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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Obama, Putin Face to Face over Arming Syrian Opposition or Assad at Lough Erne G8

HISTORY IN THE NEWS:


Syria Lebanon
 


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DEDICATED TO THE ORIGINS OF CONTEMPORARY EVENTS AROUND THE WORLD.




IN BRIEF: Behind Russia's Intrangsigence over its support for to Syria are its age-old interests in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean; and lingering east-west rivalry with the United States.


IN THE NEWS: AT THE 39TH SUMMIT OF THE GROUP OF EIGHT (G8) IN LOUGH ERNE, IN NORTHERN IRELAND, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT PUTIN AND RUSSIAN US PRESIDENT OBAMA AGREED THAT A POLITICAL SETTLEMENT WAS BEST FOR SYRIA. BOTH TENTATIVELY  PLANNED FOR A PEACE CONFERENCE ON SYRIA IN GENEVA, ORIGINALLY SET FOR MAY BUT PUSHED PUSHED BACK TO JULY BY CURRENT TENSIONS.  PRESIDENT PUTIN DEEPLY DISAPPROVS OF THE PRESIDENT OBAMA'S DECISION TO ARM THE SYRIAN REBELS BECAUSE OF THE EXTREMIST SALAFIST GROUPS THAT HAVE PENETRATED THE SYRIAN OPPOSITION. RUSSIA, HOWEVER, IS ALREADY ARMING THE ASSAD REGIME AND CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER HARPER, REPRESENTING CANADA AT LOUGH ERNE, REPUDIATED RUSSIA IN CALLING THE TALKS "THE G7 + 1."  BOTH THE WEST AND RUSSIA CAN NOW BE ACCUSED OF ARMING "THUGS" SINCE BOTH SIDES HAVE SUNK TO NEW LOWS IN CRIMINAL AND BESTIAL CONDUCT.      



WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: 

-historically, Russia has bordered Eastern Europe and the Middle East, both regions remaining vital to its security. 

The Cold War.

-the Cold War between Russia (The Soviet Union) and the United States, essentially an ideological war between Communism and Capitalism, ended with the internal collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since them, especially under Putin, Russia has been tryinto win back its prestige.

1955-1991--The Soviet Union retained Syria and Egypt as its major Middle Eastern clients during its power struggle with the US. Eventually, however, under Anwar Sadat, Egypt chose backing by the US, leaving Syria Russia's sole client.


-thereafter relations warmed between the United States and what had become the Russian Republic.

-the United States, however, remained the world's only superpower.

-after 1999, relations cooled somewhat with the ascent of Russia's President Vlaimir Putin. Putin was a strong nationalist concerned with regaining Russia's former prestige as a great power- if not a super power.

Eastern Europe

-under the George W Bush administration there was further tension as the western NATO alliance spread into Eastern Europe and the US engaged in plans to install a missile defense system near the Russian border.

-relations with Russia warmed again under US President Obama as Washington agreed to cancel the plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. 


The Middle East.

-Syria lies close to Russia's zone of geopolitical interest, a region which includes Russia's pro-western rival Turkey as well the Balkans and the Caucasus. Moscow is concerned about the rise of radical Islam in the entire region, especially as Islamist groups have begun to appear in the Syrian opposition.

-Russia has maintained a geopolitical interest in the eastern Mediterranean since its 18th and 19th century rivalry with Turkey.

-Russia's only naval base in the West is Syria's Mediterranean port of Tartaru. For Moscow it's a vital point of force projection into the Mediterranean.


-Russia has considered its southern border regions in the Muslim Caucasus and in the Slavic Balkans to be unstable and therefore of great strategic importance.


IN HISTORY:


 In the 18th century, as the Russian elite Europeanized, the nation move backward politically out of fear that western liberal ideas, especially those of the American and French revolutions would undermined the Russian state.


Throughout the mid-19th Century, Russia annexed much of central Asia, adding large Muslim populations and extending her borders to Muslim Iran and Afghanistan.

The Cold War began with Stalin's occupation of Eastern Europe at the end of World War II and reached at hright in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis' when US President Kennedy successfully defied Russian Premier Krushchev to place ncilear warheads in Cuba. Open recognition that nculear warfare between the two largest world powers would result in mutually assured destruction produced treaties between Washington and Moscow to prevent the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (1968) and Strategic Arms Limitation (SALT) talks (1972).

-"International strategies changed with the advent of long-range missiles, nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers. After World War II, Soviet naval squadrons stationed in the Mediterranean Sea were ordered to pin down and destroy NATO carriers and strategic missile submarines in case of a hypothetical conflict, thereby preventing them from hitting targets in the U.S.S.R.." -Rusnavy

 “Russia saw a strategic advantage for itself in the the ports of the Syrian coastine between Lebanon and Turkey; a large naval base there would give it an unprecedented foothold in the eastern Mediterranean, one that would enable its fleet to begin to act as a counterbalance to the considerable United States and NATO military presence in the area.” Thomas Kiernan, THE ARABS

In 1983, US President Reagan attempted to solve the problem by attrition, by resuming the arms race with the development of his 'Star Wars' nuclear defense system along with a massive nuclear build-up. In the 1986 Rekjavik talks on nuclear arms limitation with Soviet premier Gorbachev broken down upon Reagan's refusual to end his 'Star Wars' program.


