Monthly Archives: June 2012

WW4 File: NATO member Turkey, Syria face off in wake of Turkish F-4 Phantom shootdown, deploy troops, tanks, missiles to shared border; Russians helped down warplane; Erdogan warns Damascus against militarizing border, Assad declares Syria in “state of war”

– UPDATE: Russian Technicians Involved in Downing Turkish Warplane; Turkish Air Force Scrambles F-16 Fighter Jets to Deter Syrian Helicopters near Border (source)

– Russia’s Deployment of Marines in Syria Could Potentially Spark Superpower Showdown while Tehran-Damascus Mutual Defense Pact Will Drag Iran into Conflict between Syria and NATO

And let me make this clear: The security of the Alliance is indivisible. We stand together with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity.
— Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General; statement made on June 26, 2012

We would not be surprised if these Russian experts, if they didn’t push the button, at least were beside the Syrian officers who did.
– Israeli Air Force official, quoted by The Sunday Times on July 1, 2012

Pictured above: On Wednesday a Turkish military truck transports a mobile missile launcher to the town of Iskenderun, near the Syrian border.

Both NATO member Turkey and on-again/off-again ally Syria have reportedly deployed troops to their shared border in the aftermath of the June 22 downing of a Turkish warplane. Yesterday Al Arabiya reported that Turkey was deploying troops and at least 30 military vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft rocket launchers to the border, due west of the Syrian city of Aleppo, as a precautionary measure after one of its F-4 Phantom fighter jets allegedly strayed into Syrian airspace for five minutes.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan accused Syria of a “hostile” and “heinous attack” in shooting down the aircraft without warning. While the wreckage was found underwater, the two pilots remain missing. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc insisted the F-4, which was flying over the Mediterranean Sea, was a reconnaissance aircraft.

The Turkish prime minister has ordered his troops, battle hardened by many years of fighting Kurdish Marxist rebels, to treat any element of the Syrian army that approaches the border as a “military target.” Turkey, which also boasts NATO’s second largest army (after the USA), has appealed to its allies for support under Article 4 of the military coalition’s founding documents, which addresses the “territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” Erdogan, moreover, has urged the international community to consider the incident as an attack on the whole military alliance. This is very possible, as US and British officials have already floated the idea of military intervention in the Middle East country, while NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has offered unconditional support for Turkey.

Today, General Mustafa al-Sheikh of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) told Reuters that about 170 tanks of the Syrian army’s 17th Mechanized Division had assembled north of Aleppo, about 19 miles from the Turkish border. Anti-regime forces told the news agency that last night helicopter gunships bombarded a strategic town in northern Syria while the tanks closed in on Aleppo, but remained outside the radius of the new Turkish air defenses. Turkey shelters the FSA and shelters 33,000 Syrian refugees on its southeastern border with Syria, that is, about 30 miles from where the Turkish jet was shot down.

With the assistance of Russian diplomatic intervention and weapons shipments, Syria’s five-decade-old Arab Socialist Ba’ath regime has been trying to suppress a 16-month-old insurgency with both populist and Islamist overtones. About 3,000 civilians and opposition fighters have already perished so far this month, according to Britain-based expatriate group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In recent weeks, reports have surfaced in the MSM that CIA agents stationed in Turkey have been funnelling arms, purchased by Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, to the FSA via the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In order to encourage more defections from Assad’s forces, moreover, the Saudis have reportedly offered to pay the salaries of FSA rebel troops. A sectarian feud divides the Syrian and Saudi governments: the Assad dynasty hails from the Alawite sect of Shia Islam, while the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam dominates Saudi Arabia.

For its part, the Russian General Staff has acknowledged that it intends to deploy troops to Syria with the intent of protecting the Russian Navy’s Soviet-era maintenance facility at Tartus. Two amphibious landing ships based out of Sevastopol, Ukraine, are readying as many as 600 marines for this task, raising the spectre of a superpower showdown over war-wracked Syria.

On Tuesday, bloodthirsty Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad told government officials that they “live in a real state of war from all angles” and that “all policies and all sides and all sectors need to be directed at winning this war.” Oppositionists said that at least another 69 people, including 38 civilians, were killed the previous day, but the most dramatic incident occurred in Damascus, when two magnetic bombs exploded in judges’ cars outside the capital’s main court complex. On Wednesday, rebels attacked the headquarters of a pro-regime satellite television station, gunning down seven people, while the day before, there was a major gun battle on the city’s previously quiet western suburbs.

Turkey’s policy about-face toward Syria has been dramatic. The two countries nearly came to war in the 1980s and 1990s, but that was when Turkey was cultivating close relations, including a military and strategic alliance, with Israel. When the “moderate” Islamist party of Prime Minister Erdogan came to power, he sought to “rebalance” relations with both Syria and Iran. Following the eruption of protests against the Assad dictatorship, Ankara changed its tune, in step with other NATO states.

For Bible prophecy enthusiasts, the potential military showdown between the USA and Russia over Syria’s internal crisis portends the fulfillment of Isaiah 17, which describes the destruction of Damascus, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, and Ezekiel 38-39, which describes a Russian-Islamic invasion of Israel. If NATO finds itself at war with Syria, then it will not only clash with Russia, but also Iran, which is locked into a mutual defense pact with Syria. We may very well be posting under the “End Times File” category soon.

