Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Screenshot from one of the online news sources I read daily…


http://english.aljazeera.net

“You shall hear of wars and rumors of wars… nations shall rise up against nations, and kingdom against kingdom… all these are the beginning of sorrows.” Matthew 24:6-8

Timely articles from the Voice of America online.

Clinton: US Increasing Help for Syrian Rebels
July 24, 2012

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton 24July2012Image: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton 24 July 2012.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States is increasing its efforts to help Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Clinton gave no details, but she said Tuesday that the U.S. is giving such non-lethal aid as medical and communications support. She said Washington is working outside of the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions that would have taken strong action against the Assad government.

The secretary said the Syrian opposition is seizing control of more and more territory, which she says will eventually become a safe haven and a base for more operations.

She said the opposition must be ready to start work on an interim government that protects the rights of all Syrians and safeguards the stockpile of chemical and biological weapons.

Opposition Demands Assad Step Down

The spokesman for the Syrian National Council says the main opposition grouping is still demanding President Bashar al-Assad leave power, denying that the coalition would consider having someone from the current government temporarily lead a political transition.

Syrian National Council spokesman George Sabra told VOA by phone from Paris Tuesday that he had been misquoted in an earlier news report in which he was reported to have said the SNC would agree to the departure of President Assad and the transfer of his powers to a regime figure, who would temporarily lead a transitional period.

“There is not any change with the position and opinion of SNC about the regime and the transition period,” he said. “The transition period should start after leaving Bashar al-Assad and his regime the power.

“And the principle of this transition period has been announced in a document issued by the most parties of the opposition in that meeting which has been held two weeks ago in Cairo,” Sabra said. “So nothing new about this thing.”

Opposition Squabbling

The opposition meeting earlier this month in Cairo was marked by squabbling among delegates. But ultimately a plan emerged for a framework for a post-Assad political transition period that includes an interim government and parliament. SNC spokesman Sabra indicated that talks continue within the opposition about the way forward if and when President Assad leaves power.

“We are discussing now between us in the council, and also with the Free Syrian Army, about the idea of the transition document,” he said.

Fierce Fighting

Meanwhile, Syrian jets flew overhead while helicopters fired missiles Tuesday in a new government push to put down the rebellion in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

The exact situation on the ground is not clear. But witnesses report heavy fighting in the streets. Opposition reports say thousands of Syrian troops are heading toward Aleppo from their positions near the Turkish border.

Aleppo was relatively calm until late last week when the rebels launched their operation to take the city.

The opposition-run Local Coordination Committees also reported Tuesday that government forces were shelling areas outside Damascus, as well as in Homs, and in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

Chemical Weapons

On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama joined other world figures in warning Syria against using chemical weapons.

Obama’s comments came after a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the government would never use chemical weapons against its own people, but would unleash them against what he called foreign invaders. He said the military is securely guarding the nation’s weapons stockpile.

Syrian activists say more than 19,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March of last year.

http://www.voanews.com/content/syrian-activists-report-continued-aleppo-clashes/1444072.html

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Top US Security Envoy Holds Talks in Beijing
July 24, 2012

Image: U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon (L) and China’s President Hu Jintao during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, July 24, 2012.

The U.S. National Security Advisor is in Beijing to meet with China’s top leaders and to discuss military and security issues as well as the China’s position on the Syrian conflict and Iran.

Thomas Donilon held talks on Tuesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao and State Councilor Dai Bingguo. Donilon told Hu that President Barack Obama is “fully committed to building a cooperative partnership with China” on issues in the region and the globe.

China’s Xinhua news agency quoted Dai Bingguo as saying that the U.S. envoy’s visit is “important considering the timing, the background and the mission.”

Jin Canrong, associate dean of the school of International Relations at Renmin University, says that although the U.S.-China relations are generally stable, the two countries have to work out conflicting opinions on a range of matters.

“The two sides do not trust each other. Donilon’s role as a national security advisor is important in defusing doubts between the two countries,” Jin said.