1991- Dec. 31- Gorbachev resigns-- the fall of the Soviet Union.

2002- under  Putin, Russia forms an alliance with NATO.

2007- June- Putin delivers a strong protest over US plans to install an anti-missile defense system in Eastern Europe, ellegedly intended to cover Iran. To George Bush, he proposes Azerbaijan as an alternative.
-despite a friendly meeting in Maine between Bush and Putin, Bush refuses to cancel his plans for a missile defence system in eastern Europe.

  
FOR RUSSIA'S INTERESTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE MEDITERRANEAN, SCROLL DOWN TO: "Russia: Hell No, Assad Won’t Go."

RELEVANT DATES: FOR RUSSIA THE US AND SYRIA.


The Mediterranean
 

1774- treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji- Russia seizes north shore of Black Sea from Ottomans-  gains control of Black sea and right to protect Orthodix religious sites

1800 (CIRCA) -The subsequent blockade of the Dardanelles Strait facilitated Russia's eventual victory in the war and fully opened the Mediterranean to the Russian Navy

-In the 19th and 20th centuries, Russian expeditions to the Mediterranean Sea tried to undermine British and Turkish naval superiority. In case of war, Russian squadrons were to have attacked British shipping, while avoiding superior enemy forces.


The Cold War.

1945- Stalin occupies the Baltic states and parts of east Prussia, Eastern Europe and East Berlin and the Balkans. Beginning of the Cold War.



1958- the US deploys its first intercontinental ballistic missiles.

1968- July 1- treaty for the non-proliferation of Nuclear weapons signed by the US and the Soviet Union.

1969- Nov. 17- first Stratigic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) between the US and the Soviet Union.

1972- May 26- SALT I ends in the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty between Nixon and Brezhnev.


1986- At Rekjavik, Iceland, talks on the abolition of nuclear weapons between Gorbachev and Reagan break down over Reagan’s insistence on retaining his Star-Wars missile shield program

1991- Dec. 31- Gorbachev resigns-- the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Post Cold War Period and the New Russia.

2002- under  Putin, Russia forms an alliance with NATO.

-Russia and US agree to strategic nuclear arms reduction.

2007- June- Putin delivers a strong protest over US plans to install an anti-missile defense system in Eastern Europe, ellegedly intended to cover Iran. To George Bush, he proposes Azerbaijan as an alternative.
-despite a friendly meeting in Maine between Bush and Putin, Bush refuses to cancel his plans for a missile defence system in eastern Europe.

 2009-Russia suspends plans to place short-range missles in Kaliningrad after what it says is a more reasonable position adopted by the Obama government over the US missile shield in Central Europe.

 2009- September- President Medvedev lauds a US move to cancel the nuclear weapons shield in Poland and Czecholslovakia.

 2010 April - President Medvedev signs a new strategic arms agreement with his US counterpart Barack Obama. The new Start deal commits the former Cold War foes to cut arsenals of deployed nuclear warheads by about 30 percent.

Russia Stands behind Assad in Syrian Civil War.

2012 February - Russia and China block a UN Security Council draft resolution on Syria, and the government steps up the bombardment of Homs and other cities.

2012- Dec. 3- The United States bluntly warns Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad against us­ing chem­ic­al weapons as his forces lose ground to rebel fight­ers, re­flect­ing U.S. con­cerns over new in­tel­li­gence in­dic­at­ing that Syr­ia might be pre­par­ing to un­leash some of its chem­ic­al agent stock­piles. The United Na­tions says it is pulling non­es­sen­tial for­eign staff from Syr­ia be­cause of de­teri­or­at­ing se­cur­ity.


Dec. 29, 2012: Russia's foreign minister says Syria's president has no intention of stepping down and can't be persuaded to do so. Sergei Lavrov's comments came after a meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.'s envoy for the Syrian crisis. Lavrov said the opposition is endangering many lives by insisting on Assad's resignation as a precondition for talks.

2013: Jan 16- Talks between U.S. and Russian officials on the Syrian crisis have been focused on the “sequence of events,” meaning that the discussions have focused on which steps should be taken first on the way to forming a transitional government. However, the talks are still not at the stage of offering possible candidates for the transitional government

Again, Russia Asserts itself in the Mediterranean

2013: Jan 20- The Russian Navy has begun its biggest war games in the high seas in decades that will include manoeuvres off the shores of Syria.  It is the largest naval manoeuvres since the collapse of the Soviet Union, officials said. Experts suggested the exercises will serve to project Russia’s naval power to a highly explosive region and render moral support for the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


“This part of the world ocean has key geopolitical interest for Russia, considering that the Russian Navy has a maintenance and supply facility in Syria,” the Russian Navy General Staff said last month.



Russia: Hell No, Assad Won’t Go.

