Genral Martin Dempsey.

The inevitable defeat of the American sick man

By Ghaleb Kandil

The debate that took place in the U.S. Congress at the hearing of the Chief of Joint Staff, General Martin Dempsey, about the situation in Syria, provides living proof of the confusion and weakness of the American empire in the Arab Mashreq after the failure of its aggression against Syria. This picture, coupled with the bitterness experienced by U.S. policy vis-à-vis the June 30 revolution in Egypt, shows that we are facing a complete defeat of the policies initiated in the region by the former director of the CIA, David Petraeus, in partnership with Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The illusions of the United States and the West on the ability to change the balance on the ground after the battle of Qoussair have vanished in recent weeks. Western experts ensure that such rebalancing is not feasible without a ground invasion of Syria, as again reaffirmed the outgoing head of the British Army Staff, General David Richars (See below). The New York Times has recognized that the dynamic has changed on the ground in favor of the forces of President Bashar al-Assad (see below).
But experts point out that any Nato invasion of Syria will be a suicide for Americans and the West and may threaten the very existence of Israel, because the defense system of the Syrian army is intact and ready to defend the country, and was even improved with the creation of a popular resistance organized as part of the Army National Defense. In addition, the presence on the ground in Syria of Hezbollah makes it more risky for a possible ground invasion.
Faced with these realities, Britain and France, the leading European countries calling for the arming of Syrian terrorists, have renounced to adopt such a measure. London has not only changed its mind, but do not exclude the possibility that President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power for several years, according to informed sources quoted by the British news agency Reuters.
The same sources added that the international peace conference planned to find a solution to the conflict could not be held until next year, if the project is not abandoned altogether, added the sources. "It is clear that Britain will not arm the rebels in any way," said one of the sources interviewed. The British Parliament had demanded to be consulted in advance on this issue.
Reuters reports that the evolution of the British position is mainly due to the hostility of public opinion to any engagement with Syrian rebels and the fear of the weapons sent to the insurgents fall into the hands of Islamist groups fiercely anti-Western.
For its part, the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said that Paris "has not changed its position" not to deliver lethal weapons to the Syrian opposition.
In addition to his disappointments in Syria, the U.S. sick man now faces his greatest strategic challenge after the collapse of all regional bets after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. A final fall, which will have a huge impact on the states of the region, without exception, from Tunisia to Yemen, through Libya and Turkey.
The change in Syria provide opportunities for meeting with Syrian victories, placing the region on a new path, marked by the end of the American era and the return of the independent Arab states, backed by a comfortable popular majority.


Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s General Secretary
«We are always ready to attend National Dialogue or any dialogue to discuss a national defense strategy before the formation of a Cabinet or after its formation. We are ready to discuss a defense strategy. This country is for all of us. There is a serious national need in Lebanon to draw up a national defense strategy. Hezbollah presented a blueprint for a national defense strategy, but the other side did not discuss it. There is no seriousness about discussing a defense strategy. March 14 leaders only wanted to ensure that Hezbollah hand over its weapons to the Lebanese Army (...) I call on the Lebanese to be extremely vigilant in light of the current sharp divisions in the country. Vigilance is required from everyone and in all regions. Internal security is the responsibility of the state. We should be vigilant during this difficult period. If the Army broke up or was paralyzed, there would be no state, peace or stability in the country. Therefore, we need this Army. In its absence, there will be no state and no country. The army might have made some mistakes but the institution is not to be touched and we should preserve it. The Army should be bolstered and not weakened or splintered (...) The policy of isolation would lead nowhere. We are against the theory of isolation and exclusion. We are receptive to discussions and we can agree on some issues, while we can neutralize divisive ones. Despite rivalry between us and the other side, we extend our hands for discussion and meeting together. We will surpass this period. This resistance is capable of overcoming all the present and future hardships. It is natural for a strong resistance to be targeted. When we say there is a resistance to the Israeli enemy, it is natural for such a resistance to be subject to attacks. I urge the media to be wary about the news they spread, especially the inaccurate news on car bombs being found, because this creates tension among the people and in the country in general.»

