Russia to deploy military police on Golan Heights

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

 

Russia to deploy military police on Golan Heights

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will deploy its military police on the Golan Heights frontier between Syria and Israel, its defense ministry said on Thursday, after weeks of mounting volatility in the area.

Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoi speaks during a news briefing, with a map showing the territory of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria seen in the background, in Moscow, Russia August 2, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s sweeping away of rebels in southwestern Syria has worried Israel, which believes it could allow his Iranian backers to entrench their troops close to the frontier.

Underlining the tensions, Israel killed seven militants in an overnight air strike on the Syrian-held part of the Golan Heights, Israeli radio said on Thursday.

Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian defense ministry official, said that Russian military police had on Thursday begun patrolling in the Golan Heights and planned to set up eight observation posts in the area.

He said the Russian presence there was in support of United Nations peacekeepers on the Golan Heights who, he said, had suspended their activities in the area in 2012 because their safety was endangered.

“Today, UN peacekeepers accompanied by Russian military police conducted their first patrols in six years in the separation zone,” Rudskoi told a briefing for journalists in Moscow.

“With the aim of preventing possible provocations against UN posts along the ‘Bravo’ line, the deployment is planned of eight observation posts of Russia’s armed forces’ military police,” Rudskoi said.

He said the Russian presence there was temporary, and that the observation posts would be handed over to Syrian government forces once the situation stabilized.

The deployment of the Russian military police highlights the degree to which the Kremlin has become an influential actor in Middle East conflicts since its military intervention in Syria which turned the tide of the war in Assad’s favor.

Israel has been lobbying the Kremlin to use its influence with Assad, and with Tehran, to try to get the Iranian military presence in Syria scaled back.

Israel sees Iran, and Iran’s allies in the Hezbollah Shi’ite military, as a direct threat to its national security.

That message was conveyed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met in Moscow last month, a senior Israeli official said.

Iranian forces have withdrawn their heavy weapons in Syria to a distance of 85 km (53 miles) from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, TASS quoted a Russian envoy as saying on Wednesday, but Israel deemed the pullback inadequate.

Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christian Lowe, Richard Balmforth

Syria: Truth Knowledge And The History Of This Very Important Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA FACT BOOK)

 

Syria

Introduction Following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, France administered Syria until its independence in 1946. The country lacked political stability, however, and experienced a series of military coups during its first decades. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In September 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In November 1970, Hafiz al-ASAD, a member of the Socialist Ba’th Party and the minority Alawite sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. During the 1990s, Syria and Israel held occasional peace talks over its return. Following the death of President al-ASAD, his son, Bashar al-ASAD, was approved as president by popular referendum in July 2000. Syrian troops – stationed in Lebanon since 1976 in an ostensible peacekeeping role – were withdrawn in April 2005. During the July-August 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah, Syria placed its military forces on alert but did not intervene directly on behalf of its ally Hizballah.
History Eblan civilization

Around the excavated city of Ebla in northern Syria, discovered in 1975, a great Semitic empire spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia from 2500 to 2400 BC Ebla appears to have been founded around 3000 BC, and gradually built its empire through trade with the cities of Sumer and Akkad, as well as with peoples to the northwest. Gifts from Pharaohs, found during excavations, confirm Ebla’s contact with Egypt. Scholars believe the language of Ebla to be among the oldest known written Semitic languages, designated as Paleo-Canaanite. However, more recent classifications of the Eblaite language has shown that it was an East Semitic language, closely related to the Akkadian language. The Eblan civilization was likely conquered by Sargon of Akkad around 2260 BC; the city was restored, as the nation of the Amorites, a few centuries later, and flourished through the early second millennium BC until conquered by the Hittites.

Antiquity and early Christian era

During the second millennium BC, Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Arameans as part of the general disruptions and exchanges associated with the Sea Peoples. The Phoenicians settled along the coast of Palestine, as well as in the west (Lebanon), which was already known for its towering cedars. Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Hittites variously occupied the strategic ground of Syria during this period; the land between their various empires being marsh. Eventually, the Persians took Syria as part of their hegemony of Southwest Asia; this dominion was transferred to the Ancient Macedonians after Alexander the Great’s conquests and the Seleucid Empire. The capital of this Empire (founded in 312BC) was situated at Antioch, modern day Antakya just inside the Turkish border. But the Seleucid Empire was essentially just one long slow period of decline, and Pompey the Great captured Antioch in 64BC, turning Syria into a Roman province. Thus control of this region passed to the Romans and then the Byzantines.

In the Roman Empire period, the city of Antioch was the third largest city in the empire after Rome and Alexandria. With estimated population of 500,000 at its peak, Antioch was one of the major centres of trade and industry in the ancient world. The population of Syria during the heyday of the empire was probably not exceeded again until the 19th century. Syria’s large and prosperous population made Syria one of the most important of the Roman provinces, particularly during the 2nd and 3rd centuries (A.D.). The Roman Emperor Alexander Severus, who was emperor from 222 to 235, was Syrian. His cousin Elagabalus, who was emperor from 218 to 222, was also Syrian and his family held hereditary rights to the high priesthood of the sun god El-Gabal at Emesa (modern Homs) in Syria. Another Roman emperor who was a Syrian was Marcus Julius Philippus, emperor from 244 to 249.

Syria is significant in the history of Christianity; Saul of Tarsus was converted on the Road to Damascus, thereafter being known as the Apostle Paul, and established the first organized Christian Church at Antioch in ancient Syria, from which he left on many of his missionary journeys.(Acts 9:1-43 )

Islamic era

By AD 640, Syria was conquered by the Rashidun army led by Khaled ibn al-Walid, resulting in the area becoming part of the Islamic empire. In the mid-7th century, the Umayyad dynasty, then rulers of the empire, placed the capital of the empire in Damascus. Syria was divided into four districts: Damascus, Hims, Palestine and Jordan. The Islamic empire stretched from Spain and Morocco to India and parts of Central Asia, thus Syria prospered economically, being the capital of the empire. Early Ummayad rulers such as Abd al-Malik and al-Walid constructed several splendid palaces and mosques throughout Syria, particularly in Damascus, Aleppo and Hims. There was great toleration of Christians in this era and several held governmental posts. The country’s power dramatically declined during later Ummayad rule; mainly due to the totalitarianism and corruption spread among the empire’s leaderships, conflict between its general staff, and the successive revolutions by the oppressed and miserable groups. As one Ummayad chieftain responded to a question about the reasons of the decline of their empire: “Rather visiting what needed to be visited, we were more interested in the pleasure and enjoyment of life; we oppressed our people until they gave up and sought relief from us, […] we trusted our ministers who favoured their own interests and kept secrets from us, and we unhurriedly rewarded our soldiers that we lost their obedience to our enemies.” Ummayad dynasty was then overthrown by the Abbasid dynasty in 750, who moved the capital of empire to Baghdad. Arabic — made official under Ummayad rule — became the dominant language, replacing Greek and Aramaic in the Abbasid era. In 887, the Egypt-based Tulunids annexed Syria from the Abbasids, and were later replaced by the Hamdanids originating in Aleppo founded by Sayf al-Daula.