Hugh Graham, HISTORY IN THE NEWS,  April 4, 2011.
      
      Russia will not back down on Syria, nor can we expect it to. As the Assad regime intensifies its campaign to exterminate the Syrian uprising, Russia is beginning to see some advantage in Kofi Annan’s UN peace plan (March, 2011). But it’s only because the plan is so tepid. Moscow’s backing, however cagey, of the homicidal Assad regime, continues to feel strange, perverse. But of course it isn’t strange at all. Russia has made common cause with Iran in resisting what it sees as continued Western expansion through human rights and other pretexts. So Russia’s defense of Assad, a Shia coreligionist ally of Iran comes as no surprise. Russia also fears popular revolution. But most important, by far, are its geopolitical interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
          The Syrian port of Tartus is Russia’s only warm water naval port of call beyond the Black Sea. According to the website Rusnavy.com, “Moscow, which is showing its naval flag between Port Said in Egypt and the Strait of Gibraltar more and more frequently, obviously realizes the region's strategic importance.”  Since the new year, there have been reports of the arrival of a Russian destroyer at Tartus and the delivery of arms and even Russian special forces.
           The projection of Russian power into the region beyond its southwest borders goes back centuries and is rooted in its historic rivalry with Turkey, the protection of fellow Slavs in southeastern Europe, and  concern for the holy places claimed by the Russian Orthodox Church in Palestine which, since the fall of Soviet atheism, have regained importance. Since Turkey is still aligned with the West and the West intervened in the Balkans in the 1990s, a Russian presence in the Mediterranean is, more than ever, seen as a bulwark against Western ambitions.
            The Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, meanwhile, has become Russia’s ally and outpost against the West.  Cyprus shares Russia’s historic enmity with Turkey and remains a stone’s throw from the Syrian port of Tartus. Recently, Turkey and Cyprus have both laid claim to reserves of gas in the undersea Levantine natural gas fields. Russia has an economic interest in the Cypriot initiative which it will back with naval force if Turkey interferes. Turkey, meanwhile, continues to irritate Russia by opposing the Assad regime and accepting Syrian refugees.     
           Russia has been facing down Turkey and pushing south and west since 1700 and Peter the Great. A Russo-Turkish war ended in 1774 with the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji by which Russia wrested control of the Black Sea away from Ottoman Turkey and forced the Sultan to recognize Russia’s right to protect Orthodox holy places southward in Ottoman Palestine. Its rivals were France and England who had their own  holy places to protect in the same area.
           Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has reopened requests for access to Orthodox holy places in Israel. One such landmark is an area named ”The Russian Compound” in West Jerusalem. Putin asked for its return. Israel granted the request in 2008 but not without a broad hint that Russia should pull back on selling arms to Iran. And so, Russian Orthodoxy sits near the heart of Russia-Israel relations in this most contested of regions.
         The West watches warily as it did in the 19th century when Britain and France suspected Russian designs on the Ottoman Empire and the Mediterranean. They fought Russia to a standstill in the Crimean war which ended with Russia being forced to scuttle its Black Sea fleet in 1856.
         Communist Russia’s withdrawal from international prominence after 1917 was only a hiatus. In the mid 1950s, the Baghdad Pact aligned Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan with the West. This provoked Nasser’s opposing union of Egypt and Syria. Syria, mistrusting Nasser and the West alike, chose the Soviet Union as its defender and arms supplier and Russia’s influence in the former Ottoman province has remained constant ever since. Israel’s victory in the 1967 War resulted in the vast expansion of a southern Soviet fleet to oppose western naval and nuclear advances in the Mediterranean. Moreover, Syria became a valuable client for Soviet arms sales.
            With a Syrian client linked by religion to an Iranian arms customer, a naval port on the doorstep of the West, a nearby ally in Cyprus with possible gas reserves and all of those things ranged against a Western-aligned rival in Turkey, Russia is certainly not likely to relinquish its protection of the Assad regime any time soon.