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WW4 File: Syria shoots down Turkish warplane over Mediterranean Sea; Damascus: F-4 Phantom flying low over Syrian territorial waters but apologizes for incident; Erdogan calls emergency security meeting to clarify NATO member Ankara’s response; Syrian Air Force colonel claims asylum in Jordan

– UPDATE 1: NATO to Discuss Syria’s Downing of Turkish Warplane without Warning; Ankara: F-4 Phantom on Training Flight, Strayed into Syrian Air Space, Wreckage Found, Pilots Missing (source)

– UPDATE 2: “Dozens” of Syrian Army Officers Defect to Rebels; Three More Syrian Air Force Pilots Defect to Jordan without Aircraft, Illegally Crossed Land Border (source)

– UDPATE 3: Thirty-Three Syrian Soldiers, Including One General and Two Colonels, Defect to Turkey; 33,000 Syrian Refugees in NATO Neighbor, Base for Rebel Free Syrian Army (source)

– UPDATE 4: Russian Cargo Ship Sails to Murmansk, Re-fitted with Russian Flag, May Re-attempt Voyage to Syria with Shipment of Combat Helicopters, Air Defense Systems (source)

Turkey’s government, which has taken a hard stance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on oppositionists over the past 16 months, has summoned an emergency security meeting after Syrian forces shot down one of its F-4 Phantom fighter jets over the Mediterranean Sean. The high-level meeting includes top military, intelligence, and other government officials.

The Turkish warplane disappeared off the radar close to the Syrian border on Friday. Syria’s military contends that the aircraft was flying low, well inside Syrian territorial waters, when it was shot down. “Our air defences confronted a target that penetrated our air space over our territorial waters pre-afternoon on Friday and shot it down. It turned out to be a Turkish military plane,” a statement by the military circulated on state media said.

With the second biggest army in NATO and soldiers hardened by nearly 30 years of fighting Kurdish Marxist rebels, Turkey would be a formidable foe for the Syrian army, which is already struggling to suppress a CIA-backed revolt. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, has been “measured” in his response to the incident, acknowledging that the Turkish pilot may have strayed accidentally into Syrian air space. He has explained that Turkish and Syrian authorities are “working together” to search for the two missing crew of the F-4 aircraft.

Erdogan says Syria has already apologised and admitted it was a mistake. “The other side have expressed regret,” he said. “Turkey will present its final stance after the incident has been fully brought to light and decisively take the necessary steps,” Mr Erdogan said.

For those, like Russian Communist Party boss Gennady Zyuganov, who believe the West is itching for a fight with Assad, this incident could provide a pretext for NATO military intervention in insurgency-wracked Syria.

Meanwhile, Syrian Air Force Colonel Hassan Merei al-Hamade, who landed his MiG-21 “Fishbed” plane (NATO designation) at a Jordanian air base this week (pictured above), has claimed asylum in the Middle East kingdom. Syrian state media, however, was quick to denounced Hamade as a “traitor.” “The pilot is considered a deserter and a traitor to his country, and to his military honour, and he will be sanctioned under military rules,” Syrian state television quoted Assad’s defence ministry as saying.

In a related story, a Curacao-flagged Russian cargo ship carrying 12 to 15 “refurbished” Soviet-era combat helicopters belonging to the Syrian military has returned to Russia after being stripped of insurance coverage by British company Standard Club. Some reports suggest that MV Alaed will “re-flag” under Russian sovereignty before attempting the voyage again.

Middle East File: Senator McCain calls for US-led military coalition to oust Assad; Washington, London influence UK company to terminate marine insurance on Russian ship transporting “refurbished” combat helicopters to Syria; Muslim Brotherhood wins presidential vote in Egypt

– UPDATE 1: Syrian Air Force Pilot Defects, Lands MiG-21 Fighter Jet at King Hussein Air Base in Jordan (source)

– UPDATE 2: CIA Officers Stationed in Turkey Coordinating Flow of Arms to Syrian Rebels via Muslim Brotherhood, Weapons Financed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar (source)

– Rumors of War: Moscow Denies Report Russia, China, and Iran Planning Maneuver in Insurgency-Wracked Syria; Israeli Media: Russian Commandos Intend to Escort Assad to Safe Asylum

– Egyptian Crisis: Military Rulers Strip Presidential Post of Critical Powers, Postpone Announcement of Election Run-Off Results, Mubarak-Appointed Judges Dissolve Parliament; Angry Muslim Brotherhood Vows to Thwart Army Coup

Pictured above: Muslim Brotherhood supporters protest against Egypt’s military government in Cairo, on June 20, 2012.

On Monday, US Senator and past Republican presidential candidate John McCain called for the USA to lead a military coalition againstSyria’s five-decade-old Arab Socialist Ba’ath regime and its leader, President Bashar al-Assad.

“The Syrian opposition needs to know that theUnited Statesstands with them and that we are willing to take risks to support them when they need it the most,” McCain, who is also the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank inWashington. “Inaction denies us the opportunity to have influence with forces inSyriawho will one day inherit the country, ceding that to foreign states that may not always share our values.”

McCain described the Obama administration’s policy of demanding Assad’s resignation and banking onRussia’s support for a United Nations/Arab League-brokered peace plan as weak and ineffective. “To say they are leading from behind is too general,” he said. “That suggests they are leading. They are just behind.Russiais unlikely to ever support a policy of regime change inSyria.”

A US-led invasion of Syriais precisely the scenario feared and denounced by foes of the West such as Russian Communist Party boss Gennady Zyuganov.

Meanwhile, the British government effectively blocked a Russian cargo ship, MV Alaed, from transporting a shipment of “refurbished” attack helicopters from Kaliningrad to Syria’s port of Tartus, where Russia maintains a naval base. The British marine insurer Standard Club said it had withdrawn cover from all the ships owned by Femco, a Russian cargo line, including the MV Alaed. According to The Telegraph,Washington informedLondon, which notified the insurance company.

“We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined forSyria,” Standard Club said in a statement. “We have already informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage.”

