Islamist or Nationalist: Who is Egypt’s Mysterious New Pharaoh?

download (56)by Raymond Stock:

Egypt’s new de facto pharaoh, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, is a man of mystery. Is he an Islamist, or a nationalist? Is he a person of high principle, or a lowly opportunist? And in a land which has known five thousand years of mainly centralized, one-man rule, with limited experience of democracy, when have we seen his type before, and where will he lead the troubled, ancient nation now?

These questions are crucial to knowing how the U.S. should react to al-Sisi’s removal of Egypt’s first “freely elected” president, Mohamed Morsi on July 3 in answer to overwhelmingly massive street protests demanding that he do so, and to the ongoing bloody crackdown on Morsi’s group, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), that began on August 14. Citing the ongoing, actually two-way violence in Egypt, President Barack Obama’s administration has now suspended much of our annual $1.6 billion aid to the country, save for money needed to maintain security operations along the Israeli border in Sinai and to directly support the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.

Earlier, the administration had stopped the scheduled delivery of four out of twenty F-16s to Egypt, cancelled the bi-annual “Bright Star” joint training exercises that had been set for September, and launched a review of the bi-lateral relationship. There has now been a delay in paying the final $585 million tranche of this year’s aid package, pending that review, according to an October 9 report by the global strategic analysis firm, Stratfor.

However, the administration has been careful not to classify Morsi’s removal a “coup,” which under U.S. law would require an immediate cut-off of all of our aid to Egypt. That assistance is vital to the U.S.’ favored access to the Suez Canal, maintenance of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty and crucial bi-lateral security cooperation against international terrorism. Nonetheless, the latest move puts the entire alliance at great risk, and plays into popular demands that Egypt switch to a more independent stance, or even adopt Russia as chief military supplier instead of the U.S., an idea made more enticing by Washington’s apparent weakness in surrendering its interests in Syria to Moscow, and its seeming haste to make concessions to Cairo’s post-MB regional antagonist in Tehran over the latter’s nuclear program.

Yet along with a number of key Congressional leaders and most of the mainstream media, Obama has been far more critical of al-Sisi and his use of force against a group that our government wrongly supported while in power under the illusion that it was “moderate,” than they have been of the violence and mayhem of the MB.

Meanwhile, the MB’s “peaceful demonstrators” have been busy burning scores of Christian churches and schools along with hundreds of Christian businesses while attacking other citizens, museums and public buildings, the police and the army, and waging an open war against the state in Sinai and around the country. As the total number of deaths in the past nearly two months of confrontations climbs toward the thousands, the MB clearly hopes to use its own “martyrs” (as both sides call their fallen) to generate sympathy for their unaltered goal of restoring Morsi to power. So far, however, it’s not working. Despite a surge in turnout at demonstrations it organized to coincide with the State’s grand celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the 1973 war on October 6, fewer and fewer people have been joining its protests, which have been tiny compared to the unprecedentedly-huge demonstrations against the Islamists.

THE SECRET THESIS

But what besides the obvious hard realities pushed al-Sisi to act when he did? What does he believe, and what does he want? A quiet man known for saying little and keeping his own counsel, in his year of study at the U.S. Army War College in 2006, al-Sisi produced a research paper or brief thesis on his views of Islam and the state. That document was first exposed by Robert Springborg, an expert on Egypt’s military, in a July 28 article in Foreign Affairs.

Springborg predicted that al-Sisi, who has sworn to swiftly restore democracy after a nine-month transition, intends to keep real power for himself. Furthermore, Springborg warned of his “Islamist agenda,” saying that he would not likely restore the “secular authoritarianism” practiced by Mubarak, but would install “a hybrid regime that would combine Islamism with militarism.” Intriguingly, though it holds no state secrets, the document was classified, and was only released under a Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch on August 8.

