Prem Shankar Jha

Israel has been joined by Saudi Arabia openly and Turkey covertly, in opposing the rehabilitation of Iran. Here is what is What I wrote about. A shorter verion appeared in  The Indian Express.  

“The euphoria that spread though the world after the Iran – EU nuclear  agreement is  proving short-lived. Republicans in the US Congress have made it clear that they will spare no effort to block it.  Hilary Clinton, the democratic Presidential hopeful, is keeping her options open. Whispers are escaping from European chancelleries that the sanctions on Iran will only be lifted in stages. Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani have responded by insisting that they must be lifted ‘at once’.

But the agreement’s most inveterate enemy is Binyamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel. In the week that followed the Lausanne agreement he warned the American public in three successive speeches that it would threaten the survival of Israel and  increase the risk of  ‘a horrific war’. This is a brazen attempt to whip up fear and war hysteria on the basis of a spider’s web of  misinformation.

Netanyahu unveiled  the first at the UN General Assembly in 2012. It was a large cartoon of a bomb with a red line across it, just below the mouth. This was how close Iran was  to making a nuclear bomb, he said. It could get there in a year. Only much later did the world learn that  Mossad, his own intelligence service, had told him that Iran was very far from being able to build a bomb.

Mossad probably knew what a US Congress Research Service report revealed two months later:  that  although Iran already had enough 5 percent, or low-enriched,  Uranium in August 2012 to build  5 to 7 bombs,  it had not enriched enough of it to the intermediate level of   20 percent to meet the requirement for even one  bomb.  The CRS had concluded from this and other evidence that this was because  Iran had made no effort to revive its nuclear weapons programme after stopping it ‘abruptly’ in 2003.

Netanyahu’s second deception  is that he only wants to punish Iran with sanctions till it gives up trying to acquire not only nuclear weapons but any nuclear technology that could even remotely facilitate this in the future. But he knows that no government in Iran can agree to this. So what he is really trying to steer the world towards is the alternative– a military attack on Iran.

What is more, since he also knows  that  destroying  Iran’s nuclear facilities will not destroy its capacity to rebuild these in the future he does not want the strike to end till it has  destroyed Iran’s infrastructure ( as Israel destroyed Southern Lebanon’s in 2006) ,  its industry,  its research facilities and its science universities.

He knows that Israel cannot undertake  such a vast operation without the Americans.  But there is one stumbling block—Barak Obama, who has learned from his recent  experience that, to put it mildly,  America’s  interests do not always tally with those of its allies in the middle east. So Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: first to get the US Congress to insert clauses in the Treaty draft  that Iran will be forced to reject, and second to take advantage of   the spike in paranoia that will follow to  push the west into an attack on Iran.

He has been joined in this endeavour by another steadfast friend of the US, Saudi Arabia. At the end of February Saudi Arabia  quietly signed an agreement with Israel that will allow its warplanes to overfly Saudi Arabia on their way to bombing Iran. This has halved the distance  they will need to fly. And less than four weeks later, on March 26,  it declared war on the Houthis in Yemen, whom it has been  relentlessly portraying as a tiny minority bent upon taking Yemen over through sheer terror, with the backing of  Iran.

This is a substantial oversimplification , and therefore distortion, of a complicated relationship. Iran may well be helping the Houthis, but not because they are Shias.  The Houthis,  who make up 30 percent of  Yemen’s population, are Zaidis, a very different branch of Shi’a-ism than the one practiced in Iran, Pakistan and India. They inhabit  a  region that stretches across Saada, the northernmost district of  Yemen, and  three adjoining principalities, Jizan, Najran, and Asir,  that Saudi Arabia annexed in 1934.  The internecine wars that Yemeni Houthis  have fought since the 1960s  have not been sectarian, or even  against  the  Saudis specifically, but in quest of independence and, more recently, a federal state. This is a goal that several other tribes share.

