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NightWatch 20120807

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NightWatch

For the night of 7 August 2012

Iran-Hezbollah: Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah received Iranian Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Saed Jalili in Beirut late on Monday. The press release said the men discussed the situations in Lebanon and Syria.

Comment: Beirut is Jalili's second stop, after Damascus, on what appears to be a fact-finding trip for the Iranian leadership. The ability of a senior Iranian security official to move in and out of Damascus with ease again raises the question of contrasts between media reporting and the real situation on the ground. Apparently diplomatic movements and air traffic in and out of Damascus are normal.

For those analysts who this week suggested the Iranian crescent of friendly governments from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea has been broken, their conclusion seems premature.

For new analysts: The movements of diplomats and commercial air traffic are surer indicators of security conditions than fighting reports in the media. Commercial air traffic is one of the first activities to stop at the least sign of hostilities.

Thus, a good general indicator of the security situation in Aleppo that is not regularly available in open sources would be the status of commercial flight activity in and out of Aleppo. As of Sunday, it appeared to be normal, which would be unusual for a city that was "engulfed in fighting," as some news outlets reported.

Iraq-Turkey: An Iraqi government spokesman said today that the Baghdad government will 'review' relations with Turkey after the Turkish foreign minister visited the northern Iraqi - and predominantly Kurdish -- city of Kirkuk without receiving permission from authorities in Baghdad. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's visit to Kirkuk on 2 August drew an angry reaction from Baghdad.

Comment: The unauthorized visit to Iraq's Kurdish Autonomous Region by the Turkish Foreign Minister is an enormous breach of protocol and a provocation to the al Maliki government, which remains pro-Iranian.

The Turks and the  Kurds are Sunnis and share the goal of weakening the al Asad government in Syria by strengthening the Syrian Kurds. On the other hand, the rise of the Syrian Kurds has incited Turkish Kurds to greater insurgent attacks that have prompted harsher crackdowns on Turkish Kurds by Turkish security forces.

The Turkish impulse to be the key actor in the overthrow of the Syrian government, with strong US encouragement, is leading the Turkish government to overreach. No one will thank the Turks for encouraging the Syrian Kurds and the Turks have shown repeatedly they are unable to control their own Kurds.

The Turkish leaders might reckon that engagement with all the groups fighting against the Syrian government is better than the alternative. However, that is the same reasoning the US followed in Egypt and led to the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood, held in check only by the armed forces leadership who persist in ignoring democracy. Successful revolutions are seldom grateful.

Syria: Comment. Feedback directed NightWatch to a recent interview by retired US Major General Vallely with a senior leader of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The interview produced a number of interesting comments by the Syrian opposition leader.

The FSA controls only 60% of the fighters. Al Qaida fighters represent less than 1% of the fighters. The others are Salafists and various extremists and some moderates. A US TV news reporter from the Pentagon this week said the Defense Department has identified nine different Sunni opposition groups.

The FSA leader said his force numbers 100,000 fighters but lacks arms. He said most weapons enter Syria from Turkey and lots are lost. The opposition requires arms. He said the FSA knows how to control al Qaida and expected the Muslim Brotherhood would become the political leader of a post-Asad government because of it is so well organized.

The FSA leader said the Syrian government forces, essentially the Alawite defense forces, number 100,000 fighters.

Comment: The numbers are important because force ratios, firepower and logistics determine the winner. The side with the most and best guns always wins in a violent internal security problem.

The force ratios the FSA leader stated signify that the FSA cannot win, as those ratios now stand, even without taking into account Syrian government firepower. On the other hand, with only 100,000 soldiers, assuming the figure is roughly accurate, the Syrian government cannot cleanse every major town of Sunni fighters.

Thus the security situation is chronic, but not terminal for either side. For the government, the edge in Syrian government capabilities hinges on Russia. For the opposition, the supply line depends on Turkey. (The FSA leader probably should not have been so candid, assuming he was telling the truth.)

The FSA leader estimated that 50,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) soldiers are assisting the Syrian forces, without providing evidence.

Comment: It is credible that a significant number of IRGC are in Syria, just as it is certain that American special forces are assisting the Syrian opposition, but in smaller numbers. The number of IRGC soldiers is significant because the Syrian opposition cannot win if Iran has committed 50,000 IRGC troops to Syria. That would represent a large well-trained force.

Breaking apart the statements of the FSA leader, the FSA emerges as the most vocal of the opposition groups.  It might be the largest, as it claims, but it is not the best armed. The numbers it claims to have mean that it stands no chance of overthrowing the Syrian government, as long as the Russians provide the supplies and Iran reinforces the Alawites. A one-to-one force ratio always favors the government, for obvious reasons.

The FSA leader was upbeat, but he failed to appreciate that his numbers undermined his optimism. No numbers are confirmed independently, of course. The only reason to credit some of his numbers is that the professional core of the Syrian Army was 140,000 two years ago, which included Sunni officers and soldiers. Considering defections by the Sunnis, a figure of 100,000 mainly Alawite and Baathist soldiers is credible. It also reinforces that the Alawite core remains loyal and responsive to central command and control.

There is no independent evidence that 50,000 IRGC are in Syria, but that number is well within Iranian capabilities, if the Tehran government has decided to defend Syria.

At the same time, the level of fighting in Syria in no way indicates there are 100,000 armed opposition fighters or that so many are under any  chain of command or disciipline.

To put in perspective the significance of 100,000 fighters, in Iraq at the height of the insurgency, the Sunni fighters in Anbar Province had 100,000 fighters -- according to US reports about the number of monthly bribes paid to get them to stop fighting. They mounted and sustained 300 firefights and attacks a day against the 150,000 or so US armed forces almost indefinitely, until the money was paid.

The Syrian fighting is not close to that NightWatch benchmark, indicating there are far fewer opposition fighters than the FSA leader claimed.

Egypt: For the record. Protestors at a military funeral on 7 August for the 16 Egyptian soldiers/police slain at the Egyptian-Israeli border chased Prime Minister Hesham Kandil and beat him, Al-Ahram reported. President Mohammed Morsi did not attend the funeral after he was advised to avoid it for security reasons.

End of NightWatch for7 August.

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