Thursday, May 30, 2013

The limited effect of a no-fly zone in Syria

Why Pentagon has doubts about no-fly zone over Syria.

In Libya having a "no fly zone" was not enough to let the rebels win. It took active and very destructive involvement of NATO in bombing government positions. As for Syria: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey has noted that only 10 percent of casualties sustained by Syrian opposition forces are being imposed by air power. The other 90 percent come from direct fire or artillery.

U.N. investigators say most Syria rebels not seeking democracy

U.N. investigators say most Syria rebels not seeking democracy:

So much for supporting democracy...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Israel's role in the Syria war

This post contains info about Israel's role in the Syrian war. Initially this part of the foreign involvement post where I keep track of developments in foreign involvement in the Syrian uprising. But as Israel is getting more involved by the day I believe it deserves a separate page.

18 September 2014: Syrian Rebel Commander says he Collaborated with Israel: "Times Of Israel" -- A Free Syrian Army commander, arrested last month by the Islamist militia Al-Nusra Front, told his captors he collaborated with Israel in return for medical and military support, in a video released this week.
>In a video uploaded to YouTube Monday by the
Executive Sharia Council in the eastern Daraa Region, an Islamic court established by Al-Nusra in southern Syria, Sharif As-Safouri, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Al-Haramein Battalion, admitted to having entered Israel five times to meet with Israeli officers who later provided him with Soviet anti-tank weapons and light arms. Safouri was abducted by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in the Quneitra area, near the Israeli border, on July 22.

24 Februari 2014 :Military option against Syria is alive: According to reports, Israel has also been involved, and even provided active assistance in at least one attack by rebel troops four months ago, when its communications and intelligence base on Mount Hermon jammed the Syrian army’s communications system and the information relayed between its fighting forces and their headquarters.

18 September 2013: Israeli general says Assad could survive in Syria for years: Interviewed by the Jerusalem Post, ambassador Oren described Assad's defeat as welcome even if it were at the hands of al Qaeda-linked rebels more hostile to the Jewish state.

7 September 2013: Getting sucked in?: At the same time, Israel's army is letting people know more about the help it is giving Syria's rebels. An Israeli military field hospital on opposition-held territory on the Golan Heights frontier has treated hundreds of rebels, says Yediot Ahronot, Israel's biggest-selling paper, and some civilians for whom the Free Syria Army has co-ordinated passage. The army has also moved some 150 war-wounded for treatment in Israel proper.
A couple of dozen Israeli aid workers in Syria have also helped drum up funds and support for the rebels back home. A former flight-attendant has led teams of up to eight Israelis into Syria. She says that she has delivered satellite phones, chemical suits and 300,000 dry meals since arriving in Deraa, the southern city where the uprising began in March 2011, and has succeeded in airlifting some Syrian injured to Tel Aviv. Nir Boms, an academic who used to work at Israel's embassy in Washington, says that he has helped deliver hundreds of tonnes of aid to Syrian refugees. "Syrians had no idea who Israelis were for 65 years," says Moti Kahana, a computer entrepreneur who has spent time with the rebels at their office in Washington as well as in Syria. "We've built a bridge." Amongst his successes, he counts arranging the visit to Syria last May of Senator John McCain, who has argued vigorously in favour of an American strike against the Assad regime. "In 1943 the world could have bombed Auschwitz," says Mr Kahana. "It's my duty as an Israeli and as a Jew to ensure that it never happens again."

6 September 2013: Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria: Israel favor for the being a policy that lets neither side win. A prolonged conflict is perceived as hurting Iran, which finances Mr. Assad’s war effort. Whether Mr. Obama follows through on his promise to retaliate for the use of chemical weapons is a test of his commitment, ultimately, to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb — as long as the retaliation does not become a full-scale intervention in Syria. “If it’s Iran-first policy, then any diversion to Syria is not fruitful,” said Aluf Benn, editor of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “From the Israeli point of view, the worst scenario is mission-creep in Syria and America gets entangled in a third war in the Middle East, which paralyzes its ability to strike Iran and limits Israel’s ability to strike Iran as well.”

2 September 2013: Obama’s Syria Decision Greeted Silently by Israel: while Israel's preference for attack is clear for anyone involved it goes to great lengths to stay quiet in public.

6 August 2013: Across Forbidden Border, Doctors in Israel Quietly Tend to Syria’s Wounded

30 July 2013: Israel, allies trying to hold onto Aleppo by arming militants: Redwan Rizk: ...a report in Israeli media that says Israel has made a 50 million dollar arms deal to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons and equipment for the insurgency in Syria.

28 July 2013: Report: Israel Bombs Another Syrian Weapons Convoy

15 July 2013: Israel tones down opposition to Western arming of Syrian rebels

29 May 2013: Russia to deliver arms to Syria as fears rise of proxy war: Russia said on Tuesday that it would supply one of its most advanced anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian government hours after the EU ended its arms embargo on the country's rebels, raising the prospect of a rapidly escalating proxy war in the region if peace talks fail in Geneva next month. Israel quickly issued a thinly veiled warning that it would bomb the Russian S-300s if they were deployed in Syria as such a move would bring the advanced guided missiles within range of civilian and military planes in Israeli air space.

