The Middle East Channel

Syrian rebels release 48 Iranian hostages for 2,130 civilians

Syrian rebels release 48 Iranian hostages for 2,130 civilians

Syrian opposition forces released 48 Iranian prisoners on Wednesday. According to Iran’s Press TV, the "Iranian pilgrims" were released in a deal between "the government and armed militants." Syrian opposition forces claim the hostages were members of Iran’s Revolution Guards Corps and were carrying out a mission for the Syrian government. According to the Turkish Islamic aid organization, Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the Iranians were released in exchange for 2,130 civilian prisoners, mostly Syrian citizens, but also four Turks and one Palestinian. The exchange, the first major prisoner swap since the uprising began in March 2011, was brokered by Turkey, including the IHH, and Qatar after months of diplomatic efforts. Meanwhile, Britain is holding a two-day meeting beginning Wednesday for academics and the leadership of the opposition Syrian National Coalition to discuss a political transition from President Bashar al-Assad.

Headlines  

  • U.S. defense contractor Engility Holdings Inc. has paid $5.28 million to settle an Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse case, in the first successful effort by lawyers for former inmates of the detention center.
  • Egyptian President Morsi plans to meet on Wednesday with the leaders from Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah for unity talks.
  • The only suspect held in connection with the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya’s city of Benghazi has been released in Tunisia, reportedly due to lack of evidence.
  • A suspected militant group in the UAE has links to Yemen’s al Qaeda wing, according to Dubai’s police chief.
  • Iraq has closed its border with Jordan in the predominantly Sunni province of Anbar over anti-government protests.

Articles & Analysis

"Saving Syria from Assad" (Julian Lindley-French, Atlantic Council)

"an enduring Syrian peace will also only be possible if the conflict is detached from a wider regional Realpolitik. Iran has been supporting the regime with both expertise and munitions, with substantial evidence of direct involvement by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, whilst Russia and China have blocked any direct outside intervention. Indeed, the regional strategic ambitions of Iran and its proxy Hezbollah-led conflict with Israel have critically exacerbated the war. Equally, whilst an arms embargo has been formally imposed evidence abounds that it exists in name only. The Coalition has been receiving directly or indirectly both small arms and man-held anti-aircraft missiles from the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia to counter the regime’s use of air power.

What would a ‘credible’ international presence on the ground look like and under what mandate? Arab League, UN, NATO, EU or a beefed up Contact Group? Experience of political transition in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (hardly encouraging) suggests that early political reconciliation would be critical but only possible if reprisal killings are prevented and the humanitarian suffering of all alleviated. A new seat of government in Damascus would also need to be rapidly established and protected, committed to a political timetable for transition underpinned by the early disarmament and rehabilitation of combatants. The armed forces would need to be re-oriented and essential services and the judicial system preserved to provide stability. Critically, senior members of the Assad regime charged under law would need to get a fair trial and justice seen to work. National elections woven into a new constitution would also be vital with extreme elements in the opposition forced to face a choice; reconciliation or exclusion. Would Russia and China agree? Maybe this is the moment for a Tony Blair-type Sextet for Syria – America, Arab League, China, EU and Russia?"

"What if Assad Wins?" (Seth Mandel, Commentary Magazine)

"All throughout the Syrian civil war, analysts and human rights groups were at pains to point out the rising death toll and falling share of media and public attention. But underlying the legitimate frustration was a perhaps forced belief-straining under the weight of reality-in the conventional wisdom: the house of Assad will fall; the victims’ deaths will not be in vain.

But the standard rule of conventional wisdom-that it may be the former but is rarely the latter-applies here as well. As Emile Hokayem writes in the wake of Bashar al-Assad’s recent defiant speech:

More importantly, Western states should get off the sidelines. The illusion of a negotiated settlement is a consequence of Western indecision, not the cause for it. The United States in particular has squandered precious time and opportunities: The risks of greater involvement in Syria are certainly great, but the conflict has already overtaken the Iraq war in terms of regional and strategic impact, and Washington is at best marginal to its dynamics. U.S. Sen. John McCain only slightly exaggerated when he said last month: "In Syria, everything we said would happen if we didn’t intervene is happening because we didn’t intervene." Judging by Assad’s speech, Syria’s civil war is indeed about to become even more tragic as the world stands idly by.

That "illusion" is a Western creation, and more importantly it is not widely-and certainly not universally-shared. The "rebels" do not emit an air of encroaching victory, and to speak of patience and inevitability seems nothing less than vulgar. Can anyone explain why time is on the side of the rebels? It certainly doesn’t feel that way anymore, does it?"

By Mary Casey