Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

Should the US bomb Syria?

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By Stephen Gowans

There is no compelling evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the rebel forces which seek its overthrow. But even if chemical weapons have been used, a military intervention by the United States, its NATO allies, or its regional proxies, would fail the test of humanitarian intervention. First, it would exacerbate, not reduce, the suffering of Syrians. Second, it would be undertaken for concealed reasons of economic and geostrategic gain, not to protect Syrians from chemical weapons, not for the promotion of multi-party representative democracy, and not to encourage tolerance of dissent, as the promoters of intervention would have us believe.

Moreover, a successful US-led intervention would eliminate a pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist, anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist state committed to secularism, non-sectarianism, and public ownership of the commanding heights of its economy, and would, install, in its place, a US-client regime that would adopt a pro-US foreign policy, abandon the Palestinians, capitulate to Israel, and cater to Western investors and corporations. “Syria,” remarked president Bashar al-Assad, not without substance, “is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.” [1] This orientation would be completely reversed if a US intervention succeeded.

Three reasons the chemical weapons case against the Syrian government is weak at best

1. Britain and Israel claim to have evidence that the Syrian army used chemical agents against armed rebels. The British evidence is based on tissue samples taken from armed rebels who claim to have been gassed by loyalist forces. To concretely make the case that the Syrian army used chemical weapons:

• The tissue samples would have to test positive for chemical agents.
• There could be no possibility the samples were tampered with.
• A direct link between the contaminated tissue and an attack by Syrian forces would need to be established.

Concerning the first point, we have nothing to rely on but the word of British authorities. Should we believe them? Britain has been implicated in attempts to concoct pretexts for military intervention with phony evidence before (see the bogus WMD claims used to justify the war on Iraq and the genocide fear-mongering pressed into service to justify NATO’s 1999 air war on Yugoslavia.)

What’s more, Britain is hardly a neutral party to the conflict in Syria, and therefore has an interest in manufacturing justifications for more open and direct meddling. That’s not to say that the tissue sample didn’t test positive, only that it would be foolhardy to suppose that a country that “sexed up” evidence to justify a war on Iraq can be trusted.

Secondly, “the samples collected by Britain may have been tainted by rebels who want to draw the West into the conflict on their side” [2], a point made by US officials.

Third, “the detection of chemical agents doesn’t necessarily mean they were used in an attack by the Syrian” army. [3] Rebels, for example, may have been accidentally exposed to chemical agents they, themselves, had in their possession.

The key point is that evidence of tissue contamination (if indeed such evidence exists) is not evidence that the Syrian army used chemical agents, since there are multiple possible ways in which the tissue could have become contaminated.

2. Once US president Barack Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government was a red line that would trigger a more muscular US intervention, the Syrian calculus turned decidedly against their use. Using chemical agents against rebels would play directly into Washington’s hands, giving the bellicose superpower a pretext to intervene militarily in an open and direct fashion. This would be a disadvantage that would grossly outweigh any advantage that accrued from the weapons’ use. On the other hand, once Obama announced his red line, it made a ton of sense for the rebels to falsely claim they were gassed.

3. While an investigation by the United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has found evidence that the rebels used sarin gas, no evidence has been found that the Syrian government has done the same. Commission member Carla Del Ponte reported that, “We collected some witness testimony that made it appear that some chemical weapons were used, in particular, nerve gas. What appeared to our investigation was that was used by the opponents, by the rebels. We have no, no indication at all that the government, the authorities of the Syrian government, had used chemical weapons.” (Emphasis added.) [4]

An intervention would create harm

To reduce suffering, a military intervention would need to reduce harm to a greater degree than the military intervention itself would produce. Judging by previous US-led interventions undertaken for professedly humanitarian reasons, a military intervention in Syria would likely involve air strikes on Syrian military, government and even civilian facilities, with attendant civilian casualties, disruption of essential services, and massive displacement of non-combatants. According to The New York Times’ Elisabeth Bummiler, senior Pentagon officials have warned that “military intervention would be a daunting and protracted operation, requiring at least weeks of exclusively American airstrikes, with the potential for killing vast numbers of civilians.” (Emphasis added.) [5]

To be sure, an open and direct military intervention would be ardently welcomed by Syrian rebels, and their co-sectarian arms suppliers, the Turks, Saudis and Qataris. But it would kill many and make life even more miserable and uncertain for Syrians, especially those living in areas under loyalist control.

Far better to reach a political solution. But one of the reasons the Syrian civil war carries on is because the United States refuses to back a political resolution that would fall short of achieving its chief Syria foreign policy goal, namely, the ouster of Assad and his replacement by a pliant, pro-US government. A genuinely humanitarian intervention would set as its goal an end to hostilities, not the absorption of Syria into the US-Israeli camp.

Intervention would not be based on humanitarian concern

There is no reason to believe that the United States has any genuine interest in protecting Syrians from chemical weapons attacks. Washington dismissed out of hand evidence presented by the United Nations that the rebels used sarin gas, which is hardly what a government would do were it genuinely keen on protecting all Syrians from chemical attack, no matter which side of the conflict they’re on.

Significantly, US regime change policy in Syria antedates Syria’s civil war. The outbreak of the “Arab Spring” in Syria, and Damascus’s response to it, didn’t start the ball rolling on US efforts to force Assad from power. US regime change policy, linked to Damascus’s refusal to become a “peace-partner” with Israel, its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, and its refusal to fully open its economy to US capital, existed long before the Syrian government cracked down on opposition forces. In fact, one element of US foreign policy was to encourage opposition to the Assad government, [6] that is, to foment the kind of civil unrest that eventually morphed into a full blown civil war.

Multi-party representative democracy, a tolerant attitude to dissent, and eschewal of chemical weapons, have not been relevant components of US foreign policy decision making. Indeed, Washington has shown itself willing to overlook the absence of multi-party representative democracy, to ignore an intolerant attitude to dissent, and to turn a blind eye to the deployment of chemical weapons, where US corporate interests are promoted, either directly, or indirectly through the strengthening of United States’ geostrategic position. For example, Washington and its NATO allies have adopted a tolerant attitude to the violent suppression (aided by Saudi tanks) of a Shiite rebellion in Bahrain against an absolutist Sunni monarchy, while at the same time casually dismissing the UN’s concrete suspicions that the Syrian rebels used sarin gas. Significantly, Bahrain, a paragon of free-markets and free-enterprise, is home to the US Fifth Fleet; Saudi Arabia is a source of generous profits for US oil majors and New York investment banks; and the Syrian rebels are instruments through which US foreign policy goals of regime change in Damascus are to be achieved. If US foreign policy was indeed driven by democracy-promotion, human rights objectives, and non-proliferation goals, its attitude toward Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Jordan and the possibility of sarin gas use by Syrian rebels, would be very different.

Conclusion

There are sound strategic reasons for the Syrian army to leave chemical weapons in storage. Deploying them would play into Washington’s hands by providing the United States with a pretext to escalate its intervention in the Syrian civil war. On the other hand, any force that would benefit from a more muscular US intervention on the rebels’ behalf has an interest in manufacturing evidence of the use of chemical agents by Syrian forces. This would include the rebels themselves and those of the United States’ allies that would like Washington to refashion Syria in their political or sectarian interests.

Much as intervention by the United States is sold as a humanitarian exercise, it fails the humanitarian test on two levels. First, it would create substantial harm. US military officials have warned that direct military intervention—which would take the form of US air strikes—would create massive civilian casualties. Second, US foreign policy is based on commercial, financial, and geostrategic goals, not the promotion of multi-party representative democracy, tolerance of dissent, and anti-proliferation. This is clear from a simple examination of the countries Washington supports: those with a congenial attitude to US free enterprise and a willingness to submit to US domination, regardless of their practices in connection with multiparty representative democracy, civil liberties and weapons of mass destruction.

For all these reasons the United States should not bomb Syria, and nor should it provide military, diplomatic, or any other kind of assistance to the Syrian rebels. Of course, what it should do and what it will do are very different matters, but all the same we should be clear that the chemical weapons case against Syria is a fraud, as is the idea that direct US military intervention in the Syrian conflict would have either a humanitarian basis or humanitarian outcome.

1. Bashar al-Assad May 19, 2013 interview with Clarin newspaper and Telam news agency.

2. Adam Entous, Joshua Mitnick and Stephen Fidler, “Syria used chemical arms, Israel says”, The Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2013.

3. Ibid.

4. Alex Lantier, “UN says US-backed opposition, not Syrian regime, used poison gas”, World Socialist Web Site, May 7, 2013

5. Elisabeth Bummiler, “Military points to risks of Syrian intervention”, The New York Times, March 11, 2012.

6. Craig Whitlock, “U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by Wikileaks show”, The Washington Post, April 17, 2011.

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Syria: US imperialism sows the seeds for the next world war

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The following article below was originally published by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist)

Syria: US imperialism sows the seeds for the next world war

British workers must side unequivocally with their Syrian brothers and sisters and refuse to cooperate in any way with the imperialist drive to war.

The terrorist bomb that murdered four of Syria’s key security leaders in Damascus on 18 July sums up the fascist essence of the war being waged against this sovereign country in the name of democracy. Whilst the blast was claimed both by the sickly misnamed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and by a jihadi outfit, the trail of blood leads straight back to imperialism, for whom the export of terror is the necessary corollary of Washington’s ‘diplomatic’ bullying.

The bomb was timed to put pressure on the UN Security Council at the moment when it was deciding about extending the duration of the UN monitoring exercise. Whilst resolving on such an extension is not genuinely contentious – President Assad has welcomed the ongoing presence of monitors – Washington had done its best to pack the would-be resolution with new ultimatums aimed at regime change performed at the point of a gun.

The Chinese Xinhua news agency commented that the draft resolution lacked balance and western diplomats had “displayed arrogance and inflexibility” over the issue, adding that “western diplomats rushed to point fingers at Russia and China after the resolution was defeated, but they have only themselves to blame for trying to force such an ill-considered draft through the Council. ” Both China and Russia stopped the passage of this provocative resolution by use of their veto, instead assisting in the passage of an uncontroversial resolution authorising the monitors for a further 30 days.

Meanwhile, the tame imperialist media maintained a barrage of misinformation, highlighting the temporary seizure of checkpoints on the Iraqi and Turkish sides of the border by the FSA, in a carefully imperialist-managed stunt, trying to throw enough dust in people’s eyes to make them believe that the country’s leadership was already ‘crumbling’. This soon proved to be an illusion, as the rebels were cleared out of the Midan area of Damascus and the borders were rapidly secured.

What these terrorist attacks on Syrian security personnel did succeed in demonstrating, however, was the fascistic character of Washington’s armed stooges. When the FSA grabbed control of a checkpoint in the mountains, wrote the AFP French news agency, the deputy interior minister of Iraq’s government reported that the FSA kidnapped a Syrian lieutenant colonel, cut off his arms and legs and then “executed 22 Syrian soldiers in front of the eyes of Iraqi soldiers”.

