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Saturday, August 31, 2013
[New post] Tripod: CAMERA links in 3 languages, Aug. 29-30: BBC Watch, Presspectiva, In Focus, and Revista
Syria Comment: Chemical Weapons and Responses; The Developing Story of Tripoli’s Bombing; Theories on Outcomes for Syria
Posted: 31 Aug 2013 09:54 PM PDT
Political Intrigue Surrounding Bombing in Tripoli, Lebanon
The aftermath of the Aug. 23 bombings in Tripoli, Lebanon continues to develop, with tensions escalating to a new high. One week ago, two bombings occurred in separate Tripoli neighborhoods. Initially, people assumed that the bombings were in retaliation for the earlier explosion that had targeted the southern Dahieh suburb of Beirut, a Shi’i enclave, on Aug. 15. (After that attack, videos circulated online of Sunnis celebrating in Tripoli, passing out candies on the street.) This remains a general assumption. Later, the theory began to emerge that the targets of the Tripoli bombings were two men: Ashraf Rifi (a pro-Syrian opposition Lebanese general and former head of Lebanese Internal Security Forces) and Salim al-Rifa’i (a leading Salafi who had called for jihad against the Syrian army at the beginning of the battle in Qusayr). Each bomb targeted a mosque during Friday prayers, one of which was located near Ashraf Rifi’s house. The mosques targeted were frequented by Tripolitans with a March 14th / pro-Syrian opposition alignment.
Lebanon is currently holding and charging 3 Lebanese men over the incident. A 4th has been charged (A Syrian who works for the Syrian government), but he is in Syria and Syria won’t hand him over. NNA – Judge Sakr presses charges against Tripoli explosion suspects:
The story of how these particular men were picked up by the Lebanese authorities is interesting. Sheikh Gharib and Sheikh Minqara are Sunni Islamist religious leaders in Tripoli with a pro-Syrian regime political alignment. They belong to the Tawhid political movement (or Islamic Unification Movement), one of the original Islamist movements in Lebanon, started by Sa’id Shaaban and very powerful in Tripoli during the civil war. Minqara is infamous in Tripoli for allegedly burying communists and leftists alive during the civil war. After a long period of fighting, the Tawhid movement reached an agreement with the Syrian regime and eventually moved in a pro-regime direction, in the 1980s. They have since splintered after many became disillusioned with becoming so intimate with the Syrian regime. Sheikh Gharib and Sheikh Minqara represent the small surviving group that remains pro-regime and opposes the March 14th Coalition in Tripoli.
According to an article from al-Akhbar (portions of which we will translate directly or paraphrase in the following), which relies on leaks from Lebanese media sources, Sheikh Gharib was approached 6 months ago by a Syrian intelligence officer named Mohammed Ali who asked him to start following the movements of 4 men: Ashraf Rifi, Salim al-Rifa’i, Khalid Addahir, and Mustafa Alloush (the last two are MPs of the Future movement [Hariri block], both very supportive of the Syrian opposition and always advocating their cause). After being approached by Ali, Gharib went to Sheikh Minqara and told him what the Syrian officer had requested of him. Minqara told him not to comply and to cut off all contact with that officer. Minqara refused to help because he didn’t want to become involved.
After this conversation, Gharib spoke to another man, Mustafa Houry, relaying what had transpired with Mohammed Ali. Houry relayed this information to Lebanese security, which has formed the basis for suspicion toward Gharib following the bombings, which seem to have targeted at least some of the individuals that Syrian intelligence wanted to track, even though there may not be clear evidence as to who exactly conducted the bombing. Even though Gharib and Minqara may have avoided participation with the Syrians (if they were indeed those behind the bombings), the position of the Lebanese authorities is that they had prior knowledge about the plot with which they did not come forward.
After the bombings in Tripoli, a youtube video circulated showing a bearded man on a cellphone. Media speculation identified this man as Sheikh Gharib, and an official narrative was promoted alleging his presence at the site of the bombing. This occurred in conjunction with his arrest. The official narrative was forced to change after another video was circulated by al-Jadid TV in which another man identifies himself as the man on the cellphone in the original video. He and his friend both speak on this video, claiming that they were praying in the mosque when the bomb went off. The original post bombing footage and the interview with these two witnesses is combined in this video:
The bombed mosque from the street:
Video footage from inside the mosque at the moment of the bombing can be seen here.
Though some are calling this a revenge attack for the Dahieh bombing, the event in Dahieh occurred earlier this month, whereas it would seem that planning for the Aug. 23 Tripoli bombings started 6 months ago—if this narrative about Syrian security approaching the Tripolitan sheikhs is correct. Aspects of this case parallel that of Michel Smaha, who was arrested a year ago this month. Some will interpret the Tripoli bombings as a continuation of the Syrian regime’s efforts to use terrorism for political influence in Lebanon—after failing with Smaha, then pursuing the same objectives through other assets a few months later, culminating in this month’s attacks. Smaha is still in jail after a year, and the trial has been postponed until December. For articles on the Smaha story, see: 1, 2, 3, 4.
Ultimately, these events will serve to place an uncomfortable level of pressure on those people of Tripoli who have a pro-Syrian regime political affiliation. After this bombing, it will be easier for their opponents to frame them as a dangerous element that is up to no good, and increase the threat level that they face within the highly-charged and tense environment of northern Lebanon.
