The Middle East Channel

High-level Syrian military officers prepare to defect

The Daily Telegraph reports that senior military officers from Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime are preparing to join the opposition. U.S. officials told the newspaper that these figures have started to communicate with opposition forces and Western governments as they make contingency plans for the fall of the regime. The military officers have also started to move their money into Lebanese and Chinese banks. A senior opposition activist said "I know for sure there are some high-ranking officers who are waiting for the right chance to defect. We have names of people in the presidential palace." This report comes a day after a Syrian pilot, flying a MiG-21 fighter jet, defected to Jordan where he was granted asylum on ‘humanitarian grounds.' The pilot, Col. Hassan Merei al-Hamade, had been ordered to bomb Dera'a before he flew into Jordan's King Hussein air base. At least three other pilots flying MiG-21s on that same mission also considered defecting, according to the Telegraph.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said Thursday was the most violent day of the Syrian uprising since the start of the ceasefire on April 12. According to Rahman's organization, at least 104 civilians, 54 soldiers, and 10 rebel fighters were killed throughout the country. The bloodiest areas were Homs and Douma, near Damascus. Meanwhile, Senior U.S. and European officials are growing alarmed at the increased militarization of the conflict. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview that America worried sophisticated arms, like shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, might get into the wrong hands, specifically al Qaeda affiliates, who have increasingly joined opposition forces. This comes a day after the New York Times reported that the Central Intelligence Agency was helping to facilitate the flow of weapons into Syria.

Headlines

  • The Turkish government has abandoned legislation that would have required all abortions to occur within the first six weeks of pregnancy, instead of the first ten weeks.
  • Three cars loaded with weapons were attacked by Tunisian jets near the Libya-Algeria border.
  • Egyptians have gathered in Tahrir Square to protest against the ruling military council's consolidation of power. The demonstrators, numbering in the thousands, also await the results of the runoff presidential election.
  • Two roadside bombs exploded at a market in northern Baghdad, killing 14 people and wounding 106.
  • Juma Obaidi al-Jazawi, a Libyan military prosecutor, was shot dead in Benghazi as he exited a Mosque.

Arguments & Analysis

Widespread Condemnation for Assad in Neighboring Countries' (Pew Global Attitudes Project)

"With the uprising against him showing no signs of abating, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is widely unpopular in neighboring countries. And the vast majority of Jordanians, Egyptians, Tunisians and Turks would like to see him step down. In Lebanon, however, views differ sharply along sectarian lines, with Shia Muslims overwhelmingly expressing support for the Assad regime. Even though many would like to see Assad out of office, there is no consensus on taking action to dislodge him from power. There is limited support for tougher international economic sanctions or Arab military intervention, and very little support for Western military action. These are among the key findings from a survey by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, conducted from March 19 to April 20, prior to the May 25 massacre in Houla, Syria, as well as other recent acts of violence against civilians by pro-Assad forces."

Hamas violence undermines the real resistance' (The National)

"The violence that has plagued Gaza over the past four days may be ended by a truce offered to Israel by the military wing of Hamas. But the group is using tactics from an outdated playbook. The occupation of Palestinian lands must be fought in political, public and legal arenas, where Israel is weak. The battlefield plays to its strengths... The occupation is being challenged in Israel's courts; the international movement to sanction Israel is growing in reach and support; and the rise of new, responsive governments in the Arab world means that public support for Palestine will filter into policy. Hamas is not part of any of this."

Syria's Propaganda Cloud: How the West Is Falling for Misinformation' (Riad al Khouri, The Daily Beast)

"Today, money is coming into the country from many sources, including Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, among other nations who are supporting one or more of the various players. Yet such political inflows of funds have a tendency to eventually do more harm than good. Some of those inflows, for instance, are funding propaganda, which serves to exaggerate Syria's genuine problems-economic and otherwise-as part of a great spectacle to sway world opinion. This includes Saudi money coming into Syria via Lebanon to fund demonstrations, with people getting $30 a day to protest-in front of cameras and microphones, of course. That isn't to say that there aren't many genuine demonstrators with real grievances; at the same time, the government habitually stages its own propaganda shows, also inducing people to whoop it up for the media. Such stage-management, along with fake torture videos and a host of other propaganda stunts, provide false justification for or against outside meddling, with some Europeans and certain people in Washington pushing for various military options, and a broad group led by Russia and China, but also including many in the region, calling for diplomatic solutions to the crisis."