Hillary Clinton goosesteps down the road to war

“I am no longer willing to stand idly by and watch while this madman in Prague thinks that he can simply mistreat three-and-a-half million people. And I left no doubt that German patience is now finally exhausted. I left no doubt that while it is a characteristic of our German mentality to be tolerant and patient in the face of repeated provocation, there comes a moment when enough is enough! And now finally England and France have made the only possible demand of Czechoslovakia: release the German territory and cede it to the Reich.” (Adolf Hitler, 1938)

So said an earlier imperialist leader, justifying the occupation of another country on the basis of ‘protecting innocent civilians’ – and thanking British and French imperialism for its assistance in this matter.

US permanent representative Susan Rice had already echoed these noble sentiments back in April when she told the UN that her country’s “patience is exhausted” by the supposed failure of Damascus to comply with the Annan Plan. And now, as Washington sees all its efforts to sabotage the Annan Plan and wrest the diplomatic initiative from Russia and China come to nothing, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is being driven to express herself in terms which grow daily more Hitlerian in tenor, clamouring that Russia and China must be made to “pay a price” for their insistence upon abiding by international law.

In so doing, the stakes are raised not only over Syria and Iran, but also over Washington’s relations with Moscow and Beijing. Clinton’s increasingly incendiary words will not soon be forgotten in either of these capitals, or around the world, and cannot be unsaid. Whatever happens now in Syria, the outline of future, more global conflicts has suddenly sharpened. As Washington continues to nerve itself up to escalate aggression against the sovereign nation of Syria into full-scale military intervention, it is ever-more incautiously revealing its aggressive intentions on a global scale: the reassertion of US hegemonic power, implemented via a hostile encirclement of, and ultimately war against, Russia and China, a conflagration that would endanger all humanity.

Infuriated by the failure to secure a majority in favour of sanctions and military threats during June’s conference in Geneva, Clinton slipped into crude invective against those who persist in allegiance to the internationally endorsed Annan Plan.

Having failed, at the UN Security Council before and then again at the Geneva conference, to shift this consensus, Clinton scuttled off to Paris to a meeting of the so-called ‘Friends of Syria’ to vent her spleen. There she hectored nervous delegates, ordering them to “demand” that Russia and China “get off the sidelines” and “support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people”, going on to rant: “I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all, nothing at all, for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime. The only way that will change this is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price, because they are holding up progress” – progress towards the criminal overthrow of the legitimate government of Syria, be it understood.

Russia and China both responded to this incontinent outburst with unruffled dignity, rooting themselves on the international consensus around the Annan Plan rather than being distracted by the clownish antics of the ‘Friends of Syria’ – a private circus invented by Sarkozy, and with Clinton as ringmaster, whose sole purpose is to act as a pseudo-diplomatic smokescreen for the Syrian counter-revolution.

Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov had this to say about Clinton’s wild words: “What worries us more than anything is that such remarks go against the final document of the Geneva talks, the adoption of which was approved with the participation of the US secretary of state.”

A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Liu Weimin, dismissed Clinton’s outburst as “totally unacceptable”, pointing out that “On the Syria problem, China’s fair and constructive stance, and its contributions toward diplomatic efforts, have attained the wide understanding and support of relevant parties in the international community.” He went on to warn that “Any words and deeds that slander China and sow discord between China and other countries will be in vain.”

Geneva conference

Participants in the Geneva conference had arrived with very different agendas.

Whilst for Russia and China everything hinged on the successful application of the internationally-agreed Annan Plan, the aggressor countries of the US, Britain and France, ably seconded by their flunkeys in Turkey, Kuwait and Qatar, sought nothing short of the overthrow of Syria’s head of state. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, chief banker and armourer of the rebellion on behalf of its US masters, let Kuwait and Qatar keep its seat warm in Geneva whilst it concentrated on trying to intimidate Syria by piling its forces up against her southern border.

Despite much hectoring from Hillary Clinton and co, the Geneva session failed to deliver the outcome desired by the warmongers, restricting itself to recommending that Syria seek by “mutual consent” to establish a “transitional government”. As a first step, all are urged to recommit to the ceasefire.

What exactly this recommendation intends in practice for the legitimate governing authority is not obvious. After all, Damascus has struggled throughout to maintain the ceasefire, whilst the rebellion has trampled all over it with increasing abandon. And as regards the possibility of a ‘transitional government’, that is indeed a matter exclusively for the ‘mutual consent’ of the Syrian people.

Some might consider that such consent was best expressed by the Syrian people themselves, unprompted by even the most august international gathering. That was rather the point of the February referendum on the constitution and the May parliamentary elections, after all. In any case, given that the gangsters of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ refuse point-blank to countenance any transition plan that does not include “buffer-zones protected by the international community, humanitarian corridors, an air embargo and the arming of rebel fighters” – and of course the toppling of President Assad – the likelihood is that the world will never have the chance to find out what such a suggested political solution might have entailed.

The truth is that imperialism does not want peace, but is instead encouraging its armed flunkeys to keep stoking up civil war. It is clear that the Nato aggressors value the UN only when it can offer an appearance of legitimacy to the imperialist policy of Anschluss (annexation) and blitzkrieg.

Whatever we are to understand about the provenance of a ‘transitional government’, however, the real significance of the Geneva outcome is that yet another US effort to grab the diplomatic initiative from Russia and China has come to naught, further undermining Washington’s claims to be acting on behalf of the ‘international community’, weakening US prestige in the Arab world and making it harder to lash together a new ‘coalition of the willing’ from amongst its own imperialist rivals.

Whilst this does not mean the war will not happen, it does create the least auspicious conditions for imperialism to wage it successfully. Only days after Clinton’s intemperate intervention, Kofi Annan reported that he had held “very candid and constructive” talks with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, during which they had “agreed an approach” to end the violence, which he would now share this with rebel groups.

The BBC reported on 9 July that Annan “said criticism of the international community’s failure to negotiate a political solution had too often focused on Russia, which has opposed foreign intervention, noting that ‘Russia has influence, but I don’t think that events will be determined by Russia alone.’ ” It is Moscow’s weapons trade with Damascus, in breach of no UN sanction, which has drawn the exclusive ire of Washington, whilst Saudi Arabia and Qatar openly call for the arming and financing of the Free Syrian Army, Turkey offers a rear base for rebel troops on Syria’s border, and the US is on record as providing so-called ‘non-lethal’ aid like communications (to say nothing of all the clandestine support to rebels throughout).

Whilst carefully preserving the ‘even-handed’ distribution of blame between aggressors and victims, Annan’s conclusion that “All these countries say they want a peaceful solution, but they undertake individual and collective actions that undermine the very meaning of Security Council resolutions” is more than anything a humiliating slap in the face for Clinton, rubbing salt in America’s wounded pride.

Searching for a pretext

But with the crisis putting fire under Yankee feet, Washington cannot but persist in its search for a pretext to turn the covert war against Syria into an open military conflagration. The sick propaganda exercise mounted around the Houla massacre misfired badly when the imperialist explanation pinning blame on the government was rapidly exposed as a fraud, not only by independent investigators but also by such mainstream sources as Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

When this stunt failed to stampede the UN into compliance with US warmongering, Washington looked to its proxies to come up with a casus belli. Turkey stepped into the breach on 22 June, sending a spy plane into Syrian airspace to test her coastal defences and then squawking blue murder when those defences promptly shot it down. At first blush this looked like another golden opportunity to bounce the international community into open war.

The only problem is that Turkey’s own imaginative record of events – a Turkish plane callously shot down whilst passing peacefully through international airspace – was at once debunked by no less than the eminently respectable Wall Street Journal! Their journalists reported that “US intelligence indicates that a Turkish warplane shot down by Syrian forces was most likely hit by shore-based anti-aircraft guns while it was inside Syrian airspace, American officials said, a finding in tune with Syria’s account and at odds with Turkey. 

Squarely contradicting the Turkish version, a senior US defence official is quoted as saying “We see no indication that it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.” (‘Doubts cast on Turkey’s story of jet’ by Julian Barnes, Adam Entous and Joe Parkinson, 30 June 2012)

Despite Ankara’s repeated violation of Syrian borders, President Assad has continued to bend over backwards to defuse the tension, telling the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet that everything possible would be done to prevent the situation “turning into an armed conflict that would harm both countries”. He noted that it was Ankara’s decision to sever all military and diplomatic communications that had left Syria uncertain as to the origin or intentions of the straying plane, adding that “The plane used the corridor used by the Israeli planes three times in the past – we learned it was Turkish after we shot it down.”

Turkey ‘responded’ to its own stunt by deploying rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns along its border with Syria, having doubtless been given the green light to do so by Washington. However embarrassing the failure to get their propaganda line straight, neither Washington nor Ankara will readily give up on a good excuse for the war they need. The same Wall Street Journal article cited US defence officials as saying they weren’t alarmed by the concentration of Turkish forces on the border, claiming this to be a “very measured” approach.

General Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, smirked that “I’ve asked them, and they are not seeking to be provocative”! Behind this faux naïf posture it is clear that Washington knows exactly what Ankara is up to, since it is Washington that is really calling the shots, however much Ankara may try to kid itself that it can advance its own Ottoman aspirations by tucking in behind US war plans.

Nato predictably condemned Syria’s sensible act of self-defence – and threatened unspecified dire consequences should such actions recur. Meanwhile, Turkey’s prime minister blithely announced Ankara’s open willingness to attack targets within Syrian borders, declaring that “Every military element approaching Turkey from the Syrian border and representing a security risk and danger will be assessed as a military threat and will be treated as a military target.”

With FSA mercenaries regularly crossing the border to launch terrorist attacks, this is like a mugger telling his victim to keep his hands behind his back whilst punching him in the face.

May elections

Meanwhile, through all the tragic social consequences inflicted by imperialist meddling, the Syrian people continue to press on with the reforms initiated a year ago. Back in February, a national referendum on the proposed new constitution, endorsed by 90 percent of voters, established the ground rules for the ensuing parliamentary elections in May. In line with the reform process, the new constitution dropped an earlier reference to the socialist Ba’ath party as the “leader of the state and society” and opened the door to the formation of new parties, so long as these parties were not run from outside the country or based on a divisive religious or tribal basis.

This democratic challenge to the opposition, opening up a path of political reconciliation and reform to all who hold their homeland dear, was met with boycott and terror from the imperialist-backed rebels, who declined to test out their support among the 23 million Syrians, instead targeting parliamentary candidates for assassination whilst the imperialist media helped out by slandering both the referendum and the subsequent elections.

