(Reuters) – The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ideological affiliates in the Arab Spring uprisings has stoked fears among Gulf Arab governments that the United States may one day abandon its traditional allies as it warms up to Islamists.
While the ruling families in the Gulf are currently vital U.S. allies who buy large amounts of American military hardware and facilitate a significant U.S. military presence, some are apprehensive Washington may apply pressure on them to accommodate Islamists who could end up challenging their exclusive rule.
In a number of colorful online outbursts, Dubai’s outspoken police chief Dhahi Khalfan has warned of an “international plot” to overthrow Gulf systems of government with Western complicity. The Brotherhood, manipulated by the United States, is working to take over the Gulf by 2016, he said.
“Today the Americans are mobilizing the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab nation, for the benefit of America, not the Arabs,” he wrote on his Twitter account on Sunday. “There is an American plan that has been drawn up for the region.”
Though Khalfan insists his tweets are his personal views, analysts and diplomats say they reflect largely unspoken concerns among the United Arab Emirates’ ruling elite about the regional popularity of the Islamists and the possibility that the West will sympathize with them as political underdogs.
They also reflect fears among the region’s Sunni Muslim rulers that, despite being Sunni itself, the Brotherhood is soft on their arch enemy Shi’ite Iran. Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Mursi tried to dissipate such fears at a Tehran conference last week by condemning Iran’s ally Syria and urging attendees to back rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Despite pockets of Western-style liberalism in cities like Dubai, most Gulf ruling elites seek to project an image of Islamic conservatism.
So the threat they see is not religious or social but political: the Brotherhood advocates playing by the rules of parliamentary politics as a path to government, threatening inherited rights to rule and state-backed clerical establishments.
An opposition movement that gains ground in Gulf states could perhaps find the U.S. administration newly disposed to speak out in its favor.
Such an opposition has already emerged in the UAE, where more than 50 Islamists linked to Brotherhood thinking have been arrested since late last year. So far Washington has kept mum.
“While the U.S. security umbrella protects the UAE against threats from Iran, Washington would be much more reluctant to support a widespread crackdown against a local opposition movement,” said analyst Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group.
“This is making the political leadership in the UAE much more nervous about domestic threats,” he said.
The Brotherhood also has potential to draw support from Gulf Arabs who may see their countries’ foreign policies as overly pro-Western and are concerned about the social influence of their large Asian and Western expatriate communities.
SEEKING U.S. REASSURANCE
Washington was initially hesitant to openly support the uprisings that toppled Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, partly because of concerns they could bring Islamists to power.
President Barack Obama’s administration has since overcome its reluctance, and has made extensive efforts to engage Egypt’s Brotherhood over the past year.
Analysts say Washington is simply pursuing realpolitik given the new power centers in the region.
“I don’t think the West is keen on having a bunch of Islamists coming to power in the Gulf anytime soon,” said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute based in Doha. “It’s more the case that Washington is working with who they can work with, because Islamists are in power and they have to be dealt with.”
U.S. officials said privately that they addressed the Gulf’s concerns last year after Mubarak fell and that subsequent conversations have not focused on the issue. They declined to go into specifics.
“Gulf governments realize both the United States and Iran will want to have relations with the new regimes,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, senior analyst with Cornerstone Global. They just needed to be reassured that those regimes’ gain was not their loss, he said.
Diplomats said they were confident that building good ties with the Brotherhood was unlikely to strain the long-term strategic relationship between the U.S. and Gulf states.
“They (the Gulf states) need the Americans to protect them against Iran. Iran is the biggest worry for them in the whole region right now,” one Gulf-based Western diplomat said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
YES, BUT …
Still, rumblings persist.
Saudi Arabia, which has long seen itself as insulated from political Islam because of its promotion of more conservative Salafi Islam, is feeling less secure these days, said Abdulaziz Alkhamis, a London-based Saudi analyst.
“After the Arab Spring they (the Islamists) are rising again. They start to use Islamist political rhetoric to gain publicity in the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Prominent clerics such as Awadh al-Garni and Salman al-Odah, viewed as sympathetic to the Brotherhood, have become more outspoken, cheering Islamist gains in social media.
Brotherhood-linked Islamists are well-established in Kuwait, where parliamentary politics is most advanced in the Gulf. And in Bahrain the government has drawn closer to the Minbar party, another group inspired by the Brotherhood, as it shores itself up against a protest movement dominated by Shi’ite Islamists.
The angst over what the United States plans for the region is at its most public and visceral in Bahrain, whose government Obama has urged to enter dialogue with leading Shi’ite opposition group Wefaq, citing the group by name.
Sunni clerics and commentators in official media regularly raise the fear that Washington, currently at odds with Tehran over its nuclear program, is plotting to create a Wefaq-led government in a regional reordering of power that would open a new page of cozy ties with Iran.
TV presenter Sawsan al-Shaer denounced a “Satanic alliance” between Tehran and Washington in an article in the al-Watan daily last month, claiming Wefaq was a “Trojan horse, used by the U.S. administration and Iranian regime to redraw the region.”
