July 18th, 2012

Via Robert Farley at LGM:

The International Committee of the Red Cross has determined that the Syrian Civil War is a internal war, which has a variety of implications for military targeting and legal responsibility.

The Syrian rebellion is getting very different treatment from the western media than the Libyan one. In good part this must be a conscious choice by the players. Gaddafi was the exhibitionist type of dictator, like Hitler and Mao and unlike Stalin and Franco: he would rather have a bad press to play to than none at all. So the rebels had to compete, needed Western public opinion to support intervention, and welcomed foreign reporters. Assad is the modest First Citizen type of autocrat like his father and has written off Western public opinion anyway, so all we get are token justifications of police operations against “terrorists”. The rebels are content for the press and Western diplomats to frame the civil war in terms of massacres of helpless civilians; true enough, but very incomplete. So we are getting most reports on events in Syria from correspondents ensconced in bars in Beirut.

But consider these developments.

- GlobalPost, 5 July:

Traveling to towns and villages north and southwest of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, GlobalPost saw dozens of burned out tanks, armored vehicles and jeeps littering the roads. Many villages were devoid of any active police or government presence. Instead, armed rebels patrol in pick-up trucks, some with mounted machine guns, ….. Syrian rebels now control large swathes of territory along Syria’s northwest border with Turkey and are acquiring heavier weapons.

- Reuters, June 22:

U.S. and allied officials acknowledge Syrian rebels have been receiving arms supplies from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirate of Qatar. But they said that the sophistication of the weapons being delivered had until recently been low…
The Saudis are on record calling for Assad’s ouster. … In January, Qatar went even further when its ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told the CBS TV program 60 Minutes that Arab troops should be sent in to “stop the killing” by Assad’s forces. A U.S. official who recently discussed the issue with Saudi and Qatari representatives said the weaponry now being shipped to Syrian rebels consists largely of small arms that would enable regime opponents to “protect their children.”

- On Tuesday, rebels claimed to have shot down an army helicopter in Damascus. It’s not clear how; with small arms like RPGs, or a proper anti-aircraft missile.

- CNN, yesterday:
Last Wednesday rebels set off a bomb in a presumably heavily guarded government building in central Damascus, targeting a meeting of high security officials. They had better luck or skill than Stauffenberg:

The officials killed were Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha; Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat — al-Assad’s brother-in-law; Hasan Turkmani, al-Assad’s security adviser and assistant vice president; and Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar, state TV reported.

- In the same CNN report:

Two more brigadier generals fled overnight to Turkey, bringing the number of Syrian generals in Turkey to 20, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.

Two days ago, HuffPost:
Poster boy General Manaf Tlass, a former Defence Minister, defected to Paris. He’s a Sunni; perhaps the Alawites are still sticking together, reasonably fearing the consequences under Muslim rule. But there aren’t enough of them (10% of the population, but dominating the leadership)  to hold down the country against everybody else.

General Manaf Tlass, defector

It’s too early to say that Bashir Assad is doomed. But it’s certainly not looking good for him. The bloody crackdowns have plainly not intimidated the rebels; and time is on their side. The macabre Intrade contract  for Assad’s “departure” by year’s-end (perhaps to a villa in Sochi, if he survives) is at 63%, which looks about right.

Are the rebels also getting covert help from spooks and special forces from the USA, Britain, France. or Turkey? These governments have burnt their boats with Assad and are calling for his ouster. They are also worried about who gets to replace him, and reasonably fear another Old Man of the Mountains. There’s a very long and permeable desert border with Iraq, with its own fish to fry and a good supply of frying-pans. Israel is in the kitchen too. It would make sense for any or all of these to be arming or “advising” the more congenial elements in the insurrection and lying about it.

The Turkish border near Aleppo must be an interesting place just now.

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