- Rania Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME magazine
Saturday, March 31, 2012
Syria's rebels have to bear hours of negotiations for every box of bullets that they haul across the border for their war against Bashar al-Assad. And their frustration is starting to show.
BY RANIA ABOUZEID from Antakya, Turkey
"Fouad," a rail-thin Syrian in tight jeans who looks at least a decade older than his 25 years, leans forward in a black faux leather armchair in an unheated, sparsely furnished room in this southern Turkish city.
"I need ammunition," he tells Abu Mohammad, a stocky Turkish weapons dealer sitting impossibly upright on the stiff couch. "I'll pay five and a half." He quotes the price in Turkish liras -- about $3 per bullet.
Abu Mohammad smirks. He carefully places his white, half-moon Turkish coffee cup on the small square table in front of him. "They're seven each," he says. "If you can get them for five and a half, I'll buy them from you."
Fouad shakes his head, takes another draw from his cigarette, and slowly capitulates on the price, but not before complaining that a bullet cost three lira about a month ago. "Just get them," he finally says. "And what about weapons? I heard there's a stockpile of 4,000 bullets and lots of guns, but it's near an Alawite village [in southern Turkey]."
Abu Mohammad confirms the information, but says that it will be difficult to clandestinely buy any of the Turkish military supplies, and harder still to discretely ferry them out of the village, inhabited by Turkish co-religionists and assumed sympathizers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"You know, I don't want anything from you," Abu Mohammad says. "I'm Sunni too, I just want to help." It's Fouad's turn to smirk.
The Turkish dealer pulls his phone out of his dark leather jacket and calls an associate called Qadir, switching from Arabic to Turkish. After a few minutes, his phone is back in his pocket. "I'll get you the goods," he tells Fouad. "But you know, this is a lot of work."
"Don't worry, you'll be paid for your trouble," Fouad says, turning to a gray-haired Syrian also in the room. "These Turks," he says dismissively, "they talk a lot don't they? From [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan down, they talk, talk, talk, but so far, it's only talk. God willing, this one is different."
Abu Mohammad brushes off the slight. It's a seller's market, and professional smugglers like Fouad, a civilian who supplies arms to some of the ragtag bands of Syrian rebels in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) operating just across the border in the governorate of Idlib, have few options. "It's like the black market has dried up," Fouad says later, after the brief meeting. "Can you believe it? In the Middle East!"
It's a view widely shared by defectors, arms dealers, and refugees alike here along the Turkish-Syrian border. For months, Assad's opponents have been buying black-market weapons from the countries bordering their volatile state -- from Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan -- as well as from within Syria, primarily from members of the corrupt regime or military sympathizers who remain embedded with loyalists. But it's getting harder. Money doesn't seem to be the main problem. Securing supplies is.
The international community has grappled for months with the issue of whether or not to arm the Free Syrian Army, a loose band of defectors and civilian thuwar (revolutionaries). Ahead of an April 1 meeting of the "Friends of Syria," a group of countries that support the anti-Assad forces, Turkey and the United States agreed to establish a framework for shipping non-lethal aid to the rebels. But the provision of this aid -- much like the conversation with the Turkish arms dealer -- has been more talk than action.
Nor have Assad's staunchest enemies -- the Arab Gulf kingdoms -- opened their armories to the rebels. In late February, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal raised the FSA's hopes when he said that arming Assad's opponents was "an excellent idea." Yet, more than a month later, Saudi supplies have not made their way to the front, according to the FSA leadership as well as numerous rebel commanders inside Syria.
The international discord is a reflection of the deep fragmentation of the Syrian opposition. The Syrian National Council (SNC), the anti-Assad forces' de facto political representative, had long offered only timid, belated support for the armed rebels, but it has recently changed its tune and openly called for weapons. Most FSA units operate with little oversight and direction from the nominal military rebel leader, Col. Riad al-Asaad, and his officers, who are all sequestered in a refugee camp in southern Turkey that is off limits to journalists.
Still, the ire and resentment of many activists and fighters on the ground is directed primarily toward the so-called leaders of the opposition, all of whom are in exile. The depth of anger was perhaps best expressed in a short video in which a small group of men in civilian garb stand in two neat rows in front of an olive tree, scarves concealing their identities. The clip is not unlike countless others purporting to show members of the FSA, except that none of the nine men featured in it holds any weapons. Some carry lemons instead of grenades; others hold sticks as if they were rifles. One wields a hammer.
"In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate ... We, the free men of Idlib, announce the formation of the 'We Hope to Be Armed' brigade," the speaker says. "We do not have any weapons. We ask the National Council and the commander of the Free Army to fulfill their lying promises and to stop serenading the revolutionaries on the ground without sending weapons, because your serenades are killing us."
Col. Ahmad Hijazi, the FSA's chief of staff, says he can understand the resentment. "I don't blame them," he says. "The people are angry and they are taking out their frustrations on us. But what can we do? They are asking us for more than what we can do. Governments must support the Free Army."
In the absence of such aid, Syria's military defectors just wait. The camp housing the FSA officers looks just like the others Turkey has established for the thousands of civilians who have fled across its border -- rows of white tents are neatly pitched along lanes of uneven loose white gravel. But unlike most of the others, the officers' camp is isolated from nearby towns and villages. It's in the middle of a lush agricultural plain in Apaydin, about 12 miles from Antakya, where verdant fields abut plowed, upturned earth, and snow-capped hills rim the horizon.
Turkish soldiers man the entrance of the camp, as they do in other refugee camps, checking the identity cards of anyone hoping to get in. Power outages are common here, cutting off Internet communications for hours on end. The FSA may claim to be operating a "command and control center" for the anti-Assad military effort from the camp, but it's unclear whether they can control much of anything from a base with regular power cuts. Its critics, like the "We Hope to Be Armed Brigade," say it has offered little to the men fighting and dying inside Syria in its name. How do the FSA's commanders account for their seeming lack of impact on the ground?
Hijazi shifts uncomfortably in his plastic chair inside one of the many identical tents in the officers' camp. He doesn't like the question. Nor does his fellow officer, Major Maher Nuami, who is seated on a single bed (the only one) in the tent. "It's sensitive," Hijazi finally says. They won't say if the FSA has sent emissaries to Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Libya -- which recently pledged $100 million to the Syrian opposition -- but insist that they have received no help on the ground from these states.