In it, al-Sisi declares, “There is hope for democracy in the Middle East over the long term; however, it may not be a model that follows a Western Template” (sic). By that, al-Sisi makes plain, he means that Middle Eastern democracy must be based not on secularism, but on Islam.

However, in an August 16 profile of the previously obscure general published by The Daily Beast by Mike Giglio and Christopher Dickey, those who know al-Sisi (few of whom will talk much about him) say that he grew up in a family that was both religiously conservative—not radical—but extremely nationalistic. And indeed it is that sense of nationalism which seems to have had the upper hand in motivating the actions he’s taken thus far.

The chaos, economic calamity, and political upheaval that have rocked Egyptian society since a much more limited popular uprising against longtime president Hosni Mubarak resulted in Mubarak’s ouster by the military on February 11, 2011 (at Obama’s thinly-veiled urging the night before)—and which led in part to al-Sisi’s move against Morsi—have all been seen before.

Read more at Middle East Forum

As Egypt erupts, U.S. dithers

egypt-unrestBy :
Egypt’s security forces have now moved decisively to eliminate Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo, producing the bloodshed foretold by daily confrontations between the Brotherhood’s supporters and opponents. Six weeks after the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt remains deeply and violently divided — and American policy is confused and irresolute.

While confusion and irresolution are nothing new to the Obama administration, this is not the place to dither or make strategic mistakes. We must define precisely what U.S. priorities are in light of Egypt’s strategic significance, and given the potential for protracted hostilities there between armed combatants.

By identifying our interests, we can concentrate our energies and resources on advancing them in practical ways, avoiding an essentially academic debate over issues we can’t significantly influence. Because our resources are not unlimited, we have to focus our political time and attention, as well as our more tangible assets and capabilities, where they can do the most good.

First, Egypt’s continued adherence to the 1979 Camp David peace agreements with Israel is essential. Anwar Sadat’s courageous decision to negotiate directly with Israel was critical not only to establishing this foundation of America’s overall Middle East policy, but also evidenced Egypt’s momentous shift, after the death of longtime dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser, away from the Soviet Union. Sadat’s sea change in allegiance provided an opening the U.S. used to undermine Moscow’s extensive regional influence, and was an early sign that the Cold War was entirely winnable.

In 1981, the Muslim Brotherhood assassinated Sadat for his troubles, reflecting that then, as now, the Brotherhood has only contempt for Egyptian leaders who seek peace with Israel. If Morsi had enjoyed only a slightly longer tenure in office, he would likely have abrogated Camp David entirely. The treaty’s demise would have even further reduced U.S. influence throughout the Middle East, renewed opportunities for anti-American, anti-Israeli radicals and increased threats to friendly Arab regimes prepared to live with Egyptian (and Jordanian) peace treaties with Israel. Make no mistake, if Washington takes Camp David for granted, it will disappear, and quickly.

Second, the economically vital Suez Canal runs through Egypt. If passage is blocked, as it was in the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, or for years after the 1967 Six-Day War, Europe and America will suffer, and so will Egypt. Already, 21/2 years of domestic instability have made the Sinai Peninsula a haven for terrorists and devastated Egypt’s economy, with both foreign investment and tourism revenues plummeting.

Until political stability is restored, the nation’s Gross Domestic Product will continue eroding, impoverishing the entire society and further straining already weakened social cohesion.

What Washington needs to do is clear. U.S. policy should be to support only Egyptian leaders unambiguously committed to Camp David, both to its terms and to its broader regional significance. And we must assist those who place highest priority on repairing Egypt’s badly weakened economy and securing its international economic obligations, particularly safe transit through the Suez Canal.

Both Egypt’s military and its “pro-democracy” elements support Camp David, while the Brotherhood does not. There is, accordingly, no reason to advocate including the Brotherhood into a “coalition” form of government or, frankly, to welcome them into the political process at all.

