June 14, 2013

Syria — a New Balance of Power

If we take as a starting point the 13th of June 2013, the previous 20 days were rich in events which clearly testify to some change in the situation, both, in the Syrian Arab Republic and around it. What had happened during those days?

On the 29th of May, in Tehran, was held an international conference "Friends of Syria"
On the 29th of May, in Tehran, was held an international conference "Friends of Syria"

Firstly, on the 29th of May in Tehran, under the motto "Political Settlement and Regional Security", was held an International Conference "Friends of Syria", convened at the initiative of Iran. Agree that the term "Friends of Syria" is perceived negatively by all those who disagree with the policy of the USA and its allies against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Let us remind you that international conferences of "Friends of Syria" had been organized in different countries of the world, the last time it was in Turkey, Syria’s neighbor. Gathered at these forums were representatives of not quite friendly to this Arab country, states. Those were they, the "Friends of Syria", who had been agreeing on joint actions of opposition with foreign mercenaries, coordinating plans for arms supplies and measures for their diplomatic cover.

On the 29th of May the Iranian side did manage to bring together representatives of 40 Arab, African and Latin American countries as well as Russia and China, who are supporters of the peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and a political solution to the conflict on its territory and are against an intervention into domestic affairs of Damascus. Just to be fair, it should be noted that this is the third meeting on Syria held in the Iranian capital.

IRI Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that the meeting was one of the important steps to resolve the crisis in Syria
IRI Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that the meeting was one of the important steps to resolve the crisis in Syria

IRI Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in his opening address to the Conference said that the meeting was one of the important steps to resolve the crisis in Syria. He also noted that earlier Iran’s initiatives on resolving the Syrian crisis could not be implemented due to interference from the outside.

According to the Iranian news agencies Fars News, IRNA, Mehr, the Iranian Foreign Minister proposed to establish a contact group which will get in touch with all the parties concerned with finding a political solution to the crisis. He confirmed the long-standing need to stop the flow of weapons to opposition forces in Syria, despite the USA’s intentions to continue arming them. The Head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry also said that those countries that do not get tired to say about their commitment to the values of democracy, should give a chance to the Syrian people to self-determine their own destiny.

At the Tehran meeting were read out messages of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Special Envoy on the Syrian issue, Lakhdar Brahimi, and the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

Tehran's position on the crisis in Syria is fundamental and unchanging. That is why Iran, insisting on resolving the crisis through negotiations between the warring parties of the conflict, proposed consisting of 6 steps plan for the settlement of the Syrian crisis. According to the plan, first of all, after the entry into force of the agreements on stopping fire, should be given up weapon supplies in order to set the stage for the start of national negotiations in Syria. Such negotiations should lead to a process of formation of a transitional government that will pave the way for free and general elections.

Once again, demonstrating a desire to put an end to the bloodshed in Syria and bring about a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis, Iran has opened two credit lines totaling 4 billion US dollars to finance imports of consumer goods and the acquisition of oil and oil products.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has also supported the plan for a Quadripartite Committee with the participation of Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, proposed by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Tehran took part in all meetings of the Committee both, at the expert-level and at the level of Foreign Ministers and Heads of states.

On the eve of the meeting in Tehran, on May 27, the European Union did not renew the arms embargo for the Syrian opposition, the effect of which expired on May 31. For the lifting of the embargo were the United Kingdom, France and Italy, while Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands were against it. Diplomatic sources became aware of the sharp argument at the meeting of the British Foreign Minister William Hague and Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger. Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs during a break in the Conference openly declared that Britain and France are destroying the basis for a possible compromise. The Austrian version of the proposed extension of the embargo on arms shipments to Syria for one year with the possibility of reviewing the decision in August 2013 when the agreement of all the EU Member-States is received, and if the situation in Syria has changed.

The emblem of the European External Action Service (EEAS)
The emblem of the European External Action Service (EEAS)

Opponents of lifting the embargo failed to achieve the transfer of the decision for August. Germany said its main objective at the Conference of Foreign Ministers the EU speaking as a sole front. But it was Germany’s evasive position that the decision on cancelling the embargo was taken. Apart from the German Minister, at the meeting a cautious position on the issue of lifting the embargo took the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Belgium and Denmark. A similar position was taken by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. In particular, she said: "There is a strong spirit in attempts to find a European solution... Each country is trying to find a better way to support the Syrian people." The European External Action Service (EEAS), just in case developed a document containing three possible variants of action of Europeans: cancelling the embargo, preserving the embargo and a compromise variant.

