Hezbollah and its sponsors Iran and Syria have made a calculated decision to escalate the violence inside that country by inserting large contingents of its fighters in the fight for Qusayr. The battle for that strategic town is turning out to be the Masada or Alamo of the civil war. For four days, rebel fighters have withstood constant hammering by government air power and ground forces which include large numbers of Hezbollah fighters. They crossed the border from the Lebanese Bekaa Valley and have turned the Syrian conflict from a domestic drama into a regional crisis.
I believe Iran and Hassan Nasrallah have made a strategic blunder. Before, the only major actors were Assad and his loyalists on one side and the Free Syrian Army on the other. There were larger actors playing secondary roles like Turkey, Qatar, Iran and Russia. But their involvement was peripheral to the main action. With Hezbollah’s insertion of its veteran fighters into the conflict, Nasrallah has crossed the Rubicon of intervention. He has taken his Islamist movement from being its roots in resistance to Israel and transformed it into a regional mercenary force ready and able to kill not just Israelis, but fellow Arabs.
Until now, Hezbollah, while hated by many inside Lebanon, could at least argue that it remained true to its original mission. But now it has moved far beyond that. It has lost its focus. It has become a gun for hire (in this case hired by Assad). By all reports, the Syrian rebels have made Nasrallah’s men pay a high price. Funerals are now a regular occurrence in the Bekaa. At least 46 fighters are reported dead in the past few days.
If Qusayr continues to hold out and represents either a victory for the resistance or a bloody massacre perpetrated by Assad’s forces, it could ignite the will of those nations which have largely remained on the sidelines in terms of active, direct involvement, especially Turkey. This in turn, could ignite the sort of regional conflict many of us have dreaded.
For Iran, which has to have played a major role in encouraging Hezbollah’s decision to “invade” Syria, it too had few good options. If it had poured Revolutionary Guards into Syria to stabilize Assad, it would’ve brought down the combined wrath of all the P5 countries who are negotiating about its nuclear program. There would be even less tolerance of Iranian intervention than of Hezbollah intervention.
Hezbollah intervention has moved three major European powers, Germany, France and the UK to ask that the EU designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group. This change will turn world public opinion against the Lebanese group. It will also embolden its Sunni enemies within Lebanon to oppose them politically. In fact, five days of rioting in northern Lebanon have left five dead. Just as most Lebanese did not want Syria to meddle in Lebanon’s political affairs, most Lebanese want to remain out of Syria’s conflict. Hezbollah’s turning against this consensus will bring a dear price in terms of its popularity within Lebanon.
Israel, while alarmed at the escalation and how it might play out in terms of the stability of security on its border with Syria, will be delighted. Because Hassan Nasrallah, usually a cold, calculating fellow, has overplayed his hand. Autocrats remain safe as long as they remain cautious. But when they allow their egos or megalomania to draw them into adventures, then they leave themselves vulnerable. Pride (and miscalculation) come before a fall.
Israel will be able to exploit these mistakes. As long as it remains outside the conflict. But if Israel too intervenes, as Jodi Rudoren reported it is contemplating, then all bet’s are off. She spoke to unnamed Israeli advisors who admitted its forces are using Syrian Druze villagers as intelligence assets. They speculated that Israel might develop them into a military proxy. This is reminiscent of Sharon, who created the South Lebanese Army, which became Israel’s enforcer in the region. The SLA turned out to be a costly and disastrous mistake. It did not stave off Israel’s eventual retreat from Lebanon; and it left hundreds of Lebanese Christian allies who Israel had to save from being killed as collaborators. That’s the model Israel would use in the Golan as well.
Further, when Israel believed it’s worst Palestinian enemy was Fatah in the 1980s, it tolerated the budding Islamist movement, Hamas, which it saw as a blocking force. Guess what happened there…
Israel might also want to contemplate the U.S. experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s when we propped up the mujahedeen as a resistance force against the Soviets. What hell did we reap from that whirlwind? Out of it came bin Laden, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and 40 years of Afghan civil war.
Best friends have a habit of turning into worst enemies in the Middle East, given the right circumstances.
To all this provocation and incitement, add a new element. An IDF artillery unit wiped out a Syrian military position which had shelled an army jeep which the Syrians claimed was on their side of the armistice line. Israel claimed it was on its side. This is the same sort of incident Moshe Dayan described when he noted the deliberate provocations the IDF used on the Syrian border, when it placed a tractor on the border, hoping Syrian artillery would shell it. When it did, Israel used this as a justification for invading the Golan in 1967. It is entirely possible Israel wants a Syrian military overreaction to justify its own intervention. Though it is possible there are Israeli strategists who have enough clear-sightedness to realize an Israeli entrance into the maelström would spell doom for whatever outcome Israel wishes.
The point is that over-reaction or miscalculation by one side will draw the other deeper into the mire (remember Newton’s Law: “for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”) The result could be something like what happened after the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated by Serbian nationalists at the onset of World War I. Is that what any sane person (who isn’t an extremist) wants? In other words, back off!
I doubt that it is true. There is no real evidence other than from tainted sources. But there are plenty of those, who want to make you think that Hizbullah, as well as Iran, are fighting on the ground. It’s a pity that the rebels kill all their prisoners, otherwise they could have come up with some evidence in the way of prisoners
In any case, the Syrian Army is not under pressure in al-Qusayr. All they have to do is stand back and blast the rebels into little bits using their artillery/air advantage.
Richard Silverstein says
@Laguerre: Welcome to the Assad Online Army. What’s Syrian Arabic for “hasbara??”
It’s your blog, but that’s not worthy of you.
There is no evidence in the NYT article, nor your post, that Hizbullah is engaged in the Qusayr battle in any serious way. The commenters on the Guardian hammer away at the question every single day, and no serious evidence ever comes up.