Syria, Iran diplomatic issues

Last week China again joined Russia in vetoing a U.N. resolution calling for sanctions on Syria. China perceives such a move as an interference in Syria’s internal affairs. Western countries, including the United States, strongly criticized China’s decision, calling the vote “deplorable”.

Jin Canrong says officials are likely to discuss Syria, but Chinese authorities are unlikely to be persuaded to adopt a more interventionist stance.

The two sides are also expected to discuss Iran, which is now subjected to tough economic sanctions that deter third countries’ imports of Iran’s crude oil. Last month, and in a surprising move, the Obama administration added China, Iran’s top customer of oil, to a list of exempted countries allowed to purchase oil from Iran for 180 days without incurring economic repercussions from the United States.

“But the exemption is of only 6 months, after that what will they do?” Jin said, suggesting that Donilon’s visit could help define what the two countries’ will do next.

On Tuesday, Chinese media widely reported on Japanese protests against a U.S. military aircraft, the Osprey V-22, that had just arrived in Japan where it will be deployed to the American military base of Okinawa. Japanese opposition came from local officials and citizens concerned about the plane’s safety record.

China did not release any official statement on the matter and Jin Canrong thinks that Donilon’s visit will not prompt China’s leaders to express their view on the subject. “It’s a tactics’ weapon that does not change the strategic balance,” he said adding that China still views it as a U.S-Japan issue.

North Korea, China Sea issues

Other areas of discussion might include North Korea and conflicts over disputed territory in the East and South China Sea.

Donilon is scheduled to meet other Chinese senior military and state officials on Wednesday, including Xu Caihou, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, foreign minister Yang Jiechi, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and Xi Jinping, the current vice president and Hu Jintao’s most likely successor after the next Party Congress scheduled for this fall.

After China, the U.S. envoy will fly to Japan to consult with senior Japanese officials on U.S.-Japan security cooperation and other bilateral issues.

http://www.voanews.com/content/top-us-security-envoy-holds-talks-in-beijing/1444109.html

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Fighting Rages in Syria, Turkey Closes Key Crossings
ONCUPINAR, Turkey, July 25, 2012

Image: A Syrian rebel takes position as a helicopter hovers over the northern city of Aleppo, July 23, 2012.

Fierce fighting continued in Syria on Wednesday. Rebels sent reinforcements to the battered historic city of Aleppo as government forces stepped up attacks with helicopters and machine guns.

Activists say rebels set fire to a police station near Aleppo. They also say clashes and heavy shelling have continued in regions including Homs, Hama, Deir el-Zour and the Damascus suburbs as President Bashar al-Assad tries to maintain his grip on power.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 40 people have been killed across Syria on Wednesday.

Turkey Closes Border

Neighboring Turkey has closed key border crossings to commercial traffic from Syria but says they remain open for refugees.

Ankara says it is taking the measure due to security concerns. Last week, Turkish drivers said their trucks were looted and burned as rebels captured the Syrian side of the Cilvegozu crossing from government forces. Analysts say the closures will affect Syria’s economy by hitting cross-border trade.

At the Kilis refugee camp near Oncupinar, Syrian refugee Abu Hasan expressed support for Turkey’s policy. “I think this is an appropriate decision,” he said. “Turkey is making the decision to protect its border as well as to protect us.” The Killis camp houses more than 11,000 Syrians.

Refugees Increasing

The number of refugees is increasing, with most using clandestine smuggling routes over the border. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay says more than 44,000 refugees are now sheltered in Turkey.

“There is an expectation that more people may come in,” he said. “Therefore, today we have decided to build new camps in several locations including Osmaniye, Kahramanmaras and Nizip.”

The Arab League has pledged $100 million to help the Syrian refugees. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal says Turkey welcomes donations of equipment, but does not need personnel.

“Some of this assistance has arrived, in the sense of material assistance, and we are ready to receive more of the selected items that we have announced,” he said. “And our open door policy will continue.”

