Friday, June 15, 2012

A Government Perspective

NCF daily Report on Syrian Issue – The Government – Report dated 14 June 2012 (evening)


 Bashar Al Assad (front-centre), Minister of defense (R), Chief of General staff(L). AFP photo.

This report is on the perspective of the Syrian Government. Stating the obvious – what we are giving here in today’s report is NOT the Next Century Foundation’s view. It is the Syrian Government’s view.

It is subdivided into four sections:
1. What the Government is thinking
2. What the government is saying
3. What the government is doing
4. The Syrian establishment view

What the Government is Thinking:

The following is a perspective given privately to the Next Century Foundation by an individual close to the Syrian government:

“Syria is not actually in civil war; but entire Alawi families have been murdered by armed rebels; sectarian attacks by armed gangs and terrorist groups affiliated to Al Qaeda happen all the time.

“Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, is Syria’s truest friend and only major ally. But there is no way out. Even if we commit to free and fair elections, sanctions will continue and we will be treated as war criminals. We attempted multi-party elections last month but got no credit for the effort.

“We are accused of being barbaric but when armed gangs seized the Baba Amr quarter of Homs – what choice did we have? Terrorists have crossed into Syria from Kuwait, Tunisia, Algeria and Pakistan to kidnap and rape.

“These terrorists cannot defeat us. The Syrian government has been growing stronger. Sanctions are not hurting us. There is still plenty of food in the shops. Western journalists grossly exaggerate our economic difficulties. There is a building boom in Damascus since the refugees have been pouring in from Homs. There are nearly half a million of them.

“But it is pointless trying to appease the West. They believe we were responsible for the Hula killings. We were not. That slaughter was the work of Salafi terrorists who butchered the people of Hula for hours. But you cannot reason with the West. The West just threw out our ambassadors for something we never did in the first place and then started to arm the terrorists. You are damned whatever you do. The West has turned on us, helped by their lackeys, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are settling personal scores against the President rather than being driven by idealism. They won’t be laughing when the same thing happens to them.

“If you get rid of us, then who are you going to get to protect the minorities? One thing I am certain of, this will be a long struggle. The violence will get much worse. So far we have been very restrained believe me. And if in the end you get rid of us what you get in our place will be worse. But don’t count your chickens. Our government will not fall”.

What the Government is saying:


The recurring statement given by members of the Syrian government, including Bashar Al Assad and Jihad Makdissi is that the Syrian government are blameless and have not been exacerbating the conflict.

The Syrian president denies ordering the brutal military crackdown on anti government protesters which has provoked the uprisings stating that ‘only a crazy person would treat their own people this way’. He further stated that he did not feel guilt for the approximately 14,000 people killed in the Syrian conflict thus far, declaring that he did his best to protect his people. However the government does condemn the recent bouts of violence in Houla and Haffeh, classifying them as ‘terrorist attacks’ and attempts to violate Syria’s sovereignty. Furthermore, the government says that in order for the conflict to be resolved, the Syrian people need to stand by and support Bashar al Assad.

 Foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi has claimed Syria has been trying to get a peace deal but the opposition is not interested. He says the government even agreed to negotiations brokered by Russia and China, but that was vetoed by the opposition.  Despite the fight between rebels and the establishment continuously escalating, the Syrian government refuses to accept the conflict as a civil war, suggesting that it ‘does not reflect the reality’, rather taking the view that the government is involved in a struggle to root out terrorism. According to the government, it is succeeding in its struggle, and has reclaimed Haffeh after a ‘bout of violence’ (the opposition claims it left the village in order to minimize civilian killings).

The Syrian leadership and the opposition each blame the other for the violence. UN declarations claim there is a high probability that some of the recent massacres were by pro government gunmen are met with harsh criticism by Bashar Al Assad. He says the violence has been brought about by ‘Islamist terrorists’, shifting blame from the Syrian government claiming that ‘a battle was forced upon them’, which resulted in the ‘intense bloodshed’. According to the government, the bloodshed is justified as the Syrian government has ‘authoritarian rights to the whole state’, in accordance with an understanding between the UN and the Syrian leadership signed in April 2012, as well as in international law.

In a speech given on June 4th, the Syrian president denounced all violence, and said the government would still forgive and accept every Syrian in an attempt to unify the country. The president blamed external forces, such as the US, for fuelling the conflict by attempting to get UN backing for stronger measures.

