By Roy Murray @sykes_picot
During the Second World War, Winston Churchill stated: “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”.
In July 2014, we used this analogy to rationalize how Russia’s help could be leveraged to end the Syrian conflict; more specifically, we wrote in “Reviving the Syrian Revolution, defusing the Middle East“:
The West can craft a deal with Russia that would be the nucleus to stabilizing the Middle East. This deal would be mutually beneficial. On the one hand, Russia would satisfy its national security concerns by maintaining the Syrian Army as a long term partner. On the other hand, the West would be guaranteed that Syria is neutralized from being an Iranian satellite and a sponsor of terrorist organizations.
On a national level, such a deal would afford legitimacy to a transitional Syrian leadership, enabling Syria to embark on a “Second Republic” whereby they can elect their own parliament, and appoint a transitional government on the basis of unanimous consensus amongst national parties and the international community
There is no doubt in our mind that the Russian intervention in Syria is the final chapter of the Assad story. Whilst the specifics of Russia’s actions in Syria have been the subject of much analysis, we argue that Putin has his eyes set on a stable, post Assad Syria firmly under Russian hegemony, free of Assad.
By Ethan Abbott – @eth_abbott
Roy Murray Contributed to this article
Prior to the beginning of the crisis in Syria, in January 2011, Assad gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal. During this interview, he described the events that were unfolding in the Arab World at the time as a “new era” in the Middle East that would force Arab rulers to accommodate their people’s rising political and economic aspirations. Mr. Assad talked in length about desperation in Arab societies. Yet he did not make the slightest mention of the “conspiracy” that was brewing against them. Soon, it was February 2011, and protests erupted in central Damascus after a policeman was caught beating a citizen. Over two thousand Damascenes chanted: “The Syrian people cannot be humiliated”. They refrained from mentioning the regime or the president at that time. Pronto, the Interior Minister at that time appeared amongst the crowds and promised to punish the policeman responsible; he sweet-talked the Damascenes, quickly deflating the tension.
Not long after that, protests erupted in Daraa after reports emerged that the intelligence services (“mukhabarat”) had arrested children accused of writing anti-regime graffiti. In the aftermath, officials did not follow the same technique as their counterparts in Damascus. Rather, the Intelligence head decided to intimidate the locals who appealed to him. Discontent grew into unrest, and the events started to spiral out of control. Assad needed to intervene by the end of March 2011 – The scale of the tensions was such that only the President himself was able to deflate them. Assad made (more…)
By Matthias Baun Brubaker Christensen – @matthias1981
Originally published on Syria Comment on July 22nd, 2014
Islamic state: a lion and a fox?
The Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham) emerged out of the ashes of two conflicts. It was born as a result of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then used the power vacuum created by the civil war in Syria to create a base out of which it could create the foundations for an emerging state. However, how likely are they to succeed in their goal of establishing a functioning state? In answering this question, it is crucial to understand their strategy: do they only operate based on ideological fervor, or does their strategy contain elements of realism? Machiavelli taught us that a successful prince should learn to be both a fox and a lion, does IS have the ability to act as both?
Machiavelli’s recommendations for Princes
The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Machiavelli, The Prince.
By Roy Murray @sykes_picot
Elijah J Magnier @Ejmalrai, AL RAI Chief International Correspondent, contributed to this report.
One of the suboptimal habits of humans is to compare different things, expect them to behave similarly, and treat them the way we are ‘used to’. So, when the “Islamic State” (IS) debacle began, the world’s intelligences agencies did what they were used to – tracking jihadists back home. Since Al-Qaeda attacked the western home front, IS must have similar ambitions. They attempted to identify the jihadists, tracked their footsteps to the conflict, then they waited back home, ready to pounce on them with decades of counter terrorism experience. The hysteria grew, with ever more resources ploughed into it, augmented by vast media accounts of the threat the “Islamic State” (IS) of Sheikh Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi poses to our ‘home front’.
It became a dangerous addiction which distracted us from the real “neo-terrorism” threat. By tracking Baghdadi’s returning jihadists, the west is effectively acting as his military police, locking up his deserters – after all, jihad is a lifelong adventure. He couldn’t care less. In fact, our actions morphed into a powerful propaganda tool for the ‘terrorist extraordinaire’ – feeding his propaganda narrative that Muslims were being oppressed around the world, and must rise up against their “tyrants” and establish a great Islamic State. Focusing on the home front, The West left him alone in the Middle East, free to stir chaos, establish, and expand his ‘Caliphate’. With just 10,000 of his Jihadists and other allies, (more…)
In our article ‘Iraq – The nail in the coffin of the Syrian Revolution’, we discussed some of the general repercussions of ISIS’s adventures in Iraq. Here, we discuss the repercussions on the military situation on the ground.
Following the disastrous performance of the Iraqi army in Mosul, the overwhelming majority of which was Sunni, the government in Baghdad realized that under the current status quo, it cannot rely on Sunni men to fight for its cause. Instead, it needs to mobilize heavily indoctrinated Shi’ite militias, eager to fight ISIS, unafraid of death. However, building up effective militias is not a task that is feasible overnight – it takes months of selecting, arming, and training. Iran, being an expert in such operations, knows this; as such, there can be no immediate successful counter attack against ISIS. Even if the militias were ready, regaining a city from an insurgent force is a far cry from losing it. Just ask Assad – it took him three months to dislodge a well-trained insurgent force from an area in which the odds were heavily stacked against them. Further, Assad already had the passionate, trained, and experienced fighters at his disposal. Maliki should take stock of this and beware that hot headed attempts to quickly reverse the ISIS gains could prove disastrous.
The strategy that Iraq will more than likely engage in is (more…)
Amongst the tumultuous changes happening in the region, perhaps time will tell that the most significant are the ISIS successes in Iraq. After a series of military defeats and failed offensives for the armed opposition in Syria, the repercussions are set to deal a final blow to their chances of a military victory against the Assad regime. We discuss these repercussions.
Ever since the beginning of the armed conflict in Syria, the opposition’s Western & Arab backers have been reluctant to provide large, constant, and consistent supplies of resources in the shape of arms, ammunition, and money. Amongst a myriad of reasons behind this stance, the most important are the fear of extremists rising to power in Syria, and the desire to maintain the institutions of the state, avoiding a potentially disastrous vacuum of power.
In this context, the ‘friends of Syria’ engaged in a policy that aims to tire Assad into the negotiating table, rather than making a serious attempt at enabling a rebel military victory. This policy comprised of ‘peaks and troughs’ of material support; Following successive rebel losses across the country, a major peak, The Lattakia offensive, appeared out of nowhere. While rebels often complained about the lack of weapon supplies from their patrons, this offensive, in combination with the push for Western Aleppo, is a shining (more…)