Category Archives: Syria

The Jury is Out – Syrian chemical weapons


The latest use of chemical weapons in Syria seems to be worse than the first time. I am very much aware that there are people who believe that the Syrian Opposition forces were responsible for the use of those weapons…. BUT NOT SO FAST…..

If the Oppostion forces used the chemical weapons (which was likely) then my first question has to be: Why did the Assad regime refuse Russia permission to investigate what happened?

I think that this is a legitimate question to be asked given what we known about those Syrian Opposition Forces aka the “rebels”.

Russia has been on the side of Assad since the beginning of the conflict. Iran has been on the side of Assad since the beginning of the conflict. Hezbollah has been supporting the Assad regime, as has Hamas since the beginning of the conflict.

Somebody used chemical weapons and suspicion has gone both ways. If Russia is asking questions and cannot get Assad to cooperate then it is more likely that Assad agreed to the use of those weapons.

I want to remain open-minded with regard to this situation. The reason that I do not really want to proffer an opinion at this point in time is that I have a slight suspicion that the Opposition Forces in Syria could stage an incident of this nature in an effort to change the outcome of the civil war in that country. On the other hand Bashir Assad is getting more and more desperate every time he has a defeat in the battles that have taken place.

We now have to wait until there is some kind of investigation. In the meantime keep an eye out for reactions from Russia because that is going to tell you more than the spin that comes out of the White House these days.

 

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Claim/counterclaim – Turkey vs Syria


Last week there was a bombing in Turkey. The Assad administration claim that they are not responsible, but Turkey claims otherwise.

There are some issues that need to be discussed in regard to this development:

1. The bombing could be the beginning of a major offensive in the region. If it is proved that the Assad regime was involved, then this could mean that Turkey has good reason to call in NATO forces. Stand by – let’s see what develops.

2. If it was proved that the rebels were behind the attack, then this could have the impact of shifting sympathy away from them…. it would also open up questions about motivation with regard to the bombing. (my initial reaction was along the lines of perhaps this was done to get international attention and focus).

The link that I have provided indicates that a third source, with links to Assad was responsible for the bombing. According to the Turks, this group is Marxist with links to Assad.

The stand out was the use of the word “Marxist” and links to the Assad regime. This is very possible.  However, if that was the case, perhaps one could start looking for the Soviet connection. Russia is very keen to keep the Assad regime in power.

Syria


It is not my intention to post too much about Syria on this particular blog. The situation in Syria is ugly, and there are some aspects that need a mention here because Israel has taken defensive actions.

I repeat, I do not know enough about the Syrian opposition to Assad to be confident in making a lot of comment. My own reading of the situation is that there are disparate groups who are fighting against Assad. My own reading is that this is a Shia vs Sunni situation. However, it is the political side that is of more importance than the religious angle.

It is necessary therefore, to repeat what I have stated from the first time I posted anything on this particular conflict. Look behind the curtain and do not confuse Assad for being a good guy because Assad is an ally of Khamenei and Iran. This is why Syria is important to Israel, and it is why Israel is prepared to go into Syria and bomb certain targets, including chemical weapons plants if they can find their locations.

I have written about Russia and its requirements for a sphere of influence. I have stated the same about China. Both Russia and China blocked all UN attempts to settle the civil war in Syria. As a result of their actions the conflict has been allowed to escalate and this has led to Al-Qaeda linked jihadis crossing the border into Syria via Iraq.  The Al Qaeda elements are supporting their Sunni brethren and yes I can understand that they would want to do that… it does not mean I support Al Qaeda in making that statement!!

The action taken by Israel has been to target an arms shipment that was sent by Iran and was on its way to Hezbollah in Lebanon. On top of that Israel targeted an installation that overlooks Damascus. Assad had been using that installation to bomb his enemy in the villages surrounding Damascus.  There are two issues that arise because of this action that are intertwined in a weird way:

1. Assad has had help from the Iranian Republican Guard as well as Hezbollah as it has attempted to crush his opposition. Thousands of villagers not involved in the conflict have perished at the hands of Assad, and others have perished at the hands of the Al Qaeda backed rebels.