Sections of the coastline of Syria were briefly held by Frankish overlords during the Crusades of the 12th century, and were known as the Crusader state of the Principality of Antioch. The area was also threatened by Shiite extremists known as Assassins (Hashshashin). In 1260, the Mongols arrived, led by Hulegu with an army 100,000 strong, destroying cities and irrigation works. Aleppo fell in January 1260, and Damascus in March, but then Hulegu needed to break off his attack to return to China to deal with a succession dispute. The command of the remaining Mongol troops was placed under Kitbugha, a Christian Mongol. A few months later, the Mamluks arrived with an army from Egypt, and defeated the Mongols in the Battle of Ayn Jalut, in Galilee. The Mamluk leader, Baybars, made his capitals in Cairo and Damascus, linked by a mail service that traveled by both horses and carrier pigeons. When Baybars died, his successor was overthrown, and power was taken by a Turk named Qalawun. In the meantime, an emir named Sunqur al-Ashqar had tried to declare himself ruler of Damascus, but he was defeated by Qalawun on 21 June 1280, and fled to northern Syria. Al-Ashqar, who had married a Mongol woman, appealed for help from the Mongols, and in 1281, they arrived with an army of 50,000 Mongols, and 30,000 Armenian, Georgian, and Turkish auxiliaries, along with Al-Ashqar’s rebel force. The Mongols of the Ilkhanate took the city, but Qalawun arrived with a Mamluk force, persuaded Al-Ashqar to switch sides and join him, and they fought against the Mongols on 29 October 1281, in the Second Battle of Homs, a close battle which resulted in the death of the majority of the combatants, but was finally won by the Mamluks.

In 1400, Timur Lenk, or Tamerlane, invaded Syria, sacked Aleppo and captured Damascus after defeating the Mamluk army. The city’s inhabitants were massacred, except for the artisans, who were deported to Samarkand. It was during the conquests of Timur that the indigenous Christian population of Syria began to suffer under greater persecutions.

By the end of the 15th century, the discovery of a sea route from Europe to the Far East ended the need for an overland trade route through Syria. Shattered by the Mongols, Syria was easily absorbed into the Ottoman Empire from the 16th through 20th centuries, and found itself largely apart from, and ignored by, world affairs. see also Ottoman Syria

Ottoman era

Fighting on the side of Germany during World War I, plans by the Entente powers to dissolve this great Ottoman territory could now begin. Two allied diplomats (Frenchman François Georges-Picot and Briton Mark Sykes) secretly agreed, long before the end of the war, how to split the Ottoman Empire into several zones of influence. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 set the fate of modern Southwest Asia for the coming century; providing France with the northern zone (Syria, with later the upcoming Lebanon), and the United Kingdom with the southern one (Jordan, Iraq and later, after renegotiations in 1917, Palestine – ‘to secure daily transportation of troops from Haifa to Baghdad’ – agreement n° 7). The two territories were only separated with a straight border line from Jordan to Iran. But early discoveries of oil in the region of Mosul just before to end of the war led to yet another negotiation with France in 1918 to cede this region to ‘Zone B’, or the British zone of influence. The borders between the ‘Zone A’ and ‘Zone B’ have not changed from 1918 to this date. Since 1920, the two sides have been recognized internationally under mandate of the League of Nations by the two dominant countries; France and the United Kingdom.

French Mandate

The National Bloc signing the Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence in Paris in 1936. From left to right: Saadallah al-Jabiri, Jamil Mardam Bey, Hashim al-Atassi (signing), and French Prime Minister Léon Blum.

In 1920, an independent Arab Kingdom of Syria was established under Faisal I of the Hashemite family, who later became the King of Iraq. However, his rule over Syria ended after only a few months, following the clash between his Syrian Arab forces and regular French forces at the Battle of Maysalun. French troops occupied Syria later that year after the San Remo conference proposed that the League of Nations put Syria under a French mandate. Syria and France negotiated a treaty of independence in September 1936, and Hashim al-Atassi, who was Prime Minister under King Faisal’s brief reign, was the first president to be elected under a new constitution, effectively the first incarnation of the modern republic of Syria. However, the treaty never came into force because the French Legislature refused to ratify it. With the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Syria came under the control of the Vichy Government until the British and Free French occupied the country in July 1941. A famous singer of the time, Asmahan, assisted the British and free French forces by using her fame to convince the Syrians to allow the forces in without a fight (see Wikipedia reference to Asmahan). Syria proclaimed its independence again in 1941 but it wasn’t until 1 January 1944 that it was recognised as an independent republic. Continuing pressure from Syrian nationalist groups and British pressure forced the French to evacuate their troops in April 1946, leaving the country in the hands of a republican government that had been formed during the mandate.

Instability and foreign relations: independence to 1967

Although rapid economic development followed the declaration of independence, Syrian politics from independence through the late 1960s were marked by upheaval. Between 1946 and 1956, Syria had 20 different cabinets and drafted four separate constitutions. In 1948, Syria was involved in the Arab-Israeli War, aligning with the other local Arab nations who were attempting to prevent the establishment of Israel. The Syrian army was pressed out of most of the Israel area, but fortified their strongholds on the Golan Heights and managed to keep their old borders and some additional territory (this was converted into “supposed” demilitarized zones under UN supervision, but then gradually lost to Israel in the inter-war years; the status of these territories have proved a stumbling-block for Syrian-Israeli negotiations).

The humiliating defeat suffered by the army was one of several trigger factors for Col. Husni al-Za’im’s seizure of power in 1949, in what has been described as the first military coup d’état of the Arab world. This was soon followed by a new coup, by Col. Sami al-Hinnawi, who was then himself quickly deposed by Col. Adib Shishakli, all within the same year. After exercising influence behind the scenes for some time, dominating the ravaged parliamentary scene, Shishakli launched a second coup in 1951, entrenching his rule and eventually abolishing multipartyism altogether. Only when president Shishakli was himself overthrown in a 1954 coup, was the parliamentary system restored, but it was fundamentally undermined by continued political maneuvering supported by competing factions in the military. By this time, civilian politics had been largely gutted of meaning, and power was increasingly concentrated in the military and security establishment, which had now proven itself to be the only force capable of seizing and – perhaps – keeping power. Parliamentary institutions remained weak and ineffectual, dominated by competing parties representing the landowning elites and various Sunni urban notables, while economy and politics were mismanaged, and little done to better the role of Syria’s peasant majority. This, as well as the influence of Nasserism and other anti-colonial ideologies, created fertile ground for various Arab nationalist, Syrian nationalist and socialist movements, who represented disaffected elements of society, notably including the religious minorities, and demanded radical reform.

During the Suez Crisis of 1956, after the invasion of the Sinai Peninsula by Israeli troops, and the intervention of British and French troops, martial law was declared in Syria. The November 1956 attacks on Iraqi pipelines were in retaliation for Iraq’s acceptance into the Baghdad Pact. In early 1957 Iraq advised Egypt and Syria against a conceivable takeover of Jordan.

