Syria’s bourgeois-democratic revolution and the need for boots on the ground.

I share the following view by the Antiwar Committee in Solidarity with the Struggle for Selfdetermination but the important question is how can any decisions arising from the negotiations be enforced and maintained without a military force on the ground that is committed to enforcing and maintaining the transition.

The question of ‘boots on the ground’ needs to be tackled pro-actively by the governments and the UN that established the opportunity presented by the coming negotiations.

Boots on the ground that are sympathetic to the Syrian people would make delivery of humanitarian supplies more likely on the scale that is required.

Apart from needing to protect Syrians from the likes of Daesh, a military coalition on the ground (and backed by air support) will be necessary to guarantee that people can vote freely and to protect the Assad loyalists among the Alawite community once he is tossed out.

Comments welcome.

 

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We support efforts by the High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian Opposition to negotiate a political settlement which will lead to a transitional governing body, and to human rights for all, rule of law, and democracy for Syria. Given the scale of documented atrocities carried out by the Assad regime, it follows that such a process must bring an end to regime rule.

We further support the demand by the High Negotiations Committee that the international community implement in full the humanitarian provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 prior to negotiations.

The current Geneva III Conference has begun against a background of escalating Russian and regime bombardment of populated areas and civilian infrastructure, escalating starvation sieges, and ongoing mass detention and torture of political prisoners.

UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which set out the international endorsement for these talks, called on the parties to “allow immediate, humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need, in particular in all besieged and hard-to-reach areas, release any arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children,” and demanded the full implementation of the long list of unenforced Security Council resolutions on Syria: 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and any other applicable resolutions.

Resolution 2254 further demanded “that all parties immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.”

These items are the express will of the Security Council and as such are not for negotiation between parties. The international community should never preside over a process where humanitarian relief is allowed to be used as a card in political negotiation.

As long as the international community fails to enforce its own resolutions, the Syrian people can have little faith in the peace process. If the international community can’t deliver baby milk to besieged areas, how can they be trusted to deliver free and fair elections?

For peace talks to succeed, the international community must implement the humanitarian provisions of its own UN Security Council Resolution 2254 in full

Refusing to listen to the Syrians… ‘Stop the War’ reaches a new depth of pseudo-leftism

“Stop the War, which prides itself on being an anti-imperialist organisation, has an imperialist mind-set par excellence… Syrians are not allowed to have an opinion about their own country. Only Westerners are allowed to talk about Syria.”

The following is republished with permission of James Bloodworth of Leftfootforward.

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The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) have been accused of preventing victims of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from speaking at an anti-war event.

During a panel event on Monday evening to discuss the case against British military intervention in Syria, StWC included no Syrians on the speaker’s panel and reportedly refused to allow Syrians to speak from the floor.

The meeting was chaired by Labour MP Diane Abbott and featured chair of the Stop the War coalition Andrew Murray, former leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas, Labour MP Catherine West, Tory MP Crispin Blunt MP and SNP MP Tommy Shephard.

According to human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who attended the event, no Syrians were included on the panel and the Syrian activists who turned up to the event were threatened with arrest.

Speaking to LFF, Tatchell said:

“Some Syrian victims of Assad’s brutalities turned up but were not allowed to speak. They eventually shouted out in frustration, turning the meeting into momentary chaos, as they were jeered by some of the audience and as StWC stewards tried to eject them – allegedly threatening that they’d be arrested. The police turned up soon afterwards.”

Tatchell went on: “Near the end of the meeting, I personally appealed to Diane Abbott to let the Syrians have their say, but she refused and closed the meeting.”

Tatchell’s comments mirrored those of Amr Salahi, an activist from the Syria Solidarity Movement who was also present at the meeting.

“Andrew Murray said absolutely nothing about the people being killed in Syria on a daily basis in Assad’s airstrikes,” Salahi said.

“Murray said that ISIS had to be defeated militarily, and the way to do that was not for the West to get involved but for the Iraqi army and the Syrian army (i.e. Assad’s army) to be helped to defeat ISIS.”

He added: “The [war] was not discussed in reference to the Syrian people in any way. The only focus was on British or American involvement. Not a single Syrian was on the panel. There were Syrians in the audience and at the first opportunity they raised their hands to speak.”

However after raising their disagreements with the StWC panel over the organisation’s views of conflict in Syria, Salahi said the Syrians were prevented from speaking again.

“The first [Syrian activist] to challenge the panel told the speakers they were only looking at ISIS, while Assad was killing dozens of people on a daily basis. [The Syrian] then compared Assad to Hitler, and I told the speakers they were like the Neville Chamberlains of today. [Panellist] Crispin Blunt MP, a supporter of the Iraq war, answered that people in Syria were now looking to Assad to protect them from Islamist extremists. He was unaware that [the Syrian activist in question] had lived in regime controlled Damascus for more than three years since the start of the revolution,” Salahi said.

He added: “After this intervention, no other Syrians were permitted to speak. [The panel] kept opposing the possibility of Western intervention as if that was the only factor. Clara Connolly, an immigration lawyer and activist with Syria Solidarity UK, later told the StWC they were silent about Assad’s crimes but they didn’t care. I told the speakers they just wanted Assad to keep killing people. Clara kept trying to make the point to the speakers that they had nothing to say about what was happening on the ground. All she got in return was silence. Then some of the organisers went up to her and warned her that if she didn’t be quiet, she would be forced to leave.”