There are many reasons for Arab and Western reticence. Syria sits on just about every fault line running through the Middle East -- it's a multi-sectarian, multi-ethnic cauldron bordering similar tinderbox Arab states, as well as Israel.
The officers understand the geopolitical sensitivities and concerns about what may follow Assad, and have a few chilling predictions of their own. If the international community doesn't arm them and provide logistical support, "everything" the world fears from the fall of Assad will come to pass, Nuami argues. "We know what they're afraid of," he says, "they are worried about the Israeli border and a massacre of Alawites."
"The people will get weapons, one way or another, so help us," Nuami continues. "If you give us weapons, we can control them. We want the fall of the regime, not the fall of the state. If the international community helps us, we'll help them. If it doesn't, our people offer no guarantees."
Hijazi says the FSA is receiving donations -- mainly from private citizens -- and distributing them to officers in the field, but that it's nowhere near enough. "It's like you're thirsty and we're giving you a capful of water," he says. "What's it going to do?"
The money is going to men like Captain Alaaeddine, commander of the Salaheddine al-Ayoubi Brigade, operating in the northern Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughour, which borders Turkey. The captain, a soft-spoken 30-year-old, defected almost a year ago, making his way home from the Syrian capital of Damascus, where he was based, to defend his friends and family. The FSA leadership recently gave him and three other officers from different units $22,000 to divide among themselves.
The money went part of the way toward a $90,000 order of weapons and ammunition a Turkish intermediary, "Mehmet," was trying to secure for the captain. Alaa would not reveal the source of the rest of the funds. "We have our ways," was all he would say. He also said that he didn't know the origins of the weapons he was purchasing. It was by no means a done deal, even after weeks of negotiations involving several suppliers, but it was tantalizingly close.
On a cool evening in mid-March, Alaa, his deputy Sergeant Ahmad Mokbat, and Mehmet, a professional smuggler, gathered at a safe house in Antakya over a dinner of beans and rice to discuss last-minute details, before Mehmet set off on his mission. The two Syrian defectors had crossed the border days earlier to finalize the deal, the first of this magnitude that they had attempted. "We are like a well without water," Mokbat said sullenly as the men sat around a tablecloth spread out on the floor. "It's tiring. It's hard to see our men without ammunition. It's very hard."
"There are always slingshots," Mehmet joked, a flat attempt to lighten the tension. His phone rang shortly after dinner. It was time for him to go. Mokbat pulled a fat wad of cash -- the last of a down payment -- out of the inner pocket of his black leather jacket, and a handgun out of the back of his pants. Mehmet took the money, but declined the gun.
"Imwafak Inshallah," Alaa said as Mehmet closed the door behind him. May you be successful, God willing.
The need for supplies was pressing. That morning, at 5 a.m., troops loyal to the Syrian regime had engaged Alaa's men in the northern Syrian hamlet of Jannoudiye, his hometown, which is just north of Jisr al-Shughour and roughly six miles from the Turkish border. The captain said that he'd called the commanders of other larger rebel units nearby, in Idlib and Jabal al-Zawiya to "start something" and divert the security forces' attention in a desperate bid to relieve pressure on his small band of poorly supplied men.
It hadn't even slowed the loyalists down. Alaa spent most of the evening on the phone, receiving updates from his men. The news wasn't good: By 9 p.m., the rebels had retreated and were perilously close to running out of ammunition. Civilians were being used by soldiers loyal to Assad as human shields, marched in front of tanks, he said (a finding corroborated by Human Rights Watch). Entire families, including some of the captain's relatives, had fled into the hills, where they were spending a chilly night. "Jannoudiye has fallen," Alaa said, fingering his red prayer beads.
"Don't lose hope brother," Mokbat said, but he too was becoming increasingly gloomy. Two calls to Mehmet went unanswered. "I don't understand. Where are the mujahideen [holy warriors]? This surprises me a lot. Why are our Arab brothers, Christian and Muslim, still silent?" Mokbat asks.
According to the FSA officers, the claims of foreign fighters in Syria -- eagerly touted by the Assad regime -- are wildly overblown. A lone Libyan had reportedly volunteered to fight with their FSA unit recently, but left after a few days. "He said, ‘You guys are crazy, this is suicide, you don't have weapons'," Mokbat said. "He was right. I wish the revolution would go back, it was better before. We used to shoot into the air, we didn't worry about ammunition. Now we think twice about using each bullet."
Five hours later and Mehmet had yet to return. In fact, he would not come back until a week later -- and empty handed. The problem was trying to secure a road to ferry the supplies without being intercepted by Turkish security. Although Turkey houses the FSA, it "does not allow any weapon to be transferred to Syria in [an] illegal way," a Turkish government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. Anyone caught trying will be arrested and the weapons confiscated, he added.
Still, Mehmet was hopeful. "It's dangerous," he told the defectors, "but God willing, the goods will move. Be patient."
"I'm sitting on fire over here!" the captain says. "We must be with our men!"
Some of his men, like Mazin, a 20-something defector with a wispy beard, weren't in Jannoudiye anymore. Mazin said he walked through the hills for three days, helping guide families to the safety of the Turkish border. He was now in the officers' camp, where his mother tended to him. "I thought he was injured when I saw him," his mother says, fussing over her youngest son who has stretched his bare swollen feet out in front of him. "He was limping and walking oddly." Still, Mazin is determined to go back into Syria, even without fresh ammunition. "We'll plant bombs," he says. "We can't just sit here."
That's exactly what many Syrian refugees, defectors and civilian revolutionaries accuse the high-level defectors in the camp of doing -- just sitting there. In the absence of an organized military effort, the burden of securing weapons and funding has fallen to lower-level officers like Alaa, as well as ordinary Syrians like Abdel-Salim, a taxi driver turned thuwar who commands the "Free Syrians," a ragtag bunch of farmers, taxi drivers and other civilians from a string of villages abutting the Turkish border. Abdel-Salim, a 40-year-old with a bushy salt-and-pepper beard and high cheekbones, had crossed the border into southern Turkey to try and secure supplies for his group: 3,000 bullets, to be precise.