In November 1956 Syria signed a pact with the Soviet Union, providing a foothold for Communist influence within the government in exchange for planes, tanks, and other military equipment being sent to Syria. With this increase in the strength of Syrian military technology worried Turkey, as it seemed feasible that Syria might attempt to retake Iskenderun, a matter of dispute between Syria and Turkey. On the other hand, Syria and the U.S.S.R. accused Turkey of massing its troops at the Syrian border. During this standoff, Communists gained more control over the Syrian government and military. Only heated debates in the United Nations (of which Syria was an original member) lessened the threat of war.

Syria’s political instability during the years after the 1954 coup, the parallelism of Syrian and Egyptian policies, and the appeal of Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser’s leadership in the wake of the Suez crisis created support in Syria for union with Egypt. On 1 February 1958, Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli and Nasser announced the merging of the two countries, creating the United Arab Republic, and all Syrian political parties, as well as the Communists therein, ceased overt activities.

The union was not a success, however. Following a military coup on 28 September 1961, Syria seceded, reestablishing itself as the Syrian Arab Republic. Instability characterized the next 18 months, with various coups culminating on 8 March 1963, in the installation by leftist Syrian Army officers of the National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC), a group of military and civilian officials who assumed control of all executive and legislative authority. The takeover was engineered by members of the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Baath Party), which had been active in Syria and other Arab countries since the late 1940s. The new cabinet was dominated by Baath members.

The Baath takeover in Syria followed a Baath coup in Iraq the previous month. The new Syrian Government explored the possibility of federation with Egypt and with Baath-controlled Iraq. An agreement was concluded in Cairo on 17 April 1963, for a referendum on unity to be held in September 1963. However, serious disagreements among the parties soon developed, and the tripartite federation failed to materialize. Thereafter, the Baath government in Syria and Iraq began to work for bilateral unity. These plans foundered in November 1963, when the Baath government in Iraq was overthrown. In May 1964, President Amin Hafiz of the NCRC promulgated a provisional constitution providing for a National Council of the Revolution (NCR), an appointed legislature composed of representatives of mass organizations—labour, peasant, and professional unions—a presidential council, in which executive power was vested, and a cabinet. On 23 February 1966, a group of army officers carried out a successful, intra-party coup, imprisoned President Hafiz, dissolved the cabinet and the NCR, abrogated the provisional constitution, and designated a regionalist, civilian Baath government on 1 March. The coup leaders described it as a “rectification” of Baath Party principles.

Six Day War and Aftermath

The new government generally aligned itself with the hawkish Nasser in intra-Arab conflicts over how hard of a line to take against Israel. When Nasser closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Eilat-bound ships, the Baath government supported the Egyptian leader, amassed troops in the strategic Golan Heights to defend itself against Israeli shellings into Syria. According to the UN office in Jerusalem from 1955 until 1967 65 of the 69 border flare-ups between Syria and Israel were caused and started by Israel. The New York Times reported in 1997 that “Moshe Dayan, the celebrated commander who, a Defense Minister in 1967, gave the order to conquer the Golan…[said] many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for their farmland.” After Israel launched a preemptive strike on Egypt to begin the June 1967 war, Syria joined the battle against Israel as well. In the final days of the war, after having captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, as well as the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from Jordan, Israel turned its attention to Syria, capturing the entire Golan Heights in under 48 hours.

Conflict developed between an extremist military wing and a more moderate civilian wing of the Baath Party. The 1970 retreat of Syrian forces sent to aid the PLO during the “Black September” hostilities with Jordan reflected this political disagreement within the ruling Baath leadership. By 13 November 1970, Minister of Defense Hafez al-Assad was solidly established as the strongman of the government, when he effected a bloodless military coup (“The Corrective Movement”).

Baath Party rule under Hafez al-Assad, 1970–2000

Upon assuming power, Hafez al-Assad moved quickly to create an organizational infrastructure for his government and to consolidate control. The Provisional Regional Command of Assad’s Arab Baath Socialist Party nominated a 173-member legislature, the People’s Council, in which the Baath Party took 87 seats. The remaining seats were divided among “popular organizations” and other minor parties. In March 1971, the party held its regional congress and elected a new 21-member Regional Command headed by Assad. In the same month, a national referendum was held to confirm Assad as President for a 7-year term. In March 1972, to broaden the base of his government, Assad formed the National Progressive Front, a coalition of parties led by the Baath Party, and elections were held to establish local councils in each of Syria’s 14 governorates. In March 1973, a new Syrian constitution went into effect followed shortly thereafter by parliamentary elections for the People’s Council, the first such elections since 1962.

On 6 October 1973, Syria and Egypt began the Yom Kippur War by staging a surprise attack against Israel (Arabs call it the “Ramadan War” or “October War” because Syria and Egypt attacked during Ramadan in the month of October). But despite the element of surprise, the Israeli army had recovered, pushed the Syrian army out of the Golan and invaded into Syrian territory beyond the 1967 border. As a result, Israel continued to occupy the Golan Heights as part of the Israeli-occupied territories.

In early 1976, the Lebanese civil war was going poorly for the Maronite Christians. Syria sent 40,000 troops into the country to prevent them from being overrun, but soon became embroiled in the Lebanese Civil War, beginning the 30 year Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Many crimes in Lebanon were associated to the Syrians forces and intelligences: Kamal Jumblat, Bachir Gemayel, Moufti Hassan Khaled, Rene Mouawad,… Over the following 15 years of civil war, Syria fought both for control over Lebanon, and as an attempt to undermine Israel in southern Lebanon, through extensive use of Lebanese allies as proxy fighters. Many see the Syrian Army’s presence in Lebanon as an occupation, especially following the end of the civil war in 1990, after the Syrian-sponsored Taif Agreement. Syria then remained in Lebanon until 2005, exerting a heavy-handed influence over Lebanese politics, that was deeply resented by many.

About one million Syrian workers came into Lebanon after the war ended to find jobs in the reconstruction of the country.[28] Syrian workers were preferred over Palestinian and Lebanese workers because they could be paid lower wages, but some have argued that the Syrian government’s encouragement of citizens entering its small and militarily dominated neighbor in search of work, was in fact an attempt at Syrian colonization of Lebanon. Now, the economies of Syria and Lebanon are completely interdependent. In 1994, under pressure from Damascus, the Lebanese government controversially granted citizenship to over 200,000 Syrian residents in the country., (For more on these issues, see Demographics of Lebanon)

The authoritarian government was not without its critics, though open dissent was repressed. A serious challenge arose in the late 1970s, however, from fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, who reject the basic values of the secular Baath program and object to rule by the Alawis, whom they consider heretical. From 1976 until its suppression in 1982, the arch-conservative Muslim Brotherhood led an armed insurgency against the government. In response to an attempted uprising by the brotherhood in February 1982, the government crushed the fundamentalist opposition centered in the city of Hama, leveling parts of the city with artillery fire and causing between 10.000 and 25.000 of dead and wounded, mostly civilians (see Hama massacre). Since then, public manifestations of anti-government activity have been very limited.