Yesterday, a noted blogger, BrownMoses, said he had the proof, a recorded conversation between tank crews, where the people, he was assured, had Lebanese accents. Of course he forgot that Hizbullah does not possess any tanks. They didn’t sound like Lebanese accents to me, though I mainly hear Lebanese speaking English or French.
It is not a question of me being an Asad enthusiast; all I want is the best for Syria in the future. And the Islamists are not it. Anyway, things have changed a lot recently on the Syrian issue, perhaps you have not kept up. The rebel cause is in sharp decline. The Syrian army doesn’t need Hizbullah, except for their manpower shortage. But then the rebels also have a manpower shortage. *Everybody* in the Syrian conflict now has a manpower shortage, but a Hizbullah intervention as you project is not evidenced on the ground.
Bob Mann says
Is it your contention that the claims of Hezbollah involvement and combat deaths are fictional?
Are the news outlets who are reporting this information being duped or are they complicit?
What is the motivation behind those who are making up these claims?
“What is the motivation behind those who are making up these claims?”
Are you joking?
Still I should read Deir Yassin’s links below.
You may be right about Hezbollah, but up until now the West has been the catalyst for this chaos and devastation. The Syrian government and army have realized that they must be ruthless and need all the help they can get if they are to defend their country, and they are slowly gaining the advantage. This is not something the winning Union side did not do during our own Civil War, except that the casualties then were a multiple of what has been estimated here. Frankly, the Russians and Chinese have been the only major powers who have been upholding international law and the UN Charter in this war, while we’ve been on the wrong side of history. The U.S. should stop arming the rebels, pull out Al Nusra and the other foreign jihadists, push for an armistice, and then free elections, including allowing Assad to run again. It won’t do it because even the CIA has acknowledged he would win hands down. And then there is the small matter of reparations. Cancel the F-35 boondoggle and put the money into reconstruction, except under Syrian supervision.
As for Israel, it’s time they hit a brick wall and got expelled from the Golan Heights and that portion of Lebanon they are still illegally occupying. They should realize that the Russian missiles are not only effective against incoming missiles and aircraft, but also cities, and offshore gas rigs (e.g., Tamar and Leviathan).
Bob Mann says
You wrote: “The Syrian government and army have realized that they must be ruthless and need all the help they can get if they are to defend their country, and they are slowly gaining the advantage. ”
Who are they defending their country from exactly?
That seems like a rhetorical question. Are you not aware that Syria is being swarmed by foreign jihadists, who are in turn being trained, armed, encouraged and financially supported by, and dispatched from, the entire axis of West-friendly governments in the region, viz. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar? Moreover, I would be very surprised if America, Britain and various other Western powers, as well as Israel, are not doing everything they can, both on and off the record, to sustain this maelstrom, as Mr Silverstein rightly terms this civil and proxy war.
It seems obvious who the Syrian government and army are defending their country from; and I agree with commenter edding that they need all the help they can get. While Mr Silverstein may turn out to be right that Hezbollah has made a strategic error in coming to the Alawites’ aid, I don’t think that Hezbollah can be expected to sit idly by while this shocking nightmare threatens to swallow Syria. Nasrallah’s action shows solidarity, and Hezbollah’s casualties confirm its seriousness.
Just as Mr Silverstein says, in macropolitics, every action has a reaction — and Hezbollah would never have had to get involved if the West, “the Group of Friends” and al-Qaeda hadn’t first hijacked the domestic reform movement and conspired to bring ancient, proud Syria to ruin.
Richard Silverstein says
So your claim is those 80,000 Syrians have been killed by foreign invaders? Your claim is that Assad is a legitimate ruler? Your claim is that the majority of Syrians want Assad to continue as ruler? If so, I want to know what your smoking. It’s mighty powerful stuff.
I never made any such claims, but I guess you see such claims implicit in what I did say, so let me answer the questions in turn.
No, I’m not saying that 80,000 Syrians have been killed by foreign invaders, any more than you’re saying, I assume, that those 80,000 have all been killed by Assad’s forces. The death toll in this civil (and proxy) war, which is actually incalculable, is precisely that — the death toll in a civil (and proxy) war. Many who died were combatants, many were not. That is the nature, and great evil, of war — that people on both sides slaughter each other, and civilians, often indiscriminately; in the Spanish Civil War, which you yourself have astutely used as a comparison to this conflict before, there were awful atrocities carried out both by Republicans and Francoists — and I think we both understand that, so I don’t think there’s any need for us to argue about that point. What I am claiming, however, is that Syria is being attacked by foreign forces, just as surely as German and Italian forces attacked and helped to desolate Spain.
Is Assad a legitimate ruler? Objectively speaking, that’s a complicated legal question — but politically, and for me personally, there is no doubt that Assad must go. His violence has made him unacceptable as the leader of the country. Furthermore, he is a tyrannical, conservative butcher holding Syria back from achieving its full potential as a free and dignified republic.
Does the majority of Syrians want Assad to continue as ruler? No, probably not, although I don’t know — it’s a little difficult taking opinion polls at the moment. I do know that there are millions of Syrians who do want him to continue, and not just Alawites. Let’s assume, though — probably correctly — that more than 50% of Syrian people want him gone. Does that justify turning Syria into a neverending bloodbath? Of course not. I don’t understand the relevance of that question.