Peter Tatchell told LFF a similar story: “When it came to questions from the floor, other members of the audience were asked to speak but not the Syrians. Near the end of the meeting, I personally appealed to Diane Abbott to let the Syrians have their say but she refused and closed the meeting.”

Tatchell added that he was “shocked, surprised and saddened by Diane Abbott’s unwillingness to invite Assad’s victims to express their opinions”. He added that not listening to victims of Assad’s war crimes was “arrogant, insensitive and appalling. It has a whiff of ‘we know best’ and Syrian opinions ‘don’t count’”.

This is not the first time Syrians have been prevented from speaking at a StWC event on Syria. In September, in reply to a letter from Syria Solidarity UK asking StWC to include a Syrian in a separate panel event on Syria, StWC’s Lindsey German replied that it was “not appropriate” to hear from Syrians if they did not clearly oppose military intervention.

“Stop the War, which prides itself on being an anti-imperialist organisation, has an imperialist mind-set par excellence,” Salahi said. “Syrians are not allowed to have an opinion about their own country. Only Westerners are allowed to talk about Syria.”

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

Kissinger article on the Middle East and ‘scattered random notes’ by Arthur Dent (via Strangetimes)

This is Henry Kissinger’s take on the situation in the Middle East and Syria, followed by some critical ‘scattered random notes’ by Arthur Dent who says: “Whatever Kissinger’s ghost and its coauthors are actually blathering about, the path out of the Middle East Collapse clearly lies in the opposite direction to Westphalian states”. (Republished with permission from Strangetimes).

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A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse

With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities.

By Henry A. Kissinger Oct. 16, 2015 7:18 p.m. ET

The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.

That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.

ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.

Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies.

The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State. They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.

These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.

On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.

American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The U.S. is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives. The U.S. proclaims the determination to remove Mr. Assad but has been unwilling to generate effective leverage—political or military—to achieve that aim. Nor has the U.S. put forward an alternative political structure to replace Mr. Assad should his departure somehow be realized.

Russia, Iran, ISIS and various terrorist organizations have moved into this vacuum: Russia and Iran to sustain Mr. Assad; Tehran to foster imperial and jihadist designs. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, faced with the absence of an alternative political structure, favor the American objective but fear the consequence of turning Syria into another Libya.

American policy on Iran has moved to the center of its Middle East policy. The administration has insisted that it will take a stand against jihadist and imperialist designs by Iran and that it will deal sternly with violations of the nuclear agreement. But it seems also passionately committed to the quest for bringing about a reversal of the hostile, aggressive dimension of Iranian policy through historic evolution bolstered by negotiation.

The prevailing U.S. policy toward Iran is often compared by its advocates to the Nixon administration’s opening to China, which contributed, despite some domestic opposition, to the ultimate transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The comparison is not apt. The opening to China in 1971 was based on the mutual recognition by both parties that the prevention of Russian hegemony in Eurasia was in their common interest. And 42 Soviet divisions lining the Sino-Soviet border reinforced that conviction. No comparable strategic agreement exists between Washington and Tehran. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and rejected negotiations with America about nonnuclear matters. Completing his geopolitical diagnosis, Mr. Khamenei also predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.

Forty-five years ago, the expectations of China and the U.S. were symmetrical. The expectations underlying the nuclear agreement with Iran are not. Tehran will gain its principal objectives at the beginning of the implementation of the accord. America’s benefits reside in a promise of Iranian conduct over a period of time. The opening to China was based on an immediate and observable adjustment in Chinese policy, not on an expectation of a fundamental change in China’s domestic system. The optimistic hypothesis on Iran postulates that Tehran’s revolutionary fervor will dissipate as its economic and cultural interactions with the outside world increase.

American policy runs the risk of feeding suspicion rather than abating it. Its challenge is that two rigid and apocalyptic blocs are confronting each other: a Sunni bloc consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and the Shiite bloc comprising Iran, the Shiite sector of Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the Shiite south of Lebanon under Hezbollah control facing Israel, and the Houthi portion of Yemen, completing the encirclement of the Sunni world. In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be treated as your friend no longer applies. For in the contemporary Middle East, it is likely that the enemy of your enemy remains your enemy.

A great deal depends on how the parties interpret recent events. Can the disillusionment of some of our Sunni allies be mitigated? How will Iran’s leaders interpret the nuclear accord once implemented—as a near-escape from potential disaster counseling a more moderate course, returning Iran to an international order? Or as a victory in which they have achieved their essential aims against the opposition of the U.N. Security Council, having ignored American threats and, hence, as an incentive to continue Tehran’s dual approach as both a legitimate state and a nonstate movement challenging the international order?

Two-power systems are prone to confrontation, as was demonstrated in Europe in the run-up to World War I. Even with traditional weapons technology, to sustain a balance of power between two rigid blocs requires an extraordinary ability to assess the real and potential balance of forces, to understand the accumulation of nuances that might affect this balance, and to act decisively to restore it whenever it deviates from equilibrium—qualities not heretofore demanded of an America sheltered behind two great oceans.

But the current crisis is taking place in a world of nontraditional nuclear and cyber technology. As competing regional powers strive for comparable threshold capacity, the nonproliferation regime in the Middle East may crumble. If nuclear weapons become established, a catastrophic outcome is nearly inevitable. A strategy of pre-emption is inherent in the nuclear technology. The U.S. must be determined to prevent such an outcome and apply the principle of nonproliferation to all nuclear aspirants in the region.

