Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Smorgasbord: 'Assad is really finished!'

MEPGS; Excerpts; If Washington is basing itself on the following, Russia & Iran hedging bets ....  then we're in for a huge indigestion! HUGE!
“The perception that there is a stalemate in the civil war in Syria is just plain wrong,” says one well-informed US official.  Although the Administration relies heavily on second hand reporting from the war zone, nonetheless, key officials believe that the rebels are steadily gaining ground and that the collapse of the Assad regime is only a matter of a few months away.  That being said, there is still frustration, even despair, particularly at the State Department over President Obama’s unwillingness to assist the rebels with other than non-lethal supplies.  And there is scant hope that the new members of the National Security team are at all inclined to challenge the President.  As a result, what one well-placed official calls, “the window of opportunity” to strike a bargain that would avoid indefinite warfare among the various factions, is quickly closing.  Thus, official believe the “last, best hope,” lies with opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib’s offer to negotiate with the regime.  But with Assad insisting that talks be held in Damascus  and most of Khatib’s political and military allies opposed to any talks with Assad, this official sees scant opportunity for a political solution.
... “For the Alawites, it has become a fight to the death – their own,” says one US analyst.  For the overwhelming Sunni majority, the indiscriminate attacks by the better armed government forces has turned many into revenge seeking rebels. “The Opposition was never very good at giving the Syrian minorities an alternative,” notes one State Department official.  “Now, with the notable exception of Khatib, they are even less inclined to do so.  Reinforcing this disinclination are the changing “facts on the ground.”  US analysts say that Damascus is, in effect, under siege and the regime’s ability to re-supply key facilities – as rebels block major highways – becomes more tenuous by the day.  Further, in the opinion of one well-informed US official the Assad regime’s key military units the Republican Guard and the Fourth Division are, in his words, “being ground down and hollowed out.”  As for the regular Army, comprised mostly of Sunnis, it has ceased to exist as a fighting force, say US analysts.
 Assistance from Iran and Hezbollah has increased dramatically, leading to their irregular forces to engage in some of the ground fighting after the regime’s heavy weaponry has been employed.  Somewhat in contrast, Russian support has continued but with the apparent recognition that the regime’s days are numbered.  “The Russians expect Assad to hang on for a while but they are not about to spend any major effort unnecessarily.”  The Iranians, by contrast, while “all in” for supporting the regime have been , in the words on one leading US expert “weaving patterns”, meaning that while they send in hundreds of Revolutionary Guard fighters and support pro-regime militias, they are already putting out lines to the Opposition.
The Iranians have also been quite clever in their handling of the nuclear issue.  Next week, representatives of the so-called P-5 + 1 (US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) will meet with Iranian counterparts to once again try to make progress in deterring Iran’s nuclear development program.  Few, if any US officials expect success, since what the P-5 + 1 will offer is not noticeably different than what has been offered in the past – and rejected by Iran.  However, the Iranians have been careful not to accumulate enough enriched uranium to cross what has been Israel’s “red line” (Whoa!!!!!!)  [The Administration’s red line, as noted in the January 30, 2013 issue of the Survey, is much less demanding].  Trying to explain Iran’s “prudence”, one well-placed US official says that Teheran, while no longer fearing a pre-emptive US strike, does worry (as do US officials) that Israel could draw the US into a fight.  [However, an increasing number of US officials say privately they do not believe that Israel will act alone].
 If progress is to be made in talks with Iran, it will have to await the outcome of June’s Presidential elections there.  US officials say that not only is the regime preoccupied with insuring no repeat of the 2009 election fiasco, but it cannot afford to look weak until that outcome is satisfactorily accomplished.  In the meantime, lame duck President Ahmadinejad continues to try to maneuver himself and his followers at home and abroad – albeit with scant success.  His recent visit to Cairo, for example, proved to be a major embarrassment to the Morsi government there.  “The Sunni clergy in Egypt was not only outraged by the reception given to a shia `heretic’ but one who is widely conceived of as a bit of a clown,” is the way one State Department official put it after the visit. (Depth, Depth ...)
Morsi faces daunting domestic problems, some, according to US officials, of his own making.  They see Morsi and his Moslem Brotherhood led government repeatedly engaged in what one veteran analyst calls “continued exercises in overreach.”  Says this analyst, “Despite being surrounded by sophisticated businessmen and professionals, Morsi and his Moslem Brotherhood colleagues live in perpetual fear of losing power.  Perhaps it is a legacy of 80 years of operating underground.”  This “overreach” has not only resulted in demonstrations in the streets of Cairo and other major Egyptian cities but has angered Gulf leaders, notably the Saudis.
Still, the Saudis have issues of their own at home.  In the words of one State Department official, King Abdullah, “blinked” when he unexpectedly named his half brother Muqrin as second in line to the throne.  This may be because, according to long time Saudi watchers, Prince Salman, who is the heir apparent, has shown signs of “mental fatigue”.   Abdullah, whose health is, at best precarious, wanted to postpone the day when a new generation of Saudi princes vie to be King.  One who would be the preferred choice of most US official is Mohammed bin Nayef ...   Newly named CIA director John Brennan is considered to have a particularly close relationship with “MBN”, as he is called.'

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