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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Syria: the Libyan link

France's LeFigaro reported briefly today on Libyan troops helping out the Syrian Free Army against Assad's regime.

The report is very brief and does not shed more light on the reasons and implications of this. I will try here to do that.

It is interesting first to note that the links between Syria and Libya are old and complex. During the war between Kaddafi and Libya's NTC (rebels), Syria's Assad provided a major support to Kaddafi. Indeed before NATO's air blocade over Libya, it was Syrian pilots who bombed the civilians. They were more willing to do this than Kaddafi's unmotivated troops or his mercenaries (not very knowledgeable of airplane usage)

During Kaddafi's last days, he regularly provided messages to Syrian TV channels close to Assad's regime, and after his fall, the NTC was the first to officially recognize Syria's own opposition as the legitimate government.

The interesting part of LeFigaro's article is that the Libyan troops helping out Syria's rebels are Abdelhakim Belhadj's people. His implication is very telling:

Belhadj is an Islamist, previously jailed in Guantanamo, and trained in Afghanistan. During the Libyan uprising he led the unit that took over Tripoli. Belhadj was notoriously helped by British and French special troops, and financed by Qatar. Many assume he now works for the CIA. In the Libyan political structure he is the representative of the militant Islamists in the power structure. He was reportedly arrested recently by another Libyan group as he was traveling to Turkey with large cash amounts (source says: $600K)

Belhadj's involvement in Syria is therefore a strong indicator of:
1. US and Qatar's decision to beef up the military aspect of the uprising
2. The strong Turkish-Qatari coordination
 3. the increased involvement of Islamist troops and coordinators in Syria's armed rebellion.

Add to this the various reports of French secret service personnel training some of the Syrian rebels, and what you have is the recipe for a prolonged civil war.

The situation is very similar to Lebanon v.1975, many back then also believed that the war would end took 30 years!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Syrian expat boom

There is a visible surge in the number of Syrian daily workers in Lebanon. Just walk around Beirut's streets and you can notice that the numbers have significantly increased.

This is probably one of the most "visible" impacts of economic & political problems Syria is facing. Its excess man-force is being sent to Lebanon. This can help Syria's Assad in two ways:
1. bring in much needed currency back to Syria (earn in Lebanon, send to Syria)
2. get rid of a large number of young males, that could eventually become protesters in Syria. Interestingly enough, it is easier for Syria's Assad to control this population in Lebanon than in Syria itself. All Syrians leaving Syria needed to register with the Moukhabarat (secret service), and Syria's Lebanese allies are powerful enough to "control" these migrant workers.

I discussed with a small group of these recent arrival workers this morning. While very vague (or rather citing all possible reasons) on the reasons for coming to Beirut, they clearly made me feel that they were strongly "encouraged" to do so...