September 20, 2018
1. An ally in warfare and torture
Although the tragic events in Syria are too close to us to pass a definitive judgement about what has happened there and we need some perspective before we can make any definitive statements, nevertheless, some of the outlines of what led to that catastrophe are already clear for all to see.
When the United States invaded Kuwait in order to dislodge the Iraqi forces that had occupied that country, Syria was one of the countries that joined the US-led coalition.
Shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Syria was one of the main destinations for rendered suspects to be tortured in Syrian black sites.
In the chilling words of former CIA agent Robert Baer in 2004: “If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria.” (See Mehdi Hasan, “Syria has made a curious transition from US ally to violator of human rights”, The Guardian, 19 February 2012).
In the years after 9/11, the US collaborated closely with Syria, which became an ally in “the war on terror”.
However, in the wake of the Arab uprisings, the United States, Israel and the Persian Gulf autocratic monarchies were among the first countries to call on the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
They accused the Syrian government of crimes against humanity, and even trained and supported some of the rebels that fought against Bashar Assad’s government, which later on morphed into the most vicious terrorists, including the Al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front and even the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The version generally put forward by Western politicians and the corporate media is that the opposition was mainly peaceful, and it turned violent only as the result of the use of excessive force by the Syrian government.
A study of the accounts at the time of the protests shows that, right from the start, they were accompanied with a great deal of violence.
2. The Arab Spring and Daraa 2011: It’s wasn’t so simple
The protests against autocratic Arab rulers started in Tunisia on 18 December 2010, and then rapidly spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and a number of other Arab countries.
The uprising in Syria started on 17-18 March 2011, and documents have emerged to show that it was mainly an armed uprising, which was supported by NATO, Israel, Turkey and a number of Arab countries.
As early as 21 March 2011, only three days after the start of the insurgency, the Israel National News Report confirmed that “Seven police officers and at least four demonstrators in Syria have been killed in continuing violent clashes that erupted in the southern town of Daraa last Thursday … and the Baath Party Headquarters and courthouse were torched, in renewed violence on Sunday.” (See Gavriel Queenann, “Syria: Seven Killed, Buildings Torched in Protests”, Israel National News, Arutz Sheva, March 21, 2011).
It is remarkable that the number of police officers who were killed was nearly twice as many as the number of demonstrators.
Contrast these figures with the killing of more than 135 and the wounding of more than 14,000 Palestinians, over 7,800 of whom were hospitalized during demonstrations in Gaza in May-June 2018. (Joel Beinin, “From Gaza to Jerusalem to Iran”, Lobelog, July 14, 2018.
The Palestinians were demonstrating on their side of the fence in Gaza when they were shot by Israeli snipers, while no Israeli soldier or civilian was harmed in the slightest.
Instead of condemning that atrocity, speaking at the Security Council, the US ambassador at the UN, Nikki Haley blamed HAMAS – “supported by Iran” – for that carnage, and vetoed the resolution that blamed Israel for the use of excessive force.
Regarding the violent protests in Syria, as early as 14 August 2011, some Israeli sources reported:
“NATO headquarters in Brussels and the Turkish high command are meanwhile drawing up plans for their first military step in Syria, which is to arm the rebels with weapons for combating the tanks and helicopters spearheading the Assad regime’s crackdown on dissent. … NATO strategists are thinking more in terms of pouring large quantities of anti-tank and anti-air rockets, mortars and heavy machine guns into the protest centers for beating back the government armored forces.” (DEBKAfile, “NATO to give rebels anti-tank weapons”, August 14, 2011).
As Michel Chossudovsky, Professor Emeritus of economics at the University of Ottawa (and TFF Associate), has pointed out: “It was not a protest movement, it was an armed insurgency integrated by US-Israeli and allied supported ‘jihadist’ death squads.” ( Michel Chossudovsky, “Six Years Ago: The US-NATO-Israel Sponsored Al Qaeda Insurgency in Syria. Who Was Behind the 2011 ‘Protest Movement’?” Global Research, March 09, 2017).
There is no doubt that the Syrian government used excessive force to disperse the protestors, which in turn further radicalised the opposition.
Even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had been one of Syria’s closest allies criticised the use of excessive force, and urged Syria to negotiate with the opposition and allow free elections. (“Iran’s Mahmud Ahmadinejad urges Syria to negotiate with opposition”, The Telegraph, 07 February 2013).
Nevertheless, the use of force by the Syrian government was not the only cause of the insurgency. A more important cause of it was a concerted attempt by the West, Israel and Arab regimes to organise and arm militant Sunni jihadists to fight against the Syrian government and to bring it down.
This fact has been admitted even by a few Western leaders in some off-the-cuff remarks.
Speaking at Harvard University, former Vice-President Joe Biden openly confirmed that the insurgents in Syria had been supported by the United States and her Arab allies.
