Endless Predictions of the Syrian Regime’s Collapse, but Why Hasn’t it Happened? An Interview with Kamal Alam of the UK based Institute for Statecraft

https://i2.wp.com/www.thisfabtrek.com/journey/asia/syria/20091120-palmyra/assad-father-son-4.jpgManfred Schweda/thisfabtrek.com. Image used with permission.

KAMAL ALAM IS THE SYRIA FELLOW at The Institute for Statecraft, and advises the British Army on Syrian Affairs. He has served as advisor on Syrian affairs to the UK’s Chief of Defence Staff and to the European Union, and is a visiting lecturer at several military staff colleges across the Middle East and UK. His articles can be found in Nikkei Asian Review, ForeignPolicy.com, Middle East Eye, and other publications.

Kamal Alam

ONE YEAR AGO, Alam published a controversial yet prescient article in openDemocracy.net entitled, Pax Syriana: neither vanquished, nor all-conquering—wherein he explained why the Syrian Army had not and would not easily fragment, leading to the collapse of the Syrian state, as predicted by a chorus of analysts going back to 2011.

HIS NOVEMBER 2014 EXPERT TESTIMONY before the UK Parliament’s Defence Committee covering ISIS and national security can be viewed here.

WITH NEW REBEL VICTORIES in Spring of 2015, commentators and reporters declaring the regime’s imminent collapse grew louder, but it hasn’t happened. Kamal Alam agreed to the following exclusive interview with Levant Report—we wanted to know why the same old voices keep getting Syria so wrong…


 

Levant Report: At various times over the past few years there have been many failed predictions by prominent commentators declaring “the imminent demise” of the Syrian government. With the fall of Idlib and Palmyra and increased pressures, the prevailing wisdom in Western press is now once again that the government will soon collapse. Do you agree with this current popular assessment?

Kamal Alam: I do not believe the commonly stated prediction about ‘the fall of Assad and the Syrian regime.’ The coming fall of the Assad regime has begun to sound like the boy who cried wolf. Yet there is no wolf to be seen. However the fall of Idlib and Palmyra have significantly weakened the strategic posture of the Syrian Arab Army. The Syrian Arab Army is fighting the hardest battle in the Middle East against terrorists. Although one cannot deny that the Syrian protests started as a peaceful demand for reform they (protests) were quickly hijacked by the worst kind of extremists. No one from the initial days of the uprising wanted regime change. This was an external agenda which quickly spiraled out of control. And whilst the Syrian regime made mistakes to begin with as any State makes in times of tension, the uprising has turned into a blood letting sponsored by external states.

LR: Why do such commentators and analysts consistently fail in their predictions on Syria?

KA: The so-called experts and analysts fail in their predictions because they think Syria was the same as Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia and even Egypt. They failed to realize the ground realities of Syria and most experts have not even been to Syria. For instance the same experts were defence advisers in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Libya. They often begin their arguments by saying, ‘In Bosnia we did so and so.’ ‘In Afghanistan we did the surge in the South.’ Really? if Afghanistan or Iraq are barometers for success then one must look really hard in the mirror. Most strategic analysts are opportunists linked with media and defence companies who have vested interests and are definitely not bi partisan.  Without naming names, one of the key ‘experts’ was a DoD official who become the spokesperson for the Syrian National Council. How can an American defence official all of a sudden be a Syrian expert and spokesperson for the SNC? The only credible voices on Syria have been the late Patrick Seale, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Joshua Landis. Even the ex-Israeli PM Ehud Barak said Assad would fall in two months, and this was in 2011.

LR: Damascus and other government-held centers are increasingly resource starved, and yet any modern army requires constant flow of energy and other resources. How has resource disruption impacted the operational effectiveness of the Syrian Army? How has the general strain impacted morale among the troops?

KA: The morale of the Syrian Army is still high. It is the only pluralistic fighting force on the ground which draws from the Sunni, Christian, Druze and Allawi sections of the society. The resources are severely depleted but time and again they have fought back from several setbacks over the last five years to regain their lost ground. No Army can fight a war without the support of its people and lands it operates in. For the Syrian Arab Army to operate for as long as it has, it has relied on its own people no matter how many foreign advisers there might be, there can be no substitute to your own people’s backing. The main problem is the supply line, and the international allies are helping the Army keep their supply lines well fed. At the same time people forget that Syria has always been the bread basket for the region. The Syrian Army is very resourceful given its experience in the Lebanese Civil War and de facto involvement in the war in Iraq since 2003. Lebanon was stabilized thanks to the Syrian Army in the 1970s and 1980s. People have a short memory and forget the Arab League and the United Nations mandated Syria to end the fighting in Lebanon. Now it is the time for the Lebanese to repay the favour to their Syrian brothers. The greatest factor in the cohesion of the Syrian Army is its multi-faith background.

