As the Syrian war grows bloodier and more seemingly intractable, here’s a roundup of various people’s takes from various perspectives:
- Eliot Higgins, “Syria’s DIY Revolt,” also at Foreign Policy, on the question of how the opposition is arming itself.
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I’m sure there are some of his fellow members in the Muslim Brotherhood, and perhaps Muhammad Morsi himself, who never thought this day would come, but diplomacy triumphs:
Or maybe not: Egypt is denying the multiple Israeli press reports.
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What will be left of Syria?
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The gaffes of Republican nominee Mitt Romney have put him up against the wall several times, including the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages. But his latest “stump” in Israel, with the obligatory picture of Romney at the Wailing Wall, has even brought out a critique from the New York Times editorial page. Romney is visiting Israel and veering hard to the right, even outdoing the neocons that fueled our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Here is what the editorial says, followed by my own comments.
Mr. Romney Stumps in Israel
Mitt Romney made a point of insisting that he would adhere to an unwritten rule and often violated rule about candidates not criticizing each other or contradicting American foreign policy on foreign soil. About the only effort he made to keep that promise during his stop in Israel was to avoid mentioning President Obama by name.
Beyond that, with some of the biggest investors in Republican politics in tow, Mr. Romney made no effort to disguise the target and intent of rhetoric that was certainly inflammatory but largely free of any sense of how we would carry out policies he was championing.
The message — on Iran, Jerusalem, the Palestinians — was all anti-Obama: Mr. Romney would be a much better friend to Israel than Mr. Obama ever could be. He would be much tougher on Iran. He would recognize Jerusalem as the capital. For good measure, he insulted the Palestinians by declaring that cultural differences — not decades under Israeli occupation — are the reason Israelis are more successful economically. It’s hard to say how this could affect policy if he were president, but it is not encouraging.
The real audience for Mr. Romney’s tough talk was American Jews and evangelical Christians, some of whom accompanied him on his trip. He is courting votes and making an aggressive pitch to donors, including Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate with the hard-line pro-Israel views who is spending more money than any other American — $100 million — to defeat Mr. Obama.
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‘Conventional Arab threat’
“….Before the fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia set off protests and changes in governments across the region, Israel was surrounded by a set of outwardly unfriendly but decidedly status quo states. Israel had peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and cold but stable relationships with Syria and Saudi Arabia. Today, however, Israel looks around the region with great consternation: Egypt has a newly emboldened Muslim Brotherhood president; Jordan increasingly is viewed as unstable in the face of growing protests; Syria is in the midst of a civil war; Bashar al-Assad has threatened to rain missiles down on Tel Aviv  should NATO try to dislodge him; and even the Saudis now are dealing with protests in their country’s Eastern Province. Furthermore, political scientists long have known that newly democratizing countries are the type of state most likely to go to war as new political parties ride the tiger of nationalism in order to win votes….
The question is whether this situation more closely resembles 1949 or 1968. In other words, is Israel about to enter an era of constant threats from its neighbors and regional instability, or are the states on Israel’s borders content to let the status quo remain despite the upheaval in their internal politics? For a number of reasons, the answer is the latter. First, Israel’s neighbors no longer have the capability to present a genuine threat to Israel due to internal problems. But the absence of a capable outside power backing them has also shifted the strategic environment in Israel’s favor.
Israel’s neighbors are wracked with economic hardships and political infighting. As Gabriel Scheinmann points out, both Egypt and Syria are in economic free fall , with foreign reserves plummeting, foreign direct investment nearly nonexistent and enormous budget shortfalls. Jordan also has a large current-account deficit and budgetary pressure (due to subsidies for food and energy) as well as a fuel shortage. None of these countries have the wherewithal to start wars with Israel, and Egypt and Jordan desperately need foreign aid from the United States that would disappear should their peace treaties with Israel be abrogated. Israel’s neighbors cannot afford to take on Israel militarily—even if their armies were up to the task.
Furthermore, the Arab Spring actually has benefited Israel by taking it off the table as a primary domestic political concern. In the past, Arab governments were able to alleviate pressure on themselves by bringing up the plight of the Palestinians and redirecting public anger toward Israel, thus papering over the fact that Arab states were failing their people. As Arab publics have gained more of a say in their own political affairs, however, bread-and-butter issues rather than perfidious Zionists have become paramount. Governments expected to be responsive to societies that have had a taste of democratic politics can no longer play the Israel card to the exclusion of all else.
While 61 percent of Egyptians  still want to scrap the treaty with Israel, this should not be mistaken for a desire to go to war or to put fighting Israel ahead of improving the economy and the rule of law. The conventional wisdom is that governments that have to take public preferences into account are going to have to put distance between themselves and Israel, and while this is undoubtedly true, it misses the big picture. Egypt and Jordan may stop coordinating with Israel on a host of issues, but that presents a very different problem than having to be on constant alert for invading ground forces. As for Syria, Assad has his hands full trying to remain in power and has passed the point where launching an attack on Israel will net any domestic political benefits. While Jerusalem is concerned about Assad passing chemical weapons to Hezbollah, the chance that Assad himself will deploy them against Israel is remote, and other groups such as the Kurdish Democratic Union Party don’t even register Israel as a concern. The struggle to fully control Syria will take a long time to play out……. In contrast, the only country today that approaches an outside power willing to fund the battle against Israel is Iran, and it is a poor substitute for the Soviets.
Not only is Iran’s economy being hammered by Western sanctions, rising inflation and falling oil prices, Tehran also is being snubbed by former friends and newly emergent foes. Hamas, which lived off Iranian money for years, has had a falling-out with its former patron  due to Hamas’s abandoning of Damascus and Bashar al-Assad. As a result, Iran’s power to issue orders to the Hamas leadership has waned, if not disappeared entirely. Iran also is unlikely to carry much sway with Sunni Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the Islamic Action Front in Jordan. And while Syria is still in the fold, Assad is too preoccupied with hanging onto power to launch a war against Israel, and Hezbollah has been discredited through its support for Assad.
Israel should not be completely unconcerned. The reduced capacity of the new Egyptian government already has turned lawlessness in Sinai into a real headache for Israel, and Hezbollah’s capacity to bombard northern Israel with rockets has not gone away while the chances of the group obtaining Syria’s chemical-weapons arsenal has gone up. Nevertheless, the Arab Spring actually has made Israel’s borders more secure, and the risk of a war with a neighboring government is perhaps at its lowest point in decades. While Islamist parties coming to power may assault Israel with unpleasant rhetoric, that is the only bombardment that will reach Israel for the foreseeable future.“
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Concern grows over conditions in the Syrian city of Aleppo as the army offensive continues, with a UN official warning that thousands of people are trapped.
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