February 12, 2012

Situation in Syria continues to deteriorate - ADDENDUM TWO

Military funeral for fallen Syrian soldiers
(This adds additional information to my earlier articles, Situation in Syria continues to deteriorate and Situation in Syria continues to deteriorate - ADDENDUM.)

The news reports of the assassination of a Syrian military doctor, an army brigadier, on Saturday in the Rukn al-Din section of Damascus underscores the deteriorating situation in the country. Up until the last few weeks, most of the violence has occurred outside the capital. Saturday's killing of an army officer in Damascus threatens to bring the violence to the streets of the capital.

The daylight attack on a member of the Syrian armed forces in an upscale section of Damascus has shaken local residents. Even those who have stood steadfastly behind President Bashar al-Asad and his Ba'th Party regime are now wondering if it is time to re-assess their positions.

The news of the attack on the army doctor comes at the same time that Syrian military forces unleashed a new wave of armor and artillery assaults on the city of Homs, killing scores in the city. The Asad regime has displayed no remorse in its brutal suppression of demonstrators and protesters throughout the country. That is understandable, since Damascus has received political cover and tacit support from its two allies on the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China - both permanent members with veto power. Both have already used that veto power to stop a resolution condemning the Syrian government's actions against its own people.

The Russians have gone a step farther and contracted to provide 36 Yak-130 jet trainer/light attack aircraft to Syria. Arming a country that is using its military might against its own population - yes, that's the right move for one of our so-called "partners for peace" (a NATO program to cooperate with Russia)....

It is expected that the Arab League will ask the UN Security Council to create a peacekeeping force for operations in Syria. This is dead on arrival for three reasons. First, the Russians and Chinese will veto it; second, the United Nations has an aversion to sending peacekeeping forces into an area until there is some peace to keep; and third and most importantly, the Syrians will not accept it. It is inconceivable that the United Nations will authorize what would in reality be an invasion of Syria.

There is at least one precedent, however, for Arab League peacekeeping operations. In 1976, during the civil war in Lebanon, the Arab League created what was called the Arab Deterrent Force (قوات الردع العربية - quwat al-rada' al-'arabiyah) to try to stop the violence in that country. Although the 30,000-man force was nominally composed of troops from six Arab countries, ironically, it was the Syrians who commanded and dominated the force. I was in Lebanon when this happened - it was merely the vehicle for a Syrian intervention that lasted almost 30 years.

In a bit if good news, the Sudanese general in charge of the defunct Arab League observor mission to Syria resigned today - he had a terrible human rights record, and his observor group failed to condemn the Syrian government. Corruption in the Middle East? Say it isn't so. Additionally, the Arab League will possibly move to expel Syrian ambassadors from the capitals of member states.

Here's a bizarre twist, but symptomatic of things Middle Eastern. The leader of al-Qa'idah, Ayman al-Zawahiri endorsed the efforts of the Syrian National Council to remove the regime of Bashar al-Asad. While this should really not come as a surprise - after all, the Syrian Ba'th party is secular and anti-Islamist, it is an interesting juxtaposition of interests that places our policy in line with that of al-Qa'idah. Of course, the desired end-game would be much different. The United States would prefer to see a democracy emerge in Syria, while al-Zawahiri would like to see the creation of an Islamic republic.

The al-Qa'idah connection may go further than just political support. It is beginning to appear that the group known as al-Qa'idah in Iraq (AQI) may be directly involved in some of the recent bombings in Aleppo and earlier in Damascus. These attacks were aimed at government intelligence and security facilities, and are well within the capabilities of AQI.

The questions that remain: How long can the Syrian government resist the will of the international community and continue to oppress its own citizens? How far are Russia and China willing to go to prop up Bashar al-Asad? Is there a point when the Syrian army still loyal to the Asad regime will no longer kill their fellow Syrians and instead turn on the government? Is the West willing to intervene militarily in Syria?

In my usual insightful way, I have adroitly discovered the questions. Unfortunately, I do not have the answers.

I watch these events with great sadness - I lived in Damascus for several years when I was assigned as the air attache to the American embassy there. I have friends on both sides of the struggle, and I wish them all well.