LR: Former deputy director of the CIA Michael Morell recently publicly acknowledged Israeli-Nusra cooperation along the Golan. Concerning this and Israel’s documented direct attacks during the Syrian conflict, what do you see is Israel’s strategic interest in Syria?

KA: Kissinger famously said that without Syria there can be no peace in the Middle East. Israel has always clung to this statement, by knocking out the Syrian Army, they once and for all diminish any regional threat to their hegemony. Israel’s strategy in Syria has been clear: to divide the Syrians and create a buffer zone to further annexe land along the Golan Heights. They have tried hard to split the Druze and Allawi in particular saying they will protect them; however, so far they have failed in these attempts. In fact, as we saw a few days ago the Israeli Druze attacked an Israeli  military ambulance. So if anything Israel’s attempts have backfired and angered its own Druze community.

LR: In 2014 we heard many reports of local ceasefires and potential “freeze zones” that might lead to a long term stall in fighting [discussed here for example]. To your knowledge, did any locally negotiated ceasefires endure to a local peace? What are the prospects for peace in Syria? What would have to happen?

KA: There have been many successful local ceasefires most notably in Western Ghouta, Muaadamiet Esham, Qudssaya, Barzeh and the old city of Homs. The example of Maloula is also a useful one, where after the takeover of Islamic extremists, they were forced out by a coalition of armed locals and the Syrian Arab Army. Western Ghouta and Reef Dimashq has been a particular example with particular truces holding out in Ain Alfijeh and Wadi Barada. The key for a durable peace has to be a political understanding between agreeable sides. Both the Geneva talks failed because the rebels failed to come with an open mind. Moaz al Khatib, the most credible rebel leader to date resigned citing that the Syrian opposition is run by non-Syrians. The Turks and GCC begged him to stay on—yet he walked away knowing there is no credible opposition which he could lead. The examples of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are before us in terms of the rigidity of Islamic democrats who feign the process of pluralism to grab power. Damascus has seen historical truces between Maronites and Druze of Lebanon, Sunnis and the Druze of Southern Syria. However for this to happen foreign interference must cease. The European states in particular need to hold their Muslim communities to account, Britain in particular has allowed so-called moderate Islamists to destabilize Egypt, Libya and Syria. This policy must be put to an immediate end. Any one who uses religion to seek power is by definition not a moderate—Syria gave birth to Christianity and a Christian priest foretold the coming of a Prophet in Arabia. Gulf Bedouins with little understanding of tolerance cannot dictate peace to the oldest civilization in the world.

This interview is also available at Medium.com.

Brad Hoff Interviewed by ANC Report

 

Key documents and articles referenced in the show:

  1. My original report on the 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency ‘Islamic State’ document.
  2. 1980 DIA report “Assad’s Prospects” at CIA FOIA Reading Room.
  3. 1982 DIA “Special Analysis” entitled “Syria: Muslim Brotherhood Pressure Intensifies” (this was initially viewable at Foreignpolicy.com but is now not available at this location)
  4. DIA reports on Muslim Brotherhood/Syrian Government conflict from 1980’s are covered in an Oct. 2014 article by Sharmine Narwani
  5. An excellent little known background history of CIA/Western clandestine intervention in Syria going back to the 1950’s, and the regional “pressure cooker” that aided Syria’s formation into an authoritarian security state: “The Baby and the Ba’ath Water” by the BBC’s Adam Curtis
  6. 2011-2012 Arab League Observer Mission to Syria report documenting attacks and sabotage of Syrian resource infrastructure by unknown groups.
  7. For commentary and a selection of relevant passages from the Arab League report, see here.
  8. My December 2013 article covering mainstream media admissions of rebel chemical weapons possession and usage.
  9. Final United Nations report on chemical weapons usage in Syria.
  10. “Gay Girl in Damascus” hoax which was originally pushed in international media for propaganda purposes.
  11. CNN’s “Syrian Danny” hoax; also see Anderson Cooper’s final awkward interview with Danny in which Anderson asks him about the staged nature of Danny’s video reports from Syria.
  12. Wall Street Journal coverage of Joseph Schmitz and Blackwater (now called Academi) attempt to carry out a large scale private weapons shipment plan to arm anti-government fighers in Syria.
  13. For more about the “long war” for the identity of Syria, see Patrick Seale’s foundational work on modern Syria, Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East (1988). For scholarly discussion of the question of clandestine external support for the 1982 Hama uprising see especially chapter 19, “The Enemy Within.”

