Syria: The Messy and Improbable Yet Realistic Peace Proposal

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October 4, 2013: Russia, capitalizing on its chemical weapons deal for Syria (which should take a lot of pressure off the Assad government), is urging Basher Assad to make peace with some of the rebels. Assad is not enthusiastic about this because the Russians are comfortable with the Assads losing power and the Assads are not. The Russian proposal involves offering the moderate (non-Islamic radical) rebels a deal that introduces fair elections and the suppression of Islamic terrorist groups. About the only thing the Assads and most of the rebels can agree on is that the Islamic radical rebels are a threat to everyone.

Such an arrangement would leave intact the powerful commercial family organizations that the Assads long favored and which control much of the economy. It also assures the continued existence of minority (Christian, Alawite, Druze) communities in Syria and makes it easier to revive the economy. While the Assad family would probably lose in elections, and have to surrender many of the assets the clan acquired via corruption over the decades, they would be free from war crimes prosecution and still have a lot of their wealth. They would be able to find comfortable exile (many Syrians would still want them dead) because of the immunity any such deal would probably have to include. The post-Assad Syria would still be anti-Israel but would be without chemical weapons and thus less of a threat to Israel. The vast quantities of Syrian military equipment destroyed in the fighting would not be replaced because of the need for reconstruction. There might even be a peace deal with Israel eventually.

The Russian version of a future Syria does not appeal to Iran because letting the Sunni majority vote in fair (or reasonably so) elections would mean an end to the Syrian alliance with Iran and the Iranian base for supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon. This would please all of Syria’s neighbors as well as the West. It would be a hard sell because most Syrians don’t trust the Assads or the Islamic terrorist rebels. The civil war has destroyed the artificial unity Syria had for the last half century, and putting most of the pieces back together again will be messy no matter how it’s done.

Russia, like most non-Moslem nations, fears that Syria could become another Islamic terrorist haven. The Islamic terrorist rebel groups are the most effective and their numbers are growing. These groups are not waiting for Assad to be defeated before talking on the non-radical rebel groups but are beginning to attack some of these moderates now. Since the Islamic terrorist groups believe they are on a Mission From God, the logic of this strategy does not inform them that making the rebels weaker could result in the Assads winning. The moderate rebels believe they can make peace with the Syrian members of Islamic terrorist groups, but not the foreigners, especially the Iraqis. The Iraqi Islamic terrorists are the major problem, as they see themselves as the senior group (having been at it since Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003), the most experienced, and the ones that should be in charge. This is part of an older (a thousand years older) dispute, over claims by Arabs based in Baghdad over Syria (and much of the rest of Arabia as well). This was the cause of tension between Syria and Iraq even when Saddam was in power. All Syrians are hostile to these Iraqi attitudes.

Despite the high desertion rate in the Syrian military, the government has replaced these losses with militias formed from their core supporters (Alawites and other religious minorities like Christians and Druze). Iran is key in making this happen, as they have trainers (from the Quds Force) with experience in organizing these types of militias (especially in Iraq). Iran also provides cash to pay many of the militiamen. It’s only a part-time job (guarding their neighborhoods as well as checkpoints and military bases in the area) but the economy is a mess and a little cash means a lot. The rebels have gotten some similar aid from foreign allies (mainly Arab oil states) and the West but not to the extent that Russia and Iran have.

The Syrian military has suffered heavy equipment losses. Some 2,000 armored vehicles have been destroyed, abandoned, or captured. Same with over 200 aircraft and helicopters. Huge quantities of ammo and small arms have gone the same way. Some rebels have grabbed so many armored vehicles (as well as ammo for their weapons and maintenance facilities and gear) that they are asking the countries that support them for more training on how to use these tanks, self-propelled artillery, and armored personnel vehicles.

The losses have made new supplies of weapons and ammo from Russia and Iran essential. This aid is keeping the Syrian Air Force operational, although most of the bombing attacks are purely terror, with aircraft dropping bombs in towns and neighborhoods known to be pro-rebel.

The Islamic radical groups are becoming more aggressive against the moderate rebels because most of the new weapons (most provided by Arab oil states) are deliberately being kept from the Islamic radical groups. In response, the Islamic radical rebels are increasingly taking “their share” of these weapons and supplies by force.

Hezbollah has come under growing criticism back home in Lebanon for sending thousands of fighters into Syria. As a result of that, 1,200 Hezbollah fighters very openly withdrew back into Lebanon.

Despite the Hezbollah withdrawal and heavy losses the Syrian army has been able to restore some supply lines to its forces in and around Aleppo. Part of the army success has been because moderate and Islamic radical rebel groups have been fighting each other or refusing to coordinate operations in the north. The Islamic radical groups tend to win skirmishes with the moderate rebels.

In the northeast, along the Turkish border, Islamic terrorist rebels continue to fight Kurdish rebels. Pro-rebel civilians are increasingly vocal in opposing Islamic radical rebel efforts to impose strict lifestyle rules on civilians.

The fighting is chaotic, with both rebels and government forces ranging over large areas and attacking without warning. Military bases, pro-rebel populations, and key roads tend to attract the most attacks.

Total losses are approaching 120,000, and refugees continue to flee the country. There are close to three million Syrians living outside the country now. There are so many in Lebanon (about 800,000) that they comprise 25 percent of the population.

Israel is concerned about the growing number of young (mainly in their 20s) Israeli Arab men going to Syria to fight with the rebels. It is feared that many will fall in with Islamic terrorist groups that will provide terrorist training and contacts that could make those who return a serious terrorist threat. So Israel is apparently monitoring the overseas travels of young Arab Israelis and keeping an eye on those that return.

October 1, 2013: Israeli workers doing maintenance on the border fence came under fire from the Syrian side. There were no casualties.

September 27, 2013: The UN approved an international effort to go in and destroy Syrian chemical weapons stocks. Syria has admitted owning about a thousand tons of chemical weapons, and the UN believes it will take about a year to get all of these under control and get the destruction process going.

A car bomb went off in a pro-rebel town north of Damascus, killing 30 people. The bomb was used by one rebel faction against another because of a dispute over supplies. 

 

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