Syria: Yesterday, the official news agency, al Manar, reported that government forces had captured Tal Kalakh near the northern border of Lebanon, after several days of “fierce clashes.” It was a key node for rebel arms smuggling.
Comment: Actually the Syrian army took control of the town over the weekend. Patrick Cockburn visited Tal Kalakh this week to investigate the government claims. He reported his interviews and findings in The Independent today. They are instructive. The rebels and town leaders cut a deal with the Syrian army leaders. The terms of the deal were not disclosed but shops have opened and residents expect no more fighting.
A local Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander said he and his men changed sides because they were disillusioned. A Syrian army officer said the town cut a deal because its leading men wanted to avoid its total destruction as occurred at al Qusayr. The 300-400 FSA men fled to Lebanon or merged back into the population.
Cockburn makes several significant points based on his conversations that are insightful about the nature of the fighting. First is the revelation that many local deals are being brokered or negotiated in many towns to prevent their destruction. Second, the deals are a consequence of the destruction of al Qusayr. Third, the deals are easier when Syrians are talking to Syrians. As a result, the Syrian residents move away from neighborhoods occupied by foreign fighters.
Cockburn judges that the local cease fire agreements are holding and will be critical to ending the violence.
His observations and those of his sources explain the sputtering pace of the fighting and add insight into the government’s description of the rebels. The government’s negotiating progress falls under or outside the reporting threshold of the mainstream international news agencies. Syrians are more prone to cooperate with the Syrian government than with foreign fighters.
The most important point Cockburn makes is that the simplistic media depiction of Syria as two hostile camps divided by disparity of cult is an inadequate representation of a complex security problem, made much worse by outside interventions.