Too much of our public debate deals with tactical expedients. What we need is a strategic concept and to establish priorities on the following principles:

So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.
The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.
The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.
As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.
The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.
In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.
The U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world.

Mr. Kissinger served as national-security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

http://www.wsj.com/article_email/a-path-out-of-the-middle-east-collapse-1445037513-lMyQjAxMTI1MjE2NzIxMDcwWj

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wall-street-journal/us-needs-new-plan-for-middle-east/story-fnay3ubk-1227573426194

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Arthur
October 20, 2015 at 12:09 am
I can only manage scattered random notes at the moment.

1) Kissinger’s ghostwriters appear to be practically unintelligible. This seems to be the pattern more generally so it is hardly noticeable. Presumably the article is supposed to suggest “A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse”. So one ought to be able to figure out that what the proposed start and end points are from carefully reading the article.

2) As far as I can make out the starting point might be:

“For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.”

Plainly Russia isn’t doing that and the article does clearly state that “The U.S. has already acquiesced…” to what Russia IS doing. So how could this be a starting point for a path?

3) Again my best guess for the proposed route is:

“…it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces…The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.”

My guess at the proposed starting point appears naturally enough in the middle of this jumble and has been replaced with an ellipsis.

I am not sure which “imperial forces” the ghostwriters are talking about, but “preferable” surely refers to a goal rather than a route towards achieving it? “The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula” presumably refers to Kissinger’s paymaster, the House of Saud who are elsewhere described as an American ally in the Iraq war which they in fact opposed, as did Kissinger and almost the entire US foreign policy establishment.

But what on earth is it proposed they should do, along this “route”? Somehow “evolve” an administration in “reconquered territory”. So are they expected to do the reconquering? At the moment the Russians are not attacking Daesh but are in fact attacking the Salafi forces the Saudis are arming and financing.

The route of this “path out” starts nowhere and returns there.

4) My best guess at the end point is:

“As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.”

So Alawite “regions” still run by the regime that has displaced nearly half the population of Syria are supposed to somehow form a federal structure with the Sunnis they have been mass murdering?

5) How is this miracle to be achieved?

“The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.

In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.”

Presumably implementing military assurances without actual troops means something like periodically redrawing “red lines”!

A “Westphalian state” presumably refers to the agreements among continental European rulers between May and October 1688 based on the principle that the religion of the ruler was to dictate the religion of those ruled.

The British were not a party to it and instead invited a Dutch Protestant army to enforce the opposite principle that the religion of the people would dictate the religion of the realm.

Whatever Kissinger’s ghost and its coauthors are actually blathering about, the path out of the Middle East Collapse clearly lies in the opposite direction to Westphalian states.

The continent lagged behind the British by more than a century and it took two more world wars to thoroughly settle the issue, but the age of rulers is now over in Europe. Democratic revolution is the only path out of the Middle East Collapse.

In Britain that took more than four decades, just to get past the “Divine Right of Kings”, long before anything resembling actual democracy. That tumultuous period included periods of revolutionary military dictatorship, counter-revolutionary partial restoration and foreign invasion.

One thing about Syria is as absolutely clear as the Kissinger article isn’t. Foreign combat troops on the ground are necessary. They are needed to end, not “degrade” both Daesh and the Assad regime and to prevent mass murder of the Alawi and other minorities when the Assad regime is ended. The war will not be ended from the air, whether by America’s “coalition” or the Russians, with or without “conversations” with Iran.

If America won’t do it, Europe must.

It could take more than a year to build an expeditionary force with Syrian refugee volunteers led by British and French officers. But it could be done if necessary.

The fact that there is no sign or hint of that happening suggests that something quite different from what appears may in fact be going on.

One sentence in the article actually makes sense. It seems to come out of nowhere and lead nowhere, but here it is:

“In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule.”

One could add that neither Russia nor Iran nor anyone in the Assad regime have much reason to believe there is any remote possibility of continuation for even a few years, let alone indefinately. This much is as blindingly obvious as the fact that when Nixon and Kissinger resorted to the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi they were faced with accepting defeat within weeks, not years. (So blindingly obvious that most people were blind to it until the Paris peace agreement a few weeks later and remained only dimly aware the US had been defeated until Saigon became Ho Chi Minh city and STILL thought the US might be trying to establish imperial rule over Iraq in 2003 despite that being three decades after its defeat in Vietnam).

What may well be required, not only for Russian purposes but also by others who could easily frustrate Russian purposes, is the retention of Bashir Assad as a figurehead presiding over a regime in Damascus from which the die-hards of the Assad regime who actually run the regime and its war on the Syrian people had been removed.

Even Turkey and Britain acting alone could easily have frustrated whatever Russian purposes might be by now by simply closing the Dardanelles and the Straits of Gibralter. This “curious case of the dog that did not bark” indicates it is not just the dithering Obama that is acquiescing in what they believe Russia is up to.

For my part I would rather they hurried things up by immediately closing the Mediterranean and announcing a No Fly Zone enforced by British, French and other forces based at and near Cyprus.

But one way or another it certainly is not going to be “the sovereign states of the Arabian peninsular” who end up ruling Syria. It will be the Syrian people.