Read more at New York Daily News

 

Israeli green light for big Egyptian Sinai offensive, after Islamists fail to assassinate Egyptian general

Al Qaeda flags adorn Morsi's image in Sinai

Al Qaeda flags adorn Morsi’s image in Sinai

Debka:

Israel Thursday July 11 approved a major Egyptian offensive for curbing the mounting aggression in Sinai of armed Salafis gangs, Muslim Brotherhood raiders and Hamas terrorists. A day earlier, Egypt’s Second Army commander, Maj.-Gen. Ahmad Wasfi, who is assigned to lead the offensive, escaped unhurt from an attempt on his life. Some of his bodyguards and soldiers were killed.

Maj.-Gen. Wasfi arrived in Sinai just four days ago to set up headquarters in the northern town of El Arish. He was targeted for the first attempt by radical Islamists to murder a high-ranking Egyptian general.  As a close associate of Defense Minister Gen. Fattah El-Sisi, Wasfi took part in the military coup which ousted President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo on July 3.

Around 30 Islamist gunmen laid in ambush for his convoy Wednesday,DEBKAfile’s sources report. As the cars drove past Sheikh Zuwayed, southwest of El Arish, they came under a hail of RPG anti-tank rockets and explosive devices. A minivan then drove the length of the convoy shooting heavy machine guns and armor-piercing bullets, trapping the Egyptian troops and officers in the blazing vehicles and gunning down those who tried to escape.

A fierce shootout ensued in which a number of attackers suffered losses, Egyptian military sources say. The minivan’s driver was captured and is under interrogation.

Tuesday, at the same location, two buses carrying Colombian peacemakers serving with the multinational force-MFO at the Sheikh Zuwayed base were also waylaid and shot up.

Of deep concern to the Egyptian and Israeli high commands is the Salafist assailants’ prior knowledge of the timing and route taken by Gen. Wasfi’s convoy in Sinai, because it means that Islamist terrorists have penetrated Egypt’s military apparatus in Sinai and gained an inside track on its activities.
With Israel’s consent (in line with the 1979 peace treaty), the Egyptian army last week withdrew substantial strength from the Suez Canal towns of Port Said and Ismailia and deployed the troops in Sinai ahead of the offensive.
On the other side of the Sinai border, Israeli Defense Forces are heavily deployed along the Sinai and Gaza border fences and in the southernmost sector of Eilat.
They are on high alert on intelligence that the armed Islamists plan to retaliate for an Egyptian assault by attacking Israel.

Read more

Blow to Radical Islam Worldwide if U.S. Tells Morsi to Go

An anti-Morsi poster and protester. (Photo: © Reuters)

An anti-Morsi poster and protester. (Photo: © Reuters)

By Tawfik Hamid:

After one year of Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi’s presidency, millions  of Egyptians-in an unprecedented scene-poured into the streets of Cairo to say NO to Political Islam. This is probably the first time since 9/11 that Egyptians have dared to publicly reject Political and Radical Islam in such huge numbers.

U.S. support for Mohammed Morsi now appears to be pointless as the vast majority of  the population is turning against him. It would seem his collapse is inevitable.

Any attempt by the US to push the military to support Morsi is a form of suicide for the military as literally tens of millions are turning against him, while only tens of thousands are remaining loyal. Additionally, the Egyptian military-which has the support of more than 80% of Egyptians, according to recent surveys-is people-based and not sectarian. This simply means that the military itself may collapse if does not reject Morsi. And if that were to happen, the US would lose the ONLY ally in the country that can protect the Suez Canal and respect the peace treaty with Israel.

Some may argue that the US needs to support the ballot results. On the surface this may seem reasonable. But is the principle of democratic elections more important than the democratic values it is designed to protect? Are election results more important than such democratic values such as respect for minorities, equality of citizens, and the rule of law? President Morsi has made a mockery of these basic values.

