Egypt and Syria go pear-shaped

Cairo protest

100,000 in anti-Morsi demonstration in Cairo

In my previous post I mentioned the anti-Morsi demonstrations that were taking place in Egypt in protest at President Morsi’s sweepting appropriation of powers for himself.  The protests were violent enough to cause Morsi to flee his presidential palace overnight.

At least 100,000 Egyptians forced Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi out of the presidential palace on Tuesday to protest his assumption of nearly unrestricted powers and a draft constitution hurriedly adopted by his allies.

Police fired tear gas at protesters who attempted to get past the barbed wire-topped barricade cordoning off the palace in Cairo’s Heliopolis neighborhood, but the protesters broke through nonetheless. With the barricade crossed, protesters moved closer to the palace’s walls, and the police apparently chose not to try and push the crowds back.  [See my above link about fatalities at the protests -Ed.]

The brief outburst of violence left 18 people injured, none seriously, according to the official MENA news agency.

Demonstrators clanged incessantly on lampposts, waved Egyptian flags and held aloft images of Morsi clad in a turban and Nazi uniform with the word “void” written in Arabic underneath.

Shortly after the clashes began, Morsi reportedly left the presidential palace. The president left the building through a back door when the crowds “grew bigger,” according to a presidential official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Egyptian media themselves are protesting along with the opposition:

The opposition has yet to say whether it intends to focus its energy on rallying support for a boycott of the December 15 vote or defeating the draft with a “no” vote.

“We haven’t made any decisions yet, but I’m leaning against a boycott and toward voting ‘no,’” said Hossam al-Hamalawy of the Socialist Revolutionaries, a key group behind last year’s uprising. “We want a [new] constituent assembly that represents the people and we keep up the pressure on Morsi.”

The strikes were part of a planned campaign of civil disobedience that could bring in other industries.

On Tuesday, at least eight influential dailies, a mix of opposition party mouthpieces and independent publications, suspended publication for a day to protest against what many journalists see as the restrictions on freedom of expression in the draft constitution.

The country’s privately owned TV networks planned their own protest Wednesday, when they will blacken their screens all day.

In a further blow to Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s HQ was torched and 3 more of his political aides have resigned in protest at his handling of the crisis:

Earlier Wednesday, a group affiliated with Morsi’s opposition set fire to the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party in the city of Ismailia.

[...]

Also on Wednesday, Three of Morsi’s aides resigned in protest of his handling of the crisis. With two aides who had quit earlier, now five of his panel of 17 advisers have left their jobs since the problems began.

ElBaradei said Morsi’s rule was “no different” from that of former President Hosni Mubarak, whose authoritarian regime was toppled in an uprising nearly two years ago.

“In fact, it is perhaps even worse,” the Nobel Peace laureate said.

Syrian bombing

Scene from a bombing in Syria

Moving from south to north, and with much graver implications for Israel, the situation is Syria is becoming ever more desperate and dangerous, not only to its own population but to its neighbours too: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.

The most alarming news is that, according to one US official, Syria has loaded chemical weapons into bombs, ready for use against the anti-Assad rebels:

The Syrian military is prepared to use chemical weapons against its own people and is awaiting final orders from Syrian president Bashar Assad, NBC News reported Wednesday, citing US officials.

The officials told NBC News that “the army had loaded precursor chemicals for sarin, a deadly nerve gas, onto aerial bombs that could be dropped onto the Syrian people from dozens of fighter-bombers.”

According to the report, the officials added that the sarin bombs hadn’t yet been loaded onto planed, but if Assad gives the green light, “there’s little the outside world can do to stop it.”

On Tuesday the head of NATO, asked about possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, said that any such act would provoke an immediate international response.

“The possible use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable for the whole international community,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters.

An Op-Ed in the Daily Telegraph suggests that should Assad feel he is being pushed into a corner, his bunker mentality might lead him to use the chemical weapons.

Mr Assad would be a latter-day Samson pulling down the pillars of the temple. Assuming that he is a rational actor, concerned for personal survival, there should be no question of him choosing such a course.

But there remains a nagging fear that this desiccated man, shielded from reality by a criminal entourage, could have passed beyond the bounds of rationality. By now “bunker syndrome” might well have taken hold in Damascus, where Mr Assad’s armed forces have been reduced to fighting for control of the international airport; for a few days last week, all telephone and internet connections with the rest of the world were abruptly severed.

Even if Mr Assad remains rational, no one can be sure that he still controls Syria’s chemical arsenal, one of the largest in the world.

The chemical weapons threat is so severe that, according to one report, Israel asked Jordan for permission to bomb the chemical stockpiles – a request which was refused.