As for Egypt and Jordan assisting the House of Saud in such an endeavour, Jordan is in fact supporting the southern front, while the Egyptian fascist military dictatorship has sealed its more rapid doom by coming out openly for its fellow fascists in the Assad regime, against the interests of its main sponsors, the House of Saud as well as further outraging its own people.

There are already enough Hezbollah, Russian and Iranian forces in Syria to “stabilize” the “legitimate government” led by “President Assad” against anyone who wants to keep fighting a lost war. There is also enough Russian jamming equipment deployed to make it difficult to bring any “destabilizing forces” back to Damascus in time to prevent any governmental changes there.

The southern front is not being bombed by the Russians and the Germans have offered peace keeping troops. Hezbollah has been given 75 tanks for its own palace guard. The stage is set for something to happen.

Russia back on the front line

Some “quick off the cuff notes” by Arthur Dent in response to The Australian’s Tom Switzer who wrote an article on 30 September titled ‘Russia back on the front line’. The notes were originally published at Strange Times. I’m running Arthur’s notes first, followed by Tom Switzer’s article.

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1. Vivid demonstration that realists live in a parallel universe with a different “reality”. Switzer is actually quite clear that he wants to go back to the old US policy of backing the autocracies and tyrants against their people to maintain the region as a backward swamp (originally for cheap oil and anti-communism then contention with Soviet imperialism and “security” – especally Israeli security in occupying more and more territory and then sheer inertia and blind stupidity of an entire generation of the foreign policy establishment who had devoted their careers to it and persisted with it long after the collapse of the Soviet empire, the end of cheap oil and the failure of the war for Greater Israel having made Israel a strategic albatross hanging around the US neck rather than a US base in the region (the only regional power that could not join the coalition liberating Kuwait from Baathist Iraq and who had to be told their planes would be shot down if they pretended to be part of it by sending any into coalition airspace).

2. In Switzer’s alternate universe, the problem in the Ukraine is “.. the widespread Western failure to recognise an old truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad”.

In our universe there is no such Western failure. No Western government is even allowing the Ukrainian government to buy weapons to defend itself against the Russian bullying because they understand with total clarity that they have no power to confront Russian bullying behaviour in that part of the world. The facts Switzer recites about that from lessons about geopolitics drummed into him more than half a century ago are totally obvious to every policy maker and ignored only by the usual shouters.

3. In Switzer’s alternative universe “Putin fears that if Bashar al­Assad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone.” and “Russia’s navy and advanced anti­aircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast.”

In fact Russia’s navy in the Meditarranean is about the size of the US army in the Ukraine. If the Russians were imbeciles attempting what Switzer imagines they are going to do in Syria and Obama was indeed as inept and vacillating as he has successfully convinced pretty well everybody he has always been then the British, French and Turks would have both vital national interests in their near abroad and the capability to act that would compel them to stop the nonsense immediately without waiting a day longer for Obama to stop dithering.

By now Turkey would have closed the Dardanelles (not of course as a hostile act towards that deeply respected partner and Mediterranean Great Power, the Tsar of all the Russias, but simply because they were too busy dealing with the problem of two million refugees having been driven out of Syria by the Assad regime to remember to keep it open).

A few hours sailing time later, the British would have announced that their are command mines laid at Gibraltar that are currently turned on but will be turned off at the approach of any ship that is known not to be assisting anyone forcing millions of Syrians to flee Syria to Europe. Naturally this too would not be a hostile act against anybody but merely a precaution against the possible arrival of the Daesh navy, just as the Russian air to air and surface to air missiles at Latakia are to protect them from the Daesh air force. Naturally the ships of a Meditarranean Great Power like Russia would not be subject to compulsory inspection and the mines would be respecfully turned off as they went about their entirely legitmate business and if any ships of any nation were accidentally sunk by a mine that had failed to remain turned off then Her Majesty’s Government would of course pay full compensation as required by international law etc etc.

All available British and French forces would move as rapidly as possible to the British sovereign base in Cyprus not as a hostile act against anybody but merely as friendly observers of the joint naval exercises that had been announced nearby by the navies of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. After those exercises were completed they would be happy to assist their partners the Russians in returning to Vladivostok via the Suez canal without any danger of becoming subject to inspection by any Arab Gulf states wanting to check whether they were helping any notorious Syrian war criminals to escape as Britain and France are rather in favour of any assistance their Russian partners might be willing to give to Syrian war criminals leaving Damascus right now and don’t really care where they end up as long as they don’t stay in Syria.

4. In Switzer’s alternate universe Putin “has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority”. Pretty well everbody agrees with Switzer about that, perhaps because those who know better have no reason not to want everybody to think that at the moment.

For my part I’ll just end by saying that Switzer and others should remember what Kissinger said the word would go out about another Great Power:

“To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal”

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Tom Switzer’s piece from The Australian (30 September 2015):

Since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine 18 months ago, the West has indulged in the rhetoric of moral indignation, punished Moscow with economic sanctions and treated Vladimir Putin as a pariah in world affairs. “Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters,” President
Barack Obama declared in January. “That’s how America leads — not with bluster but with persistent, steady resolve.”

