Beyond the Cusp

April 17, 2012

Syria Sliding Back Towards Chaos and Violence

Welcoming the advanced group of five United Nations unarmed monitors was news of renewed shelling upon the city of Homs with one report claimed they were bombarded at a rate of one shell per minute. By our best estimate, the ceasefire in Syria lasted almost six hours before artillery and tank fire broke the calm and everything started returning to wide ranged fighting. The official Syrian state news agency SANA reported the shelling and other violence were in response to terrorist attacks which ramped up almost immediately after the ceasefire was implemented forcing the government troops to resume their actions in order to protect the Syrian people. Best estimate is that the Syrian military is protecting half the Syrian people from the other half of the Syrian people.


The United Nations five peacekeepers were to be backed up by more some time today bringing their numbers up to thirty with plans on adding up to three hundred in total when quiet has been obtained. But there may be a small problem with the United Nations plan beyond the continued violence. Norwegian Major General Robert Mood was the appointed commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force until he boarded a flight leaving from Damascus and apparently headed home with no intention of returning. It is so refreshing when somebody from the United Nations actually shows good sense and clear thinking. We would like to commend Major General Robert Mood on a decision that is likely to prolong his life if not his career. It now falls to Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon to find a new appointment to command the peacekeeping efforts in Syria. We are willing to bet that volunteers with the slightest of experience on their resume would stand a decent chance at landing the position. The big question is not when will the fighting end in Syria, but when and where President Assad receives asylum and a nice villa in a country where he is unlikely to allow his being tried for crimes against humanity. That is something not likely to occur in the immediate future but we are still predicting by the end of May, though some here are starting to have their doubts.


We would like to wish Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon the best of luck in his search for a replacement to command the peacekeepers in Syria. Looking back at the year long history of the desperate situation in Syria, we expect that filling this position may be somewhat more difficult than usual. Remembering the two attempts at peacekeeping by the Arab League does not make the United Nation’s efforts look to have a promising future. The initial attempt by the Arab League fell apart before it got started as there were no volunteers to man the force. They got a little further with their second try which actually got exactly to the stage now attained by the United Nations. When a number of the Arab League observers came under fire and had to flee along with the civilians with whom they had been receiving reports and information, the League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby decided to pull the peacekeepers out immediately after a brief discussion with several Arab foreign ministers.


On a more personal level, it is hoped that the violence which has continued for over thirteen months and very likely claimed over ten-thousand lives, many of which were innocents, and uncounted injured including women and children, too often young children, and torn any shred of normalcy from the whole of Syria, may those pushing the conflict realize the harm and needless destruction they are causing and find some common ground and shared decency and resolve this conflict before there is nothing left of Syria for the winners to rule. You want to identify the true violence and denial of decent living conditions, it is the continued civil war in Syria, the little mentioned multi-party conflict for control in Libya and the senseless war over the oil fields between the Sudan and the newly established country of South Sudan, formed as a supposed solution to the ceaseless slaughter and warfare which ravaged the area of which Darfur was but one slice of the whole of suffering of that area. These are the current examples of real Arab suffering, of real Arab families being denied the opportunity to live a normal life, the real places scarred by violence which is beyond the imagination of most who read this article. Then there are those whose countries are in turmoil as they cobble together new governance after often brutal violence which brought the end of the rule of dictators and Presidents for life and now their country suffers economic collapse making their lives even more harsh than ever. And this rosy scenario ignores the possibility of the turmoil and strife of the Arab Spring spreading and turning more countries into victims of the eventual Arab Winter which seems to inevitably follow.


Beyond the Cusp


March 2, 2012

Syria vs. Israel; The Stories of Homs and Jenin

The violence in Syria gives the world, especially those who accuse Israel of using undue force and genocide, a chance to clearly differentiate between real indiscriminate use of military force to maximize casualties against limited, focused and precise force implemented to protect the innocent. Syria is the example of indiscriminate force being implemented with total disregard for the innocents and noncombatants while Israel during their Operation Defensive Shield which targeted terrorist training and storage areas while also taking known terror operatives into custody used precise and limited force in order to allow differentiation between combatants and innocents. We will compare these two military interventions using the primary city in which the conflict was focused, Homs in the current civil war in Syria and Jenin in the Israeli Defensive Shield operation used to combat terror activities.