2. The installation that was bombed was said to be housing the Iranian Republican Guard and Hezbollah from Lebanon.

3. Syria is the satellite of Iran, and has been used as a conduit for missiles and other weapons to move between Iran and Lebanon, as Lebanon prepares once again to fire missiles and rockets into Israel.

The Israelis keep an eye on their enemies and I have no doubt that the action over the past week was meant to stop those weapons ending up in the hands of Hezbollah. At the same time they do not want Al Qaeda to get hold of any of the same weapons. It meant that they had to weigh the situation carefully before determining the level of the current threat against their existence. Then they took action.

As a result of this action it seems that the opposition to Assad, that is those who are from “Free Syria” are very happy with the end result of the action. Israel has in effect taken action that helps Israel to survive yet at the same time it is action that weakens Assad as he continues to strike against his own people.

I add here that I am totally against the use of chemical weapons such as those used against Syrians by Assad. I am also appalled over what took place in those coastal villages where hundreds have been killed by the Alawites. Despite what Assad claims, the people who were killed were not members of Al Qaeda. Yes, they are Sunni, but that is not necessarily the same thing as belonging to Al Qaeda. Those villagers were civilians and once again it seems that women and children were the majority of the victims (however, I add here that I need other proof as to the veracity of this particular statement).

UPDATE:  It has now been revealed that it was the “rebels” who used “chemical weapons”.  The people who were taken across the border into Turkey were affected by something. The Assad regime does in fact have a facility where chemical weapons have been stored. It has been open to speculation that Israel did in fact hit that facility during one of the recent raids across the border. (If they did hit the facility and wipe out those weapons, then it is well done).  However, the possession of those weapons does not mean that they were used (like Gadhafi used them in Misrata).

One comment that caught my attention on the subject was that we do not know exactly what was used or what happened. MyPetJawa has a report that contains some specific information that caught my interest about what might have been used to cause mild symptoms. What can burn the flesh? What can have a nasty effect but not in fact be sarin gas? It is legal and it is used in swimming pools. The answer is chlorine.

Could it be that these “rebels” are trying to get intervention through this kind of effort? Could it be that they remember the “red line” speech and they were hoping that the use of “chemical weapons” would in fact get the response that they wanted – that is intervention by the USA against Assad?

I retain my POV that we should not get involved in this Sunni vs Shia conflict or civil war. Let them fight it out in their own country and let us not be dragged into their conflict that has lasted for 100s of years.

Assad declares war on his own people


I am not sure what to make of this Reuters report. It appears that Assad has declared war against his own people. In the context of a tribal war, one can say that the Alawite tribe has declared war against the other tribes in Syria. This is a very serious situation and I remain firmly on the side of the Opposition forces in this matter.

Over the past 16 months I have monitored the situation in Syria from time to time. The number of deaths at the hands of Assad and the Alawite tribe has been mounting during that period of time. I have no doubt that Assad has been lying on many occasions about certain massacres, especially when his army were shelling Syrian villagers without good cause, whilst he was blaming an imaginary Al Qaeda enemy for the situation. I have never felt that Al Qaeda was behind the situation in Syria, but I can see that it is probably that Al Qaeda could get involved.

During the civil war in Libya I took the side of the Opposition, and even if there were some who had links with Al Qaeda, I accepted the story of the people behind the NTC that they were trying to keep Al Qaeda out of the equation by insisting upon no foreign boots on the ground. From what I could see this strategy worked, but the conflict took longer to resolve than was expected. I continue to see no genuine evidence of Al Qaeda having involvement in Libya, but I am not sure about Syria because there were some bombings that were blamed on Al Qaeda.

On the other hand, what I am watching closely is whether or not there have been further defections from the Syrian army. Whilst I cannot supply the link to the story that I saw the other day, I note that there has been a defection by a high ranking army officer. This could be significant for the simple reason that when the defections really start then the writing is on the wall for the Assad regime. It could be that Assad is making these noises because he fears that he is about to lose his group over the country.

