Sunday 30 June 2013

Assad forces focus on Homs, rebels on Deraa

Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque (top) under shelling
Khalid ibn al-Walid mausoleum (top) and before and after snaps of the mosque courtyard

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were today using their lethal monopoly on the skies to launch recurring airstrikes against rebel-held districts in the central city of Homs.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition warned this afternoon the regime might resort to chemical weapons, having failed so far to make “any significant progress on the ground” in the battle for Homs, center of the 27-month-old uprising.
Activists said jets and mortars pounded rebel-held areas of the city that have been under siege by Assad's troops for a year, and soldiers fought battles with rebels in several districts.
An activist in Homs told The Associated Press the assault was "the worst campaign against the city since the revolution began" in mid-March 2011.
"Government forces are trying to storm (Homs) from all fronts," another activist told Reuters.
Video footage uploaded by activists on YouTube showed heavy explosions and white clouds of smoke rising from rebel districts.
One clip showed thick black smoke rising from the 13th-century Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque, on the edge of the Khalidiya neighborhood.
The mosque is dedicated to Khalid ibn al-Walid, a companion of Prophet Muhammad and a military commander who led the Muslim conquest of Syria in the 7th century following the decisive Battle of Yarmouk, which put an end to Byzantine rule in Syria. His dome-topped mausoleum is located in a corner of the prayer hall.
The regime’s attack on Homs follows military advances by Assad forces, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, in villages in Homs province and towns close to the Lebanese border.
Three weeks ago Hezbollah spearheaded Assad's recapture of the town of Qusayr on the Lebanese-Syrian border.
Last Wednesday the rebels lost Tal Kalakh, a town located within walking distance of the Lebanon border.
Elsewhere in Syria rebels made major advances in the southwestern city of Deraa, just north of the border with Jordan.
They overran a major military checkpoint in Deraa on Friday and hoped it would allow them to capture the city, cradle of their 27-month-old uprising and an arms pipeline for rebels stretching all the way to Damascus.
According to military strategy expert Safwat al-Zayyat, a former major general in the Egyptian armed forces, “the battle for Homs is the regime’s follow-on to the Qusayr battle.”
Zayyat told Aljazeera TV in an interview last night:
The regime’s focus now is to try and regain full control of Homs.
The rebels, on the other hand, have the initiative in Aleppo and in the battles for Idlib and for Deraa.
Assad forces know the airbases they use for resupply from Iran and Russia are liable to be bombarded at anytime.
They thus want to secure an alternative bridgehead for resupply from their allies in Lebanon.
The regime wants to consolidate its control over a corridor of territory into Lebanon that runs from Damascus through Homs to Qusayr and Tal Kalakh.
Lebanon is set to become the regime’s next and sole resupply artery.
By concentrating their firepower on Jurat al-Shiah, Khalidiya, Bab al-Sebaa, Bab Houd and Bab al-Drayb in Homs, Assad forces are unlikely to want to overrun these neighborhoods. They don’t have the foot soldiers to do that. They would want to decimate and cleanse the neighborhoods instead.
As regards the rebels, they are on the verge of a decisive victory in Deraa shortly. Now that they have overrun military checkpoints Nos. 35, 36 and 37, the only neighborhood standing in their way into Deraa city center is al-Manshieh.
By capturing Deraa, opposition forces would be able to rush reinforcements to rebels fighting in Eastern Ghouta and the southern districts of Damascus.
In brief, the rebels now control most of Syria’s north and a sizable part of its south, and the regime is in the saddle in the provinces of Homs and Damascus.  