What the Government is doing:

The Syrian government have continued to launch military offensives in most regions of the country, in search of ‘terrorists’. Overnight, troops have been in the Eastern city of Deir Ezzor, where the Free Syrian Army claimed government forces killed eleven, and a government tank had been destroyed. Haffeh, in the west of Syria, is being visited by United Nations observers today (June 14), after being left ‘battered’ and ‘deserted’ after the area was cleared of ‘terrorists’ by Syrian forces. Although the Syrian troops left the town on Tuesday June 12, a ‘potential massacre’ may have taken place according to the USA.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (though a pro-rebel organisation – this is the only group providing near credible figures) have stated that 58 civilians were killed on Wednesday June 13, the majority in Homs. As of 13.00 BST on Thursday June 14, Syrian forces have allegedly killed over fifteen non-combatants. A car bomb exploded in the Sayyeda Zeinab district of Damascus, with both the government and ‘rebels’ blaming each other. This is the latest of numerous car bombs in the capital.

Homs and Hama provinces continue to be affected by daily military offensives. There has been an increase in the number of incursions by the military in Aleppo province.

Raids are being conducted and checkpoints established in and around Damascus, as protests become larger and more frequent in some of the capital’s suburbs. An increasingly organised and armed opposition movement has led to the Assad government ‘clamping down on towns and villages’, and so the number of raids is expected to increase. As of 15.00 BST, Syrian military forces have surrounded Andan, Reef Aleppo, in order to conduct a raid as described. This follows yesterday’s ‘storming’ of nearby Hureitan, in a search for members of the opposition. Smaller villages are being targeted extensively.

Internationally, the Syrian government has continued to seek help from its allies, particularly Russia and Iran (see June 12 report), whilst the ‘Syrian Electronic Army’ continues to add to its list of banned websites and limit Internet usage.

In summary, the Syrian government is progressing with its nation-wide military offensive, with an increasing focus on raiding towns and villages where information about rebel activities has been collected. Human Rights groups such as Amnesty International continue to publish reports about atrocities committed by the military, and it seems that the violence will continue for the foreseeable future.

The Syrian Establishment view:

The Military view

Syrian army officers have grown increasingly anxious about the possibility of a coup d’état against the government though sectarian Christian / Alawite support for the Al Assad family remains strong. The vast bulk of the army remains loyal to Bashar al Assad.

Similarly those in senior positions in the public sector owe their positions less to merit than to loyalty to the Assad family which personally determines all senior appointments in the civil service.

Officers and Colonels in the Syrian army are, with certain exceptions (like the Syrian Chief of Staff:  Major General Fahed al-Jasem el-Freij who is a Christian) almost all Alawite. Pre-eminent amongst these is of course Maher al-Assad (Bashar al-Assad’s brother). Any non Allawites who are ministers, generals, or colonels must acquire an Alawite deputy.

The armed forces still believe in the Assad family because of the support they get from Russia and Iran. Others in the army who are more sceptical about the leadership qualities of Bashar al Assad, still fight for him because they can anticipate the chaos coming in the aftermath of the fall of the government “or if reforms are made (sic)”. The armed forces remain sceptical about the Annan initiative whilst the fighting continues. A few have deserted to join rebel forces, as did Colonel Riyad al-Asaad, founder of the Free Syrian Army, but these remain a minority and are almost exclusively conscripts.

The Business view

The Syrian uprising has severely damaged businesses in Syria and especially in Damascus, but most of the businessmen and women remain strongly supportive of the Assad government. This even after more than a year of fighting, an ailing economy and a collapse in the standard of living; with an HDI of 0.632 (ranked 119th worldwide), Syria is still an under-developed country.

Since the uprising, sanctions have hit the powerful Syrian businessmen hard. Named individuals on the sanctions list from the EU and the USA, such as Rami Makhlouf, the influential Syrian businessman and cousin to President Basher al-Assad, deny being part of the government. Some businessmen have however fled Syria along with their families for fear of being persecuted. But recent suggestions from Vladimir Putin that he may open a new economic trading zone with Syria will open up new opportunities for businessmen in Syria and Russia to make money. This will weaken Syria’s opposition, as it will stimulate Syria’s economy and increase establishment support for Bashar al Assad. Russia and the opportunities it offers have proven popular with the powerful establishment in Syria in contrast to the UN’s unpopularity.         

The Shabiha in Syria are considered thugs or ‘shock groups’ by most Syrians. None the less the establishment backs the Shabiha as a crucial ally in view of the dangers they face in a misbalanced Syria with a raging civil war. The business establishment are also horrified by the ongoing persecution of the Christians especially in Homs where 90% of the Christian population have been forced to flee. This has of course hardened Christian support for Assad.

The one thing the business establishment fears is external intervention from the West, and the chaos it would bring. They feel they can tolerate ongoing sanctions from the UN, EU and the USA if the alternative is invasion.

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