Read more at The Clarion Project

For live updates follow:

On Mistaking Mohamed Mursi For His Mask

by Raymond Stock
Foreign Policy Research Institute
February 2013

“You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there.” — President Barack Obama, “60 Minutes,” January 27, 2013

imagesCA6KQ9BHWith President Mohamed Mursi’s proclamation of a “new republic” on December 26, after the passage of a Constitution that turns Egypt into an Islamist-ruled, pseudo-democratic state, the “January 25th Revolution” came to a predictably disastrous (if still unstable) terminus. As momentous for world history as the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran (should it hold), it represents the formal—if not the final—victory for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in its 84-year struggle for power in the land of its birth. Indeed, 2012 will likely be remembered as the year that Islamists made the greatest gains in their quest for a new caliphate in the region. And without a drastic change of course by Washington, 2013 might surpass it by far in progress toward the same, seemingly inexorable end.

Egypt, the largest Arab state, the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid, and our second most important ally in the Middle East, is now in the hands of a hostile regime—an elected one at that—which we continue to treat as a friendly one. Even if the sudden outburst of uncontrolled violence along the Suez Canal since January 26—coupled with escalating political and economic tumult in Cairo and elsewhere—leads to a new military coup, it would likely be managed by the MB from behind the scenes. The irony and the implications are equally devastating. This new reality threatens not only traditional U.S. foreign policy goals of stability in the oil-rich Middle East and security for Israel, but also America’s declared support for democracy in the Arab world. Moreover, the fruits of Islamist “democracy,” should it survive, are catastrophic to the people of Egypt, the region and beyond.

How did all this happen? And what role did the U.S. play?

Excellent piece on the revolution in Egypt and the role Barack Obama has played in it. Read it all at Middle East Forum

Also see Ryan Mauro’s interview of Raymond Stock: Egypt Expert: Morsi Confidently Fooling West at RadicalIslam.org

Raymond Stock

Raymond Stock

Raymond Stock is a Shillman/Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and former Visiting Assistant Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University. He has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Pennsylvania.Stock lived in Egypt for 20 years and was detained at Cairo Airport in December 2010 and deported back to the U.S. due to his 2009 Foreign Policy Magazine article criticizing then-Egyptian Culture Minister for his policies and anti-Semitism.

He is currently working on a biography of Egyptian Nobel laureate in literature, Naguib Mahfouz.

Raymond Stock: The Arab Spring & Egypt’s Nuclear Weapons Program:

Arab Rage, Unrest and Anti-Americanism Is Nothing New

egyptian-protesters-stones-gesture2By :

The delivery of tanks and F-16s to Egypt, originally promised to the Mubarak regime, but now forwarded to Morsi and the Brotherhood, is the latest phase of U.S. engagement with a Middle East in turmoil. Though all kinds of nasty and brutal individuals are still in charge, and though the thrust of the Arab world remains anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and anti-American, the official line of our prescient government is that all this is an extension of the “Arab Spring” and, despite setbacks, is tending towards greater democracy in the Arab world.

We are, under Obama, supposedly the good guys because we generally support “democracy.”  What appears to be developments that are cancerous and threaten world peace, should be seen as just another Excedrin headache for our sincere, hardworking, compassionate, and all-knowing leaders.  After all, our President has an intuitive sense of the Muslim mind.  He can reconcile us with those who appear to be irreconcilable.

Stories are written as though the events in the Middle East, the turmoil and barbaric upheavals, were something new.   When the dust settles, we shall presumably see a more benign and tractable community of interests in the Arab world.  If anti-Americanism and anti-infidel expressions are reflected in Algeria, Libya, Syria, Mali, or Egypt, they are reflective of a new more harmonious relationship with us reflective of the influence of our balanced and giving President.

In fact, we see a deep-seated anti-American and anti-Western “rage” going back to Gamal Abdel Nasser with the closing of the Suez Canal and alignment with the Communist bloc.  Following Nasser, the assassination of his successor, President Sadat of Egypt, was clearly a rejection of the American-brokered Camp David Accords that led to the Egyptian recognition of the State of Israel.  There is a direct line from the deposing of Pres. Mubarak to that long-ago assassination. Therefore, Mubarak’s deposing was not pro-democratic, but anti-American at its heart.