The wild card in the region is Qatar. It has actively promoted the Brotherhood and its affiliates, giving them coverage widely seen as positive on its satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera.
At an early stage in the uprisings Doha stuck its neck out much further than other Gulf states in its support for protests in Egypt and Tunisia, and then rebel movements in Libya and Syria, supporting those among them close the Brotherhood.
Earlier this year the Dubai police chief railed against Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, a popular Brotherhood-linked Egyptian cleric based in Doha who criticized UAE policy towards Islamists on Al Jazeera. Khalfan threatened to arrest the cleric if he ever entered the country.
Alkhamis said opinion in Saudi Arabia was split over whether Qatar’s close links to the Islamists was a smart move to keep a close eye on a rising movement whose historical time has come, or a ruse to sow discord for its neighbor and sometime rival.
“The Qataris say that if we don’t have the Brotherhood (operating) openly then they will go underground and that it’s not against Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis are not happy with this,” Alkhamis said pointing to Qatar-backed Islamist seminars. “Some think the Qataris are not an honest friend, but have an agenda.”
(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington and Raissa Kasolowsky in Abu Dhabi; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Sonya Hepinstall)
- Dubai police chief warns of Muslim Brotherhood threat (dailystar.com.lb)
- Egypt’s Outreach to China and Iran Is Troublesome for U.S. Policy Makers (jafrianews.com)
- ‘Brotherhood’ threatens Gulf (arabtimesonline.com)
At Monday’s meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama the Israeli prime minister will deliver a stark warning, reports Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem
By Adrian Blomfield, in Jerusalem
8:31PM GMT 03 Mar 2012
Their relationship, almost from the outset, has been frostier than not, a mutual antipathy palpable in many of their previous encounters.
Two years ago, Barack Obama reportedly left Benjamin Netanyahu to kick his heels in a White House anteroom, a snub delivered to show the president’s irritation over Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank. In May, the Israeli prime minister struck back, publicly scolding his purse-lipped host for the borders he proposed of a future Palestinian state.
When the two men meet in Washington on Monday, Mr Obama will find his guest once more at his most combative. But this time, perhaps as never before, it is the Israeli who has the upper hand.
Exuding confidence, Mr Netanyahu effectively brings with him an ultimatum, demanding that unless the president makes a firm pledge to use US military force to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb, Israel may well take matters into its own hands within months.
The threat is not an idle one. According to sources close to the Israeli security establishment, military planners have concluded that never before has the timing for a unilateral military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities been so auspicious.
- Obama sends top security aide to Israel
18 Feb 2012
- Is Israel gearing up for an attack on Iran?
17 Feb 2012
It is an assessment based on the unforeseen consequences of the Arab Spring, particularly in Syria, which has had the result of significantly weakening Iran’s clout in the region.
Israel has always known that there would be an enormous cost in launching an attack on Iran, with the Islamist state able to retaliate through its proxy militant groups Hamas and Hizbollah, based in Gaza and Lebanon respectively, and its ally Syria.
Each is capable of launching massive rocket strikes at Israel’s cities, a price that some senior intelligence and military officials said was too much to bear.
But with Syria preoccupied by a near civil war and Hamas in recent weeks choosing to leave Iran’s orbit and realign itself with Egypt, Iran’s options suddenly look considerably more limited, boosting the case for war.
“Iran’s deterrent has been significantly defanged,” a source close to Israel’s defense chiefs said. “As a result some of those opposed to military action have changed their minds. They sense a golden opportunity to strike Iran at a significantly reduced cost.” Not that there would be no cost at all. With the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas has chosen to throw its lot in with its closest ideological ally and forsake Iran and its funding, but it could still be forced to make a token show of force if smaller groups in Gaza that are still backed by Tehran unleash their own rockets.
Likewise, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, could seek to reunite his fractured country with military action against Israel.
Iran would almost certainly launch its long-range ballistic missiles at Israel, while Hizbollah, with an estimated arsenal of 50,000 rockets, would see an opportunity to repair its image in the Middle East, battered as a result of its decision to side with Mr Assad.
Even so, it is not the “doomsday scenario” that some feared, and a growing number in the security establishment are willing to take on the risk if it means preventing the rise of a nuclear power that has spoken repeatedly of Israel’s destruction.
“It won’t be easy,” said a former senior official in Israel’s defense ministry. “Rockets will be fired at cities, including Tel Aviv, but at the same time the doomsday scenario that some have talked of is unlikely to happen. I don’t think we will have all out war.” In itself, the loss of two of Iran’s deterrent assets would probably not be enough to prompt Israel to launch unilateral military action.
The real urgency comes from the fact that Israeli intelligence has concluded that it has only between six and nine months before Iran’s nuclear facilities are immune from a unilateral military strike.
After that, Iran enters what officials here call a “zone of immunity”, the point at which Israel would no longer be able, by itself, to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power.