The timing of  Saudi Arabia’s attack, four weeks after its overflight agreement with Israel, and its incessant  portrayal of   the Houthis as proxies of Iran, hints at a deeper understanding between it and Israel. The Houthis’ attacked  Sana’a, the capital, last September. So why did Saudi Arabia wait till now before sending its bombers in?

Iran has kept  out of the conflict in Yemen so far, but the manifestly one-sided resolution passed by the UN Security Council,  the immediate resignation of the UN special envoy for Yemen Jamal Benomar, who had been struggling to bring about a non-sectarian resolution of the  conflict in Yemen and been boycotted by Saleh’s successor,   Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi for his pains, cannot have failed to raise misgivings in  Teheran. Iraqi President Haydar Abadi’s  sharp criticism of the Saudi attack in Washington on the same day reflects his awareness of how these developments are darkening the prospect  for  Iran’s rehabilitation, and therefore  Iraq’s future.

To stop this drift Obama  needs to tell his people precisely how far,  under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel’s interests have diverged from those of the US, and how single-mindedly Israel has used its special relationship with the US to push it  into   actions that have imperiled its own security in the middle east.

Instead of dwelling on how the treaty will make it close-to-impossible for Iran to clandestinely enrich uranium or produce plutonium, he needs to remind Americans of what Netanyahu has been carefully neglecting to mention: that a nuclear device is not a bomb, and that to convert it into one Iran will need not only to master the physics of bomb-making and reduce its weight to what a missile can carry but carry out  at least one test explosion to make sure the bomb works. That will make escaping detection pretty well impossible.

Lastly the White house needs to remind Americans that Iranians also know  the price they will pay if  they are caught trying to build a bomb after signing the agreement. Not only will this bring back all and more of the sanctions they are under,  but it will vindicate Netanyahu’s apocalyptic predictions and make a pre-emptive military strike virtually unavoidable.

Finally, should a  military strike, whether deserved or undeserved,   destroy Iran’s economy,  it will add tens of thousands  of Shi’a Jihadis to the Sunni Jihadis already spawned in Libya, Somalia, Chechnya and  the other failed states and regions of the world.    The security that  Netanyahu claims it will bring, will turn out to be  a chimera.

  

 

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Nothing has stirred up so much controversy in the US as Obama’s U -turn on Iran . The following article explains some of the important causes behind it. There were also, doubtless, other considerations,but these are less well knwn.

GLOBAL POLITICS AT A TURNING POINT

The nuclear agreement announced in Lausanne on April 2, has made history but  the wolves have begun to gather. Israel’s Prime minister , Binyamin Netanyahu has called it a ‘historic mistake” that threatens the survival of Iran and could lead to a ‘horrific war’. He has been joined by Saudi Arabia and, less vocally,  by  other sunni sheikhdoms in the Gulf.

Their opposition stems from their   thwarted ambitions, for the most cursory examination shows that the agreement is too tightly constructed to leave any loophole for Iran to crawl through into nuclear weapons status.  So if Iran entered the negotiations with the intention of keeping open cracks in it that would permit it to produce  nuclear weapons in the future, it has already lost.

 

President Obama has been at pains to point out that the agreement is based on technology, not trust, but he would not even have started down the diplomatic road   had he not been at least half-way satisfied when he and Rouhani first met at the UN in September 2013 that Iran did not want to become a nuclear weapons power.

Iran’s Foreign Minister explained why in a widely attended talk in Delhi  in January last year. The big powers, he said, remain trapped in a zero sum paradigm, in which if one party to a dispute gained, the other had to have lost. But in the tautly interdependent world of today there are no more zero-sum outcomes, for the damage any conflict does inevitably far exceeds the benefits it was expected to bestow on the initiators.  The way to resolve disputes is to find common ground that leaves both sides net gainers.   This could be found in allowing Iran to develop nuclear technology but not nuclear weapons.

This argument resonated with Obama because  he was acutely aware of   how badly the succession of   preemptive military interventions since the end of the Cold War had  weakened the US and stripped it of   its moral authority.  “Why is it,” he asked reporters while   on a tour of Asia  in April 2014 “that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and our budget?”[i]

But what had completed his disillusionment  was the way in which some of the US’  closest allies had abused its trust and manipulated its policies to  serve their purposes without sparing a thought for how that  affected the US’ security. At the head of this list were  Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

 

Obama got his first shock  on November 28, 2012 when a Jabhat al Nusra  unit north of Aleppo brought down a Syrian army helicopter  with  a Russian SA-7, a   man-portable Surface-to-Air missile. A day that the west had been dreading had  finally arrived: heavy weapons that the US and EU had expressly proscribed because they could bring down civilian aircraft anywhere in the world, had somehow reached Al Qaeda’s hands.

The White House tried to pretend that that rebels had obtained a single missile  from   a captured Syrian air base but,   fed up with the  suppression and distortion of the intelligence they were providing, intelligence agencies   leaked it to the Washington Post that no fewer than 40  SAM missile batteries with launchers, along with hundreds of tonnes of other heavy weapons had been bought from the supposedly US- friendly government in Libya,   by Qatar and transported to the rebels via Turkey. Saudi Arabia had done the same through Jordan.

He received  his second shock at the next ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Marrakesh three weeks later   when not only  the   ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels that the US had grouped under a newly formed Syrian Military Council three months earlier, but  all  its Sunni Muslim allies, including Turkey, condemned a ban the US had put on the Jabhat Al Nusra,  while Britain and France remained silent.

But Obama received his  third, and worst, shock nine months later when, two days before the US was scheduled to bomb Syria the British informed him that soil samples collected from the site of the Ghouta gas attack on Augut 21 2013, and analyzed  at their  CBW research laboratories at Porton Down, had shown that the Sarin used in the attack could not possibly  have been prepared by the Syrian army. Had Obama gone through with the attack it would have made him ten times worse than George Bush in history’s eyes.

Only then did Obama fully realize the scale  of the conspiracy that had been hatched to pull the US into a direct attack  on Syria. The first  piece was put in place at the end of August when  the highly reputed German magazine Der Speigel, reported, “quoting several eyewitnesses”,   that Syria had tested  delivery systems for chemical warheads   at a chemical weapons research centre near Aleppo in August, in the presence of  Iranian experts.[ii]

The wealth of detail in a report from an area where no western newspaper has a  correspondent  suggested that the story, while not necessarily untrue, was  planted by an intelligence agency. But one person who took it very seriously was Israel’s Prime minister,  Netanyahu, who  sent  emissaries to Amman twice, in October and November, to request Jordan’s  permission to overfly its territory to bomb Syria’s chemical weapons facilities[iii].

This was followed by another  serious  allegation that the Syrian army had used Sarin   gas on March 19, 2013 at Khan al Assal, north of Aleppo, and in a suburb of Damascus against its opponents. Two more allegations of smaller attacks in April followed.

In May 2013, Turkish Prime minister Erdogan visited Obama, accompanied by his Intelligence chief, and pressed him almost rudely to live up to his “red line” commitment to punish Syria if it used chemical weapons. But by then US intelligence knew, and had conveyed to Obama,  that it was  Turkey’s secret service, MIT, that had been working with the Nusra front to set up facilities to  manufacture Sarin, and had obtained two kilograms of the deadly gas for it from eastern Europe, with funds provided by Qatar[iv]. Obama therefore remained unmoved.

Israel had also launched a vigorous campaign to persuade  US lawmakers that the vast majority of the Free Syrian Army were moderate Sunnis who had risen in desperation against Assad’s dictatorial Shia’a regime.  Jihadis made up  only a fraction, and  even the few who were there  had been drawn to Syria by  a desire to protect its people from Assad’s brutal excesses.