24 May 2013: Israel Finding Itself Drawn Into Syria’s Turmoil: Several Israelis who follow Syria closely said Israeli security forces had already been quietly working with villagers who support neither the government nor the rebels, supplying moderate humanitarian aid and maintaining intense intelligence activity. But they said any notion of arming such villagers was far off if not far-fetched, noting that the main Druse leadership in Syria has so far stayed steadfastly out of the conflict.

15 May 2013: Israel ‘will bring down Assad’ if he retaliates for future airstrikes: Israeli source tells NY Times further raids contemplated on weapons shipments. Israel has warned Damascus that if President Assad chooses to hit back at Israel for any further Israeli military strikes, Israel will bring down his regime.

5 May 2013: Syria Blames Israel for Fiery Attack in Damascus
4 May 2013: Israel Targeted Iranian Missiles in Syria Attack

22 March 2013: CIA Expands Role in Syria Fight: The Central Intelligence Agency is expanding its role in the campaign against the Syrian regime by feeding intelligence to select rebel fighters to use against government forces, current and former U.S. officials said. [..] The U.S. also relies on Israeli and Jordanian spy agencies, which have extensive spy networks inside Syria, U.S. and European officials said.

27 February 2013: Six Syrian rebels hospitalized in Israel returned to Syria: The men were wounded Feb. 16 near Israel's security fence with Syria in the Golan Heights during clashes between the Syrian army and rebel forces in Syria's 2-year-old civil war. Israeli soldiers brought the Syrians to Ziv Hospital in Safed. One of the Syrians was severely wounded and the rest were injured from bullets and shrapnel, with some requiring surgery.
Israel may be operating in Syria goes further and claims that Israeli troops are operating inside Syria to help. Later on Israel gave the rebels also entropine and other antidotes against chemical warfare.
Debka (Israeli- and Hizballah-controlled enclaves inside Syria) claims that Israel has set up a large field hospital near the Tel Hazakah observation and military post on Golan which overlooks southern Syria and northern Jordan. There, incoming Syrian war wounded are vetted and examined by Israeli army medics who decide whether to patch them up and send them back, or judge them badly hurt enough for hospital care. The seriously hurt are moved to one of the the nearest Israeli hospitals in Safed or Haifa.

12 december 2012: For those not believing that Israel considers Assad's fall in its interest: Israeli Envoy Sees Radicals Risk Preferable to Assad: (Bloomberg) — Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be a boon to Israel and the Mideast, even if radical Islamists try to fill the vacuum left by his departure. “There’s the possibility that you’ll have Sunni extremist elements who will try to come to the fore,” Oren said yesterday in Washington. “Our opinion is that any situation would be better than the current situation” in which the Syrian regime has a strategic alliance with Iran and the Lebanese Shiite Muslim terrorist group Hezbollah, he said. In this context this article ( is also interesting. It claims that this is a battle against the PFLP, a radical Palestinian faction.

This article (Israeli commandos act in Syria, Jihadists on Jordan border) from a Jordanian (Dubai affiliated) site claims that Syria has arrested 49 Turkish officers who were taking part in the rebellion and that some of them had admitted being trained by Israeli. It also claims that there are 11,000 foreign fighters (mostly Libyans) in the Jordan border zone and that there is some Israeli involvement there too.

Syria's nonviolent opposition

It still exists: a Syrian nonviolent opposition.

In July 2012 they emitted the Sant’Egidio call for peace.

However, not all who advertise as nonviolent are so. Many "non-violent" demonstrations inside Syria are in reality declarations of support for the armed uprising by those who for some reason don't want to go fighting themselves.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Give Syria Peace Talks a Chance

In their article Give Peace Talks a Chance Michael Quinn and Madhav Joshi discuss how peace negotiations in Syria could work. Although they start from a different perspective they come to similar conclusion as I did in previous articles.

They object against the announced global conference: Most peace processes begin with secret or else private pre-negotiations. In private talks, there is no audience, and the cost of joining or leaving is low. The primary function of these discussions is to overcome the psychological barriers to formal negotiations by addressing the warring parties’ major fears about the process. Each side expresses the problems as they see them. These perceptions are repeatedly reframed until a shared understanding of the issues that need to be addressed is developed.

They also warn against big demands and goals at this stage: Talks that bite off too much too early are likely to fail. In Nepal’s first round of formal peace talks in 2001, for example, the Maoists put forward a list of roughly 40 demands, which included dissolving the government and the constitution and holding elections for a constituent assembly. Government mediators balked. The talks failed, and the civil war entered its most violent period. Two years later, in 2003, the Maoists called a cease-fire and the government reciprocated. This time, the initial gambit was only three security-related requests that did not include dissolving the government. The government accepted and formal negotiations began. By 2006, the two sides were signing a comprehensive agreement that ended the war. They even agreed to form a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, which, in turn, abolished the monarchy.

They also argue against having a transitional government now: Transitional power-sharing arrangements are quite common in peace agreements. (Over half of the accords in the Peace Accords Matrix, a database of comprehensive peace agreements hosted by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, establish a transitional power-sharing arrangement). Such provisions, however, typically entered into agreements later in the process, once the parties had decided what they were transitioning to.