Brad Hoff Interviewed by TRUTH IN MEDIA on Syria, DIA Report, & Media’s Failure

Truth in Media/Joshua Cook — Military veteran and journalist Brad Hoff has a unique perspective of Syria after living there off and on for years.

“I ended up settling down in Syria, and loved the culture, loved the people,” he said to Joshua Cook in an exclusive interview.

Hoff said that of course he saw problems there, but the typical stereotypes that he had of the region shattered.

“Got really interested in how the media was covering Syria, and that’s what really got me involved in writing about the place,” he explained. “The mainstream media writing about the conflict in Syria just completely failed on so many fronts.”

The Daily Beast’s coverage of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, Hoff said, was a hit piece

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW at Truth in Media…

The DIA Gives an Official Response to LevantReport.com Article Alleging the West Backed ‘Islamic State’

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9d/US_Defense_Intelligence_Agency_%28DIA%29_seal.png

ON FRIDAY, MAY 22, I contacted the DIA Public Affairs office seeking official response to my May 19 article entitled, 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document: West will facilitate rise of Islamic State “in order to isolate the Syrian regime”. DIA Public Affairs did not respond at that time.

YESTERDAY (5/26), THE DIA CONTACTED ME via email and requested that I submit my questions. Today, May 27, DIA Public Affairs spokesman James M. Kudla contacted me via telephone at 1:37pm (Eastern Standard Time) and agreed to give an official DIA comment to my questions concerning the declassified 2012 DIA intelligence report released through Freedom of Information Act request to Judicial Watch (14-L-0552/DIA/287-293).

THE BELOW IS A FULL TRANSCRIPT of the phone interview. Permission is given by Levant Report to freely copy and circulate.*


 

James Kudla [JK]: In response to the questions you submitted through email… As noted in the document itself, it’s an informational report and is not finally evaluated intelligence, and the redacted sections in the document released under FOIA means it is not a complete document.

Brad Hoff [BH]: Does this document forecast in 2012 that the external powers supporting the Syrian opposition would allow an Islamic State in Eastern Syria in order to isolate or put military pressure on the Syrian regime? 

JK: I have no comment on the contents of the document, nor on your interpretation of the document in your article. To reiterate, the document is raw information and has not been interpreted or analyzed, so it is not a final intelligence product.

BH: Does this document affirm that the DoD knew that what the document refers to as the West was supporting an opposition insurgency in Syria that had elements of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI, within in?

JK: I do not speak for the Department of Defense, only for the DIA. For the DoD you would have to call the Pentagon’s Public Affairs desk. I have no comment on the contents of the document.
 
BH: Can you confirm that this particular document FOIA released, marked 14-L-0552/DIA/287-293, was circulated among the Joint Staff, USCENTCOM, CIA, DHS, Dept. of State, SecDef office, and those agencies listed under the header?
 

JK: I can’t confirm how it was circulated or who read it, but we can confirm that copies were sent to its addressees listed in the header information.

BH: Are you able to dispel some current headlines that say the West aligned itself with ISIS during 2012 or at any point during the conflict in Syria?

JK: There are a lot of headlines circulating, I cannot evaluate each one. I cannot comment on that.

BH: Would you like to take this opportunity to dispel any accusations currently circulating?

JK: I have no comment on that.

BH: Are you able to at least deny that the DIA’s analysis revealed that the West backed ISIS at some point during the conflict in Syria?

JK: No comment. I have no additional comments for you.

—END INTERVIEW

The above is official comment given to Brad Hoff from:

JAMES M. KUDLA, PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, OFFICE OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, DIA HQ N635i

 

*Questions or media inquiries for Brad Hoff, managing editor of Levant Report, should be directed to Levantreport(@)gmail.com

Five Questions for Sara Elizabeth Williams, courageous freelance journalist who broke the story of U.S. run FSA Training Camp in Jordan

Photo: saraelizabethwilliams.com
Photo: saraelizabethwilliams.com

Last Thursday (4/3/14) freelance Middle East journalist Sara Elizabeth Williams broke the story of a CIA/US Military run training camp for Syrian rebels in the Jordanian desert. VICE UK ran her investigative story, I Learned to Fight Like an American at the FSA Training Camp in Jordan,” which international Syria experts thought hugely significant, yet it got little attention on this side of the Atlantic. Top Syria expert in the US, Joshua Landis, announced on his Twitter account Thursday: “Sara Williams gets the scoop on the top secret FSA Training Camp in Jordan.” This courageous young freelancer revealed, with photos, the ins and outs of this secretive facility.

