The Middle East Channel

U.N. chemical weapons report seems to implicate the Syrian regime

The United Nations has released a long-awaited report investigating the August 21 chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital of Damascus. According to the U.N. investigators there was "clear and convincing evidence" that chemical weapons were used "on a relatively large scale, resulting in numerous casualties." While the mandate of the investigators did not permit them to determine who carried out the attacks, the evidence largely implicated the Syrian government. In particular, the munitions, identified as surface-to-surface rockets, and launchers, as well as the direction from which the rockets had been launched, points to government culpability. Russia has maintained that the opposition is responsible and Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov said Moscow has "serious grounds" to believe rebel fighters provoked the attack. After talks in Russia, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabrius said there seems to be "no doubt" that the regime was behind the chemical attack, and pushed Russia to support a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria. For the first time publicly, Israel has called for the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Israel's Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said, "We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren't backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran." Meanwhile, Turkish warplanes shot down a Syrian helicopter Turkey that crossed over a mile into its airspace. The Syrian army admitted the incursion saying the aircraft had been monitoring "terrorists" crossing the border. Syria chided Turkey for being "hasty" in attacking the helicopter and accused the Turkish government of trying to escalate tensions.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

'Is Jordan's "Arab Spring" Over?' (Osama Al Sharif, Al-Monitor)

"Jordan's version of the Arab Spring may be over quietly and unceremoniously. Regional upheavals, especially in Syria and Egypt, have dampened Jordanians' appetite for drastic change in their own country. A year ago, tens of anti-government protests would take place, especially on Fridays, across the country. Most were organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, but some were led by the Jordanian Youth Movement, or ‘hirak,' whose slogans often crossed red lines. They called for regime change and accused King Abdullah II of corruption. Many of their leaders are now in prison and some will stand trial in front of the State Security Court (SSC) on charges that range from insulting the king to attempting to overthrow the regime.

But it has been more than three months now since large demonstrations were held in Amman or elsewhere. Last November, when the newly appointed government of Abdullah Ensour floated the price of gasoline and ended state subsidies, thousands took to the streets and the country saw three days of angry demonstrations and clashes with the police. The opposition -- an alliance between the Islamists and the National Reform Front (NRF), which is a coalition of leftist and nationalist groups and parties--threatened to further derail austerity measures. But when the government raised the price of electricity last month nothing happened. It was a sign that neither the Islamists nor the rest of the opposition was able to mobilize the street anymore."

'Libya: Divided they Fail' (Karim Mezran and Lara Talverdian, Atlantic Council)

"Attention in Washington to the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attack that took the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans gives reason to believe that a commitment still exists to assist Libya as it faces grave challenges in trying to achieve the goals of its revolution. For a while, US interest in Libya's success seemed dormant, particularly in the wake of a cacophonous debate in the aftermath of Egypt's coup and the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Yet, Libya remains on the agenda, and the presence of Ambassador Deborah Jones at the US Embassy in Tripoli provides new ways for the administration to ramp-up engagement. The question is: with which Libyan counterparts should the United States work to ensure the effectiveness of its diplomatic and programmatic efforts? The forces seeking to weaken the Libyan state may, in fact, pale in comparison to the threat from its own state institutions. If the fledgling democracy's state institutions do not embrace a spirit of cooperation rather than competition, they will fail to harness the international community's will to assist the country."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

France, Britain, and the U.S. call for “strong” resolution on Syria

France, Britain, and the United States, after talks Monday, have agreed to seek a strong resolution on Syria with "precise and binding deadlines" for the Syrian regime to turn over its chemical weapons arsenal. The talks have come two days after the United States reached a deal with Russia for the Syrian government to provide a "comprehensive listing" of its chemical arsenal within a week and for the removal or destruction of all its chemical weapons by the middle of 2014. The deal included a provision for the use of force under Chapter VII of the U.N. Security Council charter if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not comply. On Monday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will present findings from a U.N. chemical weapons investigation report on Syria to the U.N. Security Council. While the report will not reveal who carried out an attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21, Ban said he expects it will offer "overwhelming" confirmation that chemical arms were used. Meanwhile, Iran is believed to be playing a broader role in the Syrian conflict by training militiamen to fight at bases in Iran, but additionally, a video recently posted online appears to show military advisors from Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards outside Aleppo.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

'How to Save the Syrians' (Michael Ignatius, The New York Review of Books Blog)

"The fact is that what law forbids conscience may still command. What law forbids international peace and security might still require. What is legal is not always legitimate. Those who argue that international legality is the sine qua non for legitimate action in the international arena ignore the fact that there are situations of extreme necessity in both domestic and international law where obeying the strict letter of the law may allow a greater harm to occur.

When legality and legitimacy part company, as they have done in Syria, those who say strict legality must prevail have an obligation to explain how this squares with morality, just as those say that morality should prevail need to explain why they are justified in breaking the law.

A veto at the Security Council against protecting civilians in Syria has moral consequences. Such vetoes enable a ruler to continue butchering his own people and driving millions into exile. If a veto has these ghastly consequences, who would call it legitimate? Who would dare believe that such a veto strengthens the rule of law?"

'The U.S.-Russian Deal on Syria: A Victory for Assad' (Shadi Hamid, The Atlantic)

"A deal with Russia on chemical weapons may be a 'win' for President Obama but only in the narrowest sense. He managed to avoid a war he desperately did not want. But with the near-obsessive focus on chemical-weapons use, the core issues have been pushed to the side. These were always more or less the same -- a regime bent on killing and terrorizing its own people and a brutal civil war spilling over into the rest of the region, fanning sectarian strife and destabilizing Syria's neighbors.

For his part, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is effectively being rewarded for the use of chemical weapons, rather than 'punished' as originally planned. He has managed to remove the threat of U.S. military action while giving very little up in return. Obscured in the debate of the past few weeks is that chemical weapons were never central to the Syrian regime's military strategy. It doesn't need to use chemical weapons. In other words, even if the regime does comply with inspections (which could drag on for months if not years), it will have little import for the broader civil war, which Assad remains intent on winning."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

LARRY DOWNING/AFP/Getty Images