What does all of this mean on the world scene? Personally, I sincerely hope that something can be done to defuse the potential situation that could develop into another world war. What I see is that Syria has powerful forces on its side: Iran, Lebanon, Russia and China. The Russians have been attempting to ship arms into Syria to provide arms to Assad, but so far their endeavours have failed (at least that is what the last report I read more or less implied). Russia remains a powerful ally within the UN, making it difficult for other States to do anything within the UN to defuse the situation. China has once again joined with Russia in preventing any UN action. The USA at this point in time is very likely not keen to have any involvement in Syria. The upcoming Presidential election is one reason why the USA might be keen to avoid any involvement in this conflict.

On the subject of the USA and possible involvement in Syria, it must be mentioned that the President should seek ratification from Congress before making any further commitments in the region. There was a lot of anger over the limited involvement in Libya (no USA troops were on the ground in Libya and there really was only very limited involvement but the real issue of resentment stemmed from the way in which POTUS did not take the matter to Congress before agreeing to any action.). Some Americans remain under the impression that Gadhafi had somehow reformed himself, but that was in fact not true. Whilst everyone was sleeping Gadhafi had been busy arming his “friends” in Africa, including those in Mali who have been busy attempting a coup!!

The side issue here is the position of Turkey, and the escalation of possible conflict. The shooting down of a Turkish airforce plane is a very serious matter. Apparently the Syrians shot at a second aircraft. This is tantamount to the declaration of war. Turkey has taken on the responsibility of caring for Syrian refugees, including members of the Syrian military who have deserted their posts. Syria has been shelling villages on the border with Turkey, meaning that the conflict between the two nations could escalate at any given time. I have no hesitation in backing Erdogan if anything new was to happen and Turkey declared war against the Assad regime. Erdogan had tried to end the conflict within the borders of Syria, but Assad has remained stubborn.

My belief is that the conflict is really about the fact that the minority Alawite tribe have maintained their dominance over the majority of Syrians. The Alawites have been backed by the Druse, including Druse Christians. Since this is an internal tribal conflict, it remains a situation where other nations need to remain on the sidelines but the question remains: How long must we remain on the sidelines whilst Assad continues to murder his own people?

Syria vs. Turkey. The Syrian situation hots up


The conflict in Syria is nothing like either Libya or that of Egypt and Tunisia. This is because it is more of a tribal conflict than any of these other situations. It is also because there are other big players behind the scenes. Tunisia was the springboard, and the people wanted to get rid of a President who had been there for a very long time, to the point that he was involved in big time corruption. The same is true for both Egypt and Libya, yet the Libyan situation bore little resemblance to either of those two nations for other reasons. In Syria, it is the Alawite tribe, which is a minority Shiite tribe that has had power for close to 40 years. On the opposite side there appears to be Sunni  (the Al Qaeda connection?) but in reality it is a tribe vs. tribe conflict.  Yes, there are Christians in Syria, but these Christians have been backing Assad for their own personal reasons.

In working through the actual history of the conflict (which I have not completed at this point in time), one has to be careful about not being blind-sided bigger Sunni vs Shiite type conflict. It is important to go back and look at how the protests began, who was behind the protestors and what they expected to gain by ousting Assad. At the moment, even that is moot because Assad has been able to hang onto power. This is because of his connections to Iran.

The Syrian conflict is a battle by proxy and Assad has powerful allies behind the scenes. In fact Assad brought in the Iranian guards in an effort to clean out the protesters. It is important to look at these allies and see what influence they have been exerting – it is an influence that has prevented the UN from taking much stronger action. Those other allies include both Russia and China.

Once again we have what I call the sphere of influence. Russia, Iran and China are all seeking influence in Syria. When Gadhafi was defeated the Russians and the Chinese lost an important ally and sphere of influence in North Africa and the Middle East. They were not likely to allow any further deterioration of their influence in that region. It is for this reason that both Russia and China have vetoed any positive UN action in Syria. They have too much to loose if Assad is defeated. The other player is Iran and again Syria has a pivotal role because Syria has been like a go-between with regard to Lebanon. Iran has been sponsoring the Hezbollah via the Syrian regime. Hezbollah is allied to the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Everything fits together when we look at the sphere of influence.

