Syria and the Sands of Time

By Jay Holmes

Since I published my last update on Syria in late November, the conflict remains in overtime, waiting for a tie breaker. It’s easy enough to watch the events play out from this safe distance, but for the 22.5 million people living in Syria, things must seem a bit more urgent.

Looking at the human side of the conflict leaves one with a grim view. Since our update, Syrian security forces have killed more than a thousand additional protesters. That indicates the death rate for Syrian protesters, according to UN figures, has sadly risen from approximately 15 civilians killed per day to 25 civilians killed per day.

photo by James Gordon wikimedia commons

photo by James Gordon
wikimedia commons

Bashar Assad, Syria’s dictator, would quickly point out that not all of those killed were unarmed protesters, but it’s clear that most were. According to UN figures, the death toll for Syrian protesters has now surpassed 5,000 lives.

Some Western observers and a few Arab observers are claiming that the UN figure is likely less than half of the actual number of protesters killed. In addition to the over 5,000, there are, depending on who you ask, somewhere between 7,000 and 40,000 prisoners confined in miserable conditions in Syrian prisons. Numbers aside, it is clear that, in spite of the presence of 65 Arab League observers (who are escorted by Assad’s security forces), the Assad regime has become more willing to kill his unarmed citizens.

To consider those deaths from another perspective, the deaths of protesters in Syria have now surpassed the total number of US combat deaths during the 2003-2011 Iraq War. The faces of the dead protesters are less visible to us, thanks to the tight media control in Syria. But if we think of how anguished we have been about our losses in Iraq, we can understand the growing anxiety of expatriate Syrians who have families in Syria.

I went to the trouble of sending a polite and innocent journalistic query to the Syrian security forces and the Assad government via a safe intermediary, but neither has responded. My best friends and Assad’s best friends don’t have a history of playing nicely together so their lack of response is no indication of anything other than the fact that they don’t like my friends.

Speaking to the rebels is a bit easier if we’re not too particular about which random rebel we speak to. While the rebels remain in agreement that Assad should depart Syria in his jet, his yacht, or a garbage bag, there is not yet a strong consensus about what a post-Assad Syria would look like.

The hordes of the interested outside parties remain unchanged in Syria. The Arab league does not want to see a change to a regime influenced by Russia, by Western states, or by business interests other than their own. To that end, they have promised to send more observers to Syria, and they have throttled Syria’s banking system by halting trade with banks from other Arab League nations.

Iran would like to see anyone “not Sunni” in charge in Syria as long as they are willing to continue recognition of Iranian suzerainty over Syria and Lebanon. Normally, Iran would be conducting more desperate efforts to influence events in Syria because Syria is important to it for the control of Hezbollah operations in Lebanon. The Hezbollah gang has what Iran considers to be an unfortunate tendency. It often starts imagining itself to be an independent political entity capable of being all grown up without Iran. Given that Syria is 74% Sunni, and that Shiites are hard to find in Syria, Iran’s long term prospects in Syria are not looking too good.

Russia, or at least the “Putinos” in Russia, would like to see anyone of any religion or no religion in charge in Syria, as long as they happily continue purchasing vast quantities of military toys from Russian factories allegedly financially controlled by Putin and his closest Putino pals. In Putin geopolitical theory, the “new” Syria would allow an expansion of Russia’s naval base in Syria to house the imaginary vast Russian Mediterranean Fleet that Putin fantasizes about while doing whatever it his he does at night before he goes to sleep. (His poor wife….)

My guess is that, after considering the ongoing nuclear disasters at Russian Northern Fleet naval bases, the average Syrian is not going to be thrilled by the prospect of becoming Russia’s latest Naval success story. Given that the average Syrian is aware that Assad and his tiny Alawite minority could never have taken and held power in Syria without Soviet intervention, it seems likely that Syrians would love to be nobody’s naval base, and they would likely spend their defense cash any place but Russia.

