Weekly information and analysis bulletin specialized in Arab Middle Eastern affairs prepared by neworientnews.com
Editor in chief Wassim Raad
New Orient Center for Strategic policies
The American plan
By Ghaleb Kandil
The painful truth that the secretary of state John Kerry finally accepted is that any solution in Syria is a defeat for the United States, the West, the petrodollars kings and Turkey. Also, Washington and his allies try to circumvent this solution by announcing their intention to arm the terrorist gangs and threatening to widen the battlefield before sitting down at the negotiating table in a Russian-American summit which date will be soon, according to diplomats.
At the request of Kerry, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of France and Britain, Laurent Fabius and William Hague, called for arming rebels in Syria. Then Prime Minister of Her Majesty, David Cameron, has denied these intentions, while President François Hollande almost stammered at the meeting of the European Union. Knowing that weapons and communications equipment provided by the West are already for months in the hands of terrorists, who are unable to make significant progress on the ground, despite the support of U.S, Western and Arab instructors, in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
After a severe political warning issued by Russia, information was conveyed that promises to provide new weapons designed primarily to boost the morale of armed gangs with the approach of the Russian-American negotiations. Till the last minute, Americans want to use the capacity and energy of those they invented, trained, armed and financed. Is not that the reason they were created?
A dramatic political development took place last week in Syria, when Russia has launched a stern warning to the address of American who maneuver and delay on the principles Geneva agreement. The Franco-British announcement about sending arms to the rebels was an opportunity for Moscow to underline that this decision constitutes a violation of international law. Sergei Lavrov’s remarks, Russian deployment of warships to the Syrian port of Tartous, arfe a reminder of the red lines that the West must not overstep about the type of weapons they send to terrorists.
During his last tour in the Middle East, John Kerry has flip-flopped on the terms of the agreement with Russia in Geneva. But he was finally forced to make a political statement which had the effect of a shock to his allies and auxiliaries, recognizing that President Bashar al-Assad was an unavoidable negotiator. So, Washington finally abandoned the condition of a president’s departure, as a precondition for national dialogue.
Despite this, the United States remains tempted by the plan of the last minute, trying to change the internal balance of power in Syria in preparation for the start of negotiations. This is a desperate move to avoid total political defeat. It is in this context that we should interpret the training of Syrian terrorists by U.S. instructors in Jordan, sending 3,000 tons of weapons purchased in Croatia by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and scenarios on a Israeli intervention in order to build a security zone in Syria, entrusted to terrorists.
But in the opinion of experts, any Israeli military adventure in Syria and Lebanon would be a catastrophe for the that state, for Western interests and for the entire region. The balance of forces is indeed strong and well anchored, and the axis of the Resistance, with its international alliances -Russia, China and the Brics- has the necessary capacity to thwart any offensive and to break U.S. hegemony over the world.
In this context, the experts agree on the fact that despite the war in which it is engaged, the Syrian army still has significant capabilities in addition to anti-air defense and ballistic missiles, which remain intact.
France-Press Agency recognizes the supremacy of the Syrian army
On the occasion of the second anniversary of unrest in Syria, France-Press Agence published a report about the ground developments in Syria that proves, despite the attempt to exaggerate the role and achievements of the terrorists, that Syrian army controls the main areas of the country and continue to have the initiative. Here are excerpts from this report:
“On the ground, the situation is still volatile in Syria. Assad’s army still defending Damascus and territories in the west and center of the country, while the rebels aided by jihadi fighters advancing gradually in the north and the East. Inventory of fighting by region:
Damascus and its province:
Nearly eight months after launching the “battle of liberation” of Damascus, the rebels remain confined to the outskirts and suburbs south and east of the fortified capital.
The army rejects their attempts to penetrate the heart of Damascus, where large plan targets, however, are affected by deadly attacks, mostly claimed by the Al-Jihad Front Nosra.
The eastern region of Al-Ghouta, where rebels took up, was the scene of fierce battles. South-east of Damascus, the army also tried to take completely the city of Daraya.