They don't consider the fragmented nature of the opposition a major problem: But many successful negotiations do start out as bilateral talks between the government and one or more groups. They tend to expand to include more opposition groups over time because, as talks near their end, no one wants to be left out of the process that will shape new political institutions or even form a new government. If a group does not put down its guns, it runs the risk of being denied recognition as a legal party or, even worse, becoming the target of an increasingly focused military campaign under a unified government. In other words, starting negotiations with one or more groups tend to lead to negotiations with the other groups.

Syria does not need a transitional government

Last June the big powers gathered in Geneva to talk about a strategy for solving the Syrian conflict. They nearly agreed on a model where after short negotiations a transitional government is installed that should organize elections. It will now guide the newly planned negotiations.

The significance of this strategy is that it excludes the option of first negotiating and agreeing on how the country should look in the future and only then to have a formal transfer of power. As for example South Africa and El Salvador successfully resolved their armed conflicts this way adopting the transitional government model seriously handicaps the UN negotiators in their work.

the transitional government model
A transitional government is the usual option in a power vacuum when the incumbent government has quit. It is a rather common model in democracies where no one will put the legality of decisions by previous governments in question.

But as the problems of Northern Africa show, it is a rather problematic model as a replacement for dictatorships. While the “negotiations-first” model creates a transitional period where both parties are in power and they together introduce agreed-on reforms that were wished by the opposition and modeled so that the government can live with, the “transitional government” model creates a power vacuum. And where in democracies the bureaucracy is used to keep things going and there is a kind of consensus between the parties on what a transitional government is supposed to do this lacks in dictatorships.

So all parties keep pushing for their own demands and criticize the transitional government for anything that they don’t like. As a consequence such a government has very little legitimacy and struggles even to maintain order. This lack of control tends to persist after the transitional government has been replaced by an elected one. It allows violent groups (militia leaders in Libya, Salafist groups in all three countries) to become active and influence the situation. As a consequence all three countries are now adrift and might well end up again as dictatorships again. In the past similar things have happened in Iran (1979) and Russia (1917). Another effect of this power struggle is that there is little opportunity to introduce the kind of reforms that were the original goal of the revolution.

Every country is based on a quiet consensus that is laid down in the constitution. A revolution destroys this consensus but offers nothing instead. It is an illusion that this can be resolved by elections. Voters focus on economic issues and their own interests and most will ignore what their candidate thinks about issues like minority rights. Besides that , first elections after a dictatorship tend to be not very representative of how the country thinks. A third problem is that there often is no two-thirds majority for any specific position. Finally there is the problem that a constitution contains abstract principles of which no one can be certain how they will work out. For those reasons it can be better to start from an old constitution and improve it article by article.

the negotiations-first model
In the negotiations-first model the old government negotiates with the insurgents about the needed reforms and introduces those. So the power transfer is delayed but the reforms are speeded up. In South Africa and El Salvador the reforms were worked out in separate commissions while the old government stayed in power. Poland achieved a similar effect in 1989 by allowing elections for a minority of the parliament seats. Spain had a socialist prime minister while parliament and army were still under fascist control. Major reforms (abolishment of apartheid in South Africa, land reform in El Salvador and economic reforms in Poland) were achieved this way.

Being involved with the reform commits the old government and the civil servants to the reforms, makes it more likely that they will be done well and decreases the chance that they will be turned back later on. It also increases the likelihood that the civil servants will not obstruct a power transfer. As such it decreases the need for a purge of the civil servants that - as we have seen with the de-Baathification in Iraq – can seriously harm a country. In Syria – where even postmen have been killed for being government employees – this is a real risk. The cooperative introduction of reforms also shows that both parties can live and work together – a belief that tends to become questioned in a civil war.

In the negotiations-first model the government may include members of the opposition. It may even hand over the complete government – as we saw in Spain and Poland. But it will still keep the final power until a complete agreement is reached.

points for negotiation
Just as elsewhere in the Arab world the complaints that resulted in the uprising focused on economic policy and to a lesser extent on lack of freedom and police brutality. For some of these issues it shouldn’t be hard to find a solution in negotiations. For example import monopolies can be abolished and police education improved.

But the biggest issue in Syria is sectarian relations. Under Ottoman rule the Alawites had a kind of pariah status as some saw them as not Islamic. Such views are still rather popular: in the 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood waged a murder campaign against Alawite government officials and the present uprising thanks much of its popularity to television preachers like Arour who focused on the Alawite background of Assad and his regime and painted the uprising as a fight of Sunni’s against Alawite oppression. Jabhat Al-Nusra sometimes openly discriminates against and harasses Alawites. It is this tension between the Assad government on one side and the Muslim Brotherhood and extremists on the other side that poisons Syria. And to get real peace it needs to be resolved in a way with which most Syrians can live.

Negotiating with your adversaries is at the core of democracy. So – rather than being a concession to a dictatorship – negotiating with Assad is a good preparation for real democracy. It is the difference between the Magna Carta and the Russian revolution.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Bigger Story Behind the AP Spying Scandal

This article was originally published on and is copyrighted by Global Research by author Washington's Blog on May 21, 2013.

Attack on the Press

You know that the Department of Justice tapped scores of phone lines at the Associated Press.

You might have heard that the Attorney General of the United States isn’t sure how often reporters’ records are seized.