Somebody forgot to tell the Russian President. Putin’s address to the UN General Assembly this week, following his lightning military deployment to Syria, marks Russia’s resurgence on the global stage. The Russians, far from being marginalised in international relations, are playing a weak hand rather skilfully and are being allowed to do so because of considerable ineptitude and vacillation on the part of the Obama administration.

The upshot is that Washington will have to take the Kremlin far more seriously in the future. This is not just because Putin’s support for the embattled Assad regime will help degrade and destroy Islamic State jihadists in a four ­year civil war that has claimed nearly 250,000 lives and displaced more than nine million people. Rather, Russia’s intervention in Syria shows how rational Moscow’s concerns over Western policy in the Middle East are, and that the Obama administration had better start treating it like the great power it still is.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Moscow voluntarily jettisoned the Warsaw Pact and acquiesced in the expansion of NATO and the EU on to the frontiers of the former Soviet Union. But the limits of Russia’s post ­Cold War retreat have been evident since the Western ­backed coup against a pro-Russian ally in Kiev in February last year. Putin has played hardball to protect what Russia has deemed as its sphere of influence in the Baltics long before Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin appeared on the scene. And in the Middle East it is determined to protect what it perceives as its vital interests.

Putin fears that if Bashar al­Assad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone. That is why he has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority.

And by reaching an understanding with Syria as well as Iraq and Iran to share intelligence about Islamic State, Putin is positioning Russia again as a key player in the Middle East, and one that is
more willing than the West to defeat Sunni jihadists. In the process, he has exposed the shortcomings of the White House’s policy towards Syria.

Until recently, the prevailing wisdom held that the Assad regime — the nemesis of Sunni militants was on the verge of collapse, an outcome that Washington, London and Canberra had enthusiastically encouraged for much of the past four years. And although Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop now recognise that Assad must be part of any negotiated political
solution, the Obama administration continues to insist that any resolution of the conflict must lead to the exit of the dictator.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warns Russia’s continued support for Assad “risks exacerbating and extending the conflict” and will undermine “our shared goal of fighting extremism”. British Chancellor George Osborne goes so far as to say the West’s aim should to be to defeat both Assad and Islamic State. But given Washington’s futile attempts to destroy the Sunni jihadist network
during the past year, most seasoned observers of the Syrian crisis are entitled to think that such strategies are manifest madness.

The consequences of removing Assad would be dire. The regime would collapse and its Alawite army would crumble. Sunni jihadists such as Islamic State and al­Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al­Nusra, also known as al­Nusra Front, would exploit the security vacuum and dominate all of Syria. The ethnic minorities — the Alawites, Shi’ites and Syrian Christians — would be massacred. And there would be the flight of millions more refugees into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

If we are to avoid these horrific outcomes, Russia will have to play a central and positive role. It has had significant influence in Damascus during the past half century; indeed, many Syrian
military officers have received training in Moscow. Russia’s navy and advanced anti­aircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast. And Moscow has recognised that notwithstanding Assad’s brutal conduct, his regime is fighting the jihadists that Western leaders repeatedly say pose a grave and present danger to the world.

Obama says the US would work with any nation to end the fighting in Syria. But to engage Russia, the West needs to change its policy approach substantially. Alas, the prevailing Russophobia in
Washington and Brussels remains a serious obstacle in the path of reaching accommodation with Moscow.

The problem in Ukraine is not related to a revival of the Soviet empire, as some hyperventilating politicians and pundits argue. The problem is the widespread Western failure to recognise an old
truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad. Take Ukraine: it is a conduit for Russian exports to Europe and covers a huge terrain
that the French and Germans crossed to attack Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most Crimeans are glad to be part of the country they called home from Catherine’s rule to that of Nikita Khrushchev.

From Moscow’s standpoint, the expansion of NATO and the EU into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, taken together with efforts to promote democracy, is akin to Moscow expanding military alliances into Central America. Some may respond by saying that Ukraine, however ethnically and politically divided it remains, has every right to join the West. But did communist Cuba have a right to seek political and military ties with the Soviet Union in 1962? Not from Washington’s perspective. Does Taiwan have a right to seek nationhood? Not from Beijing’s perspective.

This is a shame, but it is the way the world works, and always has. Not only does Putin know it, he calculates that a weak, inept and cautious Obama administration won’t push the issue despite the dire threats and warnings from congress and the Pentagon.

And so it was inevitable that the Russians would push back in the Baltics, first to secure the Crimean peninsula, the traditional home of the Russian Black Sea fleet (which Russian intelligence feared would become a NATO base), then to destabilise Ukraine with the aim of persuading Kiev’s anti ­Russian regime to protect the minority rights of ethnic Russians and maintain its status as a buffer state.

As for Syria, the problem here is not the Russians — or even Iran’s Shia crescent of Damascus, Baghdad, Hezbollah and the Yemeni rebels. After all, they’re committed to fighting Sunni jihadists. The problem is that US ­British aligned Sunni states — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs — have aided and abetted the Sunni rebellion that has morphed into Sunni jihadism.

Yet these reactionary regimes still have the temerity to call for Assad’s ouster. Following regime change, we’re told, a US­ led coalition of Arabs and Turks can create a peaceful and prosperous Syria.

Leave aside the fact Assad’s support stems not just from Moscow and Tehran but also from Syria’s military, political and business elites, including many urban Sunnis. Assad is a brutal tyrant. He
has used chemical weapons against his own people. And he has launched relentless barrel bombs in rebel areas. But he is more popular than ever in the one ­third of Syria his regime still controls
(which happens to be the major cities and the coastland). That is largely because many know his demise would lead to widespread ethnic cleansing.