Conspiracy Theories: The One Thing Everyone in Lebanon Has in Common – Atlantic – good article
Chemical Weapons and Responses
Russia to send ships to Mediterranean as US mulls Syria strike – Al Jazeera America
Weapons Assad Uses Shouldn't Affect U.S. Policy – Stephen Walt
A gruesome test of realpolitik in Syria – FP – Daniel Drezner
“Why Would Assad Cross the Red Line right when the UN inspection team was visiting?” asks Free Halab. The answer: because the team was never free of the Syrian regime’s control.
Brown Moses’ Collected Chemical Weapon Posts
Nusra threatens to rocket Alawite villages over alleged chemical attack – Hurriyet Dailey
Obama Promises Syria Strike Will Have No Objective – New Yorker – Andy Borowitz - Satire
Video: PBS Newshour – President Obama: ‘I Have Not Made a Decision’ on Syria
Obama’s Bluff – STRATFOR
Video: Former NATO commander: Syria strike a bad move – U.S. retired Col. Douglas Macgregor led Kosovo mission – CBC
Earlier in the month, WORLDBytes asks British citizens on the streets of London their opinions about intervention in Syria, video here
Here you can download the US Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons
Eight things to consider before intervening in Syria (ECFR) – Anthony Dworkin, Daniel Levy and Julien Barnes-Dacey
Don't repeat the Iraq mistake – Ottawa Citizen – Brian Davis, former Canadian Ambassador to Syria
Where’s this all going?
Sometime back we wrote about revolutionary Syrians who had become disillusioned with the opposition to the point of abandoning the rebels and re-joining Syria’s army. Similarly, we are also hearing voices of frustration coming from long-time supporters of the Syrian regime, even those who have stood by the Syrian regime for over two years of conflict. One recent example came in a message received from a friend:
For months we’ve had a poll question on the site that asks: “Will Syria maintain territorial integrity post-conflict?“ Amazingly, the response percentages have hovered at exactly 50%-50% until just recently. Everyone’s trying to predict where this conflict is taking Syria and the regime, and what the eventual outcome will look like. Theories are abounding, and we hear many from readers, such as Yamin, who emailed us a list of what he considers possible:
Seth Kaplan provides his own detailed list of possible outcomes in the following article:
Seven Scenarios for the Future of Syria – Global Dashboard
Syria Comment Exclusive: Kelly Flanagan has written a scholarly analysis on the Syria Conflict, attempting to predict future outcomes for the insurgency. Below is an introduction to the paper; to download Kelly’s entire analysis, click here: Ending Insurgency, Analyzing the Syrian Conflict
Runnin’ with the Rebels
Read this frightening and amazing story of an American photojournalist kidnapped by rebels who eventually managed to escape after a harrowing period of imprisonment: American Tells of Odyssey as Prisoner of Syrian Rebels – NYT – Read all four pages!
Robin Yassin-Kassab visits rebel territory, has a much different experience. Personal account here: Journey to Kafranbel
Bay'ah to Baghdadi: Foreign Support for Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham – Aymenn al-Tamimi – This is an important article for those following rebel factions within Syria, interesting photos showing support for ISIS from Somalia and Saudi Arabia
Elizabeth O’Bagy and Thomas Pierret have both recently been making the argument that moderate forces are winning out over extremists in the Syrian opposition. Here are some examples:
External support and the Syrian insurgency – Thomas Pierret – FP
On the Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War – Elizabeth O’Bagy – ISW
Charles Lister disagrees: Syria’s moderate rebels wane as extremist forces dominate – National
“Bounded Rationality” محدودية العقلانية – an interesting theoretical analysis by Camille Otrakji in Arabic – watch here
The CTC Sentinel has a new issue entirely centered on Syria, including the following titles:
Matthew Levitt and Aaron Y. Zelin
From the Aron Lund article:
From Max Fisher: The one map that shows why Syria is so complicated
Some earlier material we noted but didn’t post in a timely fashion:
International Jihad and the Syrian Conflict – Nick Heras interviews Aaron Zelin – Fair Observer
Support for rebels will help push Syrians away from extremists – National - Hussein Ibish
An amazing moment of hope: a Syrian soldier drops his weapon and walks over to speak to the rebels, reminds everyone that they are all the same people. As with the other articles in this section, I was unable to post when it was timely, due to traveling. This story made the rounds quickly a month ago, but should be remembered, as it revealed an amazing moment of humanity. al-Arabiya: Syrian officer drops own arm, talks to rebels
Another beautiful, human story: Love in the Syrian Revolution – Wendy Pearlman
The Muslim Brotherhood's War on Coptic Christians – Daily Beast
The life and work of anarchist Omar Aziz, and his impact on self-organization in the Syrian revolution - Leila Shrooms for Tahrir-ICN
Panorama of Destruction: The Story Behind the Aerial View of Homs - Emily Dische-Becker and Hisham Ashkar – This should be read, an amazing analysis of aerial photos of destruction in Syria, the drones that captured them, and a discussion of wartime art…
Damascus: What's Left – Sarah Birke – good article
Viva La Zaatar Croissant – Syrian Foodie in London
Simplistic but entertaining nonetheless, “Shortest Guide to the Middle East Ever”:
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