The election results demonstrated that support for the governing National Progressive Front (NPF) coalition, led by the three million-strong Ba’ath party and including within it two of Syria’s communist parties and eight other parties, remains solid, making it clear that the leadership status of the Ba’ath party in fact depends not upon a phrase in the constitution, but upon widespread popular support for a secular leadership that strives to overcome sectarian divisions and promote the unity and independence of the country.

Such an outcome is most unwelcome to the West, whose strategy depends upon its ability to plunge Syria into sectarian strife, setting one faith group against another to undermine national unity and clear the way for balkanisation.

The new parliament consists of 250 representatives from 16 different regions, and, making nonsense of claims that the elections were simply an exercise in rubber-stamping, only 41 delegates from the previous parliament actually got re-elected. Of the other 209 freshly-elected representatives, over 80 stood as independents. Furthermore, there is a guaranteed built-in majority of seats for workers and peasants (‘category A’) – a requirement that would go down like a lead balloon on either side of the British House of Commons.

Significant in particular were the gains made by the Communist Party of Syria led by Ammar Bakdash. The CPS(B) stood 30 candidates in 15 constituencies and got eight of them elected, three more than last time.

President Assad noted that through the elections the Syrian people were delivering “a serious message to everyone, both inside the country and abroad. The Syrian people were not scared by threats from terrorists who tried to thwart the election or to force us to call the election off. The results have shown that the Syrian people still support the course for reforms that we announced about a year ago, and that the majority support this system of statehood.”

Solidarity

It is the steadfastness of the Syrian masses and their leaders, coupled with the refusal of Russia and China to abet the West’s criminal intentions, and the growing reluctance of many of Washington’s own trade rivals to squander their own national blood and treasure in the service of Uncle Sam, that has so far prevented imperialism from inflicting upon the Syrians what it inflicted upon the Libyans.

It has never been more urgent for British workers to come out in solidarity with the beleaguered Syrian nation. We owe it to them and we owe it to ourselves to denounce the torrent of lies which pours out of the mouths of bourgeois politicians and journalists day after day, and to call shame on those who call themselves anti-war activists yet join in with the hate campaign against President Assad and the country he leads.

Instead, we must stand with our brothers overseas and give all possible support to the Syrian people in their hour of peril. The destruction of independent Syria would be a cruel blow not only to the Syrian people, not only to the Arab nation, but to the whole of progressive humanity, and it must therefore be resisted with every means at our disposal.

Marx long ago proved that the interests of workers and capitalists are diametrically opposed to one another. If British imperialism gains strength and power from dominating territories, subduing populations and controlling raw materials and markets across the globe, it stands to reason that British workers’ ability to resist oppression by the same imperialists at home is weakened every time an opponent of imperialism is destroyed.

Communists and anti-imperialists must take this message clearly into the anti-war movement: wars waged by British capital are not in our interests, and imperialist crimes committed abroad are aimed at us too. It is long past time for British trade unions to adopt a position of collective non-cooperation with Britain’s criminal wars for profit. It is long past time for British workers to refuse to play any part in moving materials, making munitions, pointing guns, or broadcasting imperialism’s warmongering propaganda lies.

That is why we say:

No cooperation with war crimes!

Victory to Syria; victory to Assad!

Death to imperialism!

Turkey running proxy invasion of Syria

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Admits hosting foreign fighters seeking to enter Syria, trucks in weapons to rearm terrorist groups

By Tony Cartalucci
July 26, 2012

The Washington Post has just published an article with the very misleading titled, “Turkey a hub for Syria revolution as illegal border crossing points abound,” in which it describes “Salafi Muslims,” who have “come to offer help from the countries of the Persian Gulf region” arming and joining the so-called “Free Syrian Army.” The article also claims “weapons are ferried into Syria, delivered by Turkish military trucks and picked up by fighters on the other side in the dead of night.”

A more apt title would be, “Turkey hosts invading Saudi and Qatari mercenary army.”

This confirms earlier reports featured in the New York Times and the Washington Post, that not only are the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia and Qatar funding and arming militants via Turkey, but that the US is coordinating the logistical aspects of the operation as well.

Likewise, CNN has attempted to spin concessions made by its own Ivan Watson, traveling with sectarian extremists into Syria, where it was admitted:

Meanwhile, residents of the village where the Syrian Falcons were headquartered said there were fighters of several North African nationalities also serving with the brigade’s ranks.

A volunteer Libyan fighter has also told CNN he intends to travel from Turkey to Syria within days to add a “platoon” of Libyan fighters to armed movement.

CNN has now added:

On Wednesday, CNN’s crew met a Libyan fighter who had crossed into Syria from Turkey with four other Libyans. The fighter wore full camouflage and was carrying a Kalashnikov rifle. He said more Libyan fighters were on the way.

The foreign fighters, some of them are clearly drawn because they see this as … a jihad. So this is a magnet for jihadists who see this as a fight for Sunni Muslims.

CNN then attempts to claim the “real” Syrian “revolutionaries” “do not want an Islamist political agenda to be mixed in with their revolution.”

The face of Libya’s “revolution” was literally Al Qaeda. Abdul Hakim Belhaj, commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) listed by the US State Department as a “Foreign Terrorists Organization,” was armed and backed by NATO (including the US) in his efforts to topple the government of Libya. Belhaj more recently pledged (NATO) weapons, cash, and Libyan militants to the “Free Syrian Army.”

Unfortunately for CNN, despite its best efforts, it cannot qualify its claim that these foreign fighters are “unwanted,” – for the so-called “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) has long since exposed itself as a sectarian extremist front infiltrated with foreign fighters and foreign weapons, stretching back as far as 2007.

Saudis and Qataris Attempt “Arab League-UN” Rescue of Faltering Mercenaries

Perhaps as a sign the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia and Qatar are stretched to the limits of their ability to covertly undermine Syria, they have announced plans to seek “UN General Assembly action” for a “political transition and establishment of a democratic government in Syria.” For the despotic, unelected, grandiose nepotism of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to call for a “democratic government in Syria” is truly a move made as much out of desperation as it is one of farcical hypocrisy.

Both Gulf State nations are run by absolute monarchies – some of the only kind still left in the world. In Saudi Arabia, not only are elections out of the question, but women are in fact, prohibited from even driving. How the Saudis themselves are not subject to UN resolutions, open condemnations, sanctions of all kinds, and ultimatums over their own dictatorship is a true indication of the bankrupted, hypocritical, self-serving dysfunction that punctuates a Western corporate-financier dominated “international order.” It is an “international community” that creates the illusion of urgency and injustice when it seeks to expand its interests into one nation, but conveniently ignores real injustice when it jeopardizes their interests elsewhere.

Turkey Supports Subversion of Syria, While Crushing Dissent at Home

Turkey itself has been waging a decades-long bloody campaign against its own armed uprising in predominately Kurdish areas bordering Syria, Iraq, and Iran. In fact, at one point, the US allowed Turkish tanks to cross into American-occupied Iraq to attack villages suspected of harboring armed Kurdish separatists in 2008, mirroring the very tactics Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is now condemning Syria for. The Guardian reported in their 2008 article, “Iraq demands Turkey withdraw from border conflict with Kurds,” that the conflict had been raging since 1984 and had cost the lives of 40,000 people.

Turkey has in recent weeks, violated Iraq’s airspace in order to strafe and bomb Kurdish villages inside Iraqi territory. Iraq has lodged a complaint with the UN Security Council – a complaint likely to go unnoticed.

One can only imagine the “threat” Syria would be portrayed as if it were to likewise strafe and bomb targets beyond its borders in pursuit of now admittedly foreign-armed, foreign fighters invading its country via Turkey. Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, would most likely invoke “Chapter V” of NATO’s treaty, a mutual defense clause that makes an attack on one alliance member an attack on all members – thus opening up the door for more direct foreign military intervention.

Turkey’s ruling government led by PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in fact undermining its own national security by running errands for NATO versus Syria. By supporting foreign terrorists invading neighboring Syria, it undermines the legitimacy of its own campaign against Kurdish rebels within its borders, not to mention beyond them. Turkey’s current stance vis-a-vis Syria is not shared by all members of Turkey’s government, and at this critical stage, now more than ever they need to make their voices heard both to the Turkish people and to the people of the world.

Carving Out “Safe Havens” for the US State Department’s SNC

Also out of the Brookings Institution, Middle East Memo #21 “Assessing Options for Regime Change (.pdf),” makes no secret that the humanitarian “responsibility to protect” is but a pretext for long-planned regime change.

The ultimate goal of inundating Syria with foreign fighters and weapons while Saudi Arabia and Qatar farcically call for a “democratic transition” in Syria is to create a “safe haven” from which the US State Department coached and directed “Syrian National Council” (SNC) can rule from – further dividing and undermining the Syrian nation-state.

This geopolitical objective was first summarized in the Fortune 500-funded Brookings Institution’s March 2012 Middle East Memo #21 ” Assessing Options for Regime Change (.pdf)and recently reiterated almost verbatim by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The US foreign-policy think-tank, Brookings Institution blueprinted designs for regime change in Libya as well as both Syria and Iran. In their report, ” Assessing Options for Regime Change” it is specifically stated (emphasis added):

“An alternative is for diplomatic efforts to focus first on how to end the violence and how to gain humanitarian access, as is being done under Annan’s leadership.This may lead to the creation of safe-havens and humanitarian corridors, which would have to be backed by limited military power. This would, of course, fall short of U.S. goals for Syria and could preserve Asad in power. From that starting point, however, it is possible that a broad coalition with the appropriate international mandate could add further coercive action to its efforts.” –page 4, Assessing Options for Regime Change, Brookings Institution.

The Brookings Institution’s “safe havens” and “humanitarian corridors” are meant to be established by NATO-member Turkey, who had been threatening to partially invade Syria in order to accomplish this. And while Turkey claims this is based on “humanitarian concerns,” examining Turkey’s abysmal human rights record in addition to its own ongoing armed campaign against the Kurdish people both within and beyond its borders, it is clear they are simply fulfilling the agenda established by their Western patrons on Wall Street and in the city of London.

There is still extreme danger that with Aleppo still under threat by foreign fighters and the so-called “Free Syrian Army,” NATO is preparing cross-border provocations to justify the “limited military power” Brookings calls for in establishing its prescribed “safe havens.” Fabricated “massacres,” “humanitarian crisis,” and false flag attacks involving chemical weapons are also pretexts the West might use for a limited military incursions into Syria in an attempt to cripple its military and lend its militant proxies a “safe haven” in Syria to rule over.