Reducing the U.N. Mission

Meanwhile, U.N. observers in Syria say their mission is dwindling. Herve Ladsous, the head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, said the Syrian operation continues on a “reduced basis.” He told reporters in Damascus on Wednesday that the security situation in many parts of the country is “extremely delicate.”

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution renewing the observer mission for up to 30 days. The resolution allows for a pullout if the violence does not stop.

Earlier this week, the European Union decided to strengthen its arms embargo against the Syrian regime, blacklist nearly 30 government-associated people and companies, and ban the Syrian national airline from landing in EU countries.

On Wednesday, Russia’s foreign ministry expressed opposition to the EU sanctions, saying they could be seen as a “blockade” of the country.

http://www.voanews.com/content/syria-adds-troops-to-aleppo-fight/1444737.html

This intervention force is “…composed almost entirely of fighting men drawn from the ranks of al Qaeda and its extremist Islamist affiliates and allies… silently backed by the US and NATO members… the hard core is made up of Iraqi Islamists which carried out 15 coordinated bomb attacks in Baghdad last Thursday, killing 72 people and injuring 200″

Why would al Qaeda and other terrorists be better than Assad in running Syria?

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 27, 2011

Libyan ex-al Qaeda's Abdel Hakim BelhajThe Qatar oil emirate, encouraged by its successful participation in the campaign to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, has established a Sunni Arab intervention force to expedite the drive for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ouster, debkafile’s military sources report.

The new highly mobile force boosts the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army, whose numbers have jumped to 20,000 fighters, armed and funded by Qatar and now forming into military battalions and brigades at their bases in Turkey.

When they saw the Syrian massacre continuing unabated this month, the Qatari and Saudi rulers approved a crash program for the Qatari chief of staff Maj.-Gen Hamas Ali al-Attiya to weld this mobile intervention Sunni Muslim force out of al Qaeda linked-operatives for rapid deployment on the Turkish-Syrian border.

A force of 2,500 has been recruited up until now, our sources report. The hard core is made up of 1,000 members of the Islamic Fighting Group in Libya-IFGL, which fought Qaddafi, and 1,000 operatives of the Ansar al-Sunna, the Iraqi Islamists which carried out 15 coordinated bomb attacks in Baghdad last Thursday killing 72 people and injuring 200.

Qatar has just had them airlifted from Libya and Iraq to the southern Turkish town of Antakya (Antioch) in the border province of Hatay.

It is in this town of quarter-of-a- million inhabitants that the new Sunni force has located its command center and separate camps for the two main contingents to undergo intensive training for combat missions in the embattled Syrian towns and provinces of Idlib, Homs, Jabal al-Zawiya, scenes of the fiercest clashes between Syrian troops and rebels.

debkafile also reveals that the man appointed top commander of the Sunni intervention force headquartered in Antioch is none other than Abdel Hakim Belhaj, whose militia last August seized control of Tripoli after it was captured from Qaddafi by NATO and Qatari forces.

He has picked his deputies – Al-Mahdi Hatari, former head of the Tripoli Brigade and loyal crony Kikli Adem.
Qatari officers have set up communication links between the Libyan and Iraqi camps and since last week are coordinating their operations with the Free Syrian Army.

This flurry of military activity is taking place under the watchful gaze of the Turkish military and its intelligence services but they are not interfering.

debkafile’s military and counter-terror analysts stress that the rise of a new Qatari-led Sunni Muslim rapid intervention force breaks fresh strategic ground with ramifications for the United and Israel as well as for the Gulf Arab countries, Syria, Libya and Iraq.

1. A year has gone by since the Arab Revolt first broke out in December 2010. Yet this is the first time a Sunni Muslim power has established an intervention force – one moreover which is composed almost entirely of fighting men drawn from the ranks of al Qaeda and its extremist Islamist affiliates and allies.

2. The new Sunni force, funded by the Persian Gulf oil states, is silently backed by the US and NATO members, with Turkey in the forefront of this support group. This means that the Sunni-Shiite divide is spiraling into overt conflict with Western support afforded to one side.