Read more at Front Page

Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood Bomb?

by Raymond Stock:

“We [Egyptians] are ready to starve in order to own a nuclear weapon that will represent a real deterrent and will be decisive in the Arab-Israeli conflict.” — Dr. Hamdi Hassan, Spokesman, Muslim Brotherhood Parliamentary Caucus, 2006

When Egypt’s first civilian, democratically elected dictator,[1] Mohamed Mursi became his country’s first head of state to visit Iran since its own Islamic revolution in 1979 for the annual meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on August 30, the two leaders might have gone beyond the scheduled turnover of NAM’s leadership from Mursi to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran: they most probably discussed Egypt’s quietly reviving drive to acquire nuclear power — possibly including nuclear weapons — and how Iran might be of help.

Since taking office on June 30, Mursi has reportedly offered to renew diplomatic relations with Tehran, severed for more than three decades — but then repeatedly denied that he had planned to do so. His visit for the NAM conference, however, along with his sudden recent proposal to set up a committee of four nations including Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to try to end the fighting in Syria, and Egypt’s refusal to inspect an Iranian ship passing through the Suez Canal en route to Syria, all indicate that Cairo’s relations with Tehran are improving dynamically. Meanwhile, in advance of Mursi’s arrival, Iran was said to have offered to assist Egypt in developing a nuclear program.

Almost completely overlooked in Mursi’s warp-speed takeover of total state power in Egypt since his election victory, was that on July 8, the Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MoEE) handed him a feasibility study for the creation of a nuclear power plant at El-Dabaa in the Delta[2] — possibly the first of four nuclear power plants around the country, the last of which would be brought online by 2025, according to a plan announced by MoEE in spring 2011. (Under the plan, El-Debaa would reach criticality—become operational–in 2019.) While Mursi has not yet announced his decision on whether to proceed with the projects, a number of international companies from Canada, China, France, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. have expressed interest in the bidding for them. In his trip to Beijing just prior to heading for Tehran, Mursi requested $3 billion for “power plants” from the Chinese, according to the geostrategic analysis firm Stratfor. Meanwhile, the website israelhayom.com reported on August 30 that the previous day Mursi had told a group of Egyptian expatriates living in China that he was considering the revival of Egypt’s nuclear power program.[3] Now comes the possibility that Iran will transfer its nuclear capabilities to Egypt. As Stephen Manual reported from Tehran on August 26 for the website allvoices.com:

“Mansour Haqiqatpour, a member [vice-chairman] of the country’s Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, told the state-run television station, Press TV, that Iran also plans to invite heads of states to visit the country’s nuclear facilities on sidelines of NAM summit. The purpose of the visit is to counter the propaganda unleashed by Western countries that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. He said that Iran was ready to share experience and expertise on nuclear facilities with Egypt and there was no harm in it. One can easily infer from the statement of Haqiqatpour that Iran is indirectly urging Egypt to go for the nuclear technology.[4]

Iran later denied that it had invited any foreign heads of state to visit any of its nuclear sites during the NAM conference—but not, apparently, the offer to assist Egypt’s nuclear program.[5] Although in Tehran Mursi also renewed Egypt’s long-standing call for a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East, since at least 2006 the Muslim Brotherhood (MB, in which Mursi served as a major leader before his election) has called for Egypt to develop its own nuclear deterrent.[6] This view is so popular that in an interview on the Cairo channel ON-TV, on August 21, 2011, a retired Egyptian army general, Abdul-Hamid Umran said that it was “absolutely necessary” for the nation’s security to have “a nuclear program.” By this, he made clear, he did not mean a purely civilian program to produce electric power, to which Egypt is technically entitled as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). He said, rather, that Egypt should declare the program’s peaceful purposes, and then systematically fool the international inspectors to achieve the needed levels of uranium enrichment to manufacture bombs — citing Iran as an example of how this can be done, and providing detailed steps to accomplish it.[7] In another interview (for Egypt’s Tahrir-TV) on August 6, 2012, Umran again demanded that Egypt develop its own nuclear weapons, stressing that if Israel finds itself in a “difficult situation,” it would use its own nuclear shield: in that instance, Egypt must also have one to defend itself. The unmistakable implication is that Egypt would need nuclear weapons against Israel’s expected atomic retaliation in the event that Egypt went to war against the Jewish State.[8]

