Syria Assessment: Defections & Reflections

PITAPOLICY Consulting has been tracking Syria’s developments since March 15th. A policy brief on civil society was published by the Middle East Institute.

“The signs of blood on the walls, on the ground. On every street there are signs of blood that show there have been a lot of people killed and wounded. The humanitarian situation is totally disastrous – no electricity, no water, no food, no medicine.”~Malek Anwar, Former League of Arab States Observer

The Syrian death toll mounts to nearly 7,000 as the defections among upper level military officials are still rare.  According to the Guardian, the highest profile defector, Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Harmoush, was shot by a firing squad after disappearing from a refugee camp in Turkey.  However, a high-profile military defector recently challenged the common belief that the Syrian military forces are resolute in their support of the Assad regime. Moreover, the resignations of Arab League observers on the Syria mission may imply a variety of foreign intervening measures that push for a “Right to Protect” clause.

Syrian General’s Defection Provided Detailed Military Assessment & Points to “Nuclear” Implosion of Military

General Mustafa al-Sheikh, who has worked on Syria’s intelligence, has taken refuge in Turkey. According to his first full length interview with the UK Telegraph, General al Sheikh reported that only a third of the army was at combat readiness due to defections or absenteeism, while remaining troops were demoralized. Moreover, most of its Sunni officers had fled, been arrested, or sidelined, and its equipment was degraded. “The army will collapse during February,” he said in an interview with the UK Telegraph.
“The reasons are the shortage of Syrian army personnel, which even before March 15 last year did not exceed 65 per cent. The proportion of equipment that was combat ready did not exceed that, due to a shortage of spare parts.
“The Syrian army combat readiness I would put at 40 per cent for hardware and 32 per cent for personnel.
“(Syrian regime)They are sending in elements from the Shabiha (militia) and the Alawite sect to compensate, but this army is unable to continue more than a month. Some elements of the army are reaching out to the FSA to help them to defect.”
“The situation is now very dangerous and threatens to explode across the whole region, like a nuclear reaction,” he said. (His complete interview may be found here.) More details.

Former League Observer of Syria Reflects Malek Anwar spoke to NPR’s, Robert Segal, through a translator. The entire interview may be heard here
Original story from Jan. 12th.

Human Rights Watch sent a letter to League Secretary General, Nabil El-Araby, to publicly release the report coordinated by General Mustafa al-Dabi. 
 

No US Policy On Syria
Emil Hokayem lectured at IISS (International Institute for Strategic Studies), I have Hokayem’s comments from his Tuesday, Jan. 24th lecture.  He argues that there is no US policy on Syria; rather it is ad hoc.  He stated that the Syrian National Council is not as powerful as an opposition group.  His entire statement may be viewed here. Essentially, since he represents a security institute based in London, he focuses on 3 themes:
a) The Gulf Cooperation Council countries influence and relatively easier ability to disengage from Syria;
Increasing propaganda from the gulf, with Qatar feeling betrayed by Assad.
Qatar has the ear of Nabil El-Araby of the Arab League, but is experiencing declining power among GCC nations & Saudi’s rise.  (Qatar will lose the presidency to Iraq)
b) Gulf states don’t know the Syrian Opposition, but have different entry points into Syria; and
Gulf states are in a position to offer incentives, e.g. a safe haven for Assad and other potential Syrian government exiles. Gulf states can try to speak with China and Russia.  However, it’s a difficult avenue to pursue because a) energy issues–apart from Syria–cause friction; and b) Russians mistrust Gulf countries over the post-Libya transition, in particular between Qatar and Russia.  
Gulf countries need to reach out Security Council members: Pakistan, Morocco, South Africa, Brazil, and India.  
Support the armed opposition in Syria.  
Qatar has a good relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood
c) The Sunni-Shi’ite division influencing Lebanon’s border interests.
sectarian killings occurring in Homs. Sunni businessmen are still worried about joining opposition.  
Questions from the audience hyper focused on the potential emergence of a Salafi movement.
 
Meanwhile, the phrase “Libya is not Syria, Syria is not Libya” continues to reverberate among think tanks and diplomats regarding Right to Protect and its related implementation.  Brookings forum on Wednesday maintained that Right to Protect does not maintain a precedent just because it was enacted in Libya–especially since human rights abuses amounted to War Crimes as well as Crimes Against Humanity.  There is a “catch-22” since these legal determinations may warrant “R2P”, but the human rights observers by the League and other groups have not come out unanimously in this regard, so R2P continues to pose a semantic debate among activists who would like specific criteria of how to determine that the regime has not only failed to protect its people, but has instigated harm among civilians, which moves beyond Clause #1 & 2.  The caveat is that R2P will invite foreign military intervention.

Power Plays: Opposition Rejects Talks Organized by Russia; Iran Wants More Time for Reforms
In a power play, Russia offered to hold talks between the Syrian government and rebel forces in Moscow.  However, the offer was rejected by rebels while Iran stated that Assad needs more times to implement reforms.  

According to Business week, Russia continues to deny that it is supplying weapons to Syria’s government forces.  However, Russia has maintained a strong rejection at the UN Security Council to interject and intervene with a UN monitoring force.

Fighting Carries Into Damascus Suburbs
The death toll reached 6,000 after the third day of guerrilla style fighting emerged in the northern Damascus suburbs.  Syrian government forces have increased their offensive in Homs and Daraa since the the League withdrew their mission on Saturday.   The BBC reports that 2,000 Syrian troops and 50 tanks are posted in the northern suburbs.  The Syrian government newspaper, SANA, reports that “armed-terrorist” groups have blown up pipelines, which necessitates Syrian armed forces to restore order.


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