Monday, February 13, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 2/13/2012: Russia Digs In -- In Syria

From DG:
1) Russia protects Syria 

The Washington Post reports Syria needs time for dialogue, Russia says
Speaking in Moscow a day after talks with Assad on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed the Syrian president’s willingness to engage in a national dialogue, even though an overwhelming majority of members of the opposition, both inside and outside the country, have said that dialogue is no longer an option.
Lavrov also said Wednesday that the abrupt departures from Syria in recent days of the U.S., French, British and Persian Gulf country ambassadors — some temporarily and others permanently — were irrational and did not “contribute to the implementation of the Arab League plan to resolve the crisis,” Syrian state media reported. 
The Optimistic Conservative, however, writes in Syria, Russia: It all looks different from out there:

According to Le Figaro on Tuesday, Russian military “advisors” are “omnipresent” in Syria. Besides reportedly sending S-300 anti-air missile systems to Damascus and agreeing to deliver a new batch of military aircraft, the Russians this week celebrated the reopening of a Cold War-era intelligence listening post on Mount Qassioun, the summit that dominates Damascus from the northwest. The Russians appear increasingly dug in. Russian advisors are also laboring to reorganize the Baath Party and arrange talks with members of the Syrian resistance.
They are making their own contacts with Arab and Islamic organizations, seeking to dilute the solidarity of the West with Arab leaders on the Syrian problem. In a phone discussion with Nicolas Sarkozy this week, Dmitry Medvedev warned France not to use a coalition of the willing to take unilateral action in Syria. France – not the United States – was the Perm-5 nation that inaugurated the “friends of the Syrian people” effort immediately after the Russian and Chinese vetoes in the UN on 4 February. (Tunisia has reportedly agreed to host the first gathering of this coalition.)
(Some details of the Le Figaro report seems to be confirmed by Dar Al Hayat. h/t Michael Young

The Optimistic Conservative looks at to what Russia's aims are:
It is not certain how these questions would be answered, and that’s where Russia’s dilemma lies. I do not by any means assess that Russia is ready to launch a campaign today. But I do assess that the West has not taken seriously Russia’s fundamental objection to seeing Syria regime-changed by an Arab coalition whose principal outside patron is not Russia. The problem for Russia is not so much that Assad has to be replaced as that the Western powers propose to do it in conjunction with the Arab League, an arrangement that diminishes Russia’s influence on the process while opening a door for state-Islamist radicals. If Syria is to be given a new regime through an Arab partnership, Russia wants to be in the lead. 
The strategic issue for Russia here is not merely the narrow concern about having a base in the Med. It is the approach, ever closer to Russia, of a Western-backed “tectonic shift” – Medvedev’s expression for the Arab Spring – that keeps opening political doors to the Muslim Brotherhood. If common cause is going to be made with the Muslim Brotherhood, Russia will do it, selectively, and for her own purposes. She will resist having Muslim Brotherhood-led or -influenced regimes inflicted on her near abroad by the West.
In the absence of a strong western response, we have seen Iran, Turkey and now Russia attempt to leverage the situation in Syria to their own advantage.

The Washington Post also reports Top general assassinated in Damascus:
According to the state news agency SANA, Brig. Gen. Issa al-Kholi was fatally shot by three gunmen waiting outside his home in the Rukn Eddin neighborhood, which had in the past been one of the few places in the capital to witness large-scale anti-government protests until they were suppressed there last fall.  
Kholi is not the first senior military official to be assassinated in recent months, as the protest movement has rapidly evolved in many parts of the country into an armed, if disorganized, insurgency. 
But the brazen attack in the center of the normally calm capital, coming a day after twin suicide bombings in the commercial center of Aleppo, heightened the building sense of vulnerability in the two major cities that have remained largely immune to the violence raging elsewhere. 
Michael Young suspects that the reports of Al Qaeda mentioned later in the article are overblown. 

2) Hamas and Iran

The New York Times reports, Hamas Premier Visits Iran in Sign of Strong Relations
Regional news reports have said Hamas has resisted pressure from Iran, its principal backer, to express support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, in his efforts to suppress the uprising there. The Hamas leadership outside Gaza recently left its base in Damascus because of the turmoil. 
But analysts said the Iranian welcome for Mr. Haniya indicated that relations between Hamas and Iran remained positive. 
Part of the story isn't told here. Khaled Meshal is not mentioned at all. There appears to be some sort of a split between Meshal and Haniyeh - possibly over how close each wants to be with Iran. (Meshal seems to prefer the patronage of Sunni Islamists. This move has been interpreted by some as moderation on Meshal's part.) In addition to a sign of friendship, this could be an effort of Iran to re-assert its control over Hamas.

Late in the article we read:
The visit was likely to antagonize the Israeli government, which believes that Hamas and Iran want to destroy it. 
Israel "believes" that? Iran and Hamas state that's their goal.

Naharnet reported (h/t Michael Young): 
Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei on Sunday warned the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas against any "compromise" in its fight against Tehran's nemesis Israel, his official website reported.
"Always be wary of infiltration by the compromisers in a resistance organization, which will gradually weaken it," Khamenei told the visiting Hamas Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniya, according to the website. 
"We have no doubt about your resistance and that of many of your brothers, and the people only have this expectation of you," said Khamenei, reaffirming that Iran "will always be alongside the Palestinian resistance."
Somehow Khameinei's statement did not make it to the New York Times. 

3) The media 
A few unrelated items:  

Israel Matzav links to an article that foreign media outlets are buying space on rooftops in Tel Aviv, in anticipation of an Iranian counterattack against Israel. I'm not convinced that anything is close to happening - many of the sources who claim that an attack is near seem highly speculative - but I don't live in Israel and Israel Matzav observes:  
Suffice it to say that over the last week or two, it's beginning to feel more and more like war is on the horizon.
A recent report to make the rounds on the internet accused CNN of firing its Jewish employees. Honest Reporting believes there's less to this report than meets the eye.

Finally, there are reports of terror attacks on Israeli diplomats in Georgia (Tblisi) and India. An Indian reporter was right there.
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