The MV Alaed picked up its cargo of Mi-25 “Hind” helicopters and missiles from Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave, where they were sent earlier to the Kremlin-owned Mil Factory 150 for servicing and repairs. The “flying tanks,” as the Mi-25 is sometimes known, were originally sold to Damascus at the end of the Soviet era. The ship headed south through the North Sea towards the English Channel but, as the MV Alaed neared theNetherlands, Dutch authorities hailed the ship. The captain then made an abrupt turn, making a run forScotland. With no insurance covering the ship, maritime security sources say the Russian ship may have to return to port.

Under sanctions announced last year, the European Union has banned not only exporting arms to Syriabut also providing related services such as insurance. Undeterred by Assad’s brutal crackdown on the 15-month-old uprising in his country, Russia, states The Telegraph, intends to comply with the stipulations of a 2007 contract by which it will supply 20 MiG-29 M2 fighter aircraft toSyria.

As we previously blogged, USsatellite imagery has revealed that the Russian Navy is preparing two amphibious landing vessels, Nikolai Filchenkov and Caesar Kunikov, at the Crimean naval base ofSebastopol. A spokesman for the Russian General Staff quoted by the Interfax news agency said the ships would carry marines charged with protecting the security of Russian citizens inSyria and evacuating a part of the base in Tartus. Fully loaded, the two vessels can carry as many as 600 troops and 24 tanks.

Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta, citing anonymous military sources, suggested that the soldiers would be drawn from the elite Pskov airborne brigades and special forces units stationed in Chechnya. Voice of Israel, moreover, alleges that the Russian commandos intend to escort Assad to a safe asylum inRussia.

Anticipated differences over Syriaemerged at the G20 summit inMexico after US President Barack Obama told the presidents ofRussia andChina, Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao, that Assad could no longer remain in power after the massacres of a large number of civilians. In response, Putin reiteratedMoscow’s long-standing support forSyria: “We believe that nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be in power and who should not.”

Although there are underground reports that the USA’s leftist president may be a carefully groomed “Soviet mole,” it should be noted that Obama delayed his congratulations to Putin after the ex-KGB officer’s March election, which sparked protests in Russian streets, then Putin appeared to snub Obama by skipping the G8 meeting at Camp David in May.

Elsewhere on the military front, Russia, which recently completed the Peace Mission 2012 war game with Chinaand other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tajikistan, denies that it is planning maneuvers in Syria. Earlier this week, Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV reported that Russia, China, and Iran, which holds observer status in the SCO, were planning joint exercises in the war-wrackedMiddle East country. The drills were apparently to consist of some 90,000 ground, naval and air forces, as well as 400 aircraft, 1,000 tanks, and Russian submarines, destroyers, and the Kremlin’s sole aircraft carrier.

“This is absurd,” scoffed Igor Dygalo, aide to the admiral of the Russian Navy. The report said thatEgypthad allowed 12 Chinese warships to navigate through the Suez Canal with the intent of heading forSyria.

The political convulsions taking place inSyriaare simply the latest manifestation of the Arab Spring, which began last year inTunisia. In the following months, popular uprisings and/or civil wars toppled corrupt, long-ruling regimes inEgypt,Libya, andYemen. This past weekend inEgypt, the second “domino” in the Arab Spring, voters cast ballots in the country’s first-ever free presidential election, even though the country still remains under military rule.

With several million votes still to be counted on Sunday, the state-run Al-Ahram news website showed Mohamed Morsi, who heads up the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, leading with about 5,648,000 votes compared with about 4,705,000 for opponent Ahmed Shafik, who served as Egypt’s last prime minister in the last days of President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade regime. The 84-year-old Mubarak, who was handed a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of 900 protesters last year, recently suffered a stroke and is comatose in a Cairo hospital, although not on life support.

Egypthas no constitution in place, though the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces promises to appoint a 100-person panel to draft such a document. Shortly before the presidential run-off vote, the military ordered the dissolution of the Egyptian parliament, where the Freedom and Justice Party won a majority of legislative seats. Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood’s political front, denounced the move as “unconstitutional” and insisted that parliamentary speaker Mohamed al-Katatni will convene legislators on June 19.

“This parliament was chosen by 30 million voters over a period of three months, and the legislative power was handed to (lawmakers) chosen by the people,” Ghozlan said defiantly. “It is unconstitutional to dissolve it.”

According to a report from Al-Ahram, Hussein Ibrahim, a Brotherhood member and majority leader in parliament, denies that the national legislature has been dissolved. Still, Ibrahim vowed that the Brotherhood will not “give in to a coup d’etat. While casting his vote in the historic port city ofAlexandria, he pointed out that Egypt’s military rulers must respect a March 30 constitutional declaration that gives only “the people” the authority to dissolve parliament.

As of Sunday, 40% ofEgypt’s 50 million eligible voters had cast ballots, according to Farouk Sultan, head ofEgypt’s Supreme Presidential Election Commission. In the first round of voting last month, 46% of voters participated.

Middle East File: Kremlin equivocates over Clinton comment, denies shipping new combat helicopters to Assad, only “refurbished”; Russian General Staff admits naval task force with marines “ready” to secure facility at Tartus, denies ships already under sail, berates Washington’s “poor” intelligence

– UPDATE: Voice of Israel: Russian Commandos to Escort Assad from Syria (source)

– Rosoboronexport General Director Acknowledges Current Shipment of Missile Defense Systems to Syria, Offers Subtle Warning to NATO

– Communist Bloc’s “One Clenched Fist”: Shanghai Cooperation Organization Wraps Up Peace Mission 2012 “Counterterrorism” War Game in Tajikistan

Today, Syrian government troops shelled suburbs of the capital Damascus, killing at least 12 people in a wider offensive against rebel positions throughout the country. Most of the deaths occurred overnight in the restive suburb of Douma. There regular forces fired mortars that struck a residential building, killing eight people. In the central city of Homs, government troops kept up their relentless months-long shelling of rebel-held districts, including Khaldiyeh and Jouret el-Shayyah.