Thus, if in the camp of supporters of lifting the embargo are Britain, France and Italy — the key European participants of the military intervention in Libya, the backbone of the opponents of the embargo at the Conference were former European "neutrals" — Austria, Sweden and Finland. The position adopted by Austria, and due to a very specific motive — fear of jeopardizing the Austrian peacekeepers (377 military servicemen) of the UN mission deployed at the border between Israel and Syria. Austria does not want to participate directly in the Syrian conflict and decided to withdraw its contingent from the UN Forces.

The emblem of the Free Syrian Army
The emblem of the Free Syrian Army

Great Britain and France, apparently, cannot wait to return to their former mandated territories in the Middle East. British diplomats report that London is going to supply "moderate forces" with weapons, which would become a protection of the civilian population. France has already created a logistics and monitoring mechanisms for the supply of weapons to the Free Syrian Army. So far officially through it go only humanitarian aid and medical supplies.

The USA were supporting the abolition of the EU embargo on arms shipments within the framework of the collective efforts of the international community in order to demonstrate its full support to the Syrian opposition and to continue pressure on the regime in Damascus.

With modern weapons in their hands, the opposition will export jihad toLebanon and Jordan
With modern weapons in their hands, the opposition will export jihad to Lebanon and Jordan

For the abolition of the EU embargo, apart from the USA, was Turkey. If the “Geneva-2” fails, then the opposition, the Free Syrian Army will get everything they need, including modern weapons. However, Western experts have noted in the situation that has arisen a very much uncharacteristic of Israel divergence on the question of the European embargo with the United States. Israel is against giving new weapons to Syria, obviously fearing that in the future it will be directed against them. And not without good reason. Once the weapons have crossed the border, no one can control it. If the opposition wins in its Islamist form, having overthrown the regime of Bashar al-Assad, it will not be grateful to the West, as it has already happened more than once. With modern weapons in their hands, it will export the jihad to Lebanon and Jordan.

At the same time, has been extended for 12 months, all economic, trade and visa sanctions against the ruling Syrian regime. According to the statement of 2 June, EU High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy C. Ashton, "all member-states have agreed that they will not participate in any export at this stage, but, first of all, will estimate the course of the political process”.

It is planned that before the 1st of August, the EU will review the situation with the embargo in view of promoting "the US-Russian initiative to hold a peace conference." This means that this period of time can be used not only for its preparation and holding, but also for preparations for future arms supplies for Syrian opposition. Each member-state has to draw up its own rules of supply of weapons to Syria, because the participants could not agree on a common approach. For example, some EU countries, in particular Germany, have declared that they will not supply weapons to Syria, and Russia strongly condemned the decision of the EU, calling it illegitimate.

Thus, the EU has demonstrated stepping aside from its earlier declared policy of direct interference into the Syrian conflict. At the same time some European analysts have finally recognized that the regime in Damascus has more strength than it was previously thought to have, and B. Assad enjoys sufficient internal support among his people.

The emblem of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Force
The emblem of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Force

The following day, after the start of the Conference in Tehran on the 30th of May, in Istanbul completed its work the Conference of the National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (NCORF) of Syria. The conference has once again demonstrated, sometimes irreconcilable contradictions in the ranks of the Syrian opposition and the growing influence on the opposition on the part of their foreign sponsors, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar. As a result, the participants did not manage to elect a new leader of the NCORF — his election was postponed to June of this year.

A number of opposition groups fighting in Syria, accused NCORF of having been unable to become a "full-fledged representative of the Syrian people, standing up against the Assad regime."

As for the participation of the opposition in the Peace Conference "Geneva-2", in Istanbul it was stated that NCOFS would take part in it only on the condition of determining the time frames for the adoption of an international agreement that would lead to the resignation of Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, the coalition would not take part in the Conference, "while militants from Iran and "Hezbollah" continue their intervention in Syria." NCOFS also expressed concern that in the course of the Conference "Geneva-2" could be raised a condition of continuation of Bashar al-Assad staying in power till 2014. The Chief of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) General S. Idris also said that the opposition was not going to participate in the planned international Conference, until FSA is supplied with a new batch of weapons and ammunition.