You might have learned that the Department of Justice is prosecuting a whistleblower regarding North Korea … as well as the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News who reported on what the whistleblower told him. As the Washington Post notes:

[Department of Justice investigators] used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal e-mails.

You might have read that the Department of Justice Inspector General published a new report today saying that former U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke leaked a document intended to smear Operation Fast and Furious scandal whistleblower John Dodson, concluding:

We believe this misconduct to be particularly egregious because of Burke’s apparent effort to undermine the credibility of Dodson’s significant public disclosures about the failures in Operation Fast and Furious. We further believe that the seriousness of Burke’s actions are aggravated by the fact that they were taken within days after he told Deputy Attorney General Cole that he took responsibility for his office’s earlier unauthorized disclosure of a document to The New York Times, and after Cole put him on notice that such disclosures should not occur. Burke also knew at the time of his disclosure of the Dodson memorandum that he was under investigation by OPR for his conduct in connection with the earlier disclosure to The New York Times. As a high-level Department official, Burke knew his obligations to abide by Department policies and his duty to follow the instructions of the Deputy Attorney General, who was Burke’s immediate supervisor.

But there have been many similar scandals over the last couple of years. For example:

  • The Bush White House worked hard to smear CIA officers, bloggers and anyone else who criticized the Iraq war

After Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, journalist Naomi Wolf, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and others sued the government to enjoin the NDAA’s allowance of the indefinite detention of Americans – the judge asked the government attorneys 5 times whether journalists like Hedges could be indefinitely detained simply for interviewing and then writing about bad guys. The government refused to promise that journalists like Hedges won’t be thrown in a dungeon for the rest of their lives without any right to talk to a judge

In an effort to protect Bank of America from the threatened Wikileaks expose of the bank’s wrongdoing, the Department of Justice told Bank of America to a hire a specific hardball-playing law firm to assemble a team to take down WikiLeaks (and see this).

Wikileaks’ head Julian Assange could face the death penalty for his heinous crime of leaking whistleblower information which make those in power uncomfortable … i.e. being a reporter.

But – whatever you think of Wikileaks – that was the canary in the coal mine in terms of going after reporters. Specifically, former attorney general Mukasey said the U.S. should prosecute Assange because it’s “easier” than prosecuting the New York Times.

Subsequently, Congress considered a bill which would make even mainstream reporters liable for publishing leaked information.

Journalist and former constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald notes today:

The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty [says that "The alternative to 'conspiring' with leakers to get information: Just writing what the government tells you."]

That, of course, is precisely the point of the unprecedented Obama war on whistleblowers and press freedoms: to ensure that the only information the public can get is information that the Obama administration wants it to have. That’s why Obama’s one-side games with secrecy – we’ll prolifically leak when it glorifies the president and severely punish all other kinds – is designed to construct the classic propaganda model. And it’s good to see journalists finally speaking out in genuine outrage and concern about all of this.


Here’s an amazing and revealing fact: after Richard Nixon lost the right to exercise prior restraint over the New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers, he was desperate to punish and prosecute the responsible NYT reporter, Neil Sheehan. Thus, recounted the NYT’s lawyer at the time, James Goodale, Nixon concocted a theory:

“Nixon convened a grand jury to indict the New York Times and its reporter, Neil Sheehan, for conspiracy to commit espionage . . . .The government’s ‘conspiracy’ theory centered around how Sheehan got the Pentagon Papers in the first place. While Daniel Ellsberg had his own copy stored in his apartment in Cambridge, the government believed Ellsberg had given part of the papers to anti-war activists. It apparently theorized further that the activists had talked to Sheehan about publication in the Times, all of which it believed amounted to a conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act.”

As Goodale notes, this is exactly “the same charge Obama’s Justice Department is investigating Assange under today,” and it’s now exactly the same theory used to formally brand Fox’s James Rosen as a criminal in court.

Indeed, this is not a partisan issue. Bush was worse than Nixon on unlawful spying and harassment of reporters … but so is Obama.

Whistleblower Witch Hunt

But Obama has gone after whistleblowers more viciously than Bush, Nixon, or any president in history. Indeed, the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.

And the government goes out of its way to smear whistleblowers and harass honest analysts.

Even high-level government employees are in danger. For example, after the head of the NSA’s spying program – William Binney – disclosed the fact that the U.S. was spying on everyone in the U.S. and storing the data forever, and that the U.S. was quickly becoming a totalitarian state, the Feds tried to scare him into shutting up:

[Numerous] FBI officers held a gun to Binney’s head as he stepped naked from the shower. He watched with his wife and youngest son as the FBI ransacked their home. Later Binney was separated from the rest of his family, and FBI officials pressured him to implicate one of the other complainants in criminal activity. During the raid, Binney attempted to report to FBI officials the crimes he had witnessed at NSA, in particular the NSA’s violation of the constitutional rights of all Americans. However, the FBI wasn’t interested in these disclosures. Instead, FBI officials seized Binney’s private computer, which to this day has not been returned despite the fact that he has not been charged with a crime.

Other NSA whistleblowers have also been subjected to armed raids and criminal prosecution.

After high-level CIA officer John Kiriakou blew the whistle on illegal CIA torture, the government prosecuted him for espionage.