Western Energy moguls would love to see vastly expanded oil pipelines built to transport Arabian and Iraqi oil to a Syrian Mediterranean port like Tartus. That would be lovely for Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. It would be lovely for energy moguls, and for western oil addicts like you and I. It would be a dark nightmare for Iran. Threatening to cut off the straits of Hormuz would be no fun for the fake mullahs running Iran if the only tankers sailing the Straits were all Iranian.

Secondarily, Western energy moguls would like to see further natural gas development in Syria with taxpayer financed foreign aid from Western nations. Why let those silly Syrians use that natural gas if you can export it to Europe at huge profits while generous Western Taxpayers finance the deal and pay huge prices for the oil? That would be crazy. So who was behind the recent oil line attack in Syria? I can’t be sure, but the attack suited Assad, Iran and nobody else.

When energy moguls are not watching, other Western moguls would like Assad to be gone by any method that does not involve them having to spend cash, expensive cruise missiles, and political capital. Western governments would like a safe transfer of Syria’s nerve gas stockpiles (some of which once belonged to his neighbor, Saddam Hussein) for destruction and disposal. A Syrian government run by the majority of Syrians and not by gangsters claiming to be religious authorities would make the West happy.

So what abut the people doing the bleeding in all of this? What do the Syrians want?

Since having an opinion has not yet been legalized in Syria, and since a departure by Assad won’t guarantee freedom and justice for them, it’s hard to know for sure. I am willing to make a few guesses. They would like their security forces to stop killing them. They would like unemployment rates lowered. The religious leaning rebels in Homs would like a Sunni theocracy, but they are in the minority and might not be able to pull it off. If Assad leaves, dies, or in the unlikely event that he becomes a nice person, Syrians might be able to form a working parliamentary government.

And Bashar Assad? What he wants today is to not star in a you tube video about how unskilled Syrian teenagers dispatch nasty dictators. His long term hopes are becoming more difficult to imagine.

With Assad’s banking system crumbling and desertions from his military increasing, it’s hard to imagine a happy future for him. Assad may be using his rose colored sunglasses to see a future where Western nations are so busy with the nasty little mullahs in Iran and their uranium issues that they never intervene in Syria, and he simply remains in power.

The sands of time will continue to run, with or without Western military intervention, and Assad should know and remember that sand is always corrosive. Assad could perhaps call up the jovial director of the Venezuelan Club Commie Resort and ask if Uncle Momo’s reservation is still available. The trick would be getting from his house to Hugo Chavez’s resort without being shot in the back by the frightened and badly outnumbered clan he would be leaving behind.

Normally “Good Luck Bashar” would be a handy phrase for ending this article, but I won’t pretend to wish him any such thing. Instead, I will offer my humble best wishes to the people of Syria. In my estimation, the majority of them are decent and reasonable people. If it is left up to them, the better country that they build for themselves need not be a threat to anyone else. A Syria that concentrates on it’s own well being would be an improvement for every reasonable person concerned.

Syria is Heating Up

By HOLMES

This past Wednesday, November 16, the rebellion in Syria escalated significantly.* A team of rebel commandos lead by, and possibly completely manned by, deserters from the Syrian military attacked an important intelligence center that Syria’s secret police used to combat the rebels. On Thursday, November 17, a second raid was conducted against the offices of Syria’s Ba’ath party headquarters.

One of the interesting things about the raids is that the attackers may be based in Lebanon. A glance at a map indicates that, in geographic terms, launching a raid from Lebanon would make good sense. But in political terms, it represents a new turn of events.

Both Syria and Iran have maintained strong influence in Lebanon for several decades, and Syria has acted as Iran’s forward base for the Iranian controlled Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. My best guess is that Turkey has not yet reached the point where they will allow anti-Assad activists to conduct raids from Turkish soil. Therefore, if the raids are, in fact, being conducted from Lebanon, it begs certain questions.

Have the Iranian and Syrian governments suddenly lost so much control of events in Lebanon?

Also, as recently as a week ago, Lebanon had allowed Syrian government forces to repeatedly enter its territory to kill and capture escaped Syrians. So why would Lebanon now allow the Syrian Free Army or other Syrian rebels to conduct raids in Syria?