Just so I’m even clearer, I believe in the right of any people to make revolution at any time. I would support a Syrian revolution and I would drink a toast when they ousted Assad. But I don’t believe this is a Syrian revolution. Revolutions are usually brief — because they have massive popular support. The anti-Assad movement had wide support, but not massive support, and I don’t believe it ever encompassed more than perhaps half the country. I don’t think enough people ever wanted to overthrow Assad that it could have caused a true revolution. What is happening now is not a quick, broadly popular revolution — but a slow, grinding and divisive conflict, bearing all the hallmarks of a civil war, which is rapidly turning into a sectarian trench war, which may itself lead to the Balkanization of Syria, creating a legacy of bigotry and death for generations to come. Am I supposed to salute those who fight for this? What’s worse, while the seeds of the conflict were domestic, it has now become a nightmare forced on the Syrian people by outsiders; specifically those forces in the world which hate the idea of a bastion of free Arabs who refuse to roll over for America and for Israel.
Richard Silverstein says
The VAST majority of those 80,000 were killed by the missiles, helicopters, planes, bombs and bullets of Assad’s forces. The opposition has none of these weapons, which are so lethal.
The majority of the Syrian people know who killed their fellow citizens, which is why they hate Assad. This is also why he needs to summon his mercenaries on his behalf. Because his people hate him and his own troops are increasingly ineffective in bolstering him.
Your nattering about the great tragedy of so many killed by both sides, blah, blah, blah, is precisely how liberal ZIonists speak of the I-P conflict. When both sides are at fault, no one is. In Assad’s case, he rained the first blows down on his people & he has continued doing so for two entire years. He is a war criminal who will either be strung up on a street corner some day, or spend many years in a prison cell in The Hague (my preference).
Since you raised the Spanish Civil War, the vast majority of those killed and atrocities committed were by Franco’s brutes and his Nazi mentors. Is that the comparison you wish to make to Syria? That Assad is comparable to Franco? If so, I’ll take it.
As for claims that “foreigners” have invaded Syria, Assad is a tyrant who hasn’t shrunk from mowing down his own people, civilians, unarmed, in large numbers. Many who rose up against him are Syrian. While there may be some foreign elements inside Syria fighting, the bulk of opposition fighters are Syrian. As for getting outside assistance, yes, but Assad does too. He has RUssian and Iranian missiles and Hezbollah fighters. Assad was the first to turn to outisders for help when he armed himself with those advanced weapons systems offered by Russia & the IRG.
No, not really.
There’s no “probably” about it. As you said, he’s a butcher and nations generally don’t like butchers ruling them.
I do so love it when outsiders speak against the clearly stated will of the victims. What gives you the right to say that Syrians don’t have the right to overthrow Assad by any means necessary? What gives you the right to determine what’s a proper amount of blood spilled that would justify his overthrow? The Syrians are the ones dying here. They’ve made their decision that toppling a tyrant is worth the price they’re paying. You’d best sit back and listen to what they have to say instead of interposing your own unsought opinions and judgments.
History is not your strong suit. American Revolution: 1775-1783. Bolshevik Revolution: 1917-1921. We could go on and on. But a 2 year revolution is not an inordinate amount of time as revolutions go. Besides the length of a revolution has no bearing on its legitimacy.
And you claim this on what basis? What facts or evidence? Just as I expected.
It’s not the Syrian opposition which created this. Assad’s father and he himself have created this legacy of sectarianism, corruption, nepotism, and brutality. Remember Hama, 1982?? 30,000 dead? That was daddy’s doing.
If you had any decency you would. But apparently not.
Nonsense, Assad made his choice by refusing to leave power. Once he made the decision to fight to the death, he forced the nightmare on the Syrian people. Not outsiders.
“The VAST majority of those 80,000 were killed by the missiles, helicopters, planes, bombs and bullets of Assad’s forces. ”
That’s wrong. 80,000 is supposed to be the total dead. Syrian army, rebel fighters, and civilians. The rebels are always bragging about how they’ve killed 20 or 30 thousand military. According to them, the rest are civilians, and not a single rebel has died.
In fact, my Syrian student tells me the number of dead is more probably 150,000.
Richard Silverstein says
@Laguerre: Yes, of course the overall number of dead is 80,000. But by far the largest proportion of these dead are civilians. THough I’m sure Assad has lost many soldiers as have the rebels, the worst punishment is meted out to the unprotected, vulnerable civilians, most of whom oppose Assad.
It’s hilarious that you refuse to believe Hezbollah has lost 100 fighters because the source is ostensibly “right wing” (which makes Assad what? Left-wing? Don’t make me laugh), yet you accept an even less substantiated number from a “Syrian student.” A number that no one has advanced, ever. At least not in any credible media source (right or left-wing) that I’ve read.
“It’s hilarious that you refuse to believe Hezbollah has lost 100 fighters because the source is ostensibly “right wing” (which makes Assad what? Left-wing? Don’t make me laugh), yet you accept an even less substantiated number from a “Syrian student.” A number that no one has advanced, ever. At least not in any credible media source (right or left-wing) that I’ve read.”
It’s only true if it’s on the internet. Well there still are other sources of information. In any case I never made a claim of truth for my student’s thinking, only that he is probably right that the figures are much higher than is being said.
Did I ever claim that a source was unbelievable because it was “right-wing”? I would never do that; it would be absurd. It was because the source is opposed to Hizbullah, and has an interest in racking up the figure. There have only been one or two funerals.
In any case, nobody has been able to prove that Hizbullah is even engaged at al-Qusayr. It remains an unproven accusation. It should never be forgotten that Hizbullah has very few fighters, and they are not going to denude the Israeli front – that would be an extreme folly.
This whole story is a storm in a teacup, whipped up out of nothing in the anti-Hizbullah western media.
Deïr Yassin says
“In any case, nobody has been able to prove that Hizbullah is even engaged at al-Qusayr. It remains an unproven accusation.”
I really don’t know what your point is, but Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah spoke about the Hizbullah fighters being engaged in al-Qusayr in his long speech yesterday, celebrating the 13th anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. It’s on the net, also translated into English.