The idea that Assad’s fall would lead to something approaching a peaceful transition of power is as delusional as the neo­conservative views about Iraq and Libya in 2003 and 2011 respectively. The
downfall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, it was onfidently asserted, would lead to viable democratic states. If anything, both post­Saddam Iraq and post­Gaddafi Libya are failed
states that have attracted terrorists like flies to a dying animal.

As in the case of Iraq, Syria is an artificial state and an ethnically divided society created out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. In both nations the invasion and civil war, respectively, have unleashed centrifugal forces that are eroding political structures and borders that have prevailed since the end of World War I.

In Iraq, the 2003 invasion ended the nation’s sectarian imbalance between the minority Sunni and majority Shia communities. Ever since, the Shia have been more interested in seeking revenge against their former Sunni tormentors than in building a nation. The result: a Sunni insurgency that has morphed into a plethora of jihadist groups, including Islamic State.

In Syria, the Arab Spring in 2011 encouraged the Sunni majority to challenge and destroy the minority Alawite regime. The result: centrifugal forces that threaten the viability of Syria as we have known it for nearly a century.

As unfashionable as it is to acknowledge, partition is the likely outcome of the civil war. According to Joshua Landis, a veteran Syria observer and director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, many Syrians, and Alawites in particular, privately acknowledge that the prospect of outright military victory against the Sunni militants is highly unlikely and that it would be impossible to coexist with Sunni fanatics.

For Syria, partition would most likely mean an Alawite Shia state in the regime’s western heartland and a Sunni state to the southeast. Notwithstanding statements to the contrary, this is the emerging reality on the ground.

As long as the regime endures, it at least prevents Sunni jihadists from consolidating their hold over the whole nation and creating a strategic sanctuary along Syria’s coasts.

The moral and political problems posed by Syria’s civil war during the past four years have been real and extremely difficult ones. Assad heads a brutal regime that, according to The Washington Post, has killed about seven times as many people as Islamic State in the first six months of this year.

But the cold, hard reality is that if the US and its allies are serious about defeating the Sunni jihadists, and not merely determined to feel virtuous and moralistic, we will need to tone down our
anti­Russian bombast, restore a dialogue with Putin and recognise the madness of regime change in Damascus. And if that means accommodating Putin’s power play in the Middle East, so be it.

Syria: the facts and figures – the Syria Campaign

As Europe struggles to deal with a surge in refugees, attention is now shifting to Syria where most people are coming from. But what is the violence they’re fleeing?

Many assume that Isis is doing most of the killing, which is partly why so many countries are now talking about bombing Isis in Syria. But the truth is different – and shocking. The vast majority of Syrian civilians killed – more than 95% according to human rights groups – have been killed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Have a look at the data from the Syrian Network for Human Rights [1]:

12017617_910929855665695_3506046935164010625_o

Lots of people respond with astonishment when they see these figures, mostly because they don’t fit with their existing picture of the conflict. Some even say the numbers are lying. They’re not. While no monitoring group claims to have perfect data since their methodology and sources all differ, there appears to be agreement about the proportion of civilians killed by the Assad regime. [2]

So why do so many of us have such a bad understanding of where the violence is coming from?

Part of the answer may lie in how we hear about the conflict in Syria. The media talks about it increasingly as a “civil war”, a phrase that conjures up images of messy chaos, of various similarly-matched sides fighting each other. Likewise, the United Nations and well-meaning NGOs diligently criticise “all parties to the conflict” which promotes a perception of equal sides – or some sort of balance.

But there’s something else too. Part of the answer may lie in the disproportionate obsession with Isis. Our news is full of stories of Isis horror and brutality, but the larger scale state repression of the Bashar al-Assad regime seems to slip by mostly unreported.

Have a look at Google Trends for news over the past year:google_trend_assad_2

Google Trends: Assad vs Isis

There was 43 times more interest in Isis than there was in Bashar al-Assad. And that’s taking in global internet users.

When we filter by United States only, we get an error message:

“Bashar al-Assad wasn’t searched for often enough to appear on the chart. Try selecting a longer time period.”

Same goes for the UK, France and Germany.

Astonishing. Together we have collectively airbrushed the biggest perpetrator of human rights violations out of the the Syrian conflict – Bashar al-Assad.

Why has the world chosen to ignore Assad’s crimes? Is it because he claims to be a secular leader? Is it because he is clean shaven and wears a suit? Is it because we don’t realise that by ignoring these crimes by the regime, we are becoming recruiting cheerleaders for Isis? [3]

Whatever the reason, the obsession with Isis over Assad bears no relation to their respective levels of violence.

The implications of this skewed focus are serious.

Right now the UK government is debating intervening in Syria to strike Isis. [4] Australia has just started anti-Isis strikes too. [5] France is about to join.[6] Russia has moved a heavy deployment of fighter jets and tanks into Syria to fight alongside Assad. [7] Russia has just days ago agreed to coordinate with Israel on its Syria operations. [8]

And yet nobody, nobody, is doing anything to curtail the biggest killer in Syria by far – the Assad regime and its air war on civilians.