The "Free Syrians" are under the FSA banner, he explains, and are in regular communication with its leadership via a few defectors in his group. "We ask the defectors to go to the officers' camp to ask for help but we haven't got anything from the Free Army yet," Abdel-Salim says. "But to be fair, I don't think the Free Army has anything itself."
Many of his men, most of whom have secured their families in the Turkish refugee camps, don't have weapons. Assad's Syria was not a militarized society -- unlike Iraq, for example -- where gun ownership was common. "It's OK," Abdel-Salim says. "Look at Gaza: They used stones against tanks, and if we have to, we will do the same."
Abdel-Salim recalls that he participated in peaceful protests for months, and only picked up a weapon four months ago, when he "lost hope" in protests. He was shot about a month before that, in his stomach and his right leg, and spent 10 days recuperating in a Turkish hospital. He walks with a limp, but that didn't deter him from crossing back into Syria to fight Assad's army. "I didn't want to pick up a weapon," he says, "but I think Israel is more honorable than the Syrian regime."
The longer Abdel-Salim speaks, the angrier he gets. "Where is the money the Syrian opposition got from the Libyans?" he seethes. "We haven't seen any of the [Syrian] National Council members down here. ... What is Riad al-Assad doing in Turkey anyway? Army commander? He should cross the border, lift people's morale. What is he scared of -- dying?"
After three days in Turkey, Abdel-Salim is tired of waiting. He doesn't have his bullets, but he also doesn't leave empty-handed. Instead, he takes 20 Kalashnikovs with him, courtesy of Fouad, the rail-thin Syrian trying to negotiate an ammunitions sale with the Turkish dealer Abu Mohammad.
Abdel-Salim's new guns, however, haven't come from Turkey -- they were secured inside Syria. "It took 10 days to get 20 Russians," Fouad says, referring to Kalashnikovs. The small amount didn't even come from the same source, and all the guns had empty magazines. "I had to go to four or five villages to get these 20 Russians," Fouad says. In several dangerous dashes into Syria over the past few months, he says he's secured "less than 50 weapons."
It's hardly a way to win what has become a vastly asymmetrical war, but Fouad and others like him say they have few options. After weeks of waiting, Captain Alaa and his deputy were preparing to cross back into Syria, with or without their $90,000 order.
Fouad was also readying to reenter his homeland. Despite the danger of crossing what human rights organizations report is a freshly mined border, as well as the high probability of encountering loyalist troops, Fouad says there were also dangers lurking on the Turkish side. "We are having difficulty trusting people here, finding men we can trust," he says. "Most of the weapons dealers in these parts are Alawites."
And what about the Sunni Turkish dealer who promised to help? "He was full of talk," Fouad says. "Talk, talk, talk. That won't do us any good. We need guns."
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 30/03/2012
- Rania Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME magazine
- Rania Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME magazine
By Felipe Umana
The Congress for the People of Cyrenaica, which was held in eastern Libya’s largest city, Benghazi, attracted international attention after the group demanded greater autonomy from the central government in Tripoli and a reversion to the federal Libya that existed in the 1950s.
Cyrenaica — or Barqa, as it is referred to locally — stretches from the littoral town of Sirte (known famously as the birthplace of Muammar Gaddafi) to the eastern border with Egypt. The globally recognized representative of the Libyan people, the Tripoli-headquartered National Transitional Council (NTC), immediately rejected demands for greater self-government. Believing that more self-government may lead to the division of the Libyan state, the leader of the NTC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to defend the unity of Libya by force, if necessary.
Political representatives in Cyrenaica have no intention of backing down from their recent calls for more independence from Tripoli. The reasons behind this “final and irreversible” call for Cyrenaican autonomy are plentiful and deserve attention. However, rash actions and force of any kind can transform this issue into a catalyst for civil unrest and pit Tripoli and Benghazi against each other. Any further tensions could easily push this call for greater autonomy into a large-scale division of Libya.
As a country still in political flux, Libya may not be prepared to withstand the consequences of Cyrenaica’s unofficial bid for more self-government. In order for the country to maintain peace and order, both the central government and civic leaders in Cyrenaica will have approach political talks with transparency and open minds. If not, Libya could become Africa’s next Somalia.
Because it experienced a different historical trajectory from Tripolitania and Fezzan – Libya’s two other administrative regions – Cyrenaica maintained a separate identity well into the 1960s. Modern Libya came into existence only when Italy united Cyrenaica, a former Ottoman province, with Tripolitania and Fezzan in the 1930s. Under Benito Mussolini, Libya’s three administrative regions drifted apart as local governors struggled to combat poverty and internal divisions.
By 1949, the British declared the Emirate of Cyrenaica independent, and the new entity controlled its own affairs until 1951, when the United Nations brought together the British territories of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania with the French-controlled Fezzan and set January 1, 1952 as the official date of independence for the Kingdom of Libya. Under this federal arrangement, Cyrenaica continued to maintain a fair share of autonomy under the newly drafted constitution until the Gaddafi-organized coup in 1969.
Despite several centuries under the control of other powers, modern Cyrenaica has enjoyed a great deal of autonomy throughout history. It is this history that is partially driving its bid for semi-autonomy within Libya.
Bid for More Autonomy
The Congress for the People of Cyrenaica believes that Cyrenaica deserves greater independence from Tripoli for several reasons. Cyrenaica’s population, for instance, has suffered through decades of marginalization and neglect. Under Gaddafi, eastern Libya failed to see significant economic progress as most development was focused in Tripolitania and Fezzan. Sentiments for more say in internal politics are therefore common in Cyrenaica. Mohammed Buisier, a Libyan-American who has helped organize the Congress for the People of Cyrenaica, warns about the effects of decades of marginalization: “If we keep this [neglect] towards the east, I cannot guarantee that Libya will be united in 25 years time.”
Eastern dissatisfaction with the central government did not improve after the NTC assumed control of Tripoli. In the National Congress, the interim parliamentary body assigned to draft the new Libyan constitution, Cyrenaica was offered 60 seats, while Tripolitania was assigned nearly three times as many. The 12-hour drive between Tripoli and Benghazi only underlines the physical and symbolic distance between the interim government and Cyrenaica.