SUMMARY OF SYRIAN HISTORY: Perhaps more than any other region in the Middle East, Syria-Lebanon, like Janus, the god of past and future, has had its gaze fixed in two directions, west and east and forward and backward in time. The region's place on the Mediterranean has opened it to western conquest, trade and cultural influence for over two thousand years: from Macedon, through Rome, Byzantine Christianity and finally Europe. At the same time its hinterlands have constituted a deep link to Asia and the ancient world of the Akkadian and Assyrian Empires, of Persia and the Parthians and the tremendous force of Islam in the earliest Caliphates of Damascus and Baghdad and an Ottoman Empire stretching as far east as Persia.
                 This is the heritage of the Syria of Arab nationalism and Islamic radicalism. Both are deeply conservative, both represent Syria's inner and backward gaze, both are nevertheless opposed and threaten to tear the country to pieces in the present conflict. Yet it is also this frontier between east and west that brought Muslim and Christian minorities closer than they have been anywhere else in the Middle East. Syria-Lebanon was forced into contact with the west through the Crusades and Europe's drive to wrest away the Holy Lands in the name of Christianity. In 17th century, France won protection of Syria-Lebanon's Christian minorities from an overburdened Ottoman empire. Napoleon's expedition to Egypt and Syria  revived and sustained European interests and rivalries in the region, over trade and the protection of  holy places and religious minorities who often resorted to sectarian war, especially in coastal, Europeanized Lebanon.
                  In 1918, at the end of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire collapsed leaving the victors, France and Britain, to carve up the Middle East. France got Syria-Lebanon. Each area proved ungovernable and France cut coastal Lebanon away from Syria and gave them both independence.Underneath, ancient sectarian rivalries among Christian and Muslim religious groups continued to simmer. The creation of Israel in 1948 was conceived as yet another western inroad. Lebanon leaned toward the west, Syria toward the east and the Soviet Union and confrontation with Israel. Even Lebanon multi-sectarian, was torn between east and west and it exploded in a Civil war which lasted from 1973 to 1990. The powerful and dissenting presence of Shia Islam in western-oriented Lebanon and the arrival of militant Islam after the 9/11 attacks promised to keep sectarian tensions live in Lebanon and Syria alike. When ordinary Syrians followed the Arab Spring of 2010-2011 into rebellion against  President Assad's decades of misrule, corruption and economic mismanagement, the ensuing civil war began, sadly, to take on a sectarian cast, reflecting the polyglot community that had thrived in the region ever since the seventh century confrontation between  Christian Byzantium and the Muslim conquest.


MORE CONTENTS: SCROLL DOWN FOR:  
LOCATION OF NOTE:
PROFILE:
CURRENT EVENTS: CIVIL WAR- 2011--PRESENT
SYRIA-LEBANON: 1989-2010. 
SYRIA-LEBANON: 1945-1989
SYRIA-LEBANON: 1850-1945
SYRIA-LEBANON: 1500-1850.

TIMELINE FOR THE HISTORY OF SYRIA LEBANON

LOCATION OF NOTE: ALEPPO:  Founded as early as 5,000 BC, Aleppo is said to be the oldest continually inhabited place on earth. In the second millennium BC, it was ruled by the Hittities. From the 9th to the 7th century BC, it became wealthy as a terminus on the Syria-Baghdad caravan trade. From 600 to 200 BC it was a Persian and then a Greek Seleucid city. When its main competition, Palmyra, fell in 272 BC, Aleppo increased in power and importance. In 300s AD, Aleppo was a Christian city in the Byzantine Christian Empire  before falling to conquest by Islam in 638 and and its great mosque was built in 715. Around 1100, Aleppo was captured by the Seljuk Turks and its great citadel was completed in 12th century as it was beseived by Crusaders before it was captured by Saladin. It fell to the Mongols in 1260 and and to Tamerlane in 1401. But Aleppo achieved its greatest commercial hrights after 1517 when it was absorbed by the Ottoman Empire. It was briefly taken in the mid-19th century by the upstart Egyptian modernizer, Muhammad Ali.  Aleppo then lost economic power with te expansion of Damascus and the completion of the Suez Canal. It prospered under French rule and again after Syrian independence.







THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR TO JANUARY, 2013.

                                     The Uprising  is Neither Regional Nor Sectarian.

2011. Encouraged, perhaps, by the success of revolutions in Libya and Egypt, citizens of Daraa, in southwestern  Syria embarks upon a January "Day of Rage", demanding the release of political prisoners. Further protests are met with gunfire and deaths at the hands of the Security forces. President Assad  makes token promises of reform while hinting that the public anger has been in cited by Israel. Beneath this upsurge of violence lies a simple, sinister fact. Assad's liberalizing of the economy over the previous decades, instead of enriching the nation, has concentrated wealth in the hands of the Aalawite elite, his co-religionists and cronies, but also among the Sunni business business class which has remained loyal to the regime. The so-called economic reforms have enriched the Alawites and business class and caused  serious impoverishment of the highly populated rural areas  as poor people of all religious sects crowded into the slums that ring the cities of the economic western corridor- a belt that runs from Aleppo in the north, though Idlib, Hama and Homs down to Damascus in the south. Instead of recognizing his country for the economic tinderbox that it is, Assad blames Israel and sectarian elements for causing trouble. In the impoverished north, there has already been at least one self-immolation like the one in Tunisia which set off the entire Arab Spring.

 In Lebanon, meanwhile, Shia Hezbollah gains a majority of seats in cabinet, making it next to impossible for the UN Tribunal on the 2005 murder of  Sunni Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to commit Hezbollah suspects for trial.

                     The International Community Puts Pressure on Syria.

In Syria, throughout April and May the protests, which are neither tribal nor regional nor sectarian, but entirely a response to economic hopelessness and political repression, begin to spread acrossthe country. The Assad government, perhaps  mindful of the the other Arab revolutions and the amorphous and intractable state into which it has allowed the country to fall, insists that Sunni radials or"Salafists" are behind the trouble and meets the protests with military force, killing more peaceful demonstrators every day. Provoking further rage, Assad has set off on a path of no return.


