For those of you with any lingering interest in the pestilential viper’s-nest we like to call the “Mideast” — that blasted, slippery-edged sinkhole of human misery that manages always to be going straight to Hell without ever actually getting there and leaving the rest of us in peace — I reprint below two items from John McCreary’s latest NightWatch:
Syria: On 29 November, the administration of Damascus’ airport cancelled all incoming and outgoing flights because rebel groups had cut the road from the airport to Damascus, for the first time.
Syrian rebels also used shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile systems (MANPADs) that were captured from Syrian forces to shoot down a government helicopter and a fixed wing combat aircraft in a 24-hour period.
Comment: The Syrian uprising crossed an important strategic threshold with the first demonstrated capability to shoot down government aircraft. This is a major escalation of the threat to the Damascus government.
One news report stated an opposition group had captured 40 MANPADS in recent overruns of government air force bases. That number is enough to neutralize the government’s air advantage, provided they are distributed adequately to trained shooters. A key question is who is providing the training. That is almost certainly US special forces.
The gradual loss of air superiority means the regime cannot survive, though its demise is not yet imminent.
Several other recent tactical successes by opposition fighting groups also almost certainly are the result of US and possibly other Western training, guidance and possibly leadership. Within four months of American announcements that US Special Operations Forces were providing training to opposition groups in camps in Jordan, the opposition groups suddenly have become tactically more effective. The targets of some of their attacks are more harmful to the Damascus regime and some groups have greater ability to coordinate their attacks.
These are the effects of superior outside military involvement. These same opposition groups fumbled around for 18 months with no significant impact on the stability of the regime. The US is involved in the fight, probably with special forces inside advising selected rebel groups.
The regime is falling back, trying to find a line it can hold. That presumably is the corridor from Damascus to Latakia, the Alawite homeland.
As noted above, policy choices have consequences. Should the Alawite government fall, Syrian Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and other minorities will be killed and shrines destroyed. That is why the Syrian Kurds are opposing the Syrian opposition fighters and jihadists.
State of Palestine: The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday voted to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority. Henceforth, the UN will treat the Authority as a non-member observer state, instead of as an entity. The vote was 138 delegates in favor of the measure, nine against and 41 abstentions.
Comment: US State Department and the US Permanent Representative to the UN have been humiliated in one of the worst defeats of US diplomacy in the modern era. The US diplomats failed to persuade US allies to vote with the US. It is a setback for Israel’s negotiating position.
Some news pundits have called it a symbolic victory. Actually that is quite wide of the mark. The Palestinian State will now be an equal – in the UN – negotiating partner with Israel, rather than an inferior.
The positions of the negotiators are forever changed. As a state, Palestine is entitled to a much wider range of international support than as an entity. It is freed from dependence on the largesse of Arab states, the US, the West and non-governmental organizations. It has the authority to negotiate on its own, without Israel permission.
It also may be recognized as a belligerent by other states, entitling it to provision of arms. It also means that Israel’s sea blockade of Gaza may be judged an act of war, rather than an act to contain a renegade entity. Airspace controls also may be affected. As for ground borders, Egypt can negotiate with the Palestinian state about how to control the border in Sinai, rather than with Israel.
Palestine also can negotiate directly with Iran and Sudan to ensure the supply of arms through Egypt. No UN member needs, ex officio, to work with or through Israel, henceforth, in dealing with or helping the Palestinians.
This is a diplomatic and strategic calamity for the US Department of State and its UN mission and for Israel. Its full consequences will become clearer over time, but US national security interests have taken a major hit.