There are nearly 300 United Nations monitors currently in Syria to follow up on a peace plan brokered by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, which now seems to be disintegrating. The head of the toothless UN observer team, Norwegian Major General Robert Mood, said Friday that a spike in bloodshed is derailing the mission. “Violence over the past 10 days has been intensifying willingly by the both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers,” he told reporters in Damascus.

Syrian oppositionists and activists say some 14,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011 as part of the wider Arab Spring phenomenon. Syria’s Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party has been in power since 1963.

Meanwhile, this past week US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted that Russia had sent a shipment of “new” attack helicopters to Assad, but later backpedalled, calling the aircraft “refurbished.” In reply, the Russian Foreign Ministry huffed on its website: “As we said before, there are no new combat helicopters supplies to Syria. Our military and technical cooperation with Syria is limited to delivery of defensive arms. As for helicopters, earlier we did a planned maintenance of equipment that had been supplied to Syria many years ago.”

US officials also maintain that Russia is deploying a small contingent of troops, presumably marines, presumably to secure the Kremlin’s only naval base in the Mediterranean region, the Syrian port of Tartus, a facility that Moscow obtained more than 40 years ago. CNN, citing US intelligence and classified satellite imagery, states that the Russian Navy’s landing ship Nikolay Filchenkov began loading in the Black Sea port of Sevastapol on June 7. The Nikolay Filchenkov is capable of carrying up 1,700 tons of military cargo and 300 troops.

In response to the latest US accusation, the Russian General Staff equivocated, admitting that it was indeed readying a flotilla with marines to secure its base at Tartus but, at the same time, denying that the task force had already departed. A “source” in the Russian high command told ITAR-TASS:

The Mediterranean Sea is a zone of the Black Sea Fleet’s responsibility. Hence, warships may go there in the case it is necessary to protect the Russian logistics base in Tartous, Syria. Several warships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, including large landing ships with marines aboard, are fully prepared to go on the voyage.

The Cesar Kunikov large landing ship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is returning from Italian Messina to base, passed the Bosporus Strait on Friday. It will return to Sevastopol on Saturday.

All the ships are staying in Sevastopol except the Cesar Kunikov large landing ship. Either the U.S. intelligence service works poorly or they have a poor knowledge of geography.

The Russian General Staff made no mention of the Nikolay Filchenkov, the landing ship identified by US intelligence. Russian warships are pictured above.

This is not the first time that Russian warships and troops have showed up at Tartus. In January, for example, a Russian naval task force, under the command of flagship aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, made a port of call at Tartus. At the time, the Russian Defense Ministry denied that the presence of the Russian warships at the Syrian port was related to that country’s internal crisis.

In March, news outlets announced the arrival of Russian “anti-terrorist marines” aboard a tanker in Tartus, prompting the Kremlin to explain that the civilian-manned Imam, with its “security unit,” was actually en route to the Gulf of Aden to support Russian warships participating in a UN-sanctioned anti-piracy mission. At the time, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov retorted: “Russia’s supply of weapons to Syria is in line with international law and will continue. Russian-Syrian military cooperation is perfectly legitimate.”

Acknowledging the presence of Russian military personnel in Syria, he continued: “The only thing that worries us today is the security of our citizens. It’s part of our contractual obligations. When we supply weapons, we have to provide training.” Antonov scoffed at previous allegations that Russia has sent special forces to assist Syrian regular forces: “There are no [Russian] special forces with rifles and grenade launchers running around.”

More recently, on Friday, Russia’s chief arms exporter stated that his company was shipping advanced defensive missiles to the Middle East country that could be used to shoot down or sink NATO warplanes or warships if the alliance intervenes in the Syrian conflict. “I would like to say these mechanisms are really a good means of defense, a reliable defense against attacks from the air or sea,” Anatoly Isaykin, general director of Rosoboronexport said in an interview. “This is not a threat, but whoever is planning an attack should think about this.”

In a related story that confirms military cooperation is well advanced within the Communist Bloc, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization wrapped up its ninth joint “counterterrorism” exercise in Khuzhand, Tajikistan, on Thursday. Peace Mission 2012 involved 2,000 military personnel from Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The Red Chinese media praised the war game: “The performance was highly appreciated by the SCO observation mission, which included Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Deputy Chief of the General Staff Ma Xiaotian of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and senior defense officials from other participating countries.”

Previous “Peace Mission” war games took place in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2010.

Middle East File: Clinton: Russia shipping attack helicopters to Syria; Assad’s tanks shell rebel positions in central Damascus first time in 15-month uprising; Free Syrian Army relies on money and arms from Gulf States to mount offensives in Homs, Deraa, Idlib; Syrian opposition leader: Ba’athist regime on “last legs”

– Update: US Secretary of State Clinton: Russia Supplying Attack Helicopters to Syria (source)

– Russia Shipped Weapons to Assad in May and January, Syria Accuses Qatar and Saudi Arabia of Arming Rebels via Turkey and Lebanon

– British Foreign Secretary, Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Take Dim View of Syrian Massacres: West Should Consider Military Options to End Conflict

– Russian Communist Party Boss Denounces Houla Massacre as Plot Concocted by “Western Intelligence” to Justify NATO Intervention

– Rumours of War: Assad Transfers Billions of Dollars to Moscow, Prepares to Flee to Russia; Kremlin to Insert Special Forces in Syria, Abortive ICBM Launch over Middle East Viewed as Warning to NATO

Pictured above: In this image grab from YouTube, Syrian regular forces patrol Damascus, on June 9, 2012.