Friday 28 June 2013

Egypt showdown over Morsi kicks off Sunday

Ms Hadidi interviewing Heikal last night (top and bottom) and a call for Morsi "to go"

The battle lines are drawn for post-June 30 Egypt.
The opposition is billing June 30 as President Mohamed Morsi’s last day in office -- “but we don’t have an inkling of what comes next,” says Mohamed Hassanein Heikal.
Egypt and the Arab world’s leading journalist and commentator for 50 years was talking last night to CBCEgypt TV anchor Lamis Al Hadidi.
Egypt’s prominent media figure Emad Adeeb wrote earlier for ElWatanNews, “I don’t believe June 30 and the days leading to the [July 10] beginning of Ramadan will pass peacefully. With great regret, I smell blood.”
With the Sunday showdown approaching, this is my abridged version of a curtain raiser penned by Ahmed Maher for BBC News:
Morsi promised when he was inaugurated a year ago to give Egypt a face-lift in just 100 days.
One year on, he faces widespread discontent as much of the country is seething with anger and frustration over the perceived failure of the president to tackle any of the country's pressing economic and social woes.
And from the beginning of his four-year term, Morsi has fallen out with key institutions, chiefly the judiciary, police, media and more recently artists…
The opposition accuses the president and his group, the Muslim Brotherhood, of trying to Islamize the state and of giving the Islamists a monopoly over key public institutions.
In return, hundreds of thousands of Islamists rallied for Morsi in Cairo last week, symbolizing Egypt's increasing polarization.
They dismissed the anti-Morsi campaign as unconstitutional as the president does have electoral legitimacy.
Many locals fear the protests on Sunday will turn into bloody showdown between both camps.
Fearing the worst, the Egyptian army has deployed reinforcements of troops and armored vehicles to strategic locations across the country, chiefly the main presidential palace in Cairo.
As political rivals lock horns over the "Brotherhood-ization" and "secularization" of the nation, opinion polls point out to the mounting public discontent.
A new poll by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) indicated a sharp decline in the president's approval ratings to 32% compared with 78% at the end of the first 100 days of his tenure.
Public anger is soaring over expanding power cuts, water cut-offs in some districts and falling living standards.
Fuel is in short supply as well. So is patience.
For the millions of poor, it is the stagnant economy -- caught in collapsed sources of income like tourism, rising food prices and a growing population dependent on subsidized bread -- that matters.
Foreign currency reserves are half of what they were under Hosni Mubarak and the value of the Egyptian pound has fallen by 10% against the U.S. dollar since last year.
Almost daily strikes by angry civil servants and factory workers demanding better conditions have also become a fact of life.
The president says he has been left with no options but to rely on Muslim Brotherhood members and Islamist allies after the opposition turned down his national reconciliation endeavors.
The opposition, in turn, says Morsi's calls for dialogue are never sincere and insist on early elections.
With the circle tightening around him, the president gave a televised marathon speech on Wednesday night in a bid to upstage the massive demonstrations planned by the opposition on Sunday.
In his interview with Ms Hadidi last night, Heikal gave this feedback on Morsi’s televised speech 24 hours earlier:
The president was unclear as to what he intends offering or doing.
He substantiated Egyptian society’s polarization by choosing to sound like a party leader. You can’t speak as a part leader when addressing an invited audience of state officials. The party is one thing and the state is another.
The president we saw on screen (Wednesday night) looked baffled, yet his words resonated with drumbeats of war.
I think Morsi is under immense pressure. At the same time, the office of president has taken his breath away. For instance, he kept repeating, “I am Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and Police…”
His attack on the media was totally misplaced. It showed him fighting the wrong battle at the wrong place and time, the country being already stirred up.
Because of its poor political performance in office, the Brotherhood-Islamist partnership has seen its popularity-rating plummet to 30% from 60% in the last parliamentary elections.
The reason for this, I think, is the Muslim Brothers’ misplaced arrogance. I saw them when downtrodden first and then arrogant. Some of them now sound more pompous than Queen Victoria.
Morsi expressed a compassionate concern for the poor, but failed to give them hope in the future.
“Pre-emptive demonstrations” organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and fellow-Islamist in the countdown to June 30 are misguided.
The role of a regime is to persuade people with deeds, not muscle and rhetoric. A ruling party does not kick-off bolstering its position with “political armies.”
Morsi was unclear about what he intends doing and how. I don’t understand, for example, how he can complain about inheriting a debt-ridden economy and then go out and borrow more to settle the national debt.
Also a head of state does not publicly criticize Ahmad Shafiq when legal proceedings against the presidential runner-up remain pending.
In truth, the Muslim Brothers assumed power and offered nothing. They simply kept leaping in the dark. And the wrong steps they took over the past four weeks risk plunging the country in civil war.
The Egyptian army is the people’s -- not the Emir’s – army. It is Egyptian nationalism’s godfather and brainchild. Its latest statement sounded the alarm, saying we are all at risk.
The Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood ought to come forward and address the people in person because what is taking place in Egypt gives the lie to the modern state and to transparency. Governing the country out of sight of the public is impermissible. Whoever holds the strings of power must be called to account by the public.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Why Geneva-2 on Syria is a dead duck