 In summer, 2011, As the US and the European union tighten sanctions on Syria, Assad decides to  make a few gestures toward reform, calling it a "national dialogue." Meanwhile a nominal Syrian Opposition begins to emerge, holding its first significant meeting in Istanbul. The goal is to put forward a national opposition leadership and gain international recognition.  Protests spread amid signs that the conflict is overflowing Syria's borders and threatening to draw in the region as Sunni-Alawite clashes explode in Lebanon.

As the summer progresses,   the US and other Western and Arab nations use sanctions to pressure Assad to step down as the UN reports floods of refugees leaving Syria for neighbouring countries.  In the fall, just as the Arab League expels Syria from membership, Russia and China, block a UN resolution condemning government atrocities.

In winter, 2011-2012, Syria allows Arab League observers to monitor the conflict as giant suicide bombs explode near military installations in Damascus. The Opposition denies responsibility and suggests the government is trying to start a sectarian war. Both sides will point to each other as instigators of the sectarian war that everyone fears.
                                               
                             Russia and China Block Intervention in Syria in the UN.

Russia and China block another UN resolution on Syria amid increasing government violence as it retakes Homs in March killing scores including children in reprisal. Immense terrorist bombings begin to point to Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, Arab observers, immobilized by the violence, begin to arrange support for the opposition. The government continues it attacks on peaceful demonstrations at "protest hubs" in cities like Idlib, Hama, Homs and Deraa, that string the western corridor.

In March and April 2012, UN envoy Kofi Annan proposes a ceasefire that might allow the beginnings of dialogue. Russia and China support the plan but only after weakening its stipulations. But violence continues as the government steps up its offenses and the opposition responds as the deadline approaches. Annan's ceasefire deadline comes and goes in early April leaving the ceasefire in tatters. The government forges ahead using heavy weaponry and perpetrates another massacre at Hula.

The Red Cross has already declared the Syrian conflict a civil war. Violence spills over into Lebanon in mid-May as anti-Assad Sunnis in Tripoli and Kobbe lash with local supporters of the Syrian regime while a Lebanese critic of the Assad regime was arrested, setting of more clashes and hinting that Hezbollah government authorities might be putting their weight behind their longt-time Syrian ally.

 The war internationalizes with the onset of summer, 2012, as a Turkish jet in Syrian airspace is shot down by Syria and Western diplomats pull their ambassadors from embassies in Damascus. Turkey meanwhile sharpens its rules of engagement, threatening to attack any Syrian incursion on its border. Syria is increasingly beleaguered as high level defections from the Assad regime combine with President Obama's warning of  serious measures of Syria uses its alleged stores of chemical weapons. As UN observers pull out of Syria citing the increasing violence, Lakdar Brahimi becomes the new UN peace envoy.

                      The rebel Syrian Free Army Begins to Make Progress around Aleppo

At summer's end, the free Syrian army and other rebel groups make headway in fighting in Damascus and Aleppo, both cities being key to the regime's survival. Meanwhile border tensions arise again between Syria and Turkey with both countries banning each other from using their airports after Turkey discovers Russian weaponry on a Syrian aircraft stopping over in Istanbul.

 Instability further threatens Lebanon in October with the assassination of security chief General Wissam al-Hassan, who had supplied logistical support for the Syrian rebels, setting off clashes between Sunnis and Lebanese supporters of the Assad regime-most probably the Shia Hezbollah party.

                      Syrian Opposition Groups Unite to get Western Support.

In November,2012,  just as the press reports summary executions of prisoners by the Free Syrians Army, Syrian opposition groups meeting in Qatar declare themselves united and form the Syr­i­an Na­tion­al Co­ali­tion for Op­pos­i­tion and Re­volu­tion­ary Forces, making themselves more eligible for funding and weapons from outside Syria. Ominously, sectarian militia groups like the Al Qaeda backed Al Nusra refuse membership.

Upsurges of Violence continue in Lebanon as alignments in the Syrian civil war begin to be taken up in multi ethnic Lebanon. Sunni militants clash with the huge Shia militia, Hezbollah,and Syria planes kill volunteers attempting to cross the border from Lebanon into Syria. But Lebanese soldiers also clash with
Syrian rebels in the border area.

                        Syria Discovered to have Chemical Weapons.

In December, the US warns Syria about its apparent possession of chemical weapons and hints at direct intervention is Syria uses them. As fighting continues to spread to rebel positions along the Turkish border, Turkey warns Syria to stay clear and gets a commitment from NATO to place patriot missiles along its frontier with Turkey.  Fighting between pro and anti Syria factions on the Lebanese border threaten once again to bring Lebanon into the conflict

As US intelligence detects the actual presence of chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, internatiomal pressure is placed on Russia and China to prevent Syria from using them. As rebels continue to fight for Aleppo, Russian envoy Serge Lavrov, UN envoy Lakdar Barahimi and the Syrian Foreign Minister all report that Assad had no intentions of stepping down. Indeed, Assad accuses Islamist sectarian fighters of destroying he company. On this sole point of agreement, perhaps, the US declares Al Qaeda's Syrian Al Nusra Front a terrorist organization. Meanwhile, Washington joins an increasing number of countries recognizing the official Syrian Oppositiion.  