But who these ‘moderate’ FSA were came to light on May 13, 2013 when Senator John McCain paid a secret visit to Idlib on the Syrian-Turkish border to meet them.   Photos and videos posted  on the web, and resurrected after the rise of ISIS, showed that two  of the five leaders whom he  met  were  Mohammed Nour and Ammar al Dadhiki, aka Abu Ibrahim,    spokesman and a key member respectively of  ‘Northern Storm’ an offshoot of the Jabhat Al Nusra[v].  The third was none other than Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,  self-appointed Caliph of ISIS.

The visit had been organized by  a Washington-based organisation, the Syria Emergency Task Force that proudly claimed to have lobbied two thirds of the members of the US Congress in less than two years ( and published an article in the Wall Street Journal without informing it that the author was an employee of a lobbying organization) to  persuade them that the FSA were moderate Sunnis.

When journalists began to investigate its antecedents after  the McCain videos went viral on the internet, they found a deep connection between it and  AIPAC.  When Kerry announced the decision to bomb Syria, Israeli officials could no longer conceal their satisfaction. On August 27, alongside  Kerry’s denunciation of the Ghouta gas attack the right wing daily, Times Of Israel,  published three stories quoting Defence officials, titled  “Israeli Intelligence seen as central to US case against Syria[vi]; ‘IDF intercepted Syrian regime chatter on chemical attack’;[vii] and significantly, “ For Israel US response on Syria may be a harbinger for Iran” [viii].

The hard “information” that had tilted the balance was contained in the second  story: A retired Mossad agent who refused to be named, told another  German magazine, Focus, that  a squad specializing in wire-tapping within the IDF’s elite 8200 intelligence unit had intercepted a conversation between high-ranking regime officials discussing the use of chemical agents at the time of the attack.

 

Obama unveiled his decision to reverse the Bush doctrine in his graduation day speech at West point on May 28, 2014.  “Here’s my bottom line”, he said:  “America must always lead on the world stage. … But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”His  choice of venue  was not accidental, for it was here that George Bush had announced the US’ first strike security doctrine 12 years earlier.

The Nuclear deal with Iran is the first tangible outcome  of the volte face. If no new hitches arise during the drafting of the agreement,   the world will begin to retreat from the  spreading chaos into which it has descended in  the past two decades. But to secure its future Obama needs to demonstrate the benefits that will flow from it well before June 30, if not earlier.

The place where he can do this almost immediately is in the battle against ISIS, for  the agreement has opened the way for involving not only  Iran but Syria fully  in the war against it. But Netanyahu  knows this, and believes that success there  will hasten Iran’s  acceptance as the pre-eminent power in the region.

 

He has therefore thrown caution to the winds and put Israel’s entire relationship with its patron, the US, on the line in an all-out attempt to scuttle the agreement with Iran in the US Congress. In their 2006 book The Israel Lobby in American Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer and Walt have described in painstaking detail how Israel has manipulated  US policy in the middle east through AIPAC and other Zionist think tanks and foundations with an utter disregard for its interests and security. Those who have read the book know  how slender is the thread on which  the future of  the middle east and, tangentially, of  South Asia hangs.

[i] http://www.thenation.com/article/181476/why-hillary-clinton-wrong-about-obamas-foreign-policy

[ii] Reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz  On  September 17, 2012.   http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/report-syria-tested-chemical-weapons-delivery-systems-in-august-1.465402

[iii] Reported by Haaretz on December 3, 2012.

[iv] Hersh was told this by two sources, one of whom claimed he had been told by Tom Donilon then Obama’s National Security Adviser , after he left his job. The second was a Turkish official who corroborated the story to a US official. London Review of books 8-17 April. Pp 21-24.

[v] Abu Ibrahim was recognized in one of the photos of the meeting posted by Beirut’s main English and Arabic newspaper the Daily Star.