By then, Israel assesses, Iran will have acquired sufficient technological expertise to build a nuclear weapon. More importantly, it will be able to do so at its Fordow enrichment plant, buried so deep within a mountain that it is almost certainly beyond the range of Israel’s US-provided GBU-28 and GBU-27 “bunker busting” bombs.
It is with this deadline in mind that Mr Netanyahu comes to Washington. Mr Obama’s administration has little doubt that their visitor’s intent is serious. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, stated last month that there was a “strong likelihood” of Israel launching an attack between April and June this year.
Senior US officials have, unusually, warned in public that such a step would be unwise and premature, a sentiment echoed by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary.
Mr Obama is determined that beefed up US and EU sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank and energy sector be given the chance to work and is desperate to dissuade Israel from upsetting his strategy.
But to give sanctions a chance, Mr Netanyahu would effectively have to give up Israel’s ability to strike Iran and leave the country’s fate in the hands of the United States – which is why he is demanding a clear sign of commitment from the American president.
“This is the dilemma facing Israel,” the former senior military officer said. “If Iran enters a zone of immunity from Israeli attack can Israel rely on the United States to prevent Iran going nuclear?”
Mr Netanyahu’s chief demand will be that Washington recognizes Israel’s “red lines”. This would involve the Barack administration shifting from a position of threatening military action if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon to one of warning of the use of force if Tehran acquired the capability of being able to build one.
Mr Obama will be reluctant to make such a commitment in public, though he might do so in private by pledging action if Iran were to expel UN weapons inspectors or begin enriching uranium towards the levels needed to build a bomb, according to Matthew Kroenig, a special adviser to the Pentagon on Iran until last year.
“Israel is facing the situation of either taking military action now or trusting the US to take action down the road,” Mr Kroenig, an advocate of US military strikes against Iran, said. “What Netanyahu wants to get out of the meeting are clear assurances that the US will take military action if necessary.” The American president may regard Mr Netanyahu as an ally who has done more to undermine his Middle East policy of trying to project soft power in the Arab world than may of his foes in the region.
But, on this occasion at least, he will have to suppress his irritation.
Mr Netanyahu is well aware that his host is vulnerable to charges from both Congress and his Republican challengers for the presidency that he is weak on Iran, and will seek to exploit this as much as possible.
Tellingly, Palestinian issues, the principal source of contention between the two, will be sidelined and Mr Obama has already been forced to step up his rhetoric on Iran beyond a degree with which he is probably comfortable.
Last week, in a notable hardening of tone, he declared his seriousness about using military force to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, saying: “I do not bluff.” Yet whatever commitments he might give to Mr Netanyahu it is far from clear that it will be enough to dissuade Israel from taking unilateral action.
Among the Israeli public, there is a sense of growing sense that a confrontation with Iran is inevitable. Overheard conversations in bars and restaurants frequently turn to the subject, with a growing popular paranoia fed by the escalation in bomb shelter construction, air raid siren testing and exercises simulating civilian preparedness for rocket strikes.
Last week, Israeli newspapers fretted that the government was running short of gas masks, even though more than four million have already been doled out.
But while the growing drumbeat of war is unmistakable, it is unclear whether or not Mr Netanyahu, for all his bellicose rhetoric, has yet fully committed himself to the cause.
Ostensibly, a decision for war has to be approved by Mr Netanyahu’s inner cabinet. But everyone in Israel agrees that the decision ultimately rests with Ehud Barak, the defense minister who is unabashedly in favor of military action, and, most importantly, the prime minister.
“Netanyahu is a much more ambiguous and complex character,” said Jonathan Spyer, a prominent Israeli political analyst. “We know where Barak stands but with Netanyahu it is less clear.
“Netanyahu is not a man who likes military adventures. His two terms as prime minister have been among the quietest in recent Israeli history. Behind the Churchillian character he likes to project is a very much more cautious and vacillating figure.”
Were Mr Netanyahu to overcome his indecisiveness, as many observers suspect he will, real questions remain about how effective an Israeli unilateral strike would be.
With its US-supplied bunker busters, Israel’s fleet of F-15i and F-16i fighter jets, and its recently improved in-air refueling capabilities, Israel could probably cause significant damage to the bulk of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including the Natanz enrichment plant.
But the second enrichment plant at Fordow, buried beneath more than 200 feet of reinforced concrete, could prove a challenge too far.
“Natanz yes, but I don’t think they could take out Fordow,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, an Iran expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. “They could take out the entrance ramps but not the facility itself.”
With its Massive Ordnance Penetrator bunker busters, each weighing almost 14 tonnes, the United States stands a much better chance of striking Fordow successfully, thus disrupting Iran’s nuclear programme for far longer than the one to three years delay an Israeli attack is estimated to cause.
But whether Israeli is prepared to leave its fate in American hands is another matter.
“Israelis are psychologically such that they prefer to rely on themselves and not on others, given their history,” the Israeli former senior defense ministry official said. “We feel we have relied on others in the past, and they have failed us.”