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How leftist “anti-zionists” are allied with Israel against Syria

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By Mimi Al Laham (aka “Syrian Girl”) and Lizzie Phelan
July 19, 2012

The Myth

There has been a ridiculous notion amongst numerous left groups and those opposed to the Syrian government, that the Israeli regime does not want to see Assad fall. As self-professed “anti-zionists”, many in these groups are content to delude themselves into believing that both their enemies are on the same side. In the case of several socialist groups, they believe that this forcing of the Syrian crisis into their blanket “anti-authoritarian” narrative (regardless of the state in which they are applying that narrative to) enables them to maintain a façade of anti-imperialism.

London based socialist newspaper The Socialist Review writes: “Israel, although hostile to Syria, could depend on the Baathist regime to keep the frontier quiet. Thus criticism of Bashar is more muted in Tel Aviv.”

And Simon Assaf of the Socialist Worker writes:

The notion that ordinary Syrians struggling to change their country are the pawns of a ‘Western plot’ is absurd…In fact the Arab League is attempting to throw the regime a lifeline.

This view is also pervasive amongst the Islamic opposition to the Syrian government. Rafiq A. Tschannen of the The Muslims Times writes:

Israel believes that it would be safer under Assad regime than the new government whose credentials are unknown or the new Islamic extremist regime that would open a new war front with the Jewish state.

Israeli state media has actively fuelled this manipulation, as it has been beneficial to the Israeli state to both discredit the Syrian government in the eyes of Syrians and Arabs amongst whom cooperation with Israel has historically been a red line. Therefore the goal of these reports has been to create the false perception that Israel is uninvolved in the insurgency against the Syrian government. Similarly to how the NATO powers were keen to portray the Libyan insurgency as a “home-grown revolution”.

In this early 2011 Haaretz article entitled ‘Israel’s favourite dictator’, great lengths are taken to paint the Syrian president as a weak stooge of the Israeli state. The article regurgitates common Syrian criticisms and sources of frustration about the Syrian government’s failure to take back the Golan Heights. It even goes as far as to chastise Assad for not attacking Israel. The irony that an Israeli paper would be critical of a president’s failure to attack Israel is apparently lost on many. All the more incredible that these anti-zionist groups have chosen to believe the spin of Israeli state media.

The Turkish based Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), also jumped on this bandwagon. The now deposed leader of the SNC, Burghan Ghallion told Israeli paper Ynetnews “We are convinced that the Syrian regime’s strongest ally is Israel”.

Debunking the Myth

However the following facts expose all of the above as merely a part of the psychological warfare machinery directed from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the NATO countries, which is an essential part of the overall aggression against Syria, and that such leftists have willingly become a part of:

Israel’s most important ally, the US, has been amongst its other allies repeatedly calling for regime change in Syria

Israel’s strongest ally the United States has been pushing for regime change in Syria since before the first signs of insurrection began. Most famously in 2007, General Wesley Clarke, who served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander between 1997 and 2000 said he had received a memo from the US Secretary of Defense’s Office which read that the Syrian Government would be one of the seven governments the US would destroy in the subsequent five years.

The Guardian’s recent headline “Saudi Arabia plans to fund Syria rebel army” is in the typical style of the liberal media based in the NATO countries a malignant manipulation. The text of that article is specifically about plans by the US’ and by extension Israel’s most important regional allies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to pay the salaries of insurgents. But buried further down the very same article also reports that such support began months before. A less misleading headline therefore would replace “plans to fund” with “increases support for”, however a truthful headline would suggest external control over Syria’s insurgency has existed since its onset.

Indeed both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have a long history of hostility to the Syrian Ba’ath Party and Syrian foreign policy, a fact which is reflected in both of their leading medias (Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya respectively) severely distorted coverage of events in Syria from the outset.

But to highlight this context would give too much weight to the Syrian government’s consistent analysis that the crisis within its borders is externally created. A fact which leftist groups also fall over themselves trying to downplay or dismiss with the result of boosting the opposing narrative which imperialism has made dominant through its media machinery.

Why did that same Guardian article, and western leftists who claim that Assad is good for Israel fail to mention that for example in early April, the US openly pledged to double its assistance to the insurgents to the tune of an additional $12 million, under the cover of “humanitarian aid”? Or the recent US admission that it is actively arming the insurgency using Qatar as a proxy? Or that in February, solid Israeli ally British Foreign Minister William Hague pledged more equipment to the insurgents, insisting there was “no limit on what resources” Britain would provide?

It shouldn’t have to be explained to anti-Zionists that US and Israeli foreign policy is one and the same.

Axis of Resistance

Syria is a member of the Axis of Resistance, which is the only effective military resistance to Israel left. It is made up of Syria, Iran and the resistance inside Lebanon with Hizbullah at the helm. Far from being a ‘safe’ option for Israel, as Al Akhbar writer Amal Saad-Ghorayeb sets out in her three part critique of the third-way position that has seized much of the western left, Syria has consistently put itself on the frontline, risking its own survival, and has been involved in every Arab-Israeli conflict since they took power. Syria has been the strongest supporter of the Lebanese resistance movements against Israeli occupation; Hizbullah has repeatedly unequivocally attributed its ability to effectively win the 2006 war against Israeli invasion of Lebanon to its support from Syria and Iran.

A year since the beginning of the insurrection in Syria, the ridiculous notion that Israel was not pursuing regime change in Syria began to crumble. Israeli Intelligence Minister, Dan Meridor was quoted on Israeli radio, pointing out what was obvious all along: Regime change in Syria would break the Iran-Syria mutual defence pact thereby isolating Iran and cutting the supply of arms to Hezbollah. Finally, Israel’s greatest adversary, Syria, would be crippled.

This was not reported in Israeli mass media, which ensured that the lid was kept on the obvious, clearly in the knowledge that it would make the position of the insurgent’s self-professed anti-zionist cheerleaders in the west and Arab world more untenable. Yet those cheerleaders who maintain that Assad is good for Israel have been unable to reconcile then why Israel relentlessly beats the war drums against one of Syria’s most important allies, Iran.

Aside from wanting to get rid of Assad to secure military hegemony of the region, Israel also has an economic interest in scarpering the Syria, Iran, Iraq oil pipeline which would rival both Israel’s BTC pipeline and the eternally fledgling plans for Europe’s Nabucco pipeline.

Pro-Israel Opposition

With increasing momentum, the already tenuous facade of being pro-Assad in the Israeli media began to crumble and increasingly, voices within the Syrian opposition have been crossing the red line of sounding friendly towards Israel.

MK Yitzhak Herzog, who has previously held ministerial posts in Israeli parliament, said that Syrian opposition leaders have told him they want peace with Israel after Syrian President Bashar al Assad falls.

Indeed, SNC member Bassma Kodmani attended the 2012 Bilderberg conference where regime change in Syria was on the agenda. Kodmani has previously called for friendly relations between Syria and Israel on a French talk show, going as far as to say: ‘We need Israel in the region’.

Another SNC member, Ammar Abdulhamid declared his support for friendly relations between Israel and Syria in an interview with Israeli news paper Ynetnews.

Earlier this year a telephone conversation between the SNC’s Radwan Ziyade and Mouhammad Abdallah emerged where they begged Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barack for more support.

Outside the SNC the children of former leadership figures now in opposition have joined the pro-Israel rat race. Ribal al-Assad, the son of Bashar Assad’s uncle and exiled former vice-president Rifaat al-Asaad welcomed the possibility of Syria making peace with Israel. And son of former Syrian prime minister Nofal Al-Dawalibi, said in an interview on Israeli radio that the Syrian people want peace with Israel. Dawalibi formed the “Free Syrian Transitional National Government”, another external opposition group rivaling the SNC for power in a situation where the Syrian government falls. This sectarian infighting and disunity, that is a mirror of post-Gaddafi Libya, is now threatening to plague the Syria.

Lower down the opposition hierarchy, pro-Israel voices are still to be found.

Syrian Danny Abdul-Dayem, the almost one-hit-wonder unofficial spokesman for the FSA, appeared on CNN begging Israel to Attack Syria.

And in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2, Sheikh Abdullah Tamimi, an exiled Imam from the Syrian city of Homs, said that the Syrian Opposition does not have any enmity towards Israel. Tamimi proceeded to request monetary and military support for Sunnis in Syria and Lebanon.

Anti-Assad Zionists and Israeli Leaders

Socialists chosen to be blind to the fact that prominent Zionists have been backing the Syrian insurgency since its inception.

US Senator John Mccain and Joe Lieberman, both well known to be close friends of the zionist entity, met with the SNC and Syrian insurgents on the Turkish border, then called for the US to arm them. In fact Joe Lieberman has been calling for war against Syria since 2011.

Another well known zionist Bernard Henri-Levy, who spear-headed the destruction of Libya by NATO aerial bombardment, has also called for an attack on Syria.

More recently voices within the Israeli government have been more vocal and demanding in their desire to see the Syrian government’s replacement with a more friendly puppet regime.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, upon receiving the ‘Medal of Freedom’ from US President Barack Obama, said that the world had to get rid of Assad. That he was receiving such a medal requires its own article dedicated to psychoanalyzing such an event, but that he could also claim, while being part of a system that is responsible for some of the gravest abuses to humankind in history, that from a “human” point of view Assad must go, should really get so-called anti-Zionists thinking.

Other members of the Israeli government, such as Israeli Vice Prime Minister, Shaul Mofaz, urged world powers to mount a Libya style regime change in Syria.

And Israeli defense minister Ehud Barack called for the ‘world to act’ to remove Assad while Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon accused the “world” of wrong doing for failing to act against the Syrian government and then offered Israel “assistance” for Syrian ‘refugees’.

Finally, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon accused the ‘world’ of wrong doing for failing to act against the Syrian government. Then offered Israel offered ‘assistance’ for Syrian ‘refugees’. Thinly euphemism for arming insurgents on the border.

Conclusion

In spite of the overt desire of the US government for regime change in Syria, which they have made clear time and time again, Israel has obvious economic and military interests Israel has for pursuing regime change in Syria, most notably the the break up of the Axis of Resistance and the destruction of plans for rival oil pipelines. Despite numerous public statements by Syrian opposition members that they are pro-israel and the multitude of Israeli government officials calling for the fall of the Syrian government as well as zionist lobbyists and key zionist figures like Bernard Henri-Levy backing the insurgency, so called ‘anti-zionist’ Socialists and Islamic groups persist in their claim that Israel has no stake in regime change in Syria and that the insurgency inside Syria is from the grass roots. Though all information contrary to this delusion is in clear sight, it seems that the socialist and Islamic groups are willingly blind.

This position becomes increasingly untenable however, most recently in light of the murder of Syria’s Deputy Defence Minister Asef Shawkat, which along with the simultaneous murder of Defence Minister Raoud Dajiha and Assistant to the Vice President Hassan Turkomani, which the Syrian government laid the responsibility for squarely at the doors of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as new information has come to light as revealed by Al Akhbar editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin.