Moreover, because most of the NTC-led combat operations against Gaddafi loyalists took place in Cyrenaican territory, tribal leaders and politicians in the region feel entitled to more power.
These reasons, however, may not be enough to garner public support for the bid. Rallies held in Tripoli and Benghazi three days after the unilateral declaration demonstrate how polarizing an administrative change would be among Libyan citizens, even for natives of Cyrenaica.
Is Libya Prepared for Federalism?
Along with the declaration of semi-autonomy, politicians in Cyrenaica have also called for a reversion to the pre-1960 federal system. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the NTC, the transformation to a federal Libya precedes the potential division of Libya and a call for outright secession by Cyrenaica.
In reality, federalism is different for every country. Some federal states are relatively successful (Switzerland, United States) while others are troubled (Nigeria, Iraq). Sadiq Budawara, a Libyan university professor, believes that federalism is the most appropriate form of government for Libya, but because the decision was unilateral and issued without consultation with Tripolitania or Fezzan, it may in fact “split the land.” Thus, he recommends that Libyan politicians tread carefully and consider the repercussions of any administrative transformation.
The potential consequences for a reversion to a federalist Libya vary in gravity, but all will affect the political and economic progress of post-revolutionary Libya. Although the Congress for the People of Cyrenaica has only demanded some autonomy from certain governmental functions, any further calls for self-government could lead to the dissolution of Libya via secession. Or it could increase violence through civil unrest.
One of the most salient consequences of more self-government privileges is economic development. About three-quarters of Libya’s vast oil reserves lie underneath Cyrenaica. Indeed, if this easternmost region were to secede, it would become one of the richest states in North Africa and the Middle East. Although lawmakers in the east do not want to wholly control the oil fields in Cyrenaica, the possibility of reaping the benefits from their own land remains a powerful factor for political strategies in both the east and the west.
Likewise, the NTC has come in for its share of criticism for a range of shortcomings, including a lack of transparency, a failure to protect the rights of minorities, the slow restoration of public services in areas worst hit during the revolution, the torture of prisoners, an unaccountable detention system, and problems with the 2012 Election Law. In response, civic leaders have provided a set of conditions for greater autonomy. They want a Cyrenaican parliament. They are calling for control of the area’s own police forces, courts, housing projects, and education. And they are advocating for their own regional capital.
Tripoli, however, would experience some setbacks from a more loosely organized Libya. NTC leader Jalil firmly believes that certain Arab nations (though he declines to name which ones) may be encouraging a Libyan division. Any further division could generate considerable mistrust and taint foreign relations. The NTC also faces the potential loss of Benghazi, which it named Libya’s “economic capital” two months after Gaddafi was found. The city is an important port, hosts a number of key institutions and organizations, and has a very robust industrial and commercial presence. Moreover, the Cyrenaican cities of Bayda and Ajdabiya, both flourishing, are among the most populous cities in the country. Limited control over these three cities could impede economic growth for the country as a whole.
The NTC already has enough on its plate. Tasked with bringing militias under control and decommissioning their arms, the NTC would not be able to simultaneously organize elections, draft a new constitution, and maintain order in the east. To do so would involve sacrificing attention to other issues and would jeopardize the country’s immediate future. Correspondingly, a switch to a federal state could exacerbate existing tensions in lieu of providing political catharsis. Another round of civil war could result.
Behind the Call for Greater Autonomy
It is unclear how much popular support exists for eastern autonomy. Although there is some strong backing in the east, protests around the country clearly point to a lack of universal support. But what is clear is that the Libyan revolution has ushered in a rush of political opportunism to fill the vacuum left behind by Gaddafi’s government.
Like every post-war era, the political transition in Libya will be difficult, messy, and contentious. The NTC has been far from a perfect interim government, so the calls for autonomy are understandable. However, a call for more autonomy might not be the panacea that civic leaders in Cyrenaica desire. Public servants from both sides should consult with each other, reexamine their political goals, and revise certain policies in order to ensure that a collision of interests – and the advent of hostilities – is avoided. Working together to reach a compromise benefits both parties significantly and keeps the integrity of the Libyan state intact. Civic leaders in Cyrenaica benefit more from open talks than by polarizing their constituents. Similarly, the NTC avoids greater instability by encouraging more participation from this region. Almost a third of Libya’s population originates from the eastern administrative regions within Cyrenaica. Greater inclusion would improve conditions for the entire country and maintain a collective national identity.
Tripoli has used Cyrenaica’s smaller population as an excuse to allocate the region fewer seats in parliament. But Cyrenaica also has a large territorial expanse and great economic potential. With open discussions, both parties can negotiate and compromise on the political future that works best for the country, as well as avoid unilateral decisions that alienate each other.
If all sides are well represented in Tripoli, calls for regional autonomy may become obsolete.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy in Focus on 30/03/2012
Friday, March 30, 2012
By Stephen Zunes
Although the impulse to try to end the ongoing repression by the Syrian regime against its own people through foreign military intervention is understandable, it would be a very bad idea.
Empirical studies have repeatedly demonstrated that international military interventions in cases of severe repression actually exacerbate violence in the short term and can only reduce violence in the longer term if the intervention is impartial or neutral. Other studies demonstrate that foreign military interventions actually increase the duration of civil wars, making the conflicts longer and bloodier, and the regional consequences more serious, than if there were no intervention. In addition, military intervention would likely trigger a “gloves off” mentality that would dramatically escalate the violence on both sides.
Even putting aside the recent historical record, however, virtually anyone familiar with Syrian politics and history can recognize the fallacy of such foreign support for the armed struggle.
Many nonviolent protesters have tragically been killed as will many more. However, proportionately a far greater number of armed resisters have been killed and will continue to be killed. The question is not whether thousands will continue to die but what is the best way for the Syrian people to overthrow the hated regime, end the violence, and bring democracy and social justice.
