A Grim Outlook for Both Intervention in Syria and Sanctions on Iran

U.S. and allies face opposition to sanctions from nations dependent on Iranian oil; Syrian opposition strapped for cash.

With Less than a week left on the Arab League observer mission’s timetable, it is already clear that their mission to Syria had been a failure. On Friday, one of the observers, Anwar Malek of Algeria, who has withdrawn from the monitoring team, said the Syrian regime pressured him and his colleagues, interrupted their work, planted cameras in their rooms, listened in on their conversations and even attempted to entice them to give a favorable report in various ways, including by providing them with women.

11 of the observers, including two Kuwaiti officers, were hurt when they were pelted by stones in Deir al-Zour.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - Reuters - 14012012

A second observer mission slated to leave for Damascus, has meanwhile been postponed, while the Arab League awaits guarantees on their safety.

The Syrian opposition has reported the Assad regime, which has yet to be affected by the observers’ presence, is planning to escalate its crackdown on demonstrators, warning tens of thousands may be slaughtered.

In the face of this looming escalation, the opposition doesn’t have much to offer other than ask more sanctions be placed on the Syrian regime such as the denial of entry to Western countries to the wives of regime leaders, including Bashar Assad's wife Asma, who holds a British passport, and the wife of Maher Assad, Bashar Assad's brother who is orchestrating the military campaign against demonstrators.

With no serious international measures in sight and with the Arab League still dawdling and in no hurry to ask the UN to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, the Syrian military is operating completely freely in its drive to equip itself for the next round of fighting.

According to reports coming in from Lebanon, where over 500 defectors from the Syrian army have found refuge, the main problem facing the Syrian opposition is with obtaining weapons. Turkey isn’t allowing weapons through its border with Syria, and the Iraqi-Syrian border, through which the passage of goods and persons goes largely unfettered, is apparently not enough to provide the rebels need for weapons, perhaps because Iraqis are arming in preparation for an additional round of violence in the country themselves.

Lebanon is still the main supply depot for the Syrian opposition, and it looks as if business is booming. The price of a Kalashnikov semi-automatic rifle has recently skyrocketed from USD 1,200 to 2,100 a piece. A hand grenade now costs USD 500, and a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launcher’s price is now USD 900. These prices require steady and substantial funding and it’s not clear who will provide the sums needed to arm not only the defectors but also the droves of civilians who wish to join in the fight.

According to brigadier general Mustafa Ahmed El-Sheik, the highest ranking officer to defect from the Assad’s army thus far, the free Syrian army will need at least a year, possibly a year and a half to topple the Syrian dictator.

The free Syrian army is planning to conscript 30 thousand defectors from the Syrian army, and deploy them in small six to seven person squadrons which will fight the Syrian regime employing tactics of a war of attrition.

Judging by Friday’s demonstrations held under the banner “For the Free Syrian Army,” in which at least 25 people were killed, the army of deserters will be able to achieve its objective if it will find a way to provide the equipment and ammunition required to arm such a large force.

Meanwhile, weapons and munitions continue to pour in to Syria. On Friday a Russian ship laden with about 60 tons of military equipment arrived at the Tartus port, on the Syrian Mediterranean coast. Russia claims it isn’t violating any sanctions on the rogue regime since the deal was signed before they were imposed. Cyprus, in which the ship had stopped to fuel en route, claimed that it couldn’t stop the shipment as it didn’t have the authority to inspect the cargo.

Russia will apparently oppose all international measures to impose further sanctions or attack Syria, and while the west tries to obtain the support of Syria and China for further action, it will be the Syrian demonstrators who will pay the price.

Who will impose the sanctions?

While the U.S. tries to garner support for more sanctions on Iran, it and its European allies know that even if they agree on more robust sanctions and circumvent the Security Council, they will still be short some key countries’ cooperation. Japan, for example, is still ‘mulling’ its participation; India had already announced it will not stop trading with Iran; and Turkey, which obtains a third of its oil supply from Iran, said it wouldn’t impose further sanctions unless impelled to do so by UN resolution. China, which imports 25 million tons of its oil from Iran annually, and whose dependence on Iranian oil is only expected to grow, as its consumption increases by 7.5 percent every year, could also be added to the list.

Turkey has been offering its services as negotiator between Iran and the Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany. The group had agreed to hold meetings in Turkey later this month, in an attempt to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment.

Iran on its part has been exhibiting “unusual” willingness to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into its facilities, trying to convince the world it isn’t perusing a military nuclear program. But this is an empty gesture because even if inspectors are allowed into all of its facilities, at most, they will only be able to inspect its centrifuges and uranium enrichment procedures as it is generally believed Iran currently does not hold any nuclear weapons.

Turkey, which is trying to avoid the perception it working against the west on this issue, tried to convince the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larigani, who was on a state visit in Ankara and who in the past himself had been responsible for holding the negotiations with the west, to agree to a deal that would prevent another round of sanctions, but according to the statements coming out from Turkey, in the last few days, no real progress has been made.

A big question looming is how the Iranians would respond to the imposition of further sanctions. Will they realize their threat to blockade the straits of Hormuz or simply offer its remaining customers substantial discounts?

Saudi Arabia and its oil producing neighbors had already expressed their willingness to substantially raise the production of oil to make up for any shortage the sanctions may cause.

Washington sent a resolute and direct message to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warning him not to order the closing of the Hormuz Straits.

Despite this, the question remains, will Iran back down in the face of international pressure, with elections to the Iranian parliament slated for March. Is it conceivable that the incumbent Iranian ruling party will show signs of weakness in the face of the “Great Satan,” while a political campaign is ensuing in the country?