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Commentary: Is Syria 2011 Spain 1936?
by Arnaud De Borchgrave
Washington (UPI) Mar 7, 2012

Arming Syrian rebels will lead to civil war: Egypt
Cairo (AFP) March 7, 2012 - Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr has warned that arming rebel fighters in Syria would lead to a civil war, his ministry said on Wednesday.

Arming the ill-equipped rebels, mainly Syrian army defectors, would "lead to an escalation in the military conflict and spark a civil war in Syria", Amr said, according to a statement issued by his ministry.

Some Arab countries, such as Qatar and regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, have spoken in favour of arming the rebels.

The opposition Syrian National Council has said it wants to organise arms deliveries to the rebels and announced a "military bureau" to coordinate and serve as a conduit for weapons from abroad.

But the United States last month warned that Sunni militant group Al-Qaeda was seeking to gain advantage of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, who hails from Syria's minority Alawite community, a branch of Shiite Islam.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that applying political pressure to Assad to leave office and to cease the military crackdown on dissent was a better option than sending in weapons.

"Now is not the time to further militarise the situation in Syria," he said.

Similar concerns were raised initially in the West when the Libyan conflict against Moamer Kadhafi erupted last year, but several countries, including Arab nations, later supplied arms to the rebels there backed by air support from NATO.

But US President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that the situation in Syria is far more complex than it was in Libya.

In Libya, the United States "had the full cooperation of the region, Arab states, and we knew that we could execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time. This is a much more complicated situation," Obama said.

The United Nations says more than 7,500 people have been killed since anti-regime protests which gave way to an armed revolt erupted in Syria in mid-March 2011.

China envoy takes six-point peace plan to Syria
Damascus (AFP) March 7, 2012 - A Chinese envoy sent to discuss ways to end the crisis gripping Syria was to discuss a six-point peace plan with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and opposition figures on Wednesday, a newspaper reported.

Li Huaxin, quoted in Al-Watan daily, said he already met on Tuesday with Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnus to discuss "the six-point vision of China" on the year-old bloodshed in Syria.

On Sunday, China's foreign ministry unveiled a six-point initiative which calls for an immediate end to the violence and for dialogue between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the opposition.

Beijing's proposal rejects foreign interference or "external action for regime change" in Syria but supports the role of the UN Security Council "in strict accordance with the purposes and principles of the UN charter."

Both China and Russia have been widely criticised for vetoing two UN Security Council resolutions condemning Syria's bloody crackdown on anti-regime protests that the United Nations says has cost more than 7,500 lives.

Li was also expected to meet representatives of opposition groups headed by Hassan Abdel Azim of the National Committee for Democratic Change, Luay Hussein and Kadri Jamil, according to Al-Watan.

Is Syria's civil war a prelude to a larger Mideast conflict that would involve Israel, Iran, the Arab Gulf countries minus Oman (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain) and Israel?

Some knowledgeable military observers who have served or are serving in the Middle East say that the Arab Spring, which translated into chaos and intertribal warfare from Yemen to Libya to Syria, is a prelude to a much wider conflict involving Israel and Iran.

Saudi Arabia is assisting the Syrian rebels who now call themselves revolutionaries. Some "Gulfies," the colloquial label for Arab oil states in the Persian Gulf, assisted the anti-Gadhafi NATO forces in Libya last year, and Libya today is the chaotic domain of dozens of rival tribes once suppressed by the late eccentric and bloody dictator.

In Tripoli, the Libyan capital, Aldelkadir Elhaj, a former al-Qaida chief, once tortured by the Thais under the U.S. rendition program, holds sway with a big stick.

Privately, Persian Gulf leaders say Iran has concluded the United States' days as a superpower are numbered. Iran's aging theocrats tell their visiting gulf interlocutors that America has lost two wars in 10 years -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- and is pulling out of Europe and "pivoting" to Asia where China is already dominant.

Also on a wider front, Islamist fundamentalists hijacked the Arab Revolution in Egypt and would like to loosen the constraints imposed by the Camp David accords and the peace treaty with Israel.

The fundamentalist drama is still being played out in Egypt, Syria and Libya.

Denials notwithstanding, Persian Gulf rulers are secretly rooting for Israel against Iran. Privately, some have told trusted foreign friends that if the United States and Israel cannot rein in Iran's Revolutionary Guards, they will have no alternative but to accommodate Tehran.

The Spanish civil war (1936-39) killed 500,000 as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union backed opposite sides -- and Franco's fascists emerged victorious and remained in power until 1975.

In the Middle East, Syria's civil war -- which some observers are calling Spain II, or a prelude to World War III -- has been under way since Feb. 17, 2011. Saudi Arabia is helping arm Syrian rebels who now call themselves revolutionaries. Russia and China are backing the Syrian dictatorship, which is allied with Iran.

Russia, China and Iran are on the side of Syria's "Alouite dictatorship" headed by Bashar Assad. He inherited the country's dictatorship from his father Hafez who died in 2000 after almost 30 years in power.

Last week, a hastily organized Syrian plebiscite for a new constitution theoretically dissolved one-party rule but, also theoretically, gives Bashar Assad 18 more years in power for a total of 28, just one year shy of his father's record.

Between the end of the French mandate in 1945 and the military takeover of air force chief Gen. Hafez Assad in 1970, Syria experienced 21 coups. So no one is taking any bets on Assad's political longevity.

Unless Iran's current view of a rapidly declining U.S. superpower can be reversed, a number of Arab Gulf rulers will be tempted into longer lasting accommodation with Tehran.

Iran's revolutionary guards control the entire eastern side of the Persian Gulf from the Iraqi border to the Hormuz Strait, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. All the Arab gulf states and their oil installations are in the sights of Iran's missile sites.