In an article published today, Amin writes of Shawkat, that in spite of the incessant attempts by the US, Israel et al to demonise him, he in fact,

played a major role in resisting Israeli occupation in and around Palestine. Right to the end, he took practical charge of meeting the needs of the resistance forces in Palestine and Lebanon, and of their members and cadres in Syria. He oversaw everything from their accommodation and transportation, to their training camps and provisions, and arranging for cadres from inside Palestine to come to the country secretly for training.

For the resistance in Lebanon, Shawkat was a true partner, providing whatever assistance was needed without needing orders or approval from the leadership. He was a central player in the June 2006 war. He spent the entire time in the central operations room that was set up in line with a directive by Assad to supply the resistance with whatever weapons it wanted, notably missiles, from Syrian army stocks. Shawkat and other officers and men of the Syrian army – including Muhammad Suleiman who was assassinated by the Mossad on the Syrian coast in 2008 – spent weeks coordinating the supply operation which helped the resistance achieve the successes that led to the defeat of Israel.

Despite the accusations levelled against Asef Shawkat regarding security, political or other matters, for Imad Mughniyeh, the assassinated military leader of Hezbollah, he was just another comrade, a modest man who would bow when shaking hands with Hassan Nasrallah, and liked to hear the news from Palestine last thing at night.

However anti-zionist one proclaims to be, there are few in this world that can claim to have done as much as the above for the Palestinian Resistance to the zionist entity. But having proven to wilfully ignore all of the facts and history of Syria’s long history of resistance to Israel, it is a great tragedy that those who cling on to the argument dealt with in this essay, would only perhaps be able to let go of it should Syria fall and then the reality of Palestine’s total military abandonment would be all to devastatingly clear to see.

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Revealed: CIA secretly operates on Syrian border, supplies arms to rebels

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June 21, 2012

Members of the Free Syrian Army walk as they carry RPGs at Bab Al Hawa in outskirts of Idlib, near the Syrian-Turkey border (Reuters / Str)

American secret service operatives are distributing illegal assault rifles, anti-tank rocket launchers and other ammunition to Syrian opposition, the New York Times reports. But due to some rebels’ links to Al Qaeda, the CIA’s task is precarious.

The paper reports that for weeks now, officers based in southeast Turkey have supervised the flow of illegal arms to numerous opposition factions ready to fight the regime of President Bashar Assad. The only problem is some of the rebel groups have links with terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, so the CIA mission must be careful not to arm proven terrorists by mistake.

Arms and ammunition are being brought into Syria mainly over the Turkish border with the help of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood network and other groups, the report says. Expenses are being shared by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The NYT source, an unnamed Arab intelligence official, revealed that American officers are also collecting information on Syrian opposition groups and recruiting informants among their ranks. The source said the Obama administration is considering sharing its intelligence data, such as satellite images and detailed information on the location and maneuvers of Syrian troops.

According to the source, CIA operatives might be helping the rebels with organizing a rudimentary intelligence organization. The CIA agents have reportedly not set foot on Syrian soil, however.

While, it seems, supplying Syrian opposition with arms, the US would like to see Syria’s allies, Russia in the first place, stop supplying weapons to the regime of President Bashar Assad. Washington has expressed concern with Russia performing maintenance of Syrian Mi-25 assault helicopters.

Moscow has consistently denied supplying to Damascus any types of assault weapons that can be used against armed rebels. Russia’s Foreign Ministry says the country has only supplied Syria with defensive capabilities such as anti-air missile systems.

Russia is not violating any international sanctions against Syria, and Moscow has declared it will not cease military cooperation with Damascus.

Prior to the report about CIA officers operating on the Turkish-Syrian border, the Obama administration’s declared policy on the conflict in Syria centered on diplomacy and humanitarian aid. The State Department has reportedly allocated $15 million in medical supplies and communication equipment for armed opposition groups in Syria.

In the meantime it seems the Pentagon is considering various options for interference in the Syrian conflict, including establishing no-fly zones over the country, as was done in Libya a year ago.

American and Israeli generals are also concerned with securing alleged stockpiles of Syrian chemical weapons, the very existence of which has never been proven.

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Former Al-Jazeera journalist explains why he left over reporting on Syria and Bahrain

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Bio

Ali Hashem is a television journalist who recently resigned from his post as a war reporter for Al Jazeera. While working for Al Jazeera, he covered the revolution in Libya, Lebanese politics, and tension related to the Syrian uprising on the Syrian Lebanese borders. He also worked for the BBC and led the production team at Manar TV.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

In the middle of February, something called the Syrian Electronic Army—hackers in Syria that support the government—hacked into Al Jazeera’s servers and found some emails. Some of them were written by Ali Hashem, who was a Middle East correspondent for the Arab Al Jazeera channel. In those emails he expressed his concern about the way Al Jazeera was covering the conflict in Syria. It later led to his resignation.

Now joining us to talk about these events, his resignation, and the situation in the Middle East and media is Ali Hashem. Ali joins us from Beirut, where he’s a television journalist. As I said, he worked for Al Jazeera Arabic. He’s covered the conflict in Libya, Lebanese politics. He covered stories on the Syrian-Lebanese border recently. He previously worked for BBC, and before that at Manar TV in Lebanon. And as I said, he joins us from Beirut. Thanks very much, Ali.

ALI HASHEM, FMR. AL-JAZEERA REPORTER (RESIGNED): You’re welcome.

JAY: So start with what happened in February. Who, what were these hackers? And then what happened?

HASHEM: Actually, in February it seems that some hackers that are pro-regime hackers were able to get, you know, into the servers of Al Jazeera network and they were able to, you know, go into several—or, let’s say, hundreds of email accounts of journalists and, you know, executives and whatever. So those people were able to go into our emails and see, you know, the conversations that were going through inside the channel.

One of those conversations was between me and one of the Arabic channel’s presenters. And then we were just, you know, talking about the coverage and points regarding this coverage. We had some problems. You know. As for me, late in—before, in May, I had a problem with the channel when I—you know, we were on the borders with Syria and there were a lot of armed men, militants, tens of guns, and they were with weapons and just moving along the border from Lebanon to Syria.

At that time, you know, everyone was talking about the revolution in Syria, that it’s peaceful revolution, it’s not using arms. But, you know, what we saw, it was really interesting and kind of—if it was any other channel, this should be a breaking news, it should be a big story. But, actually, Al Jazeera, let me say, the policy and the channel itself, maybe the journalists inside, you know, they went back to, maybe, the owners, and then it was kind of—it’s not allowed, and I was asked to go back to Beirut, and those footage weren’t ever aired on Al Jazeera.

And this problem, you know, made, you know, a kind of credibility problem between me and the channel. And, you know, I tried my best to solve this issue. I tried my best to tell my seniors, my bosses, all of them, that there is a problem and we should solve such a problem. Actually, when this happened and I was talking about this issue with my colleague in Doha—and she’s a well-known presenter over there—actually, also she told me a lot about what she’s passing by and what she’s going through and how she was, you know, on air and then she was asked to leave the air because she asked kind of hard questions or harsh questions to the opposition members who are kind of supported by Qatar. So we were talking these issues. And then someone just popped in and took our, you know, privacy off and just took everything and, you know, published them on air. Some were kind of on the Syrian television, some were on newspapers in Beirut, in many other Arab capitals. So this was the story at that time.

JAY: So what—before we go further into your own story, let’s back up one step. What exactly did you see in terms of arms going into Syria? Who do you think (or were you able to tell?) was supplying the arms?

HASHEM: Actually, I can’t identify who’s really supplying the arms, but actually we saw armed men just crossing the river, the great northern river, which is the only, you know, natural barrier between Lebanon and Syria. They were just crossing that barrier and going into Syria, and then clashing with the Syrian Army. That was in May. And even something similar happened in April, but it wasn’t on camera. But in May it was on camera and we had the footage, and, you know, no one wanted to have them on air. At that time, you know, everybody was watching. You know, we were, as journalists, myself, were the only, you know, Arab channel, news channel on the borders, and we were trying to, you know, see what’s going on over there. [crosstalk]

JAY: So this is—you’re talking almost a year ago now, then.

HASHEM: Yeah, yeah, that was in May, that was in May, May 2011.

JAY: And, I mean, I was planning, actually, to get into this subject a little further on, but we’re here, so let’s talk about it. Is it your sense that what happened in Syria, that was in fact—I mean, this is what I’m getting from the people I’m talking to, that there was real peaceful protest developing across the country; that protest was repressed by the government forcefully, but then it gets militarized, and to a large extent by forces outside Syria the protest gets militarized. Is that scenario what seems to you to be correct?

HASHEM: Actually, you know, it was clear the protests started peacefully, but it seems that quickly it went into militarizing. Some external factors or factions wanted the resolution to be militarized and they wanted to face al-Assad’s crackdown with weapons. And maybe this was bad for the revolution. Maybe if this revolution stayed peaceful it might have achieved a lot.

But what happened is that—you know, I’m not sourcing or quoting; I just saw with my eyes, and it was in the beginning of the revolution, it was just, like, one month and a half from the revolution. And things were—you know, I was seeing a lot of weapons, people with RPGs, people with Kalashnikovs, you know, just crossing from the borders. And they were not one or two; they were a big number; they were just dominating the whole village that we were on the borders with. So, you know, the militarization of the revolution started early, and it may be those who were trying, maybe, to push and to—you know, they want al-Assad to fall as soon as possible. Those wanted to say that al-Assad is facing the peaceful crackdown with weapons, while the others on the revolution side are kind of peaceful people, are not holding weapons.

JAY: And you have no—you weren’t able to ascertain who those people were crossing the river, those fighters.

HASHEM: No, actually. That was impossible. You can’t ask, you know, who are those people, because, you know, you are just seeing armed men. And, you know, we were just beside them, we were just beside them. So it was clear that those people are fighting for the Syrian revolution. But who are they? Some of them were Lebanese, some of them were Syrians. But, you know, you can’t—you know, at that time it wasn’t clear. There were no umbrella they were fighting under. You know. After, like, six or seven months, we started hearing about the Free Syrian Army, but at that time, we didn’t hear about anyone. It was just, like, you know, those are armed men just crossing the borders and fighting against al-Assad’s army. But it wasn’t clear who are they and are they backed by, who is giving them the weapons, who is really pushing them to do this and that.

JAY: Now, so, in terms of your email correspondence and your concerns, what was it about the coverage that you didn’t find legitimate or—I mean, you say this story wasn’t covered, the crossing of the river by these fighters. But what about the rest of the coverage of Syria?

HASHEM: You know, actually, this was the main issue that I had, you know, a problem with, because it’s really a problem of credibility. Whenever you have your own footage and you are your channel’s eyes in that area, and the channel is refusing to, you know, air such pictures, then, you know, you should have some question marks, you should raise some question marks.

