29 Feb 2012
Arming the Syrian Rebels?
When Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi fell from power last year, ending four decades of bloody, authoritarian rule, it appeared to mark another high point in the Arab Spring.
In fact, the joyous event culminated months of conflict and thousands of deaths. Leading NATO from behind, the United States provided air support and enforced a no-fly zone; yet our policymakers opted not to provide of weapons or advisors to the Libyan rebels, when other groups did. Those groups now exercise decisive influence over the direction of the new Libyan nation – and that direction is leading right into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood and other, even more strident Islamic fundamentalists.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 had authorized NATO’s military action in response to “the deteriorating situation, the escalation of violence, and the heavy civilian casualties” then occurring in Libya. The lack of initial U.S. engagement with the right partners ensured that Islamists seized the rebellion and the country is now under the influence of armed factions. Former cadre of al-Qaeda now leads one of these factions.
While different from Libya in many ways, the current situation in Syria is similar in one respect: If the United States again fails to support the rebels bravely challenging decades of bloody tyranny in their homeland, by refusing to arm them, another group will.
Already we see elements of al-Qaeda slipping across the border from Iraq, and Muslim Brotherhood support – in the form of money and weapons – flowing in from Turkey.
I visited the area last week and met with leaders from the Arab and Kurdish-led Syrian opposition groups. Unlike what occurred in the Libyan case, these Syrian insurgent groups are actually pleading for American involvement. They explicitly requested air support, small arms, and seasoned advisors to help with training and strategic guidance.
To be sure, well-known obstacles and questions with only murky answers surround the prospect of providing weapons and munitions to these rebels. U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rightly cited these vexing issues when he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria over the weekend: “I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point.”
But my own travels to region convince me the general’s challenge is hardly insurmountable. While we obviously do not want to see American-made weapons fall into the hands of known terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, we must also consider the costs of inaction. Syria has dominated Lebanon, threatened Israel for decades, and formed an unholy alliance with Iran. Indeed, rebel Syrian forces repeatedly passed along to me information about armed Iranians, clad in civilian clothing, infiltrating military bases in the northern Syrian province of al-Hasaka. Removing Bashar al-Assad's vicious regime would do much to break Iran’s geographic connection to the Mediterranean Sea, and thereby reduce significantly its ability to threaten Israel.
In The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, Mideast scholar Walid Phares effectively predicted the Arab Spring two years ago. Phares told me recently that we are witnessing a race in the region with three main players in each country: the authoritarian regimes, which are using lethal, even military, force to survive; the Islamists, bent on hijacking these conflicts for their own ends; and the forces of civil society, in whose hands U.S. policymakers place their greatest hopes. “When the dictators go down,” Phares said, “the race will be down to two: Jihadists and seculars. We'd better choose our horse early on, before it will become too late.”
These predictions materialized in Libya – and also in Egypt and Tunisia. Islamists in these countries have emerged as the chief beneficiaries of the upheavals that toppled dictators. In Syria, the opposition includes both seculars and members of the Brotherhood and other Islamists. If we want to help bring about a post-Assad Syria that is democratic, a stable partner in our efforts toward building peace and prosperity in the Mideast, we need to partner now with those segments most receptive to our notions of liberal pluralism. These include secular and reformist Syrians among the Sunni majority, and minorities: Kurds and Christians, but also Druse and anti-Assad Alawites.
President Obama has said he seeks a resolution without military intervention – and that is an achievable aim. Providing the rebels with a way to defend themselves, as Senator John McCain (R-AZ) recently advised, would allow Syrian natives to press ahead on their own. Additionally, covert action against Assad’s command-and-control infrastructure should be initiated immediately, so as to enhance the rebels’ free movement and resupply.
Standing on the sidelines and simply hoping for a good outcome, however, is no way to run a foreign policy – and no way to show our high regard for the preservation of innocent life. We championed intervention in Libya, even without adequate intervention, in order to prevent a bloodbath. Today in Syria, the civilian casualties are at least twice those in Libya. As the leader of the free world, the standard-bearer for democracy and human rights, we have an obligation to those who are bravely sacrificing their lives and families to rid themselves of a brutal dictator whose government, in league with the evil empire of Iran, has plagued the region for decades. Current events in Syria are a tragedy – but also an opportunity that we overlook at our own peril.
