Jan Weatherhead writes from Washington: One of America’s plans to isolate the Syrian leadership at all its levels is being screwed by the Chinese.
Without too much public attention, the spooky warhorses here in the Nation’s Capital have been organising a systematic breakdown of one of the most essential elements of counter insurgency – as the Al Assad regime would call its war against the rebel forces. That element is something that much of the world takes for granted everyday – the internet plus mobile phone links.
In spite of so-called secure military nets, the Syrian regime needs mobiles and the internet connections to relay information, propaganda and commands. Also, often the mobile is the modern way of a local commander finding out what’s going on elsewhere. He gets up-to-date info and is able to endorse or dismiss rumour. The rebel groups rely almost exclusively on social communications.
So for example, for political as well as business reasons, many mobile line providers have been pulling the plug on Syria. The Turks are being forced out and so too is Telecom Italia. The other main provider, Germany’s Deutsche Telecom is carrying much less traffic than six months back.
Grabbing the opportunity to be a friend to Syria – for whatever reason – the Chinese have jumped in.
According to analysts at Renesys Corp up in Manchester, New Hampshire, the Syrian government still has a hold on the internet connection going out of Syria. But this has a downside for the Syrians. That same connection is the main conduit for rebel communications. It’s a hot political and commercial potato being dropped by many communication outfits. Only a week ago, Turk Telecom found its lines were subject to heavy drop out. The Turks, who have much at stake in the civil war and who are campaigning for a refugee war-free zone in Northern Syria, believe the Syrian government has deliberately sabotaged their lines in. They also should know that the Syrians have turned to a safer ally, China.
PCCW Limited is a Hong Kong company working to control internet services in Syria. It will be, by the end of August, carrying the vast majority of internet traffic in and out of Syria, say the Renesys tech analysts. What is not being advertised is the fact that the telecom/ internet ground station link from Syria runs through undersea cables from Syria to Egypt, Cyprus and out and then along the coast to Lebanon. Who is a major share-owner in those cables? Why, PCCW of course.
The Americans would like greater control of the communications links, but striking at them too heavily will not benefit the rebels. Meanwhile, the Chinese are looking to the future in Syria and that means way past the al Assads. As one Washington insider in this telecom-tracking business mentioned to me “Show the Chinese an empty cup and they’ll pour in a little tea – at a price.”