3. Despite finding itself increasingly isolated by its Arab neighbors, Tehran has so far not intervened directly in conflicts in which it owns an interest – such as Gulf Cooperation Council-GCC intervention against a Shiite-led uprising in Bahrain, and now Sunni militias and terrorists enlisted to battle the Allawite regime of Iran’s closest ally, Bashar Assad in Damascus.

4. Iran’s Lebanese proxy. Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah, must also be feeling an uncomfortable draft coming from a Sunni fighting force near his strongholds and carrying out raids against his closest ally, Bashar Assad. He can’t ignore the possibility of that force conducting similar excursions against his own Shiite militia.

5. Israel too must find cause for concern in the rise of a Sunni military intervention force capable of moving at high speed from one arena to another and made up almost entirely of Islamist terrorists. At some time, Qatar might decide to move this force to the Gaza Strip to fight Israel.

http://www.debka.com/article/21602/

Several areas where Syria has been viciously cracking down on protestors have particular significance. Note these quotes from the previous article:

“The IAEA in 2011 assessed that Syria’s al Kibar facility in Deir al Zour, destroyed by an Israel air strike in 2007, was very likely a covert nuclear reactor built with North Korean assistance.”

“August 13, 2011: The Iranian regime agreed to provide $23 million to construct a military base in Latakia, Syria following a June 2011 meeting in Tehran between Syrian deputy vice president Muhammad Nasif Kheirbek and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force commander Qassem Suleimani.

The base, to be built by the end of 2012, will house IRGC officers who will coordinate weapons shipments from Iran to Syria. According to a Western security official, ‘The direct route is being set up to make it easier to pass advanced Iranian weapons and equipment to Syria.'”

Assad says he has now stopped his attacks on these areas, despite evidence to the contrary. See today’s article below.

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Assad says Syrian operations have stopped
Aljazeera online 18 Aug 2011

(However…) “Activists said that security forces were continuing their assaults on the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor and in areas of the coastal city of Latakia, despite state media reports of troop withdrawals. Those reports were also disputed by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, who said Syrian soldiers were still in Deir ez-Zor and other towns. Dozens of people are reported to have been killed in Deir ez-Zor and Latakia since the weekend.”

Military and police operations against protesters in Syria have stopped, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the world body said in a statement.

The announcement comes ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday at which the UN’s human rights chief, Navi Pillay, could call for Syria’s crackdown on protesters to be referred to the International Criminal Court, according to diplomats.

In a phone call with Assad on Wednesday, Ban “expressed alarm at the latest reports of continued widespread violations of human rights and excessive use of force by Syrian security forces against civilians across Syria, including in the Al Ramel district of Lattakia, home to several thousands of Palestinian refugees,” the United Nations said in a statement.

“The Secretary-General emphasised that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately. President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped,” the statement added.

The government’s crackdown in Syria is estimated to have killed at least 2,000 civilians since the protests began in March. According to activists, Assad has unleashed tanks, ground troops, snipers and warships in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas.

Activists said that security forces were continuing their assaults on the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor and in areas of the coastal city of Latakia, despite state media reports of troop withdrawals. Those reports were also disputed by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, who said Syrian soldiers were still in Deir ez-Zor and other towns.

Dozens of people are reported to have been killed in Deir ez-Zor and Latakia since the weekend.

http://english.aljazeera.net//news/middleeast/2011/08/201181834547755984.html

Why should the current turmoil in Syria matter to U.S. interests? (Other than strictly moral issues.) Lots of oil and natural gas sources? Not much there. Those would help explain American business and political interests in many Middle East conflicts, but Syria hardly produces enough for its own use.

So why then, should we care if the Syrian government is violently cracking down with mass murderous attacks on its own citizens?