14 Feb 2012
Iran and Azerbaijan in spy fued
Tensions are rising between Iran and Azerbaijan amid mutual accusations that each has sponsored terrorist activities on the other's soil.
Azerbaijan, a small oil-rich country tucked between Iran and Russia, has emerged as a key hub for cloak-and-dagger spy wars being waged between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear programme.
Iran's foreign ministry summoned the Azerbaijani ambassador on Sunday, accusing his country of assisting Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, in the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist last month. Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, who worked at Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was killed when two men on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car.
At least four scientists associated with Iran's nuclear activities have been murdered in similar, highly professional hits since 2010.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the United States and Israel of Mr Ahmadi-Roshan's "cowardly" killing. Washington vehemently denied responsibility and condemned the assassination. Israeli officials do not comment on whether they are behind the killings of Iranian scientists but have made clear their satisfaction.
Azerbaijan yesterday rejected Iranian allegations that Baku helped in any of the assassinations as "slander". The Iranian complaint, it said, was retaliation for a formal protest by Azerbaijan to Tehran last month that Iranian agents had plotted to kill Israel's ambassador in Baku along with a rabbi.
Azerbaijani authorities have also said they thwarted a plan by agents of Iran and Lebanon's Hizbollah militia to set off a car bomb near the Israeli embassy four years ago, and a plot targeting the US and British embassies in 2007.
A Mossad operative in the Azeri capital, Baku, told The Times at the weekend: "This is the ground zero for intelligence work". The London daily described him as one of dozens of Mossad agents who work in Azerbaijan at any given time. Numerous members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard are also said to operate in Baku.
Azerbaijan, a secular Muslim former Soviet republic, has friendly ties with the US and Israel and is home to more than 9,000 Jews. Israel imports 30 per cent of its oil from Azerbaijan which in turn imports weapons and military hardware from the Jewish state.
The US has built a large installation in southern Azerbaijan to monitor Iran, and has another one in the north to monitor Russia, Azeri officials told The Times.
Diplomatic relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have long been cool. Baku is aggrieved by Iran's support of Christian Armenia, with which Azerbaijan has had a long territorial dispute. It also accuses Tehran of sponsoring Islamic radicals in Azerbaijan.
Iran, in turn, accuses Baku of stoking unrest among its large ethnic Azeri minority, which far outnumbers Azerbaijan's own population of 9.2 million.
Another intriguing and controversial slant on the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists came from a major US news network in a detailed report last Thursday. NBC was told by US officials that the deadly attacks were being carried out by an exiled Iranian dissident group that it said is financed, trained and armed by Mossad.
The People's Mujahideen of Iran, or MEK, is classified by the US as a terrorist organisation. The group is linked to the deaths of at least six Americans in Iran during the 1970s and supported the takeover of the US embassy in 1979 before it fell out with the revolutionary new regime in Tehran.
The MEK was long allied with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which provided it with shelter and arms, making it deeply unpopular with most ordinary Iranians.
The organisation has denied the NBC allegations of collaboration with Israel as "absolutely false".
Israel declined to comment on the NBC report.
Reprinted from The National, by Michael Theodoulou.
13 Feb 2012
Saudis backing AQ in Syria?
What was behind Pakistan-based leader Ayman al Zuweiri's call for AQ to get behind the Syrian opposition? Is the old guy simply trying to launder this crisis for AQ's gain? Considering the decimation of the AQ ranks since Crankshaft, aka OBL, was sent on a one-way deep-sea adventure by Red Team, that's possible.
However, a more likely scenario is that Saudi chiefs, seeing Bashar Assad making significant gains against the opposition, are likely turning al Qaeda Iraqi cells loose against him. Saudis are using their influence with Iraqi Sunnis to persuade al Qaeda leaders that Assad and his Alawite regime were their most dangerous foe.
It's no mystery - the price of weapons in Mosul, Iraq has gone up significantly because they are being farmed out across the border into Syria. Mosul, though located in Northern Kurdish controlled Iraq, is mostly Arab and has always been a stronghold of AQ arabs.