Obama arms Syrian rebels (

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, “The Central Intelligence Agency has begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses and plans to start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month, expanding U.S. support of moderate forces battling President Bashar al-Assad, according to diplomats and U.S. officials briefed on the plans.
“The shipments, related training and a parallel push to mobilize arms deliveries from European and Arab allies are being timed to allow a concerted push by the rebels starting by early August, the diplomats and officials said, revealing details of a new covert plan authorized by President Barack Obama and disclosed earlier this month.
“The CIA is expected to spend up to three weeks bringing light arms and possibly antitank missiles to Jordan. The agency plans to spend roughly two weeks more vetting an initial group of fighters and making sure they know how to use the weapons that they are given, clearing the way for the first U.S.-armed rebels to enter the fight, diplomats briefed on the CIA's plans said.
“Talks are under way with other countries, including France, about pre-positioning European-procured weapons in Jordan. Saudi Arabia is expected to provide shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, known as MANPADs, to a small number of handpicked fighters, as few as 20 at first, officials and diplomats said. The U.S. would monitor this effort, too, to try to reduce the risk that the MANPADs could fall into the hands of Islamists.
“Up to a few hundred of the fighters will enter Syria under the program each month, starting in August, according to diplomats briefed on CIA plans.
“At that rate, U.S. and Saudi officials believe it would take four to five months before there are enough rearmed and trained moderate fighters to make a meaningful difference against Assad's forces and their Hezbollah allies, according to diplomats and U.S. officials…”
Writing today for the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat, Lebanese political analyst Abdelwahhab Badrakhan explains why talk of a political solution in Syria anytime soon is haywire:
At the dawn of the revolution, Syria-watchers expected the regime to propose a live-and-let-live compromise to weather the storm, if not to take the wind out of the sails of protesters.
The Syria-watchers were citing previous instances when the regime caved in and agreed terms set by previous adversaries such as Israel, Turkey’s military and Washington.
The regime will now do the same to live on and avoid a losing war against its people, they were saying.
The Syria-watchers were proven wrong when the regime refused to cede an inch to its opponents and chose to engage them in a do-or-die struggle.
A year-and-a-half later, some people thought Iran, which was backing the regime and milking Iraq to fund it, would use her pragmatism and realism to check Damascus’ recklessness, having failed to use backroom talks on her nuclear program to save it. She did not.
Iran chose not to build on Russia’s and some Western states’ amenability to Assad to thrash out a reasonable denouement to the crisis.
Instead, she dovetailed Assad’s plans and supplemented them with an undertaking to foil the “conspiracy against the Axis of Resistance.”
Iran’s fervor to “ignite the region” and stoke the fires of sectarianism now surpass the regime’s zeal. She had no qualms about turning Hezbollah forces into guns-for-hire and contract killers in Syria and Lebanon.
Until the past few weeks, there were also people who thought change would turn up in Moscow.
Russia is a Big Power carrying the responsibility to protect (R2P). She is aware that her and the others’ talk of external “interventions” is sheer manipulation of the crisis. Proof is that at no one stage did the regime truly and directly risk being overthrown.
Moreover, in their uninterrupted contacts, the Americans let the Russians know that the West did not intend to intervene in Syria and that a political solution was and remains the immutable goal of the Obama Administration.
The Russians refuse to play ball. It serves them well to let the crisis drag on and to persevere in rubbing the West’s nose so long as the regime holds out.
By insisting to manage the crisis, Russia finds herself adopting the policies of a rogue state with a mindset cloned from Iran and Syria.
All this to say that waiting for a political solution anytime soon is like waiting for Godot -- it is simply not on the regime or its two principal partners’ mind.
G7 leaders must have felt this from their Russian partner at the G7+1 summit in Northern Ireland.
They must have realized their Russian partner wants to use them as tools to continue the Syria war.
He is their partner in the war on the “terrorists” he uses against them.
He is the G7’s partner in figuring an end to the crisis. But he is also the partner of the Syrian and Iranian regimes in distancing that end pending their victory on the battleground.
He is the G7’s partner in the search for stability in the region. But he is also the partner of the Syrian and Iranian regimes in plans to overwhelm the G7’s Arab allies.
He is their partner in forestalling sectarian conflicts in and around Syria. But he is also the partner of the Syrian and Iranian regimes in stoking the fires of religious wars.
G7 leaders were made aware their Russian partner is not interested in Geneva-2 unless it upholds the regime in one way or another.
Washington’s decision to arm Syrian opposition forces and to re-balance their fight with the regime and bring about a diplomatic solution when none is in sight is like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Saud’s tough talk on Syria and Kerry’s inshallah