I also don’t understand why Hizbullah being involved in Syria should be a Western media stunt. Lebanon and Syria used to be one Nation before Western imperialism split up the region, family and ethnic-religious ties are still very strong, and personally I’m neither shocked nor surprised that Hizbullah got involved. I’m rather surprised that it didn’t happen before. Aftr all, people from outside the region are fighting on the other side (100-200 French Muslims, according to Quai d’Orsay, 80-300 Belgians, plus Tunisians, Chetchens etc).
Maybe one of the long-term results of the ‘Arab Spring’ will be the breaking-down of borders created by outsiders 🙂
Richard Silverstein says
@laguerre: You’re behind the times. Nasrallah made a speech in which he not only admitted intervention, he made such massive involvement a new hallmark of his regional strategic thinking. He embraced sending hundreds if not thousands of his fighters into this mess. There will not only be these 100 Hezbollah dead, but many more. Not to mention it’s highly likely other factors will respond in kind & open this conflict to far larger forces.
80,000 dead is not “a storm in a teacup.” Not to mention the tens of thousands more who will die due to this escalation & what follows from it. And anyone who can say this is nothing more than a heartless apologist.
If I missed a remark in his speech where he said Hizbullah were involved in al-Qusayr, OK my mistake. The version of the speech that I had didn’t include that. Otherwise my remarks remain valid.
“80,000 dead is not “a storm in a teacup.”” I’ve always admired you on Israel/Palestine issues, that’s why I come here, but deliberately twisting what people say is not good. It is the inflation by the media of the Hizbullah role which is a “storm in a teacup”. Still, as they say, it’s your blog and you rule.
Just to finish, as I won’t comment again on this subject, I am interested in what is the best for the future of the Syrians. The Ba’thists have committed a lot of crimes, not Bashshar himself, he is a weakling, who speaks well and is like Obama. The rebels just as many. Many Syrians that I know just want peace. How is that to be achieved? The rebels are not offering peace, just ongoing war if they win.
It is unfortunate that the only way to win peace is to support Asad. Obviously peace is not what is wanted on the Israeli side of the border, but it is what I want, and what any reasonable person wants in order to enable the Syrians to develop their country.
I think accusing me of having no decency is a bit extreme, Mr Silverstein, but I’ll overlook that and focus on the discussion. Unfortunately I’m terrible with formatting code so it might not look very elegant, but here we go:
1. “The VAST majority of those 80,000 were killed by the missiles, helicopters, planes, bombs and bullets of Assad’s forces.”
1. That’s not the impression I’ve formed, and I’d prefer to see some numbers before I believe that. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — not exactly a pro-Assad outfit — earlier this month reported that /at least/ 41,000 killed have been Alawites (out of a total of 94,000 dead). So to me, it doesn’t seem as one-sided as you make it out to be.
2. “Your nattering about the great tragedy of so many killed by both sides, blah, blah, blah, is precisely how liberal ZIonists speak of the I-P conflict. When both sides are at fault, no one is. In Assad’s case, he rained the first blows down on his people & he has continued doing so for two entire years. He is a war criminal who will either be strung up on a street corner some day, or spend many years in a prison cell in The Hague (my preference).”
2. Let’s leave the I-P conflict, on which we both are in complete agreement, out of this. In the case of Syria, both sides ARE at fault. It’s wishful or simplistic thinking to try to reduce it to black and white. Much of this conflict is motivated by fear and hatred, not by a constructive vision for Syria. You are right, however, that Assad’s reactionary and bloody suppression of the reform movement is what started it, and you are right that he is a war criminal who deserves the kind of fate you envision for him.
3. “Since you raised the Spanish Civil War, the vast majority of those killed and atrocities committed were by Franco’s brutes and his Nazi mentors.”
3. Yes, they were, but that was not my point. My point was that the Republicans, too, killed literally tens of thousands of unarmed, innocent civilians, committing absolutely grotesque atrocities against people who were thought, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly, to be pro-Franco, often merely because they lived in a certain area or because they held a certain faith. That doesn’t make the Republican cause in Spain any less right. It’s simply the ugly reality of civil war. If you cannot acknowledge that “the good guys” in any war sometimes commit atrocities, instead insisting that they can do no wrong and that the bad guys are behind all the death and destruction, then you discredit your arguments.
4. “Many who rose up against him are Syrian. While there may be some foreign elements inside Syria fighting, the bulk of opposition fighters are Syrian.”
4. In my view it’s clear by now that there is more than merely “some foreign elements” — but yes, I agree, the bulk of opposition fighers are Syrian. And an even greater part of the government forces are Syrian. That fact doesn’t make either side automatically right.
5. “As for getting outside assistance, yes, but Assad does too. He has RUssian and Iranian missiles and Hezbollah fighters. Assad was the first to turn to outisders for help when he armed himself with those advanced weapons systems offered by Russia & the IRG.”
5. Exactly — the rebels have Western help, so I don’t see why Hezbollah’s intervention should be considered so morally egregious. As for who turned to outside help first, if you’re going to claim that Assad was helped by Russia and Iran before the rebels were helped by the West, I’d like to see a reliable source for that. I suspect the West has been involved in this conflict ever since it turned violent. Hezbollah have historically fighted for what they believe in; I think the term “mercenary” that you use is more applicable, if to anyone, to certain elements in the rebel forces.
6. “No, not really.”
6. I suppose it depends on how you use the word legitimacy. I take it to mean whether something is legal within its own system, in which case I do think Assad’s position is difficult to say, not being an expert on Syrian law. If you mean morally and politically legitimate, of course, that’s another matter, and as I’ve said before, I think that Assad must step down. If he is removed, then he should only be removed by the Syrian people themselves, no-one else.
7. “There’s no “probably” about it. As you said, he’s a butcher and nations generally don’t like butchers ruling them.”
