Fire in Syria (I): preparation of Turkish and Lebanese border
Syriaand the wider region are witnessing preparations for a phase that can be described as critical. The international and regional contexts reveal the severity of the upcoming battle, not just in Syriabut in all the countries ofBilad al-Sham (theLevant), spreading to the remaining Arab countries and the whole region.
Gulf countries are in a state of high alert based on information regarding possible violent attacks in the context of the Syrian crisis. They are alert because the rulers of these countries know what they are doing, especially after proclaiming that they are in an existential struggle.
Reports from the field and in the media indicate a discernible increase in the number of Arab fighters from Gulf countries joining the battle against the Syrian government and on its soil.
Turkeyis left on its own to answer the strategic question: Shall we get involved in the bloody game engulfingSyriaand are we ready to pay the costs? While all sides find it difficult to contemplate any type of political solution, they are all quick to reveal thorough practical arrangements for a new round of violence to change the situation on the ground. Each hopes to tip the balance of power in its favor to use in negotiations that are expected to follow at a later time.
Kofi Annan’s mission is over, mainly because there is no consensus to support it. On the contrary, the mission was an opportunity for adversaries of the Syrian regime, whether the opposition or foreign powers, to catch their breath after the latest wave of diplomatic efforts and confrontations on the ground that tipped the balance in the regime’s direction.
Syria’s opponents made an effort to unite the opposition. It turned out to be difficult for many reasons. So they began working on making the opposition work in a common direction. Foreign powers such asTurkey,Gulf states, Europe, theUnited States, and evenIsraelwould take charge of practical matters.
Failing to attract diplomatic and military groups loyal to the regime to the other side, they decided to expel all Syrian diplomats. They also carried out calculated security-military attacks on a number of officers in the Syrian army to give them a taste of the dangers involved in remaining loyal to the regime.
This was in conjunction with a concentrated campaign to spread rumors, aiming, as usual, to create an atmosphere of doubt and mistrust. They then decided to forbid the regime from replying, even through the media, through attempting to ban satellite transmission of Syrian channels and preparing to disrupt their signals even insideSyria.
On the level of security, work is speedily underway to create the support zones needed by the armed Syrian groups. In the last several weeks, the Turkish border has effectively become a military training ground for Syrian fighters.
Some regime opponents speak about Turkish officers training Syrian fighters on advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. They are also undertaking logistical tasks to coordinate the work of armed groups and train them on modern communications techniques.
In the meantime, some Gulf countries increased their financial support to an unprecedented level. They are financing the purchase of various weapons, providing salaries for the enlisting of more fighters, recruiting young Syrians inTurkey,Iraq, andLebanon, in addition to the continuation of the open media campaign against the regime until further notice.
Several steps were taken in that direction by the Saudis through Salafi groups and Future Movement supporters, some of whom are employed in the civil and military departments of the Lebanese state. They implemented a part of the plan to control large areas in the North.
One could say now that the Saudis succeeded in having a veto, through its partisans, on any political, security, or other action in the northern Lebanese region. Practically, this veto meant restricting the movement of the Lebanese army, obstructing its intelligence work, warning its leaders that monitoring the opponents ofSyriacould be considered an aggressive act.
This meant extending the distribution of Lebanese and Syrian armed groups in the city ofTripoliand a substantial section of Akkar. They also created a hostile sectarian situation to increase tensions in the street. This is done by targeting Alawis in such areas, even if this meant a wide and open war.In North Bekaa, on-the-ground preparations continue, with sympathetic groups transporting arms to the mountains of Ersal that have become open bases for Syrian fighters and their Lebanese supporters, under political and even security cover.
The clearest indicator was in the statements of Ersal’s head of municipality, Ali Hujairi, who called on the people of his town to arm themselves and confront the state security forces.
Records of investigations with those detained for transporting and smuggling weapons and explosives in the area have shown that there is an advanced plan underway. Confiscated materials reveal a plot that could destroy whole villages or city neighborhoods.
In the meantime, armed Syrian groups are active along a line connecting the surrounding areas ofDamascusandHomstoLebanon’s eastern borders. They are clashing with people in those regions using the pretext that Hezbollah is deployed in the area to support the regular Syrian army.
It should be noted that areas under Hezbollah’s influence did not hinder the transportation of injured Syrian opposition members through these border points to hospitals in the North.
There is also an increased level of sectarian incitement in a strip of villages along the Syrian border, whose populations are a mix of sects.
It seems there is a zero hour planned by those who control these groups. On the other side, the regime is prepared to face the inevitable… So what is going to happen?