The Arab Spring has entered its second year, with one more Arab socialist regime teetering on the brink of extinction. Last year, the long-time dictators of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya fell to popular uprisings with jihadist overtones. This past February Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, another tin-pot tyrant who juggled US and Soviet interests on the Arabian Peninsula, fled his homeland.

Amid unconfirmed reports that Russia is preparing to insert special troops into Syria to bolster the embattled Ba’athist regime and that a UFO seen over Israel and neighboring countries on the evening of June 7 was actually a failed Russian ICBM—launched to warn the West to forsake any plans to forcibly dislodge President Bashar al-Assad—the rebel Free Syrian Army has taken its operations to the heart of Damascus.

Since March of last year, a civilian uprising and military rebellion has threatened to bring down the four-decade-old dynasty of Assad and his father Hafez, who died in 2000. Both the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation have been strong backers of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath regimes in Damascus and, until 2003, Baghdad. The Russian Navy maintains a Soviet-era base at the Syrian port of Tartus.

This past Saturday night, shootings and explosions erupted across Damascus for more than 12 hours, with government tanks shelling rebel positions in two central districts of the capital. Such exchanges had previously been confined to the suburbs of Damascus, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Challenging the government’s “increasingly tenuous hold” throughout Syria, rebel troops also engaged Assad’s security forces in major battles in the cities of Homs, Deraa and Idlib, as well as in villages near Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.

The opposition Syrian National Council’s newly appointed leader, Abdelbasset Sayda, proclaimed that the regime was “on its last legs.” After three massacres perpetrated against women and children in as many weeks, all of them attributed to Assad’s security forces and pro-government militias, opposition activists vowed to accelerate their offensive in the capital. The insurgents have been emboldened by increased funds and weapons from anti-Assad governments in the Persian Gulf states. Some months ago, reports surfaced that veterans of the Libyan uprising, who overthrew “Colonel” Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime last October, had infiltrated Syria to fight alongside the rebels.

“The FSA has become more powerful and well organised,” said Yahya Awash, a resident of the Damascus suburb of Douma, a recent scene of heavy fighting. “They have more weapons and troops and so can make more complicated operations.” The rebels’ mounting confidence has transferred itself to the civilian population. The opposition has reported 50 demonstrations in the capital, more than ever before.

A general strike in Damascus called to protest the recent massacres proved “surprisingly successful,” suggesting that Damascus’ middle class, a key “pillar” of support for the regime, may be turning against Assad. Opposition activists claimed that as many as 90 per cent of shops closed their doors, despite efforts to intimidate shopkeepers.

“During the strike, the military forces tried to burn some stores or force the doors open, but they were powerless,” said Omar Dimashki, a businessman and activist, who said he shut all 20 of his showrooms. “Some were frightened and so tried to open their shops, but, when they saw that they were the only ones open, they shut them. We feel that Damascus is in our hands now.”

Following another 140 deaths across Syria, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has “pointedly refused” to rule out foreign military intervention. “Syria is… on the edge of a collapse or of a sectarian civil war, so I don’t think we can rule anything out,” he said to Sky News, adding: “But it is not so much like Libya last year, where of course we had a successful intervention to save lives. It is looking more like Bosnia in the 1990s, being on the edge of a sectarian conflict in which neighbouring villages are attacking and killing each other.”

In the mid-1990s, NATO enforced a no-fly zone over the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to deter Bosnian Serb forces against attacking ethnic Croatian and Muslim towns. Last year, NATO enforced a United Nations no-fly zone over Libya, leading to the personal demise of entrenched and eccentric dictator Qaddafi.

In addition to London, Washington is also calling for similar action in Syria. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said “military options should be considered,” although diplomacy, naturally, remains the preferred option. Dempsey elaborated on the Russian position, which has until now unwaveringly backed Assad:

The Russians are not wedded to Assad being in power, they just want Syrians to decide their own future. Well, that’s exactly what we want – but they can’t decide their own future while they are being killed, their bodies burnt, the [UN] monitors shot at. So it requires Russia to use its leverage to say to the Assad regime: ‘You have to follow the Annan plan.’ And if we call a conference together it will be about ensuring that such a plan is fully implemented so that there’s a cessation of violence and a political process in Syria.

According to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s peace plan, Assad would step down from power and head for Russia, where he has reportedly received an offer of asylum. Indeed, according to the Washington Post, the Syrian dictator has already transferred US$6 billion to Moscow. The Annan proposals include presidential and parliamentary elections to affect democratic change in Syria. Under this scenario, Assad presumably could avoid international prosecution for war crimes. Iran is also said to have offered exile to Assad and his family.

Meanwhile, Russian Communist Party boss Gennady Zyuganov believes “Western intelligence” agencies concocted the May 25 massacre in the village of Houla for the purpose of justifying NATO intervention. “Like what happened in Yugoslavia, Libya, and Afghanistan,” he pouted. Chairman Zyuganov also condemned the West for its “quick accusation of the Syrian government, even before the results of the preliminary investigation into the massacre were disclosed, particularly that the reporters and international observers could not give any evidence proving the presence of heavy weaponry in the area.”

According to the Iranian media, “a Syrian government investigation into the massacre showed that anti-Damascus armed groups were responsible for the killings of over hundred people, including dozens of women and children.”