[vi] http://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-intelligence-seen-as-central-to-us-case-against-syria/

[vii] http://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-intercepted-syrian-regime-chatter-on-chemical-attack/

[viii] http://www.timesofisrael.com/for-israel-us-response-on-syria-may-be-harbinger-for-iran/

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A hundred years after it began the American century is drawing to a close. It began in the closing stages of the First World War, when the exhausted allies turned to the Americans for the final, decisive, push to defeat Germany. It is ending with the Obama administration’s increasingly obvious inability to  stop the growth of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. What is coming to an end is not America’s military pre-eminence in the world: no country can even think of waging war against it. What is ending is American hegemony.

Hegemony needs to be distinguished from dominance.  Gramsci described it  as “the permeation throughout society of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality that has the effect of supporting the status quo in power relations”. In international relations a dominant country enjoys hegemony when it can claim, successfully, that what it is doing in its own interest also serves the general interest. This is the  perception of America that is dying in a welter of  mutual recrimination.

Momentous changes sometimes reveal themselves in small, even trivial, events. One such occurred  on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN programme ‘GPS’, on Sunday October 12. The subject   was  the imminent fall of Kobani, the capital city of Syrian Kurdistan, to ISIS.  While interviewing Barham Salih, former prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan and deputy prime minister of Iraq, Zakaria asked him whether the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga,  would be prepared to go into central  Iraq and  Syria to fight ISIS . Salih’s response was carefully weighed: “Kurdistan has emerged as the most reliable partner  of the coalition in the fight against ISIS. There may be a number of reasons. One that I am proud of is that  Kurdistan is a tolerant society with tolerant values. We do have a real interest in taking on ISIS. … but I have to say that the Peshmerga should not be relied upon to go to Mosul or the heartland of the sunni areas. We can be there to support, but at the same time the communities there have to be empowered. The same thing can be said about Syria….” I did not hear the rest of the sentence  because at this point Zakaria cut him off.

Zakaria may have done so unintentionally, but in the  fifteen-minute panel discussion that followed, all the participants, Francis Fukuyama, Gideon Rose of Foreign Affairs, Daniele Pletka  of the American Enterprise Institute  and Walter Mead ,  professor at Bard college and columnist in The American Interest, also  avoided mentioning Syria. Nor did they mention Iran.

Their reticence was strange.  Cooperation with Syria has been an option on Obama’s table since day one: in fact the intelligence agencies began  exchanging  information in June itself.  In August, after  Iran backed the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi,  several members of his administration advocated cooperating with Iran, which would have meant with Syria too. Mead devoted an entire column in the American Interest  to discussing its pros and cons. So why, two months later,  did Pletka,  Rose, and  even Fukuyama, criticise Obama for promising too much, and implicitly advocate withdrawal from the region in preference to cooperating with Syria and Iran?

The answer is that cooperating with Syria now  will be an admission that the US made a colossal mistake in joining the conspiracy to oust Bashar–al-Assad three years ago. Given that this would not be its first but second huge mistake in the middle east, and given their incalculable cost,  it would destroy what is left of America’s moral authority in the world.

That is why it has become so necessary for the US to keep insisting that Assad must  go if peace is to be restored in Syria; to pretend in the face of all evidence to the contrary that, hidden under the  Salafi jihad for the establishment of an extreme theocratic state, there really is a moderate sunni freedom movement that wants to bring in democracy; and that its sunni allies – Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey,  are really  good guys who were paying and arming these fighters in good faith, and are now eager to rectify their mistake.

In reality – and this is the true measure of how deeply American hegemony has been eroded – 62 countries have supposedly joined the US coalition against  ISIS, but their contribution so far has been laughable. Saudi Arabia has 340 aircraft but has  contributed four fighter jets to the aerial campaign against ISIS. Qatar has contributed two. Turkey has so far only allowed NATO to use its bases. Its  tanks and troops are drawn up on the heights a mere  800 metres from Kobani, watching the battle while its government  presses the US to  create  a no fly zone to prevent Syria’s air force from going to the Kurds’ rescue, and demands a commitment to oust Assad as a precondition for sending soldiers to join the battle.