Violence vs. Non-Violence
The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians engaged in the ongoing resistance against the regime are nonviolent. Some support the simultaneous armed struggle; some don’t. However, there is little question that the regime fears their ability to neutralize the power of the state through the power of nonviolent resistance more than it does armed groups that are attacking state power where it is strongest—through the force of arms. This is why the regime has so consistently tried to provoke the pro-democracy forces into violence. It has also claimed that the opposition was composed of terrorists and armed thugs even during the first six months of the struggle when it was almost completely nonviolent, recognizing that the Syrian people are far more likely to support a regime challenged by an armed insurgency than through a largely nonviolent civil insurrection.
Supporting the armed resistance with foreign military power would demoralize and disempower those in the nonviolent resistance who are daily risking their lives for their freedom. In addition, history has shown that those who are quickest to take up arms are least likely to support democracy after the old regime is toppled. Indeed, countries whose dictatorships are overthrown by armed groups – with their vanguard mentality, martial values, and strict military hierarchy – are far more likely to turn into new dictatorships, often accompanied by ongoing violence and factionalism, than dictatorships overthrown by primarily nonviolent methods.
Some proponents of Western intervention cite the “success” of Libya as a precedent for Syria. Not only are there still serious questions regarding the necessity of armed struggle and foreign intervention in that case, Libya hardly constitutes a good model of a democratic transformation. Unlike the peaceful and relatively orderly transition to democracy going on in neighboring Tunisia, where largely nonviolent actions toppled the hated Ben Ali dictatorship in January of last year, Libya is struggling with rival armed militias fighting each other for the spoils when they aren’t tracking down and summarily executing suspected supporters of the old regime.
Even if one wants to count Libya as a “success” for foreign intervention, however, there are important differences between the two countries:
Although Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi during his final years had largely alienated virtually every segment of Libyan society, the Syrian regime still has a strong social base. A fairly large minority of Syrians – consisting of Alawites, Christians and other minority communities, Baath Party loyalists and government employees, and the crony capitalist class that the regime has nurtured – still back the regime. There are certainly dissidents within all of these sectors. But the regime will only solidify its support in the case of foreign intervention.
The Baath Party is organized in virtually every town and neighborhood. No such organization existed under Gaddafi. Unlike Iraq’s Baath Party, which Saddam Hussein ruled with an iron fist in a matter reminiscent of Stalin’s takeover of the Soviet Communist Party, the Baath Party is far more than President Assad. It has ruled Syria for nearly 50 years. And with an ideology rooted in Arab nationalism, socialism, and anti-imperialism, it could mobilize its hundreds of thousands of members to resist the foreign invaders. Hundreds have quit the party in protest of the killings of nonviolent protesters, but few defections could be expected if foreigners suddenly attacked the country.
The United States and Syria
The history of U.S. relations with Syria makes the United States a particularly inappropriate advocate for military intervention.
On the one hand, the Syrian regime has at times supported U.S. foreign policy goals in the region, such as suppressing Palestinian and leftist forces in Lebanon in the mid- to late 1970s, contributing troops to the U.S.-led “Desert Shield” operation in 1990 following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, supporting a coup against a pro-Saddam Lebanese prime minister that same year, providing intelligence and other support against al-Qaeda and other extremists, supporting tough anti-Iraq resolutions while on the UN Security Council, and becoming a destination for “extraordinary rendition” of suspected Islamist radicals captured by the United States.
Overall, however, the U.S.-Syrian relationship has been marked by enormous hostility. The United States has backed the right-wing Israeli government in its illegal occupation and colonization of southwestern Syria, which Israel invaded in June of 1967, despite offers by the Syrian government to recognize Israel and provide security guarantees in return for a full Israeli withdrawal. Indeed, in 2007, the United States effectively blocked Israel from resuming negotiations with Syria.
U.S. Navy jets repeatedly attacked Syrian positions in Lebanon during 1983-84 and U.S. army commandoes attacked a border village in eastern Syria in 2008, killing a number of civilians. The United States imposed draconian sanctions on the country in 2003, refusing to lift them until Syria unilaterally halted development of certain kinds of weapons systems already possessed by such U.S. allies as Israel, Egypt, and Turkey. A nearly unanimous bipartisan bill, which passed Congress that same year, made the ludicrous assertion that Syria represented a threat to the national security interests of the United States and that Syria would be “held accountable” for what it referred to as “hostile actions” against Americans. Passage of this bill led the late Senator Robert Byrd to warn that Congress was building a case for military action against Syria.
With this kind of history, U.S. military intervention would simply play into the hands of the regime in Damascus, which has decades of experience manipulating the Syrian people’s strong sense of nationalism to its benefit. The regime can point out that the United States is the world’s primary military supplier to the world’s remaining dictatorships, including the repressive monarchy in Bahrain, which brutally suppressed an overwhelmingly nonviolent pro-democracy struggle last year with few objections from Washington. It would not be difficult for Assad and other Syrian leaders to assert that the United States doesn’t care about democracy in Syria any more than it does about democracy elsewhere in the Middle East but is using the “promotion of democracy” as an excuse to overthrow a government that happens to oppose Washington’s hegemonic designs on the region.
The Power of Nonviolent Action
Recent history has shown that armed struggles are far less likely to be successful than nonviolent struggles, even against dictatorships, since it makes defections by security forces and government officials less likely, reduces the number of active participants in the movement, alienates potential supporters, and gives the regime the excuse to crack down even harder by portraying the opposition as “terrorists.” Indeed, empirical studies note that primarily nonviolent movements against dictatorships are more than twice as likely to succeed as armed struggles. It just doesn’t make sense for the United States or other foreign powers to throw their support to the deadlier and less effective wing of the anti-regime resistance.
The best hope for Syria is that continued protests, strikes, and other forms of nonviolent resistance, combined with targeted international sanctions, will cause enough disruption that powerful economic interests and other key sectors currently allied with the Alawite-led government would force the government to negotiate with the opposition for a transfer of power to a democratic majority. Indeed, this is the scenario that eventually forced an end to another notorious minority regime, that of South Africa.
Talk of military intervention can only benefit the regime and weaken the force that is far more likely to end the tragic violence and bring forth a new democratic Syria: that of civil society and the power of nonviolent action.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy In Focus on 29/03/2012
-Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco and a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. His latest book (co-authored by Jacob Mundy) is Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution (Syracuse University Press, 2010)
-Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco and a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. His latest book (co-authored by Jacob Mundy) is Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution (Syracuse University Press, 2010)
U.S. officials believe that the Israelis have gained access to airbases in Azerbaijan. Does this bring them one step closer to a war with Iran?