Syria’s 1990 participation in the U.S.-led multinational coalition aligned against Saddam Hussein marked a dramatic watershed in Syria’s relations both with other Arab states and with the Western world. Syria participated in the multilateral Southwest Asia Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991, and during the 1990s engaged in direct, face-to-face negotiations with Israel. These negotiations failed, and there have been no further direct Syrian-Israeli talks since President Hafiz al-Assad’s meeting with then President Bill Clinton in Geneva in March 2000.

21st century

Hafiz al-Assad died on 10 June 2000, after 30 years in power. Immediately following al-Assad’s death, the Parliament amended the constitution, reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34. This allowed his son, Bashar al-Assad, to become legally eligible for nomination by the ruling Baath party. On 10 July 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected President by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote, according to Syrian Government statistics. He was inaugurated into office on 17 July 2000 for a 7-year term. He is married to Asma al-Assad, an activist herself and advocate of reforms.

Billboard with portrait of Assad and the text God protects Syria on the old city wall of Damascus 2006.

Under Bashar al-Assad hundreds of political prisoners were released and a steps were taken towards easing media restrictions. However, Bashar al-Assad has made it clear that his priority is economic rather than political reform.

On 5 October 2003, Israel bombed a site near Damascus, charging it was a terrorist training facility for members of Islamic Jihad. The raid was in retaliation for the bombing of a restaurant in the Israeli town of Haifa that killed 19. Islamic Jihad said the camp was not in use; Syria said the attack was on a civilian area.

The German Chancellor said that the attack “cannot be accepted” and the French Foreign Ministry said “The Israeli operation… constituted an unacceptable violation of international law and sovereignty rules.” The Spanish UN Ambassador Inocencio Arias called it an attack of “extreme gravity” and “a clear violation of international law.” However, the United States moved closer to imposing sanctions on Syria, following the adoption of the Syria Accountability Act by the House of Representatives International Relations committee. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, all included in what the EU and the U.S view as terrorist groups, all take refuge and enjoy strong relationships with the Syrian government.

Syrian Kurds protest in Brussels, Geneva, in Germany at the US and UK embassies and in Turkey, against violence in north-east Syria starting Friday, 12 March, and reportedly extending over the weekend resulting in several deaths, according to reports. The Kurds allege the Syrian government encouraged and armed the attackers. Signs of rioting were seen in the towns of Qameshli and Hassakeh.

On 6 September 2007, Israeli jet fighters carried out an air strike in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, known as Operation Orchard, on a target claimed to be a nuclear reactor under construction by North Korean technicians. Reportedly a number of the technicians were killed.

2008 Israeli Peace Talks

In April, 2008, President Assad told a Qatari newspaper that Syria and Israel had been discussing a peace treaty for a year, with Turkey as a go-between. This was confirmed in May, 2008, by a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As well as a peace treaty, the future of the Golan Heights is being discussed. President Assad was quoted in the The Guardian as telling the Qatari paper:
…there would be no direct negotiations with Israel until a new US president takes office. The US was the only party qualified to sponsor any direct talks, [President Assad] told the paper, but added that the Bush administration “does not have the vision or will for the peace process. It does not have anything.”

(Just as George W. Bush was clueless about how  to do anything in the Middle-East except how to line the pockets of his family and friends so is the situation with this buffoon that sits in the White House today.  Since the Syrian Civil War started in 2011 hundreds of thousands of Syrian citizens have been slaughtered and there have been many people pulling on the triggers. Even though President al-Assad has never been a Saint by any means he was better than the alternatives that U.S. Secretary of State (at the time) Hillary Clinton was trying to use to over through President Assad with.  This war was an event that the U.S. Government should have stayed as far away from as it possibly could but I guess the revenue’s going to U.S. Arms makers and to the U.S. Military infrastructure was just to great to resist.)
(Before this Civil War ever started, back when the so called ‘Arab Spring’ was going around the map toward Syria I knew that if there was a war in Syria that President al-Assad would be the one standing when it was all over. I know that I am not the brightest bulb in the package so I know that there had to be many other annalists here in the U.S. and around the rest of the world that knew this too. For the same reasons that have proven to be reality, Russia being their ally along with Iran and Hezbollah all joining forces to make sure that the current status-quo stayed in effect. When the door was opened for a major Sunni army to invade Syria (ISIS) even the U.S. got into the direct ‘military game’. What I mean by game is simple, who was allowed to bomb who, and whom could we not bomb. Russia has been playing the same game, they are on Syria’s side but they were trying to not bomb the American soldiers even though we were wanting to bring down the Syrian government and we were trying to not bomb the Russian soldiers even though they are on the side of the Syrian government.)
(When this war is finished President al-Assad will still be the President yet the hate and mistrust among the people of Syria toward the government and the government toward the Syrian people will last for several decades. When the war is over the Nation of Syria will need trillions of dollars of loans from the international community in order to rebuild and it will take at least two or three decades to get the Syrian infrastructure back to the point it was at in March of 2011. Another reality is the old cities like Allepo which had buildings many hundreds of years old, can never be rebuilt to their former glory, ever. Now that this war is winding down I believe that President al-Assad must insist that Iran remove all of their assets out of Syria. There are two main reason that I say this. One is the example of this past month where Israel has gone after Iranian positions within Syria, Syria can have peace with Israel if they want it but they must expel Iran. The second reason is that if President al-Assad does not remove Iran’s military and Hezbollah’s military from Syrian soil it won’t be long until Tehran is dictating the policies inside of Syria, not President al-Assad.)(Commentary in red is by oldpoet56)

Russia deploys advanced stealth jets in Syria with warning aimed at Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Russia deploys advanced stealth jets in Syria with warning aimed at Israel

Satellite images show two Su-57 at airbase in Latakia; Russian official says presence of planes a ‘message’ to neighboring states who fly aircraft into Syria ‘uninvited’

The Su-57. (Photo by Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr)

The Su-57. (Photo by Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr)

Russia has deployed two of its most advanced and sophisticated stealth jets in Syria, in a power move likely to draw US criticism, as the Pentagon expressed its alarm earlier this month over recent close calls with Russian planes in the war-torn country.

Satellite images published by Israeli company ImageSat International on Friday showed the fifth-generation jets — two Su-57 fighter aircraft — at Russia’s airbase in the coastal Syrian city of Latakia. A source in the defense ministry confirmed to RBK news agency this week that the two planes were sent to the Hmeimim base “for a test in real conditions.” The jets are said to be a potential rival to the US’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which American forces use in patrols over Syria.

The deployment came with a covert warning to Israel by a Russian official, who said that the presence of the Su-57s will doubtlessly send a political message, serving as a deterrent “for aircraft from neighboring states, which periodically fly into Syrian airspace uninvited.”

Speaking to the Russian news network Sputnik, Vladimir Gutenov, chairman of the Military Industry Committee in the Russian parliament, said on Friday that the jets “need to be tested in combat conditions, in conditions of [enemy] resistance.”