On Jan. 6, 2013,  In a theatre, President Assad addresses Syrian faithful, or perhaps a captive audience, rallying supporter to the cause, attributing the war to Islamist extremists and refusing to stop fighting until victory is achieved. Meanwhile, US and Russia officials hold talks on building a transitional givernment but the talks are not substantive.

In mid-January, the international dimensions of the conflict are once again prominent with the Syria Opposition meeting in Istanbul to consider a prime minister for a transitional government while the US and Russia hold their own talks on shape a new government might take place. And all of this in the shadow of massive Russian naval exercises off the coast of Syria which some suggest have the joint purpose of giving moral support to President Assad, evacuating Russian personnel from Syria and projecting Russian power into the region over fears of the collapse of its greatest middle eastern client.


EVENTS IN SYRIA- 1989-2010
With the Taif Accords of 1989, the Lebanese civil war, which had been raging since 1973, ended. Throughout the 1990s, Sunni-Christian domination of the government was confirmed but with reduced participation of Christians. Both Syria and Israel, who had repeatedly occupied Lebanon during the civil war, ceased hostilities. While Syria continued its occupation, Israel finally withdrew. The nationalist Sunni Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, rebuilt much of the war-torn country but after he refused any extension of pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud's constitutional time limit, Syria delivered a veiled threat. On February 14, 2005. Hariri was assassinated, much of the evidence pointing to Syria. International pressure then forced Syria's final and full withdrawal from Lebanon. Periodic violence accompanied efforts by the UN and the international community to set up a tribunal to bring pro-Syrian Lebanese suspects to justice. After the election of a pro-western Sunni-Christian government headed by Prime Minister Siniora (a Sunni), Lebanon began once again to fall into pro-Syria and anti-Syria factions, 'anti- Syria' Siniora sharing power with the 'pro-Syria (albeit Christian) President Lahoud. In 2005-2007, anti-Syria politicians were frequently assassinated. The hand of Syria was widely suspected. After Hezbollah fought Israel's summer, 2006 invasion of Lebanon to a stand-off, the Shia Party's prestige increased vastly. In the fall, Lebanon's leaders ignored Hezbollah's demonstrations for a greater share in government and its demands for the governemnt to resign in favour of elections which would reflect Hezbollah'a increased power. The Shia party also insisted on two-thirds of the seats in cabinet as well as the power of veto. In support of Hezbollah's demands, Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian who once led the fight to drive Syria from Lebanon, led his party into a pro-Syrian alliance with Hezbollah. Hezbollah opposed all criticism of Syria and in December, 2006, pulled its strong representation from Siniora's cabinet, protesting his refusal to give them the veto. Recent acts of terrorism and street clashes raised fears that Syria was trying to provoke a civil war in order to reestablish control over Lebanon.

French president Chirac, due to personal and poltiical ties to the late Sunni Prime Minister Hariri, had given partisan support to the anti-Syria March 14th Coalition led by Hariri's son, Saad. Charic's support of Hariri's legacys was pleasing to Washington. But after President Sarkozy succeeded Chirac, Washington was guarded about Sarkozy's non-partisan decision, in the spring of 2007, to hold all-party peace talks at St. Cloud. In Washington's view Sarkozy was playing into the hands of the Lebanese anti-Syria opposition's demands for a "unity government." In a June, 2007 meeting at the Elysee Palace Sarkozy met with Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Although Siniora had accepted French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner's offer to host all-party peace talks on Lebanon, Siniora was fully satisfied that France's new government would not be neutral but would fully back his beleaguered government against the pro Syrian alliance of which the militant Shia party, Hezbollah, is a part.


In August, 2007, Aoun's anti-Syria party made further inroads against the government in by-elections. With pro-and anti-Syrian factions in parliament unable to agree on a way of choosing a president to replace outgoing President Lahoud, presidential elections were postponed until October 23, 2008. Meanwhile Hezbollah boycotted the legislature along with its existing cabinet posts. October 23 came and went as Lebanon descended into a political morass, without a president. In December, the army's celebrated neutrality was threatened when Francois Al Hajj, a candidate for commander-in-chief was killed by a car bomb. A Damascus Arab League summit in March tried but failed to break the stalemate in Lebanon. In spring, 2008, the new army chief and presidential hopeful Michel Suleiman threatened to resign if the party didn't agree on a president by summer. The tensions, which have mounted since the murder of anti-Syrian president Rafiq Hariri in February, 2005, broke when the government attempted to close down Hezbollah's telecommunications network. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nazrallah called it a declaration of war. However, the fighting ended when the government agreed to leave Hezbollah's telecommunications intact. On May 25, 2008,Parliament finally elected former army chief Michel Suleiman as president. Three days later, Fouad Seniora was re-appointed prime minister by Suleiman. On July 11 Seniora formed a unity government and the following day, France's President Sarkozy brokered an agreement by which Syria and Lebanon would restore diplomatic relations.