BY MARK PERRY
Israeli President Shimon Perez in Azerbaijan
In 2009, the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Baku, Donald Lu, sent a cable to the State Department's headquarters in Foggy Bottom titled "Azerbaijan's discreet symbiosis with Israel." The memo, later released by WikiLeaks, quotes Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev as describing his country's relationship with the Jewish state as an iceberg: "nine-tenths of it is below the surface."
Why does it matter? Because Azerbaijan is strategically located on Iran's northern border and, according to several high-level sources I've spoken with inside the U.S. government, Obama administration officials now believe that the "submerged" aspect of the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance -- the security cooperation between the two countries -- is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran.
In particular, four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran's northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear. "The Israelis have bought an airfield," a senior administration official told me in early February, "and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."
Senior U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly concerned that Israel's military expansion into Azerbaijan complicates U.S. efforts to dampen Israeli-Iranian tensions, according to the sources. Military planners, I was told, must now plan not only for a war scenario that includes the Persian Gulf -- but one that could include the Caucasus. The burgeoning Israel-Azerbaijan relationship has also become a flashpoint in both countries' relationship with Turkey, a regional heavyweight that fears the economic and political fallout of a war with Iran. Turkey's most senior government officials have raised their concerns with their U.S. counterparts, as well as with the Azeris, the sources said.
The Israeli embassy in Washington, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, were all contacted for comment on this story but did not respond.
The Azeri embassy to the United States also did not respond to requests for information regarding Azerbaijan's security agreements with Israel. During a recent visit to Tehran, however, Azerbaijan's defense minister publicly ruled out the use of Azerbaijan for a strike on Iran. "The Republic of Azerbaijan, like always in the past, will never permit any country to take advantage of its land, or air, against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which we consider our brother and friend country," he said. (Following the publication of this article, an Azeri spokesman denied that his government had granted Israel access to Azeri airbases.)
But even if his government makes good on that promise, it could still provide Israel with essential support. A U.S. military intelligence officer noted that Azeri defense minister did not explicitly bar Israeli bombers from landing in the country after a strike. Nor did he rule out the basing of Israeli search-and-rescue units in the country. Proffering such landing rights -- and mounting search and rescue operations closer to Iran -- would make an Israeli attack on Iran easier.
"We're watching what Iran does closely," one of the U.S. sources, an intelligence officer engaged in assessing the ramifications of a prospective Israeli attack confirmed. "But we're now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we're not happy about it."
Israel's deepening relationship with the Baku government was cemented in February by a $1.6 billion arms agreement that provides Azerbaijan with sophisticated drones and missile-defense systems. At the same time, Baku's ties with Tehran have frayed: Iran presented a note to Azerbaijan's ambassador last month claiming that Baku has supported Israeli-trained assassination squads targeting Iranian scientists, an accusation the Azeri government called "a slander." In February, a member of Yeni Azerbadzhan -- the ruling party -- called on the government to change the country's name to "North Azerbaijan," implicitly suggesting that the 16 million Azeris who live in northern Iran ("South Azerbaijan") are in need of liberation.
And this month, Baku announced that 22 people had been arrested for spying on behalf of Iran, charging they had been tasked by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to "commit terrorist acts against the U.S., Israeli, and other Western states' embassies." The allegations prompted multiple angry denials from the Iranian government.
It's clear why the Israelis prize their ties to Azerbaijan -- and why the Iranians are infuriated by them. The Azeri military has four abandoned, Soviet-era airfields that would potentially be available to the Israelis, as well as four airbases for their own aircraft, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Military Balance 2011.
The U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials told me they believe that Israel has gained access to these airbases through a series of quiet political and military understandings. "I doubt that there's actually anything in writing," added a senior retired American diplomat who spent his career in the region. "But I don't think there's any doubt -- if Israeli jets want to land in Azerbaijan after an attack, they'd probably be allowed to do so. Israel is deeply embedded in Azerbaijan, and has been for the last two decades."
The prospect of Israel using Azerbaijan's airfields for an Iranian attack first became public in December 2006, when retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Oded Tira angrily denounced the George W. Bush administration's lack of action on the Iranian nuclear program. "For our part," he wrote in a widely cited commentary, "we should also coordinate with Azerbaijan the use of airbases in its territory and also enlist the support of the Azeri minority in Iran." The "coordination" that Tira spoke of is now a reality, the U.S. sources told me.
Access to such airfields is important for Israel, because it would mean that Israeli F-15I and F-16I fighter-bombers would not have to refuel midflight during a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, but could simply continue north and land in Azerbaijan. Defense analyst David Isenberg describes the ability to use Azeri airfields as "a significant asset" to any Israel strike, calculating that the 2,200-mile trip from Israel to Iran and back again would stretch Israel's warplanes to their limits. "Even if they added extra fuel tanks, they'd be running on fumes," Isenberg told me, "so being allowed access to Azeri airfields would be crucial."
Former CENTCOM commander Gen. Joe Hoar simplified Israel's calculations: "They save themselves 800 miles of fuel," he told me in a recent telephone interview. "That doesn't guarantee that Israel will attack Iran, but it certainly makes it more doable."
Using airbases in Azerbaijan would ensure that Israel would not have to rely on its modest fleet of air refuelers or on its refueling expertise, which a senior U.S. military intelligence officer described as "pretty minimal." Military planners have monitored Israeli refueling exercises, he added, and are not impressed. "They're just not very good at it."
Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner, who conducted a study for a think tank affiliated with the Swedish Ministry of Defense of likely Israeli attack scenarios in March 2010, said that Israel is capable of using its fleet of F-15I and F-16I warplanes in a strike on Iran without refueling after the initial top-off over Israel. "It's not weight that's a problem," he said, "but the numbers of weapons that are mounted on each aircraft." Put simply, the more distance a fighter-bomber is required to travel, the more fuel it will need and the fewer weapons it can carry. Shortening the distance adds firepower, and enhances the chances for a successful strike.