When the conflict broke out in Libya, Gadhafi’s biggest mistake was the decision to use his own forces against the people of Benghazi and other towns. He actually used his air force to bomb those towns. It is for this reason that other countries via the UN and NATO were prepared to help the people who were in danger because of Gadhafi’s intention to punish them in such a fashion. Gadhafi also made the mistake of claiming that those protesting were Al Qaeda. A very small portion had some links to Al Qaeda, but the way in which the conflict snowballed, those people remained a minority. The Berbers from the mountains who were the first to penetrate Tripoli were not members of Al Qaeda. They were in fact a minority people who had been squashed over the years by Gadhafi, and they, like the people from Benghazi and elsewhere wanted their freedoms above anything else. It seems to me that Assad did not learn from Gadhafi’s fatal mistakes.

During the early part of the conflict in Syria there were army defections, and on top of that there were thousands of people who crossed the border into Turkey. For a very long time the Turks have been keeping an eye on the situation. They have provided refugee camps for the people who fled the Syrian border region. It should be pointed out that those army deserters did so because they were being ordered to fire upon unarmed civilians (a lot like what happened in Libya). Assad kept on claiming that the soldiers who were killed were killed by Al Qaeda but that is not the truth. Many of them were shot in the back because they refused to fire upon their own people…. and then Assad blamed an imaginary opposition. It must be pointed out, however, that there continues to be the danger and potential that Al Qaeda will get involved in Syria.

The latest news from the region is not so good, and it is another step which could lead to a war in the region. Today, the Syrians shot down a Turkish fighter aircraft. This incident has the potential of seeing an escalation that goes beyond the borders of Syria. Since Turkey is a NATO country, there is the potential that Turkey will call upon NATO to come to their aid.

It really is the wrong time to have someone who is really stupid in the White House.

Death of two journalists in Syria – and why it is significant


Marie Colvin, 55 year old British journalist and Remi Ochlik 28 year old French photographer have been killed in the city of Homs after they were deliberately targeted by the regime. (These deaths confirm my belief that the Balibo 5 as they are called, Australian journalists murdered by Indonesian army in East Timor in the 1970s was also deliberate, they were not caught in the cross-fire as claimed). You can read about what happened at this link.

What I want to concentrate on is why the death of these two journalists is significant. Marie Colvin seems to have been a woman who cared about what was taking place, and Remi Ochlik seems to be one who was prepared to take the risks by getting a record in photographs of the truth regarding the Assad regime actions against their own people. Marie had been broadcasting her story and the last one that she broadcast was apparently quite horrific.

When the action in Syria began the Assad regime immediately expelled all foreign journalists, including the Lebanese. He did not want the world knowing the truth about his retaliation, which meant that we have been relying upon two versions of the truth. Assad claims one thing, but the truth is something else again. The journalists who did sneak into Syria were warned that if they were found that they would be targetted.  A week ago they were given a warning that they had been found. The death of these journalists cannot be wiped away as being caught in the cross-fire because the Lebanese security services had in fact picked up conversation that pointed to the fact that this was a deliberate action.

Whilst I have not come out in support of the Syrian opposition, I do respect the fact that they have serious issues with the Assad regime, and that what they have been saying is more likely the truth than what is coming out of the Assad regime. The regime is shelling buildings without regard for civilians. They are honing in on any telecommunication signals and then blasting that building. Men, women and children are dying as a result of that shelling.

Just like the situation in Libya, I cannot accept that anyone sees such actions as being acceptable. It is not in the least bit acceptable to treat one’s own people in this fashion. In the case of Libya it was the deliberate shelling of the people that brought me to the side of the NTC. So for this reason, I will now take the side of the Syrian Opposition, even if they are far worse than Assad on the surface – except that we really do not know if that will be the case.

The deaths of Marie Colvin and Rei Ochlik for me are a turning point in that I am no longer neutral and will speak out against Assad until he is removed from power.

Syria – proceed with caution


The Arab Spring is nothing more than an Arab nightmare. The latest outrage in Egypt is the break-in of the Israeli Embassy, which was stormed by around 30 activists. A special note here: there were about 300 who split off from the main group of protesters and who went to the Israeli embassy. They pounded at the brick fences that protected the embassy and they were successful in breaching the wall, however, only about 30 individuals entered the embassy. The signs for Egypt in my opinion remain bad. If this is an indication of the feelings of the general population, then Israel will become even more isolated.