Sleiman Frangie, leader of Al-Marada Movement (Hezbollah ally)
«I’m worried about security, especially as 50,000 Syrian refugees living in Lebanon are armed. Qoussair was for the Syrian rebels, a warehouse supplied from Lebanon. The Syrian regime has accepted political solution to the crisis, while the opposition has not and has worked for the postponement of the Geneva Conference 2. The situation on the ground is changing in favor of the regime’s troops. Who is representing the opposition, FSA, al-Nosra Front, Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. There are 1,400 armed groups fighting the regime and Syria became a haven for all occasions justice in the world.»

Samir Geagea, Lebanese Forces’ leader
«Anyone who truly loves the army would hand over their arms to it. The intervention of Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict will only bring us death, destruction, bankruptcy and poverty, not change and reform

Kamel Rifaï, Hezbollah’s MP
«Hezbollah is taking exceptional security measures in its regions of influence and has managed to defuse a number of bombs. But the party cannot monitor and protect the whole situation.»


• Syrian state television claimed Sunday that a pro-government group hacked into two social messaging networks and seized records of local users. Such a hack could expose Syrian rebels and other activists who depend on the networks to publicize army crackdowns on their hometowns and communicate with each other. Landlines and cell phones are believed to be tapped in Syria. State TV says the social networking site Tango was hacked on Sunday by the Syrian Electronic Army. The Syrian Electronic Army is a shadowy group that supports President Bashar Assad’s regime. There was no immediate comment from Tango. Syrian media says another network - Truecaller - also was hacked last week. Truecaller said in a statement posted on their website that it had been the target of a cyber-attack.

• The Free Syrian Army’s press office manager Mohammad al-Fateh said that the Syrian opposition received new weapons, Russia Today reported Saturday. Fateh told RT that the weapons were received recently and will have an immediate impact. “The FSA does not have anti-aircraft missiles, but in some areas there will be a [military victory], whether in Homs, Damascus and Daraa,” he added.

• Quoting security services An Nahar daily reported that the extremist Sheikh Ahmad al-Asir and his principal deputy, the former singer Fald Chaker, are in the Palestinian camp of Ain el-Hilweh. However, they have no freedom of movement and action, added the sources.

• A wave of bombings killed 65 people in Baghdad province on Saturday night, officials said, as Iraq struggles to contain its worst violence since 2008, in which over 520 have died this month. Twelve car bombs and a roadside bomb hit the city of Baghdad, while another bomb exploded in Madain to the south of the capital, a police colonel and a medical official said. The blasts also wounded 190 people.The bombs struck as Baghdad residents turned out to shop and relax in cafes after breaking a Ramadan fast. In the deadliest incidents, two car bombs killed 12 people in the Karrada, while two car bombs and a roadside bomb hit Zafraniyah, both areas in central Baghdad. Saturday was the deadliest day of violence in Iraq since June 10, when attacks killed 78 people.

Press review

As-Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist, July 19, 2013)
Lebanese and Western personalities have recently raised the following question: What will happen if Tammam Salam renounces to form the government and pass the baton to Saad Hariri? Far from being made lightly, this issue has been the subject of serious discussion in Lebanon and elsewhere. Informed sources said that the idea of ​​recalling Saad Hariri was raised while some Western circles were reviewing the opportunities presented to save Lebanon for the impasse. Under these settings, return to business for Hariri would conjure the specter of vacuum through the establishment of a reliable government that takes over and ensures the stability. This scenario could also be a breach in the Shiite community to escape the Arab blockade imposed after Hezbollah involvement in the Syrian war. It would, moreover, calm the campaign against the party in the Gulf. In addition, at a time when the Sunni community has the feeling of being targeted, a return Hariri would be able to defuse relationship between the two community and promote the role of moderate Sunnis against the thunderous speech of fundamentalist currents .
The above sources then evoke a Saudi role in this issue. Blocking which was facing the prime minister-designate is due as much to the Lebanese-Lebanese factors as a desire of Arabia, which has yet appointed him to this position. The kingdom would want to freeze this process primarily involving the Sunni community.