"The problem is the F-15s," Gardiner said, "who would go in as fighters to protect the F-16 bombers and stay over the target." In the likely event that Iran scrambled its fighters to intercept the Israeli jets, he continued, the F-15s would be used to engage them. "Those F-15s would burn up fuel over the target, and would need to land."
Could they land in Azerbaijan? "Well, it would have to be low profile, because of political sensitivities, so that means it would have to be outside of Baku and it would have to be highly developed." Azerbaijan has such a place: the Sitalcay airstrip, which is located just over 40 miles northwest of Baku and 340 miles from the Iranian border. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sitalcay's two tarmacs and the adjacent facilities were used by a squadron of Soviet Sukhoi SU-25 jets -- perfect for Israeli fighters and bombers. "Well then," Gardiner said, after the site was described to him, "that would be the place."
Even if Israeli jets did not land in Azerbaijan, access to Azeri airfields holds a number of advantages for the Israel Defense Forces. The airfields not only have facilities to service fighter-bombers, but a senior U.S. military intelligence officer said that Israel would likely base helicopter rescue units there in the days just prior to a strike for possible search and rescue missions.
This officer pointed to a July 2010 joint Israeli-Romanian exercise that tested Israeli air capabilities in mountainous areas -- like those the Israeli Air Force would face during a bombing mission against Iranian nuclear facilities that the Iranians have buried deep into mountainsides. U.S. military officers watched the exercises closely, not least because they objected to the large number of Israeli fighters operating from airbases of a NATO-member country, but also because 100 Israeli fighters overflew Greece as a part of a simulation of an attack on Iran. The Israelis eventually curtailed their Romanian military activities when the United States expressed discomfort with practicing the bombing of Iran from a NATO country, according to this senior military intelligence officer.
This same senior U.S. military intelligence officer speculated that the search and rescue component of those operations will be transferred to Azerbaijan -- "if they haven't been already." He added that Israel could also use Azerbaijan as a base for Israeli drones, either as part of a follow-on attack against Iran, or to mount aerial assessment missions in an attack's aftermath.
Azerbaijan clearly profits from its deepening relationship with Israel. The Jewish state is the second largest customer for Azeri oil - shipped through the Baku-Tibilisi-Ceyhan pipeline -- and its military trade allows Azerbaijan to upgrade its military after the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) slapped it with an arms embargo after its six-year undeclared war with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Finally, modernizing the Azeri military sends a clear signal to Iran that interference in Azerbaijan could be costly.
"Azerbaijan has worries of its own," said Alexander Murinson, an Israeli-American scholar who wrote in an influential monograph on Israeli-Azeri ties for Tel Aviv's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. "The Baku government has expelled Iranians preaching in their mosques, broken up pro-Iranian terrorist groups, and countered Iranian propaganda efforts among its population."
The deepening Azeri-Israeli relationship has also escalated Israel's dispute with Turkey, which began when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship destined for Gaza in May 2010, killing nine Turkish citizens. When Turkey demanded an apology, Israel not only refused, it abruptly canceled a $150 million contract to develop and manufacture drones with the Turkish military -- then entered negotiations with Azerbaijan to jointly manufacture 60 Israeli drones of varying types. The $1.6 billion arms agreement between Israel and Azerbaijan also left Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan "sputtering in rage," according to a retired U.S. diplomat.
The centerpiece of the recent arms deal is Azerbaijan's acquisition of Israeli drones, which has only heightened Turkish anxieties further. In November 2011, the Turkish government retrieved the wreckage of an Israeli "Heron" drone in the Mediterranean, south of the city of Adana -- well inside its maritime borders. Erdogan's government believed the drone's flight had originated in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and demanded that Israel provide an explanation, but got none. "They lied; they told us the drone didn't belong to them," a former Turkish official told me last month. "But it had their markings."
Israel began cultivating strong relations with Baku in 1994, when Israeli telecommunications firm Bezeq bought a large share of the nationally controlled telephone operating system. By 1995, Azerbaijan's marketplace was awash with Israeli goods: "Strauss ice cream, cell phones produced by Motorola's Israeli division, Maccabee beer, and other Israeli imports are ubiquitous," an Israeli reporter wrote in the Jerusalem Post.
In March 1996, then-Health Minister Ephraim Sneh became the first senior Israeli official to visit Baku -- but not the last. Benjamin Netanyahu made the trip in 1997, a high-level Knesset delegation in 1998, Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2009, and Lieberman again, as foreign minister, this last February. Accompanying Peres on his visit to Baku was Avi Leumi, the CEO of Israel's Aeronautics Defense Systems and a former Mossad official who paved the way for the drone agreement.
U.S. intelligence officials began to take Israel's courtship of Azerbaijan seriously in 2001, one of the senior U.S. military intelligence officers said. In 2001, Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems contracted with Georgia's Tbilisi Aerospace Manufacturing to upgrade the Soviet SU-25 Scorpion, a close air-support fighter, and one of its first customers was Azerbaijan. More recently, Israel's Elta Systems has cooperated with Azerbaijan in building the TecSar reconnaissance satellite system and, in 2009, the two countries began negotiations over Azeri production of the Namer infantry fighting vehicle.
Israeli firms "built and guard the fence around Baku's international airport, monitor and help protect Azerbaijan's energy infrastructure, and even provide security for Azerbaijan's president on foreign visits," according to a study published by Ilya Bourtman in the Middle East Journal. Bourtman noted that Azerbaijan shares intelligence data on Iran with Israel, while Murinson raised the possibility that Israelis have set up electronic listening stations along Azerbaijan's Iranian border.
Israeli officials downplay their military cooperation with Baku, pointing out that Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim nations that makes Israelis feel welcome. "I think that in the Caucasian region, Azerbaijan is an icon of progress and modernity," Sneh told an Azeri magazine in July 2010.
Many would beg to differ with that description. Sneh's claim "is laughable," the retired American diplomat said. "Azerbaijan is a thuggish family-run kleptocracy and one of the most corrupt regimes in the world." The U.S. embassy in Baku has also been scathing: A 2009 State Department cable described Aliyev, the son of the country's longtime ruler and former KGB general Heydar Aliyev, as a "mafia-like" figure, comparable to "Godfather" characters Sonny and Michael Corleone. On domestic issues in particular, the cable warned that Aliyev's policies had become "increasingly authoritarian and hostile to diversity of political views."