Sara sees her role as one who will pursue the truth no matter where it leads; her bold reporting will hopefully stir serious national debate in the United States and other countries. She says of her goals as a journalist in the Middle East:

“I think people should know what governments are doing in their name, with their taxes.”

Please carefully read and spread her VICE UK story, I Learned to Fight Like an American at the FSA Training Camp in Jordan.”

Sara kindly agreed to answer Levant Report’s questions on her groundbreaking report:

Levant Report: How did you come to realize that this was such an important story to pursue?

Sara: I think people should know what governments are doing in their name, with their taxes. So when I heard about this covert or less-than-overt US involvement in the Syrian conflict, I thought it was worth pursuing: people – Americans and the rest of us – have a right to know.

LR: Were you able to get a glimpse of the actual training base in the Jordanian desert, either through photos, or viewing from afar? 

Sara: No. I do not know its precise location and I have never attended or seen photos. I have heard a number of rumors pointing to a location, but nothing concrete.

LR: Concerning the US military instructors, did your sources identify which branch or group of the military to which the instructors belonged? (Army Special Forces, Marines, contractors perhaps, etc…)? 

Sara: No he did not.

LR: Did you get the impression that once sent back inside Syria, the fighters would have American oversight or legal accountability monitoring their actions on the battlefield? 

Sara: The fighter I interviewed was aware of no oversight or continued relationship. Other people I have spoken with in Syria, and some articles by leading US and international publications, refer to the US paying salaries to FSA fighters and providing logistical support in an ongoing way, but I do not currently have any knowledge of this.

LR: I understand that you are learning Arabic. There are a number of established Middle East correspondents that don’t speak it – why is it important that you learn Arabic?

Sara: There are some very talented journalists who can cover a region without speaking the language, and do a marvelous job of it. I commend them. For me, learning Arabic is a priority because it gets me closer to the story: operating through an interpreter can have a distancing effect. And when you understand the language you can soak it in from all sides – interviews, chatter on the street, newspapers, television, demonstrations, all of it. You can also be a lot more nimble: no need to hire a translator (as a freelancer, this is significant!) or pause online chats after every line while you check the meaning. Finally, there’s a sense of cultural understanding that comes from knowing a language. And if you can do it, I think that’s important.

Interview with Fr. Joseph Huneycutt: Syrian Christians in a Time of Conflict

Delegation to Damascus Christian delegation to Damascus meets with President Assad of Syria in September 2011. Fr. Joseph Huneycutt stands third from Assad’s left. Photo credit: antiochian.org, Used with permission.

Two-and-a-half years ago Fr. Joseph Huneycutt traveled to Syria as part of an official delegation of Christian pastors and leaders to investigate the emerging political crisis and to assess the situation of Syria’s Christians. The September 2011 trip was sponsored by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, and a report of the delegation’s findings was issued here. Now in its third year, the Syria conflict has taken countless lives and has left much of the country destroyed. Reports seem to come in weekly detailing the struggles of Syria’s ancient Christian community. Reports of kidnapping, murder, rape, torture, and destruction of churches at the hands of rebel insurgents are now a common theme of the Syria crisis. Last December, Fr. Joseph’s parish, St. Joseph Orthodox church in Houston, hosted the “Hope, Humanity, Healing” benefit concert to spread awareness of the plight of Syria’s Christians and to raise funds for the relief of all suffering innocents of the conflict. Fr. Joseph agreed to speak with Levant Report this week:

Levant Report: Thank you for agreeing to talk to us about the Christian situation in Syria. Last December, your parish, St. Joseph Orthodox church, hosted a benefit concert for the Syrian humanitarian crisis. What prompted you to put together such an event and how did the community respond?

Fr. Joseph: The event came together thanks to the dream of St Joseph parishioner Lama Nashawati DeVries, a classically trained professional pianist, along with her brother Deacon George (Bassam) Nashawati, a violinist for the San Antonio Symphony.  They teamed up with other Houston area performers, both within and without the parish:  Christine Yacoub, Len Verrett, Mariam Haddad, Osama Raad, Tracey Parker, Dr Bill Attra and the St Romanos Chorale, and pulled together a special night of entertainment:  “Hope, Humanity, Healing – A Musical Offering to Syria.”  It was standing room only in the parish hall; around 250 people came out to enjoy the show and support the cause.  The event raised $18,000 of which the Diocese of Bosra-Hauran, Jabal al-Arab, and the Golan in southern Syria, and the St Gregory Orthodox Society for the Elderly and Orphans in Damascus were the beneficiaries.  Thanks God, it was a very special evening in support of our brothers and sisters in Syria.