7. The Syrian nation, as you know, Mr Silverstein, isn’t one homogeneous mass with the people on one side and Assad on the other. It’s not true that almost everyone in Syria want him gone. Many hate Assad; some support him; a lot of people simply think he is the lesser of many evils. The Alawites are terrified of what will happen if Assad goes, because they rightly expect Sunni fanatics to massacre them down to the last woman and child. The Kurds in Syria, too, have been very ambivalent in their stance in the civil war; the rebels even allege that the PKK have fought for Assad (which is probably not true, but it shows you that it isn’t just Alawites who are refusing to join the rebellion). Christians, too, have been ambivalent; certain leftist groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, have been supportive of Assad. Probably very few people LOVE Assad — and probably, as we agree, most people hate him and want him gone — but again, I don’t think it’s as simple as you make it out to be. If virtually everyone in Syria wanted him gone, he would be gone already. The truth is that the country is divided, not just along the battle-lines of this civil war but along many different lines, and everyone has their own calculus by now.
8. “I do so love it when outsiders speak against the clearly stated will of the victims. What gives you the right to say that Syrians don’t have the right to overthrow Assad by any means necessary? What gives you the right to determine what’s a proper amount of blood spilled that would justify his overthrow? The Syrians are the ones dying here. They’ve made their decision that toppling a tyrant is worth the price they’re paying. You’d best sit back and listen to what they have to say instead of interposing your own unsought opinions and judgments.”
8. I find this rather insulting, but let me answer it dispassionately: you seem to have ignored what I wrote: ‘Just so I’m even clearer, I believe in the right of any people to make revolution at any time. I would support a Syrian revolution and I would drink a toast when they ousted Assad. But I don’t believe this is a Syrian revolution.’ I say what I say precisely with the victims in mind; the victims of both sides in this war are the great mass of the Syrian people, who are not combatants and who, I believe, do not want this war; who want peace. It’s false to say that the Syrians have made their decision. Assad has made a choice; Sunni fanatics have made a choice; Saudi Arabia has made a choice. But I don’t think is what the people of Syria ever wanted. “The Syrians are the ones dying here”; yes, they are, on both sides — and what good is that doing? Syria is being crippled, Israel and Saudi Arabia are being strengthened, and Assad may not even be defeated. This is a national suicide attempt. And I think many Syrians would find your own judgments and opinions on the ongoing collapse of their country to be equally unsought as mine.
9. “History is not your strong suit. American Revolution: 1775-1783. Bolshevik Revolution: 1917-1921. We could go on and on. But a 2 year revolution is not an inordinate amount of time as revolutions go. Besides the length of a revolution has no bearing on its legitimacy.”
9. Fair point. Obviously, though, Mr Silverstein, revolutions are no longer fought with muskets, so I don’t think we should expect exactly the same timeframes. I should have said ‘relatively brief’; but you are right, two years is not extremely long. My point still stands, however. I don’t believe this uprising has anywhere near the popular support that either the American or the the Bolshevik Revolutions. (Since you mention 1917, though, remember that the Communists overthrew the monarchy in a single year.) It is a civil and proxy war, in which neither side has sufficient popular support to be decisive, and it will drag on, and drag Syria down to ruin.
10. “And you claim this on what basis? What facts or evidence? Just as I expected.”
10. Let me ask you the same thing. What makes you think more than half of Syria was ever committed to the anti-Assad movement? What about your burden of proof? For example, in a country of 22 million, can you point to any protests that were larger than perhaps 100,000?
11. “It’s not the Syrian opposition which created this. Assad’s father and he himself have created this legacy of sectarianism, corruption, nepotism, and brutality. Remember Hama, 1982?? 30,000 dead? That was daddy’s doing.”
11. I’m saying the civil war is exposing the sectarian and ethnic fault lines in Syria, making them far deeper and more significant to people who would otherwise not have cared about them. This is what will truly make Syria irreparable in the long run, if it’s allowed to continue. And yes, I’m well aware of what Hafez did. I don’t see how another 100,000 dead — or perhaps half a million, or more, if this drags on — helps the victims of Hama.
12. “Assad made his choice by refusing to leave power. Once he made the decision to fight to the death, he forced the nightmare on the Syrian people. Not outsiders.”
12. I doubt this conflict would never have escalated to this point if it hadn’t been for outside interference — just like Stalin and Hitler aggravated the conflict on both sides in Spain. The losers are the common people who are caught between two well-armed and increasingly polarized and resentful parties.
I apologize if there any typos or other errors in this wall of text.
Deïr Yassin says
I agree with you that the situation in Syria is very complex, and is becoming so more and more. Even Asa’ad Abu Khalil, the Lebanese intellectual, very critical of the Syrian regime, seems to have changed his perception, he is now convinced that foreing interests were involved right from the start. (cf his article in al-Akhbar: Israel bombs Syria again)
Just one correction. When you write:
“Certain leftist groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have been supportive of Assad”, I think you’re mixing up the PFLP with the PFLP-GC (General Command) of Ahmad Jibril, situated in Damascus and financed by the Syrian regime. The mistake is (too) common, even Juan Cole made it in an article on his blog on May 9th.
@ Deïr: Ah, yes, you are perfectly right — I did mix up PFLP with PFLP-GC. My mistake, thanks for the correction.
Richard Silverstein says
@Daniel: I greatly frown on overly long comments, which yours was. Please restrain yourself in future. A comment of 3-4 paragraphs and 100-200 words maximum should be more than sufficient.
One chief comment rule here is to bring credible sources & link to them. Do that in future.
Your source, if you’ve quoted it correctly (again we have no way of knowing because you haven’t offered a link), offers false information:
First, the number of dead is 80,000. I’ve never heard the number 94,000 anywhere. Second, Alawites are 15% of the Syrian population. Yet you claim that 50% of the dead are Alawites. That’s simply impossible.