In the north:
A Raqa (northeast), Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nosra Front showed the greatest success by taking fully on March 6 Raqa, capital of the eponymous province. This is the first major city in the country to fall into the hands of the rebels. Aviation nevertheless continues to bomb the insurgents.
In the region of Idleb (northwest), large areas of the province are in the hands of the rebels, but the provincial capital is still under military control.
With the help of foreign jihadists arrived via the porous border with Turkey, the rebels took two border crossings and military base air Taftanaz. Islamists in the north have better access to weapons that the rebels center.
In Aleppo, the country’s second city, the front was opened in July 2012 with an attack by rebels who now control most of the province. Front ccused of being linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq and classified by Washington on its list of “terrorist organizations”, is also active in Aleppo.
In the east:
In the city of Deir Ezzor. Rebels take advantage of the porous border with Iraq to move weapons and fighters. And opponents of the regime took 80% of the province, but the army still controls the majority of the provincial capital. Al-Nosra Front is located in Deir Ezzor.
In the province of Hasaka, in majority Kurdish rebels fought Kurdish fighters in Ras al-Ain, before a truce in February. Elsewhere in the region, jihadists took over large territories.
After a siege of nine months of rebel strongholds in Homs, the army launched a new offensive, supported by aviation and pro-regime militias. Resumption of rebel enclaves to ensure army full control of the center of the country.
Hama region is also largely under control of the army.
In the west:
The heart of the Alawite community, of Bashar al-Assad, is under control of the army, with the exception of some Kurdish and Turkmen enclaves in the north of Latakia.
In the south:
In Deraa, cradle of the revolt, the rebels took many villages, but the majority of the province is still controlled by the regime.
Soueida City remains generally calm on his side, the leaders of the Druze community, have maintained neutrality.
Located on the cease-fire line with Israel over the Golan, the province of Quneitra is the scene of intermittent fighting.
Michel Sleiman, president of the Lebanese Republic
«Our position is clear: We reaffirm our neutrality and it is the army which is in charge of border security. It belongs to the army to ban all phenomena which constitute a violation of the declaration of Baabda. We take responsibility to prevent smuggling of weapons and militias across the border. Lebanon must stop fighters from crossing the border into Syria. Lebanon’s stability is the responsibility of all of us. We ordered the Lebanese army to stop all armed men intending to fight in Syria, the belong to the opposition or not. It is necessary to strengthen the Lebanese Army and to ensure adequate needs so that it can perform its duty. Lebanon refuses to be a transit point for weapons or place of training fighters regardless of their affiliation.»
Assem Kanso, Lebanese MP (Baath Party)
«Al-Front Nosra has now a strong presence in Lebanon as well as the so-called Free Syrian army. What has lately happened at Ersal and the method with which the two Lebanese soldiers were killed prove that Al-Qaeda is among us. The impact of the dismemberment plot of Syria began to manifest itself clearly in Lebanon. There is US-Zionist a plan to push into Lebanon the extremists active in Syria after the failure of their objectives in this country. Their idea is to create a kind of balance with Hezbollah. I’m worried about what awaits us. The situation is not safe at all in Lebanon.»
Fouad Siniora, Lebanese former Prime minister
«I doubt that the Orthodox project be submitted to the vote of Parliament, since it violates many constitutional norms. This proposal violates the Constitution, the spirit of coexistence and national pact. It brings us back to the year 1860. Free Patriotic Movement supports Orthodox project to inflame tensions within society. This law may cause problems, both nationally and regionally.
Organizing the elections on time is crucial since the mandate of MP’s is four years. The only problem is Hezbollah strengthening its grip on government and constitutional institutions, so as to ensure the sustainability of its weapons.»
Nabil Kaouk, Vice-president of Hezbollah Executive council
«The other side continues to provoke incidents because he does not want an election law that ensures true parity, which could be detrimental to him. The 1960 law was given on the carpet to cause 8-March, however, they know that there is zero percent chance that the elections are held on the basis of this law. The intervention of the U.S. ambassador in the electoral issue has a positive aspect because it helped us to see who are, in power and in opposition, those who continue to listen to Americans and to obey their orders. Israel wants to cause discord between Sunnis and Shiites in the region and Lebanon. At the same time, there is a worsening of speech exacerbating sectarian tensions between communities. Resistance is above religious considerations. It carries a national project in the region.»
- Ø The extremist militant Chadi Mawlaoui turned the Lebanese judiciary to ridicule by saying Friday he had “no confidence in the Lebanese judiciary” and announced he would not appear before the judge. Mawlaoui made the remarks after the government commissioner to the Military Tribunal, Judge Sakr Sakr, has filed a lawsuit against him and nine others for belonging to an armed group with the aim to carry out terrorist acts.
- Ø London’s intentions to supply weapons to the Syrian opposition is contrary to the position taken in this regard by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has suggested the Russian journalists in New York the spokesman of the organization, Martin Nesirky.
- Ø Israel’s military chief Benny Gantz said on Monday that “terrorist” groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad alongside other insurgents were becoming stronger. “The situation in Syria has become exceptionally dangerous. The terrorist organizations are becoming stronger on the ground. Now they are fighting against Assad but in the future they could turn against us,” Gantz said. The Israeli chief of staff, who was addressing an annual security conference, warned that the Syrian army’s “very important” arsenal “could fall into the hands of these terrorist organisations.” Several radical Islamist groups have joined the ranks of the nearly two-year Syrian rebellion against Assad’s regime, Al-Nusra Front being the most prominent.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, close to the majority, March 15, 2013)
Paris, Mohammad Ballout
The call of the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, to lift the European embargo on the shipment of arms to the “Syrian resistance” opens a new chapter in the Syrian war. Asked whether the steps taken by France and Britain in favor of arming the opposition in Syria come in response to the agreement that is emerging between Russia and the United States on the Syrian track, the spokesman of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, said, showing reserves: “We continue to work with our international partners to achieve a political solution.”
If the goal is really to arm the opposition, the fact remains that France did not wait for Laurent Fabius to implement it. Indeed, the French intelligence services are active for a long time on the Syrian-Turkish, Syrian-Jordanian and Syrian-Lebanese borders, to train and arm the opposition. Therefore, Fabius recent statements can be blamed on an attempt to join the bandwagon of Russian-American agreement that advances without the French is one of the engines. The two international sponsors in Syria have rejected the European during negotiations and meetings that take place between them. Sergei Lavrov statements who recently reported an agreement with the Americans to engage Bashar al-Assad in the political process justifies the fears of France that a political initiative is taken unilaterally by Washington and Moscow prior to Doha Arab Summit. A Syrian opposition figure says that the head of Russian diplomacy had promised opponents he met earlier this week in Moscow that Russia will put forward an initiative to the Americans, whose content will not be disclosed before the Doha Summit.
By raising his voice, the French minister seeks to carve out a place in the deal in which the U.S. and Russia work.
An Nahar (Lebanese Daily, close to march-14 coalition)
Sarkis Naoum (March 14, 2013)
After the accusations against Hezbollah by the Bulgarian authorities to be involved in the bombing of Burgas, the United States thought that the time had come to try to persuade the European Union (EU) to include the party on its list of terrorist organizations. But they have so far failed to achieve their objective, because some members of the Union believe that Bulgaria has launched a prosecution but justice in this country has not yet delivered its verdict. In addition, some other countries are waiting for the end of judicial proceedings in other “crimes” attributed to Hezbollah in Europe. Also, Britain called to distinguish between military and political brandes of Hezbollah. It supports the inclusion of its military wing on the terrorist list but would allow the political branch to continue its activities in Lebanon. The reasons for failure are many, but American and U.S. observers cite two in particular: the fear of most EU members to see Hezbollah attacking UNIFIL contingents, which are provided by major European states; the concern for European countries and major powers to preserve stability in Lebanon.
However, the United States are not convinced of the reasons given by the Europeans. Washington believes that Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsor do not dare to attack UNIFIL because they fear the consequences. As well, the party would do nothing to undermine Lebanon’s stability because it wishes to preserve its image as protector of the country, refusing to be led into wars.
The question that arises is why Hezbollah has resumed his “terrorist activities” in Europe and Asia, as claimed by the United States. American observers argue that despite its undeniable “libanism” Hezbollah remains bound to Iran by Islamic religious ideology. But Iran is facing challenges regarding its nuclear program, and the possible collapse of the Syrian regime.
Al Joumhouria (Lebanese daily, close to March 14 Coalition, March 15, 2013)
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the “door is always open to an agreement on the electoral law. I have retreated my project that the protagonists had not approved, but I cannot wait long. If other projects are not delivered to me, I will be obliged to convene a plenary session of the House to vote on the Orthodox project, which is the only one to have the support of the parliamentary majority. “
Mr. Berry said he could wait up until mid-April, “but even so, if I feel a genuine desire for all to achieve a consensual electoral law, I can wait a little more.” Mr Berry has also expressed concern for the security situation in the country, which he said could torpedo the elections even in the case of an agreement on the electoral law.
The Speaker of the House said that it is possible to reach a consensual act until the end of April, otherwise, the holding of elections is at stake and Lebanon will face the possibility of extension the mandate of the Parliament.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the majority, March 15, 2013)
The balance of power on the ground in Syria has not decisively shifted, whether in favor of the regime or the armed opposition. A stalemate prevails along the battle fronts, with minor breaches here and there.
Hit-and-run attacks are the predominant strategy in the hot zones, while the remainder of the front lines appear to currently enjoy a “declared truce,” although the calm is sometimes shattered by sniper fire or mortar rounds. Overall, the armed opposition controls most rural areas in the country as well as some villages that adjoin cities, while the regime continues to hold all [major] cities in Syria.
Every attack by either side is met by a counter-attack. Likewise, the belligerents habitually conduct “tactical withdrawals,” only to reposition their forces and launch renewed attacks.
The two sides often reverse their combat roles: The opposition forces control a region previously held by the regime, before the Syrian army intervenes to retake it. The same happens in reverse with the opposition in other areas.
In some places, the clashes appear to mimic “rings of fire.” For instance, when the armed opposition tightened its control on al-Qasir, the regime intervened and placed the town under siege.
But the rebels brought in reinforcements and encircled the besiegers themselves. The result was that the opposition ended up controlling inner and outer “rings,” while the regime controlled a ring in between.
Meanwhile, the problem of bypassing siege lines can always be resolved with cash. Every checkpoint, whether maintained by the army or the rebels, carries its own price.
For example, the guards at one checkpoint in Quseir charge 4 million Syrian pounds (about US$56,000) in return for leaving it unmanned for an agreed upon period. Al-Akhbar has learned that some Syrian army soldiers have even bribed officers to agree to post them in flashpoints, to profit from such opportunities.
Militarily, Syria’s map is divided into two major zones, which can then be further broken down into safe areas, less safe areas, and hot areas, respectively. The first zone comprises the areas under the regime’s full control, including coastal regions such as Latakia (with the exception of some parts of the countryside), Tartous, and Banias. The regime also controls the governorate of Suwaida and the cities of Damascus and Idlib.
On the other hand, the opposition controls the northern and western, as well as some of the southern and eastern parts, of the Idlib countryside, in addition to large stretches of the countryside around Aleppo and Homs. The opposition also holds most of the province of al-Raqqa; a large part of the Hasaka countryside; a part of Deir al-Zorr and its environs; a chunk of the Daraa countryside; and some liberated regions of the Golan Heights.
Areas like al-Maliki, al-Maysat, Abu Rumana, Mazzeh and Mazraa [in Damascus], meanwhile, are widely considered to be the safest, despite mortar rounds falling on their outskirts from time to time. The same applies to areas like Karm al-Zaytoun, al-Zahra and Mazarea.
Other areas in Damascus are considered safe only during the day, including Masaken Barzeh, Bab Touma and al-Abbasiyeen. For instance, just one kilometer from the latter, snipers from the regime forces and oppositional militants are stationed on opposite sides.
In the Damascus countryside, there have been clashes in Jobar, Zamalka, Arbeen and al-Moadamiyeh for more than two weeks, while Daraya, [a town in the Damascus countryside], remains mostly under opposition control, despite intensive operations by the Syrian army there.
The regime now controls the main airport road, with the exception of the interchange linking eastern and western Ghouta, which sees occasional clashes.
It is worth noting here that all international roads are under the regime’s control, though they sometimes come under attack from opposition militants.
The armed opposition is also present in [Damascus suburbs like] al-Hajar al-Aswad, Yarmouk, Zabadani, Daraya and eastern and western Ghouta. Control of Joussieh, [a Syrian village on the border with Lebanon], is for the time being shared between the regime and the opposition.
In the Homs governorate, the opposition controls Talbiseh, Zafarana, Rastan and Dar al-Kabireh. Additionally, the opposition holds areas like Bouweida, al-Khalidiya, Bab al-Sibaa, and the town of Quseir.
The opposition presence extends to the outskirts of the city of Homs. Although these areas are almost completely besieged by regime troops, there are frequent attempts by the rebels to fully recapture them.
Areas where some kind of declared truce prevails include those along the stretch of the Qalamoun Mountains and the Nabak Highway, which the regime uses to move troops to Homs.
While the countryside around Hama is controlled in large part by the opposition, the city remains under regime control. Many in the opposition like to compare this city today to a “military fort,” citing a trench dug recently by regime troops to prevent anyone from entering or leaving except through crossings controlled by loyalist forces.
A similar situation exists in Aleppo. While the regime controls 80 percent of the city, most of the countryside is under opposition control. Some of the flashpoints in this governorate often witness military operations, while the areas closest to Turkey enjoy a relative calm, with the exception of those that come under rocket attack or are hit by air strikes.
[In Central Syria,] the old city of Tadmur (Palmyra) is still in regime hands; however, the opposition currently controls the surrounding villages.
While Banias was the site of some of the first protests in March 2011 – immediately after Daraa – the regime brought the town back under its control, with the exception of the opposition-held corridor that leads to Jordan.
Finally, the [southwestern] governorate of Suwaida can be counted as an exclusive pro-regime region – notwithstanding the fact that dissident officer Khaldoun Zeineddine, who hails from the area, established the so-called Sultan Basha al-Atrash rebel brigade, before he was killed in action.
Al Akhbar (March 14, 2013)
Lebanon-based news channel al-Mayadeen reported that three Russian battle-cruisers have docked at the Port of Beirut where they are expected to stay for three days before heading north to the Tartus port in Syria.
The Tartus base is Russia’s only remaining foreign military base and is seen as a major strategic asset for Moscow, which is widely believed to be arming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s beleaguered government.
Two Russian warships had previously docked at the Syrian naval base last November ostensibly to load fuel and water and make minor repairs according to Russian authorities.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned the Arab League on Thursday that its recent decision to give Syria’s seat to the opposition National Council would “legalize arms supplies to militants and terrorists.”
The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011, accusing President Bashar al-Assad of using lethal force against protesters. The Arab League offered Syria’s vacant seat to the Syrian National Coalition at a meeting in the Egyptian capital Cairo on March 6.
“Considering that the most battle-worthy force standing up to Syria’s regular army is admittedly Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist group, it is easy to see who will become the ‘end user’ of that assistance,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
He claimed there was still a chance for talks between the Syrian government and the various opposition groups.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday Russia is taking no sides in the Syrian conflict and hopes the Syrian opposition will soon form a team to negotiate with government representatives. Moscow has previously said it is ready to provide a venue for negotiations.
Al Akhbar (March 13, 2013)
Salafi Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir tested his supporters on the night of 13 March by sending out messages that the army was about to breach his mosque, prompting hundreds of Salafis to block roads in Tripoli, Beirut, and Saida.
It all started when soldiers at an army checkpoint in east Saida stopped one Ahmad al-Assir’s supporters, Sheikh Assem al-Arifi, after discovering that his car papers were forged.