The answer in one word: Iran. This recent article helps us understand that Syria Matters

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Syria-Iran Foreign Relations
By Will Fulton, Robert Frasco, Ariel Farrar-Wellman
IranTracker.org online
August 15, 2011

[Further analysis on Iran-Syria relations: Iranian support for Syrian repression during the Arab Spring]

Iran and Syria have maintained close ties since the early years of the Islamic Republic and Syria now serves as Iran’s key Arab ally and partner in the region. The advent of the Iran-Iraq War provided Syria with an opportunity to gain another regional ally against Saddam Hussein. In contrast with nearly all other Arab countries, Syria supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq War.

In 1982 the two states brokered a deal allowing Syria to receive shipments of subsidized Iranian oil, and in return, Syria shut down Iraq’s oil pipeline through its territory.

Syrian support for Iran wavered in 1986 when President Hafez Assad suggested that Syria would not accept Iran as an occupying force in Iraq. Soon after, Minister of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Mohsen Rafiq-Dust and President Assad met in Damascus to restore relations. Syrian officials, however, would not affirm Iran’s goal of “liberation of Iraq.”

With the absence of an Iraqi threat since 2003, relations between Syria and Iran have deepened, sustained by their shared support of terrorist organizations Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas, and their enmity toward Israel. Both Tehran and Damascus have continuously provided Hezbollah with funding, training, materiel, and political support since its creation in the 1980s.

According to a 2008 Congressional Research Service report, “Syria is an important interlocutor between Iran and its Hezbollah protégés; Iranian weapons transit through Syria on their way to Hezbollah caches in Lebanon.” Joint assistance for and advocacy on the behalf of Palestinians in the region is also an integral component of bilateral relations between Iran and Syria, with officials from both countries often stridently criticizing Israel on a host of Palestinian issues.

The two states also cooperate militarily beyond their support for proxy militias, with the Islamic Republic supplying arms, ammunition and military technology to Syrian security services.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, which has led to widespread unrest in Syria and posed a formidable challenge to Assad’s regime, Iranian officials have dispatched IRGC Qods Force advisors, training personnel, and other resources to reinforce Assad’s assault on anti-regime protesters.

After a June 2011 meeting between Qods Force Commander Qassem Suleimani and Syria’s Deputy Vice President for Security Affairs Muhammad Nasif Kheirbek, Iran agreed to provide $23 million to Syria for the construction of a military base in Latakia, in order to facilitate direct arms shipments from the Islamic Republic to Syria.

Syrian officials have consistently expressed their support for Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program and emphasized the need for a diplomatic solution to the dispute. Nuclear cooperation between the two allies, however, has extended beyond rhetoric.

In 2011, the UN Security Council Panel of Experts tasked with monitoring sanctions on Iran accused Syria of refusing to cooperate with its efforts. The two cooperated in 2008 in an unsuccessful effort to gain Syria a seat on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors.

That same year, an Israeli official accused Iran of helping Syria build its own covert nuclear program. The IAEA in 2011 assessed that Syria’s al Kibar facility in Deir al Zour, destroyed by an Israel air strike in 2007, was very likely a covert nuclear reactor built with North Korean assistance.

Economic relations between Iran and Syria have remained strong, though neither state contributes significantly to the other’s economy. According to 2008 data, Iran is not among the top thirty recipients of Syrian goods nor is it among the top thirty importers of goods to Syria.

An increase in economic cooperation may occur, however, as Syria and Iran are increasingly isolated by the international community. In July 2011 Iran, Syria, and Iraq signed a $10 billion natural gas deal amidst growing unrest within Syria.

Nuclear:

June 23, 2011: The UN Security Council issued a report in which it accused Syria of refusing to cooperate with its Panel of Experts established in June 2011 to monitor sanctions on Iran. According to the report, Syria’s refusal to cooperate was in “serious violation of its obligations under relevant Council resolutions.”

February 20, 2010: According to Iran’s Press TV, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem expressed support for a “constructive dialogue between the two parties [Iran and the West] in order to reach a peaceful solution” to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program.

