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The Syrian Regime Is Regaining Control, but Tenuously

Since 2015, Bashar al-Assad, with the help of Russia and Iran, has turned the tide in his country’s civil war and is restoring his regime’s control over a gradually expanding territory. Jonathan Spyer, having returned from a press tour of Damascus and other cities now ruled by the Syrian government, reports:

The [Syrian] regime in its self-presentation openly resembles the totalitarian governments of mid-20th century Europe. [It thus] holds an ugly fascination for some Europeans and other Westerners. But its posturing and rhetoric are mostly without weight, like a cheap tin pendant that only from a distance resembles solid metal. Holding up this fragile structure are a variety of other forces more deserving of attention.

On our last night in the city, a member of the [press] delegation was threatened at gunpoint by a drunken Russian journalist. The authorities in the area said they could do nothing, because the man was Russian. This small episode says more about the true state of affairs in government-controlled Syria than all the regime’s verbiage. The Assad regime’s servants do not enjoy unquestioned sovereignty even in their own capital. The regime is today largely a hollow structure. The vigorous regional ambitions of Iran and Russia, and the smaller but no less notable intentions of a vast variety of pro-regime militia commanders, must be factored into any assessment of regime capabilities and intentions.

The closeness of the Sunni Arab rebels to the regime’s urban centers and the absence of Assad’s power from almost the entirety of the country’s east are further testimony to the erosion of the regime. It is a very long way from the days when [Bashar’s father] Hafez al-Assad ran Syria as his “private farm,” as a Syrian Kurdish friend of mine once put it. The Assad regime cannot be destroyed for as long as Moscow and Teheran find a reason to underwrite its existence. But the mortar shells landing in Damascus in close succession are an unmistakable testimony to its reduced and truncated state. The anachronistic rhetoric of its officials and its supporters does not succeed in disguising this reality. Assad is wearing a hollow crown.

Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy