Tag Archives: Syrian rebels

THE SHUFFLE IN SYRIA

Syria has become an anchor tied to the American ship of state. The USA cannot cut it loose, but we cannot go any place else with the drag pulling on the political process. Like the proverbial “tar-baby,” the Syrian civil war sticks to whoever gets close and once they’ve latched on, they can’t get away. Politicians and career state department personnel who say it is not an American problem simply don’t understand how tenaciously anchors hold and tar babies don’t let go.

A week ago, the leader of Lebanon’s based Hezbollah militant organization made a pronouncement that the Syrian rebels would not be able to defeat the Assad regime. However, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah left the strong hint that the Hezbollah terrorists group might need to intervene in Syria. Of course, Hezbollah is strongly backed by Iran. They are also Shi’ites and the Syrian rebels are mostly Sunnis. Hezbollah makes no secret of the fact that they are allies with Assad. In recent months both Hezbollah and Iran have been accused of sending fighters into the civil conflict.

The next piece in the quandary came this week as Israeli jets struck twice at targets inside Syria. The most recent reports indicate their target was Fateh-110 missiles that Iran had sent in for use by Hezbollah. Because these are highly accurate missiles, an attack on Israel would immediately become much more serious. Fateh-110s had been stored at an airport in Damascus when they were hit. The latest reports indicate that Israeli airplanes were not actually in Syria, but fired from outside the country.

In the past, it was believed that the Syrian air force had such missiles. Currently, there has not been any clarification as to whether Iran intended the missiles for Syrian or Hezbollah. However, the Israelis were taking no chances. Netanyahu has maintained an absolutely iron clad policy that “Never Again” means that Israel takes no chances and never retreats on these issues. Ehud Barak referred to the tense situation saying, “we mean what we say.”

However, Israel’s definite statements on Syrian use of chemical weapons and attacks left no wiggle-room for Washington. This week’s Sunday edition of The New York Times reported off-the-cuff remark’s by President Obama surprised his advisers and have inadvertently put the squeeze on America. His remarks about the use of chemicals being a “game changing” and crossing “the red line” have now been challenged by the facts Israel has presented about Syria using chemical gas on their own people.

Obama does not want boots on the group or being dragged into the civil war, but he can’t run from the anchor that keeps America locked down. The current state department position is that we can not be sure gas was actually used. When the story hit the media, Secretary of State John Kerry immediately called Netanyahu and did a bit of arm twisting. The Prime Minister of Israel agreed they couldn’t completely confirm these reports. Politics trumped Intelligence … but not for long.

Tar-baby is not letting go. Obama keeps back-peddling and the Israelis are coming on in a full court press. Hezbollah and Assad keep on screaming. The anchor rope remains tight, but its not moving.

If you’re not already doing so, it’s time to pay attention to Syria.

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THE SERIOUS SYRIA SITUATION

The media has been alive with stories about the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. No good news there. But attempting to peel back the curtain and getting a closer look at what is going on might just be worthwhile.

The story began to roll during the third week in April when a senior Israeli military intelligence office reported that Syria had been using chemical weapons. Brig. General Itai Brun (head of Israel’s research and intelligence analysis)  reported to a security conference that they had evidence that Assad had popped the cork on lethal weapons. General Brun reported Assad had used chemical weapons on a number of occasions. His report stated that the lethal nerve agent serin appeared to be the probably cause. Brun worried that a lack of action from the West could suggest that these agents are now going to be considered legitimate.

In response, two Syrian officials denied these  accusations (of course they did), contending that any usage came from the rebels. Such a response has been the government’s consistent position as well as neither confirming or denying they have such weapons.

As we come down to the end of April, what can we make of this situation? We are probably observing a fishing expedition run by Assad. Syria is trolling to see what degree of response they will receive from the West while claiming their innocents. If Washington does not make any critical moves, then they can get away with the use of more chemicals. Probably, they would assume this posture regardless of any harsh Western response if they were about to topple over the edge. Some voices believe they already have their heels on the edge of the cliff anyway. The Syrian government made a harsh response by claiming America is in the same situation as it was with the invasion of Iraq. They claimed theses reports are “similar  to what happened in Iraq when Colin Powell lied in the Security Council.” We could call this charge politics as usual.

Avoiding the “George-Bush-Rush-to-War” policy, the current administration has wisely refused to be pushed into action. First of all, the president knows the American people are sick of war. As difficult as it is to believe many of the politicians, it is clear that we have far from paid for the last couple of conflict. In addition, the United States now recognizes that it has severe limitations in reading the tea leaves  about what is actually going on in Syria. A far more reasoned approach has already proven to be a much more sane road through the quagmire.

However, another element comes into play with the Syrian situation. The U.S. government is faced with a serious dilemma in dealing with the rebel forces. The most successful unit in their military force is the Al Nusra Front which is aligned with Al-Qaeda. Scholar studying these groups report that there are virtually no secular groups among the rebels. Their fundamental aim is to create an Islamic state run by Shariah law.  Consequently, the West and pre-dominantly America are currently in a losing situation no matter what they do. Syrian rebels are angry that we hadn’t helped them earlier. If we do, they may be aiming our own guns at us.

With this situation clearly in mind, Assad must might go tip-toeing on to the battlefield again to see how much he can truly get away with. Not good.

Stay tuned. More to come.

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EASTER IN SYRIA

While we tend to think of Syria as a Muslim country where the Sunnis and Shiites are shooting at each other and the Alawites, it has also had a Christian presence. In fact, on my last trip there, I walked down the Biblical Street called Straight and came to the place where Saul went after being struck blind and received his sight  restored as well as becoming the Apostle Paul. The ancient cobblestone streets feel like they did a thousand years ago.

On Good Friday, Syrian Christians gathered at the Zaytoun Church as well as St. Paul’s Franciscan Church, both in Damascus. As in other parts of the world, they preserved the rituals of observance of the high holy days. The majority of the Syrian Christians (about 10 percent of the population)  are Eastern Orthodox and will celebrate Easter on May 5. At one time Christians were a highly visible segment of the population and a Christian was even a prime minister of the country. Usually Easter is the major holiday for Syrian Christians, but not so this year.

Today in Syrian, there are no parades with bands and loud bounding drums.  Inside an iron gate, the worshipers gather in a tight circle and silently enter the church where they huddle in the dark and hope will prove an adequate shelter from the bombs. When they pause in their singing, they can hear guns firing not far away. Their hope is that in a year the war will be over, but it not, they predict that all Christians will be gone. Christians have been perceived as a wealthy group which makes them a target for the rebels. The issue is that they will be kidnapped and become targets for financially opportunists.

Christians do not have a unanimous opinion about who is to blame for the war. Many have supported the Assad regime because its policy in the past has tended to protect the Christian minority. Their tendency is to blame Russia and Iran for the continued struggle. The Christians blame sectarianism on the influence of Saudi Arabia and the intrusion of foreign fighters. To some extent, they are caught in the middle and the cross fire.

If Christian flee the country, a valuable history and root system will be lost. Because their traditions go back through the centuries, they constitute an important link with  the past. Who knows what might be hidden in some obscure corner of Zaytoun Church?

But the war goes on. The rebels just seized an important air defense base in Southern Lebanon. Brig. General Mohammed Nour Ezzedeen Khallouf, responsible for supplies and logistics, defected and is now on the rebels side in the war. France and Britain are urging European Union nations to arm the opposition and have probably already begun doing so. In the midst of Easter celebrations, the war continues.

Let us hope that these Syrian Christians don’t have to spend another holiday in hiding.

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