Prospects for reconciliation received a setback in March 2009, when the International CriminalTribunal, having tried tried the four Lebanese generals suspected in the 2005 Hariri Assassination, acquitted them for lack of evidence. Moreover, in May, US Vice President Biden's visit to Lebanon before elections in June was seen by Hezbollah as political interference. The elections, the following month, produced a victory for Prime-Minister designate Saad Hariri's March 14 Party, an alliance formed around his his father's assassination, implicitly opposing  the defeated pro-Syrian Hezbollah party and its backer, Syria.

Al Qaeda, which has an interest in continuing instability in Lebanon had infiltrated fighters in the south before ten were arrested by the Lebanese army. Instability continued as Saad Hariri failed to achieve agreement in the allocation of cabinet posts as he attempted to form a government.

Meanwhile, Iraq and Syria cut off diplomatic relations after Iraq linked Syria with a string of bombings in Baghdad. By September, Prirme Minister Saad Hariri had still not been able to form a government through ethnic allocation of cabinet posts. Border unrest flared the following month with south Lebanese militants exchanging rocket and artillery barrages with Israel on October 27. In early November the border tension gained a maritime aspect when Israeli commandos intercepted a ship carrying 600 tons of arms from Egypt to Hezbollah (according to Israel) in South Lebanon.

Finally, on November 7, Prime Minister Saad Hariri announces the formation of a unity government five months after the victory of his March 14 Party. A period of conciliation  follows, the new cabinet ruling that Hezbollah could remain armed with its considerable arsenal and Hariri traveling to Damascus for what he described as productive talks with Syria. Relations seem warmer yet as Washington restores its ambassador to Damascus in February, 2010 after a five year chill when relations were broken because of presumed Syrian implication in the assassination of Saad Hariri's father, President Hariri.

2010- Tensions resume, however, as an Israeli cabinet minister remarks in February 2010 that another war with Lebanon remains likely before Prime Minister Netenyahu distances himself from the comments. The rough patch continues as the US reprimands Syria upon hearing that Damascus supplied weapons to Hezbollah with Prime Minister Hariri moving, perhaps surpsingly, to Syria's defence. Implying that its suspicions are confirmed, the US hits Syria with sanctions in April accusing it of seeking weapons of mass destruction and arming terror groups in violation of UN resolutions.

In July Lebanon's revered Shia cleric Hussein Fadlallah dies. Syria and Iran, meanwhile deny US accsusations that Iran has supplied Syria with radar that can interfere with Israeli capabiliy of overflight in the event of a mission to destroy Iranian reactors. In August a skirmish between south Lebanese militants and Israelis on Lebanon's southern border leaves a few dead on each side and in September, Syria and Iraq restore diplomatic relations broken a year before.

2010: Syria and Iraq retires diplomatic relations in September after a one year standoff., restoring what some have called "the Shiite Crescent" of Shia nations or Shia governments from Iran to Syria. But elsewhere Syria's prestige is threatened as it fails to arrest witnesses in the Hariri case for perjury in October. The UN tribunal decides Syria has no legal authority over witnesses who are Lebanese and on Lebanese soil.

An October visit to Lebanon by Iranian Preident Ahmedinijad reinforces regional Shia solidarity as Shia Hezbollah leader Nasralla stages a mass rally against the UN Tribunal investigating the Hariri assassination and claims that the tribunal is backed by Israel. Meanwhile reports of  Hezbollah's immense arsenal of rockets and other weapon raised fer of all-out war between Syria, Israel and Iran.

The year closed as President Obama ended a diplomatic standoff by appointing a US ambassador to Syria.



EVENTS IN SYRIA LEBANON, 1945-1989  Since 1945, France has maintained interests in Lebanon and and tried with the UN, the US and Britain  With the simultaneous creation of the state of Israel, Lebanon took in thousands of Palestinian refugees. The presence of radicalized Palestinians, Egyptian President Nasser's pan Arabism and the prospect of a union of Egypt and Syria, galvanized Lebanese Arabs, while upper class Sunnis and Christians looked toward Europe for support. Throughout, the government tried to steer a middle course. The further radicalization of the Palestinian refugees and the entry of PLO units into Lebanon as a result of Israel's 1967 war only raised tensions. Soon the PLO was using Lebanon as a base from which to launch attacks into Israel. By the early 1970s, the battle lines were drawn: clannish Maronite Christians and the Sunni upper class who together controlled the government, were opposed by anti-government Shia and Druze Muslim militants supported by units of the PLO. By 1975, full scale civil war had broken out with Shia muslims fighting Christian minority rule. In 1979-1982, Israel invaded twice to prop up the Christian government and to drive out the PLO. In the second invasion, in 1982, Israel made way for its allies, the Christian Falangists, to massacre Palestinians in the Shabra and Shatila refugee camps in West Beirut. Syria intervened throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, ostensibly to restore order but with ulterior motives of drawing Lebanon back under Syrian control and what Damascus saw as the restoration of a historical Greater Syria. The war began to end in 1989, with the Taif Accords which reduced the share of the dominant Christians in the government. LATER to act as a peace broker during Lebanon's civil war. Like other western powers, France kept its eye on the welfare of Christians in the region during the turublent years of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1983, a French military force was withdrawn from Lebanon after its barracks were bombed by Hezbollah. With the election of French president Sarkozy, Washington became nervous that France's traditional support of the pro western government and Prime Minister  Harir'si March 14 Coalition might weaken and that Sarkozy's attempt at peacemaking might not be as non-partisan as it appears