Let us look at the quasi-similarities between these two uses of military force within an urban environment. In both cases the battlefield was within densely populated urban residential neighborhoods. In both battles command had to weigh the choice between the safety of the troops under their command and the safety of any innocent residents and bystanders to what had been decided was a necessary attack. The residents and bystanders had been informed of the coming battle and were given the necessary time and a safe route in order to allow them to leave after being checked for weapons and explosive devices. This is where the initial setup for these two engagements ends. In Jenin it was known that there were ambushes and booby-traps set in the vast majority of structures and the PLO forces were well armed and had spent weeks preparing the field to their advantage in order to inflict the maximum casualties on the Israeli troops. In Homs most of the people within the area being attacked by Assad forces are unarmed civilians. The areas in Homs under attack are not booby-trapped, or so it has been reported. The area has not been carefully prepared for repelling a military offensive and the residents and bystanders have been given no quarter or opportunity to leave the conflicted area.


The real differences become most evident when the means of engagement are scrutinized. The IDF could have very easily taken the option to use air strikes combined with artillery, tank and other indirect fire methods in order to flatten the entire area and inflict maximum casualties without regard for who was killed. This option was ruled out as being irresponsible and as risking the death or injury of too many innocents. Instead, the IDF chose to use ground forces sending in ground troops with orders to engage only armed opponents and giving any civilians found within the area of operations free passage to safety. This cost the IDF 23 soldiers killed and 52 soldiers wounded and on the Palestinian side it was reported that 53 people were killed which broke down as consisting of 48 militants and 5 civilians. This stands in stark contrast to the casualties in Homs. The Syrian forces have stood off and shelled the neighborhoods of Homs with artillery, mortars, tank main gun fire, and using snipers. This has led to approximately three hundred estimated killed with the majority having been unarmed civilians who fall into three categories, protestors, participants in a funeral procession, or completely innocent bystanders or residents of the areas under attack. Reports have claimed that many of the innocent unarmed casualties in Homs over the months of conflict were intentionally targeted despite their being obviously unarmed and not taking part in any anti-Assad government activities. The difference between these two military operations was that the Israeli forces did everything within their control including risking additional casualties among IDF troops in order to minimize innocent civilian injury or death while the Syrian forces under President Assad have shown no regard or differentiation between combatants and civilians often intentionally targeting unarmed civilians presumably to increase the pressures on the popular anti-Assad forces by their actions.


The final difference between these two instances of use of military forces against irregular opposition forces was the reaction by the rest of the world. Where Israel was found guilty of heinous war crimes even before the battle had concluded by Human Rights Watch and other NGOs, the denunciations of Syrian forces took months before they were voiced. The initial reaction to the violence in Syria was sympathy for President Assad who was lauded as a reformer who had been forced by the opposition into implementing his military forces. Eventually, almost six to nine months later, did the beginning of calls for an end to the killing and doubts about the intent and reasons behind the use of force by Assad begin to surface. With the IDF action in Jenin the initial casualty count was inflated each day after the attack until by weeks end some were accusing Israeli forces of having murdered thousands of innocent civilians. These claims were eventually investigated by the United Nations who confirmed the total numbers of casualties which had been reported by the IDF but with a different breakdown on the numbers of armed terrorist combatants and innocent civilians. The numbers killed in Homs and throughout Syria have been estimated higher by the opposition against Assad than have been estimated by NGOs and official organizations including the United Nations. Somewhere around six to ten weeks ago those who had been keeping a running record of casualties in the Syrian government conflict with the rebel forces announced one-by-one stated they were no longer counting casualties. Thus far only muted attempts have been committed to ending the viscous violence tearing the fabric of Syrian society and disrupting the lives of the Syrian people. From the first hours of the IDF committing to Operation Defensive Shield there were demands from numerous fronts that Israel cease immediately. We are still waiting for such a unified and strong insistence for Assad to stop his offensive against his opposition. Israeli use of arms was in response to almost three years of Intifada with weekly and sometimes daily suicide bombings in arcades, pizza eateries, busses, the central bus terminal, and other places where Israeli civilians frequented in numbers. President Assad implemented a military response to what was initially peaceful demonstrations calling for reforms and giving the people more voice in their government. The stark differences are simply astounding and verge on beyond belief. Well, they would be if it was not for the fact that the side receiving more universal criticism was Israel, that removes any of the surprise and replaces it with revulsion, aversion, and an unwillingness to accept the ever-present double standards.


Beyond the Cusp


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