Even the head of the CIA was targeted with extra-constitutional spying and driven out of office.

The Most Gagged Person in the History of the United States

One example of the extreme gagging of whistleblowers is former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds.

The ACLU described Edmonds as:

The most gagged person in the history of the United States of America.

Edmonds has been deemed credible by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General, several senators (free subscription required), and a coalition of prominent conservative and liberal groups.

Edmonds’ allegations have been confirmed by numerous Pentagon, MI6 and FBI officials, including 18-year FBI counter-intelligence expert John Cole.

Famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says that Edmonds possesses information “far more explosive than the Pentagon Papers”.

Ellsberg also said that the government has ordered the media not to cover 9/11:

Ellsberg seemed hardly surprised that today’s American mainstream broadcast media has so far failed to take [former FBI translator and 9/11 whistleblower Sibel] Edmonds up on her offer, despite the blockbuster nature of her allegations [which Ellsberg calls "far more explosive than the Pentagon Papers"].

As Edmonds has also alluded, Ellsberg pointed to the New York Times, who “sat on the NSA spying story for over a year” when they “could have put it out before the 2004 election, which might have changed the outcome.”

“There will be phone calls going out to the media saying ‘don’t even think of touching it, you will be prosecuted for violating national security,’” he told us.

* * *

“I am confident that there is conversation inside the Government as to ‘How do we deal with Sibel?’” contends Ellsberg. “The first line of defense is to ensure that she doesn’t get into the media. I think any outlet that thought of using her materials would go to to the government and they would be told ‘don’t touch this . . . .‘”

Indeed, the mainstream British newspaper the Sunday Times started publishing a series of articles exposing the scandal which Edmonds had uncovered. But U.S. State Department pressure killed the series.

What are Edmonds’ allegations … that the media is too cowardly to report … that the most famous whistleblower in history calls “more explosive than the Pentagon Papers”?

Among other things, Edmonds says that the U.S. government worked with Bin Laden and his top lieutenant 3 months after 9/11 … as part of an ongoing operation of launching war under false pretenses.

Now that would be a big story if true, wouldn’t it?

The mainstream media is finally awakening to the fact we are flirting with tyranny … and is finally starting to push back.

The best defense is a strong offense, and it is use it or lose it time for the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The press should shake of its sleepiness and start talking to the whistleblowers (like Edmonds) it’s been ignoring for years … to find out what the government is working so hard to hide.

Interviews with Assad

On this page I will try to keep track of interviews with Assad.

7 October 2013: Interview with Bashar Assad: 'In the End, a Lie Is a Lie'

27 September 2013: President al-Assad interview with TeleSUR TV

4 September 2013: President Bashar al-Assad’s interview with Le Figaro. Here is a version on one page.

26 August 2013: Syria Feature: English Translation Of President Assad’s Interview With Izvestia

On 30 May 2013 Assad gave an interview to the Hezbollah television sender Al-Manar: President Bashar Al-Assad full interview with the Lebanese al-Manar TV

On 18 May 2013 Assad gave an interview to the Argentinian paper Clarin ("Yo no renuncio. El pueblo dirá quién se queda o quién se debe ir, no EE.UU."). A subtitled video can be found on the Guardian website (Interview: Bashar al-Assad on Syria and the international community – video. An English transcription can be found at the Worldcrunch site ("THE WEST USES LIES TO UNLEASH WARS..." THE BASHAR AL-ASSAD INTERVIEW).

On 3 March 2013 Assad gave an interview to the Sunday Times. Here is the video. The full transcript can be found here (Syria President Al-Assad’s Interview with The Sunday Times). The full version on the Sunday Times site (‘Bullying’ Britain fanning the flames, warns Assad) is only available to subscribers.

On 6 January 2013 Assad gave a speech.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pakistan's democratic defects

The NY Times had the last few days two very interesting articles about Pakistan.

One (Political Handouts Thrive in Pakistan) discusses the importance of patronage politics in Pakistan: Voters, particularly in rural areas, view their representatives in Parliament principally as big bosses who can deliver protection: influencing the police and dealing with aggressive, corrupt land officials, or working to route jobs or multimillion-dollar projects to their districts. [..] In fact, the practice is institutionalized: The government gives each Parliament member, no matter the party, about $200,000 a year to spend on “development” — effectively, a patronage slush fund. But few doubt that patronage is inefficient and unfair. Even while flashy infrastructure projects may create jobs, such projects are often accompanied by the mysterious enrichment of the politicians doling out the money. The writer is not very impressed with Mr. Khan who complains about the system but fields many of the same candidates who previously were parliamentarian for other parties.

The other article (Pakistan’s Tyrannical Majority)discusses Pakistan's systematic discrimination of religious minorities. Religious minorities are regularly target of violence while the state does very little to protect them. There are separate parliamentary seats for non-Muslims. One of the religious minorities - the Ahmadi - dispute their classification as non-Muslims and as a consequence don't vote.

If the West wants to do something about human rights it should sanction such discrimination. Unlike corruption and repression - that are often difficult to repair - these kinds of rules are clearly wrong.

Friday, May 10, 2013

America's fight against Al-Nusra

According to this article (America's hidden agenda in Syria's war) the US is pressuring Syria's rebels to turn against Al-Nusra and fight it.