The answers will, at least in part, lie with Hezbollah, and Hezbollah makes no decisions without Iran first telling them in detail what those decisions will be. Has Iran decided to stab their only ally, Syria, in the back? Is Iran now betting against Assad? Is Iran placing more then one bet on the same game? It may be. If Iran is indeed burning a political candle at both ends, then what payoff is it expecting?

Based strictly on the open source news available from Syria and Lebanon, I will make a guess. Iran may likely have been trying to find a contingent replacement for their Syrian boy, Assad, for the last two months. Iran backs and controls Hezbollah, but it does not trust Hezbollah with more information than it absolutely has to. Any contacts generated by Iran likely occurred without the use of their Hezbollah Pizza and Bomb Delivery Service. But Iran may not have succeeded in “going to the mountain” as they say in that region. The mountain may have gone to Iran.

It was only a matter of time before one or more senior Syrian spooks or army officers approached Iran to offer their services as newer, better, more loyal despotic pals with great new features. What particular gifts might the would-be kings be carrying to Iran?

The gift that always matters most to Iran is any gift having to do with Israel. We likely will never know, but I can’t help but wonder if the latest spy round-ups in Iran came with help from some senior member of the Syrian intelligence community who needed a bit of assistance with his retirement planning.

Experienced analysts working on Syria won’t be betting on an overtly Iranian-controlled rebel succeeding in Syria. The Syrians have fallen out of love with Assad, but they haven’t fallen in love with the archaic Iranian leadership.

People seeking “progress” are not beating down the doors to get into Iran or hoping for Iran to drop in and settle things for them. There is an Islamic fundamentalist contingent in Syria, but it is badly outnumbered. So why would Iran place such a long shot bet?

Iran would bet against Assad for two reasons. For one, it’s a low cost bet. They are simply telling Hezbollah to allow certain events to occur. Even if Assad were to survive the uprising and become aware of Iranian duplicity, so what? In the first place, he never thought that the Iranians were anything but weasels. They were simply weasels who let him play on their team. With no other teams offering a place Team Weasel, was a great gig for Assad 1.0 and Assad 2.0.

And beyond that, what choice does Assad have? Is he going to become France’s new best friend? Is he going to be invited to take a front row seat at the christening of Kate and William’s baby? Is Michelle Obama going to give him a kiss on his robotic face? No, no, and no.

Assad has no choice but to put up with whatever Iran does. He needs Iran more than Iran needs him. From Iran’s point of view, it is better to pick the potential new despot or multiple potential new despots rather than allow someone else to decide the issue, because anyone installed in Syria that Iran doesn’t back is not likely to be its new pal.

The other reason why Iran would act with seemingly little concern for its own long-term interests is that it usually does. Iran is convinced that it can continue to get away with doing pretty much whatever it wants to do. It has, at times, paid a heavy price for its petulant, anti-social behavior, but that has never prevented Iran from repeating its mistakes.

If Hezbollah no longer has Assad’s back, then it’s time for Bashar Assad to dial up London and ask for a last minute date to the prom. If Assad had assurances that he would not face arrest after killing nearly four thousand Syrian rebels this year, then he might go down to the river and pay the boatman to cross back over to the UK.

London might not answer Assad’s call, but the UK would at least ask Turkey to call him back. (“We already have a date. . . . Why don’t you take Assad to the prom?”) At a time when Turkey is desperate to increase its stature in the Islamic world and, in particular, with the Gulf States, it would like nothing better than to be seen as the peacemaker in Syria.

A bigger blood bath in Syria can still be avoided, but time is running out.

Any questions about the situation in Syria?

Click here for a recent run down on Syria, Syria’s Assad has Crossed the Rubicon

Syria’s Assad has Crossed the Rubicon

By Jay Holmes

On January 27 of this year, protests began in Syria against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Bashar (a.k.a. Assad 2.0) quickly attempted to crush the protests before they could gain any momentum. He was unable to declare a state of emergency because Syria was already under a state of emergency. He did not revoke the civil rights of the people because they didn’t have any civil rights to revoke. The state of emergency and revocation of civil rights happened in 1963, and Bashar’s father, Hafez Assad (a.k.a. Assad 1.0), never lifted the state of emergency after taking power in Syria in 1970.