The civil war in Libya is not over, but it continues with three towns holding out. According to the news reports the people of Bani Walid want an end to any confrontation, however Gadhafi and his sons left behind a small group of henchmen, who have been up on the roofs acting as snipers. The first action has come from pro-opposition forces within the town. No one has entered into Bani Walid. The situation at Sirte is far more extreme, and I have to add here that prayers are needed for the 300 who have been taken as hostage. The news item said that they were being herded into a village just outside of Sirte where they are being used as human shields. My prayer is that God will protect these Libyan citizens from evil.  At the same time several Loyalist generals have escaped into Niger. You know those missing weapons? I bet that those weapons accompanied those generals on the trip into Niger. On the other hand, it could be that the numbers are being exaggerated, or it could be that those weapons are now in the process of being used outside of Sirte, Bani Walid and Sabha. The best result possible will be the capture of Daffy Duck.

However, it is time to turn attention once more to the situation in Syria. For myself I cannot back Assad because of the crackdown against the people who have been for the most part unarmed individuals. Whilst it was possible to see differences between the protests in Egypt and the ones in Libya that led to the civil war, I consider the Syrian situation to be far from straight forward. I think what is turning me off the Syrian situation is the picutre of the women in their niquabs protesting. Now, it could be that I am ignorant with regard to the women’s situation in Syria – are they required by law to wear either the burqa or niquab, or is this a purely voluntary thing? When I see women in those things I shudder, because it implies that these are indeed extremists. (for the most part the women in Syria wore at most the abeya with a few opting for a burqa and yes Libya has Sharia law).

It seems to me that the situation in Syria is quite different from that in Libya, even though in both cases the regime dictator is acting in a very brutal manner, and both have offered the same excuses. Rather than concentrating on the protesters (I do not know enough about them), I want to concentrate upon the excuses given by Assad, and to point to the inconsistencies that are all too obvious.

A few months ago I became aware that there were members of the military in Syria who had defected rather than participate in the brutality being perpetrated by the regime. In one town, where Assad claimed that the people had been the killers, there was ample evidence to show that the military who had died were shot from behind as though they had been executed. The scene as described pointed to military being shot because they would not follow orders. However, Assad had been claiming that the “Al Qaeda” or “terrorists” had killed those people.

For years Gadhafi had been pulling the Al Qaeda stunt against those people opposed to him and Assad is using the same excuse to try and get away with his brutality.  The pair of them have been crying wolf for several years, using the West’s “crusade” against Al Qaeda as their excuse to stamp on the dissidents.  This is so, even though the dissidents in Syria are by no means innocent of wrong doing, and their allegiances are ill-defined. The Syrians have not come out as stongly pro-West like the dissident Libyan.

Another factor in Syria is the role of Iran, and especially the Iranian relationship with Assad. Iran has been using Syria as a satellite in its own fight against Israel. Iran has been financing Hamas and Hezbollah, and Iran has been using Syria as a satellite state, hence Iran has been able to conduct hostilities against the USA, as well as against Israel via Syria. Iran has also been active in Lebanon via Syria. On top of that there is evidence that Iranian revolutionary guards have been active in the brutal crackdowns upon the Syrian people.

It should be pointed out that Iran was supplying weapons to Gadhafi but they also supplied food and medicine to the NTC in Benghazi. There really is a common thread.

The Syrian has a potential to become very explosive, especially when a lot of the action has occurred on the border with Turkey. At one point it really looked like there could be an international incident. The Turks are simply trying to protect the people who have not done anything wrong.

It is difficult to respond to the Syrian problem because of the unknown factors, yet, one must be consistent and condemn the actions of Assad in the brutal manner he has been cracking down on the minority dissidents.

For the record, the Assad regime has connections with the Ba’ath party. He has had ties to Saddam Hussein. It is more than likely that those WMDs that actually existed in Iraq were moved across the border and into Syria (no questions asked).