The writer compares the Al-Nusra with the Taliban and claims that the US missed a chance to talk with the Taliban - something done now by Karzai - because it considered them the same as Al Qaeda and didn't recognize the differences. The same would now apply to Al Nusra. I am not so sure. It is well known that the popularity of the Taliban in Afghanistan is below 10% so they can expect little from elections. So it is unlikely that they will compromise unless they think it improbable that they can achieve better results with arms. The same applies to Al Nusra.

Monday, May 06, 2013

The artificial state myth

It was a popular explanation for the breaking apart of Yugoslavia and now it is often used to explain the threatening break-down of Iraq and Syria: those states are artificial.

However, all states are artificial. If the borders aren't the product of some foreign dictate they are the limits of what some king long ago managed to conquer and hold. If you look long enough you will always find fissure lines along which a country could break apart. There are always regions that feel neglected, there are always rich regions that don't want to pay for poorer regions elsewhere and there are always regions that there local traditions are something special.

The "artificial state" myth assumes that countries come into existence from the bottom up. As a consequence its supporters assume that if you take the present central government away and empower regional forces they will recreate the central government. But it doesn't work that way. Once you empower regional forces they will want to keep that power and resist the central power.

If you wanted to keep Yugoslavia together you had to deal with Milosevic because he held the power. If you wanted to keep Iraq together you should have kept after the fall of Saddam the existing structures. If you want to keep Syria together you have to deal with Assad. Empowering local factions, even when they constitute the majority like the Shiites in Iraq and the Sunni in Syria, destroys the heart of the state.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Most of the world opposes arming the Syrian rebels

The BBC reports (Little international support for arming Syria rebels) about the lack of international support for arming the Syrian rebels. Only in Jordan is there a majority in favor. In Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, France, the UK, the US and Germany a wide majority is against. Here is the article on the PEW website.

For the US see also this article: Modest Support for Military Force if Syria Used Chemical Weapons.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that only 11 percent of Republicans favored arming Syrian rebels while just 15 percent backed U.S. military involvement. Republicans and independents were more likely than Democrats to want to take no action at all. A Gallup poll found that Democrats, Republicans, and independents were all opposed to the United States entering Syria’s civil war by majorities greater than 60 percent.

For the UK: Just a quarter of Britons back Hague on arming rebels in Syria
Syria crisis: MPs 'right to reject military action' - BBC poll: According to an opinion poll three quarters of the Brits think their parliamentarians did the right thing when they voted against participating an attack. See also COMRES/ ITV NEWS POLL: SIX IN TEN BRITONS SAY DAVID CAMERON WAS ‘RECKLESS’ OVER SYRIA ACTIONS: The latest Index poll conducted by ComRes for ITV News at Ten reveals that six in ten Britons (59%) believe that the Prime Minister behaved ‘recklessly’ by publicly proposing military action in Syria without knowing if he had the support of Parliament. One in five disagree (21%) and a similar number are unsure (20%).

More figures for Turkey: The English-language daily Today’s Zaman reported on June 16 that the latest MetroPoll survey indicated that 54.2% of respondents opposed the government’s Syria policy, while only 27.4% supported it. In addition, 49.9% were against Assad's staying in power, but 43.9% said they did not care about this one way or another.

5 September 2013: World Public Opinion Sharply Opposed To Syria Strikes

The stupid chemical weapons red line for Syria

John Mueller has written an article (Erase the Red Line: Why We Shouldn't Care About Syria's Chemical Weapons) in which he discusses how (not) dangerous chemical weapons really are.

As it happened, chemical weapons accounted for considerably less than one percent of the battle deaths in the [World War I], and, on average, it took over a ton of gas to produce a single fatality. Only about two or three percent of those gassed on the Western front died. However, the British government initially exaggerated its deadliness as that proved to be a good argument to draw the US into the war.

The article also discusses Halabja. It mentions that the people visiting the city after the gas attack saw only a few hundred dead. The number of 5000 that is commonly used comes from Iranian sources and very likely includes victims from attacks with conventional weapons at the same time.

The effectiveness of poison gasses as a weapon is low: According to Iranian reports, of the 27,000 Iranians gassed through March 1987, only 262 died.. After World War I some considered it even a humane weapon as it incapacitated so many soldiers while killing so few.

The term "weapons of mass destruction" comes from an American law from 1992 (expanded in 1994) that gives a very broad definition of the term that even includes some explosives.

Hacked e-mails reveal 'Washington approved' plan to stage Syria chemical attack: the article talks about a hacked email account of the British private defense contractor Britam Defence. According to the article there was an offer from Qatar - that claimed to have US approval - to stage a chemical weapon incident in Syria with chemical arms from Libya. Qatar would offer lots of cash for it. Britam later forced the Daily Mail to publish that it accepted the mail (retracting a prior article) to be a fraud and to pay a damage. The mail is supposed to be a changed version of a real email.

Turkey finds sarin gas in homes of suspected Syrian Islamists – reports. Later Turkey claimed that it was antifreeze. But why would they transport antifreeze in spring?

6 December 2012: Shock Video Shows ‘Syrian Rebels’ Testing Chemical Weapons: This video claims to show rebels testing chemicals arms on rabbits.

