Syria: Ceasefire Shot Down

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April 19, 2012: The government is playing the UN, using its Russian ally (which has veto power over UN efforts) to cripple UN attempts to halt the violence. The government is determined to use violence against its rebellious subjects. The majority of Syrians (mainly the Sunnis) want the Assad family dictatorship out. This anger and resentment goes back decades and is partly religious and ethnic. The Assads belong to a Shia minority and the Assads have long been backed by Iran, a non-Arab country with a Shia majority. So far 13 months of violence have left some 10,000 dead, many more wounded, and over a million forced from their homes by the fighting.

The Arab League has declared the UN ceasefire and observer program a failure, mainly because the Syrian government kept fighting. At the same time the Arab League is still calling Russia a "friend of the Arabs" and trying to wean the Russians away from the alliance with Iran. So far, the Russians are sticking with Iran. Actually, the Russians are backing the Syrian dictatorship more because of opposition to Western efforts to depose dictators. Russia (a very authoritarian and corrupt democracy) and especially China (which is still a communist police state) sees these Western efforts ultimately aimed at the rulers of Russia and China and their despot allies.

The Arab League isn't talking about sending arms to the Syrian rebels but that is what is happening, using middlemen and smugglers. The Turks and Arab League are still debating the wisdom of having the Turkish Army intervene. Such a move is dangerous because Arabs have historical memories of centuries of Turkish domination. The Israelis could also do it but, oops, that's not politically correct either. None of the neighboring armies is powerful enough to carry it out as quickly as the Turks or Israelis could. Some Arab states push for calling in NATO (which Turkey belongs to) for air support, as in Libya. NATO is not keen on that, for two reasons. First, the U.S. would have to do a lot of the specialized work (electronic warfare, suppression of air defenses, aerial refueling) and the Syrians have more formidable air defenses than Libya and that might result in NATO combat losses (there were none in Libya).

Sanctions are costing the Syrian government over half a billion dollars of income a month. A year ago foreign reserves were $17 billion, but this has since been halved. Oil production (because of sanctions and loss of customers) is down 30 percent, although Iran is believed to be helping Syria sell oil, at a discount, on the black market.  Iran continues to ship in cash to help the Assads keep their local allies happy. But those allies are increasingly looking to their personal exit strategies. Even among Assad followers the Assads are not seen as a good long-term bet.

April 18, 2012: In a suburb of the capital troops fired on anti-government demonstrators surrounding cars carrying UN observers. The demonstrators fled (at least eight were wounded) and the UN vehicles sped off.  The head of the UN is calling for 300 monitors, allowed to work anywhere in Syria for at least three months. Russia will not allow this resolution to pass until it is watered down to Syria's satisfaction.

April 17, 2012:  The UN mandated ceasefire is definitely over, with troops firing machine-guns and artillery at several cities and towns.

April 16, 2012: The first six UN observers arrived in Syria. At the same time cell phone pictures and videos were appearing showing Syrian troops recently firing on civilians.

In Turkey a meeting of representatives of Syrian Sunni tribes announced the creation of a tribal council and an agreement to join other groups to oppose the Syrian government and replace the Assad government. The tribal leaders claim to represent 40 percent of the Syrian population (some 75 percent of Syrians are Sunni Arabs). The opposition is still divided by tribe, ethnicity, religion, and politics. But those divisions are being negotiated away more and more, producing a united front against the Assads.

April 15, 2012: The government said it would respond with force to "terrorist violence." This, for all practical purposes, ends the UN ceasefire.

April 14, 2012: The UN Security Council voted to monitor the Syrian ceasefire. Only 30 monitors were authorized. But to get that passed, Russia and China demanded and got lots of restrictions on what the observers could do.

April 13, 2012:  The U.S. has authorized non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels. This includes communications equipment and medical supplies.

April 12, 2012: The government halted attacks on civilians momentarily in observance of the UN sponsored cease fire. Armored vehicles and troops pulled back from some urban areas where there had been a lot of violence. But people continued protesting their hated government and troops soon resumed shooting.

 

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