LR: The sister diocese to your own (the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America), is the Archdiocese of Bosra-Hauran in southern Syrian. While the destruction of churches and persecution of Christians is well documented in northern Syria, we haven’t heard much out of southern Syria. What do you know of the current Christian situation in southern Syria?

Fr. Joseph: What I can tell you is, though the Christian presence in southern Syria has diminished, the charitable support of refugees continues; those who remain live in danger every moment.  It will take heroic hard work to rebuild – the land and the people – once this war comes to an end.

LR: During September 2011 you were part of a delegation of priests and pastors that traveled to Syria for the express purpose of investigating the political crisis, especially as it impacted the Syrian Christian community. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s final report was generally critical of mainstream reporting of the Syria conflict at that time in American media. The report suggested that the narrative of a mass democratic uprising was flawed, and that there was a dangerous, extremist element within the opposition committing assassinations and terrorist acts. Now, two-and-a-half years after your trip, what is your assessment? Do you think Fr. Patrick’s characterization has been born out?

Fr. Joseph: I believe Fr Patrick’s characterization of the situation as we witnessed it in 2011 was accurate.  For example, one night I came back to the hotel and signed on to America Online.  The news on AOL said:  “Bloodiest Day Yet in Damascus” – it featured a video of a mass demonstration; gunshots could be heard.  Later, I turned on the TV and saw that certain news channels were reporting the same and showing footage of other massive demonstrations in Damascus.  These networks, like AOL, were not local to the Syrian situation.  Our group had traveled all over Damascus that day.  Granted, Damascus is a big city – but our experience on that day, singled out by the foreign news media, could not have been more different.  We saw no signs of unrest or demonstration, but did see families picnicking on the side of the road, shoppers going about their business, etc.

While speaking in Canada and the northeastern US in the months following the 2011 trip, I reported what I had actually seen and heard while in Syria.  Invariably my words were met with suspect curiosity, even disbelief, based on what my hearers had witnessed on American television.  Ironically, I  sounded like a propagandist!

LR: What was the most surprising or unexpected discovery for you personally while serving on this delegation to Syria?

Fr. Joseph: The gracious hospitality of the Syrian people never ceases to amaze!  It was also surprising to witness, with my own eyes, the extent to which televised media actually makes news (rather than just reporting) which shapes public opinion and governmental policy.

LR: While major Middle East media outlets like Lebanon’s The Daily Star covered the 2011 Christian delegation to Syria, there was not much notice of it at all in mainstream American press, other than some local and church news sources. Did you feel that you were ignored? Why do you think there wasn’t much notice of this historic trip, which even included a high level meeting and interview with President Assad himself?

Fr. Joseph: I traveled with the 2011 Syrian delegation because I was invited by his Eminence, Metropolitan Philip (Saliba); the intent was for us to witness the state of the Christians there.  Other than fear, given the news, I had no expectations of self, motive, media, or anything else.

We had almost two hours with President Assad, just our delegation and an interpreter; he addressed all of our questions and concerns, even those critical of himself, without hesitation.  Much of what he said has proven to be as he said; time will tell.  Perhaps our visit served merely as an encouragement to the Syrian faithful.  May God preserve them!

As a side note, a funny story:  My non-Orthodox mom called a few months after our trip to report that our delegation, pictured with President Assad, was shown on some protestant TV program.  They were doing a story about how, in the midst of war, missionaries are bringing the Christian faith to Syria!

LR: With recent reports of Christians in opposition held Raqqa province being forced to live under “dhimmi” status, things are not looking good for the future of Syria’s Christian community. What might American Christians do to help support the continued Christian presence in Syria?”

Fr. Joseph: My heart truly grieves for Syria.  I have been twice, having spent only a few weeks of my life there, but those days are unforgettable.  The unimaginable days which the Syrians now endure will eventually pass.  But for those who endure them, these days will be conversely unforgettable.  I hope American Christians do not believe that this is a war of Syrian Muslims against Syrian Christians – nor even a war between native Syrians.  Pray for the Syrian people!  They are suffering a horrible war which is fueled from many sides whose varied interests are not, primarily, Syria or religious.

Americans are used to opening their purse during such calamities.  But, donors need first to find out proper, prudent and safe channels for monetary donations.  That Syrian Christian presence, as old as the Faith itself, is made up of people who may soon make their way into our midst.  May God help us to learn from the long-suffering Syrian people their longstanding ministry of hospitality.