December 3, 2009: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Damascus. Following the meeting, Assad affirmed “the right of Iran and other countries that are signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.” Jalili also held a joint press conference with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, in which Muallem expressed Syria’s desire for a “political solution” to the conflict between the West and Iran over its nuclear program.

October 1, 2008: Iran abandoned attempts to gain a seat on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board in order to support Syria’s bid for a seat. Iranian envoy to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh made the announcement.

June 25, 2008: An adviser to Israel’s national security council accused Iran of helping Syria develop its covert nuclear program. According to the adviser, “The Iranians were involved in the Syrian program. The idea was that the Syrians produce plutonium and the Iranians get their share. Syria had no reprocessing facility for the spent fuel. It’s not deduction alone that brings almost everyone to think that the link exists.”

Economic:

July 25, 2011: Iran, Iraq and Syria signed a $10 billion natural gas agreement. According to the agreement, the three countries will construct a pipeline running from Iran’s natural gas fields to Syria, and eventually to the Mediterranean, via Lebanon. Iraq would initially receive 20 million cubic meters per day, and Syria 20 to 25 million cubic meters per day.

July 15, 2011: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei expressed support for a proposal by Iran’s Center for Strategic Research (CSR) to provide Syria with $5.8 billion in aid.

May 25, 2010: Iran and Syria agreed to set up a joint bank in Damascus. The initial capitalization of the bank was said to total $30 million, with Iran owning 60 percent of the bank.

April 30, 2010: Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and Syrian President Bashar al Assad met in Damascus to discuss establishing a regional economic bloc. Rahimi was in Syria to attend the Iran-Syria 12th Joint High Commission meeting.

The meeting concluded with the signing of a 17-article agreement containing measures for furthering cooperation in “trade, investment, planning and statistics, industries, air, naval and rail transportation, communication and information technology, health, agriculture, [and] tourism.”

September 22, 2009: The joint Iran-Venezuela oil company VENIROGC announced plans to build an oil refinery in Syria capable of producing 140,000 barrels per day.

August 19, 2008: Iranian Minister of Industries and Mines Ali Akbar Mehrabian claimed that the Islamic Republic has “$1.3 billion worth of various projects” underway in Syria.

Diplomatic:

August 2, 2011: Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned Western countries to refrain from interfering in Syrian domestic affairs. Mehmanparast advised “the West to learn [its] lesson from its previous mistakes and interference in different countries and not to enter new issues to complicate the problems in the region.”

May 27, 2011: Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi held consecutive meetings with his Syrian and North Korean counterparts, Walid Muallem and Pak Ui-chun, in Bali. All parties refused to discuss the contents of the meetings with the press.

July 15, 2010: Former IRGC commander and current military advisor to Ali Khamenei, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, said “Iran has no strategic allies in the region save for Syria and Turkey which are to some extent close to us but they are not considered as Iran’s allies in real terms.”

July 2, 2010: Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa and Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani met in Damascus to discuss events in Iraq and the Gaza Strip.

June 23, 2010: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Syrian First Vice President Farouq al Sharaa in Tehran. During the meeting Ahmadinejad stated, “Today the affinity, companionship and unity between Tehran and Damascus have deterred all the plots of the arrogant powers.”

Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi also met with al-Sharaa and asserted, “Iran and Syria share common positions on the Palestinian issue and they should expand their relations and cooperation with other countries, like Turkey and Iraq to foil the ominous plots of the Zionists.”

April 18, 2010: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem met with Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili to discuss regional cooperation.

February 26, 2010: Secretary General of Lebanese Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

February 26, 2010: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad held a joint press conference in Damascus. During the conference Ahmadinejad asserted that the U.S. desires “to dominate the region, but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that…. We tell them that instead of interfering in the region’s affairs, to pack their things and leave.” Assad similarly attacked what he termed as the “new situation of colonialism” in the Middle East.

February 25, 2010: Iranian President Ahmadinejad and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al Assad met in Damascus to discuss “international and regional issues.”