John Kerry and Saud al-Faisal meet the press after their talks in Jeddah

As far as I can recall, yesterday was the first time I see Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal so spirited in public.
He was speaking at a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after their talks on Syria in Jeddah.
The pair’s body language was also telling.
Showing no sign of his debilitating back pain, Prince Saud was blunt and passionate about the state of play in Syria. His words read like sheer exasperation.
Kerry on the other hand sounded listless and downcast.
Prince Saud’s tough language:
  • Saudi Arabia cannot be silent at Hezbollah crossing from Lebanon to back regime forces in Syria.
  • Syria is facing a double-edged attack by Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards with unlimited military support from Russia. Along with the regime's genocide against its own people, this adds an even deadlier element in the form of an all-out foreign invasion.
  • Syria now can only be considered an occupied land. This requires resolute and swift action by the international community.
  • There no longer is rhyme or reason to let pass Russia’s blatant and incessant arms supplies to the Syrian regime… Meantime, we are still failing to secure international protection for the Syrian people, or at least provide some sort of military assistance to help them defend themselves against abhorrent crimes being committed against them with nary an excuse.
  • The kingdom demands a clear, unequivocal international resolution that bans any sort of weapons’ support for the Syrian regime and declares null and void the regime’s legitimacy.
  • The illegitimate regime cannot possibly be part of any arrangement or play any role whatsoever in shaping the present and future of Syria.