No, wrong. If there is any fault at all on the side of the opposition it is insignificant compared to that of the government. The revolt began with peaceful resistance which was met with murderous firepower. Assad is completely at fault for his response. He made this revolution. He made it violent. He guaranteed what has come to pass.
I have never said that the Syrian opposition, Spanish Republicans or Palestinians “can do no wrong.” But the level of moral culpability they have for crimes pales in comparions with the vastly more powerful ruling elites (& their military might) represented by Assad, Franco & Bibi. To talk as if there is some sort of moral proportionality in the sins of each side indicates profound blindness.
Assad has been receiving military support from Russia and Iran for many, many years. No one should need a source to confirm that.
I’m afraid it’s beyond that point & your response is a cop out. Assad has decided to turn his entire firepower on his own people, who have long indicated they reject him. The Syrian opposition could not muster greater firepower to oppose Assad’s thugs. Since the dictator has determined to fight to the death and the Syrian opposition could not, with the force it could muster, do the job, then that has opened us to the disastrous civil war and outside intervention. Assad will go and the Syrians will use whatever means necessary to make it happen. Even if it includes outside force & even if you disapprove.
A vast overstatement. The Syrian opposition is not interested in genocide against Alawites. But if Assad and the rest of the Alawites powerbrokers really cared about this they would’ve understood that the long-term interests of their tribe lay in compromise and not a death struggle. While some Alawites have and will suffered due to this myopia, you’ve made a vast unsupported, overly alarmist claim.
As for Assad’s support: there are only two forms of support he has–tribal and financial. He largely buys off people. Like for example his military forces. They follow him either because they’re Alawite or because he pays well. There are no other reasons to support him. NOne.
This again is nonsense, and unsupported nonsense. Though no one wants war, the “great mass” of Syrian people, after seeing their sons, daughters, parents and friends mown down like grass before Assad’s butchers has determined there is no other choice. They tried non-violence. Rivers of blood was Assad’s response. For you to claim there is some sort of balance between the two sides, that the level of evil acts on both sides is balanced, that there is a fair balance for both sides among the people in this conflict, is simply not credible.
Only Alawites, and probably not all of them.
Again, let’s give you a history lesson or two. The level of support for the Revolutions (American and Bolshevik) was by no means decisive. There was a huge level of Tory support in America and large sections of the country were Tory. In 1917, there were both White Russians who were monarchists and liberals who opposed the Revolution. They were not insignificant in both numbers and strength. I would guess that there may be more support among the Syrian people for toppling Assad than there was either for the Patriots who fought the English or for the Bolshevik side in the Russian civil war.
How little you know about Syria. Syria is not “irreparable.” Of course, it will be in a shambles for some time (the longer it takes for Assad to be removed the worse it will be). But Syria has a long, proud history. It will rise again. I clearly have more faith in Syria than you.
You don’t see how toppling a ruthless dictator whose family robbed the country blind & butchered over 100,000 (between the 2) of their people helps the victims? You don’t believe that justice helps the victims? I think you’re an equivocator. Sometimes equivocation works. Not well. But it works, I guess. But not when situations are so far gone as they are in Syria. I’m afraid your equivocation is both useless and ineffective.
The “common people,” who you know so little about, are the ones who created both the non-violent resistance; and then resorted to armed rebellion. It is many of those common people who are battling Assad’s mercenaries. You owe them an apology.
I do not ever want to have to write such a long comment in response to one of your comments. Please be brief.
And let’s consider this subject closed. I don’t want to endlessly debate you about Syria or Assad. Move on.
@ Richard: I’ll try to keep my comments much briefer in the future, there was just a lot to answer. Thank you, I appreciate the debate — I obviously don’t agree with everything you said, but I’m happy close the subject and to move on for now.
Here’s the source for the casualty rates I mentioned earlier:
“At least 94,000 people have been killed during Syria’s two-year conflict, but the death toll is likely to be as high as 120,000, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday [May 14].
The group said that at least 41,000 of those confirmed killed were Alawites, the sect of President Bashar al-Assad.”
Of course, the SOHR is only one source and the UN, as you point out, still estimates 80,000 as of May, although I don’t know what their breakdown is of casualties from the two sides.
Richard Silverstein says
@Daniel: Thanks for those sources. Deir Yassin, whose views I trust, pointed out that your figures were credible. That means things are even worse than I thought. I still find it hard to believe that fully one-third of the dead are Alawites. That could only mean that most of the Alawite dead were Assad soldiers. I hope to God that they weren’t Alawite civilians.
Fred Plester says
The Alawites also form a lot of armed, but non-uniformed, militias, generally reported to be on Assad’s side, but actually fighting against local rivals in some parts of the country. I agree that a high casualty figure for them is disturbing, though.
Deïr Yassin says
The numbers given by Daniel are well-known, and have been out for about two weeks. According to the UN (May 14th), the death tool is at least 80.000 but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (London-based, anti-regime) numbered the death toll at least 94.000 two weeks ago and probably as high as 120.000, they also gave the numbers of at least 41.000 Alawites among the casualties.
The Syrian ‘uprising’ is much more complex than what you seem to think, personnally I don’t know what to think anymore. When even longtime anti-regime as As’ad Abu Khalil start questioning the start of the uprising, I think it’s time that everyone elso do so.