Given the MB’s extreme hostility to Israel, its anti-Semitic and anti-Western ideology, and its recent, apparently complete takeover of the military and the rest of state power in Egypt, the possibilities raised are deeply unsettling. While none of this is conclusive, it definitely points to questions that have long been overlooked or too-easily dismissed in the debates about nuclear proliferation in a region that may soon explode in military conflict over Iran.

However it turns out, a review of the history and capabilities — past, present and future — of Egypt’s 58-year nuclear program will quickly reveal why approval of the El-Dabaa plant could signal the rise of a whole new level of danger in the already fraught Middle East, following the Islamist Spring.

Read more at Gatestone Institute

US Security Interests in Egypt

by Shoshana Bryen:

This week, without a murmur of dissent, the Egyptian Government restored the right to declare war to the President with the concurrence of Parliament. Morsi is continuing an evolution that promises to hasten the decline of American influence.

How much recent events have eroded U.S. security interests in Egypt depends on how deeply rooted those interests were in the first place. Although the Mubarak government did some things we wanted it to do, it did other things that were anathema. Mubarak, with U.S. complicity and Israeli acquiescence, fed the growth of a military that could be used for good or ill while he fed the Egyptian people lies about Israel, about war, about Jews and about peace. In the bigger picture, Egypt always saw itself with Arab and Sunni and larger Muslim responsibilities as well as responsibilities to its non-Muslim patron, whether the U.S. or Russia before it.

The smart bet was never on Egypt as an actual ally – which presumes a certain fundamental alignment – but on the understanding that things would be worse if Mubarak weren’t there. The now-complete demise of military structure embodied in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – America’s erstwhile ally – was utterly predictable.

In March, Secretary Clinton handed over $1.25 billion to the SCAF in defiance of Democratic Sen. Leahy’s “hold” on the money pending “democratic reforms.” Thus emboldened, the SCAF amended the 1971 constitution to deprive the incoming president of, among other things, the right to declare war. While the State Department publicly demanded complete civilian rule, it was privately relieved to think that the military body in which the U.S. had invested so much money, training and technology would still hold the power of the peace treaty with Israel.

Relief was short-lived. After the terrorist attack in Sinai that killed 16 Egyptians before moving on to Israel, President Morsi channeled Rahm Emanuel and effectively fired the entire leadership of the SCAF. This week, without a murmur of dissent, the Egyptian government restored the right to declare war to the president with the concurrence of Parliament.

The dregs of the SCAF may or may not be asked for an opinion. The President may or may not consult with the revived National Defense Council, which consists of government officials including parliamentarians, ministers and representatives of branches of the military, and meets at the request of the President. In any event, the “representatives of branches of the military” are younger, more Islamist-leaning officers who were not part of the SCAF. They know the lucrative, U.S.-funded military/industrial complex that enriched Sadat, Mubarak, Suleiman and Tantawi won’t be there for them.

The case looks cut and dried – our friends are out; others are in; we lose. Sure enough, President Morsi went to Iran and earlier this week, Egypt declined a U.S. request that an Iranian ship passing through the Suez Canal be inspected for illegal arms. But neither is a new position – they are the evolution of Egyptian, not Muslim Brotherhood, positions.

Read more at Gatestone Institute

Why Assad Can’t Win

By Ryan Mauro:

The fighting in Damascus and now Aleppo means Syrian dictator Bashar Assad can no longer hope to reclaim his country. The best he can hope for is to barricade himself inside a stronghold in the mountainous areas of the northwest and along the Mediterranean Coast.