Kerry’s inshallah:
  • This is a situation that’s been made far more difficult and complicated by Assad’s invitation to Iran and to Hezbollah, Iran’s surrogate, to cross lines – international lines – and to become engaged on the ground in Syria. It is the Assad regime that has internationalized the violence on the ground in the worst of ways.
  • We believe the best solution is a political solution in which the people of Syria have an opportunity to be able to make a choice about their future. And we believe that every minority can be respected, that there could be diversity and pluralism, and that people could do so in a climate of peace in the absence of oppression and violence or the involvement of foreign fighters, providing the Assad regime is prepared to live by the framework that was created in the Geneva communiqué for a transition government with full executive powers chosen by mutual consent of all the parties, which really has the best chance of bringing about peace in Syria.
  • We continue to believe Geneva-2 offers the best opportunity to be able to try to bring that about.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told a news conference in Damascus on Monday regime representatives will attend Geneva-2 -- but “not to hand over power to the other side.”
As Prince Saud and Kerry were speaking in Jeddah, Syria troubleshooter Lakhdar Brahimi was telling reporters in Geneva ahead of talks with American and Russian officials that Geneva-2 was unlikely to take place in July as he had hoped.
"I very, very much hope governments in the region and the Big Powers -- in particular the United States and Russia -- will act to contain this situation that is getting out of hand, not only in Syria but also in the region."
Brahimi voiced deep concern at the deadliest outbreak of violence in Lebanon since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011.
“Events in the city of Sidon in Lebanon yesterday, where over 50 people were killed, are a stern reminder to all of the risks of the conflict in Syria spreading across borders to neighboring countries,” he said.
Editorially, Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat’s former editor-in-chief Tariq Alhomayed writes:
Foreign fighters – whether from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard or Quds Force, or Hezbollah, or Iraqi Shiite militias, or regrettably other regional Shiites – swarmed into Syria at Bashar Assad’s invitation to save his regime. Even the security of Damascus is in the hands of Qassem Soleimani who hardly leaves the capital city.
Hezbollah rules Syria’s borders with Lebanon.
The Baghdad government controls Syria’s border with Iraq and directs its forces and the Iraqi Shiite militiamen to back Assad and stifle the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Israel occupies the Golan and allows Assad’s army to deploy tanks on the Heights to shut out FSA fighters from the Quneitra crossing.
Russian warships are off Syria’s Mediterranean waters.
All this shows Syria is splintered and occupied after Assad killed about 100,000 of his own people.
Prince Saud al-Faisal’s remarks mean Saudi Arabia does not accept a political solution in Syria that keeps Assad in office. This is the kingdom’s underlying position vis-à-vis current or future political initiatives that aim to save Assad, including the unlikely Geneva-2.
Prince Saud al-Faisal’s remarks were pivotal and conclusive. He called things by their name and gave the Syrian opposition a shot in the arm.
His remarks mean Riyadh is proceeding with propping up the FSA so it can defend peoples’ lives and land.