Khodor IR says
Dear author, are you sure your sources can be trusted?. I am not so sure about the info and data in this article. And WE can talk from the “place”. By the way, ” Hezbollah, while hated by many inside Lebanon…” ??? Which are your sources? Civil War??? In Syria is not a Civil War dear author…
Richard Silverstein says
@Khodor IR: ANother Assadist heard from…
AbdelazimBey Bey says
See this http://www.lorientlejour.com/article/815799/le-hezbollah-perd-au-moins-104-hommes-mais-les-loyalistes-avancent-a-qousseir.html
“Le Hezbollah a perdu 104 combattants en huit mois dans la guerre en Syrie, a indiqué l’OSDH, alors qu’une source au sein du mouvement chiite a comptabilisé 75 morts durant la même période.”
Precisely the point, a tainted source. A right-wing rag citing a source among the rebels. As the Angry Arab points out, right-wing rags frequently pretend to have a source inside Hizbullah. As he points out, Hizbullah is well-known for the strength of its security, and these inside sources curiously enough only speak to right-wing press, and always have something bad to say about the organisation.
Bob Mann says
Hezbollah confirms heavily involved in Syria conflict
BEIRUT: Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah announced Saturday the large-scale involvement of his party in the war in neighboring Syria, saying his party’s fighting against Syrian rebels aimed at protecting the resistance group.
“We are now in a totally new phase that began a few weeks ago. This new phase aims at fortifying the resistance and protecting its backbone, fortifying Lebanon and protecting its backbone,” Nasrallah said.
“We will assume this responsibility and endure all the sacrifices and consequences that come with taking such a stance,” he said.
The Hezbollah leader spoke via televised screen, addressing a rally in the Bekaa Valley village of Mashgara held to mark the 13th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
I think you’ll find Nasrallah’s remarks have been inflated by the press. If you watch the YouTube of his speech, he doesn’t in fact say very much, only to say that the Takfiris are a great danger.
The Daily Star is pro-Hariri, if I remember correctly.
Richard Silverstein says
@Laguerre: Read the NY TImes coverage. You’ve mischaracterized his speech.
Deïr Yassin says
Alain Gresh, director of Le Monde Diplomatique published an article on his blog (in French): Syria, Hezbollah entering the war”
There are four links to articles in English (one in the article, the rest in the Notes)
1. A analysis from The International Crisis group from back in 212
2. Ramy Khoury: “A Hezbollah Turning Point in Qusair”, The Daily Star, 22 May
3. A Haaretz-aticle on the Israeli implications in Syria
4. “Hezbollah’s Syrian Intervention” by Ibrahim al-Amin, Al-Akhbar
Deïr Yassin says
Sorry, the last article by Ibrahim al-Amin is titled “On Hezbollah’s Syrian Intervention”.
I used to know Rami Khoury back in the days when he was a journalist on the Jordan Times. I had quite a considerable admiration of him. If you look at his article, it is remarkably empty of facts, apart from Hasan Nasrallah’s statement. It tells you *why* Hizbullah might be intervening, but no evidence that it is.
The same for Ibrahim al-Amin’s article. I don’t know the guy, but the article is equally empty of facts. The ICG I don’t bother with; it is not so long ago that they predicted that the Christians would soon be back in power in Lebanon.
Sonds like the international civil var at Spain, an it was the prelude of the WWII. Is the international civil war at Syria the prelude of WWIII?
“If Qusayr continues to hold out and represents either a victory for the resistance or a bloody massacre perpetrated by Assad’s forces.” You are clearly bias here. If Assad wins there will be massacre, if rebels this is victory. There is much more evidence supporting atrocities on rebels side. Killing of prisoners, or eating mans heart.
Richard Silverstein says
@Brane: More atrocities on the rebel side? What do you call the tens of thousands of civilians murdered by Assad? A picnic?
I warn you I have very little patience for propagandists who offer no credible evidence for their opinions. You are one of these.
What evidence you need? Internet us full of vids, rebels executing government troops, what about video where rebel leader eats heart of SAA soldier, you can denie that. If you think that I´m obligated to support your view on any subject, you are wrong. Ban comments if you don´t like to hear opinion different than yours.
Richard Silverstein says
You have 80,000 dead and you focus on one mentally aberrant cannibal claiming he represents the entire Syrian opposition?? Pathetic.
Again, what’s Arabic for pro-Assad hasbara?
There is mutiple reports on executions by rebels, on YT there is a lot of vids, so my opinion is not based on one rebel. To be clear i´m not supporting Assad, niether some other party involved in this mulitilayer war. Crimes have been done on all sides. One thing is sure, rebels in this form, specialy radical part of it, do not deserve support, material, finacial or moral.
Richard Silverstein says
Nor do I support the Al Qaeda Al Nusra rebels. I also note that the opposition hasn’t been able to coalesce behind any party or political orientation. All this bodes ill for the future. But the alternative, which is more Assad, is far, far worse.
Iran and Hezbollah making a “blunder”. No, I think this is a very poor analysis. This is their moment in time, and they are seazing it, to broaden their front, to ensure for better weapons supplies, stronger ties with Syria and Iraq, under the protection of a russian defense umbrella. Not a blunder, an oppurtunity. Israels goal to destabilize Syria and open up a pathway to disarming Iran, it seems have backfired. I don’t think Israel got any good options at all now. If it does nothing, Hezbollah and Iran will comfortable establish a new front undisturbed, extending from the border to Lebanon over the Golan heights. If Israel overreacts, Hezbollah is ready to hit back forcefully, with support from Assad and Iran.
It is argued that ever since the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, Israel has been looking for an opportunity to redeem its failure in that war and strike a blow at the Party of Allah. With Hezb. getting mired in Syria & losing support amidst the Lebanese, wouldn’t it be an opportune time for Israel to exact a toll on Hezb. by forcing it to fight on 2 fronts (or even 3, if internal strife in Lebanon heats up)? If that happens & Hezb. begins to weaken noticeably, Iran may feel compelled to assume a deeper role, thereby providing an excuse for a Western attack. But, even if such a scenario starts to unfold, more than likely the Iranians will back off, and tell Hezb. to follow suit; they’re too practical & concerned about their survival to dive into a ruinous war.