Assad 2.0 — Contrary to appearances and popular belief, Bashar Assad was not kidnapped by Western scientists and replaced with a remote controlled robot. This is an actual picture of the actual Assad.

So who are these Syrian protestors, and what do they want? They are a variety of groups from culturally distinct areas across Syria. They are, basically, a combination of anyone in Syria who doesn’t happen to be a member of Assad’s Alawi Islamic sect.

Like his father before him, Assad 2.0 has relied on his fellow Alawi sect members to fill most of the important government positions, including military and police leadership. However, 88% of Syrians are not Alawi. Most of the protestors are from the 72% Sunni, 10% Christian, and 3% Druze populations.

Bashar Assad replaced his dead father as Syrian dictator in January 2000. He has spoken of economic reforms since then, but effective economic reform in Syria would require Assad to reduce corruption. In order to reduce corruption, he would have to remove from office the same Alawi officials who guarantee his security and replace them with non-Alawi officials, eliminating that security for the Assad clan. By violently suppressing the Syrian “Arab Spring” protestors, Assad avoided this scary task, but the road of protest suppression took him somewhere he had not intended to go.

On a windy March morning, Assad woke up to find himself on the wrong side of the Rubicon. While the Syrian protestors failed to gain his ear, they succeeded in gaining the ear of the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”). The ICJ did more than talk. They listened. Now, Assad can no longer take his money, his wife, and his mistresses and buy an estate and some social standing in England.

Bashar Assad is, in large part, the product of the powerful Alawi sect, but he is also the product of a British medical education. During his father’s three decades of bloody gang war rule that included a bloody gang war between his father and his uncle, Assad 2.0 had been given the luxury of living in the comparatively bucolic Western Europe as an ophthalmologist.  Whatever pleasant visions he might have harbored concerning the future of Syria, they were quickly banished by the day-to-day reality of remaining in power in that country.

Standing now on the wrong side of the Rubicon with no way to cross to the peaceful, distant shore, Assad has few options and fewer friends. His minority ruling class can count as friends the Iranian-controlled Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon and the distant Iranian government. Syria had, at times, fantasized that Turkey was it’s staunch ally, but Turkey has now opened its country to political asylum seekers from Syria.

Key Syrian anti-Assad activists, such as Syrian Ba’ath party founder Shibliy Aisamy, mistakenly sought safe haven in Lebanon, and have been kidnapped by Syrian police. Hezbollah holds sway in Lebanon and will continue to back Assad as long as it is told to by the Iran’s ruling mullahs.

Turkey is another story. Hezbollah has no power in Turkey, and it cannot influence Turkey’s friendly treatment of anti-Assad protestors.

The death of Libyan gangster Moammar Qaddafi was bad news for Bashar Assad. With Europe and NATO now free of their military obligations in Libya, Assad can no longer count on NATO nations being too busy to bother with him. But not all NATO nation taxpayers are anxious to burn more cash and spill more blood by intervening in Syria. If the future complexion of the Libyan government is difficult to discern, then any future Syrian government is nearly impossible to predict. NATO nations can’t know what they would be backing.

Hezbollah maintains a disciplined and ruthless rule in southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s puppet masters in Iran are desperate to prevent a secular government from forming in Syria. Various factions in the chaos that we call Iraq also want to avoid secular government in Syria. Saudi Arabia wants Saudi-friendly Sunni rule in that country, and Jordan, Israel, and the West would be happy to see a secular, democratic government installed.

So what do the Syrians want? It’s perfectly clear that the majority of them want the Assad cabal gone. It’s completely unclear as to what they want in its place.

In the short term, Assad will use what he calculates to be the minimum force necessary to remain in power. He does not want to attract intervention, but he does not want to leave, and his options for leaving Syria grow less attractive as the bodies pile up.