An army defector says that 60% of the country is now under the control of the rebels called the Free Syria Army. They have captured all four border crossings on the Iraqi border and one on the Turkish border. The fighting in the capital of Damascus is nearing the Presidential Palace and it is escalating in Aleppo, the upscale city that has been one of the few areas relatively stable since the revolution began.

“Aleppo is to Syria what New York City is to the U.S.—a key financial hub, and a key crossroads for international trade,” writes James Miller. His assessment is that, “If Aleppo falls, this war is over,” because the rebels will then control Idlib Province and then take Hama and Homs.

Assad’s forces are over-stretched and over-used. Their offensives are able to defeat the rebels in battles–Damascus’ Midan District has been recaptured by the regime—but then the fight moves elsewhere. The regime simply doesn’t have the means to squash the revolution.

The military looks strong on paper with about 550,000 soldiers in total but three-fourths were confined to their barracks in order to prevent defections in February. Two-thirds of the reservists didn’t show up for duty. That was six months ago. The rebels estimate that about 50,000 of 280,000 deployed troops have defected and the regime loyalists suffer from “rampant mismanagement in the command structure.” In 2007, defense expert Anthony Cordesman stated, “Syria’s conventional forces are the impoverished stepchild of the region.” There’s no evidence they’ve been significantly upgraded in the subsequent five years.

Syrian Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas

The regime is suffering a high loss rate while rebel strength is increasing. About 150 of the regime’s troops are killed and wounded every single day. The rebels are getting new shipments of ammunition, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades and Syrian Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas the pace of defections to their side is increasing. The most significant defection is that of Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas, a childhood friend of Assad that served in the elite Republican Guards. He is from the second-most famous Sunni family in the country and his father was part of Hafez Assad’s innermost circle.

The rebels easily have the upper hand in morale and momentum. Operation Damascus Volcano has exceeded the rebels’ expectations. The bombing of a secret meeting that killed four top regime officials, including the Defense Minister and Assef Shawkat, one of the most hated regime insiders, shook the government to its core. The fighting in Aleppo is increasing rebel morale exponentially.

Another reason that Assad cannot defeat the rebels is that Iran and Hezbollah cannot make up for the foreign aid given to the rebels by Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and others. The Iranian regime is financially strapped due to the European oil embargo and had to cut its funding to Hezbollah by 40% in 2010, long before these latest sanctions were even agreed upon. The U.S. has convinced Iraq to stop flights to Syria from Iran which were delivering assistance and has had some success in blocking Iranian ships transiting the Suez Canal.

While it is true that Russia is assisting Assad, it is uncertain how far the Russians are willing to go. Russia cancelled its $100 million sale of the S-300 air defense system to Syria following a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister and is now saying that Assad needs a way to leave the country in a “civilized” way.

Even if Assad were to launch a successful counter-attack that pushed the rebels back, he wouldn’t be able to eliminate them because of Turkey’s protection. Following Syria’s downing of a Turkish jet, the Turks changed their rules of engagement to consider any Syrian military asset approaching the border to be a threat that can be fired upon. Turkey just sent more anti-aircraft missiles to the border, and Syrian helicopters aren’t coming within three miles of the border. This means that Turkey has essentially created a no-go zone for the rebels that they can retreat to if necessary.

The regime has, for the first time, admitted that it possesses chemical weapons, and we know it’s a frightening amount. It says it will only use them against a foreign intervening enemy, but it’s not hard to image them being used against the rebels and the regime arguing that outside support for the rebels qualified as foreign intervention. Or it can just claim that their stocks were looted and used by terrorists. Blaming civilian casualties on the rebels is what the regime does anyway. At any rate, orders to use chemical weapons would create irresistible political pressure for an international coalition to immediately intervene and finish Assad off.

Read more at Radical Islam