Thursday, August 29, 2013

Syria Links -- August 29

Via Bloomberg News
Assad’s Brother Seen Linked to Syria Chemical Attack
By Terry Atlas & Sangwon Yoon

Aug 28, 2013 
The powerful brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is suspected of authorizing the chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of Syrian civilians, according to a United Nations official who monitors armed conflicts in the region. 
Maher al-Assad, the younger brother of the president, commands the regime’s Republican Guard and controls the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division, an elite unit that the opposition says launched the Aug. 21 attack on the eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital, Damascus. 
The use of chemical weapons may have been a brash action by Maher al-Assad rather than a strategic decision by the president, according to the UN official, who asked not to be named. 
Identifying the chain of command behind the chemical attack would go into calculations about who, what and how to strike in any retaliatory action, the UN official said. If Maher al-Assad is the culprit, for example, a Republican Guard stronghold may be targeted rather than a presidential facility, the official said.
The Assad brothers are bound together in a effort to maintain their family’s four-decade rule in the face of an uprising by the dominant Sunni population and an influx of radical Islamist fighters allied with al-Qaeda. More than 100,000 people have died since the uprising began with peaceful protests in March 2011, according to the UN. 
Their father, Hafez al-Assad, who took control of Syria in a 1970 coup, established a security structure that relied on loyalty from family, those who shared their minority Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and some members of the country’s Sunni elite, as well as some Christians and members of the Druze sect.

Hafez al-Assad put his younger brother, Rifaat, in charge of the elite Alawite forces that defend the leadership. Rifaat al-Assad led a crackdown against a 1982 Sunni uprising in which an estimated 25,000 people were killed in the city of Hama. 
Hafez chose Bashar, an ophthalmologist by training, over Maher as his heir after their brother Bassel, who was being groomed to follow his father, died in a car accident in 1994. Bashar, who took power in 2000 following his father’s death, installed Maher as his security chief. 
“Maher is the knee-capper in this operation,” said [Josh] Landis [director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma].  “He is in charge of doing the heavy lifting of punishing people and preserving the regime through military means.” 
Maher commands the Republican Guard, as well as having effective command of the elite 4th Armored Division’s force of 20,000 to 25,000 troops.
I recall a video [link here -- viewer advisory: bloody images] which captures this brother's physical resemblance and his cold-blooded composure in a scene of unspeakable horror.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, right, and his
brother Maher al-Assad, left, attending their
father's funeral in Damascus in this June 13, 2000
file photo. Photographer: Ramzi Haidar/AFP via Getty Images

Eight Reasons Why US, Iran Must Manage Syria Crisis
By: Seyed Hossein Mousavian for Al-Monitor Iran Pulse

Posted on August 28.

The recent decisive position of John Kerry has increased the possibility of US involvement in this matter and the current political atmosphere of Washington indicates that the White House is seriously considering the military option. However, the most important element which the decision makers in the White House should consider is what the possible results of a military intervention could be.
  1. A UN delegation might confirm the use of chemical weapons, but it might not be able to determine whether the rebels or the Syrian government were behind the chemical attack. Even if the delegation names the Syrian government as the responsible party, this conclusion may be questioned by some members of the international community and thus will not be unanimous.
  2. Assuming that the international community does come to an areement regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the manner in which the problem should be tackled is a decision which should be made by the United Nations, not Washington. A one-sided decision by Washington would bring the legitimacy of the UN Security Council, as the only legitimate body responsible for peace and security in the world, under question. 
  3. Today, there is no doubt that the United States supported Saddam Hussein in using chemical weapons against Iran. The recent report by Foreign Policy and the documents from the US Congress show that United States strongly supported Saddam Hussein in his use of chemical weapons against the military personnel and the civilians of Iran during the eight-year war started in 1980. Therefore, Washington has neither a suitable position nor the credibility to act as the international police regarding the usage of chemical weapons. The United States itself is still in the position of an accused party, given that 100,000 Iranians were killed or injured during the chemical attacks against Iran. 
  4. Tehran and Moscow consider a military attack on Syria their red line, and it is unlikely that they will sit idly by in the case of a US operation against Syria. Therefore, any kind of military attack on Syria will have vast consequences in the region and beyond. If Russia and Iran were convinced the government of President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons, they would alter their position, because Tehran is strongly against the production, stockpile and the use of all types of weapons of mass destruction. 
  5. It is unlikely for the United States to have the desire or the ability to engage in a new all-out war in the Middle East. In the case of a military operation, it is much more likely that the attack would be targeted and carried out in a short time frame. Such an attack will not result in the fall of Assad’s government and instead could strengthen the nationalist sentiments of the Syrian people in support of Assad and in opposition to foreign aggression. 
  6. The Islamists in the Middle East will not turn a blind eye on the United States violating the integrity of a Muslim country. The United States has previously attacked the Muslim nations of Afghanistan and Iraq and has withdrawn, leaving trillions of dollars in damage and thousands of dead and injured military personnel, in addition to having increased anti-US and anti-Israeli feelings in the Middle East.
  7. The Middle East is experiencing its most unstable period in history. Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Yemen are in dangerous states of emergency. Turkey, the lynchpin for the Western powers in the Middle East, is losing its position and has a tense relationship with most of its neighbors. Additionally, Ankara is experiencing tensions with the current Egyptian government, the United States and Israel over Egypt. Consequently, the United States and the West are without a friendly base in the Middle East.
  8. The victory of the moderates in the recent elections in Iran is the only encouraging sign of stability and democracy in the region. Jeffrey Feltman, the American UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, has traveled to Iran and met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to discuss the issue of Syria. Tehran made it clear to Feltman that it is ready to engage in serious cooperation in order to peacefully resolve the crisis in Syria. At the same time, the sultan of Oman has traveled to Iran with a positive message from the White House, so the timing seems right for a constructive collaboration between Tehran and Washington.