In order for the Syrian protestors to remove Assad from power, they will need outside help. To get that outside help, they will need to decide what their vision of Syria will look like, and they will need to share that vision with the outside world. If the Syrian uprising presents the world with a view of Syria’s future that is significantly more appealing to the West than the status quo, then Western governments might be motivated to intervene on their behalf.

That intervention, if it happens, need not be military. Everyone living on the shores of the Mediterranean understands what NATO is, and now they understand how far it will go in intervening to remove a despot from the Mediterranean shores. They also understand just how easily NATO can do that. Syria does not present Europe with the same petroleum motive that Libya did, but there are limits as to how much Europe, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States will tolerate from Assad.

If the Syrian Transitional Council succeeds in forming and sharing a vision beyond Assad’s departure, there will still be an easy way out of the potential violent mess that is brewing in Syria. If Assad is offered an escape from the hell of his and his father’s own making, he might be willing to board that ferry to re-cross the Rubicon. Trying Assad in court is less valuable and less important to mankind than allowing the Syrian people a chance to move forward into the twenty-first century without a repeat of the chaos that we now see in Iraq.

Whatever hopes and visions others might harbor for the Syrian people, only they can form and communicate those visions.

When I gaze into my crystal ball I don’t see the opposition going away. What do you see in your crystal ball? Any questions?

Libya and Middle East Update, May 1, 2011

By Jay Holmes

I thought it was time for a renewed analysis of some of the Middle East and North African hot spots. Let’s look at a few of the ongoing domestic struggles, starting with Libya.

Libya:

On Saturday night, a NATO air strike hit a command center/Gadhafi family compound, and one of Momo’s dozen sons, Saif al Arab, was killed. Saif al Arab is one of the family’s least powerful siblings. Momo’s spokesmen claim that Momo was at the bombed home, but that he was unharmed.

The relative positions of the rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi haven’t changed much during the last month. NATO indicated that it will increase its strikes to include command and control centers (like the Saturday night strike), but it still declines to further arm the rebel forces with more powerful weapons. President Obama authorized the use of US drones to enable NATO to assist the rebels in Misrata against the besieging forces without unintentionally killing more rebels than Gadhafi forces.

The African Union visited Benghazi to try to negotiate a cease-fire, but the rebels gave them a cold shoulder. The rebels have made it clear that they have little confidence in the African Union. Also, if the Arab league is lending much support to the rebels, they are doing it quietly.

The rebels have shown a small increase in ability on the battle field, and they were able to take a border crossing post on the Tunisian border. This might open an avenue of supply to rebels in Western Libya. The rebels maintain a tenuous grip on Adjibaya, but have been unable to retake the valuable oil port in Brega.

Against the rebels’ small improvement in military performance, they are showing signs of strain in their leadership, the Libyan National Council. Their military chief of staff, General Abdel Younis, has repeatedly criticized NATO for its minimalist approach to assisting them.

Younis was Gadhafi’s interior minister until the rebellion began to take traction, and both the Libyan National Council and NATO respect his professional skills, but neither has any confidence in his ethics. As to his loyalty, Younis is undoubtedly loyal to Younis.

The UK, France, and Italy announced they will send military advisors to assist the rebels in their operations and in their communications with NATO. If nothing else, the advisors might be able to establish a clearer picture of who the rebels are, and, more importantly, who they will be if, and when, Gadhafi & Sons, Inc. are deposed. Keep in mind that the ousting of one dictator does not guarantee that another will not take his place.

The rebel forces claim that Gadhafi’s loyalists have organized systematic “rape patrols,” that these patrols have been issued Viagra, and that they have been responsible for raping children as young as eleven years of age in Misrata. International aid workers who are working in Bengahzi with refugees evacuated from Misrata say that these claims are consistent with a variety of refugees’ reports, and that the children have the signs and symptoms of rape victims. Whether or not Gadhafi, himself, ordered the rape patrols is unknown. It may be the work of tribal factions within Gadhafi’s army.