He said that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states had poured “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad.” He explained:
“The people who were being supplied were al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis who were coming from other parts of the world … We declared [ISIS] a terrorist group early on. And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.” ( See Channel Four News, “FactCheck Q&A: Is Saudi Arabia Funding Isis?”, 7 June 2017).
Western leaders had long known about Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship of terrorist organisations even before the so-called Arab Spring and the Syrian tragedy.
A WikiLeaks release of a State Department cable sent under Hillary Clinton’s name in December 2009 states that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan].” (“Is Saudi Arabia funding ISIS?”, Channel 4 News, by Martin Williams, 7 June 2017).
In 2009, WikiLeaks published diplomatic cables from the US State Department which spelt out the same concerns: “Saudi Arabia supports terrorism against the world, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya.”
The document continued: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
It added: “While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority … More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources.” (See Public Library of US Diplomacy, Terrorist Finance: Action request for senior level engagement on terrorism finance, December 30, 2009).
A third WikiLeaks file appeared to show a private speech that Hillary Clinton made in 2013, in which she said: “The Saudis and others are shipping large amounts of weapons – and pretty indiscriminately – not at all targeted toward the people that we think would be the more moderate, least likely, to cause problems in the future.” (See Zeid Jilani, “In secret Goldman Sachs speech Hillary Clinton admitted no-fly zone would kill a lot of Syrians”, The Intercept, October 10, 2016).
3. False narrative of sectarianism to divert attention from local uprisings
When the Arab uprisings came close to Saudi Arabia, to Bahrain and Yemen, and even inside Saudi Arabia itself, Saudi rulers tried to divert the direction of those movements by portraying them as sectarian conflicts, accusing Shiite Iran of being behind them in order to oppose the Sunnis.
The problem, however, was that there was no trace of Iranian influence or sectarian conflict in the vast majority of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries that felt the anger of the demonstrators and their demands for change.
However, as there were some Shi’a communities in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, the Saudis tried very hard to portray those conflicts as a battle between the Shi’is and the Sunnis.
Historically, Syria has been a sanctuary for many small groups whose differences were defined in religious or ethnic terms, but who had manged to live in peace together.
Out of Syria’s pre-war 23 million inhabitants, over 74% were Sunni Muslims. Other Muslims, including the Alawites constituted only about 11% of the population.
Various Christian denominations made up 10%, the Kurds about 9%, and 500,000 Palestinians, Armenians, Turkmen, Druze and others made up the rest of the population.
Most of the three million members of the Ba’athist Party are Sunnis.
A large number of Sunnis from all backgrounds, including working and rural classes, fight alongside the Syrian government in the form of conscripts or army personnel.
There is also a prosperous Sunni bourgeoisie that has sided with the government. Most of Syrian officials and military commanders come from the Sunni background.
Above all, Bashar Assad’s British-born wife Asma al-Assad who is a graduate of King’s College, London, is a Sunni. Syria’s former Prime Minister Wael Nader Al-Halqi who served in that capacity from 2012-2016 is a Sunni. The Defence Minister Jassim Al Freij is a Sunni. Waleed Moallem, who has served as the Syrian foreign minister from February 2006 to the present time, is a Sunni. Syria’s UN envoy Bashar al-Jaafari is a Sunni. Former Information Minister Omran Ahed al Zoubi (2012-2016) is a Sunni. Minister of Expatriates and an advisor to the president Bouthaina Al Shaaban is a Sunni, as are many other ministers.
Therefore, the Saudi accusation of the Syrian government as a sectarian government is a gross distortion, which applies much more to Saudi Arabia than to Syria.
There has not been any evidence of President Assad trying to describe the Syrian tragedy as a Sunni-Shia conflict. In fact, with the Alawites forming only 11% of the total population it would have been stupid of him to try to pit that small group against the vast majority of Sunnis in Syria and in the Islamic world.
In fact, with the Alawites forming only 11% of the total population it would have been stupid of him to try to pit that small group against the vast majority of Sunnis in Syria and in the Islamic world.
However, there is a great deal of evidence to show that right from the start the Saudi rulers and cleric tried to exaggerate the sectarian nature of the conflict, inciting the Sunnis against an alleged Shia conflict or a “Shia Crescent”.
In any case, President Assad’s Ba’thist Party is mainly secular. The Ba’ath [Resurrection] Party was a political movement founded by Michel Aflaq, a Christian Sorbonne-educated Syrian philosopher, sociologist and Arab nationalist; and Salah ad-Din al-Bitar, another French-educated Sunni Muslim, who jointly developed the philosophy of Ba’athism that combined elements of socialism and Arab nationalism.