In addition, there has been a sharp drop in terrorist attacks inside Iraq owing in large part to the bulk of the 1,500-strong Iraq-based al Qaeda network – Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans, Mauritanians, Pakistanis, Lebanese and Palestinians having headed to Syria.
Al Qaeda strength was fast building up in Syria just ten days before Zawahri on Sunday, Feb. 11 issued his videotaped instruction to AQ forces in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to converge on the Syrian battlefield.
Their impact in Syria is being felt now. The February 10 car bombing in Alleppo is almost certainly their doing. After battling American troops for nine year, Al Qaeda in Iraq will not be easy to whip. Oddly, the terrorists in 2003 infiltrated Iraq from Syria across same border they are now breaching in the opposite direction. After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Assad regime gave al Qaeda forward bases and charged a fee of $10,000 or more for each individual crossing into Iraq with Syrian security cover.
So Riyadh is helping this flow of fighters. Why? They see Assad’s survival strengthening Iran and the Shiites’ grip on Baghdad, whereas his removal would weaken them both. So the Saudis put money, logistics and ordnance for AQ's transfer from Iraq to Syria hoping to energizing the flagging anti-Assad opposition’s struggle. Finally, after eleven months, Syrian dissidents now find themselves sharing a broad base of operations with Muslim (Turkish), Arab, al Qaeda, Kurdish and Western allies. Strange days.
12 Feb 2012
Syrian Connection with Iran.
Syria's relations with Iran have been growing in strength since 1980, following the revolution. The current conflict in Syria, which threatens to get worse before it gets worse, is ripe for the United States and the world communitiy to confront Iran by proxy, exact regime change in Syria and thus break the Iranian geographic link to Hezbollah which extends all the way to the Med.
Evidence of the relationship between the two nations is circumstantial, which means the evidence consists of facts pointing in a particular direction - facts that are in harmony with one side or another of the hypothesis being analyzed, but standing alone the related evidence is not sufficient to draw any definite conclusions. When pieced together, however those facts lead to conclusions that are a reasonable step from the known facts.
What are the facts?
The constant visits by Iranian and Syrian officials between Tehran and Damascus, their shared hostility towards Israel and the US, and common interests in Lebanon were (and are) the pillars of the strategic relationship which has kept bilateral relations at a high level.
Since the strengthening of relations in 1980, Iran has benefited from its relationship with Syria. On at least one occasion during the Iraq imposed war on Iran, Syrian MiG 21 and 23s provided protection for attacking Iranian F-4s. On a number of other sorties Iranian fighter aircraft flying over Kurdish areas of northern Iraq crossed into Syrian airspace for protection before re-entering Iraqi airspace for attacks on Iraqi bases in Western Iraq.
At the same time Syria has also benefited greatly from its relationship with Iran. The hotels of Damascus for the last 10 years have been functioning mainly thanks to the throngs of Iranian tourists visiting the shrines of the Shiite prophet Sayeda Zeinab (Imam Ali's daughter and also Imam Hassan and Imam Hussein's sister).
Meanwhile for more than five years during the Iraqi invasion of Iran Syria received free oil shipments from Iran. This was done as a gesture of gratitude to Syria for shutting down the Iraqi oil pipelines which ran through its territory and for not siding with its Arab neighbour Iraq.
Today, we see Iran allying with Syria by supplying intelligence and personnel. Intelligence reports note the presence of armed Iranian in civilian clothing as far north as al-Hasaka, Syria near the armor base just north of an inactive volcano. The Assad regime doesn't have the oil of Libya to sustain it for a protracted fight, if sanctions start to bite. They then can't pay off their people, or their military. This, combined with defections and continued guerilla attacks from the FSA and perhaps the Kurds in the northeast wille eventually wear the regime down and it will collapse - that is but a matter of time. But at what cost?
The collapse of the regime is one of the most important outcomes of the Arab Spring yet to be realized. Assisting the FSA and the Kurds defeat Assad will break the Iranian link in the area to Lebanon and lessen the threat to Israel. The Iranians moved into Iraq after the USA quit early and now they essentially run the Malicki government. Defeating Assad is one of the best things the US could do to help the people of Syria, the Israelis and to strategically balance the fiasco of effectively giving the Iranians Iraq. But it must be done soon - or thousands more will die needlessly.