- Obama says not bluffing on Iran military option (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Israel’s US supporters flock to hear Barack Obama on Iran fears – Times of India (timesofindia.indiatimes.com)
- Obama warns both Iran and Israel, ‘I don’t bluff’ (therearenosunglasses.wordpress.com)
- Iran Now Top US-Israel Issue (myfoxphoenix.com)
- Israel’s Backers Pressure Obama To Combat Iran (mysanantonio.com)
The European Union plans to freeze the assets of the Syrian Central Bank starting next Monday, declared French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe, as quoted by Reuters.
The new sanction will hit Syria right on the next day after the referendum on the new constitution, set for February 26.
- EU likely to adopt further sanctions against Syria (vancouversun.com)
- Syria’s Assad unbowed as sanctions tighten (cbc.ca)
(Reuters) – China’s main newspaper accused Western countries of stirring civil war in Syria and two Iranian warships docked at a Syrian naval base, underscoring rising international tensions over the near year-long crisis.
Despite pursuing a sustained military crackdown on the opposition in cities across the country, President Bashar al-Assad forged ahead with plans to hold a referendum at the end of the week.
Activists in the western city of Hama said troops, police and militias had set up dozens of roadblocks, isolating neighborhoods from each other.
“Hama is cut off from the outside world. There is no landlines, no mobile phone network and no internet. House to house arrest take place daily and sometimes repeatedly in the same neighborhoods,” an opposition statement said.
Government troops extended their control on Hama after an offensive last week that concentrated on northern neighborhoods on the edge of farmland that have provided shelter for Free Syrian Army rebels.
The rebel fighters have been attacking militiamen, known as shabbiha, while avoiding open confrontations with armored forces that had amassed around Hama.
Government forces also maintained their siege of pro-opposition neighborhoods of Homs, south of Hama on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. Opposition activists reported sporadic morning shelling of Baba Amro district.
Security forces also mounted a campaign of arrests and raids in two suburbs of Deraa city and loud gunfire was heard, activists said. The reports could not be independently verified.
The Monday actions followed a weekend which saw one of the biggest demonstrations yet in the capital as the pro-democracy uprising against Assad’s 11 year-rule neared its first anniversary.
Security forces have killed at least 5,000 people, according to human rights groups, in a campaign to crush the revolt while the Assad government says it has lost more than 2,000 soldiers and security agents in what it describes as a struggle against foreign-backed terrorists,
The conflict has also pitted Western and Gulf-led Arab powers against Assad allies Russia, China and Iran.
The former have condemned Assad for the bloodshed and called for him to step down. Beijing and Moscow say all sides are to blame for the violence and the crisis should be resolved through talks, not foreign intervention.
China’s Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, in a front page commentary on Monday, said: “If Western countries continue to fully support Syria’s opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to thus avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention.”
A Chinese envoy met Assad in Damascus on Saturday and backed his plan to hold a referendum this coming Sunday on a new constitution which would lead to multi-party parliamentary elections within 90 days.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said about 14,600,000 people throughout the country were eligible to take part in the referendum. The West and Syrian opposition figures have dismissed the plan as joke, saying it is impossible to have a valid election amid the continuing repression.
Assad has ruled Syria for 11 years after succeeding his father Hafez on his death. The Assad family belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, in a majority Sunni country, and there are fears the uprising could break down into a full sectarian conflict.
Meanwhile two Iranian naval ships docked at the Syrian port of Tartous on Saturday, Iran’s state-run Press TV reported. The ships were said to be providing training for Syrian naval forces under an agreement signed a year ago.
Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi, quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency, said: “Our ships passed through the Suez canal and it is Iran’s right to have a presence in international waters.”
likely to add to Western concerns that the Syria crisis could boil over into a regional conflict if it not resolved soon.
Foreign ministers at a G20 industrialized and emerging nations meeting in Mexico were increasingly worried about whether a peaceful solution could be found.
“There is grave concern about the fact that existing structures of the United Nations have not delivered an outcome,”
Australia’s foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, told reporters in Los Cabos, Mexico.
The West has ruled out any Libya-style military intervention but the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, has indicated some of its member states were prepared to arm the opposition.
In Washington the senior U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said intervening in Syria would be “very difficult” because it was not like Libya.
Syria’s army is very capable, with a sophisticated, integrated air defense system and chemical and biological weapons, Dempsey said. It was also not clear who or what the fragmented opposition was exactly, he said.
A so-called “Friends of Syria” conference is scheduled to take place in Tunisia this Friday, bringing together Western and Arab powers.
Australia’s Rudd said the group aims “to place maximum pressure on president Assad to go, to end the butchery that we see day by day unfolding in Syria and to make sure we have a durable and peaceful political transition.”
