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What You Need to Know About Syria This Morning

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France Looks to Fold Iran into Syria Talks

“In a softening of the Western stance on Iran, France’s foreign minister said on Monday that Iran could be included, under certain conditions, in a Geneva conference that would seek to negotiate an end to Syria’s bloody civil war,” wrote The New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Somini Sengupta. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tells the paper that Iran would need to understand “that it would not be rewarded for any cooperation on Syria by being granted flexibility to pursue its nuclear program,” which is a major issue between Iran and the West.

“’There is an argument, which is a strong one, for the presence of Iran,’” he said, referring to any Syria peace negotiations. ‘When you have to make peace, it is between fighters, and Iran is involved in the conflict.’”

New Security Worries for Israel

The Times of Israel discusses the major security issues weighing on the country’s post-chemical weapons landscape. Even if Bashar al-Assad hands over his stockpile, the paper says, there are other concerns, including the weakening of Washington’s standing in the region and the strengthening of Iran.

“Israelis were not eager to see an American attack on Syria, but, like other friends and allies of the United States, were alarmed by the twists and turns of U.S. policy, the demonstration of reluctance to act decisively and the facilitation of Russia’s return to a prime position in Middle Eastern diplomacy,” writes Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S.

“As seen from Tehran, the furor over Syria’s use of chemical weapons was a dress rehearsal for a showdown with Tehran. And it did happen in the midst of President Rouhani’s charm offensive. Unfortunately, Tehran may well conclude that a U.S. president and political system that shied away from acting against a weak Syria would certainly seek to avoid military action against Iran’s nuclear installations. Without the teeth of a credible military threat, U.S. diplomacy’s prospects for success in the Iranian context have been gravely diminished.”

A Small but Mighty Pro-Assad Militia

Pro-Assad militias, known as the shabiha, can be Alawite, Sunni, Christian or Kurdish. Since the early days of the conflict, they have been a crucial part of Assad’s fighting forces. Over at Joshua Landis’ Syria Comment, Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi profiles one such group, al-Muqāwama as-Sūrīya (“The Syrian Resistance,” or TSR). It’s an interesting, little-explored group whose leader is the Turkish-born Alawite Mihrac Ural, or Ali Kayali.

“Concomitant with the Syrian nationalist image is the claim from the press office that ‘our members are from the various fabrics of Syria, from all the religions, sects and ethnicities. We fight together,’” al-Tamimi writes. But “beneath this image of Syrian nationalism and leftist ideology lies a more narrow sectarian emphasis on defending the Alawite and Twelver Shia communities. Despite the admiration shown for the atheist Che Guevara, Kayali himself cares deeply about his religious heritage and is in this respect similar to most Turkish Alawites who have generally clung to their religious traditions in contrast to the multifaceted nature of Alawite identity in Syria.”

FSA Chief Questions the West

Free Syrian Army chief Gen. Salim Idris asks Der Spiegel why the West “is just looking on.” In a Q&A, he also says asking Assad to hand over his chemical weapons cache will not work, and dismisses Western fears that weapons sent to FSA fighters could fall into the wrong hands.

“We are already getting reports that the regime is hiding its chemical weapons,” Idris said. “When the inspectors come, many of the storage facilities will be empty. Furthermore, the same game as in previous U.N. missions will then begin. The regime’s overseers will say: “You unfortunately can’t leave the hotel today; it’s too dangerous.” At the same time, the regime will have the inspectors shot at. It is profoundly dishonest.”

As for the extremists many fear could seize his army’s weapons: “Terrorists? We experience terror every day. A short while ago, I spoke with one of our commanders in the east. The air force had just bombarded the Euphrates dam again. If it breaks, billions of cubic meters of water will destroy everything. Is that not terror? We have given the Americans every guarantee that we will only use anti-aircraft weapons against Assad’s air force.”

Hezbollah Leader Brushes Off Accusations the Group Received Chemical Arms

“Last month, members of the opposition Syrian National Coalition group accused President Bashar al-Assad of transferring chemical weapons to the Lebanese Shia group to avoid inspection after agreeing to put them under international control,” reports Al Jazeera. “We understand the dimensions and background of these accusations, and these have dangerous consequences for Lebanon.”

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