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar. This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
Fire in Syria (II): preparation of Turkish and Lebanese border
The political and media leaders who speak in the name of the opposition continue to bank on, and work towards, foreign intervention to resolve the situation decisively.
That leaves the opposition insideSyriaon its own, though it too is divided. Some want a showdown come what may, as the regime cannot be changed peacefully. Others – not a majority – argue that it would be possible to arrive at an interim accommodating solution, in order to preventSyriain its entirety from being engulfed in blood and fire.
The disarray is not confined to politics. It applies to the armed opposition factions as much as the political groupings. A significant proportion of the opposition insideSyriarejects militarization, though it decided some time ago not to condemn those who resort to taking up arms. Now these figures and groups complain that it is impossible to create a framework within which all armed groups would defer to the political authority of a single leadership – especially with the entry onto the scene of extremist groups, bringing with them a plethora of bloody experiences from Afghanistan and Pakistan, or North Africa and Iraq.Once collectively known as the “Arab Afghans,” these groups are now referred to as the “Arab fighters” in Syria. They function in accordance with their own hierarchical structure. They copy the modus operandi which was devised by the leadership of al-Qaeda, and then became public property available to anyone who wants it. This is based on providing men who want to sacrifice themselves for goals which they believe to be pleasing to the Almighty, while supplying them with their needs by various means that are readily available the world over, especially in our region.
The actions of these groups, and the sectarian massacres they have committed in several parts ofSyria, have dismayed a large section of the opposition: those who have “gone back home,” or lost confidence in the direction taken by what began as a genuine struggle to improve the political, economic, human and social condition of the country.
The opposition routinely blames all acts of violence on the regime. The regime and its agencies are not innocent. Its security forces and army commit crimes in the course of their suppression of its civilian or paramilitary opponents. Yet things have reached the point of prompting some opposition supporters to want a restoration of stability. That does not mean accepting restoration of the status quo ante. It means no longer allowing a justified popular uprising to be used to subjectSyriato a process of wholesale destruction – one which also benefits powerful hardliners in the security and military elites.
As the Assad regime’s Syrian, Arab and Western enemies prepare to usher in a new stage in the bloody confrontation, the Syrian authorities have been mulling over their own plans for a comprehensive military showdown. The aim this time will not just be to prevent the creation of armed opposition concentrations or enclaves, but to “destroy all armed groups, irrespective of their nature or identity.”
This is the prevalent notion in Syrian military and security circles, according to sources in contact with them. “The rationale and motivation for launching wholesale cleansing operations are increasing by the day,” they say. “To repeat with the UN observers the free-for-all that came with the Arab observers, would only open the door to further deterioration and bloodshed.”As seen from Damascus, the difference now is that “a hardline majority of the armed groups have come to be led by non-Syrians, and the foreign intelligence agencies that work with them act as though they’re willing to destroy everything in Syria – not just targeting the army and security forces, but all public civilian facilities on the pretext that they belong to the regime, and at the same time ratcheting up sectarian tensions through roving acts of criminality.”
Sources familiar withDamascus’ thinking do not deny the involvement of pro-regime loyalists in sectarian crimes. But they believe that it is intent on “achieving blows of the kind that would change the look of the entire scene, military, political, and popular.”
It would appear that the current focus of security activity is aroundDamascus, where a sweeping operation has been ordered aimed at curtailing rebel activity in the capital’s hinterland, all the way to the Lebanese border. This in turn reflects a top-level decision to take all necessary action, over an indeterminate period, to eliminate any “threat from the West.”
Informed sources explain that what is being considered is “extensive and very harsh operations in the area of the Lebanese borders, against all sites used by the oppositionists, even if that means directing strikes at forces operating directly on the border, possibly including Lebanese groups that support them. ” The message is that so long as the Lebanese are incapable of preventing parts of their country from becoming havens for armed rebels, the Syrian authorities will act to neutralize those areas.
In addition to pursuing the goal of clearingHomsand its hinterland of armed opposition enclaves and cells, action is being taken against concentrations of opposition fighters elsewhere, especially bases and training sites near the Turkish, Iraqi and Jordanian borders. The Syrian army appears to have embarked on a campaign described as “extremely harsh.” aimed at “exterminating entire groups” of rebels.The Syrian leadership has been coordinating closely with the Russian leadership on such matters. According to informed sources,Moscowmay even have intervened to block the execution of some military orders after they were issued. But this was in the context of its efforts to strengthen its diplomatic hand.Russiais not expected to stand in the way of the Syrian authorities as they embark on actions that could be of different order to what we have seen so far.