January 7, 2010: Syrian Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Abrash met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran to discuss relations between the two states.

May 5, 2009: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al Assad expressed their mutual support for “Palestinian resistance” during a meeting in Damascus. Ahmadinejad added that “Syria and Iran have been from the very beginning united and in agreement to stand on the side of the Palestinian resistance…. They will continue to do so. We see that the resistance will continue until all occupied territories are liberated.”

Military:

August 13, 2011: The Iranian regime agreed to provide $23 million to construct a military base in Latakia, Syria following a June 2011 meeting in Tehran between Syrian deputy vice president Muhammad Nasif Kheirbek and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force commander Qassem Suleimani.

The base, to be built by the end of 2012, will house IRGC officers who will coordinate weapons shipments from Iran to Syria. According to a Western security official, “The direct route is being set up to make it easier to pass advanced Iranian weapons and equipment to Syria.”

June 23, 2011: Martin Briens , the French representative from the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts to monitor UN sanctions on Iran, expressed concern over the reported “violations of the arms embargo [on Iran], including three new examples of illegal arms transfers which, shockingly, revealed Syria’s participation.”

March 23, 2011: Turkey’s government seized Iranian cargo bound for Syria. The shipment, which included light weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket launchers and mortars, violated U.N. sanctions that ban the export of arms from Iran.

March 15, 2011: Israel’s navy seized a weapons shipment from Syria in the Mediterranean Sea. The contents of the shipment included strategic shore-to-sea Chinese-made C-704 missiles likely destined for Palestinians militants in the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the weapons came from Iran: “The only certain thing is the source of the weaponry was Iran, and there was a Syrian relay station as well.”

December 10, 2010: A UN Security Council sanctions committee report cited Iran for two separate violations of UNSCR 1747, including one that involved a container of T4 explosives originating from Iran and destined for Syria. Italian customs authorities seized the container.

June 30, 2010: Israeli and U.S. officials reported that Iran had provided Syria with a “sophisticated radar system” capable of detecting a preemptive strike launched from Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

An Israeli military official elaborated, “Iran is engaged in developing Syrian intelligence and aerial detection capabilities, and Iranian representatives are present in Syria for that express purpose…. Radar assistance is only one expression of that cooperation.”

October 13, 2009: U.S. soldiers discovered containers of 7.62mm rounds aboard a German cargo ship traveling from Iran to Syria. The shipment was rerouted to Malta under U.S. direction.

January, 2008: Cypriot authorities intercepted an Iranian vessel carrying arms bound for Syria.[44] Monchegorsk, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL)-chartered vessel flying under a Cypriot flag, originated in Bandar Abbas and was reportedly transporting bullet shells, high-explosive gun charges, and other weapons supplies.

July 22, 2007: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered to provide $1 billion in military aid to Syria.

June 16, 2006: Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar and his Syrian counterpart Hassan Turkamni signed a defense agreement designed to increase military cooperation. Without giving specifics on the agreement, Najjar stated that Iran “considers Syria’s security its own security, and we consider our defense capabilities to be those of Syria.”

http://www.irantracker.org/foreign-relations/syria-iran-foreign-relations

The Christian Science Monitor
20 March 2011

Syria protests continued for a third day in Deraa with security forces reportedly using tear gas and firing live ammunition to disperse demonstrators. Eyes are now turning to the restive Kurdish population.

Of all the Arab states, Syria was considered one of the least likely to experience the convulsions that have roiled the Arab world in the past two months. But a series of escalating demonstrations, unprecedented in scale in recent years, have left many wondering whether Syria will be next.

http://bit.ly/eliJkl

As I read internet news today, I have to wonder about the spreading protests in the Arab world. Muslim against Muslim, it seems… the people against their governments in country after country. The headlines and the shouted messages seem to say, the people want freedom. Freedom from corrupt governments, freedom from economic woes, freedom from oppressive rules and regulations.

