March 7th, 2012
06:01 PM ET

To resolve Syria, send Annan to Moscow

Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. He writes the blog Middle East Matters at CFR.org.

By Robert M. Danin

Kofi Annan, the newly appointed United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, travels to the Middle East today to kick off his diplomatic efforts. He will stop first in Cairo, where he will meet Arab League representatives. On Saturday, Annan visits Damascus to see President Bashar al-Assad as part of a mission “to seek an urgent end to all violence and human rights violations, and to initiate the effort to promote a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.” Traveling to Egypt and Syria are surely necessary, but will soon prove to be insufficient.The key to ending the bloodshed rests more in Moscow than in Damascus as I suggested in early February.

Russia provides Assad the critical support that allows the Syrian dictator to survive. Russia has protected Assad diplomatically twice so far, vetoing UN Security Council resolutions critical of Assad. More importantly, Russia provides the Assad regime the arms that it uses to kill Syrians and destroy their towns. According to the Moscow defense think tank CAST, Russia sold Syria nearly $1 billion worth of weapons in 2011, with some $4 billion remaining in outstanding contracts. The former chief auditor for Syria’s defense ministry, who defected in January, claims that Russia has stepped up its arms supplies to Damascus since the unrest in Syria broke out. Russian arms manufacturers have reportedly increased production to meet the Syrian demand.Yet the Russians appear increasingly uncomfortable with how their support for the brutal Syrian regime is positioning them internationally and isolating them from the Arab world. Last month, Saudi king Abdullah publicly chastised Russia for exercising its veto at the Security Council and for failing to coordinate with the Arabs. Russo-American ties have strained over Syria as well, with Secretary of State Clinton calling Moscow’s UN votes “just despicable.” FULL POST

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Topics: Russia • Syria • United Nations
February 29th, 2012
02:34 PM ET

Hamas breaks from Syria

Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. He writes the blog Middle East Matters at CFR.org.

By Robert M. Danin

While the “Friends of Syria” were meeting in Tunis last week, Hamas was separately taking its own steps to disavow the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. In a significant move, Hamas officials announced last Friday - in Egypt as well as in Gaza - its break with the al-Assad regime. Hamas’ strategic realignment affects the Middle East chessboard, both regionally and within Palestinian politics.Hamas’ abandonment of its long-time Alawite backers further deepens the Middle East fault line between the Sunni and Shiite worlds. Hamas has now aligned itself with its Sunni brethren already united against the al-Assad regime. Syria’s Middle East backers are now down to Shiite Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and Iran.

Iranian officials are upset with Hamas, and it is not clear if Tehran will continue to supply Hamas with money and weapons. Iran’s leaders could not have helped notice that worshipers in Egypt, where the break was announced, responded by chanting, “No Hezbollah and no Iran. The Syrian revolution is an Arab revolution.” FULL POST

The Doha Palestinian unity agreement: Now the hard part
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in December in Konya, Turkey.
February 7th, 2012
07:57 AM ET

The Doha Palestinian unity agreement: Now the hard part

Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. He writes the blog Middle East Matters at CFR.org.

By Robert M. Danin – Special to CNN

Monday's Fatah-Hamas unity agreement announced in Doha marks the latest in a series of unimplemented accords between the two Palestinian adversaries. The two sides announced - again - their intention to unify their efforts and form an independent caretaker government to shepherd the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza to new elections.

In an innovation that apparently violates the Palestinian Basic Law, the two sides agreed that Mahmoud Abbas would serve as both president and prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Recall, the PA’s prime minister position was established in 2003 and Abbas was appointed to that post to reduce the absolute powers of the presidency, then in Yassir Arafat’s hands. Ironically, it is now Abbas as president who is seeking to claim back what he once tried to take away. FULL POST

41 years since the Assads seized power
Hafez al-Assad.
November 13th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

41 years since the Assads seized power

Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. This article is reprinted with permission of the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Robert Danin.

By Robert M. Danin

Sunday, November 13, marks the 41st anniversary of Hafez al-Assad’s seizure of power in Syria. Since then, Syria has known only one name at the top: Assad. MEM looks back at Assad’s rise and consolidation of power—a story that sheds light on the current unrest in Syria.

Prior to the coup that brought Hafez al-Assad to power, Syrian politics was marked by rampant instability, sectarian turmoil, and frequent coups d’etat. After Syria gained independence from French rule in 1946, the urban Sunni dominated the government. The military was designated as the place for minorities and the uneducated. The Sunnis reserved the top military positions for themselves, and then jostled among one another for supremacy. This became the locus of real power. Between 1949 and 1963, these senior officers engaged in countless military coups–there were three alone in 1949. However, each change of government came after damaging power struggles, the result being the weakening of Sunni ranks. FULL POST

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Topics: History • Syria
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