Israel asked Jordan on a number of occasions for “permission” to bomb Syrian chemical weapons sites, The Atlantic reported Monday, citing intelligence sources in both countries.

According to the report, Amman turned down requests a number of times in the past two months, saying “the time was not right.”

[...]

Jordan is reportedly wary of allowing Israel to bomb the sites in Syria, fearing a military response on Jordanian territory.

“A number of sites are not far from the border,” the report quoted a foreign source as saying.

“The Jordanians have to be very careful about provoking the regime and they assume the Syrians would suspect Jordanian complicity in an Israeli attack,” the source said.

[...]

Officials in Jerusalem did not comment on the report, although one source said Israel has “been talking with relevant parties” about the Syrian chemical weapons issue. He would not specify whether Jordan was one of those countries.

The source said Israel has been saying for months that it was concerned about the possible transfer of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons – the third largest in the world – to “unsavory actors” such as Hezbollah, Hamas or al-Qaida.

He said Israel “reserves the right to preempt” if this is done.

“This is not just Israel’s interest, but the joint interest of the international community as well,” he said.

Israeli tank on border with Syria

Israel’s interest becomes more obvious as it emerges that it is facing “double trouble”: Israel’s border with Syria could soon become the most active, more than that with Gaza or Egypt, due to Syria’s WMD and the influx of foreign jihadists.  Israel would also take part in any international military effort against Syria’s chemical weapons:

There is growing concern in Israel that the faltering regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will use its stockpiles of chemical weapons as a last resort. According to a report in The Times of London and Maariv, Israel would take part in a joint military effort against the weapons of mass destruction, together with armed forces from the U.S., Britain, Jordan and Turkey. The report in The Times said some 75,000 commandos would take part in a massive ground operation against the Syrian WMD arsenal.

A senior intelligence official, meanwhile, told Israel’s Channel 2 TV news that Israel’s border with Syria on the Golan Heights could “soon become the most active border we have, more than Gaza and Egypt.” The official added that the only thing keeping Assad in power was the Syrian Air Force, but that even this power was being eroded as rebels down more and more warplanes and helicopters. [...] The collapse of the Syrian Air Force will lead to a certain collapse of the regime in Damascus. Assad’s days are numbered, and in the chaos that will replace him, extremists will heat up the Golan border,” the official said.

The intelligence official told Channel 2 TV that global jihad groups have been preparing near the border with Israel, and are “stockpiling huge amounts of lethal weapons for a fight with Israel.”

“The main problem is not the local rebel groups but fighters coming from outside Syria. Hundreds of fighters have begun streaming into Syria from Jordan and Iraq. They come from countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, and many other countries. We’re talking about very dangerous people with experience fighting the U.S. army in Iraq as well as fighting the regime in Libya. We estimate that there are between 3,000 to 4,000 rebel fighters belonging to radical Salafist groups who all belong under the al-Qaida umbrella,” the official said.

“Some of these fighters are fighting against the Assad regime, but there are groups that have begun deploying near our border and are stockpiling weaponry. There are now several hundred jihadis deployed along the border with Israel in the area of Kuneitra, Bir Ajam, Barika, and some other areas. The assessment is that they possess quantities of weapons that are not being used against Assad’s army and that it will be Israeli soldiers who will be faced with this weaponry. We are certain that they have MILAN, Metis-M, and Kornet anti-tank missiles, as well as shoulder-fired SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles, which are particularly problematic,” the intelligence official said.

The unusually candid assessment from the intelligence official continued with him saying that the jihadis were stockpiling “huge amounts of light arms, bullets, sniper rifles, and ready-to-use explosives.”

“We expect these rebels to stockpile a large amount of rockets, a situation which will return the northern Israeli communities into the line of fire. We assess that once the foreign rebels have finished fighting Assad’s army they will all turn their attention to the border with Israel. There is no question about it. Once the Assad regime falls, we will start seeing incidents on our border. I assess that it will start with a trickle of incidents, like we see on the Egyptian border, and further down the line we’ll start seeing the firing of anti-tank missiles at IDF vehicles, roadside bombs against patrols, and these are only the incidents I can reveal. I believe we will see much worse things,” the official said.

The official added that there was increasing coordination between jihadi groups in the Golan Heights, Sinai and the Gaza Strip, and that Syrian rebels were likely to fire on Israeli forces along the Golan border to further draw them into confrontation with the Syrian army.

“It really doesn’t matter who takes over on the day after Assad falls. All the signs show that the situation is not going in a positive direction as far as Israel is concerned,” the official said.

This is utterly chilling news for all Israelis. Let us hope lessons from the Second Lebanon War and the last 2 wars in Gaza have prepared the IDF for a much harder fight, and that the Home Front Command is well-prepared to take care of our civilians.