An-Nahar (Lebanese daily close to March-14 coalition, July 21, 2013)
MP Michel Aoun warned of a worsening of the country’s security situation and urged rival politicians to hold talks in order to ease tensions.
“We are going through a very dangerous phase, particularly after the end of Ramadan,” Aoun told An-Nahar.
“If we truly want to keep this nation, then each one of us should accept not a solution to the crisis but an understanding at least on security issues first,” he added.
He said a calm security situation would pave the way for discussions on political issues or else “things will become even more complicated” and the country would be endangered.
The FPM leader also confirmed that he had held recently talks with Nasrallah on “specific and general topics.” However, he refused to elaborate any further. “There were some contentious issues related to domestic politics but not with them (Hezbollah) and they’re over now,” he said, apparently referring to disputes with Speaker Nabih Berri over extending the terms of Parliament and the Army commander.
Aoun also defended Hezbollah’s involvement in the Homs town Qusair, where members of the resistance group fought alongside regime forces against rebels.
“Going into Qusair was imposed by the Lebanese reality as a result of the paralysis on the Lebanese border and due to armed operations between Lebanon and Syria which could have resulted in a civil war in Arsal, particularly following the sectarian tit-for-tat kidnappings,” he said.
He also described his ally’s role in Qusair necessary in order to prevent a civil war, saying his party was against intervention in principle “but the series of security incidents forced officials to intervene.”
Concerning his ties with Hezbollah, Aoun reiterated that the resistance group was needed given the inability of security forces to defend against any possible Israeli aggression.
“We are with the resistance as long as Israel threatens us daily and we have demands beyond the maritime borders and as long as our armed forces are not ready to take up these tasks because they are making them work inside more than outside,” the former Army general said.
“The resistance should stay to act as a deterrence force against Israel and which would make aggression against Lebanon a costly operation and this is the main point in the memorandum of understanding,” he added, referring to an understanding brokered between the FPM and Hezbollah.
On the stalled process of forming a new government under Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, Aoun was adamant that the upcoming Cabinet represent parliamentary blocs.
He rejected a fait accompli government, saying: "If we had refused to participate in the government then he (Salam) would have the right to do that but he doesn’t because we represent the Lebanese people.”
He also said that he would have to agree first on which ministerial portfolios would be allocated to his party before he offers Salam a list of possible candidates for the positions.
“If the situation remains the same, he should then apologize and step down,” Aoun said.

Al-Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance, July 19, 2013)
Jean Aziz
After the recent Dahieh bombing and the series of other attacks on the Damascus-Beirut highway targeting Hezbollah, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt warned that these dangerous developments can drown Lebanon in blood.
He did not clarify who he thought was behind the attacks, or their intended message, but it is enough to connect the dots to draw a bigger picture of events: Jumblatt’s fear is that Lebanon will go the way of Iraq, which could spark a Sunni-Shia war, and that all this has to do with tensions between Saudi Arabia and the US.
How? Those who are privy to behind-the-scenes information go back to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Back then, the Saudis found themselves in a bind, where the hardliners in the country were accusing the royal family of giving the “infidels” and “heretics” (i.e., the US) free reign in Iraq, assailing their government’s alliance with Washington.
On the other side, Saudi’s rulers complained to the Americans about their performance in Iraq, which they felt was tantamount to handing the country to Iran on a silver platter.
The Saudi royals were therefore stuck in the vice of two of its closest companions: the Wahhabis, who are effectively the sons of the Saudi nation and a natural product of its conservative ideology; and the Americans, who have been the kingdom’s allies and supporters from the very moment it appeared on the map.
Then things started to get out of control with terrorist attacks occurring in Saudi itself, in addition to a rising chorus of criticism against the US and its policies in Iraq, until a particular pragmatist from with the ruling family came up with a solution.
He made a deal with the jihadi groups in which the kingdom would provide the support and wherewithal for them to go to Baghdad and fight whomever they please, as long as they didn’t cause any such trouble at home, where such acts would be considered terroristic.
There are those who believe that the Saudis are stuck in the same vice today in Syria. On one hand, the jihadis are none too pleased about the course the war is taking two and half years since the uprising began. And on the other hand, the ruling family is frustrated with the way Washington and the West have handled the Syrian file, in effect abandoning the rebels in their moment of greatest need.
Between the two, the fear is that the ruling family’s solution will be like the one they came up with during the Iraq crisis, only with a slight twist. This time the jihadis could be asked to go to Lebanon to unleash their frustrations against the Shia and others there, sparing the kingdom their wrath.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar’s editorial policy.

Al-Akhbar (July 18, 2013)
Nasser Charara
Over the past few days, the Baath Party and the opposition Syrian National Coalition have both elected new leaders, although the timing appears to be a coincidence. If anything, the scope of the reshuffle indicates that both parties, for their own reasons, have come to acknowledge that their respective models were no longer working, and required a fundamental adjustment in their policies and top brass.
Interestingly, this process has produced two main losers: namely, the Muslim Brotherhood-led wing in the National Coalition and the “old guard” of the Baath. These two groups have been the historical poles of the conflict in Syria over the past decade; therefore, the fact that they have been cast aside almost simultaneously has left many wondering whether this comes in advance preparation for a dialogue between the new Baath gutted of its old guard, and the National Coalition ridded of the Brotherhood.
An official Syrian source closely involved with the Syrian “crisis cell” led from the presidential palace, provides further background to these developments. He believes that the change in leadership of the Baath Party took place as part of a new comprehensive vision for its organization and role. As for the change at the top of the National Coalition, the source reckons it is the result of having to adapt to the ouster of the Brotherhood-led regime in Egypt, as well as a shift in the opposition’s “spiritual leadership” from Doha to Riyadh.
The Syrian source reveals that for months now, the chief of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has been seeking to instigate a coup in the National Coalition, with a view to scaling back the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence and imposing Ahmad al-Jarba as the coalition’s new leader. To achieve this, Riyadh relied on opposition veteran Michel Kilo, who was asked to incorporate dozens of his supporters and independents into the opposition outfit, in order to gain enough votes to upend the Brotherhood’s control over the Coalition.
Samira Musalema – according to the source – is an example of the kind of individual Riyadh asked Kilo to include in the National Coalition. Indeed, in addition to being affiliated to Kilo, Musalema enjoys the personal backing of Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, who nominated her to be the Coalition’s media secretary, an appointment that the source said is expected to be announced soon.
The source maintains that Ahmad al-Jarba’s trek to the highest post in the Coalition was planned from A to Z in the corridors of Saudi intelligence. The man, the source said, has a big rap sheet kept by Qatari, Saudi, and Syrian security services, for acts involving all three countries, and in the past, the three intelligence agencies had even coordinated operations in his pursuit.
The Syrian source provided particulars involving Jarba that were mentioned in official Syrian security records, as a fugitive wanted for criminal offenses, including fraud, corruption, and even assassination plots that were not carried out. According to the source, records show that Riyadh handed over “the suspect Ahmad al-Jarba” to Damascus in 2008, on charges of drug trafficking, in accordance with an extradition agreement between Saudi and Syrian security services (which was suspended at the beginning of the Syrian crisis). Jarba was tried and sentenced to a prison term at the time.
The records also reveal another entry involving Jarba, which the Qatari security services undoubtedly also have in their records, as the source said: After the coup staged by the outgoing Emir of Qatar Hamad against his father Khalifa al-Thani, the latter’s foreign minister fled to Syria, where he became a vocal supporter for restoring the previous emir. At the time, according to the records, Emir Hamad’s people asked Ahmad al-Jarba to assassinate the exiled Qatari foreign minister in Syria. Al-Jarba even received payment after accepting to carry out the mission, the source claimed.
However, Jarba chose instead to expose the plot to the deposed Emir Khalifa, for which he also received a financial reward. The issue proved to have huge political consequences, prompting the Syrian state security agency to investigate and ultimately detain Jarba for a total of five months on counts of fraud.
According to another entry in the Syrian security records, Jarba approached the Libyan ambassador in Damascus shortly after Muammar Gaddafi declared himself Africa’s “king of kings,” and persuaded the ambassador to use Jarba’s help in sending Syrian tribal delegations to Libya to pledge allegiance to Gaddafi. Jarba had introduced himself to the Libyan leadership as the chief of the Shammar tribe of the Jazirah region in Syria.
In 2004, he was looking for ways to gain access to the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as one of the elders of the Shammar clan, which has branches from Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, all the way to Saudi Arabia. Before Jarba dropped off the grid in Syria, he was being pursued by the Syrian authorities for running brothels in Damascus and Hasakah.
Recently, Saudi intelligence, under Bandar’s direct supervision, began touting Jarba as the chief of the Syrian branch of the Shammar tribe, presenting him inside the Coalition as their pointman for arms purchases. It is likely that Bandar bargained with several blocks in the Coalition over instating Jarba as the president of the opposition group in return for delivering game-changing weapons.
The information available to the Syrian security services indicates that Jarba’s appointment came following pressure from Saudi Arabia during the most recent meeting held by the countries backing the Syrian opposition in Doha. Secret agreements were reached, including one between Paris and Riyadh over the purchase and delivery of advanced weapons for the benefit of the opposition.
These weapons include French MILAN anti-tank missiles and French-made MANPADS, or man-portable air-defense systems. Saudi has already purchased a shipment of MILAN missiles, which were delivered with French help to the opposition in Syria, while the MANPADS deal is pending a U.S. green light before being dispatched from Saudi warehouses to Free Syria Army (FSA) commander Salim Idriss.
During the meeting in Doha, Saudi intelligence endeavored to polish Jarba’s image among the countries backing the Syrian opposition, presenting him as the chief of the Shammar tribe, and claiming that the groups under his command control the Yaarabia border crossing with Iraq. However, the tribe in Syria is actually led by two elders, Shammar Hamidi Dahham al-Hadi, who has close ties with the President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Massoud Barzani, and Uday al-Meez al-Madloul.
Concerning the claim that Jarba controls groups in Hasakah and Qamishli, it is common knowledge in Upper Mesopotamia that the man has been banished by not only his tribe, but even his close family. His father had distanced himself from his son ever since he was exposed for running brothels, even though Jarba tried at the time to claim that he was only running a company to help young men and women marry. Meanwhile, his brother Zaid is a regime supporter, while his older brother Nawwaf has shunned politics altogether.

Al-Akhbar (July 16, 2013)
Amal Khalil
The Hariri family has promised the displaced residents of Abra that they will be able to return to their homes in the former “security zone” of Salafi cleric Ahmad al-Assir before Eid al-Fitr next month. Geneco, a company controlled by members of the Hariri family, will handle restoration works to repair the damage incurred during last month’s clashes between the Lebanese army and Assir’s militants here on the outskirts of Saida. But a closer examination reveals that the Hariri family may be exploiting the residents’ needs for publicity, while the cost of the works will be borne by none other than the Lebanese treasury.
The building across from the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in Abra, the erstwhile sanctuary of Salafi cleric Ahmad al-Assir, has been turned into a gigantic billboard, displaying ads for anything from construction contractors and painters, to carpenters, and window and door suppliers. Assir’s former security zone, an area that spans many hundreds of meters, is now a giant construction site. Scaffolding litters the facades of the buildings surrounding the mosque, and workers can be seen toiling there throughout the day.
One of the buildings displays a large sign thanking former Prime Minister Saad Hariri who, according to the same sign, is paying to renovate the damaged facades out of his own pocket. But despite the many pictures of a beaming Hariri erected amid the rubble and bullet holes, the residents are yet to benefit from his magnanimity.
Meanwhile, the name Geneco, Hariri’s contracting arm, can be seen across Abra, on buildings, cranes, diggers and scaffolding, perhaps to remind its residents that the Hariri family is rebuilding Abra, “which the army and Hezbollah have destroyed.”
The public relations campaign launched by Hariri’s aunt, Saida MP Bahia Hariri, over the reconstruction of Abra, has caused confusion over who exactly is funding the works.
Indeed, listening to Bahia Hariri’s statements made during meetings with residents affected by the fighting, one would leave with the impression that the Hariri family is footing the entire reconstruction costs, from A to Z, at its own expense. However, it turns out that their largesse is limited to repainting the building facades in Abra, while everything else is to be covered by the government: that is, the Lebanese taxpayer.
Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Saida mayor Mohammad al-Saudi said that a survey of the damage conducted by Geneco, at the behest of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, and in coordination with a committee from the army, found that there were 530 damaged apartments, 50 shops, 150 vehicles, and 66 families in need of alternative housing as their homes are now uninhabitable.
According to Saudi, after the survey was completed, MP Hariri said her brother Shafik, through Geneco, was willing to repair the building facades at the family’s expense, “to save time and cut through official procedures for tenders and bidding.” Saudi put the cost of reconstruction in Abra somewhere between $17 and $20 million.
Geneco was also contracted by the High Relief Commission (HRC) to conduct structural repairs to buildings with damaged foundations, at the expense of the Lebanese government. The HRC also intends to distribute compensation for furniture and other internal fixtures damaged during the clashes.
For its part, al-Jamaa al-Islamiya paid $1,000 each to 30 families to cover temporary accommodations for two months; the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Development also doled out the same amount to a further 36 families. The charity Farah Al Ataa (the Joy of Giving) is also involved in the repairs of three buildings through its network of volunteers, together with a campaign launched by al-Jamaa al-Islamiya to clear rubble from apartments and streets in the area.
The crumbling walls and the shattered windows grant passersby a clear view of the inside. In truth, Shamsuddin comes here every day to examine the house with a number of her husband’s supporters, and to collect belongings and books scattered by the falling shells.
Likewise, the wife of one of Assir’s bodyguards, Mohammad al-Souri, also returns to the area to repair his shop and the vegetable stall that he ran on behalf of Assir. Souri, like his boss, is now a fugitive, while his wife is reopening the shop to support the family during her husband’s absence.
Her neighbor, the unveiled owner of a lingerie shop, is also trying to repair the damage to her store. “Most importantly, we got rid of Assir and his security measures, and his tent that blocked the sunlight,” she said. “Although,” she admits, “the price was high.”

Al-Joumhouria (Lebanese daily close to March-14 coalition, July 20, 2013)
Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri said that the army did not present all the evidence that proves that militants affiliated with radical Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir began the assault against it. “The army has evidence that proves Assir’s militants assaulted it, but it did not show it all because they are related to the integrity of the judicial procedures and the investigations with the detainees,” said Berri.
He also commended the stance of Caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn “who did not get dragged into discussions regarding the Sidon clashes in a manner that would show that the army was the party that began the assault against Assir’s militants.”
“The army has begun its investigations into the Abra clashes, so why this insistence to wage a campaign against it?”

Al-Joumhouria (July 19, 2013)
Sources close to Hezbollah showed that the party has raised its alert and security vigilance in areas where it is influential, which enabled him to discover dormant cells and several attempts to thwart attacks. The same sources added that the route Beirut-Saida is not immune to security incidents. While not excluding in the coming period a security escalation, the same sources assure that Hezbollah will not stay passive against the attacks that are targeting him.

Ach Sharq Al-Awsat (Saudi Daily, July 16, 2013)
Michel Abou Najem, Paris correspondent
Al-Qaeda is preparing to declare an Islamic emirate in northern Syria after defeating the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and took control of the crossing points along the border with Turkey. A senior FSA says zero hour for the proclamation of the emirate coincide with the first day of the of the Fitr. The first targets of the qaïdistes will be the border posts of Bab al-Hawa and Harem, allowing them to control the supply lines of weapons and oil smuggling, stolen from Syrian sites of Deir Ezzor and Raqa.
The same source states that the implementation of the plan started a week ago with the decapitation of the head of FSA Fadi el-Kach and his brother in the town of Dana, and the assassination of a member of the higher command of the FSA, Kamal Hamami and the murder of several other rebels.

The New York Times (American Daily, July 17, 2013)
Ben Hubbard
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Not long ago, rebels on the outskirts of Damascus were peppering the city with mortar rounds, government soldiers were defecting in droves and reports circulated of new territory pried from the grip of President Bashar al-Assad.
As his losses grew, Mr. Assad unleashed fighter jets and SCUD missiles, intensifying fears that mounting desperation would push him to lash out with chemical weapons.
That momentum has now been reversed.
In recent weeks, rebel groups have been killing one another with increasing ferocity, losing ground on the battlefield and alienating the very citizens they say they want to liberate. At the same time, the United States and other Western powers that have called for Mr. Assad to step down have shown new reluctance to provide the rebels with badly needed weapons.
Although few expect that Mr. Assad can reassert his authority over the whole of Syria, even some of his staunchest enemies acknowledge that his position is stronger than it has been in months. His resilience suggests that he has carved out what amounts to a rump state in central Syria that is firmly backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah and that Mr. Assad and his supporters will probably continue to chip away at the splintered rebel movement.
“Assad is powerful now, not as a president who controls a state but as a warlord, as someone who has more and more sophisticated weapons than the others,” said Hassan Hassan, a Syrian commentator at the Abu Dhabi-based English-language newspaper The National. “He is not capable of winning back the country.”
The civil war has Balkanized the country, with an array of armed groups controlling different areas. The government retains its grip on the capital and has been solidifying its control over a string of major cities to the north. Rebel groups hold large swaths of land in the country’s north and east, though they are far from unified, with militias competing for resources, imposing their own laws and sometimes turning their guns on one another. The Kurds, Syria’s largest ethnic minority, control their own areas and often fight to keep the rebels out.
Over all, about 60 percent of the Syrian population lives in government-controlled areas, while the rebels effectively control 60 percent to 70 percent of the actual territory, said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syrian expert with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. That is because the rebels are strongest in less populated rural areas, he said.
But a stalemate that has divided the country for months has begun to shift as Mr. Assad’s forces — bolstered by regular support from his allies — have rolled back rebel gains and eased the pressure on the capital.
Even fighters who had hoped that Mr. Assad would end up deposed, dead, jailed or exiled like other autocrats singled out in the Arab Spring uprisings have begun to acknowledge the emerging reality.
“If the revolution continues like this, the people will revolt against us,” said a rebel commander from the central city of Homs, where Mr. Assad’s forces have made gains in recent days.
The commander, who wanted only his first name, Ahmed, used to protect his family, criticized his fellow rebels for putting the interests of their brigades ahead of the wider anti-Assad struggle and accused them of hoarding powerful weapons or selling them for a profit. That lack of unity has prolonged the war and made their mission harder, he said.
“If a regular Syrian comes and asks me what we have given him, I don’t know what to say,” Ahmed said.

The Daily Telegraph (British daily, July 17, 2013)
Con Coughlin and Robert Winnell
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, General Sir David Richards said that “if you want to have the material impact on the Syrian regime’s calculations that some people seek” then “ground targets” would have to be “hit”.
The Chief of the Defence Staff also warns that the Government needs to clarify its “political objective” in Syria before a coherent military plan for dealing with the Assad regime can be recommended.
Last month, David Cameron and Barack Obama indicated that they would look at military measures after evidence emerged showing that the Syrian regime was using chemical weapons against its citizens.
However, in recent days, the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for further intervention appears to have waned following private warnings from Sir David and Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, about the implications of being drawn further into the Syrian civil war.
Sir David today steps down as the country’s most senior military officer and in an interview with this newspaper he sets out his concerns about the complexity of the situation in Syria.
“There is a lack of international consensus on how to take this forward,” he said. “We are trying to cohere the opposition groups, but they are difficult to cohere because there are many different dimensions to them.
“So it is work in progress, so I am very clear in my military advice to the government that we need to understand what the political objective is before we can sensibly recommend what military effort and forces should be applied to it.” He added: “That is something we debate a lot, from the Prime Minister downwards. We also need to do this with our allies. Allies have different views on the way ahead. Understandably there is a great reluctance to see Western boots on the ground in a place like Syria.”
The chief of the defence staff also warns that simply introducing a no-fly zone on its own would not prove effective and that other military measures would be required.
Sir David, 61, said: “If you wanted to have the material impact on the Syrian regime’s calculations that some people seek, a no fly zone per se is insufficient. “You have to be able, as we did successfully in Libya, to hit ground targets. “You have to establish a ground control zone. You have to take out their air defences. You also have to make sure they can’t manoeuvre –which means you have to take out their tanks, and their armoured personnel carriers and all the other things that are actually doing the damage.
“If you want to have the material effect that people seek you have to be able to hit ground targets and so you would be going to war if that is what you want to do.” He added: “That is rightly a huge and important decision. There are many arguments for doing to but there are many arguments for not doing so too.”
The country’s most senior military officer described the situation as “highly complex” and suggested that the focus of Government action was also on ensuring the conflict did not “spread” to neighbouring countries.
“We are looking at Syria much more from a regional perspective and making sure that as awful as things are there it doesn’t spread materially to other countries like Lebanon and Jordan,” he said.

Associated Press (US press agency, July 21, 2013)
The leader of a restive province in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains said Sunday local Islamic militants were fighting alongside rebels in Syria and could further destabilize their home region when they return.
Ramazan Abdulatipov, the acting president of the province of Dagestan, said in remarks posted on his website Sunday that the "export of extremists" should be prevented by making it hard for militants to leave Russia.
"These people go there and they will come back tomorrow with the backing of international extremist and terrorist organizations," Abdulatipov said during a meeting with local officials Friday.
Andrei Konin, the head of the regional branch of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency, told the meeting that about 200 residents of Dagestan are currently in Syria, and some of them are fighting alongside rebels.
Konin said many people from Dagestan go to Syria for studies but end up in rebel ranks to join what they consider a jihad or holy war.
Some observers have voiced concern that militants from the Caucasus who joined the Syrian rebels could try to take revenge against Russia for its support of Assad and try to strike 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Russian officials have pledged to make the games "the safest Olympics in history," but security experts warn that the Islamist insurgency that has spread across Russia’s North Caucasus after two separatist wars in Chechnya could threaten Sochi, located about 500 kilometers (300 miles) west of Dagestan.
Earlier this month, a top Chechen rebel warlord called on militants to disrupt the Sochi Games, which he described as "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors."
Dagestan has become the epicenter of the Caucasus insurgency, with rebels mounting nearly daily attacks on police and other officials.
One of the two ethnic Chechen brothers from Russia who are accused of staging the Boston Marathon bombings spent six months last year in Dagestan. Russian investigators have been trying to determine whether he had contact with local rebels.

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