(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Parisa Hafezi in Tehran; Susan Cornwell in Washington; Krista Hughes in Los Cabos, Mexico; Editing by Giles Elgood)
- Chinese newspaper accuses west of provoking civil war in Syria – The Guardian (guardian.co.uk)
- Syrian security forces increase pressure on Damascus protesters (guardian.co.uk)
- Syria’s Civil War Rages, as Alawites Press on (mideastconflicts.wordpress.com)
- Whose War is it in Syria? Al-Qaeda Distorts Field as Big Powers Stand Divided (ibtimes.com)
- Peter Goodspeed: Syrian civil war impossible to contain within its borders (fullcomment.nationalpost.com)
- Syrian gunmen kill judge and prosecutor (guardian.co.uk)
Thousands are dead in Syria, with more blood spilled each day. Iran is within arm’s reach of a nuclear weapon, threatening Israel’s very existence. And in Egypt, 19 Americans are banned from leaving the country, making them veritable hostages in an unfriendly land. All indications are that the Middle East is crumbling, and President Barack Obama’s foreign policy is collapsing right along with it.
First look toward Homs, Syria — ground zero in the 11-month-old uprising against the brutal government of Bashar al-Assad, which is unleashing death upon its people minute by minute and hour by hour. The United Nations estimates that Assad’s regime has killed more than 5,000 anti-government protesters in the last 11 months, with 200 killed on Friday night alone. The Arab League has stationed observers in country, whose mission was to oversee compliance with a peace plan. That failed.
The Obama Administration rushed to the United Nations Security Council and attempted to pass a resolution calling for Assad to step aside. Predictably, China and Russia laid down a veto. On Monday, the United States finally closed the doors to its embassy in Damascus and withdrew the diplomatic staff over continuing security concerns. Meanwhile, intelligence experts are examining the risk of terrorists gaining control of Syria’s weapons stockpiles should the Assad regime fall.
To the east in Iran, the regime’s full-steam-ahead pursuit of nuclear weapons is reaching a crescendo, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently remarking that the country could build a bomb within one year and have the means for delivering it one or two years later.
Finally, in Egypt, officials there published a list of 43 people, including 19 Americans, accused of interfering in Egypt’s internal politics. They are not allowed to leave the country and could soon be brought to trial on claims that they illegally funded political groups in Egypt’s parliamentary elections. Heritage’s James Phillips explains that “they have become hostages in a much larger struggle: the struggle for freedom in Egypt against an unholy alliance between Egypt’s transitional military government and the Islamist political parties who will soon assume power.”
President Obama and members of his Cabinet tried to reach Egyptian leaders on the matter, but in the words of Lorne Craner, head of the pro-democracy organization IRI, “things are getting worse . . . We are all scratching our heads over here. I did two tours at State and one at the [National Security Council]. If the president called someone, something gets worked out.” But as was the case under President Jimmy Carter, the White House appears helpless while Americans are held captive.
None of these crises occurs in a vacuum — except for the vacuum of a cogent U.S. strategy for dealing with these ever-worsening conditions. Since President Obama took office, he has pursued a diplomatic strategy of charm and restraint: attempting to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, engaging with Syria and Iran, and withdrawing from Iraq. Now we are seeing the results.
The international rogue that is Iran continues to rise, along with its threat to the world. Thousands are dead in Syria under a brutal dictator while the international community is serving up effete condemnations. America’s ally Israel appears ready to take matters into its own hands in order to ensure its survival, while prospects for peace with Palestine remain dim. U.S. citizens are trapped in Egypt as anti-Western Islamists seek to consolidate their power. And Iraq’s once-peaceful prospects have been marred by one terrorist attack after another after America’s military forces departed. Obama has failed at every turn to safeguard U.S. interests in the region or take effective proactive initiatives to deal with threat of rising extremism and spiraling violence that could lead to regional conflict.
There are actions the United States can and should take. Phillips explains that in Syria, “the best assistance that the United States can give to ease the suffering of Syrians is to help speed the fall of the Assad regime.” And it can do it by working with European allies, Turkey, and Arab states to escalate sanctions, provide humanitarian relief to refugees, and provide diplomatic and economic support for the Syrian opposition — while holding back from military intervention.
To address Israel and Iran, Phillips and James Carafano advise that the United States must have a clear and unambiguous policy that it will protect itself and its interests.
As for Egypt, Phillips writes that America should “freeze U.S. foreign aid to Cairo and give Egypt’s new leaders an ultimatum: free the American hostages or permanently lose U.S. foreign aid and any American help in refinancing Egypt’s burdensome national debt.”
More broadly, President Obama must fundamentally change course toward the Middle East. His policy of engagement has not worked, and the world is seeing the results. The Middle East is crumbling, and an ineffectual and inert Obama Administration is leading from behind with a foreign policy that has entirely failed to cope with the rapidly devolving conditions along the Mediterranean’s southeastern shores and beyond, with consequences reaching around the world.