As the United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura said, it is “totally unacceptable that the Syrian airforce attacks its own territory in an indiscriminate way, killing its own citizens. The use of barrel bombs must stop. All evidence shows that the overwhelming majority of the civilian victims in the Syrian conflict have been caused by the use of such indiscriminate aerial weapons.” [9]

All efforts at stopping the violence in Syria will fail unless we understand where it is coming from. The story of the data is unarguable – if we want to stop the killing of civilians in Syria we have to address the Assad regime.

What can you do?

Arm those around you with the facts. Share this with your friends and family.

We have used data from the Syrian Network of Human Rights to put together more infographics, on children, medical workers and media activists. You can view and share them here:

https://diary.thesyriacampaign.org/whats-happening-to-civilians-in-syria/

It’s crucial that we get the story right.

James Sadri – The Syria Campaign

[1] http://sn4hr.org/

[2] Nine months ago, data from a separate human rights organisation, the Violations Documentation Center, revealed an almost identical proportion of civilian killing by the regime – 95%.

[3] http://soufangroup.com/tsg-intelbrief-assads-atrocities-continue/

[4] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/84184f06-5e05-11e5-a28b-50226830d644.html

[5] http://www.rt.com/news/315150-australia-raaf-syria-mission

[6] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3225008/France-prepares-airstrikes-against-ISIS-begins-reconnaissance-missions-terror-targets-Syria.html

[7] http://time.com/4043955/russia-syria-latakia-28-aircraft-assad-isis/

[8] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/russia-coordinate-syria-military-actions-israel-150922045752894.html

[9] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51011#.VfAUos6x47w

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The Syria Campaign is building an open, global movement working for a peaceful future for Syria. We are people from all over the world who are coming together to tackle what the UN has described as “the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our time”.

Second Anniversary of The Ghoutal Chemical Attack: Assad’s fascist regime must be overthrown

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Extreme right-wing protestors in Europe with portraits of those they support

The Assad fascist regime is responsible for extreme human rights violations in Syria today. More than 220,000 people have been killed, 10 million people – half the country – have been forced from their homes, hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have been detained and 640,000 are living under brutal sieges without regular access to food, water or medicines. In September last year, the US-led coalition invaded Syrian airspace to bomb Daesh (ISIS) positions; yet a blind eye is turned when Assad’s aircraft bomb civilian populations and the revolutionary democrats from the same airspace, killing many more than Daesh.

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From Planet Syria: Two years ago on 21st August 2013 the world was focused on Syria after the government of Bashar al-Assad used Sarin on civilians in the worst chemical attack for a quarter of a century. (Since the Halabjah chemical attacks by the Saddam Hussein regime in 1988).

The world feigned outrage. Obama said a red line had been crossed.

But today the chemical attacks continue. Chlorine is routinely used in barrel bomb attacks on civilian neighborhoods. But it’s not the chemicals that are killing most people, it’s the bombs themselves.

Here are 5 things everyone should know about what is happening in Syria today:

1. The Assad regime is killing 7 times more civilians than Isis.

2. More than 11,000 barrel bombs made of scrap metal and high explosive have been rolled out of regime helicopters onto hospitals, homes and schools since the UN banned them. They are the biggest killer of civilians. They drive extremism.

3. These barrel bombs are the leading cause of displacement, forcing refugees to cross the Mediterranean and other borders.

4. Many of the barrel bombs are dropped on areas under siege. More than half a million people in Syria live in areas with no access to food, water or medicine since 2013, including the areas of Ghouta that were targeted by the sarin gas attacks in the same year.

5. The international anti-Isis coalition is flying in the same airspace where many of these barrel bombs are dropped, choosing to look the other way.

On the occasion of the second anniversary of the chemical attack on Ghouta, a suburb of Damascas, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces has issued this statement:

It was a declared crime whose details and elements are well-known to everyone, whether they admitted it or not. They know the only party that does not lack the ability, the authority or the criminal will required to commit such a massacre, which is the Assad regime. They also fully aware that the regime has all the means of production, assembly and delivery of chemical weapons that were the tools of this this crime. They know the perpetrator by name, and also the names of the top regime officials who were involved with him. They know how he committed this crime and how he handed, with the utmost shamelessness, the murder weapon.

Two years have passed since the crime of the century, but the perpetrator is still at large. The families of 1,507 victims killed are still looking around for an international response equivalent to the size of the crime committed against their loved ones. And yet not a single measure has been taken to prevent the repetition of this crime. Death stills looms large over the head of Syrians, armed with every means of killing, ranging from knives and cleavers to barrel bombs, Scud missiles and chemical weapons. The Syrian Network for Human Rights documented 125 regime breaches of UN Security Council resolution 2118 and 56 breaches of UNSC resolution 2209 which criminalizes the military use of chlorine gas.

While we in the Syrian Coalition renew calls on the UN Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities in maintaining security and peace in Syria, and to take immediate action to stop the crimes against humanity and violations and to ensure that criminals are held accountable, we deplore the indifference of the international community which continues to deal with the blood of Syrians as a bargaining chip, a means to settle scores and exhaust opponents.

Having paid heavily for the sake of achieving our goals, we Syrians are now fully aware that we have to fight this battle relying only on the resolve of rebel fighters. Indeed, unity, rejecting discord, commitment to the principles of the revolution are the only guarantee of victory and liberating Syria from the Assad regime and its thuggish repressive security apparatuses and of the establishment of democratic rule which is bases on pluralism, justice and the rule of law.

