“Iran, Russia and China are propping up Syria’s war-ravaged economy, with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime doing all its business in rials, roubles and renminbi as it seeks to beat western sanctions,” The Financial Times reports:
Syria’s three main allies are supporting international financial transactions, delivering $500m a month in oil and extending credit lines, Kadri Jamil, deputy prime minister for the economy, said in an interview with the Financial Times. He added that its allies would also soon help with a “counter-offensive” against what he called a foreign plot to sink the Syrian pound.
Mr Jamil’s combative remarks on the deepening economic crisis highlight a wider show of regime assurance, founded on recent military gains and a belief that its biggest international supporters remain solidly behind it.
“It’s not that bad to have behind you the Russians, the Chinese and Iranians,” Mr Jamil told the FT. “Those three countries are helping us politically, militarily – and also economically.”
Radical Islamists in Kuwait raised sufficient funds to arm 12,000 Syrian rebels this week, John Hudson reports in Foreign Policy’s The Cable. The news will alarm Western observers concerned that the emergence of well-funded Islamist forces has eclipsed moderate and secular factions of the opposition.
“A top Syrian rebel leader said his forces were counting on arms shipments from the U.S. to reverse momentum in the country’s civil war and draw new recruits away from extremist groups like Jabhat al Nusra, The Wall Street Journal’s Inti Landauro and Stacy Meichtry report:
Brig. Gen. Mithkal Albtaish—a leader of the Free Syrian Army, or FSA—said he has recently persuaded 60 fighters to shift allegiance from al Nusra (left), a radical Islamist group aligned with al Qaeda, to the forces under his command….Gen. Albtaish said the new recruits were being weaned off al Nusra’s anti-Western ideology, but he offered no specifics as to how that process was undertaken. “We retrain them to make sure they no longer support jihadist ideas,” said
Nusra’s links to al-Qaeda highlight its serious, long-term threat to Syrian and regional stability, according to a recent analysis from the London-based Quilliam Foundation, the anti-extremist think-tank.
The US recently switched its stance on aiding the opposition and agreed to provide lethal assistance.
But with the regime’s troops reportedly on the offensive and making gains, “changing the equation on the ground” requires further policy initiatives, analyst Hussein Ibish argues in The Daily Beast:
1) Identify and empower the most acceptable rebel forces
It is exceptionally unconvincing that this is impossible or perennially elusive. Clearly the Supreme Military Command of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), as led by General Salim Idriss, constitute precisely such plausible allies. The United States now faces two dangerous enemies in Syria: the regime and the Salafist-Jihadists led by Jabhat al-Nusra. This leaves the myriad collection of other Salafist groups operating under the general rubric of the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) as an important hinge or wedge between the FSA and al-Nusra. …..
But there is every reason to think that many of the groups in the SIF, and certainly many of the fighters that have gravitated to those groups, are winnable to the Syrian nationalistic cause. Pluralism runs deep in Syrian national culture. Traditions of tolerance are far more ingrained in that country than in much of the rest of the Arab world. The fact that so many rebels have drifted towards a Salafist line or grouping can be attributed to a number of factors, including foreign funding, the relative disorganization of the nationalistic military and political opposition, and the fact that “Islam” serves as a non-Ba’athist organizing principle. Many of these groups, and especially their fighters, do not have a clear ideology, in contrast to al-Nusra. ….
2) Assist acceptable rebels with both light and heavy arms
One of the most important battlefield advantages of the regime forces is the ability to use its heavy weaponry against lightly armed insurgents and, frequently, civilian targets. Changing the balance of power on the ground requires supplying rebels not only with light arms but with serious and effective anti-tank and anti-aircraft capabilities. …..It is strongly in the American interest that acceptable, vetted rebel forces have the ability to confront and neutralize the regime’s ample supplies of heavy weaponry.
3) Additional crucial assistance to rebel forces
Acceptable and vetted rebel groups also require significant support in terms of general funding, command and control capabilities, logistics, and intelligence. The project must be to turn Gen. Idriss and his colleagues into real battlefield and integrated military commanders rather than figureheads or political spokespeople for an umbrella of loosely-coordinated, disparate local armed entities. This will not only help turn the tide of the conflict away from the regime and its foreign supporters, it will be crucial in drawing SIF groups and/or fighters away from their current unacceptable and unworkable commitment to “an Islamic Syria under sharia law,” and towards a political position that is closer to that of the FSA, more workable, and more consistent with traditional Syrian culture and social structures.
4) Neutralize the Syrian Air Force, in whole or in part
As long as the regime retains significant and unchallenged airpower, it will be impossible for the rebels to secure a sustained victory not only throughout the country, but in any given area in which the regime decides to make a concerted push to crush opposition or at least render the entire area a demolished battleground.
5) Address the issue of chemical weapons
One of the most legitimate reasons for trepidation regarding a more robust engagement in the Syrian conflict is the possession by the regime of one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the Middle East………….
The US and its allies will need to demonstrate the same long-term commitment and resilience as the regime’s autocratic backers, argues Vance Serchuk, a Council on Foreign Relations-Hitachi international affairs fellow, based in Tokyo at the Canon Institute for Global Studies:
[T]he longer the fighting drags on, the more radicalized Syrian society becomes and the deeper the Iranians can entrench themselves. This suggests a final flaw in likening the U.S. experience in Iraq to Iran’s intervention in Syria. After turning the corner in Iraq, the United States under the Obama administration walked away. You can bet that in Syria, Iran’s leaders won’t make the same mistake. – he writes for the Washington Post.