You know, I’m not coming—I didn’t come to Al Jazeera, you know, as an amateur. I’m a professional. I used to work for the BBC before, for four or five years with the BBC. And then, you know, there is a kind of—things we learn over there about the credibility, our objectivity, being unbiased. I might not be, you know, supportive of the British government’s doctrines or policies in the Middle East, but I respect working at that time for the BBC, because they used to respect us as journalists.

The problem is when you are a journalist and you’re not being respected as a journalist, and then you’re asked to do something, you know, in parallel with the agenda of the channel’s owners. And this is the problem, this is the big problem that any journalist might find.

JAY: Right. Now, in one of the emails, in one of the reports I read about the emails, one of the emails says that there’s this conflict for journalists between the Qatari agenda, it was described, and reporting. I mean, what is the Qatari agenda in terms of Syria?

HASHEM: No, actually, we didn’t talk in this issue [crosstalk]

JAY: I’m not sure it was your email, actually. I think it might have even been in reference to someone else’s.

HASHEM: Well, in general, I can tell you one thing. You know, there is no government—governments are not charities, you know. So whenever a government is paying for channel—. And I respect all my colleagues at Al Jazeera. They’re all good journalists, professionals, and I really—I’m proud to work with them. But the problem, it’s not in the journalists, it’s not in even the executives in Al Jazeera. It’s not a problem with Al Jazeera. It’s the problem with those who are really financing Al Jazeera, which are the Qataris.

You know, today the Qataris are kind of committing—you know, they are taking Al Jazeera to commit suicide, they’re forcing Al Jazeera to commit suicide. Al Jazeera was kind of respected by everyone. Even Al Jazeera went with two or three languages. And everyone was watching Al Jazeera, because they really believed that Al Jazeera is doing good journalism. Today it’s a big problem right now. Wherever you go around the Arab world, everyone is questioning the credibility of Al Jazeera, they’re questioning the agenda Al Jazeera is working with or it’s working for. Today, it’s not anymore that Al Jazeera is doing journalism for journalism; today, journalism is being used for politics.

JAY: And what is that politics? What does Qatar want in Syria?

HASHEM: Actually, it’s really strange. You know that—or everyone knows that the Qatari regime used to be one of the strongest and the closest allies of the Syrian regime. And that wasn’t for one year or three years; that was for the last, at least, six years. They were really close allies. They had even, you know, family visits between each other.

Actually, things changed after the Egyptian Revolution, and things started to be really strong. Really, something changed in the Qatari politics. Some will say that they had a kind of a deal with the Americans in this regard. Actually, I’m not here to—maybe, to analyze what happened, really, but it was something, you know, strange.

In my resignation letter, I was telling the executive or the executives of my channel that the first 15 days of the Syrian revolution, it was like nothing was happening in Syria. Al Jazeera wasn’t covering. And in case there was any kind of coverage of what’s going on there, we were, you know, referring to the uprising over there—it’s kind of demonstrations asking for reforms. It’s the same way the pro-Assad media was dealing with the revolution. But when the relation, the bilateral relations between the Qataris and the Syrians was kind of exploded, for a reason—we really don’t know why things changed—and we started, you know, dealing with the revolution in Syria as the priority of the channel, and that there is no other revolution but this revolution.

JAY: And is there any evidence that you know of that would show there’s something had to do with the Saudi-Qatari relations that would have changed Qatar on this? ‘Cause the Saudis seemed pretty militant on Syria right from the beginning.

HASHEM: Actually, you know, the thing is, as I told you, something strange happened. What really happened, what are the under-table, you know, deals that were really set, no one knows. Is it something that was really prepared before and the Qataris were just waiting for a turning point to really be so blatant and clear about their own stance from Syria?

Actually, you know, I can’t say, because I’m not a political analyst. Rather, you know, I was really—I really cared for one thing: doing real journalism. I really don’t really care about politics and who is with who, because, you know, my job as a journalist is saying what’s going on and not doing things to—you know, and making things. You know. So my problem was really journalism.

I don’t have a problem, because, actually, as you know, maybe Qatar is—have good relations with Israel, Qatar have good relations with America, Qatar have good relations with Iran, and that was just one year ago, one year before the revolution. It was—Qatar had good relations with everyone except for Saudi Arabia. You know. So—and just in a day, in a day and a night, everything changed, and now, you know, it have—Qatar is a country with enemies for the first time. They were kind of doing a strategy of zero enemies, zero problems in the region, and they were trying to show themselves as the brokers of the region, brokers of peace deals, brokers of, you know, consensuses, whatever—they solved the album in Lebanon, they solved the problem in Yemen, they—or tried to solve the problem in Yemen, they tried to solve the problems in Sudan. So these people were trying to play a role. And now they changed this role. Right now they are part of—.

JAY: Well, one of the turning points seemed to be Libya, because Qatar seemed to play such a leading role in the militarization of the Libyan conflict and being very, you know, supportive and, you know, again, leading very much the expansion of the NATO mission and turning it into regime change in Libya. Was that a sort of a change in Qatari policy? Is that where this begins?

HASHEM: Yeah, it seems, yeah, it seems. It seems the Libyan Revolution was the main turning point in the whole thing. But, you know, you never know what was going before that. You know, it wouldn’t be that one thing, you know, just changed everything. Assad’s stance from Gaddafi was kind of supportive.

But will this, you know, turn the Qataris against him directly? Okay. If that’s true, then they will start covering the revolution in Syria from the beginning and not waiting, like, 15 or 20 days to start covering this revolution. You know, there are many stories said about Hamad bin Jassim going to Damascus and meeting al-Assad and telling him that the Qataris are ready to pay from $1 to $1 billion for reforms and that, you know, al-Assad’s regime have kind of surpluses against, you know, facing other regimes, whereas the regime is kind of, you know, supporting the resistance and against Israel, and this is kind of popular in the Arab world. So whenever—when Hamad bin Jassim told him those things, then—as I know, it might be confirmed, it might not be confirmed, but this is what is said—then al-Assad was—replied in a harsh way and asked him to leave the meeting room. And from that point, everything changed and the Qataris decided to make al-Assad their own first enemy.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview we’ll talk more about Libya, Bahrain, and Qatar, and the media in general. So please join us for the second part of our interview with Ali Hashem on The Real News Network.

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Syria’s Uprising in Context

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By Stephen Gowans
February 10, 2012

Since the beginning of the unrest in Syria, “the government has said that while some protesters have legitimate grievances, the uprising is driven by militant Islamists with foreign backing.” [1] This hardly squares with the view of Western state officials and media commentators who say that an authoritarian regime is killing its people and violently suppressing a largely peaceful movement for democracy.

Who’s right?

There’s no question that there has been a longstanding Islamist opposition in Syria to Ba’athist rule. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party has been in power since 1963. The party’s roots are in Pan-Arabism, non-Marxist socialism, and liberation from colonialism, imperialism and religious sectarianism. Being secular, socialist (though diminishingly so) and dominated by a heterodox Shiite sect, the Alawi, Syria’s lead party has held no appeal for the Sunni majority, which has leaned toward the Muslim Brotherhood.

Neither is there any question that Islamist uprisings have become a habitual occurrence in Syria. Condemning the Alawi as heretics and resentful of the Ba’athists’ separation of Islam from the state, the Muslim Brotherhood organized riots against the government in 1964, 1965, 1967 and 1969.

On coming to power in 1970, Afiz Assad—the current president’s father– tried to overcome the Sunni opposition by encouraging private enterprise and weakening the party’s commitment to socialism, and by opening space for Islam. This, however, did little to mollify the Muslim Brothers, who organized new riots and called for a Jihad against Assad, denigrating him as “the enemy of Allah.” His “atheist” government was to be brought down and Alawi domination of the state ended. By 1977, the Mujahedeen were engaged in a guerrilla struggle against the Syrian army and its Soviet advisers, culminating in the 1982 occupation of the city of Hama. The Syrian army quelled the occupation, killing 20,000 to 30,000.

In an effort to win the Islamists’ acquiescence, Assad built new mosques, opened Koranic schools, and relaxed restrictions on Islamic dress and publications. At the same time, he forged alliances with pro-Islamic countries and organizations, including Sunni Sudan, Shia Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. While these measures secured some degree of calm, Islamists remained a perennial source of instability and the government was on continual guard against “a resurgence of Sunni Islamic fundamentalists.” [2]

The United States hasn’t created an opposition, but it has acted to strengthen it. US funding to the Syrian opposition began flowing under the Bush administration in 2005 [3] if not earlier. The Bush administration had dubbed Syria a member of a “junior varsity axis of evil,” along with Libya and Cuba, and toyed with the idea of making Syria the next target of its regime change agenda after Iraq. [4]

Around the same time, Syrian exiles in Europe founded the Movement for Justice and Development, openly calling for the overthrow of the Ba’athist government. The Movement was one of the key recipients of US lucre. The leader of the organization, Anas Al-Abdah, is a member of the Syrian National Council, the main exile opposition group, which French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague have designated a legitimate representative of the Syrian people [5] –a matter one would think should be decided by Syrians, not outsiders, and least of all not former colonial powers. The group “has a significant contingent of Islamists.” [6]

The Syrian National Council’s foil is the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change in Syria, led by opposition figures who live inside the country. The body, left-wing and secular, is open to dialogue with the Assad government and subscribes to the three no’s: no to foreign intervention, no to sectarianism, and no to violence. [7]

The Islamist-heavy Syrian National Council, by contrast, follows the three yeses: Yes to foreign intervention, yes to sectarianism, and yes to violence. It has “called on the international community to take aggressive …steps, including the possible establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria” [8] and appears to be tied up with the Free Syrian Army, a largely Sunni formation which operates out of Turkey and has, it says, about 10,000 fighters. [9] “The Saudis and Qataris are reported to be funding and arming the opposition” while “Western special forces are said to be giving military support on the ground.” [10]

SNC leaders say that if they succeed in achieving their goal of replacing Assad they’ll cut Damascus’s alliance with Iran and end arms shipments to Hezbollah and Hamas [11]—a policy that would be welcome in Washington and Israel.

In September, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration was discussing how to bring about Assad’s ouster but that “the administration does not want to look as if the United States is trying to orchestrate the outcome in Syria.” [12] It is no longer necessary for Washington to conceal its regime change ambitions. Its description of the unrest as violent dictatorship against a peaceful demand for democracy, rather than the alternative and more descriptive narrative of secular government against an armed Islamist rebellion, has become hegemonic. Who’s going to blame Washington for intervening on the side of, what’s understood to be, a popular rebellion for democracy? Accordingly, the State Department now openly acknowledges that it “will continue working with Syria’s political opposition to ensure an eventual political transition” [13], which is to say it will continue to pursue its longstanding policy of working with the opposition to bring about the Ba’athists’ overthrow.