So far we’ve heard about Algeria. Tunisia. Egypt. Jordan. Lebanon. Yemen. Djibouti – yes, that tiny little country too. Worries from Saudi Arabia and Syria. Maybe Kuwait.

I did a bit of research into the differences between two major Muslim groups today. Here’s an abbreviated synopsis.

“Sunnis elect, Shias appoint”

Sunni Muslims make up the majority (85%) of Muslims all over the world. They elect their leaders.

Sunni = “one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.” Sunni Muslims agree with the position taken by many of the Prophet’s companions, that the new leader should be elected from among those capable of the job. They believe leadership is not a birthright, but a trust that is earned and which may be given or taken away by the people themselves. No basis for veneration of leaders.

Shias (or Shi’ites) constitute only 10-15% of overall Muslim population worldwide. Their leaders are appointed by Allah or his representatives.

Shia = “a group or supportive party of people.” The commonly-known term is shortened from the historical “Shia-t-Ali,” or “the Party of Ali.” They are also known as followers of “Ahl-al-Bayt” or “People of the Household” (of the Prophet). They believe that following the Prophet Muhammad’s death, leadership should have passed directly to his cousin/son-in-law, Ali. They do not recognize authority of elected Muslim leaders, believe leadership should have stayed within the Prophet’s own family, among those specifically appointed by him, or among Imams appointed by God Himself.

Shias follow a line of Imams which they believe have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God (Allah) Himself. Shias believe the Imam – such as Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran – is sinless by nature, and that his authority is infallible as it comes directly from God. They do venerate their leaders.

So, with the above in mind, let’s look at the Arab world and those countries which are in turmoil right now. (Percentages obtained from Wikipedia, may not be totally accurate.)

Although Sunni Muslims constitute 85% of all Muslims, Shias form a majority of the population in Iran, Yemen (? – see * below) and Azerbaijan, Bahrain and 60% of the population of Iraq. There are also sizable Shia communities along the east coast of Saudi Arabia and in Lebanon.

Iran – majority (89%) Shia. Ayatollah Khamenei (Iranian Supreme Leader) is a fundamentalist Shia. He supports the policies of Iran’s President Ahmadinajab, who says that the “12th Imam” is causing all the uprisings in the Arab world now so that Islam can take over the world. See Joel Rosenberg’s blog 18 Feb 2011: Ahmadinejad claims 12th Imam behind current events. http://flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com/

Note that Hezbollah is a Shi’ite terrorist group funded and supported by Iran and Syria. This well-known guerilla organization forced the Israelis out of southern Lebanon in 2000 and is still causing problems for Israel. Hezbollah recently caused the government of Lebanon to fall. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hezbollah

Does Iran have a hand in instigating the various Arab world riots, working behind the scenes and perhaps using Hezbollah to do it?

Bahrain – majority of the population is Shia but the King is Sunni. Extreme violence today as police opened fire on protesters, then blocked ambulances from reaching wounded.

Libya – majority Sunni but in 2007 Gaddafi said he wants all of N. Africa to be Shi’ite (in an overture to Iran) – a statement that was considered idiotic by many people in his own country. http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/2137.htm Protests in Libya turned violent today with a number of people killed and many wounded as the government cracks down on protesters.

* Yemen – 52% Sunni, 46% Shia. President is Shia. Prime Minister (appointed by President) is Sunni. Both are men of very bad reputation, associated with Saddam Hussein, terrorists.

Dijbouti – 90% of population Muslim, nearly all Sunni. President is Sunni. Has just started having protests in the streets today.

All of these protests are for better economic conditions, with food and fuel prices high and unemployment also high. Large populations of young people cannot find work after finishing their education. It doesn’t appear to matter whether the government is by a dictator, elected President, military generals or a monarch, they want the government pulled down. To be replaced by who? How, and how soon?

It looks to me like a set-up for a charismatic leader to emerge. It’s going to be an interesting year.

To follow events in these and other middle eastern countries, read “Arab Awakening” in The Star online.
http://www.thestar.com/topic/arabawakening