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

New photos showing the additional 2 Russian Su-57 escorted by Su-30SM
landing today in the Russian Air Force base in

And a photo for the RuAF A-50U #41 Red landing at the AB after a combat mission.

 

Since 2015, when Moscow began lending air support to the regime of President Bashar Assad and carrying out airstrikes across the country, Russia and Israel have maintained an understanding aimed at avoiding accidental confrontations between the two countries in Syrian airspace. The countries use a “hotline” to communicate on security coordination.

Earlier this month, that mechanism was tested when Israel shot down an Iranian drone that has entered Israeli airspace, leading to large-scale Israeli strikes in Syria and heavy Syrian counter-fire. An Israeli F-16 fighter jet subsequently crashed under fire from Syrian air defenses in a severe increase in tensions.

In the wake of the attacks, Israel had appealed to Russia to intervene and prevent further escalation, and conveyed to Moscow that the events were proof that its warnings of Iranian entrenchment and growing boldness in Syria were merited. Russia has subsequently called on Israel and Iran to “show restraint.”

Israel has, over the years, carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria, reportedly targeting the Iranian-backed Hezbollah cells and weapons shipments.

Satellite images by Israel’s ImageSat International show Russian Su-57s in Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia has routinely used Syria as a testing ground for weapons and latest military technology. A Russian official said earlier this week that Moscow has tested over 200 weapons during the conflict, now in its eighth year.

“As we helped the brotherly Syrian people, we tested over 200 new types of weapons,” said Vladimir Shamanov on Thursday. Shamanov is a former commander of Russia’s airborne troops, who now serves as head of the Russian Duma’s defense committee.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon voiced growing concern that the risky flying of Russian pilots in Syria could lead to a mishap — or even the nightmare scenario of a US jet shooting down a Russian warplane.

Defense officials highlighted several recent close calls with Russian planes, including one on February 14, when a pair of US F-22s intercepted two Russian jets over a part of Syria in which the Pentagon says they are not meant to be operating.

READ MORE:

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

(The Devil is in Tehran, His name is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the un-elected Dictator who calls himself the ‘Supreme Leader’)(trs) 

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates

Crash site of an Israeli F-16 jet in northern Israel. Photo: 10 February 2018Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe Israeli F-16 jet crashed near a village in northern Israel

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet has crashed after being hit by Syrian air defences during an offensive in Syria, the Israeli military says.

The two pilots parachuted to safety before the crash in northern Israel. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the Syrian conflict.

The plane was hit during air strikes in response to an Iranian drone launch into Israeli territory, Israel says.

The drone was shot down. Israel later launched further strikes in Syria.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say they hit aerial defence batteries and Iranian military sites in the latest strikes.

Israeli air strikes in Syria are not unusual, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman says, but the loss of an Israeli fighter jet marks a serious escalation.

In other developments in the Syrian conflict on Saturday:

  • A Turkish helicopter was shot down as the country continued its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Two soldiers on board were killed, the Turkish military says
  • UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the past week was one of the bloodiest in Syria since the conflict began in 2011 – with at least 277 civilian deaths reported

How did events unfold on Saturday morning?

The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.

In a further response, the IDF “targeted Iranian targets in Syria”, according to the military. The mission deep inside Syrian territory was successfully completed, it said.

After coming under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, the F-16’s two crew members ejected and were later taken to hospital. One of them was “severely injured as a result of an emergency evacuation”, the IDF said.

It is the first time Israel has lost an aircraft in combat since 2006 when an Israeli helicopter was shot down over Lebanon by a Hezbollah rocket, the Jerusalem Post reports.

All five crew on board – including a female flight mechanic – were killed in that incident.

Anti-aircraft effects over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights. Photo: 10 February 20218Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAnti-aircraft fire smoke over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights

Alert sirens sounded in areas of northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights because of Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Residents reported hearing a number of explosions and heavy aerial activity in the area near Israel’s borders with Jordan and Syria.

An Israeli F-16 takes off. File photoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe fighter jet was carrying out strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, the Israelis say (file picture)

Syrian state media quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defences had opened fire in response to Israeli “aggression” against a military base on Saturday, hitting “more than one plane”.

What did Israel do next?

Israel launched its second wave of strikes in Syria. Eight of the Syrian targets belonged to the fourth Syrian division near Damascus, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

All the Israeli aircraft from this sortie returned safely.

“Syrians are playing with fire when they allow Iranians to attack Israel,” the spokesman warned.

He added that Israel was willing to exact a heavy price in response but was “are not looking to escalate the situation”.

Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.

Russia expressed “serious concern” over the Israeli air strikes and called for all sides to show restraint.

What is the Iranian presence in Syria?

Iran is Israel’s arch-enemy, and Iranian troops have been fighting rebel groups since 2011.

Tehran has sent military advisers, volunteer militias and, reportedly, hundreds of fighters from its Quds Force, the overseas arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

It is also believed to have supplied thousands of tonnes of weaponry and munitions to help President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, which is fighting on Syria’s side.

Tehran has faced accusations that it is seeking to establish not just an arc of influence but a logistical land supply line from Iran through to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Presentational grey line

A powerful new element

Analysis by BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus

For years Israel has been striking at weapons stores and other facilities in Syria with a single goal – to disrupt and, as far as possible, to prevent advanced Iranian missiles being delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria has often been the conduit for these shipments, but the changing balance of power there, with the Assad regime’s survival bolstered by Iranian help, has introduced a powerful new element – a direct Iranian role in the crisis.

A more confident Iran is alleged by Israel to be setting up bases in Syria(whether for its own or its proxy Shia Muslim militia forces is unclear).

But it is also alleged to be developing missile factories, both there and in Lebanon, to make the supply lines to Hezbollah less vulnerable.

Israel’s campaign to disrupt missile supplies is becoming ever more complex.

And Iran risks becoming a direct actor in this conflict, ever closer to Israel’s own borders.

map
Presentational grey line

7 White Helmets rescuers shot dead in Syria gun attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

7 White Helmets rescuers shot dead in Syria gun attack

People gather Saturday for the funeral of slain members of the Syrian Civil Defense in Idib province.

Story highlights

  • The attack occurred in rebel-controlled Idlib province amid recent spikes in violence
  • The unidentified attackers stole vehicles and equipment, activists said

(CNN)Seven members of the White Helmets rescue group were shot dead Saturday by unidentified gunmen who stormed the volunteers’ office in northwestern Syria, the group and opposition activists said.

The attackers also stole two vans, helmets and walkie-talkies, according to a statement from the group, which is formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense.
The Aleppo Media Center activist group also said seven volunteers were killed in an attack — and posted video and photos of their funeral.
A procession of mostly men carried the dead to be buried, the images show. Many of the mourners wore the White Helmets badge and broke down in tears.
The Syrian Civil Defense called for northern Syrian checkpoints to detain any vehicles bearing the White Helmets logo that were not verified.

Attacked amid spikes in violence

The attack occurred in the city of Sarmin in Idlib province, which last month came mostly under the control of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a coalition of Salafi jihadist groups that includes Fateh al-Sham. The latter group had been known as Jabhat al-Nusra before renouncing its ties to al Qaeda.
Idlib, one of the last Syrian provinces still beyond regime control, has been experiencing spikes in violence.
After the Syrian government — with the help of Russian air power — regained control of the key city of Aleppo last year, masses of opposition rebels were bussed to Idlib as part of a people-swap agreement.
The White Helmets have brought to light the scale of the Syrian conflict in a painfully visceral way, documenting their recovery operations through video and photo.

The enigma of Assad: How a painfully shy eye doctor turned into a murderous tyrant

(I PULLED THIS ARTICLE FROM ‘MAX DE HALDEVANG’S’ QUARTZ WEBSITE AND REUTERS)

A DOCTOR’S DOWNFALL

The enigma of Assad: How a painfully shy eye doctor turned into a murderous tyrant

April 21, 2017

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad never seemed cut out to be a dictator. As a young man, Assad—the second son of strongman president Hafez al-Assad—was so painfully shy that in conversation, “he wouldn’t look in your eye…he covered his mouth with his hands when he talked, and spoke in a low voice,” says Ayman Abdel Nour, a university friend. Indeed, Assad generally avoided gatherings of more than handful of people, and would hunch over to make his tall frame less conspicuous. “He was a totally regular citizen; you wouldn’t guess he was the son of the president unless you knew him personally,” Abdel Nour remembers.

While Bashar’s flashy older brother Bassel quickly rose through the ranks of the military, Bashar chose to study ophthalmology and took a softer posting as an army doctor. “The doctors aren’t considered real army,” Abdel Nour says. “They’re not real fighters—there’s no army in the world where the major general is a doctor.”

But Assad’s relatively quiet life changed dramatically when Bassel died in a car accident in 1993. Studying in London at the time of the crash, Assad was called back to Syria where his father dubbed him the new “hope” of the Syrian people. Seven years later, after his father’s death, he took over as president. In 2013, the urbane, Phil Collins-loving would-be eye doctor reportedly slaughtered around 1,400 people in what the UN called the “most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein” in 1988. On April 4th, Assad used chemical weapons (paywall) on his own people again.

 “There’s an irreconcilable Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde tension in the person of Assad.” “There’s an irreconcilable Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde tension in the person of Assad,” says Nadim Houry, who directs Human Rights Watch’s terrorism program and spent 11 years monitoring Assad’s regime. “There’s this clean-cut guy who gets interviewed by outlets, always has an Apple laptop on his desk and speaks very calmly. He’s very far from the image of an Arab dictator like Saddam or Gadaffi with their rifles in the air. Yet when you look at the behavior of the regime, it behaves very much like a typical, brutal Arab dictatorship—massive torture, massive killing of civilians, indiscriminate and deliberate bombing.”

The world has reacted with horror to Assad’s brutality, but while his cruelty is nothing new in the region, his transformation is more perplexing. What could possibly have so changed this soft-spoken man, who promised to reform his late father’s heavy-handed dictatorship, into a tyrant so desperate to hold on to power that he would eventually gas his own people to do so?

Ask 10 different Syrian experts and you’ll get 10 different answers. No one really knows if Assad ever genuinely cared about the reformist ideas he initially championed, but there was at least some early inclination towards economic liberalism. What we do know is that these desires were repeatedly trampled by two factors: the entrenched authoritarianism of the forces around him, and the instincts that shaped him.

“He’s a child of the Cold War on the side of the USSR; of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the side of the Arab states; and, most of all, he’s the child of his father,” says David Lesch, a history professor at Trinity University in Texas, and the author of two books on Assad’s Syria. “These are the influences that shaped his worldview, rather than being a computer nerd and liking Western music.”

The “Damascus Spring” and high early expectations

After 29 years of Hafez al-Assad, a ruthless air force commander who came to power in a coup, Bashar’s sleek suits and British investment-banker wife seemed like a breath of fresh air. His inaugural speech in July 2000 called for “democracy,” “transparency,” and “constructive criticism”—it even contained implicit criticisms of his father. “The speech created a great deal of hope,” says Lesch.

French President Jacques Chirac (R) meets Bachar Assad, son of Syrian President Hafez Assad, prior to their meeting and luncheon at the Elysee Palace to discuss the stalled Arab-Israeli peace talks November 7. MAL//ME - RTRS4ZO
From a quiet life as an ophthalmology student, Assad was plunged into meetings with the likes of French president Jacques Chirac in 1999. (Reuters)

The inauguration was followed by a period of relative openness, known as the “Damascus Spring.” Some opposition parties were allowed, the press got a little bit freer, and hundreds of political prisoners were released. Liberal intellectuals founded discussion salons across the Syrian capital and put together political pamphlets and petitions for reform.

 His inauguration was followed by a period of relative openness. It didnt last long. But this openness didn’t last long. “Of course, it didn’t take more than a few weeks before people were demanding regime change because the regime was so corrupt,” says Joshua Landis, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Middle East Studies Center and author of the Syria Comment blog. “It stunk. The whole thing stunk—so, any kind of critique had to lead to regime change.” Within months, Assad was warning (pdf, p. 5) that civil society groups criticizing the government were, consciously or unconsciously, helping “the country’s enemies” and, ominously, would be “dealt with.” A few months later, 10 opposition leaders were imprisoned.

Even now, there’s little agreement among analysts on whether Assad actually wanted the “Damascus Spring” to last. Dovish voices like Lesch believe his mildly progressive ambitions were thwarted by hardliners from his father’s government. Many others believe the early rhetoric was merely a front to attract international investment to Syria’s backward economy. “It was a PR campaign to normalize the government,” says Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Radwan Ziadeh, a human-rights activist and fellow at the Arab Institute in Washington, DC, agrees. “The Damascus spring was only a cosmetic step to try to get legitimacy,” he says. “Assad actually got this because lot of international leaders praised him early on.”

 “The Damascus spring was only a cosmetic step to try to get legitimacy.” Ziadeh has good reason to be skeptical of Assad’s motives—he was one of the opposition intellectuals Assad targeted in 2001. Never persuaded by Assad’s promises of reform, Ziadeh criticized him in articles published under a pseudonym in Lebanese newspapers. When the crackdown started, the government took his passport away, censored his writing, and had him followed by the security services for almost a year, he says. He eventually fled to the US in 2007 under the pretext of buying medicine for his father, who had cancer, and has never returned to Syria.

The family ties that bind

Even if political reforms were a veneer, Assad did seem committed to economic liberalization. His father had shored up power through what Landis calls an “authoritarian bargain.” In this Soviet-style model, the regime provides the means for basic sustenance for the rural working class, who in exchange give their political allegiance to it. However, during the 29 years of Hafez’s reign, the country’s population had more than doubled, and as the world globalized, the country badly needed to open its economy up to allow non-oil sectors to develop.