Arifi’s driver refused to abide by the army’s orders and fled to Assir’s mosque nearby. In what may have been an attempt to test the readiness of his supporters, Assir fired off text messages and posts on his Facebook page claiming that the army was preparing to assault the mosque.
Despite the small number of people who took to the streets, the incident nevertheless rattled the uneasy peace prevalent in a number of cities, particularly in Saida and Tripoli, where Assir’s supporters and allies tend to be concentrated.
According to army sources, several hundred young men responded to Assir’s call, blocking roads in Saida, Beirut, and Tripoli for a short period of time before being reopened by security forces.
Army sources in Saida maintained that they “had no intention of entering the mosque, and would not do so under any circumstance.” They had merely asked the mosque’s guards to hand over Arifi, who they explained had counterfeit papers and refused to abide by the army’s orders.
Earlier in the day, Assir – who had previously avoided a direct confrontation with the armed forces – called his supporters and their family members to the mosque and declared that it was time to break the army’s siege.
It is worth noting that the army had begun to implement a security plan at noon the same day, which included establishing permanent checkpoints around the mosque to search all vehicles exiting and entering the area under Assir’s control.
In the northern city of Tripoli, the response to Assir’s call was surprisingly fast as Salafis and groups of armed men descended on Nour Square, threatening to declare jihad against the army if Assir’s mosque was breached.
Notably, the protesters ripped down pictures of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and replaced them with al-Qaeda banners.
In Beirut, protesters blocked two main roads around the Tariq al-Jadida area. Smaller groups of demonstrators also tried to block main arteries in Akkar near Tripoli, in Nahmeh south of Beirut, and in the Bekaa in the east of the country.
It is clear that Assir is ratcheting up the pressure on the army as it tightens security measures around his mosque by resorting to panicked text and Internet messages, one of which called on Muslims around the world to picket Lebanese embassies in their respective countries.
Al Watan (Syrian Daily, March 13, 2013)
The army is in perfect condition and that it has at its disposal enough men and weapons to fight for years to defend Syria. Syria is in a state of war and facing a real invasion. Citizens could also join in the battle.
Los Angeles Times (American Daily, March 16, 2013)
“President Obama has not authorized drone missile strikes in Syria, however, and none are under consideration”. But the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center behind drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen “shifted several targeting officers to improve intelligence collection on militants in Syria who could pose a terrorist threat,” current and former government officials tell the newspaper.
The CIA will assemble detailed dossiers on key militants and the files will be used to help opposition figures with moderate views prevail over extremists.
Excluded from the report is the fact al-Qaeda is critical to the CIA’s effort to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and “opposition figures with moderate views” are militarily irrelevant. Without the fanatical Sunni Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda offshoot, the effort to violently unseat Assad would have failed long ago.
“The extremist group is growing in part because it has been the most aggressive and successful arm of the rebel force,” David Ignatius wrote for the Washington Post on November 30, 2012. “Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad,” added David Enders writing for McClatchy Newspapers on December 2.
In March, 2012, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that al-Qaeda and other groups on the State Department’s terror list are fighting with the officially approved opposition rebels in Syria.
A former CIA officer told the Los Angeles Times the move to expand the drone war into Syria may present the opportunity to target Hezbollah and other groups in the region. “It opens the door for a lot of other things,” he said.
The CIA’s public notice that it plans to use drones in Syria is a sterling example of classic problem-reaction-solution. The CIA, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistani intelligence, are responsible for creating the vexatious monster the government and its mockingbird media insist requires and endless war on terror, the expenditure of trillions of dollars, and the erosion of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at home as an unprecedented police state is put in place.
Der Spiegel (German Weekly, March 12, 2013)
Americans are training Syrian anti-government fighters in Jordan, according to participants and organisers. It is not clear whether the Americans worked for private firms or were from the army but some wore uniforms. The training focused on use of anti-tank weaponry.
Some 200 men have already received such training over the past three months and there are plans in the future to provide training for a total 1,200 members of the “Free Syrian Army” in two camps in the south and the east of the country