The civilian uprising and military rebellion against Syria’s Arab Socialist Ba’ath regime continued this week, provoking President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces to disperse protesters, even as Arab League peace monitors inspected some of the more troubled cities in the country. The United Nations estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the government crackdown on dissent since March.
Pictured above: Syrian National Council chief Burhan Ghaliun.
Yesterday, in Cairo, the opposition Syrian National Council, consisting of both the banned Muslim Brotherhood and liberal groups, signed a pact with another dissident group, National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB), laying the ground rules for a “transitional period” should Assad be toppled. The NCB embraces Arab nationalists, socialists, independents, Marxists, and members of Syria’s minority Kurdish community. The coalition opposes any NATO military intervention, such as took place in Libya, where long-time dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi was ousted and killed in October. The pact articulates support for the mutinous Free Syrian Army, which has been battling regular army troops.
For decades, the two factions of the Syrian Communist Party have held subordinate positions in the Ba’athist-led National Progressive Front, but Syria’s communists can be expected to try to exert influence in any post-Assad regime.
Several days before Christmas, reports the Israeli media, a top Syrian army general, Mustapha a-Sheikh, defected from his post, allegedly escaping over the northern border into Turkey, which has condemned Assad’s crackdown on opposition. A-Sheikh’s defection apparently reflects increasing frustration among many army soldiers at being ordered to kill civilians. “Weeks ago,” Arutz Sheva states, “soldiers were subjected to intense propaganda stressing that the protests were being organized by groups seeking to plunge Syria into anarchy, who were funded by ‘foreign governments.’” Notwithstanding Assad’s propaganda machine, “many soldiers have come to the conclusion that the uprising in Syria is indeed a legitimate expression of protest by Syrians.”
Sources in the Israeli Defense Forces told Army Radio that “the increasing instability in Syria is of great concern to Israeli security officials.” The Israeli government has taken note of the fact that on December 21 the Syrian army conducted military exercises using its “most advanced equipment,” and is worried that those weapons could fall into the hands of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist organization, either before or after Assad is ousted. Among the weapons Syria displayed in its exercises were the Russian-made P-800 supersonic Yakhont anti-ship missile.
Meanwhile, Syrian state television reports that the two powerful car bombs that exploded in Damascus on December 23 were targeting both the Syrian intelligence agencies, as well as Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) agents based out of Moscow’s embassy in the Syrian capital. The Ba’athist regime alleges that Al Qaeda-linked elements were probably responsible for the blast, but Omar Idilbi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council called the explosions “very mysterious because they happened in heavily guarded areas that are difficult to be penetrated by a car.” The two explosions killed 40 people and injured 100.
Russian diplomatic personnel in Damascus lambasted the report, denying the blasts occurred anywhere near Moscow’s embassy. “No, I think it is utter nonsense. Russian intelligence has no buildings here and I have no idea how, even theoretically, it is possible to do this,” an embassy spokesman told Gazeta.ru. The embassy insisted that “no Russian companies or representative offices are located anywhere near those areas.”
Incidentally, earlier this month, the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and a hardline Salafist Islamic group emerged as the two largest forces in a second round of national elections that will chart Egypt’s course following February’s overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood has issued assurances to the effect that it will not seek to implement an Islamic state after it forms Egypt’s next government.
Elsewhere in the region, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is vehemently anti-Israel to the point of genocide, plans to visit several Latin American countries ruled by leftist, anti-Zionist regimes, including Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. Ahmadinejad’s tour is slated for the second week of January 2012. To her credit, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed concern over Iran’s alliances with countries in the Western Hemisphere.