Monday 24 June 2013

The state of play in Syria today

Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyib

“Syria was not drowning in her blood yet. She was being swept by peaceful protests suggesting an Arab Spring wind was blowing in her direction,” Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of pan-Arab al-Hayat, comments today.
He carries on:
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei received an Arab guest. The conversation centered on Syria.
A conclusive sentence by the host summarized the position: “The choice is obvious in Syria. She can be like she used to be or she won’t be anyone’s at all.”
I met Khamenei’s Arab visitor in Cairo. He was trying to explain to me why Lebanese Hezbollah crossed the border to join the fighting in Syria.
He said, “All sides have laid their cards on the table. From hereon, makeup and facelifts are good-for-nothing. We are in the throes a Sunni-Shiite conflict. The struggle taking place in and over Syria will determine future balances in the region.”
A few hours earlier, I had called on Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyib, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar. I saw him worrying lest the conflict in Syria turns sectarian. He felt bitter about Hezbollah hurling itself into the Syria war and tarnishing its image as a party solely devoted to standing up to Israel.
The Grand Imam of al-Azhar does not reproach Hezbollah only.
He did not get convincing answers from one of his visitors named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The dialogue last February was frank and transparent. The Grand Imam of al-Azhar quizzed his visitor about Iran’s position vis-à-vis Bahrain and the three UAE islands.
He also asked him about Iran’s role in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. And he did not hesitate to ask Ahmadinejad about the Sunnis’ circumstances in Iran itself.
Ahmadinejad answered the tough questions by encapsulating the Iranian stance in one sentence: “Resistance to the usurper Zionist entity.”
The tiff did not go unnoticed.
The gravity of the conflict in Syria has forced all countries concerned to outpace diplomatic phraseology and lay bare their true positions.
President Mohamed Morsi, who at one point fancied courting Iran and Russia to carve out a Syria peace role for Egypt, buried the idea after Hezbollah’s plunge. He also hardened his position against the regime and went overboard.
The ongoing bloodbath in Syria changed the images of countries and their roles. It unmasked the depth of their contradictory feelings, their conflicting policies and their old and new fears.
The perception of Iran forging ahead under the banner of bravado and resistance hit a brick wall of Sunni resentment across the region. Tehran’s immersion in the Syria crisis lost Iran her aura and image.
At the same time, the axis of resistance lost its sole Sunni interface, Hamas. The Hamas movement in turn repositioned itself in its natural camp.
Overt interference in Syria dramatically changed Hezbollah’s footing. Having said it was joining a life-or-death battle in Syria, the party is now on the first line of engagement with the Sunnis of Syria, Lebanon and the region.
Hezbollah’s venture accelerated the cracks in Lebanon’s state institutions, coupled the “Lebanese arena” with the “Syrian arena” and added new injuries to historic wounds.
There are those who believe Lebanon will suffer from the logic “it is either ours or no one else’s.” This means bringing the temple down if you can’t make it solely yours.
The battle for Qusayr thrust the region into a situation where governments have to be in sync with inflamed passions on their street.
Decisions taken at the Doha meeting show the conflict has reached the point of no return.
Measures by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners targeting Hezbollah loyalists and financiers sent an unmistakable signal. The battle in Syria has turned regional and international.
Russia’s behavior is in step with “Syria can be like she used to be or she won’t be anyone’s at all.”
Still dithering and fearful of Jabhat al-Nusra and its sisters, America has been whitewashed to accept arming the opposition.
The Syrian regime opted too soon for “Syria can be like she used to be or she won’t be anyone’s at all.”
For hardliners in the opposition, “Syria can be like we wish her to be or she won’t be anyone’s at all.”
A battle as vitriolic internally, regionally and internationally threatens to pulverize Syria and ravage the weak neighboring milieus.
No one country can endure this level of risks and this number of risk-takers.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Riyadh let down by the U.S. or its foreign policy?