Latin America File: ALBA states withdraw from Rio Treaty during OAS summit in Bolivia, protest US role in OAS commission, support for UK sovereignty over Falklands; Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance provides for “hemispheric defense,” but region’s Red Axis envisions “anti-imperialist army”

This week Bolivia hosted the 42nd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the town of Tiquipaya. The OAS General Assembly, according to the Cuban media, will debate the issues of “food security with sovereignty,” the legality of chewing coca leaf, from which cocaine is produced, and the legitimacy of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Pictured above: Bolivian President Evo Morales delivers a speech during the inauguration of the OAS 42nd General Assembly, on June 3, 2012.

On the agenda, too, are Bolivia’s demand for territorial access to the Pacific Ocean, which the Andean nation lost in 1883 to Chile after the War of the Pacific, and the viability of Argentina’s claim over the Islas Malvinas, a British Overseas Territory. In 1982, the United Kingdom and Argentina fought over the Falkland Islands in a brief war that resulted in a British victory and the downfall of the military junta in Buenos Aires.

The new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which brings together Communist Cuba and all OAS member countries, except the USA and Canada, has endorsed the demands of Bolivia and Argentina. With a few noteworthy exceptions, like Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and Chile, most of the governments in CELAC are center-left to outright communist in orientation.

On the final day of the OAS meeting, the foreign ministers of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador announced that their countries are withdrawing from the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, otherwise known as the Rio Treaty. Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino opined that the treaty, originally signed in 1947, was created as a “US initiative” and is “no longer relevant.” Much like the collective defense principle behind NATO or NORAD, the treaty declares that an armed attack against any OAS member state is to be considered an attack against all members.

The socialist regimes in Caracas, Managua, La Paz, and Quito, however, have strongly criticized the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, accusing the body of acting in concert with the US government to target leftist governments in the region. To Mexico’s credit, the foreign minister of that country, Patricia Espinosa, reaffirmed her government’s “full commitment” to the OAS commmission.

The fact that the Rio Treaty pledges the USA to protect Cuba, a Soviet satellite during the Cold War, is ironic since the communist regime in Havana lives in perpetual fear of a US invasion and, until 20 some years ago, trusted the Soviet military to defend the island from “imperialist” aggression. Ironically, too, Washington invoked the Rio Treaty to justify its naval blockade of Cuba in November 1962, the main intent of which was to prevent the Soviet Navy from transporting even more missiles to the island.

The USA most recently invoked the Rio Treaty after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but there was a mixed response of support from South and Central America. In September 2002, anticipating the NATO invasion of Iraq, Mexico formally withdrew from the treaty. Mexico ceased to be a signatory in September 2004, leaving a big gap in “hemispheric defense.”

The Rio Treaty is to be distinguished from the Rio Group, founded in 1986 to end the civil wars in Central America. The latter still brings together the heads of state of the Western Hemisphere on a regular basis and finally admitted Cuba in 2008, after much pressure from Latin America’s Red Axis.

In remarks to journalists on the summit sidelines, Bolivian President Evo Morales, a self-avowed Marxist-Leninist and key player in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a bloc of socialist states led by Cuba and Venezuela, denounced the very international organization he was hosting. “If the OAS disappears it will be just the US government’s fault,” he said, adding:

The OAS emerged at another time, for other purposes, mainly to perpetuate the US control over Latin American countries, at Cold War time, as part of the distribution of the world by the powers of the past. We are going through deep changes in Latin America now. The time when an OAS-backed coup was staged after a country got free from the United States is gone.

We need an organization that defends the rights of Latin American and Caribbean countries and also the rights of those living in the United States. This is not the time to think of America for the Americans, but rather for our peoples. Deep changes are needed within OAS. If there are not profound changes, OAS will die at the service of the empire [USA].

Meanwhile, the sixth summit of the South American Defense Council (SADC) convened this week in Paraguay, whose ex-bishop president, Fernando Lugo, warmly disposed toward the Castro Bros. Opening this meeting of 12 South American defense ministers was Paraguayan Defense Minister Catalino Roy. On the agenda for South America’s defense ministers is the reduction of Unasur’s military presence in the United Nations stabilization mission in Haiti and a report on South American defense spending.

The SADC, which is one of eight ministerial councils of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), is not a unified military command but, rather, is a policy board that sets out a common defense strategy for all Unasur member states. Established in 2008, Unasur endeavors to replicate the European Union superstate in, obviously, South America.

Last Sunday, Venezuela’s communist dictator, Hugo Chavez, referred to the upcoming SADC pow-wow: “In Latin America, things have changed, though we should not lower our guard. Our Defense Minister [Henry Rangel Silva] is in Paraguay to meet with UNASUR defense ministers, the South American Defense Council.”

In the light of past comments by Chavez, articulating the need for an “anti-imperialist army,” a stance ratified by allies Morales and Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s past/present Marxist dictator, the withdrawal of ALBA’s core states from the US-dominated Rio Treaty is suspicious. Indeed, the tiffs over the OAS human rights commission and Argentina’s claims to the Falkland Islands appear to be pretexts for subverting “hemispheric defense.”

It should be noted that the militaries of Cuba, Venezuela, are Bolivia are officially committed to defending socialism, while President Ortega regularly reminds the Nicaraguan armed forces that the military originated 33 years ago as the Sandinista Popular Army. More ominously, Cuban officers hold prominent but unpublicized posts in the Venezuelan armed forces and intelligence apparatus. It is only a matter of time before Latin America’s Red Axis states begin conducting combined military drills. Indeed, a joint Nicaraguan-Venezuelan exercise, to be held in the Central American country, was announced for spring 2010, but never materialized.

In particular, the establishment last year in Bolivia of the ALBA Defense School, with the stated aim of indoctrinating member state soldiers in a distinctly Latin American military doctrine, with a healthy dose of neo-Marxism, suggests that an anti-USA military coalition is coalescing in the Western Hemisphere. The ALBA Defense School training facility is located in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz.