A part of the opposition of conservative Wahhabi Persian Gulf rulers to Hafiz al-Assad and later on to Bashar al-Asad has been due to their advocacy of nationalism and secularism, as opposed to extreme religious fanaticism advocated by Persian Gulf sheikhdoms.
Therefore, describing the conflict in Syria as a sectarian conflict has been mainly a propaganda ploy by Saudi and UAE rulers who intended to fan the flames of sectarianism in the region and prevent their own inhabitants from demanding freedom and some measure of democracy.
President Assad won the latest presidential election that was held on 3 June 2014. One can certainly criticise the Syrian elections as not being completely democratic, but they are certainly far better than the total lack of any elections in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and most other Persian Gulf states.
Domestically, the Syrian conflict has turned into a battle between the government and its mainly secularist supporters from among the Sunnis, Shi’is, Christians and other religious minorities on the one hand, and groups of Sunni militants who wish to establish an extreme Shari’a-based government, similar to that of Saudi Arabia, the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.
They have been joined in this battle by tens of thousands of Jihadists from across the Arab world, even from Chechnya, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as a few thousand radical Muslims from various European countries.
These radicalised Jihadists formed the most effective fighting forces in the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra (the Victory Front) and even the more extreme group, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which declared a caliphate, led by Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, and managed to conquer large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.
It is instructive to point out that in a clear display that Wahhabi views align with that of Islamic terrorists, the so-called Islamic State adopted official Saudi textbooks for the schools that it organised (See Shane, Scott. “Saudis and Extremism: ‘Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters’.” The New York Times, August 25, 2016. Accessed July 15, 2018).
The majority of the books re-published by the Islamic State were written by Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism See New York Times, ibid).
Journalists and educators alike have raised alarms about Wahhabism and its links to the growth of Islamic terrorism. Two Middle East experts, Carol and Jamsheed Chosky wrote: “…the Saudis have been the most persistent source of support for global jihad by spreading Wahhabism abroad to radicalize foreign Muslims and then giving financial support to their violent struggles is countries as far-flung as Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya.” (See Choksy, Carol E.B., and Jamsheed K. Choksy. “The Saudi Connection: Wahhabism and Global Jihad.” World Affairs 178, no. 1 (May/June 2015): 23-34, p. 24).
Wahhabism, a strict form of Sunni Islam, seeks to “purify” Islam of any ideas or practices that allegedly stray from the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (See Choksy et.a., ibid, p 25).
Followers of Wahhabism refer to themselves as Muwahiddun (Monotheists) or Salafiyyun (followers of the first followers of Islam, or Salaf). (See Choksy et.a., ibid, p 25). Wahhabism opposes the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, the veneration of Islamic saints, and many Shiite practices. (Blanchard, Christopher M. “The Islamic Traditions of Wahhabism and Salafiyya,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress RS21695 (January 17, 2007): p. 2).
Not surprisingly, this has caused conflict between Wahhabi Muslims and other Muslim sects, including Shiites and non-Wahhabi Sunnis. (Blanchard, Christopher M., ibid).
It was as the result of the fierce battle by Syrian forces, backed by Iran and Russia, that the Sunni Jihadists who were responsible for some of the worst atrocities in history were defeated.
It is the defeat of those mercenaries that has so enraged Saudi Arabia, Israel and their Western backers and has made them combine their forces to bring about a regime change in Iran.
In an important speech on the causes of terrorism, the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, hinted at a plan going back over a decade by Saudi Arabia to create a Sunni-Shia conflict.
Sometime before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence, had a revealing and ominous conversation with Sir Richard. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. In some areas, being a Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.” (See Sir Richard Dearlove, Speech given at the Royal United Services Institute on 7th July 2014).
Dearlove emphasised the significance of Prince Bandar’s words, saying that they constituted “a chilling comment that I remember very well indeed”.
According to Dearlove, first, the Saudis are convinced that there “can be no legitimate or admissible challenge to the Islamic purity of their Wahhabi credentials as guardians of Islam’s holiest shrines. But, perhaps more significantly, given the deepening Sunni-Shia confrontation, the Saudis’ belief that they possess a monopoly of Islamic truth leads them to be deeply attracted towards any militancy which can effectively challenge Shia-dom”. (See Dearlove, ibid.).
Dearlove said that he did not doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities might have turned a blind eye, had played a central role in the ISIS surge into Sunni areas of Iraq.
As he said: “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.”
4. Inter-Sunni conflicts – and Qatar
Although the narrative of sectarianism was essentially false, it has assumed a life of its own and the political conflicts have turned into sectarian conflicts, and it is difficult to untangle them.
The real underlying conflict is not about the Shi’a-Sunni split, but about very different understandings of how political Islam should relate to the state in the Middle East.
Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are all Sunni-majority countries and ruled by Sunni monarchs, but have very different stances on this issue.