File picture of King Abdullah and President Obama

Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York back on September 20, 2005, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told his audience:
“…If you allow for this—for a civil war to happen between the Shiites and the Sunnis, Iraq is finished forever. It will be dismembered. It will be not only dismembered, it will cause so many conflicts in the region that it will bring the whole region into a turmoil that will be hard to resolve. The Iranians would enter the conflict, because of the south, the Turks because of the Kurds, and the Arabs—because both these countries are going to enter—will be definitely dragged into the conflict. So work to unite these people and then you can look at the practical aspects of how to hold them together…
“We fought a war together to keep Iran from occupying Iraq after Iraq was driven out of Kuwait. Now we are handing the whole country over to Iran without reason…
“Now, [Iraq’s] south is pretty much pacified. There is no conflict in there, because those who could cause conflicts, whether they’re supporters of Iran or others, are happy with the situation that is happening. The Iranians now go in this pacified area that the American forces have pacified, and they go into every government of Iraq, pay money, install their own people, put their own—even establish police forces for them, arms and militias that are there and reinforce their presence in these areas. And the British and the American forces in the area are protecting them in doing this…”
Dr. Khalid al-Dakheel, a Saudi academic with a PhD from the University of California who teaches political sociology at King Saud University, uses these quotes to introduce his think piece today for the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat.
Wondering whether the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was let down by the United States or its own foreign policy, he writes:
Has anything changed in the eight years since Prince Saud al-Faisal’s 2005 remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations?
America is still likely to disappoint the Saudi foreign minister further.
Eight years on, the U.S. under a Democratic administration seems to be giving an indifferent shrug to the killings and ruinations in Syria.
President Barack Obama is busy with Jabhat al-Nusra -- not the daily death toll, or Iran’s intervention, or Russia’s sponsorship of the regime in Syria.
Significantly, the president is not too concerned about the fallouts on America’s friends in the region.
The fact Israel is contented with his handling of the Syria war on her doorstep is telling -- the two share a concerted Syria policy.
The implications are many.
One of them is that Saudi weight on American policy in the region seems lacking and incommensurate with the breadth of political, security and economic interests shared by the two allies.
For instance, Washington under the Bush Administration chose to jump into bed with Iran on Iraq.
The fact this did not change under Obama shows Washington does not allow its relations with allies to impede its freedom of action and choice, even when the ties do not coincide.
Prince Saud al-Faisal’s 2005 remarks prove Washington ignored Riyadh’s interests when it formulated its Iraq policy during the occupation.
It is doing the same thing now under the Obama Administration as concerns Syria.
Unlike Riyadh, Obama continues to dither on supporting the Syrian revolution. The two agree on excluding Assad from the new Syria but differ on the way -- and the time it would take -- to do it.
They equally don’t see eye to eye on post-Assad Syria or Iran’s role in all of this.
Is Saudi Arabia undermining its status and political interests to sustain this relationship more than it is getting in return?
Why is Washington paying no heed to Saudi, Gulf and Arab interests in determining the U.S. stand on the Syria war?
Iran is the only side holding on to Assad because his fall would wreck her regional ambitions.
Israel, which cohabitated with the Assads for 40 years, is happy with the devil it knows. It is also happy to see the Syrians continue exterminating one another.
But how can the man who entered the White House as the champion of justice, freedom and equality turn his back on the oppressed Syrian people?
Obama has three problems:
1. The hemming and hawing nature of his foreign policy and his inability to shake off the legacy of Bush’s wars or tell apart Iraq’s case from Syria’s.
2. His rock-solid dedication to Israel’s interests.
3. His twin committals to a political solution of the Syria crisis in partnership with Russia and to a political deal with Iran.
So what is the nature of his planned understanding with Iran? What are its borderlines? What does it aim to achieve? How will it affect the political situation in post-Assad Syria?
America’s Iraq policy since 2003 shows Washington is familiar with the sectarian schism in the region and wishes – since 9/11 – to take the edge off Sunni clout in the region. That’s why it handed power in Iraq back then to Iran’s Shiite allies in Baghdad.
Is the Obama administration’s stand vis-à-vis Syria a follow-on objective in another place, in different ways and under dissimilar pretexts?
Saudi Arabia’s interests as regards Syria are twofold: the regime’s fall and Iran’s exit.
America’s stance puts the kingdom on the spot after the abject frustration of its Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Arab-Israel foreign policies.
The kingdom’s Iraq policy ended with Iraq’s catastrophic invasion of Kuwait, followed by America’s invasion of Iraq and the divisions of the Iraq spoils between Washington and Tehran.
Riyadh’s Syria-Lebanon policy saw Syria fall in Iran’s lap, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri assassinated and Hezbollah crowned as Lebanon’s kingmaker and Iran’s regional cat’s paw.
Why all this failure?
Because the kingdom’s foreign policy was primarily based on cajoling and mollycoddling others in order to win them over for lack of assertiveness and military muscle commensurate with the kingdom’s regional role and national interests.