- Syrian Crisis: Embassy closure, UN Security Council vetoes intervention (examiner.com)
- Why UN Gridlock On Syria Could Encourage Israel To Attack Iran (businessinsider.com)
- Syria: Dictatorship 101 (papundits.wordpress.com)
- America’s Hypocritical Double-Standards for “Democracy” (therearenosunglasses.wordpress.com)
BEIJING | Sun Feb 5, 2012 9:07pm EST
(Reuters) – China’s top newspaper on Monday defended Beijing’s rejection of a U.N. resolution pressing Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad to abandon power, saying Western campaigns in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq showed the error of forced regime change.
The commentary in the People’s Daily, the top newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, was Beijing’s clearest defence of its decision to join Moscow at the weekend in vetoing a draft United Nations resolution that would have backed an Arab plan urging Assad to quit after months of bloodshed.
The commentary suggested that Chinese distrust of Western intervention lay behind the veto, which was described by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a “travesty.”
“The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate and numbers of civilian casualties keep rising. Vetoing the draft Security Council resolution does not mean we are giving free rein to letting this heart-rending state of affairs continue,” said the commentary in the paper, which echoes government thinking.
China, not its Western critics, was acting “responsibly” for the sake of the Syrian people, it said. The author used the pen name “Zhong Sheng,” which can mean “voice of China” and is often used to give Beijing’s position on foreign policy.
“Currently, the situation in Syria is extremely complex. Simplistically supporting one side and suppressing the other might seem a helpful way of turning things around, but in fact it would be sowing fresh seeds of disaster,” said the paper.
China’s siding with Russia over Syria could add to irritants with the United States. Vice President Xi Jinping is due to visit there next week, burnishing his credentials as the Communist Party’s likely next top leader.
Beijing and Washington have also sparred over Iran, which faces tightened Western sanctions over its nuclear ambitions.
The commentary also laid bare broader Chinese concerns about Western-backed intervention in the Arab world and beyond.
China is one of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members that hold the power to veto resolutions.
In March, China abstained from a Council vote that authorised Western military intervention in Libya. That resolution became the basis for a NATO air campaign that led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, despite misgivings from Beijing and Moscow about the expanded campaign, which they said went beyond the resolution.
“Libya offers a negative case study. NATO abused the Security Council resolution about establishing a no-fly zone, and directly provided firepower assistance to one side in the Libyan war,” said the People’s Daily Commentary.
It also cited Iraq and Afghanistan in its case against the Syria resolution.
“The calamities of Iraq and Afghanistan should be ample to wipe clear the world’s eyes. Forceful prevention of a humanitarian disaster sounds filled with a sense of justice and responsibility,” said the paper.
“But are not the unstoppable attacks and explosions over a decade after regime change a humanitarian disaster?” it said.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Paul Tait)
- VIDEO: West angry at UN Syria vote veto (bbc.co.uk)
- Syria: UN veto gives Assad ‘licence to kill’ – opposition – BBC News (bbc.co.uk)
- Russia, China Block U.N. Resolution To Curb Syrian Violence (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Russia and China Veto Western Aggression Against Syria at the UN (02varvara.wordpress.com)
- Syria: Russia and China’s resolution veto shames UN, says William Hague – Telegraph.co.uk (telegraph.co.uk)
- Russia, China veto UN Security Council resolution on Syria (rt.com)
- AJC Dismayed by Russia and China Veto of UN Security Council Resolution on Syria (prnewswire.com)
Posted By Josh Rogin
As the violence in Syria spirals out of control, top officials in President Barack Obama‘s administration are quietly preparing options for how to assist the Syrian opposition, including gaming out the unlikely option of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria and preparing for another major diplomatic initiative.
Critics on Capitol Hill accuse the Obama administration of being slow to react to the quickening deterioration of the security situation in Syria, where over 5,000 have died, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many lawmakers say the White House is once again “leading from behind,” while the Turks, the French, and the Arab League — which sent an observer mission to Syria this week – take the initiative to pursue more aggressive strategies for pressuring the Assad regime. But U.S. officials said that they are moving cautiously in order to avoid destabilizing Syria further, and to make sure they know as much as possible about the country’s complex dynamics before getting more involved.
But the administration does see the status quo in Syria as unsustainable. The Bashar al Assad regime is a “dead man walking,” State Department official Fred Hof said this month. So the administration is now ramping up its policymaking machinery on the issue. After several weeks of having no top-level administration meetings to discuss the Syria crisis, the National Security Council (NSC) has begun an informal, quiet interagency process to create and collect options for aiding the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed to The Cable.
The process, led by NSC Senior Director Steve Simon, involves only a few select officials from State, Defense, Treasury, and other relevant agencies. The group is unusually small, presumably to prevent media leaks, and the administration is not using the normal process of Interagency Policy Committee (IPC), Deputies Committee (DC), or Principals Committee (PC) meetings, the officials said. Another key official inside the discussions is Hof, who is leading the interactions with Syrian opposition leaders and U.S. allies.
