– 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 The British marine insurer Standard Club said it had withdrawn cover from all the ships owned by Femco, a Russian cargo line, including the MV Alaed.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.