But the U.S. military is less concerned with Israel's business interests in Baku, which are well-known, than it is with how and if Israel will employ its influence in Azerbaijan, should its leaders decide to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. The cable goes on to confirm that Israel is focused on Azerbaijan as a military ally -- "Israel's main goal is to preserve Azerbaijan as an ally against Iran, a platform for reconnaissance of that country and as a market for military hardware."
It is precisely what is not known about the relationship that keeps U.S. military planners up at night. One former CIA analyst doubted that Israel will launch an attack from Azerbaijan, describing it as "just too chancy, politically." However, he didn't rule out Israel's use of Azeri airfields to mount what he calls "follow-on or recovery operations." He then added: "Of course, if they do that, it widens the conflict, and complicates it. It's extremely dangerous."
One of the senior U.S. military officers familiar with U.S. war plans is not as circumspect. "We are studying every option, every variable, and every factor in a possible Israeli strike," he told me. Does that include Israel's use of Azerbaijan as a platform from which to launch a strike -- or to recover Israeli aircraft following one? There was only a moment's hesitation. "I think I've answered the question," he said.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 28/03/2012
-Mark Perry is an author and historian. His latest book is Talking to Terrorists
-Mark Perry is an author and historian. His latest book is Talking to Terrorists
Thursday, March 29, 2012
By Jamal Khashoggi
Arab Summit in Baghdad
While Syria's army cruelly and stupidly shells its own people and storms its cities, the so-called "axis of resistance" stretching from Tehran to Damascus is falling apart. Said axis spent the last decade waging a cold war against the "bloc of moderates" led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt in partnership with Jordan, the UAE and Morocco.
Prior to that divide, Arab leaders forged all sorts of axes and alliances. Some survived and evolved, others fell by the wayside. Positions changed, plots hatched and even blood was spilt during the process.
Are Arabs predestined to leave one axis and enter another, or is that something of the past?
The year 2011 brought down a curtain on an old Arab era. A new one is still taking shape. The maps are many and their lines are yet to be defined. What has transpired so far breaks up Arabs into three groups.
There are the stable countries that withstood the spring of radical change but welcomed reform. This group includes Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners.
The Arab Spring countries - namely Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and, certainly before long, Syria - are undergoing political, social and economic revolutions encompassing their ruling elites and the basic nature of their regimes.
The countries of constitutional reform are Morocco and Jordan, where the regimes remain in place but evolve and allow new ruling elites to work their way into power without usurping it. By a stretch of the imagination, Kuwait and Bahrain could be included in this group.
On the touchline are: Algeria, which has every reason to be in the second group; Lebanon, where political change hinges on the outcome in Syria; and Iraq, which would need a mystic to read its future.
Should new alliances and axes emerge, they would not conform to the outdated map, but to the wishes of new ruling elites, to geopolitical realities and, primarily, to economic considerations as politics and ideologies fade along with the dim-witted quest for "leadership" of the Arab world.
In the old Arab era, state-building was a new experience. Maps and borders had yet to become permanent, and infighting among the grandees was natural. Then came the military coups and international interference.
Chances for agreement are greater in this new era - except that past experience shows that Arabs prefer to take the wrong turn. So, better to expect the worst if we want to avoid it.
The most probable confrontation would pit the Muslim Brotherhood axis against the axis of stability. People are already inciting this with speculation about the Muslim Brotherhoods' aspirations to topple regimes in the stable states, and that their new-found power in the Arab Spring states has emboldened their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf to move against their governments, making confrontation inevitable.
But I wonder: does an axis of Muslim Brothers exist?
Such an axis could be visualised running from Egypt to Libya and on to Tunisia, bypassing Algeria (for now), and reaching Morocco. Also included would be Sudan, which is governed by Islamists who must be so relieved to see their counterparts govern Egypt.
To the east, there is Hamas in Gaza on the one hand, and Syria's opposition on the other. And the axis would not be complete without Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party in Turkey.
This is hypothetically correct, but partners in a Muslim Brotherhood alliance are unlikely, at least for now, to agree on common foreign or economic policies. They are not of the same fabric, although the common denominator is "political Islam".
Tunisia's Ennahda Party is unlike Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, for example, with intellectual and organisational variations in each of the movements that will take years to settle. They are all making their way through uncharted territory, getting to know one another after being underground for decades.
Years of incarceration, exile and adverse circumstances tore the various Brotherhood organisations from their original shared platform. This is especially true of Morocco and Sudan's "Brothers" who refuse the label. Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Kuwait's "Brothers" are perhaps the most committed to the old school.
But each of these countries belongs to an alliance other than the "Muslim Brotherhood axis".
That's why talk of a Muslim Brotherhood axis to challenge other partnerships is off the mark. Arab states are interdependent in so many respects that it is unthinkable to see them split into two blocs.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt see eye to eye by virtue of a long-standing strategic commitment to cooperation. The Nile partnership drives Egypt and Sudan together, without the latter distancing itself from Saudi Arabia. The Maghreb identity of Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria keeps them together. Here, too, I see Morocco remaining close to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and with Free Syria and Lebanon.
Note how many interconnected circles can be drawn.
The idea of axes is dead because the reasons for accord are innumerable. The "Brothers" neither wish to nor can meddle in the affairs of the stable counties. They will certainly not line up with Iran after its sectarian support of Syria.
Saudi Arabia, in turn, does not look for a confrontation with the Brotherhood, but for collaboration. Proof came when it received Tunisia's Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, who neatly sidestepped the question of the kingdom's asylum granted to former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Mr Jebali focused instead on economic matters, choosing to meet businessmen at every opportunity during his stay, prompting Crown Prince Nayef to advise Saudi business leaders to invest in Tunisia.
The same template seen in Saudi-Tunisian relations will surely reinforce the Gulf's bonds with Egypt, whoever rules it.
-This commentary was published in The National on 30/03/2012
-Jamal Khashoggi is editor-in-chief of the planned Al-Arab news channel
-Jamal Khashoggi is editor-in-chief of the planned Al-Arab news channel