Washington’s motivation for ousting Assad has nothing whatever to do with his handling of the rebellion. Assad’s reaction to the uprising is only relevant as raw material to be shaped, twisted and manipulated into a pretext for overt intervention. Washington’s concerns lie elsewhere, unrelated to the welfare of Syrians or attachment to spreading democracy. Indeed, were Washington impelled by humanitarian concerns and a desire to overturn tyranny, it would be difficult to explain its foreign policy record.

When democracy-hating Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet and paradise for foreign investors, violently put down a popular uprising last year, Washington sat on its hands. Sometimes raw interest trumps principle, explained the United States’ newspaper of record, The New York Times, as if US foreign policy is normally governed by principle, and departures from it in favor of interests are aberrations, rather than the opposite.

The cracking of Shiite skulls in Bahrain was ably assisted by the Sunni petro-monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which dispatched tanks and troops—the same democracy-abominating countries which have taken a lead role in demanding that Assad undertake democratic reforms. Every one of them absolutist states, they have joined the United States, Britain and France in a preposterously named “friends of Syrian democracy” group. Qatar, one of its members, was instrumental in providing material and propaganda support to the Libyan rebels—many of whom, like their Syrian counterparts, were militant Islamists. The spectacle of the Gulf Cooperation Council aligning itself with what is called a pro-democracy rebellion is a bit like the Wall Street Journal backing the communist-era Solidarity trade union as the true face of socialism in Poland. Whatever Solidarity was, it was not the true face of socialism, which is why the Wall Street Journal backed it.

Neither has Washington taken effective, concrete measures to prevent Israel from cracking down violently on Palestinians who rise up against Israeli oppression, let alone recognize Israeli oppression as illegitimate. Washington’s violent intervention in Iraq on entirely baseless grounds, and its authoring of a colossal humanitarian tragedy there, hardly recommends the United States as a country whose foreign policy is governed by a commitment to peace and democracy, though its commitment to war and the plundering of countries unable to defend themselves is undoubted.

No, Washington’s ambition to overthrow Syria’s Ba’athist state is a longstanding one which pre-dates the current uprising. The US state has been keen to install a pro-imperialist government in Damascus since at least 1957, when it tried unsuccessfully to engineer a coup there. In 2003, the United States initiated a program of economic warfare against Syria, and in 2005, if not earlier, started to funnel money to opposition elements to mobilize energy for regime change.

Apart from Syria’s irritating Washington by allying with Iran, backing Hezbollah, and providing material assistance to Palestinian national liberation movements, the country exhibits a tendency shared by all US regime change targets: a predilection for independent, self-directed, economic development. This is expressed in state-ownership of important industries, subsidies to domestic firms, controls on foreign investment, and subsidization of basic commodities. These measures restrict the profit-making opportunities of US corporations, banks and investors, and since it is their principals who hold sway in Washington, US foreign policy is accordingly shaped to serve their interests.

The US State Department complains that Syria has “failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy,” which is to say, has failed to turn over its state-owned enterprises to private investors, among them Wall Street financial interests. The State Department is aggrieved that “ideological reasons” continue to prevent the Assad government from liberalizing Syria’s economy. As a result of the Ba’athists’ ideological fixation on socialism, “privatization of government enterprises is still not widespread.” The economy “remains highly controlled by the government.” [14]

The Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation are equally displeased. “Hafez al-Assad’s son Bashar, who succeeded him in 2000, has failed to deliver on promises to reform Syria’s socialist economy.”

Moreover,

The state dominates many areas of economic activity, and a generally repressive environment marginalizes the private sector and prevents the sustainable development of new enterprises or industries. Monetary freedom has been gravely marred by state price controls and interference.

[…]

The repressive business environment, burdened by heavy state intervention, continues to retard entrepreneurial activity and prolong economic stagnation. Labor regulations are rigid, and the labor market suffers from state interference and control.

…systemic non-tariff barriers severely constrain freedom to trade. Private investment is deterred by heavy bureaucracy, direct state interference, and political instability. Although the number of private banks has increased steadily since they were first permitted in 2004, government influence in the financial sector remains extensive. [15]

The US Library of Congress country study on Syria refers to “the socialist structure of the government and economy,” points out that “the government continues to control strategic industries,” mentions that “many citizens have access to subsidized public housing and many basic commodities are heavily subsidized,” and that “senior regime members” have “hampered” the liberalization of the economy. [16]

All in all, Syria remains too much like the socialist state the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party founders envisaged for it, and too little like a platform for increasing the profits of overseas banks, investors and corporations. Accordingly, its regime of self-directed, independent, economic development must be changed. The militant Islamist uprising, helped along by US money, propaganda and diplomatic support, has set the stage for Washington to realize its regime-change ambitions. Washington has framed the conflict as one between peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators and a murderous tyrant whose thirst for power has driven him to the extremes of killing his own people. Assad has, by this reckoning, “lost legitimacy” and must step aside.

Of course, the idea that the conflict is the latest in a long line of militant Islamic eruptions against a secular Syrian state is never to be entertained. Neither is the notion to be contemplated that the insurgency has evolved into a civil war. There were more casualties in the US Civil War than in all other US wars combined, yet complaints about Abraham Lincoln killing his own people–and on a grandiose scale–are never heard. The Spanish Republic was never abominated, except by rightists, for killing the Spaniards who rose up against it. In these conflicts, there were material and class interests at stake—and the clash of them led to the killing of rebel forces by the government and of government forces by the rebels. And so too in Syria. Yes, in civil wars, governments do kill their own people.

I’m on the side of the Syrian government. The Assads backed away from the Ba’athist commitment to socialism further than I would have liked, but I recognize that the possibilities for achieving socialism in a small Third World country have become vanishingly small since the demise of the Soviet Union (and were not without formidable challenges before then.) All the same, the Ba’athists continue to obstinately hold on to elements of the party’s socialist program; hence, the US State Department’s complaint about “ideological reasons” getting in the way of privatization.

Moreover, Ba’athist Syria remains an organized force against Zionism and for Palestinian national liberation, and it’s not clear that a successor government would follow the same path. Importantly, what would likely follow Assad’s ouster is hardly to be embraced: A country thrown into chaos by competing militias and warlords, where torture and the systematic extermination of the old regime’s supporters run rampant, as has characterized post-Gaddafi Libya, or the installation of a US puppet regime to facilitate the exploitation of Syria’s land, labor and resources by Western captains of industry and titans of finance. A third choice of more space for other political parties and the parliament being given new powers is academic. The hard-core of the rebellion won’t be satisfied with anything less than the complete extirpation of the Ba’athists and what they stand for: some measure of socialism and the secular state. Neither will the United States, Britain, and France settle for the continuation in Damascus of a state committed to independent, self-directed economic development and alliance with Iran.

The choice, then, is between, on the one hand, the triumph of yet another eruption of imperialism under the guise of humanitarian intervention, and on the other, the preservation of the Ba’athist state, and Syria’s self-determination. If the Ba’athists are overthrown, a blow will be struck for imperialism. Their survival will preserve the life of an organized force against Zionism, imperialism and for some measure of self-directed development toward socialism.

1. Anthony Shadid, “Assad says he rejects West’s call to resign”, The New York Times, August 21, 2011.
2. US Library of Congress. A Country Study: Syria. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/sytoc.html
3. Craig Whitlock, “U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by Wikileaks show”, The Washington Post, April 17, 2011.
4. Moshe Ma’oz, “Damscus vs. Washington: Between the ‘Axis of Evil’ and ‘Pax Americana’”, in Bruce Cumings, Evarand Abrahamian and Moshi Ma’oz. Investing the Axis of Evil: The Truth about North Korea, Iran and Syria. The New Press. 2004.
5. Jay Solomon, “Clinton Meets With Syrian Opposition,” The Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2011.
6. Charles Levinson, “As Syria strikes kill scores, opposition seeks backing”, The Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2012.
7. Mazda Majidi, “Will Syria be another Libya?” Liberation, November 29, 2011.
8. Jay Solomon and Nour Malas, “Syria would cut Iran military tie, opposition head says”, The Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2011
9. Dan Bileksky, “Factional splits hinder drive to topple Syria leader”, The New York Times, December 8, 2011.
10. Seumas Milne, “Intervention in Syria will escalate not stop the killing”, The Guardian (UK), February 7, 2012.
11. Jay Solomon and Nour Malas, “Syria would cut Iran military tie, opposition head says”, The Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2011
12. Helene Cooper, “U.S. is quietly getting ready for Syria without Assad”, The New York Times, September 19, 2011.
13. Charles Levinson and Gregory L. White, “America Exits Syria as Russia Makes Push”, The Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2012.
14. US State Department website. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm#econ. Accessed February 8, 2012.
15. Index of Economic Freedom 2012. http://www.heritage.org/index/country/syria. Accessed February 8, 2012.
16. US Library of Congress. A Country Study: Syria. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/sytoc.html

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Iran responds to U.S. charges

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November 1, 2011

Since the Obama Administration first announced its charges of Iranian government involvement in a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, a growing number of Western journalists and commentators have suggested that, whatever their merits, the allegations have upped the “pressure” on an increasingly fragile Iranian political order.  Some hold that the purported Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador is itself an “act of desperation” by a country already reeling under tighter sanctions.  Others assert that heightened pressure by the United States over the alleged plot has exacerbated tensions between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; still others claim it has sparked deepening “divisions” within the Iranian political class over how Tehran should respond.    Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has gotten into the act, with her recent observations on Voice of America’s Farsi-language service that “we’re not quite sure who makes decisions anymore inside of Iran”.  (Although she does seem quite sure that the Islamic Republic is becoming “a military dictatorship”.)

These perceptions are all treated as indications of Iranian vulnerability to what is described as the Obama Administration’s unprecedentedly tight squeeze on Tehran—encompassing intensified criticism of Iran’s human rights record and a regional balance of power that is shifting against the Islamic Republic because of the shakiness of Syria’s Assad government and Western “success” in Libya.  For some analysts, this means that Washington can begin reaping a diplomatic harvest, including Iranian concessions on the nuclear issue and in Afghanistan.  For others, the Obama Administration’s accusations of Iranian government complicity in the Saudi assassination plot mean that Washington has an opening to apply even greater, potentially fatal pressure on the Islamic Republic—including sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, an escalation of covert attacks on Iranian targets, and perhaps even military strikes.

But, as is so often the case in Western assessments of Iranian politics and foreign policy, these arguments are the product of wishful thinking rather than informed analysis.  We have commented previously on the Western proclivity to see any kind of contestation over positions and policies in Tehran—the kinds of contestation that, in virtually any place else in the world, are routinely described as “politics”—as a sure indicator of systemic “crisis” in the Islamic Republic.  And, from March 2011, we have argued that the Assad government was not at serious risk of being overthrown; see, for example, herehere, and here.  (Now, even parts of the mainstream media are beginning to report that “Assad’s government is confident that it has weathered the worst of the turmoil sweeping Syria and will soon be able to overcome any remaining challenges to its survival” and that “Assad and his allies appear to be in no imminent danger of falling”.)  More significantly, Iranian officials estimate that Assad is unlikely to lose his hold on power, something that even former Obama Administration adviser Vali Nasr recently acknowledged.