9 December 2012: Sources: U.S. helping underwrite Syrian rebel training on securing chemical weapons:

February 2013: Syria, the Saudi connection: The Prince with close ties to Washington at the heart of the push for war: It was Prince Bandar’s intelligence agency that first alerted Western allies to the alleged use of sarin gas by the Syrian regime in February.

19 March 2013: This is the date of the Khan al-Asal attack, extensively discussed by Global Research. Carla del Ponte later concluded the attack was most likely by the rebels. Indications were that it likely was done with an improvised missile and that the sarin seemed home-made. In July Russia provided the OPCW with a 100 page report to support its claim that the rebels did it. The first US reaction was denial.

20 March 2013: Syrian Rebels Caught on Tape Discussing Chemical Weapons Attack: An alleged audio recording of a phone conversation between two members of the Free Syrian Army contains details of a plan to carry out a chemical weapons attack capable of impacting an area the size of one kilometer.

24 March 2013: Jihadists, not Assad, apparently behind reported chemical attack in Syria: Intelligence reports suggest jihadists among the Syria rebels have technical know-how to produce chemical warheads.

24 May 2013: Russian journalists have proof Syrian insurgents used chemical weapons: Russian journalists who were on assignment in Syria have handed the United Nation Secretariat videos showing chemical weapons attacks allegedly committed by opposition fighters in the vicinity of Aleppo on March 19. This was confirmed by the spokesman for the Deputy Secretary General Farhan Haq.
Read more:

27 May 2013: Chemical warfare in Syria: this is a much quoted article of some French journalists who were embedded with the rebel fighters for some time and say they witnessed use of chemical arms by the government.

31 May 2013: Reports claim Al Nusrah Front members in Turkey were planning sarin gas attacks

2 June 2013: Iraq claims foiling al-Qaeda nerve-gas plot: Ministry says cell working for group planned attacks with remote-controlled planes in Iraq, Europe and North America.. See also the Iraq uncovers al-Qaeda 'chemical weapons plot'

14 June 2013: U.S. Is Said to Plan to Send Weapons to Syrian Rebels: Mr. Rhodes said there was no reason to think that the resistance has access to chemical weapons. “We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons,” he said. According to a C.I.A. report, which was described by an American official who declined to be identified, the United States has acquired blood, urine and hair samples from two Syrian rebels — one dead and one wounded — who were in a firefight with Syrian government forces in mid-March northeast of Damascus. The samples showed that the rebels were exposed to sarin..

17 June 2013: Analyst: Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria now best-equipped of the group: With the growing strength and support for al-Nusra, U.S. concerns are growing about its influence to further destabilize Syria and potentially pose a greater regional threat, administration officials have told CNN. "They are making desperate attempts to get chemical weapons," the analyst told CNN, noting that in the past few weeks, security services in Iraq and Turkey arrested operatives who were "trying to get their hands on sarin."

17 June 2013: Groundwork for arming Syrian rebels began before Obama’s announcement: several weeks before the announcement there were already signs on the ground in Jordan that the US was going to arm the rebels.

20 June 2013: In Syrian chemical weapons claim, criticism about lack of transparency: Jean Pascal Zanders, who until recently was a research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, said he has scoured the Internet for photographs, video and news reports documenting alleged nerve agent attacks in Syria. What he has seen has made him a skeptic. Few of the photographs, Zanders said, have borne the trademark symptoms of a chemical weapons attack. In a paper he presented last week to the E.U. Non-Proliferation Consortium, he compared photographs documenting Iraq’s 1998 chemical weapons attack against Kurds in the town of Halabja. The Halabja victims appeared to have died instantaneously from chemical agents, he said, and their bodies showed telltale signs of exposure to sarin: blue lips and fingertips caused by suffocation and a pink hue brought on by excessive sweating and high blood pressure. “No press reports from Syria refer to those descriptions, which is one of the reasons why I am skeptical about those reports,” he said.

10 July 2013: Russia says it has evidence that Syrian rebels used sarin gas in deadly attack: He says the inquiry has established that the rebels fired a missile containing the nerve agent sarin at the town of Khan al-Assal. The attack killed 26 people including 16 regime troops. "The results of the analysis clearly indicate that the ordnance used in Khan al-Assal was not industrially manufactured and was filled with sarin," Mr Churkin said. See also Russia Says Syrian Rebels Used Sarin Gas

16 July 2013: Syrian rebels' Damascus chemical cache found by Assad army - State TV: a rather vague story that doesn't provide more identification than that the found chemicals are "corrosive".

22 July 2013: The rebels overran Al-Assal and murdered 123 Syrians. According to some the aim was to eliminate witnesses of the chemical attack.

26 July 2013: Iraqi security shuts down al-Qaeda chemical weapons plants: Security services shut down two plants, "one in Baghdad and the other in an area near the capital," and confiscated chemicals and the equipment used to manufacture them, the ministry said.
The cell had reached an advanced stage in the manufacture of extremely dangerous chemical weapons – sarin, mustard and VX nerve gases -- as well as a highly toxic, incendiary chemical liquid, al-Askari told Mawtani.

