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
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