We ask for Mercy for our fallen heroes, recovery for the wounded, and freedom for detainees.
Long live Syria and its people, free and with honor.

Assad’s strategy: don’t fight Daesh; direct it

The left has a proud history of opposition to fascism and indeed is the most reliable anti-fascist group politically. It is a puzzle as to how and why what passes for ‘left wing’ today can either be so neutral toward the Assad regime or adopt the entirely crypto-fascist slogan ‘Hands off Syria’. The puzzle is explained, in my opinion, by the fact that the left is more than a self-identifying label. It has a real content, defined by history, practice and theory. If someone tells you that western military involvement on the side of the Syrian people against the regime would be a disaster for the region, just ask the fundamental question: “A disaster for whom?” To those who beat their chests warning that US imperialism is out to dominate the region and that that claim somehow should mean leaving the unarmed populus to Assad’s barrel bombs, just tell them: “Your anti-imperialism is worthless if it ends up putting you on the side of the regional dictators who are oppressing and massacring the people as we speak”.

I wish to thank the good people at NOW. for permission to publish this article by Haid Haid, who is a program manager at the Heinrich Böll Stiftung’s office in Beirut. He tweets @HaidHaid22

c21styork

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Assad is trying to turn his problems into opportunities by helping ISIS (Daesh; ISIL) choose what’s in his own best interests and allowing ISIS easier access to some areas than to others.

“Reports indicate that the regime is making air-strikes in support of#ISIL‘s advance on #Aleppo, aiding extremists against Syrian population,” the US Embassy in Syria tweeted on 1 June. Similar reports were published by other regional and international media outlets when ISIS made an unexpected and successful move against rebel groups north of Aleppo, disrupting their recent momentum.

To many of those who have been closely following what’s happening in Syria, this might not come as a surprise. Assad has avoided confronting ISIS, as they both benefit from one another. ISIS degrades and eliminates rebel groups that would otherwise be fighting Assad, and Assad’s regime presents itself to the West as the only local partner that can fight the terrorist group. This—at least publicly—unspoken agreement was broken in June last year after ISIS announced its caliphate. It seems, however, that the same arrangement is back on the table with some amendments due to recent developments.

Game changer Palmyra

Seizing Palmyra gave ISIS the advantage of many new strategic options, which will most likely change the dynamics of the armed conflict in Syria. The strategic location of Palmyra has allowed ISIS to cut the regime’s supply line to Deir Ezzor, and it opens the possibility of capturing other strategic locations, such as the Shaer gas and oil field. The broad desert has given them many alternative roads to various areas of Syria to expand and enforce their presence there; eastern Ghouta and eastern Qalamoun, rural Hama, rural Homs and rural Sweida. Capturing Palmyra was a game changer not only for ISIS but for the regime as well. Just consider the big number, and high symbolic value, of Assad regime losses on various fronts; the fear of the next rebels attack; the continued draining of resources (locally and regionally); the withdrawal of Iraqi militias who have returned home to fight; and the division in strategies between Assad and Iran—the former still trying to control all provincial centers, the latter restricting itself to areas considered useful within Iranian strategy.

Revised strategy

These developments have pushed Assad and his allies to find ways to cut down their losses and to conserve resources. It seems that Assad has found a way to turn his problems into opportunities by giving ISIS access to areas controlled by the rebels in order to drain their resources as they fight away from the regime, and he does so even if this costs him more territory. In Aleppo, for example, ISIS could advance through regime-controlled areas, including As-Safirah or Kweires Air Base, given the importance of these locations and due to pressure on the regime by other rebels groups in Idleb, combined with rumors that an Aleppo battle will be launched, which has made the regime even weaker. Even though capturing air bases might be considered its most important strategic goal, ISIS instead decided to intensify its attacks on areas controlled by rebels along the Suran-Mare axis in rural Aleppo. The regime also intensified its attacks on areas that have helped ISIS advance and control new villages. These developments forced many rebel groups, including members of the Army of Conquest coalition, to mobilize their forces and move them to prioritize fighting ISIS over the regime—at least in Aleppo.

The regime might also help ISIS to enforce its presence in eastern Ghouta, which will help the regime completely besiege Ghouta and engage rebels in another fight. Some recent reports mentioned that the regime has been busy transporting equipment from Al-Seine Airbase to Ad-Dumayr Airbase, which Assad’s opponents interpret as an evacuation plan. If this is the case, it could mean that the regime is either trying to conserve resources, or is scared that it might lose the air base, or both, which in any case will give ISIS access to eastern Ghouta. The same thing could also apply in eastern Qalamoun, Ar-Ruhaybah and Jayrud, to enforce their presence there and to keep the opposition busy in the fight against it.

US inaction

While the air force of the American-led coalition played a large role in defeating ISIS in Kobani, it didn’t react to ISIS’s latest attack on rebel-held areas, which gave ISIS the opportunity to move its forces freely. Many rebel leaders complained publically about the lack of US interest in helping them defeat ISIS in Syria, though it’s now apparent the US administration knows of the cooperation between Assad and ISIS. Sarcastically, activists started wondering if the US Air Force didn’t strike ISIS because Assad had crowded up the sky striking rebel groups. Maybe sarcasm is the only way that many Syrians, and to some extent non-Syrians, are able to understand US policy towards fighting ISIS.

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