EVENTS IN LEBANON SYRIA, 1850-1945  By the mid-19th century a Druze-Maronite civil war had ingited, not to end until 1860. The war concluded with an international agreement making Lebanon an autonomous region and providing it with a multi-ethnic adminstrative council or Majlis. In 1861,France helped pressure the Ottoman sultan to create a Sanjak or Christian-governed autonomous region in Lebanon and form a Majlis or multi-ethnic administrative council which included Maronites, Sunnis, Druzes and Shia. By the Berlin Treaty in 1878, however, French interests in Lebanon were confirmed and protection of the Maronites became the means by which France furthered its influence. Until World War I, ethnic strife continued and many Lebanese Christians moved to Europe; but by retaining ties in Lebanon, they only strengthened the European presence there. Otherwise, an uneasy peace was maintained until Wolrd War I. In 1919, in the post World War I settlement, Washington's King-Crane Commission decided that close Maronite ties with France were inevitable while the Muslim majority wanted Lebanon to remain part of Syria. As a result, King-Crane recommended maintaining the compromise of an autonomous Lebanese province within a larger Syrian State. But with the treaty of Sevres in 1919, Israel-Jordan fell under British mandate. At the same time, Greater Syria, which included Lebanon fell under French mandate. The European powers promised that territorial divisions which for example, separated Lebanon from Syria, would only be temporary. The French, however, increased the size of Lebanon so that it ended up containing more Muslims.  After Muslims rebelled in 1925-26, demanding more power, France adopted the "Communal System" of ethnic representation copied from its own Republic, determining that the Prime Minister would be a Sunni, the President a Maronite and the speaker a Shia. It also fixed the proportion of Christians to Muslims in the assembly at 6 to 5. This formula, balancing power toward the Christians, would remain more or less in place until the present day and remains a source of dissatisfaction with Shia Muslims who may now be in the majority.
             Western relations with the region were not helped when France brutally suppressed several rebellions in Syria during the 1930s. At the same time, imported French Fascist ideas took root among Maronite Christians like Phalange militia leader Pierre Gemayyel. European promises never to divide up Syria permanently were broken. Syria, meanwhile, tried to form its own secular democratic government against the French mandate but French repression only radicalized Islamist groups, giving then power. . During Wolrd War II, Vichy France provided a Fascist influence, chiefly among Lebanese Maronites. In 1945, France granted Lebanon its independence leaving many Maronites feeling they were really a European enclave facing what would soon become a tide of Pan Arab nationalism. Syria gained its independence the following year.
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EVENTS IN SYRIA LEBANON: 1500- 1850- Though the Crusades ha ended in failure, they brought the Levantine coast to the attention of Europe and trade developed first with Venice and Genoa and then with France. As the Levant and Middle East fell under Ottoman rule, Europe retained a concern with protecting the holy places of Palestine along with Christian minorities, chiefly in Lebanon. In 1580, Pope Gregory XIII founded a seminary in Rome to train Lebanese Maronite Christians for the clergy. France gained its foothold in Lebanon through trade and through the education and protection of the Maronite Christian minority. Over the next three centuries, Lebanese Maronites encouraged French Catholic missionaries to develop French, Christian western-style educational institutions in Lebanon. In 1649, the Ottoman Sultan accepted France's Louis XIV as protector of Christians in Lebanon and thenceforward, French education and culture influenced Lebanese political institutions.In the eighteenth century, rivalry in Lebanon grew between Britain and France, both of whom made trade agreements with the Ottoman Sultan- but the extensive reach of Jesuit and other Catholic religious and educational institutions inside Lebanon guaranteed a strong French infleunce. Throughout the 18th century, France pursued its political, commercial and religious interests in Lebanon. The coastal region of Beirut and Tyre became the most Europeanized area of the Middle East. Soon the western powers each had a religious group to protect. France protected the Maronites, Russia the Armenian and Greek Orthodox, Britain the Druzes and the Jews. Sectarian divisions deepened as the respective powers maintained diplomatic relations with each group.By the 19th century, the consequent empowerment of Lebanese Christians began to chafe on the Druze Muslims of the interior. In 1831, the Sultan's viceroy of Egypt, Muhammed Ali, rebelled against Constantinople, invaded Palestine and took Syria. He and his son, Ibrahim proceeded to bring Europeanizing reforms to Syria and Lebanon, facilitating the entry of European missions and increasing support and tolerance for the Christians, angering Lebanon's Muslims. The British soon threw the Egyptians out of Syria but ethnic strife had already begun. As Druze bridled against French-backed Maronite power, they obtained the backing of the British  


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