And this is how a pro-gov’t group in Iran portrayed the outcome of this conflict last year:
I am nowhere as intimate with reports on Syria as most of the comments here. However, I think the introduction of Hezbollah into the fight is both plus and minus. Yes, it legitimizes interventions going forward, but it also reflects Hezbollah’s legitimate regional concern that, unless Assad prevails, Syria will become a de facto Iraq, unstable and less a bulwark against Israel as Hezbollah has proven to be in neighboring Lebanon. Even the Israelis must have misgivings about what might replace Assad, a player they could do business with. Hezbollah, it seems to me, is asserting its regional interests and responsibilities just as the US does in Latin America, for example. Hezbollah can provide a unifying force to undercut Islamist factions in rebellion. Propping up Assad may look like an awful outcome for an Arab Spring but the alternative looks increasingly to be an Israeli/US administered chaos and powerlessness and that is also a very bad outcome.
Google Earther says
A quick look at Google Earth should show everyone why Hezbollah have involved themselves in the fight for Qusayr i.e. that town is the only possible rebel hub for weapons to enter Syria from Lebanon and then be distributed to the front(s) in and around Homs.
Which means that if Qusayr falls then the rebellion around Homs is doomed. The country will then be divided in a northern rebellion supplied via Turkey, and a southern/central/coastal region controlled by the Syrian government.
It’s pretty easy to see from that why Nasrallah thought that it was important to intervene in this battle: Qusayr is only just over the Lebanese border, and its capture will directly effect the flow of weapons from Lebanon, both of which makes this particular battle strategically-important for a Lebanese-based militia.
So I doubt that this will result in a quagmire from Hezbollah so long as their forces don’t go any further north than (say) Homs. They could help the Syrian government secure the area and then, perhaps, Hezbollah could hold this area to free up the Syrian Army to tackle the rebellion in the north.
THAT would be a sensible use of manpower, and so that’s what I believe is behind Nasrallah’s thinking.
Not hard to see. And Hezbollah is intervening after Israeli “intervention” twice over (regardless how Israel couches its attacks) and Israel’s unequivocal threats to Assad. Hezbollah would not want to risk another US exploited civil chaos like Iraq as an outcome for Syria. From its point of view, Hezbollah is doing the responsible thing. I think even Israel hesitates to take out the devil they know, Assad.
Doesn't necessarity follow says
Richard: “I still find it hard to believe that fully one-third of the dead are Alawites. ”
Why, exactly, is that so hard to believe?
The Alawites make up a little over 10% of the popln, but as a group they are heavily identified with Assad’s rule. If there is going to be sectarian violence then it will fall more heavily upon a hated minority. Which in this case will be…. the Alawites.
Richard: “That could only mean that most of the Alawite dead were Assad soldiers.”
No, that does not necessarily follow, and for two reasons:
1) The Syrian Army is not over-represented with Alawites. The ruling Ba’ath Party is, sure, but the Syrian Army isn’t.
2) There is every reason to suggest that if there is sectarian violence then it will fall most heavily on a hated minority e.g. the Alawites.
Richard: “I hope to God that they weren’t Alawite civilians.”
And if I were a betting man then I’d put very good money on this idea: the reason why an ethnic group that makes up just over 10% of the popln is suffering 30% of the casualties is because Someone Is Going Out Of Their Way To Kill Them.
What will Nasrallah do next? says
Let’s assume that things go according to Assad’s plans regarding Qusayr. What next?
Well, if Nasrallah is just bumblin’ along making one strategic blumber after another then he’ll see his forces (10,000 men inside Syria, tops) sucked into the sort of maelstrom that suckered in the IDF between 1982-2000.
But what if Nasrallah actually knows what he is doing? If that were the case then what, exactly, should his forces do following the conclusion of this fight for Qusayr?
Look at google earth, because it will tell you.
Go on, have a look. Note the town of Al Nabk roughly half-way between Qusayr and Damascus.
THAT’S the next place you are going to hear reports of Hezbollah troops operating, because THAT’S the only other town that can replace Qusayr as a rebel distribution point (supplies can come across the Baalbek, be stockpiled in Al Nabk, then sent up the M5 highway to the “frontlines”).
So listen out for the words “Al Nabk” and “Hezbollah”, because if you start hearing those two together then you know that Nasrallah has a plan, he isn’t just stumbling along.
I agree. Nasrallah is not bumbling into Syria and he has a plan, a political and geopolitical plan. Iran already considers Israel as a participant inside Syria and this is certainly the political trigger to which Hezbollah is responding. Israel precipitated this involvement and the participation is aimed at Israel. (See http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/mohammad-khazaee-iran-ambassador-syria.html?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=7337)
Fred Plester says
Some of Richard’s readers may be better equipped than I to verify if the messages are really in Lebanese accents or not.
It is clear than in some places, the rebels don’t think they are fighting any Assad government troops at all, only Hezbollah.
There’s also a new (to this conflict) type of Russian cluster munition, which suggests a new logistics chain if not a new protagonist.
Other evidence on Brown Moses suggests more Iranian-made artillery munitions are turning up, which may indicate that Hezbollah are supplying Assad with basic artillery rockets (what his forces are using most of) in return for more sophisticated missiles, which is what Israel keeps trying to stop. A lot of debris filmed on the ground after one of the Israeli airstrikes, purportedly against sophisticated missiles, looked like recoilless rifle rounds and heavy mortar rounds to me. Assuming that what the Israelis thought they were bombing was also present, what they actually clobbered was an exchange of munitions which might kill Israelis for munitions which are killing Syrians.
In the propaganda dep’t of the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah is being outed as Iranian quisling: