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Dr Musa A Keilani: Power plays its own game
June 05, 2013
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Senior Israeli military officers say they are worried over what they see as the widening military intervention in the Syria civil war by Russia, Iran, Hizbollah and Iraq. They see Syria’s civil war as the platform for a Russian contest against the West and a forum for Iran and its proxy Hizbollah to become a major regional power in the Middle East.

Russia, Syria, Iran and Hizbollah are seen to be benefiting from the slow motion action by the US-led West and a hesitant Israel.

Israeli officials admit that their government and military leaders are at a complete loss on how to proceed. They have yet to recover from their former miscalculation by their intelligence sources that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s days were numbered.

Israeli reports say that “at a time that the US and Israel should be using their heaviest military guns to slow Iran’s race for a nuclear bomb, Tehran with Moscow’s backing has brought its military assets up close to Israel’s borders in Syria and Lebanon and openly threatens to use them.”

No one in the US administration of President Barack Obama, including its military and intelligence arms, favours military action in Syria.

And Washington is seen to be backing down from its warning against the use of chemicals in the Syrian conflict.

US Secretary of State John Kerry repeated last week that there was no “concrete evidence” of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, two of its reporters risked their lives by spending two months concealed in the Jobar district of Damascus. They discovered that Russia or Iran had developed a new chemical weapon that does not explode. The release of its poisonous gases sounds like popping the top off a can of soda and has “no odour, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas.”

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon has voiced his certainty that the Syrian regime would not use chemical weapons against Israel or treat Israelis the way he treats his own people. There is no indication that anyone in the region intends to challenge Israel any time soon with unconventional weapons, he said.

An Israeli officer has said: “A military and strategic catastrophe for the West and Israel is in full flight in Syria, and no one (in the US and Israel) is lifting a finger. Israel’s government and military heads never imagined that the Syrian war would take this turn and that long. But we had better wake up at this eleventh hour — before it is too late.”

This means that despite its awareness of the dangers involved, Israel could be prompted into taking unilateral action in Syria.

Well, that is the Israeli take on the conflict in Syria.

In the meantime, this month’s Geneva conference looks like it will have to do without the rebel Syrian National Coalition (SNC). After announcing the group would take part last Friday, then saying they had not decided later in the week, the SNC now says they won’t be there.

The latest statement came from SNC acting President George Sabra, who says that the group would not even consider taking part in the peace talks unless Hizbollah and assorted other pro-Assad militias unilaterally withdraw from Syria first.

“Syrians’ lives are more important than any political solution,” Sabra added, meaning it seems that the efforts to broker a solution to end the fighting is going to be taking place without any representation from any of the rebel factions in Syria.

The Syrian government has promised to participate, though it says that any transition deal would be predicated on a referendum supporting it. In the end, the Geneva conference is likely to produce a debate how to reach a US-Russian settlement to someone else’s war with no way of actually making the real desired deal happen.

What is the Arab take on Syria?

The US is doing little to help the Syrian rebels, Europe is not sending arms and the rebels’ Arab supporters have bowed to US pressure by reducing their supply of weapons to the rebel groups. And Israel remains the wild card.

The Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hizbollah alliance constitutes a major threat to Arab interests. Even if a negotiated peace agreement is reached in Syria, with the Assad regime remaining in place intact, the threat will not fade away. If anything it would only increase in intensity.

Russia is playing its own game in the region.

On Friday, it was reported that Russia may not deliver a hugely controversial consignment of S-300 air defence missile systems to the Syrian regime this year.

According to Russian newspapers, it was unclear if the weapons would be delivered to Syria this year while another said that delivery was only planned in the second quarter of 2014.

Assad appeared to imply in an interview with Al Manar television broadcast on Thursday that Russia had already delivered some of the promised ground-to-air S-300 missile systems.

The contract was agreed in 2010 and is said to be worth $1 billion.

In any event, after delivery in 2014, a minimum of another six months would be needed for the training of personnel and tests before the systems were fully operational.

The S-300 missile systems are seen by analysts as having huge military importance for the Syrian regime in the conflict against rebels as the weapons could be used to ward off Western or Israeli air strikes against regime targets.

On Friday, Russian arms manufacturer director Sergei Korotkov says the company is signing a contract to deliver at least 10 MiG fighter jets to Syria.

Sergei Korotkov, general director of the MiG company that makes the jets, told Russian news agencies that a Syrian delegation was in Moscow to discuss terms and deadlines of the contract to supply MiG-29 M/M2 fighters to Syria.

Clearly, Russia, which claims itself to be a source of stability for Syria, is not doing what is required to stabilise Syria. Moscow should be told in no uncertain terms by its Arab friends that it should end its political charade and  deceptive approach to the Syrian conflict.

While President Bashar Al Assad confirms that he had already received the S-300 anti aircraft missiles, Russian officials deny that and claim a period of six months is needed to deliver. Russian lies, Syrian fears and wars by proxy will make what was once a fertile crescent into what might become a fertile death quagmire.

The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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