26 August 2013: Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran

29 August 2013: Verify chemical weapons use before unleashing the dogs of war: According to the doctored report, the chemical attack was carried out by the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother. However, the original communication intercepted by Unit 8200 between a major in command of the rocket troops assigned to the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division, and the general staff, shows just the opposite. The general staff officer asked the major if he was responsible for the chemical weapons attack. From the tone of the conversation, it was clear that “the Syrian general staff were out of their minds with panic that an unauthorized strike had been launched by the 155th Brigade in express defiance of their instructions,” the former officers say. According to the transcript of the original Unit 8200 report, the major “hotly denied firing any of his missiles” and invited the general staff to come and verify that all his weapons were present. The report contains a note at the end that the major was interrogated by Syrian intelligence for three days, then returned to command of his unit. “All of his weapons were accounted for,” the report stated.

3 September 2013: Syria Defector 'Exposes Assad Chemical Attack': Abdeltawwab Shahrour, head of the forensic medicine committee in Aleppo, claims there was a chemical attack in Khan al-Assal, Aleppo, on March 19, said Istanbul-based opposition coalition spokeswoman Sarah Karkour. Mr Shahrour, who has defected to Turkey, has documents proving the attack took place and eyewitness accounts from police authorities that contradicte the administration's version of events, a second opposition official said. Dr Shahrour was expected to reveal the details of the attack during a press conference in Turkey but Syrian National Council spokesperson Khaled Saleh said he was unable to appear due to "security concerns". Mr Saleh added that the national council has received information in the last few days that three government convoys were carrying chemical weapons and one had reached a military airport. He said: "We have serious concerns based on the information that we have received from sources inside the Assad army who are sympathetic to the revolution that Assad might be considering using those chemical weapons against innocent civilians."

7 September 2013: On Syria Vote, Trust, but Verify. This is an Op-Ed article written by a member of Congress: THE documentary record regarding an attack on Syria consists of just two papers: a four-page unclassified summary and a 12-page classified summary. [..] In fact, even gaining access to just the classified summary involves a series of unreasonably high hurdles. We have to descend into the bowels of the Capitol Visitors Center, to a room four levels underground. Per the instructions of the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, note-taking is not allowed. Once we leave, we are not permitted to discuss the classified summary with the public, the media, our constituents or even other members. Nor are we allowed to do anything to verify the validity of the information that has been provided. And this is just the classified summary. It is my understanding that the House Intelligence Committee made a formal request for the underlying intelligence reports several days ago. I haven’t heard an answer yet. And frankly, I don’t expect one.

7 September 2013: First on CNN: Videos show glimpse into evidence for Syria intervention: Obama is now showing Congress in closed sessions some videos. Those as shown here. The CIA should have verified them.

7 September 2013: Obama’s Battle for Syria Votes, Taut and Uphill: On the day the president is speaking, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee plans to blanket Capitol Hill with 250 advocates, having already contacted dozens of lawmakers to urge them to support a strike. The advocates will carry a simple message, according to a person involved in the effort: Syria is a proxy for Iran, and the failure to enforce Mr. Obama’s “red line” against the use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad will be interpreted in Tehran as a sign that he will not enforce a red line against the production of nuclear weapons by the Iranian government. Israel itself is staying out of what it regards as a domestic American political debate. But Michael B. Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said he was telling any lawmaker who expressed fears that Syria would attack Israel in retaliation for an American missile strike: “Don’t worry about us. We can defend ourselves.”

1 September 2013: Unwieldy For Weapons Use In Syria, Sarin Is A Bogeyman: article by Yoichi Shimatsu who previously reported about the sarin attack in the Tokyo subway. He claims it was not sarin but mustard gas. He believes sarin is much too deadly to have been used either in Tokyo or in Syria. The detected sarin traces are according to him more likely other organophosphates that are used as agricultural chemicals. If farmers have such materials, why shouldn't they use them in a war?


4 November 2011: Libyan chemical weapons stockpile intact: inspectors: Libya had many chemical weapons and not all had been declared with the UN. Some may have been shipped to Syria.

The Chemical Weapons Convention dates from 1993. 189 countries have ratified it. Syria did not sign this treaty.

The Chemical Weapons Treaty of 1925 (a.k.a. Geneva Protocol) forbids the use of chemical weapons in war. It does not forbid it in civil war or when the other side uses it. Syria signed this treaty.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Spain as a model for the Arab countries

The New York Times had an article (Libya Looks to Spain as Model for State-Building)about the visit of a Libyan delegation to study Spain's experiences in the transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Spain did it remarkably different from the Arabs. It forgave the supporters of Franco and allowed them to form a political party. It had for a full year a reformist government while the old parliament stayed in place - forcing it to compromise and to convince supporters of the old regime that the country wouldn't be handed over to radicals. After that year there were elections. Following the elections the government, political parties, employers and trade unions made an agreement on the economy: the Moncloa Pact. Later they also wrote a constitution.

Spain had to reconcile because it had a strong army that was sympathetic to the dictatorship. However, the good results - a sound democracy with a sound economy - show that this was the right thing to do. On closer consideration this is logical: many people who served the dictatorship - and even some who tortured - did this from the genuine belief that they were acting in the interest of their country. It is a good strategy to convince these people that the new freedom is at least as good as the old order and to have them cooperate in shaping the reforms.