Despite resistance from old hands in the security services who worried that any openness would lead to opposition, Bashar did bring about some economic reforms. Banks were privatized, the internet was introduced, and foreign investment was made easier. However, his motivation for such changes was hardly altruistic, argues Abdel Nour, Assad’s university friend, who worked as a voluntary government adviser in the early 2000s. In reality, he says, changing the economy to help ordinary Syrians was far from the top of Assad’s priorities; what was most important was enriching his friends and, especially, his family.

A Lebanese pastes a picture of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad (L) near another one of his son and likely successor, Bashar, in Beirut on June 11. Assad died on Saturday, aged 69, after ruling Syria for 30 years. Syria is the main power broker in Lebanon. ASSADLEBA6.jpg - RTR56A2
A picture of new Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is pasted alongside one of his dead father in 2000. (Reuters)

Abdel Nour says this ulterior motive finally dawned on him in 2003, when Syria’s parliament passed a reform bill he had worked on. Assad’s uncle persuaded him not to sign the bill until it had been changed to include six or seven clauses that would directly benefit his cousin’s businesses.

 “I realized then that I’m not working for a country, I’m working for a family business”—Ayman Abdel Nour, former friend of Assad That was the last time Abdel Nour spoke to his old university friend. “I realized then that I’m not working for a country, I’m working for a family business,” he says. “I discovered that all this about reforms was wrong; it was bullshit and propaganda. So I decided to inform the Syrian people about what has happening so they would push for reforms themselves.” Abdel Nour stopped advising Assad, and set up the opposition news website All4Syria, which he now runs from Los Angeles.

In keeping with another common dictatorial trope, Assad’s cronyism eventually backfired, Landis says, as it undermined the “authoritarian bargain” that kept his father in power. “The class gap suddenly just widened,” he says. “That created tremendous resentment because the elite would get wealthy beyond belief.” This division would set the stage for Syria’s 2011 revolution—an event that would also solidify Assad’s transformation into a cold-blooded mass murderer.

Assad would also learn that even limited change can embolden the opposition. For example, by insisting on bringing the internet to Syria, he made surveillance impossible at the levels his father had maintained. The security services had managed easily when snooping meant tapping phone lines and reading mail— but they just weren’t capable of covering the giant spiderweb of the internet. The web also gave people access to information and enabled debate. Both factors helped spark the 2011 uprising.

The Iraq war and the power of paranoia

Assad’s shift away from reform dovetailed with a change in his personality, as he withdrew into a bubble of authoritarian power. Lesch notes this behavior has been a hallmark of Syrian leaders for decades. “The Syrian leadership since the 1950s has been a very paranoid leadership because of constant coups and counter-coups. There have been enough imperialist shenanigans to make them believe that any opposition is a conspiracy,” he says.

Lesch says he first glimpsed this alternative reality when talking to Assad shortly after his re-election in 2007. The only candidate in what was technically a referendum on his presidency, Assad waltzed to victory with 97.6% of the vote. Lesch had spent hours and hours interviewing the president while writing a book about him in 2004 and 2005, and says he got to know a “self- deprecating, unpretentious, humble guy.”

 “I remember thinking…that he had drunk the Kool-Aid of power and that he would be president for life.” But when Lesch asked him his thoughts on the sham vote that had brought him back to power, he was taken aback by the reply. “I really thought he’d say, ‘You know, it’s not a real election,’” Lesch said. “But he sat back and said, ‘The people love me; this shows they really love me.’ I remember thinking to myself at that moment that he had drunk the Kool-Aid of power and that he would be president for life.”

Assad’s paranoia, too, began to noticeably increase. “He became a psychopath, believing that if you are not with me, you are against me, and you should be killed,” says Abdel Nour. Assad’s fears were only heightened by the Iraq war and US president George W. Bush’s rhetoric of “democracy promotion” and “regime change.” Dictators throughout the region saw their fears of external enemies validated.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) welcomes Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi at the opening of the two-day Arab Summit in Damascus March 29, 2008. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi (SYRIA) - RTR1YVGU
Assad greets Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, a fellow dictator imperiled by Bush’s democracy promotion. (Jamal Saidi/Reuters)

Assad’s tough talk regarding the Anglo-American invasion further soured his relations with the US, which had been fraught ever since Bush widened the “axis of evil” in 2002 to include Syria, Cuba, and Libya. Then came a more direct attack: In December 2003, Bush placed sanctions on Syria over its decades-long occupation of Lebanon and backing of terrorist groups.

Assad initially refused to withdraw his troops from Lebanon. But after being accused of ordering the murder of Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, he bowed to the international pressure and pulled out. The capitulation stung and “fed the feeling that [Assad] is insecure, and that he can’t handle these regional or international crises,” says Ziadeh.

An insecure dictator playing with fire

By the time journalist Reese Erlich interviewed Assad in 2006, he found an insecure dictator, obsessed with the conceit that his people loved him and reforms were not needed. The forces that would shape the 2011 civil war were becoming clearer. And yet, Assad refused to address prominent issues like the possibility of free elections or opposition parties, whether Syria should grant citizenship to its hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kurds, or how to deal with the country’s rampant inequality.

“He basically brushed off all these things as either unimportant or plots from the West,” says Erlich, whose book Inside Syria documents the dynamics that led to the civil war.

 “…when I turned the mic to him he would suddenly jump.” Paranoia marked those interviews too. Assad became jittery at the sight of Erlich’s radio microphone, which ever so slightly resembles a gun. “The security people had checked it so they knew it wasn’t a weapon,” Erlich said. “But he got all nervous… I would point the microphone at my own mouth when I spoke and then when I turned the mic to him he would suddenly jump.”

In public, however, Assad was defiant. In 2010, despite his promises to help constrain the Lebanon-based militant Islamist party Hezbollah, the US received clear intelligence that Assad’s government had given it Scud missiles. When John Kerry, later US secretary of State but then a senior senator, confronted Assad with this discovery, the Syrian president was unflustered, Tabler says: “At first, Assad denied that they are Scud missiles, and then he said, ‘No, no, these are [fake] Israeli films.’”

For Tabler, this episode highlights Assad’s duplicity, his nefarious priorities, and his relationships with nations like Iran and Russia. Iran’s support and strategic backing of Hezbollah enabled Assad to openly lie to Kerry, just as Russia’s political and military assistance continues to give him cover to use chemical weapons.

The other effect of the Iraq war was increasing sectarianism and the spread of radical Islamism across the region. According to Tabler, Assad contributed to this increase by “allowing jihadists into the country through Damascus airport to go and fight US forces in Iraq.”

But like his economic policies, this decision, too, would eventually hurt him. By the end of the Iraq war, large groups of the disenfranchised, radical Sunnis he had let in were based in the east of the country—Syria’s poorest region. They would eventually become recruits for ISIL. Meanwhile, Assad’s power relied in part on the support of Christians and other minorities, along with Sunni urban elites. As a member of the minority Alawite sect in a country with a heavy Sunni majority, Assad’s meddling was playing with fire.