Friends of Syria Core Group -- Final Communiqué

Led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, foreign ministers from 11 countries meeting in Doha cited the presence of foreign fighters in Syria and the use of chemical weapons by Damascus in agreeing Saturday to increase arms shipments to the rebels.
The ministers said in a joint statement they would "provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground, each country in its own way in order to enable them to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people."
Full text of their final communiqué:
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar and the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and the United States, met after Rome, Istanbul and Amman in Doha on 22 June 2013 to discuss developments in Syria. After the peace initiative announced by Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry, Bashar al-Assad, Iran and Hezbollah launched military operations against the people of Syria. The Ministers expressed their concern about this offensive calculated to change the situation on the ground to the determent of the peace initiative.
The Ministers expressed their concern about the growing sectarian nature of the conflict in Syria, and the radicalizing risks that accompany such developments to regional and international stability and security. In this regard, the Ministers condemn the intervention of Hezbollah militias and fighters from Iran and Iraq in Syria, who are aiding Syrian regime repression against the Syrian people in locales like Qusayr, Aleppo and Ghouta and other parts of Syrian territory. These actions threaten the unity of Syria, broaden the conflict across the border threatening further militarization that undermines the Geneva initiative and inflame the entire region. The Ministers demand that these fighters leave Syria immediately and called on Hezbollah and the government of Iran to immediately effect such a withdrawal and to take steps to stop sectarian tensions.
In direct response to Assad’s actions and in furtherance of the goal of convening the Geneva conference, the Ministers agreed to take urgent practical steps to support the Syrian opposition. The Ministers welcome the upcoming meeting of the Syrian Opposition Coalition at which they will endorse the completion of their expansion and will elect their leadership so that they will be able to implement their vision for a peaceful, prosperous, unified and sovereign Syria.
The Ministers reviewed the joint statements adopted by the Istanbul meeting on 20 April 2013, and the Amman meeting on 22 May 2013, which note that, in case the allegations that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people prove true, there will be severe consequences. In light of confirmation by France, the UK, the US and other countries about the use of chemical weapons in several areas by the regime, the Ministers call on the regime to allow access to the UN investigating team mandated by UN Secretary General to conduct an investigation into reported use of Chemical Weapons.
In light of all of the above developments, the Ministers have agreed the following actions to change the balance of power on the ground:
  • To provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground, each country in its own way in order to enable them to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people. In this context, the Ministers direct concerned parties to take all necessary practical measures
  • To channel all military support by the relevant countries through the Staff Chairmanship of the Syrian Supreme Military Council.
  • The crossing of fighters and militias, who support the regime and are involved in military activities and operations in the Syrian territory, must be prevented.
  • To pursue all appropriate avenues in the UN to support and protect the Syrian people.

The Ministers emphasized the need for Iraq and Lebanon to actively safeguard their borders in order to ensure that fighters and equipment do not escalate current tensions.
The Ministers supported reaching a political solution that preserves the dignity of the Syrian people, stops the Syrian bloodshed, and allows the release of prisoners and the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people. The Ministers expressed readiness to participate in the Geneva II meeting to fully implement the outcomes of the Geneva I meeting in order to achieve the aspirations and hopes of the Syrian people, preserve the territorial integrity of Syria and promote national unity among all components of the Syrian national fabric. The Ministers affirmed their prior commitments in the previous meetings in favor of negotiations, which would lead to the establishment of a transitional governing body to which full executive powers would be transferred, including military and security institutions, that excludes the central figures and associates whose hands are stained with blood. In this context, Bashar al-Assad has no role in the transitional governing body or thereafter.
The Ministers stressed the responsibility of those with influence over the regime to end the violence and secure a negotiated political solution on the basis of the Geneva communiqué.
The Ministers reaffirm their strong concern over the increasing presence and growing radicalism of the conflict and terrorist elements in Syria -- a matter that deepens the concerns for the future of Syria, threatens the security of neighboring countries and risks destabilizing the wider region and the world.
The Ministers expressed their deep concern over the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Syria, and called upon the international community to shoulder its responsibilities by taking urgent and tangible actions to alleviate the Syrian people’s suffering. In this context, the Ministers called for cross-border humanitarian access and agreed to consider further possibilities to ensure the flow of humanitarian assistance to the whole Syrian territory, and be delivered to all needy Syrians. The Ministers commended the efforts of the Assistance Coordination Unit of the Coalition (ACU) for its work in helping communities inside Syria and its role in facilitating humanitarian assistance.
The Ministers urged the international community to fulfill its commitments and go beyond by increasing financial support to the neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees to enable them to address their increasing humanitarian needs, taking into account that the issue of refugees is addressed through appropriate means and procedures in accordance with the principles of burden sharing.
The Ministers agreed to continue to collaborate and coordinate in order to assist the Syrian people.