Syria a Stalemate Much Longer? And the other "Middle East Peace" that isn't going anywhere

Image courtey of UNHCR website
AFP 2013/ Dimitar Dilkoff
By Greg Hom
Jun 13, 2013

The last month has shown Syria's war to be spreading across the border with Lebanon and beyond as Hezbollah openly sided with the Assad government. And as Patrick Cockburn wrote in the London Review of Books, “[t]here is virtually no state in the region that hasn’t got some stake in the conflict.” (Is it the end of Sykes-Picot? June 6,2013). Not shying away from that complicated view, Cockburn goes on to enlighten us in this way:

“Five distinct conflicts have become tangled together in Syria: a popular uprising against a dictatorship which is also a sectarian battle between Sunnis and the Alawite sect; a regional struggle between Shia and Sunni which is also a decades-old conflict between an Iranian-led grouping and Iran’s traditional enemies, notably the US and Saudi Arabia. Finally, at another level, there is a reborn Cold War confrontation: Russia and China v. the West. The conflict is full of unexpected and absurd contradictions, such as a purportedly democratic and secular Syrian opposition being funded by the absolute monarchies of the Gulf who are also fundamentalist Sunnis.”

The articles also makes the point that the war is a stalemate.  But Hezbollah has gotten involved, which news is reporting could tip the balance in favor of Assad's government.  Of course this could just mean more funding to the resistance, and then back to stalemate.  However, the news from the NY Times today is that the "U.S. Is Said to Plan to Send Weapons to Syrian Rebels"!  The reason given is that the US will finally take a firm stand that Assad's forces used chemical weapons- previous statements from the government, and other reporting, have not been so clear.  It may be that the strength of Hezbollah's fighting on the ground may be unacceptable to the US for various reasons (hawks from the right getting riled up and the partnership with Israel for example).

Cockburn also says that the refugees from Syria are not paid enough attention to in the press.   For the UN Refugee Agency's take on refugee stories and statistics, take a look  at their web project Stories from Syrian Refugees.  The photo to the left with the woman holding the sign that says "One In A Million" is of a woman who is supposed to be the millionth refugee who has registered with the UN in Tripoli, Lebanon.

For a bit more on Syria, the June 20 New York Review of Books (online-edition date that I have access to writing this on June 13th) article by David Bromwich (Stay Out of Syria!) holds with the view that the US-led violence of Iraq and Libya allowed for the growth of sectarianism across the Middle East that we see now in Syria.  Of course, then there are thinkers and politicians who are ready to have a real intervention they can work with (see above link to NYT article)! Much of Bromwich's article is reacting to the Bill Keller May 5 NYT op-ed Syria is not Iraq  which ends on the horrible advice: “Whatever we decide [in arming the Syrian resistance, or part of it, or some other military action], getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq."  If Keller believes that Iraq during the  Obama administration, as opposed to Bush, is somehow a better "managed" war, I'd like to see how he could justify that view with sectarian violence going at a pace that gets regular attention in the major news outlets. 

"Mid-east Peace"

And while Palestine isn't in the headlines with Syria taking up space, Jonathan Cook wrote up a piece on the recent work that John Kerry has done to create some new package for "Middle East Peace", which entails $4-billion injection of funds into the Palestinian private sector ("Kerry's new peace plan sets the Palestinians up to fail", June 4, 2013). Basically Cook says that investors can't be impressed even with that kind of money to a "private sector" that is absolutely at the whim of Israelis, who do not want a thriving Palestinian economy. The PA is now looking so weak that the only thing they can say to Israel in public is that if peace with the PA doesn't work, the West Bank will fall to "radicalism and violence" as a recent Guardian article said. What this really shows is some self-realization on the part of the PA that there are Palestinians who want to do something other than negotiate all their freedom away. For the PA to say that their capitulation is the best path to some kind of "peace" (but not "liberation") must be maddening to a number of people on the ground and Palestinians around the world.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Greg has written book reviews for Left Turn Magazine, and volunteered with Prison Radio.

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