Some Iran-watchers consider Tehran's current narrative highly dangerous. Iran's leaders see themselves as still standing and in fighting trim after all manner of Western sanctions. They have apparently concluded among themselves and tell their Arab visitors that after the United States exits the gulf, they will still be there, the major force to be reckoned with, astride one-fifth of the world's oil supplies.

Tehran's view of its all-dominant strategic posturing is reinforced by what it sees as two anti-American powers on its right flank -- Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was Pakistan's Dr. A.Q. Khan, the world's leading nuclear black marketer, who sold Iran the wherewithal to start its journey toward becoming a nuclear power.

Today, Pakistan, in a paroxysm of anti-Americanism, brought about by last November's accidental killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by a U.S. gunship over the Afghan border, have stalled thousands of supply trucks for NATO forces in Afghanistan. The successful SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden also rankled national sensitivities.

And Tehran's Revolutionary Guard generals also see Afghanistan moving away from its close alliance with the United States -- and vice versa. The idiotic mistake of U.S. personnel torching unwanted Korans was manna from heaven for Iran's mullahs.

In his meeting Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama, weighing the pros and cons of his chances for another four years in the White House, knows that major differences with the Jewish state on its existential crisis would probably cost him the election.

A congressional thunder clap from pro-Israel lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is the last thing Obama needs eight months before the election. Israel's prime minister reminded him that the plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Cafe Milano, Washington's celebrity-studded "in" restaurant, was the real thing, the FBI said.

On the other hand, the current correlation of forces in the Middle East doesn't favor the United States and its Western allies. The United States clearly has the assets -- bombers, drones, deep penetration ordnance and SEALs -- to deprive Iran of nuclear weapons for several years. But Iran also commands sufficient terrorist assets to unleash massive, asymmetrical retaliatory blows, including thousands of mines in the Strait of Hormuz -- i.e., 20 percent of the world's oil.

Oil at $300 or even $500 a barrel for a while? That's $12 or $20 a gallon at the pump.

Netanyahu says "None of us can afford to wait much longer" and "I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation." If diplomacy fails and Obama decides to keep the United States out of what would be its third armed conflict in 10 years, he could easily be toast in November. And if he goes in, the result may be much the same.

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Syria 'ready to cooperate' with Chinese initiative
Damascus (AFP) March 7, 2012 - Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallim said on Wednesday that Damascus was ready to cooperate with a Chinese initiative to end the bloodshed and begin dialogue between the regime and the opposition.

After meeting Chinese envoy Li Huaxin, Beijing's former ambassador to Damascus, Muallem said Syria welcomed a six-point peace plan and was "ready to cooperate" with the plan aimed at "halting the violence," the official SANA news agency reported.

Damascus was also ready to "cooperate with the envoy of the United Nations" and the Arab League, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who is due in Syria on Saturday, the minister added.

Li Huaxin, quoted earlier in Al-Watan newspaper, said he had already met Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnus to discuss China's "six-point vision" on the year-long crisis in Syria.

The Chinese initiative, unveiled by Beijing on Sunday, calls for an immediate end to the violence and for dialogue between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition.

Syria's main opposition alliance has previously ruled out dialogue while Assad remains in power.

Beijing's proposal rejects foreign interference or "external action for regime change" in Syria but supports the role of the UN Security Council "in strict accordance with the purposes and principles of the UN charter."

Li is expected to meet representatives of opposition groups headed by Hassan Abdel Azim of the National Committee for Democratic Change, Luay Hussein and Kadri Jamil, according to Al-Watan.

China and Russia have been widely criticised for vetoing two UN Security Council resolutions condemning Syria's bloody crackdown on 12 months of anti-regime protests.

A Britain-based monitoring group said on Wednesday that death toll since the protests erupted last March had topped 8,400.

UN expert sees China, Russia budging on Syria
Geneva (AFP) March 7, 2012 - The UN's anti-torture expert said Wednesday he believes China and Russia will budge on Syria even though they twice veteod a Security Council resolution condemning Damascus' repression of its people.

"I expect that as permanent members of the Security Council they will eventually live up to their responsibilities," said Juan Mendez, UN's special rapporteur on torture.

"In the past they have referred the cases of Libya and Sudan, either by abstaining or voting in favour, to the International Criminal Court," he told a press conference.

"The Syrian case is showing itself to be serious as Darfur and now more recently, Libya.

"I don't think it's out of the question that eventually the Security Council will act at least on that measure of referring the case to the ICC. I think it's a matter of continuing to insist on it and in the meanwhile hope that the situation will not deteriorate further than it already has."

The United Nations says the Syrian regime's crackdown on dissent has already cost more than 7,500 lives in the past year, and the five major UN powers discussed on Tuesday new efforts to press for a halt to the violence.

The United States is leading work on a text for the badly-divided UN Security Council, where Russia and China have twice used their powers as permanent members to veto Syria resolutions, to international consternation.

A new draft obtained by AFP on Tuesday calls on the Syrian government to immediately cease all violence, withdraw security forces from protest cities and release prisoners held over the protests.

But Russia, which says the opposition should be included in any criticism, had signalled that it considered the draft was still not balanced.


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UN sends aid chief to Syria as Obama rejects military force
Damascus (AFP) March 7, 2012
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos headed for Syria on Wednesday to urge the regime to allow aid into battered protest cities, as US President Barack Obama insisted military intervention would be a "mistake". A Chinese envoy sent to discuss ways to end the bloodshed in Syria, meanwhile, was to discuss a six-point peace plan with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and opposition figures, a newspa ... read more

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