging the enemy to forge on, as revealed by Wikileaks.
Today, we have the man steeped in Arab nationalism calling on a foreign power, well-known for its long record of disastrous imperialist adventures, to bomb a country that symbolizes Arabism.
He asks Uncle Obama to reconsider his decision not to bomb Syria for the time being. He desperately wants America’s missiles to free the Syrian people, just as they had done in Iraq before it.
“The West ... needs to lead a new process to protect Syria and the broader Arab world from fragmentation,” Siniora writes. “It can do so by supporting the forces of moderation, harnessing the spirit of those Syrian protesters who took to the streets early in the revolution calling for peaceful change.”
He accuses the West of watching the crisis unfold as Russia and Iran arm the regime to the teeth, arguing that the US “has a strategic interest in ending the conflict in Syria” and “the expansion of Iranian hegemony in the region.”
What can we say about such people, if we want to avoid accusations of treason or political suicide? Can this madness be explained by their disappointment at the failure of Uncle Sam to save the day?
Siniora and Co. want war for the sake of peace, and freedom by invasion and occupation. They want to lure America’s military machine, which has torn whole nations apart, in the name of a sham democracy that everyone knows is not possible if it is delivered by way of cruise missiles.
Foreign Policy (American Magazine, September 9, 2013)
Matthiew M. Aid
Syria's reported use of chemical weapons is threatening to turn the civil war there into a wider conflict. But the Bashar al-Assad government may not be the only one in the region with a nerve gas stockpile. A newly discovered CIA document indicates that Israel likely built up a chemical arsenal of its own.
It is almost universally believed in intelligence circles here in Washington that Israel possesses a stockpile of several hundred fission nuclear weapons, and perhaps even some high-yield thermonuclear weapons. Analysts believe the Israeli government built the nuclear stockpile in the 1960s and 1970s as a hedge against the remote possibility that the armies of its Arab neighbors could someday overwhelm the Israeli military. But nuclear weapons are not the only weapon of mass destruction that Israel has constructed.
Reports have circulated in arms control for almost 20 years that Israel secretly manufactured a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons to complement its nuclear arsenal. Much of the attention has been focused on the research and development work being conducted at the Israeli government's secretive Israel Institute for Biological Research at Ness Ziona, located 20 kilometers south of Tel Aviv.
But little, if any, hard evidence has ever been published to indicate that Israel possesses a stockpile of chemical or biological weapons. This secret 1983 CIA intelligence estimate may be the strongest indication yet.
According to the document, American spy satellites uncovered in 1982 "a probable CW [chemical weapon] nerve agent production facility and a storage facility... at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert. Other CW production is believed to exist within a well-developed Israeli chemical industry."
"While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents," the document adds, "several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and nonpersistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, marched with suitable delivery systems."
Whether Israel still maintains this alleged stockpile is unknown. In 1992, the Israeli government signed but never ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans such arms. (The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to requests to comment on this article.) The CIA estimate, a copy of which was sent to the White House, also shows that the U.S. intelligence community had suspicions about this stockpile for decades, and that the U.S. government kept mum about Israel's suspected possession of chemical weapons just as long.
These facts were recently discovered by a researcher -- a friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous -- at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. He had found, stapled to an innocuous unclassified report, a single page that someone in the White House had apparently removed from his or her copy of a secret September 15, 1983 CIA Special National Intelligence Estimate entitled Implications of Soviet Use of Chemical and Toxin Weapons for US Secrutiy Interests.
Ordinarily this 30-year-old intelligence estimate would have attracted only passing interest from researchers because much of the report, which dealt primarily with unproven allegations of Soviet use of chemical and biological weapons in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, had been largely declassified in 2009 and can now be found in the CREST database of declassified CIA documents at the College Park, Maryland research facility of the National Archives. But while the CIA was willing to declassify those portions of the report that deal with the U.S.S.R. and some of its client states -- including Syria -- it was far less willing to release any information about the chemical weapons activities of countries outside the Soviet Bloc. The censors at the CIA deleted from the version of the document that was released to the National Archives almost all information related to the Middle East, including long-declassified material about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons program in Iraq.
But what makes the single page found at the Reagan Library so explosive is that it contains the complete and unredacted portion of the intelligence estimate that details what the CIA thought it knew back in 1983 about Israel's work on chemical weapons, which the CIA's censors had carefully excised from the version released to the National Archives in 2009.
Washington Post (American Daily, September 11, 2013)
Ernesto Londono and Greg Miller
The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.
The arms shipments, which are limited to light weapons and other munitions that can be tracked, began arriving in Syria at a moment of heightened tensions over threats by President Obama to order missile strikes to punish the regime of Bashar al-Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons in a deadly attack near Damascus last month.
The arms are being delivered as the United States is also shipping new types of nonlethal gear to rebels. That aid includes vehicles, sophisticated communications equipment and advanced combat medical kits.