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9 Responses to Egypt and Syria go pear-shaped

  1. rrW says:

    The world won’t do anything – they will say it is our fault for
    a) not giving up the golan heights to Syria, and
    b) for building 3000 new homes in E1 which caused their aggression.
    So we will be on our own – again.
    Lets home the govt by that time will have a stronger backbone than the current one, and have the conviction to follow thru and win the coming war.

    • anneinpt says:

      a) Not sure they will. They haven’t brought the Golan up yet. interestingly, It hasn’t been mentioned in all the blather about settlements. Perhaps the violence in Syria has sharpened people’s minds. once can hope anyway.

      b) Again, I don’t think they will in relation to Syria anyway.

      On our own – yes, that’s a given. Even in NATO and/or the west in general attack Syria’s WMD, in the end we are on our own facing the Jihadis on our border.

      Lets home the govt by that time will have a stronger backbone than the current one, and have the conviction to follow thru and win the coming war.

      Amen.

  2. DavidinPT says:

    Slightly off-topic (not totally though!) the blogosphere is rife with rumours that Assad has deployed and readied his Sarin gas for use against his own people in the Aleppo area and possibly his external opponents who are supporting and supplying the rebels – Turkey and Jordan. President Obama issued an official warning 2 days ago and a huge American maritime force has mustered off the Syrian coast. It’s plain that at the first sign of use of these WMD the USA will attack, together with Turkey, Jordan, USA troops already stationed there, and most probably – Israel too. We will then have Israel fighting alongsideTurkey. To facilitate this it could be explained why Avigdor Liberman fired Danny Ayalon from his party’s Knesset list yesterday. To give the Turks a bone he got rid of (scapegoat) Ayalon who humiliated the Turkish Ambassador (remember the low chair?) well before the Mavi Marmara incident. Against the above background, that move now begins to make sense. Or am I paranoid? :)

    • anneinpt says:

      You’re not off-topic at all David. Syria’s WMD is exactly what I’ve been writing about.

      However, VERY interesting theory about Danny Ayalon’s firing. Are you paranoid? Aren’t we all in the Middle East? That’s surely a pre-condition for being allowed to live here! :-)

  3. Andrea says:

    Strong reaction from (some ) Egyptians brave enough to challenge the new dictator. What’s going on ? Brotherhood has strong support among middle class and influent businessmen plus strong financial from Qatar. Upon a strictly economic point of view, they are encouraging economical integration of Egypt into international economy and therefore a minimum level of formal democracy is needed. This does not mean unfortunately that it will come up with a presidential or parlamentary democracy. Historical experiences, in Europe as well, say that Middle Class supports also authoritarian system ( based on or supported by militars ) when their interest are threaten. Chile, Greece, Turkey in the 80′s and so on. But Egypt looks different : we do not have here poor people or Lower Class against Middle Class. It looks to me an internal conflict inside the Egyptian relatively affluent class based on radically different view of future of Misr. There are mainly students and young unemployed in the streets…since the Army is silent. Like it or not something has changed in Egypt and this country is now coming back to represent a sort of cultural and political “avant-guard” in the Arab world. Morsi will probably win this battle but the war…

    • anneinpt says:

      Thank you for your insight Andrea. You must know more than me on what is going on in the Arab world in general, and in Egypt in this case.

      To me at least it seems as if it’s a cultural or religious war going on in Egypt, and not really to do with economics. It’s a fight between religion and secularism, or rather how much influence the religious sphere has on the social and national fabric of the country.

      If it wasn’t so close to home, and so potentially dangerous for Israel, I’d be sitting back watching the show with fascination. But it’s too volatile for that, especially with the Jihadists and other assorted terrorists in the Sinai, just next door to Gaza.

      • Andrea says:

        Ah religion…it is stil an answered question to me if religion and culture are leading social life to certain kind of development or is the other way round being religion a sort of cover of social and economical interest. Question is surely complicated to have only two answers…
        To simplify I would say that Islam – like Christianism and maybe Judaism ( at least when consolidated within the frame of a solid social structure) – is a very wide concept deeply divided inside with different expressions strongly conditioned by social and economic issues. Crusaders went to Jerusalem not only for Christ’s grave after all and Muhamed was told to have started his voyage to Paradise from Jerusalem also to justify occupation of Byzantine Palestine. Behind every Mullah or Doctor of the Law there are a lot of interests to be covered.

        You clearly pointed out the reason why Egypt’s neighbours can not sit on the fence : Israel in first instance and all of countries in the Mediterranean. Rockets from Gaza are the desperate move from diverting attention from Egypt, Syria and Iran . The same unuseless attempt to reduce all Middle East game to a Israel- Palestinian issue

  4. cba says:

    Glad I’ve got my gas mask…

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