The options that are under consideration include establishing a humanitarian corridor or safe zone for civilians in Syria along the Turkish border, extending humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels, providing medical aid to Syrian clinics, engaging more with the external and internal opposition, forming an international contact group, or appointing a special coordinator for working with the Syrian opposition (as was done in Libya), according to the two officials, both of whom are familiar with the discussions but not in attendance at the meetings.
“The interagency is now looking at options for Syria, but it’s still at the preliminary stage,” one official said. “There are many people in the administration that realize the status quo is unsustainable and there is an internal recognition that existing financial sanctions are not going to bring down the Syrian regime in the near future.”
After imposing several rounds of financial sanctions on Syrian regime leaders, the focus is now shifting to assisting the opposition directly. The interagency process is still ongoing and the NSC has tasked State and DOD to present options in the near future, but nothing has been decided, said the officials – one of whom told The Cable that the administration was being intentionally cautious out of concern about what comes next in Syria.
“Due to the incredible and far-reaching ramifications of the Syrian problem set, people are being very cautious,” the official said. “The criticism could be we’re not doing enough to change the status quo because we’re leading from behind. But the reason we are being so cautious is because when you look at the possible ramifications, it’s mindboggling.”
A power vacuum in the country, loose weapons of mass destruction, a refugee crisis, and unrest across the region are just a few of the problems that could attend the collapse of the Assad regime, the official said.
“This isn’t Libya. What happens in Libya stays in Libya, but that is not going to happen in Syria. The stakes are higher,” the official said. “Right now, we see the risks of moving too fast as higher than the risks of moving too slow.”
The option of establishing a humanitarian corridor is seen as extremely unlikely because it would require establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, which would likely involve large-scale attacks on the Syrian air defense and military command-and-control systems.
“That’s theoretically one of the options, but it’s so far out of the realm that no one is thinking about that seriously at the moment,” another administration official said.
Although the opposition is decidedly split on the issue, Burhan Ghalioun, the president of the Syrian National Council, earlier this month called on the international community to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria.
“Our main objective is finding mechanisms to protect civilians and stop the killing machine,” said Ghalioun. “We say it is imperative to use forceful measures to force the regime to respect human rights.”
Is the U.S. bark worse than its bite?
Rhetorically, the administration has been active in calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside and protecting the rights of Syrian protesters, despite the lack of clear policy to achieve that result. “The United States continues to believe that the only way to bring about the change that the Syrian people deserve is for Bashar al-Assad to leave power,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Dec. 21.
On Tuesday, Dec. 27, the administration hinted at stronger action if the Syrian government doesn’t let the Arab League monitors do their work. “If the Syrian regime continues to resist and disregard Arab League efforts, the international community will consider other means to protect Syrian civilians,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), the primary organization representing the opposition, has been very clear that it is seeking more than rhetorical support from the United States and the international community. An extensive policy paper titled, “Safe Area for Syria,” edited by SNC member Ausama Monajed, laid out the argument for armed intervention by the international community to aid Syrian civilians.
“The Syrian National Council (SNC) is entering a critical phase in the Syrian revolution whereby the hope of a continued campaign of passive resistance to an exceptionally brutal and unrestrained regime is becoming more and more akin to a suicide pact,” Monajed wrote.
But Washington is uncomfortable acting in concert with the SNC: Officials say there is a lack of confidence that the SNC, which is strongly influenced by expatriate Syrians, has the full support of the internal opposition. U.S. officials are also wary of supporting the Syria Free Army, made up of Syrian military defectors and armed locals, as they do not want to be seen as becoming militarily engaged against the regime — a story line they fear that Assad could use for his own propaganda, officials said.
There is also some internal bureaucratic wrangling at play. This summer, when the issue of sending emergency medical equipment into Syria came up in a formal interagency meeting, disputes over jurisdiction stalled progress on the discussion, officials told The Cable. No medical aid was sent.
So for now, the administration is content to let the Arab League monitoring mission play out and await its Jan. 20 report. The officials said that the administration hopes to use the report to begin a new diplomatic initiative in late January at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Assad and authorize direct assistance to the opposition.
The officials acknowledged that this new initiative could fail due to Russian support for the Assad regime. If that occurs, the administration would work with its allies such as France and Turkey to establish their own justification for non-military humanitarian intervention in Syria, based on evidence from the Arab League report and other independent reporting on Assad’s human rights abuses. This process could take weeks, however, meaning that material assistance from the United States to the Syrian opposition probably wouldn’t flow at least until late February or early March. Between now and then, hundreds or even thousands more could be killed.
There is also disagreement within the administration about whether the Arab League observer mission is credible and objective.
“This is an Arab issue right now, and the Arab League is really showing initiative for the first time in a long time,” said one administration official.
“[The Arab League monitoring mission] is all Kabuki theatre,” said another administration official who does not work directly on Syria. “We’re intentionally setting the bar too high [for intervention] as means of maintaining the status quo, which is to do nothing.”
Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the administration was caught off-guard by how the opposition became militarized so quickly. The administration’s message had been to urge the opposition to remain peaceful, but that ship has now sailed, he said.