For a different perspective from the popular narrative in the US and our Western allies (UK and Europe), here is an analysis by Sharmine Narwani offering a contrarian point of view. I'm sure some would dismiss her views as conspiratorial, but she makes a strong case that regional and global politics makes for some really unusual bedfellows, specifically that Israel and KSA see Iran as a threat serious enough to permit surreptitious pulling of a few strings regarding Syria -- by proxies, of course. 

"Bandar ibn Israel"
By Sharmine Narwani
Wed, 2013-08-28

The recent acts of political violence in the Middle East’s Levant are not unrelated. 
Car bombings in the predominantly Shia southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh; twin bombings targeting Sunni mosques in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli; an alleged chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus blamed on the Syrian government; a secret IDF operation across the Lebanese border foiled by Hezbollah; rockets lobbed by an Al Qaeda-related group into Israel; an IDF airstrike on a pro-Damascus Palestinian resistance group base in Lebanon… 
From one perspective, the common thread is the crisis in Syria, where a 29-month conflict has cemented divisions in the rest of the region and set the stage for an existential fight on multiple battlefields between two highly competitive Mideast blocs. 
From another perspective, the common thread drawing these disparate crimes scenes together is the “culprit” – one who has strong political interest, material capabilities and the sense of urgency to commit rash and violent actions on many different fronts. 
In isolation, none of these acts are capable of producing a “result.” But combined, they are able to instill fear in populations, stir governments into action, and in the short term, to create the perception of a shift in regional “balances.” 
And no parties in the Mideast are more vested right now in urgently “correcting” the regional balance of power than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the state of Israel – both nations increasingly frustrated by the inaction of their western allies and the incremental gains of their regional rivals Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and now Iraq. 
Worse yet, with every passing month the “noose of multilateralism” tightens, as rising powers Russia, China and others offer protective international cover for those foes. Israel and Saudi Arabia are keenly aware that the age of American hegemony is fast declining, and with it, their own regional primacy. 
Common foes, common goals 
At the helm of efforts to “correct” the imbalance is Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, the US’s longtime go-to man in Riyadh - whose 22-year reign as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington provided him with excellent contacts throughout the Israeli political and military establishment. 
Like Israel, Bandar has long been a vocal advocate of curtailing the regional influences of Iran and Syria and forging a neocon-style “New Middle East” - sometimes to his detriment.
 If you don't already know, learn about this Saudi prince then check out this analysis, which she supports with arguments that ring true to me, particularly since KSA opted to block the article from the Web in their part of the world. 
Via Wikipedia:
Bandar considers himself an American Hamiltonian conservative. Before the 2000 U.S. presidential election was decided, he invited George H. W. Bush to go pheasant shooting on his English estate in a "Desert Storm reunion". After the September 11 attacks in 2001, in an interview in the New York Times, he stated, “Bin Laden used to come to us when America—underline, America—through the CIA and Saudi Arabia, were helping our brother mujahideen in Afghanistan, to get rid of the communist secularist Soviet Union forces. Osama bin Laden came and said ‘Thank you. Thank you for bringing the Americans to help us.’ At that time, I thought he couldn’t lead eight ducks across the street.” 
Bandar argued some researchers “learn to speak a few words of Arabic and call themselves experts about the affairs of my country.” In 2007, during his tenure as National Security Secretary, Bandar proposed that the Kingdom have greater contact with Israel, because he regarded Iran as a more serious threat than Israel.

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