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by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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June 11, 2012

In-Depth Issues:

Syrian Rebels Take Over Missile Battery near Homs (Reuters)
    Free Syrian Army rebels have been intensifying attacks on army patrols, roadblocks and missile batteries.
    Abu Qassem, an activist in Rastan, 25 km. north of Homs, said among the rebels' targets had been an army missile battery in the area of Ghanto near Rastan.
    Most members of the missile squadron defected and the battery fell under rebel control.

Arming of Syria Rebels Gains Momentum - Roula Khalaf (Financial Times-UK)
    Gulf-backed moves to arm Syria's opposition are gaining momentum amid growing flows of funds and weapons and a better organization of deliveries to fighters on the ground.
    Syrian activists say more significant funds are now coming from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in addition to a regular flow of donations from Syrian expatriates and some wealthy individuals in Syria.
    The new arms include anti-tank missiles and account for the apparent sharp rise in attacks. At least 20 tanks or armored personnel carriers have been burned in the past week.

Rebels Widening Hold in Syria - David Enders (McClatchy)
    The rebels now control a widening swath of territory in north and central Syria. They use it as a base for storing and manufacturing weapons and for launching attacks against government soldiers in previously peaceful parts of the country.
    In May, at least 404 government soldiers and police officers lost their lives in combat with the rebels, according to burial notices published by the Syrian government news agency, SANA.
    In June, SANA reported the burial of 150 soldiers in just the first seven days of the month.
    In March, SANA reported only 176 deaths; in April, 363.
    Rebel units show none of the desperation for weapons and ammunition that plagued them as recently as February. One unit on Friday proudly displayed six new Belgian FAL assault rifles along with ammunition - gifts, the rebels said, from Saudi Arabia.
    See also The Unraveling of Syria Is Sure to Speed Up - Joshua Landis (Syria Comment)