Qatar, the only other Wahhabi state apart from Saudi Arabia, has fallen out with the rest of the GCC countries. Saudi intelligence operatives hacked Qatar News Agency and implanted some “fake news” to discredit the Qatari leader.
Ten days later, the hacking was followed by the diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar by four regional states – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Qatar was expelled from the GCC.
Those four states laid a siege on Qatar, closed their airspace to Qatari flights and ceased all trade and commercial relations with that state. The aim of those unprecedented methods was to shock the Qatari government into acceding their demands.
They even tried very hard to topple its ruler, because he would not go along with their aim of isolating Iran, with which Qatar shares the largest gas field in the world and which is Qatar’s main source of revenue.
Since then, Qatar has moved closer to Iran that opened its airspace to Qatar, and Turkey has established a military base in Qatar.
Turkey and Egypt, the two largest Sunni republics, are also on different sides. Turkey supports the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt fights it.
On the other hand, Turkey, the major Sunni state in the Middle East, has very close relations with Iran despite some differences over Syria, is Iran’s second biggest economic partner, and has cooperated with Iran and Russia as part of the Astana Process to resolve the conflict in Syria.
5. Israel’s role in support of terrorism
Yet, despite all these revelations about Saudi backing for the terrorists, Western politicians support Saudi Arabia, which is the main cause of the mayhem in Syria, and Israel that has an arsenal of between 100-400 nuclear weapons that it obtained through deception and lies.
Israeli leaders even lied to their closest ally and benefactor, the United States, when an American team was sent to inspect the Demona nuclear reactor. The Israeli scientist, Mordechai Vanunu, who worked at Demona and who photographed and revealed the details of Israel’s secret nuclear weapons, was jailed for 18 years, including more than 11 years in solitary confinement, and even since his release from jail is not allowed to leave Israel (See John Buel, “Lost in the Debate on Iran: Israel’s Nukes and the Vanunu Case,” Informed Comment, 7 May 2018).
The sight of senior US politicians associating with the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) terrorists, denouncing Iran that has joined the NPT and has signed a landmark nuclear agreement with the most stringent inspections, while remaining silent about Israel’s weapons of mass destruction shows the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the West and especially of the Trump Administration.
Gradually, more and more evidence is emerging, not only of Western, Saudi and UAE support for the terrorists, but also of Israeli support for them, especially for the Al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.
Israel brought wounded al-Nusra fighters to its hospitals, provided them with medical assistance, and carried out bombings of Syrian positions when the terrorists were in trouble.
According to IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, only one per cent of those attacks have been known to the public (See Yossi Alpher, “Hard Questions, Tough Answers – The US, UK and France attack Syria: Strategic ramifications”, APN, April 16, 2018).
In July 2018, Israeli officials openly rescued hundreds of the members of the so-called White Helmet humanitarian rescuers that allegedly worked closely with the Al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, and transported them to Jordan.
Even some liberal Jewish commentators have criticised the right-wing Israeli government’s policy of supporting the terrorists who could pose a major threat to that country in the future.
In an article entitled “Israel’s Dangerous Game with Syrian Islamists” in Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World) in June 2015, Richard Silverstein wrote:
“As I, and many other journalists have reported, Israel, despite the false claim of neutrality in the civil war, has frequently intervened in the conflict on behalf of forces opposed to Bashar al-Assad. It does this less because it opposes Assad himself, than because its arch-enemies, Iran and Hezbollah, are the regime’s strongest allies. In the Golan, Israel has cultivated an alliance with Islamist forces it falsely claims to detest: the al-Nusra Front. It has built a camp to house fighters and their families on Israeli-held territory. It conducts regular meetings with Islamist commanders and provides military and other critical supplies to them. All of this is documented in written UN reports and images captured by journalists and activists on the armistice line (between Syria and Israel)” (See Richard Silverstein, “Israel’s Dangerous Game with Syrian Islamists”, Tikun Olam, June 25, 2015).
Silverstein criticised not only the hypocrisy of Israel joining forces with the very terrorists that it claims are destroying the Middle East and the world, but he also warned that “today’s allies will turn into tomorrow’s enemies”.
He added that Israel regularly evacuates Islamist fighters wounded in the fighting. Angry local Druze intercepted an IDF (Israeli Defence Force) ambulance carrying two wounded fighters were so appalled that they beat the army medics who were forced to flee.
A Maariv journalist also criticized Israel’s support for the terrorists, and wrote that Jerusalem must ask itself some difficult questions, including whether betting on the rebels would pay off.
He wrote: “Israeli policy over the past few decades has been characterized by a series of bad bets. At the end of the 1980s, it enabled Hamas to rise from the midst of Gaza’s Islamist group. It did this out of the flawed assumption that this was the proper way to weaken Fatah” (Quoted by Silverstein in the above article).
He argued that the support for the terrorists in Syria in order to weaken Iran would also backfire.
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