The rhetoric from Gadhafi spokesmen has shifted from confident threats of annihilating all rebels and their families to a campaign of seeking cease fires and negotiations. Neither the rebels nor NATO show any indication of believing anything Gadhafi and his pals say.

Major news outlets such as BBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have all published articles explaining that the CIA has numerous agents operating in Libya to liaison with the rebels and to provide targeting data in loyalist areas. The news outlets all cite that charming and famous US official, Mr. Anonymous Government Official, as the source of their not particularly fascinating information. The CIA remains mute with the press, as they should.

Syria:

The Syrian people continue to protest against the government of Bashar Assad. Assad inherited an incompetent, despotic government from his ruthless father, Hafez Assad, in 2000 when Hafez died. Based on his Western medical training and his more cosmopolitan experience, many Syrians had hoped for reform under Bashar, but he has not taken the opportunity to reduce human rights violations in Syria. The Syrian working class and unemployed citizens might be at the point where denouncing the USA and Israel and serving as Iran’s lackey aren’t quite enough of an output from their expensive and annoying government.

On March 23: Reporters in Syria claimed that around 100 anti-government protestors were killed in the southern town of Daraa, Syria.

On March 30: Assad broadcast a public speech and announced that the protesters were part of a conspiracy. Yes, Bashar, the conspiracy rotates around the protestors’ notion that you would look better dead.

On April 10: Four protesters were killed in Banias, Syria. Nine Syrian soldiers were killed in an ambush the same day, but it is unclear who the ambushers were.

On April 14: Assad’s new Prime Minister, Abdel Safar, announced he will creating a cabinet to lead reforms.

On April 15: The protests continue. Apparently, nobody believes Adel Safar, including Adel Safar.

On April 21: Assad declares an end to the 48-year “temporary” state of emergency and abolishes the extra-legal security apparatus courts. The Syrians remain unimpressed.

On April 22: Courts? Who needs a court? Syrian security forces gun down an additional 80 protesters.

On April 23: Assad’s thugs gun down 25 people at a funeral. Apparently, funerals are a capital offense in the new reformed Syria.

On April 24: Thirteen protesters were shot and killed in Jableh, Syria.

On April 25 thru 28: Protesters report 42 killed in Daraa, Syria.

On April 27: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain summon their Syrian ambassadors to formally protest the crackdown against protesters in Syria. Two hundred, thirty-three members of the Syrian Ba’ath party resign in protest against Assad.

On April 30: The Syrian army used tanks and troops to seize control of a mosque which was a center of anti-government protests in Daraa, Syria. Witnesses report that six protesters were killed.

Critics of the US administration offer the opinion that President Obama should have gotten tougher on Syria “a long time ago.” The US is embroiled in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, to a lesser degree, Libya, while conducting humanitarian aid in Japan, and maintaining a strong presence in the northern Indian Ocean against threats from Iran. Ex US UN ambassador John Bolton and other Obama critics fail to specify precisely what measures the US should be taking against Syria this week.

Iran remains a strong supporter of their Syrian houseboy, Bashar Assad, but Iran has their own problems this week.

Iran:

In Iran, the vast state security apparatus operating on the theory that you can never conduct too many hangings and stonings continues to suppress smoldering protests.

At no surprise to anyone but the trained monkey, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, the Iranian dictator Ayatollah Khameni has grown weary of his pet monkey’s increasing influence in Iranian affairs. The notion that a mere president should pretend to direct the government of Iran is more than Khameni can tolerate. Ahmadinejad may find himself “resigned” due to health problems or to take over some urgent new project like conducting a donkey census for Iran.

If Ahmadinejad “steps down” (or falls down repeatedly and hurts himself) it won’t mean much in Iran. We will simply see a new pet monkey pretending to be President of Iran while Khameni continues to give the orders.

The distraction for the Iranian police state does at least mean that they will be momentarily slightly less troublesome for the rest of the planet while they plot amongst themselves. Plot away, guys. Have fun.

Who is Watching in Libya, What are They Learning, and What Does That Mean To Us?

By Jay Holmes

China, Syria, and Iran are watching the military operations being conducted by NATO forces in Libya with great attention.