Syrian Rebels Armed by the Syrian Army - Tracey Shelton (
    At the Free Syrian Army base at Jabal al-Zawiya, Hamza Fatahallah, an army defector who joined the FSA nine months ago, told me: "We have caught many army prisoners. We send them back home for a small amount of money on the condition they do not return to the regime. We use the money to buy weapons."
    Prisoner exchanges have so far contributed almost $80,000 toward weapons purchases, he said.
    Their main supplier for ammunition is Syria's national army. While most of the sellers are corrupt officers, lower-ranking soldiers have occasionally stolen weapons and sold them to rebel forces.
    Fatahallah estimated that his village purchased 40% of their weapons from the regime. They obtain an additional 50% of their weapons during battle.
    The remaining 10% are donated and smuggled from outside the country, or are purchased from private merchants, mostly from Iraq.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Nuclear Talks with Tehran Falter - Jay Solomon and David Crawford
    Negotiations between Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog appeared to break down over the issue of inspections Friday, as Iran appeared to back away from the commitments it made only weeks ago to International Atomic Energy Agency director general Yukiya Amano.
        IAEA representatives and Iranian negotiators met for more than five hours Friday in Vienna, but the two sides couldn't agree on the scope of inspections or Iran's demands that the IAEA give Tehran access to the documents it has gathered on alleged Iranian nuclear work. In addition, no agreement was made on the IAEA's requests to visit the Parchin site. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Iranian MP: Parchin to Remain Off-Limits to IAEA Inspectors (Fars-Iran)
  • Rebels Battle in Assad Stronghold of Damascus
    For nearly 12 hours Saturday, rebels armed mainly with assault rifles fought Syrian forces in the heaviest fighting in Damascus since the uprising began. The fighting began in two neighborhoods, Qaboun and Barzeh, on Friday when troops opened fire on anti-Assad opposition gatherings and rebels responded, witnesses said. On Saturday, in Kafr Sousa, fighting began after rebels attacked a Syrian forces checkpoint. (AP-Fox News)
        See also The Revolution Is Coming to Damascus - Julien Barnes-Dacey
    Damascus is increasingly turning on the Assad regime. Recently, security forces opened fire in the center of the capital to disperse a small gathering of peaceful demonstrators just a few hundred meters from parliament. The mood has markedly shifted away from the regime over the last couple of months. The decision by Damascene merchants to go on an unprecedented strike in response to the Houla killings marked an important escalation of local defiance.
        Many Damascus suburbs fall under effective rebel control at night. Anti-regime protests are spreading to districts like Midan and Kafr Sousa, just minutes from downtown Damascus. The writer, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, was based in Syria from 2007 to 2010. (Foreign Policy)
        See also Syria's Business Class Nears a Tipping Point of Defiance - Muhammad Ali
    Merchants have finally decided to enter the crisis due to economic distress and slumping profits, the extortion by which the regime pays its Shabiha thugs, and civilian casualties in neighborhoods of Damascus. The massacre at Houla and further slaughters only strengthen the resolve of the merchants, mostly Sunni, against the largely Alawite regime. (The National-UAE)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu: Assad Slaughtering Syrian Civilians with the Aid of Iran and Hizbullah
    Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday: "We also see what is happening in Syria where civilians are simply being slaughtered. We see the horrifying pictures of children and the elderly. This is a slaughter that is being perpetrated not only by the Syrian government. Iran and Hizbullah are helping it, and today the world needs to see this axis of evil: Iran-Syria-Hizbullah - the face of this axis of evil is fully revealed for what it is. Everyone should understand the environment we live in."  (Prime Minister's Office)
        See also Israel: Assad Has No Moral Authority to Govern
    Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor told the UN General Assembly on Thursday: "Eli Wiesel once said, 'We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.'...No decent human being can stay silent in the face of what is happening in Syria. The people of Syria are not the indiscriminate victims of a natural disaster....They are the deliberate targets of a brutal regime that will commit any crime and cross any line to cling to power."  (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • U.S. Excludes Israel from Anti-Terror Forum Because of Turkey - Ran Dagoni
    The U.S. blocked Israel's participation in the Global Counterterrorism Forum's (GCTF) first meeting in Istanbul on Friday, even though Israel has extensive experience in counterterrorism. A source in Washington said Israel was excluded from the meeting because of fierce objections by Turkish President Erdogan. Israel tried hard to obtain an invitation to the meeting, and its exclusion has greatly disappointed officials in Jerusalem. (Globes)
  • Russia Selling Missile Equipment to Iran - Yitzhak Benhorin
    Russia's government-run weapons manufacturer Rosoboronexport is supplying equipment for Iran's missile program, intelligence documents recently presented to the U.S. Congress indicate. Congress is concerned that Russian companies are selling the Iranians equipment supposedly destined for commercial satellites but that could also serve Iran's ballistic weapons industry. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Obama's Iran and Syria Muddle - Jackson Diehl
    As U.S. Central Command chief Gen. James N. Mattis testified to Congress in March, the downfall of Assad would be "the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years." Making it happen is not just a humanitarian imperative after the slaughter of more than 10,000 civilians, but a prime strategic interest of Israel and the U.S.
        Obama is eager to avoid military action in Iran, but his strategy - striking a diplomatic bargain to stop the nuclear program - also narrows his options in Syria. A deal with Tehran will require the support of Russia, which happens to be hosting the next round of negotiations. Russia, in turn, is opposed to forcing Assad, a longtime client, from power by any means. If Obama wants the support of Vladimir Putin on Iran, he may have to stick to Putin-approved measures on Syria. (Washington Post)
  • Jesus' Birthplace in Danger: Will UNESCO Choose PA Hype over Expert Findings?
    The upcoming meeting of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee is liable to find that the "Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage route in Bethlehem" is under urgent danger and worthy of special UN protection. The PLO, which became a member of UNESCO in October 2011, claims there is an "emergency situation" that needs to be addressed by "an emergency measure." Yet the PLO's submission has been completely rejected by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) - a Paris-based entity that advises the World Heritage Committee.
        After a comprehensive investigation, ICOMOS reported: "[T]he Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage route in Bethlehem, Palestine, should not be inscribed on the World Heritage List on an emergency basis....Contrary to the Palestinian submission now before the UNESCO committee, the Church of the Nativity was neither 'severely damaged,' nor 'under imminent threat.'"
        The expert evaluation is public and known. Yet does anyone expect the 21-nation UNESCO committee to rule based on objective findings? (UN Watch)
  • Assad Response to Syria Unrest Divides His Own Sect - Neil MacFarquhar
    As the Syrian conflict escalates to new levels of sectarian strife, President Assad is leaning ever more heavily on his religious base for support. The Alawite core of the elite security forces is still with him, as are many Syrians from minority groups. But interviews with a dozen Alawites indicated a complex split even within their ranks. Some Alawites are frustrated that security forces have not yet managed to crush the opposition, while others say that Assad is risking the future of the Alawites by pushing them to the brink of civil war with Sunni Muslims.
        In Damascus in the 1980s, new Alawite communities were formed to ring the capital, which the city's natives sometimes derisively call "settlements." Salam, 28, a businessman who grew up in one such area, said that early in the uprising, the government distributed automatic rifles there. "They told us, 'The Sunnis are going to kill you'."
        Reem, 28, an Alawite woman, helps organize anti-Assad rallies in Damascus. At the start of the uprising she could not show her face in her village. But on her most recent visit a month ago, no one cursed her activism. "They have begun to understand the real face of the Syrian crisis, that it is a popular revolution against a dictatorship, not against an Alawite regime."  (New York Times)

Processing Delay: The Arab-Israeli Peace Process Has Never Been More Irrelevant - Elliott Abrams (Foreign Policy)

  • The "Arab Spring" is producing Muslim Brotherhood victories, Salafi gains, chaos in Syria, disorder in Egypt, and tremors in Jordan. Iran's nuclear program moves steadily forward despite tougher sanctions and ongoing negotiations.
  • Since 1967 the future of Jerusalem and the West Bank remains a matter of intense international - including American - diplomatic effort. While professional peacemakers may want to get negotiations going again, the inconvenient truth is that none of the parties to this conflict have adequate incentives to take serious political risks right now.
  • An Israel that is worried about stability in Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon and facing a growing Iranian nuclear weapons program is unlikely to take many risks in the West Bank.
  • Polls show that Israelis do want peace and do want separation from the Palestinians, but have little faith that much can be achieved. If the Palestinian president could not agree to the startlingly generous offer Olmert made in late 2008, nothing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can offer will elicit a yes.

    The writer is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and was a deputy national security advisor in U.S. President George W. Bush's administration.

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