Previously, President Morales acknowledged that the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas has “everything ready for an ALBA school for the Armed Forces, in which will be projected a definitive freedom. A school of freedom shall be fostered, as a new doctrine, in the Armed Forces with its reserves and original members.” Morales, accompanied by high-ranking delegates of ALBA member states, attended the school’s opening ceremony.

In November 2008, then President Dmitry Medvedev, while visiting Venezuela, Russia’s largest post-Cold War weapons client in the Americas, expressed Moscow’s interest in joining ALBA, at least as an associate member. Founded in 2004, ALBA presently consists of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Honduras was briefly a member of ALBA until a military coup backed by the Honduran Congress overthrew slavish Chavez lackey, President Manuel Zelaya, in 2008.

EU File: European Central Bank “pushing” Spain to accept a bailout package as money flees country; anti-austerity Eurocommunist Syriza party leading Greek public opinion polls for June 17 re-vote; Greek prisons running out of food, state utility warns of blackouts in coming months

– Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Meets with US Treasury Secretary Geithner and International Monetary Fund Director General Lagarde in Washington

– British Banknote Printer De La Rue Denies Rumors Company Printing Drachmas in Case Greece Bolts from Eurozone

– Greek State Utility Requests Emergency Cash to Maintain Flow of Natural Gas from Russia, Athens Imports 80% of Supply from Gazprom

– Portugal Props Up Three Banks with US$8.27 Billion as Cyprus’ Communist Government Relies on Russian Loan, Considers Its Own EU Bailout Options

– Portents of Germany’s Future if Eurozone Collapses on Its Back: 700 Neo-Nazis and 3,500 Communists Clash in Port City of Hamburg

– Backgrounder: Why a Grexit Would Make Lehman Look Like Child’s Play

We’re in a situation of total emergency, the worst crisis we have ever lived through.
— Felipe Gonzalez, former socialist prime minister of Spain (1982-1996)

Although Greece has dominated the news for months with respect to the Eurozone’s financial and monetary crises, in recent weeks it has become apparent that Spain–with its tottering banks, cashless regional governments, and crippling 24% unemployment–has become the latest candidate for a bailout package from the European Central Bank. “We’re in a situation of total emergency, the worst crisis we have ever lived through” commented Felipe Gonzalez, Spain’s last socialist prime minister.

Chaos over Madrid’s €23.5bn nationalization of crippled lender Bankia, the fourth largest bank in Spain, has led to the abrupt resignation of Bank of Spain governor Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, who testified to the Spanish Senate that he had been “muzzled” to prevent the public from losing all confidence in the Spanish banking system. The ECB, reports Britain’s Telegraph, is “pushing” Spain to accept a loan package from the European Financial Stability Facility. Nationalists within Spain’s center-right Popular Party government view such handouts as an “unacceptable loss of sovereignty.” Yet, at the same time, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (pictured above) advocates a “centralized” European authority over “individual government finances.”

“Nobody is short Spanish debt right now because they are expecting ECB intervention,” said Andrew Roberts, credit chief at Royal Bank of Scotland. Spain, according to The Telegraph, “is caught in a classic deflationary vice: a rising debt burden on a shrinking economic base.” Roberts is quoted as saying: “Once you get into such a negative feedback loop, you can move beyond the point of no return quickly.”

“It is dangerous to play chicken when you are driving a Seat and the ECB is driving a tank,” said professor Luis Garicano at the London School of Economics. “The Rajoy people will do anything to avoid the slow agony of Greece. There is massive disaffection with the euro in Spain and papers like El Pais and Vanguardia are turning anti-German.”

On Wednesday, Brussels floated the idea of a Eurozone “bank union” and advocated use of the European Stability Mechanism, which has not yet been ratified by most member states, to “sever the dangerous nexus” between crippled lenders and crippled states. The German government promptly shot down the proposals, suggesting that such plans amount to debt-mutualization, a form of back-door eurobonds. The Telegraph’s sources in Berlin say Germany wants Spain to tap the International Monetary Fund — as well as the EU — to spread the rescue burden to the US, China, Japan, Britain and others.

Meanwhile, Bank of Spain data showed a net 66.2 billion euros (US$82.0 billion) was sent abroad in March, the most since records began in 1990. The figure compares to a 5.4 billion net entry of funds during the same month one year ago. “Spaniards are worried about the health of their banks,” says Reuters, “hit by their exposure to a 2008 property crash, and have been sending money to deposit accounts in stronger economies of northern Europe.” The capital flight data preceded the nationalization of Spain’s fourth biggest lender Bankia in May when it became clear the bank could not handle losses from bad real estate investments, compounded by a recession.

According to a spokesman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, Spain must lay out its restructuring plans for Bankia to the EC, adding that “a domestic solution to the country’s bank crisis would be better than a European rescue.” On Wednesday, the Spanish government acknowledged that it would finance a 23.5 billion euro rescue of Bankia through a domestic bank fund, but senior debt bankers said that the syndicated bond market is currently closed for Spanish agencies. The Spanish government also hopes to clear doubts about how it plans to ease financing problems among its 17 autonomous regions, including cashless Catalonia.

Significantly, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria was meeting U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and International Monetary Fund Director General Christine Lagarde in Washington on Thursday. The deputy PM will outline Spain’s measures to tackle its crisis during the meetings, which were scheduled before Spain’s situation reached boiling point, a government spokesman said. Fears that Spain may exit the Eurozone have prompted the coinage of a new word, “Spexit,” which plays on fears of a Greek departure, dubbed “Grexit.”