China sent the 4,000 ton frigate, Xuzhou, into Libyan waters, supposedly to assist in evacuations of Chinese citizens from Libya. However, its real mission was likely an ad-hock attempt at quietly conducting SIGINT (SIGnals INTelligence) and ELINT (ELectronic INTelligence) operations against the Western powers involved in air operations in Libya. China will invest massive human resources into the analysis of any information it gathers, but it will use that information for long term planning and development rather than in any political decision making.

China expects no conflict with Western nations in the near future, and there is no reason to panic about China’s SIGINT efforts. Great Britain, Japan, and the United States conduct SIGINT and ELINT operations against China from international waters and air space every day of the week. In the last half century, China has come to understand that these operations do not foretell a pending invasion by Western powers. At the same time, we realize that any attempt by China to take possession of Hawaii will be conducted with real estate agents and stock brokers rather than frigates.

In the case of Syria, what they will learn is simple. They are (re)learning what their defeat would look like if NATO ever decided to invade Syria. The air power and missile barrage brought to bear in Libya are very minimal as compared to what a NATO launched attack could be. In Damascus, even the most politically connected, untalented general will have realized that moving or supplying Syrian forces anywhere in Syria will be nearly impossible with NATO air forces present.

The Syrian Air Force is far larger, better equipped, and better trained than the Libyan Air Force. But Syria is aware that the air power NATO is using in Libya is a token force by the standards of alliance, and that in any major conflict with NATO, the missile attack on Syria would be approximately four times larger and would destroy much of Syria’s air force within the first hour of war.

What Syria observes from the Libyan conflict will cause no major change in its strategy. It will simply continue with its sensible course of not provoking the West to invade, which, given the West’s generally defensive strategic stance, will not be difficult. The lessons learned from Libya will simply confirm the validity of that current strategic stance.

What Syria has newly learned from watching Libya is that it should avoid public threats to conduct genocide against its own citizens as protests are arising in Syria. That is a lesson that Gadhafi and his overconfident gangsters learned too late.

In the case of Iran, the Iranians will analyze information gained by observing the Libyan conflict with great interest. Unlike Syria and China, Iran does not assume there will be no conflict between itself and Western nations.

The two things about the tactical aspects of NATO operations that most interest Iran are the command and control methods of NATO air forces, and the effectiveness of the upgraded Tomahawk missiles employed against Libya. The strategic question of even greater interest to Iran concerns the fact that Western powers mobilized military force against Libya without waiting for the Western political tortoise race to conclude.

While the effectiveness of the air power of NATO nations and of the Tomahawk missiles will cause no great shock in Tehran, the fact that an attack took place in spite of the lack of complete agreement by Western powers is bad news for the ayatollahs and their generals. Iran may find itself recalculating the exact position of the “line in the sand” in their neighborhood.

In the twisted minds of the junta in Tehran, a military conflict with the West may seem like a glorious opportunity to be relished, rather than a threat to be feared. They see that as an improving opportunity over time as Iran improves its military capacity and accomplishes its goal of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall in the weekly ayatollah update meetings in northern Iran this week. I would absolutely love to hear the well-educated Iranian generals trying to explain the implications of the conflict in Libya to the mostly-functionally-illiterate Supreme Council. Nothing in their years of memorizing the Koran and debating its obscure aspects have prepared the mullahs for leading a near nuclear power like Iran.

The Revolutionary Guard leaders are, no doubt, well-practiced in the art of smoothing over the most awkward of conversations between the megalomaniac ayatollahs and the frightened generals. After all, disagreeing with an ayatollah can cause spontaneous separation of the head from the neck.

I wonder how they draw lots to pick the poor fools that have to deliver the report to the all powerful and none-too-wise mullahs? Perhaps the medals that we see on the chests of Iranian admirals and generals were awarded for surviving some number of meetings with their political leadership. As long as Iran is unequipped by nuclear weapons I can enjoy laughing at their internal leadership situation. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the ignorant ayatollahs would not be quite so laughable.