However, the USA‘s Secretary of State J. Kerry expressed his confidence in the Syrian opposition’s participation in the Geneva meeting. At this, the United States continues to believe that Assad "has no future in Syria," and in Geneva they want to discuss "the full transfer of executive power" in Damascus, and ask Russia to help make sure that representatives of Syrian authorities have been authorized to discuss the matter.

Moscow believes that NCOFS is doing everything to prevent a political solution and to achieve military intervention. On the 1st of June, Russia blocked in the UN Security Council adoption of a statement condemning the actions of the government army in al-Quseir and participation of "Hezbollah" in the Syrian crisis.

Two most dangerous terrorist groups in the world, a Sunni Jabhat al-Nusra and Shiite Hezbollah, have entered into open war in Syria
Two most dangerous terrorist groups in the world, a Sunni Jabhat al-Nusra and Shiite Hezbollah, have entered into open war in Syria

A day later, on the 31st of May, the UN Security Council included the group "Jabhat al-Nusra" fighting in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, into the list of terrorist organizations because of its links with the international terrorist network "Al-Qaeda".

Over the past two weeks in different parts of Syria did not stop fighting between government forces and armed opposition groups. Last week, the most intense fighting took place in the central province of Homs, mainly in the town of al-Quseir, in the northern province of Aleppo and in the areas surrounding the city of Damascus. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of the government forces on the 5th of June, 2013 the town was cleared of opposition groups.

Province of Homs, El Quseir
Province of Homs, El Quseir

Located in the west of Syria al-Quseir, is of strategic importance, as its liberation has allowed the Syrian army to create a corridor and regain control over all communications between the central province of Homs and the coastal Alawite regions of Syria. During the battle of the city were killed a few hundreds of militants of “Jabhat al-Nusra”, a large number were captured prisoners, the remaining pockets of resistance in the city have been suppressed. Sappers are demining roads and houses in order to open the way for a return to al-Quseir of its peaceful residents.

After the liberation of al-Quseir, Syrian Army launched an offensive on the other major city, still in the hands of the opposition, the economic capital of Syria — Aleppo, reported on the 10th of June Press TV. The operation code-name is "Northern Storm".

Syrian army starts "North storm" to save Aleppo


Soldiers of the Free Syrian Army
Soldiers of the Free Syrian Army

Government forces have liberated territories in Haiyan, Anadan and Hareytan. In Aleppo, opposition forces have been driven out of the neighborhoods of Sheikh Masoud, Bustan al-Basha, Bustan al-Qasr and Amir. Pockets of resistance remain in Ataribe and Kfar Hamra, where fierce fighting continues.

And here it is appropriate to remember about some players — Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They invested heavily into the Syrian project, hiring and sending thousands of mercenaries to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Presumably, they are not going to give up the dividends. Therefore, any strengthening of Iran's positions in the international arena and, as a consequence, of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, is seen by these states as another blow to their self-esteem and ambitions. One can assume with great certainty that the monarchies of the Persian Gulf will continue to actively support the struggle of the opposition against the government of Bashar al-Assad.

The SAR’s President B. Assad believes that government troops have managed to reverse the situation in the country in their favor. But he believes it is premature to touch upon the question of his nomination for the Presidential elections of 2014 — "this issue is entirely related to the decision of the Syrian people." The President also said that the Syrian Foreign Minister will take part in the Conference "Geneva-2" on the Syrian settlement, but in Damascus they do not expect "important and crucial decisions" from it.

As reported by the Iranian news agency Fars News, Iran has also received so far an oral invitation to participate in the international conference on Syria. The idea of ​​an international conference on Syria, "Geneva-2» was expressed during the meeting in Moscow on May 7, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry. The idea was supported and on the 5th of June in Geneva, the joint Special Representative of the UN and the Arab League on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, after the tripartite meeting of representatives of Russia, the USA and the UN for the preparation of this conference, said that the conference could be held in July this year. Brahimi also said that he would lead the second preparatory meeting, scheduled for the 25th of June.

Thus, the active actions of the Syrian Army in the central and western provinces of the country have led to the opposition actually having lost control over those areas of the country and is being defeated in Aleppo.


Taking into consideration all the said above, the positions of Iran, Russia and the broad support of the peace process in Syria by the international community, it is hoped that results of the Geneva Conference-2 can seriously differ from the results of previous meetings.