Significantly, default protection costs for both Spain and Italy, which also faces serious debt issues and a sluggish economy, rose to new records last week. On June 1 Dow Jones News Wires reported:

The cost of protecting both Italian and Spanish government debt against default rose to records Friday, after data showing the euro-zone’s manufacturing worsened in May added to fears of crisis in the region. Italy’s five-year credit default swaps broke through its previous December record to hit 575 basis points, 18 basis points wider from the close Thursday, according to data-provider Markit. Italy has been affected by concerns that problems with the Spanish banking sector could spread.

In Greece, where most of the Eurozone meltdown woes have been focused until lately, the far-left Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), which supports the euro but rejects the EU’s bailout package, is leading in public opinion polls. Poll results cited in Ekathimerini show Syriza surging ahead of center-right New Democracy in a sudden turnaround since last Sunday, which gave New Democracy a slight lead. The latest data awards Syriza with 31.5% of decided voters, New Democracy with 25.5%, and the disgraced socialists of PASOK with 13.5%.

Among the smaller parties, the Democratic Left, which has articulated its willingness to form a coalition government with Syriza, has 7.5% of decided voters, while the old-line Marxists in the Greek Communist Party (KKE) have 5.5%. Support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has dropped from 7% in the May election to just 4% still, unfortunately, enough of a percentage to admit the party into parliament.

If Syriza forms or leads the next government, charismatic but untested party leader Alexis Tsipras has clearly articulated his intent to reject the EU’s bailout package for Greece, which will very likely precipitate a “Grexit.” Speculation around this eventuality has sparked rumors that British banknote printer De La Rue has started printing drachmas, a claim denied by the company.

In recent weeks, the cash-strapped predicament of the Greek state has become more than evident. This past week, the Greek media reported that the county’s prisons are running out of food and that some inmates are “quite literally on the verge of destitution and hunger.” Greek news source Protothema reports:

The latest example is the prison in Corinth where after the supply stoppage from the nearby military camp, the prisoners are at the mercy of God because, as reported by prison staff, not even one grain of rice has been left in their warehouses. When a few days earlier the commander of the camp announced to the prison management the transportation stoppage, citing lack of food supplies even for the soldiers, he shut down the last source of supply for 84 prisoners. The response of some Corinth citizens was immediate as they took it upon themselves to support the prisoners, since all protests to the Justice ministry were fruitless.

The same source continues: “The prisons in Patra and Alikarnassos have also been experiencing food supply problems lately, as the prisoners who cannot afford to buy food from the prison canteen are left without food.”

Meanwhile, the state-owned Public Power Corporation (DEI) and Public Gas Corporation (Depa) have requested a state loan to ensure a continued supply of electricity and natural gas to customers. On Friday, the Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE) told Reuters it called an emergency meeting for the week of June 3, in the words of regulator chief Nikos Vasilakos to “avert the collapse of the natural gas and electricity system.” In a separate interview with Reuters, DEI CEO Arthouros Zervos said: “This is an emergency and it has to be addressed immediately. There’s a real threat of power cuts.”

For those looking for Moscow’s role in the Eurozone crisis one does not have to look too far. Greece imports 80 percent of its natural gas from Kremlin-owned Gazprom. “Depa is the weakest link in the chain because they have to pay the Russians,” said Zervos.

Incidentally, the neo-Soviet leadership has taken due note of the Eurozone crisis and is taking evasive action to protect Russia’s financial system. “But I think you can all see the economic crisis in the euro zone is having a significant impact on energy demand because energy is a litmus test, an indicator of economic health,” Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller told reporters in the Siberian city of Omsk.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has order Russia’s central bank to prop up the rouble vis-à-vis the euro and US dollar. The AFP news agency opines: “A dramatic loss in the value of the rouble would be a nightmare for the government of President Vladimir Putin, which is hoping economic stability will keep a lid on an unprecedented outburst of opposition protests.”

President Putin is currently on an international tour that includes former Soviet republics like Belarus and EU countries like Germany and France.

Elsewhere in the EU, Irish voters, who have already endured four years of government austerity, have ratified a deficit-fighting treaty that will impose further budget cuts and tax hikes on the population. Nearly 60 percent of referendum voters elected to support the treaty, which is a victory for the government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny, but a defeat for Ireland’s socialists.

“The `yes’ side is going to win. The question now is where will the jobs and the stability they have promised come from, against the backdrop of a continuing and deepening capitalist crisis within Europe? Their policies will only make the situation worse,” complained Joe Higgins, leader of Ireland’s Socialist Party.

The treaty, inked in February by leaders of 25 European countries including Ireland, proposes that all signatories should reduce their annual deficits to no more than 0.5 percent of gross domestic product. The current Eurozone limit is 3 per cent of GDP.

Other countries on the geographic periphery of the EU are also struggling with severe economic situations. In Portugal, the government expects its jobless rate to peakat 16 percent in 2013 as the country struggles through its worst recession since the 1970s, when leftist army officers overthrew the semi-fascist Second Republic. On Monday, Lisbon, to meet an EU deadline for higher capital ratios by the end of June, announced that it will bail out three of the country’s biggest banks with €6.65 billion.

Finally, the communist government of Cyprus has acknowledged that it is not averse to seeking a handout from the EU in order to prop up its own troubled banking sector. Nicosia is relying on a Russian loan just to meet its basic expenses this year.

In a related story that portends chaos for Berlin, should the eurozone collapse on the back of Germany, on Sunday 700 neo-Nazis and 3,500 communists clashed in Hamburg. The German port city deployed 4,400 police to maintain peace during the opposing marches, but 38 officers were injured and €1.5 million worth of property damage occurred.