Thursday, July 19, 2012

End of the Beginning in Syria

Unraveling is the word that pops to mind as events progress in Syria.  The civil war may take a sudden turn toward an end game.
Confirmed dead from the rebel assault on the security offices in Damascus are Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law and the deputy head of the armed forces and Assad’s his closest security adviser, Dawoud Rajha, the Minister of Defence and the government’s senior Christian official and Hassan Turkmani, the crisis management chief.  Other senior officials were wounded and now rumours are out and about that Assad also was wounded and is in Latakia – a convenient spot if Russia wants to pick him up by boat.  His wife, Asma al-Assad, is rumoured to be in Russia already.
If Assad’s wife has indeed fled to Russia, the Kremlin is going to need to re-calibrate its foreign policy fast for once.  The Kremlin is notorious for its reactive foreign affairs - which does not function well in situations like this.  Thinking ahead and incorporating possible black swans in its plans has never been a strong point in Moscow.
Of course, all the reports may well be wrong. Assad may hold on. But the vehemence with which the Syrian Information Minister Umran al-Zuabi, vowed that those behind the attack would be held accountable even if they were outside the country tends to support the rumours.  Of course, by adding that the bombing was orchestrated by combined Turkish, Qatari, Saudi Arabian and Israeli intelligence, removes a good deal of credibility from his remarks if only because this would be the strangest cast of conspirators in the long, bloody history of the Middle East.

One interesting question is what did the Hamas leadership see months ago when they hastily vacated Damascus and Syria? This is, of course, the region where historically “writing on the wall” originated. Then there is Hezbollah in Lebanon who will be in a difficult position, to say the least, as they lose both their arms depot in Syria and the arms route to Iran if Assad heads for a village in Russia with the added annoyance now of having to deal with Salafists within Lebanon who are fiercely (an understatement) conservative, destructive and dangerous.
Finally, will Russia go to Plan C soon (see previous post).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Syria, Russia and Slow Train Wrecks

English: President Bashar al-Assad, Aleppo, Ab...English: President Bashar al-Assad, Aleppo, Abbarah square (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To steal from Churchill, the now almost daily fighting inside Damascus, including the destruction of a major barracks and the attack on the State Security building, is not the beginning of the end, it is simply the end of the beginning.  The downfall of the Assad regime won’t come from the streets, however; it will only come when his own people determine that the status quo has changed and turn on him as they did on Qadaffi’s regime.  Stay tuned though because the military can still field thousands of tanks and artillery– all of whom are Alawite led and loyal so far.  This is not Egypt, Tunisia or Libya (where the military was essentially incinerated by NATO).  And if you think it can’t get much worse than it already is, consider that the government has begun to shift some of its chemical weapons.  If they are sent to fire units of any type, this could be very ominous, to say the least.  One hopes they are simply  being moved to more secure locations – itself an indication that the Syrian government is nervous.

Meanwhile, it is likely that the Kremlin is moving rapidly to a Plan C.  Plan A which amounted to unqualified support for the Assad regime, was modified a few weeks ago to Plan B when they announced that their purpose was not to sustain Assad in power but to bring about a negotiated settlement with no external intervention.  Like the Egyptian military who simply took advantage of the massive unrest to remove a threat to the regime itself (Mubarak and more to the point his son),  Russia is now saying that Assad is not the point.  But the optics are bad for them as they are seeming to support a regime because 1) they want to keep their wharf on the Med; 2) they want to be able to keep all the arms contracts; and, 3) they want to prevent an alternative route for oil to Europe that would open up with a change in government in Syria.  None of this has played well in the rest of the Arab world. And they, not to mention many Syrian’s who are likely to come to power, will not forget.
Nor should they.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kick the Can Eurozone Style

Shorter Jörg Asmussen, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB:  Stop giving advice if you don't agree with us.....