“We have a pretty strong policy of not engaging the Syria Free Army directly, because earlier it was agreed that peaceful protesters had the moral high ground over the regime and were more able to encourage defections,” he said. “But there was no clear light at the end of that peaceful protest strategy. We assumed, incorrectly, that the civil resistance strategies used in Egypt and Tunisia were being adopted by the Syrian opposition, but that didn’t happen.”
Most experts in Washington have a deep skepticism toward the Arab League monitoring mission. For one thing, it is led by a Sudanese general who has been accused of founding the Arab militias that wreaked havoc in Darfur. Also, many doubt that 150 monitors that will eventually be in Syria can cover the vast number of protests and monitor such a large country.
The Assad regime has also been accused of subverting the monitoring mission by moving political prisoners to military sites that are off-limits to monitors, repositioning tanks away from cities only when monitors are present, and having soldiers pose as police to downplay the military’s role in cracking down on the protesters.
“It seems awfully risky for the U.S. to be putting its chips all in on that mission,” said Tony Badran, a research fellow with the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “There never was a serious mechanism for it to be a strong initiative.”
Badran said that the Arab League monitoring mission just gives the Assad regime time and space to maneuver, and provides Russia with another excuse to delay international action on Syria.
“Now you understand why the Russians pushed the Syrians to accept the monitors,” he said. “It allows the Syrians to delay the emergence of consensus.”
Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the administration is trying to balance the value of protecting civilians with the interests of trying to ensure a measure of stability in Syria.
“The biggest thing is extensive consultation with as many international allies as possible. That’s another feature of this administration,” said Katulis. “And when change does come to Syria, the Syrians have to own it.”
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to requests for comment.
- The US must ratchet up pressure on Syria | Matthew Brodsky (guardian.co.uk)
- Activists: Syrian troops kill 9 despite monitors (goerie.com)
- Arab League monitors head to Syrian opposition stronghold – CNN (edition.cnn.com)
- US: Assad’s Syria a ‘dead man walking’ (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- White House warning: Assad must end crackdown or face ‘additional steps’ (jta.org)
- Syria frees 755 prisoners as observers tour Homs (theglobeandmail.com)
- Protest could be turning point in Syrian unrest (smh.com.au)
A former official from within the ranks of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is reporting that US and NATO forces have landed outside of Syria and are training militants to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, formerly a translator with the FBI, wrote over the weekend that American soldiers are among the NATO troops that have mysteriously and suddenly landed on the Jordanian and Syrian border. According to her, several sources internationally have confirmed the news, although the US media has been instructed to temporarily censor itself from reporting the news.
Additionally, Edmonds says that American and NATO forces are training Turkish troops as well, to possibly launch a strike from the north of Syria.
Edmonds writes that an Iraqi journalist based out of London has confirmed that US forces that vacated the Ain al-Assad Air Base in Iraq last week did in fact leave the country as part of President Obama’s drawdown of troops, but rather than return home, the soldiers were transferred into Jordan during the late hours of Thursday evening. Another source, writes Edmonds, informs her that “soldiers who speak languages other than Arabic” have been moving through Jordan mere miles from the country’s border with Syria. Troops believed to be NATO/American-affiliated have been spotted between the King Hussein Air Base in al-Mafraq and the Jordanian village of Albaej and its vicinity.
Nizar Nayouf, a correspondent for Edmond’s Boiling Frog Post whistleblower site, says an employee of the London-based offices of Royal Jordanian Airlines has further confirmed that at least one US aircraft transporting military personnel has brought American troops into Jordan in recent days. Nayouf, the former editor-in-chief of Sawt al-Democratiyya (Democracy’s Vote), had previously been sentenced to a decade behind bars for critiquing the Syrian government. He later won several human rights awards and the 2000 UNISCO prize for press freedom.
Since the uprising of rebel forces opposing al-Assad’s regime over Syria nearly a year ago, American officials have been critical of the country’s government but insist that they have otherwise distanced themselves from becoming involved in the protests. Following the deaths of dozens of protesters in the spring of 2011, the United States imposed strict sanctions against the official government of Syria.
Navi Pillay, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, revealed this week that the uprising in Syria has caused over 5,000 deaths since it began in early 2011. In the case of the crackdown against former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, NATO involvement began only one month into the uprising. Nine months later, the total death toll of the Libyan Civil War is estimated to be close to 30,000.
In her report, Edmonds says that NATO troops have been training soldiers just outside of Syria since as early as May, and that US media is prohibited from reporting on it until today. The Turkish paper Milliyet also reports that defected Syrian colonel Riad al-Assad is preparing troops to take over the Syrian government as well.
- US troops surround Syria on the eve of invasion? (promoteliberty.wordpress.com)
- Report: Foreign Troops Begin to Spread Near the Villages of Al-Mafraq – thanks to VK (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
- US Special Forces Mass On Syrian Border (colonel6.com)