From father of the people to executioner

Syrians attend an anti-Bashar Assad protest after Friday prayers on the outskirts of Idlib, Syria, Friday, June 8, 2012. (AP Photo)
Anti-Assad protestors on the outskirts of Idlib, 2012. (AP Photo)

The 2011 revolution crystallized Assad’s psychological and political decline. When protesters took to the streets—at first calling not for regime change, but for political reforms—his reaction was a telling one.

 “The West looks at this like he’s killing his own countrymen and unfortunately he doesn’t see it this way.” Assad “demonize[d] his opponents as Saudi terrorists who are bringing Islamic fascism to Syria,” Landis said. His narrative was that these were not Syrians, but foreign forces seeking to undermine one of the last bastions of pan-Arab secularism. “He began to see this as an existential struggle and that these people who were fighting against him were foreign terrorists—and he believed his own rhetoric,” Landis said. “The West looks at this like he’s killing his own countrymen and unfortunately he doesn’t see it this way.”

Once you’ve persuaded yourself of this falsehood, Lesch says, fighting an existential threat can justify terrible means. Assad’s forces “don’t have the resources to go town to town to retake them from the opposition,” Lesch says, “so they need to use the asymmetric methods [like chemical weapons] to brutalize them.”

Another view, from dissidents like Ziadeh and Abdel Nour, is that Assad didn’t justify his slaughter by “othering” the rebels. Instead, he was invoking something akin to medieval Western monarchs’ belief in the “divine right of kings.” “Like his father, he always believed that he had the right to do whatever he wants to his own people; to kill them, torture them, disappear them: ‘They are my own people and that’s the sovereignty that I have,’” explains Ziadeh. Assad, he says, sees himself as a father punishing his errant sons. “The father is allowed to do whatever when the sons make mistakes. He doesn’t understand that this is a social contract between the Syrians and elected officials.”

 “The real test comes when your authority is really challenged.” Abdel Nour agrees: “His brain doesn’t keep him up at night telling him not to do these terrible things because he thinks he’s the representative of God; that people who are against him are sinning against God,” he said.

The question of what turns a man into a monster is never an easy one. For Assad, it’s possible the seeds of brutality were planted very early on, lying dormant but ready to emerge when the time was right. Or perhaps he simply succumbed to a system that for decades had existed with the principle goal of keeping hold of power. Certainly, after 2011 there would be no turning back.

As Houry points out, a leader’s true colors come out when their regime is under threat. “Gaddafi did not start out as a crazy man, he ended up that way,” he says. “The real test comes when your authority is really challenged, and Assad’s authority was never challenged before 2011.” When the challenge came, Assad met it, in the eyes of hawks like Tabler, by being “more brutal on his own people than Saddam or Gadaffi ever did.”

American Military’s Lack Of Intelligence Again Bombs The Wrong People: 80+ Dead

(This article is courtesy of the BBC News Group)

Syria conflict: US air strikes ‘kill dozens of government troops’

Fighters of so-called Islamic State in Deir al-ZourImage copyrightAP
Image captionFighters of so-called Islamic State in Deir al-Zour, where they have been battling Syrian troops

The US-led coalition has admitted its planes carried out an attack in eastern Syria that the Russian army says killed at least 62 Syrian troops fighting IS.

The US said its planes halted the attack in Deir al-Zour when informed of the Syrian presence and would not knowingly strike them.

The strikes allowed IS jihadists to advance, the Russians said.

Russia earlier said the current ceasefire in Syria was in danger of collapse and the US would be to blame.

The cessation of hostilities does not include attacks by the US on IS or other jihadist groups.

The US Central Command statement said the coalition believed it was attacking positions of so-called Islamic State and the raids were “halted immediately when coalition officials were informed by Russian officials that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military”.

It said the “Combined Air Operations Center had earlier informed Russian counterparts of the upcoming strike”.

It added: “Syria is a complex situation with various military forces and militias in close proximity, but coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit. The coalition will review this strike and the circumstances surrounding it to see if any lessons can be learned.”

Russia’s defence ministry earlier said that if the US air strikes did turn out to be an error, it would be because of Washington’s stubborn refusal to co-ordinate military action with Moscow.

Destroyed buildings in a government-held area of Aleppo, Syria. Photo: 16 September 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionNumerous ceasefire breaches by Syrian government troops and rebel groups have been reported

Only if the current ceasefire – which began on Monday – holds for seven days, will the US and Russia begin co-ordinated action against the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group, which was previously known as the al-Nusra Front, and IS.

Russia’s defence ministry quoted a statement by Syrian army general command as saying that the four coalition air strikes on Syrian troops had allowed IS to advance.

The Syrian statement said the air strikes were “conclusive evidence” that the US and its allies supported the jihadist group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group put the death toll at least 80.

There have been no confirmed cases of US air strikes targeting Syrian troops. Last December, Syria accused the coalition of attacking a government army camp in Deir al-Zour but the US denied it.

‘Repeated messages’

Earlier, Russia’s military expressed fears for the ceasefire. It said rebel groups had increased attacks and it urged the US to act or be responsible for the collapse of the truce. Media caption Syrian family living in cemetery in Eastern Aleppo.

Russian General Vladimir Savchenko said “the situation in Syria is worsening”, with 55 rebel attacks over the past 24 hours, leading to the deaths of 12 civilians.

Gen Viktor Poznikhir said Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, was doing all it could to rein in Syrian troops.

“If the American side does not take the necessary measures to carry out its obligations… a breakdown of the ceasefire will be on the United States,” he said.

“The United States and the so-called moderate groups they control have not met a single obligation they assumed in the framework of the Geneva agreement.”

The terms require moderate rebel groups to separate themselves from jihadists.Media captionFootage appears to show Free Syrian Army rebels chasing US special forces out of the northern Syrian town of Al-Rai

Gen Poznikhir said: “Our repeated messages to the American side are left without a response. There is doubt that the US is able to influence the moderate opposition they control.”

A US National Security Council spokesman later said: “While there have been challenges on both sides, violence is considerably lower and the cessation is broadly holding.

“What we’re not seeing is humanitarian aid getting through and it will be hard to build confidence on the ground until that occurs.”

Some 20 trucks have been waiting since Monday for safe passage from Turkey into Syria and on to rebel-held east Aleppo.


Truce’s days may be numbered – BBC’s James Longman, Beirut

This was meant to be a trust-building exercise, but nearly a week after the truce began, the blame game has begun.

There was deep scepticism from the rebels about details in the plan which called for their separation from extremist groups. That is why they never formally accepted the deal.

It was always a major sticking point. Were US backed groups supposed to surrender territory to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham? Or were they required to fight them? It was never clear. Either way, the stipulation would leave them far weaker on the battlefield. But refusing and standing in the way of much-needed humanitarian aid would not have been popular.

Now this weekend, the main rebel groups are due to meet to discuss their position. Their mistrust of the government and its Russian allies runs deep. They see the obstruction of aid deliveries on the border as a stalling tactic, and one which they have seen before.

If aid doesn’t reach besieged areas soon, the ceasefire’s days are numbered. And coordinated strikes against IS won’t happen.