--By Jennifer Parker 

AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

C.I.A. helping to direct weapons to Syrian opposition

The Central Intelligence Agency is reportedly helping to funnel weapons to Syrian opposition fighters. A small group of officers working in southern Turkey are helping allies decide which members of the opposition will receive weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and antitank weapons. The arms are paid for by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey and moved into Syria via intermediaries. The C.I.A. officers are scrutinizing opposition groups, trying to avoid al-Qaeda loyalists from acquiring the weapons. The Obama administration is also considering providing additional aid to the opposition, like satellite imagery and information on Syrian troop positions. According to an Arab intelligence official, "C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people."

Meanwhile, British media are reporting that Britain and America may propose a new diplomatic initiative that focuses on one point from international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan -- the Syrian-led political process based on the Yemen model in which former president Ali Saleh was offered immunity. The plan is to convene talks in Geneva at a transitional conference sponsored by the United Nations -- Syrian president Bashar al-Assad would be granted a safe passage to these talks. But this proposal is largely contingent upon Russia's willingness to pressure Assad, which Russian president Vladimir Putin continues to reject, most recently at the close of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Pro-opposition activists in Homs report that shelling still continues as rebels seek to retake the Baba Amr district. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an organization based in Britain, reports that Rastan, Douma, and Aleppo are being bombarded by regime forces. Groups from the International Committee of the Red Cross and its partner, the Syrian Red Crescent, will attempt to evacuate civilians from Homs' old city after fighting has recently increased between rebels and Assad forces. Meanwhile, a Syrian pilot flying a MiG-21 fighter jet has landed his plane at a military base in northern Jordan, seeking political asylum. Syrian authorities reported the plane missing during a training mission. It is unclear if there were other passengers on the plane.

Headlines

  • Egypt will delay the announcement of the winner in the recent presidential runoff election, citing alleged electoral fraud. Meanwhile, former president Hosni Mubarak is in stable condition.
  • After fierce clashes with Israel, Hamas' military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, has agreed to a cease-fire, brokered by Egypt.
  • Yemen security forces carried out a series of raids in the south, killing 30 alleged al-Qaeda members and also a Yemini Red Cross Worker.
  • Violence among tribes in western Libya has left 105 dead and 500 wounded. Meanwhile, the country has begun to interrogate Melinda Taylor, an official from the International Criminal Court, who has been detained in the mountain town of Zintan.
  • After Kuwait's latest election was deemed illegal, the country's constitutional court has declared a decision by Emir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah to dissolve the previous parliament unconstitutional.

Arguments & Analysis

The U.S. and Iran's Mistaken Path to War' (Trita Parsi, The Huffington Post)

"The EU's oil embargo and U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil sales will formally come into effect at the end of the month. And as unprecedented as these measures are, the U.S. will move shortly thereafter to impose even more sanctions to strangle Iran's oil exports. The pattern of the past 10 years clearly shows that when one side escalates, the other side counter-escalates. Neither side has had a particularly elaborate or sophisticated strategy. It's been nothing more than a kindergarten-level tit-for-tat game. Consequently, Iran will likely counter-escalate. What makes this latest round of escalatory steps more dangerous is that Iran's escalation options are fewer and fewer and more and more dangerous."

The generals, not the dictator, hold the keys to the regime' (Michael Young, The National)

"The splits within the Syrian National Council have not helped. But this need not hinder outside programmes that could ameliorate coexistence in Syria and give hope to the refugees. Some have suggested creating a police force in exile, to take over security once the refugees return. Much could be done to facilitate social reconciliation and contain the understandable impulse that many will feel to resort to revenge once the Assads are overthrown. In that regard, Egypt provides a cautionary tale. Many observers were so overwhelmed by their profound desire to see change in Cairo, and by the huge crowds, that they didn't realise that they were watching a conjuring trick manipulated by the officers, an illusion designed to perpetuate what had existed before. Follow the money, but follow the guns as well, before predicting too clement an Arab Spring."

Egypt has not had a coup, merely a return to the 1950s' (William Dobson, The Financial Times)

"But the military's boldest move came after voting closed in Sunday's presidential election. The generals issued an interim constitution granting themselves vast authority while stripping the presidency of significant powers. Just as Egyptians believed their country would be returned to civilian control, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces made a bid to cement its position. A chorus of critics, civil society leaders, opposition politicians and members of the Muslim Brotherhood joined to decry these moves, declaring them to be nothing short of a military coup. But that is not quite right. For it to be a coup, the military would have needed to seize power from someone else. That is not what happened. The Egyptian military has always been in charge. If there is any label that best encapsulates what Mr Mubarak's regime was, before its fall, it was a military dictatorship."

--By Jennifer Parker 

D. Leal Olivas/AFP/GettyImages