Furthermore, if one actually speaks with Iranian officials (something that the United States government, as a matter of policy, bars itself from doing)—or even Iranian analysts supportive of the Islamic Republic (which the mainstream media are reluctant to do)—what comes across is a strong sense that the Obama Administration’s recent accusations against the Islamic Republic are a manifestation of American desperation.  In this regard, Tehran has now responded formally to a letter it received two weeks ago from the U.S. government regarding the purported Saudi assassination scheme.  The response hardly suggests that Iran is feeling intimidated or eager for diplomatic relief from its current predicament.  As an Iranian diplomatic source described it, the Iranian government calls on the United States to officially apologize for making baseless accusations against Iran—accusations which, the message states, are based on “dishonest” information.  The source said that, in Tehran’s view, the United States has a responsibility to apologize both to the Iranian government and to the Iranian citizens it has accused; in its letter to the U.S. government, Iran reportedly calls on the United States to pay compensation for physical and psychological damages caused to these people.

The Iranian letter reportedly links the Obama Administration’s allegations of official Iranian complicity in the Saudi assassination plot to the George W. Bush Administration’s case for invading Iraq, which was also based on “dishonest” information.  It stresses that the results of American “scenario-making” in Iraq are that, after killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people and imposing thousands of billions of dollars of expenditures on the American people, the United States is now being forced to withdraw completely from Iraq, in helpless defeat.

This part of the Iranian message underscores that Tehran has ways to “push back” against what is sees as U.S. aggressiveness:  Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declined to let U.S. troops stay in Iraq—even though the Obama Administration wanted to retain perhaps as many as 20,000 troops there on an open-ended basis—not least because of the influence of the Sadrists and other political forces closely linked to Iran in his governing coalition.  Moreover, this part of the message reflects an assessment that regional trends are, on balance, running very much in Iran’s favor and against the United States.  And, as a rhetorical trope, linking the Obama Administration’s accusations against Iran to the Bush Administration’s accusations against Saddam Husayn is likely to play very well across the Middle East—even in the Arabian peninsula, where America’s eviction from Iraq has reinforced official concerns about Iran’s rising regional influence and steadily improving strategic position.

The Iranian response to the Obama Administration’s allegations also highlights a remarkable degree of continuity in the Islamic Republic’s national security strategy.  In 1999, the Clinton Administration sent a message to then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.  Though ostensibly packaged and later spun publicly by the Clinton Administration as a diplomatic overture, the message concentrated on U.S. accusations of Iranian complicity in the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military facility in Saudi Arabia—an attack which the Secretary of Defense at the time, William Perry says he believes was perpetrated by Al-Qa’ida, not Iran.  Tehran’s response, now declassified, strongly denied the charges while reiterating Iran’s willingness to engage—if the United States dropped its preconditions and threatening behavior.

Just as in 1999, the Islamic Republic is prepared to deal diplomatically with the United States, on the nuclear issue and other matters.  But it will not deal with an America that imposes preconditions and makes threats.  Iran would stop enriching uranium at the near-20 percent level required to fabricate fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR)—provided that it can acquire new fuel for the TRR on the same basis as other states.  Tehran would reach a broader agreement with the United States and others about its nuclear activities—but the United States will have to accept the principle and reality of internationally-monitored uranium enrichment (at the 3-4 percent level required for normal reactor fuel) in Iran.  Tehran is prepared to improve relations with Washington—but Washington will have to accept the Islamic Republic as an enduring political entity with legitimate national interests.

These are things which no U.S. administration—not even the Obama Administration—has been willing to do.  Until this changes, Iran will keep doing what it is doing, and no amount of American “pressure” will fundamentally alter its course.  And, in the process, the Islamic Republic will continue making strategic gains across the region.  Just look at what happened in Iraq.

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett 

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The fast and furious plot to occupy Iran

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By Pepe Escobar
October 12, 2011

Washington is looking to increase sanctions on Iran as a result of the plot to kill a Saudi Ambassador. (EPA)

No one ever lost money betting on the dull predictability of the US government. Just as Occupy Wall Street is firing imaginations all across the spectrum – piercing the noxious revolving door between government and casino capitalism – Washington brought us all down to earth, sensationally advertising an Iranian cum Mexican cartel terror plot straight out of The Fast and the Furious movie franchise. The potential victim: Adel al-Jubeir, the ambassador in the US of that lovely counter-revolutionary Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

FBI Director Robert Mueller insisted the Iran-masterminded terror plot “reads like the pages of a Hollywood script”. It does. And quite a sloppy script at that. Fast and Furious duo Paul Walker/Vin Diesel wouldn’t be caught dead near it.

The good guys in this Washington production are the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In the words of Attorney General Eric Holder, they uncovered “a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign Ambassador on US soil with explosives”.

Holder added that the bombing of the Saudi embassy in Washington was also part of the plan. Subsequent spinning amplified that to planned bombings of the Israeli embassy in Washington, as well as the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires.

The Justice Department has peddled quite a murky story – Operation Red Coalition (no, you can’t make that stuff up) – centered on one Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old holding both Iranian and US passports and an Iran-based co-conspirator, Gholam Shakuri, an alleged member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s (IRGC) Quds Force.

Arbabsiar allegedly had a series of encounters in Mexico with a DEA mole posing as a Mexican drug cartel heavy weight. The Iranian-American seems to have been convinced that the mole was a member of the hardcore Zetas Mexican cartel, and reportedly bragged he was being “directed by high-ranking members of the Iranian government”, including a cousin who was “a member of the Iranian army but did not wear a uniform”.

On top of it, he told the DEA mole that his Iranian government buddies could come up with “tons of opium” for the Mexican cartel (an Afghan connection, perhaps). Then they discussed a “number of violent missions” complete with Arbabsiar bragging about bombing a packed Washington restaurant used by the Saudi ambassador.

Holder characterised the whole thing as a $1.5m “murder-for-hire” plan. Arbabsiar was arrested only a few days ago, on September 29, at JFK airport in New York. He allegedly confessed, according to the Justice Department. Shakuri for his part is still at large.

Holder was adamant: “The United States is committed to hold Iran accountable for its actions.” Yet he stopped short of stating the plot was approved by the highest levels of the Iranian government. So what next? War? Hold your horses; Washington should first think about asking the Chinese if they’re willing to foot the bill (the answer will be no.)

Predictably, the proverbial torrent of US “officials” came out with guns blazing, spinning everything in sight. An alarmed Pentagon will be increasing surveillance over the Quds Force and “Iran’s actions” in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. Former US ambassadors stated that, “it’s an attack on the United States to attack this ambassador”. Washington is about to impose even more sanctions against Iran; and Washington is urgently taking the matter to the UN Security Council.

What next? A R2P (“responsibility to protect”) resolution ordering NATO to protect every House of Saud minion across the world by bombing Iran into regime change?

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a spokesman for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at least introduced a little bit of common sense. “I think the US government is busy fabricating a new scenario and history has shown both the US government and the CIA have a lot of experience in fabricating these scenarios… I think their goal is to reach the American public. They want to take the public’s mind off the serious domestic problems they’re facing these days and scare them with fabricated problems outside the country.” Iran has not even established yet that these two characters are actually Iranian citizens.

The Iranian government – which prides itself on a logical approach to diplomacy – would have to have been inoculated with a terminal Stuxnet-style foolishness virus to behave in such a counterproductive manner, by targeting a high-profile foreign policy adviser to King Abdullah on American soil. The official Iranian news agency IRNA described the plot as “America’s new propaganda scenario” against Iran.

As for the Washington mantra that “Iran has been insinuating itself into many of the struggles in the Middle East”, that’s undiluted Saudi propaganda. In fact it’s the House of Saud who’s been conducting the fierce counter-revolution that has smashed any possibility of an Arab Spring in the Persian Gulf – from the invasion and repression of Bahrain to the rash pre-emption of protests inside Saudi Arabia’s Shia-dominated eastern provinces.

The whole thing smells like a flimsy pretext for a casus belli. The timing of the announcement couldn’t be more suspicious. White House national security advisor Thomas E. Donilon briefed King Abdullah of the plot no less than two weeks ago, in a three-hour meeting in Riyadh. Meanwhile the US government has been carrying not plots, but targeted assassinations of US citizens, as in the Anwar al-Awlaki case.

So why now? Holder is caught in yet another scandal – on whether he told lies regarding Operation Fast and Furious (no, you can’t make this stuff up), a federal gun sting through which scores of US weapons ended up in the hands of – here they come again – Mexican drug cartels.

So how to bury Fast and Furious, the economic abyss, the 10 years of war in Afghanistan, the increasing allure of Occupy Wall Street – not to mention the Saudi role in smashing the spirit of the Arab Spring? By uncovering a good ol’ al-Qaeda style plot on US soil, on top of it  conducted by “evil” Iran. Al-Qaeda and Tehran sharing top billing; not even Cheney and Rumsfeld in their heyday could come up with something like this. Long live GWOT (the global war on terror). And long live the neo-con spirit; remember, real men go to Tehran – and the road starts now.

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Iran rejects US plotting accusations

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October 11, 2011

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast (file photo)

Iran has categorically rejected the US accusations that the Islamic Republic was involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, calling it a ‘prefabricated scenario.’

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said on Tuesday that such ‘ludicrous’ claims hinged on the hostile joint stances adopted by the US and Israel against the country.

“These threadbare attitudes, which are based on the age-old and hostile American-Zionist policies, are a ridiculous show in line with certain [instances of] scenario fabrication of divisive ends on the part of the enemies of Islam and the region,” Mehmanparast said.

He also condemned all acts of terrorism, adding that Washington was employing the legerdemain to divert attention from the growing domestic protests it was facing.

The Iranian official asserted, “Plotters of such manufactured scenarios seek to sow division and help the Zionist regime [of Israel] out of its current isolation.”

He emphasized that the Islamic Republic of Iran was a establishment founded on Islamic ethics and values and that the country had always warned that the enemies of the region were plotting against it.

The US Justice Department has accused Iran of involvement in a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir, with help from a suspected member of a Mexican drug cartel.

Reports point to the United States efforts to wage media warfare against Iran, while Tehran says Washington’s ulterior motive is to deflect international attention from the runaway protests it is facing against corruption and the excessive influence of corporations on its policies.

The US is also the main supporter of Saudi Arabia — one of the most repressive and undemocratic regimes in the world.

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