Israel has played a key role in nurturing ISIS: it was an offshoot of AIPAC, its powerful lobby in the US, that introduced Abu Bakr al Baghdadi to Senator John McCain during his four hour visit to Syria last year.  In June  prime minister Netanyahu  went on American television to warn Obama against cooperating with Syria and Iran, because ISIS’ defeat  would allow a  nuclear-capable  Iran to emerge as the pre-eminent power in the region.

Obama has succumbed to all these pressures. As a result he has been left with a ‘grand strategy’ that is doomed to fail. If he wishes to cut America’s losses he would do well to ask himself a few questions: From Pakistan to Indonesia why has not a single Muslim country joined the fight against ISIS ? Why has India not offered help? Why are Kurds in four countries, who are overwhelmingly Sunnis, willing to fight ISIS to the death? And why are so few moderate Sunnis in Syria willing to join the fight against Assad?

The answer to all these questions is the same: This is not a battle between Sunni good guys and Shia devils, but an attempt by a tiny Wahhaby-Salafi fringe of Islam to take over the entire Muslim world, and the Americans are on the wrong side. It is America’s so-called friends that are digging the grave of American hegemony.

 

 

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The peace conference on Syria that began on January 22 in Geneva was not even a day old before two huge spanners had been thrown into its works. Iran was dis-invited from the conference at the last moment, and 55,000 pictures allegedly showing Syrian government forces torturing and killing 11,000 civilians were leaked to The Guardian and CNN. These developments expose the titanic behind-the-scenes struggle that is going on to derail the conference. The reason is that it has ramifications that go far beyond the future of Syria.

A momentous turn in western policies towards the Middle East is underway. Till only weeks ago Iran was a rogue state; Syria was a brutal family run dictatorship allied to Iran, and the Hezbollah in Lebanon and therefore a sworn enemy of Israel and the west. Russia and China were spoilers intent upon propping up anti-west regimes in a senseless prolongation of cold war hostilities. Israel was the west’s staunchest ally in the Middle East, followed closely by Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates its principal providers of oil and military bases in the Middle East. Despite several hiccups the Arab world was still regarded as a victory for the democracy over dictatorship and a vindication of the west’s export of democracy and human rights to the rest of the world even if this was being done through the barrel of a gun.

These beliefs now lie in ruins. The west has belatedly realized that however oppressive the dictatorships in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria may have been, the alternative that stares them in the face – militant Islamist theocracies spawning Jihadis in ruined economies, is infinitely worse. Its intervention in the ‘Arab Spring’ has been an unqualified disaster. Instead of strengthening its hold on the middle east , it has come close to delivering it into the hands of its most inveterate enemies. And it has been led down this self-destructive path by its own supposed allies—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey – which have been playing their private power games with western, notably American bullets.

President Obama is the first western leader to perceive the trap into which the west has fallen, and reach out to Russia to forge a joint strategy for recovery. Their joint efforts have begun to bear fruit. Syria is close to completing the handing over of its chemical weapons and factories to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and is about to sign the Chemical weapons convention of 1992. Iran has taken its first essential steps to halt the enrichment of uranium with the fissile isotope, U-235, to the 20 percent. The Geneva II peace talks are designed to chart out the next steps in the stabilization of the middle east, and once more, the key to this is the restoration of peace and a secular, preferably democratic, government in Syria.

But the weight of past mistakes and misperceptions hangs heavily over the conference’s outcome. The chief obstacle to this is the west’s demonization of Assad as a butcher of his own people. So successful has this been that Obama is now hard pressed to explain his sudden volte face. This has already cast a pall over the conference for, to maintain a semblance of continuity in its policies and defend the correction of its past perceptions Washington has joined Britain, France and Israel and their Sunni Arab allies to keep Iran out of the conference, and to insist that Assad must relinquish power to a transitional government before they agree to stop supplying the rebels with weapons.

These moves, on the very first day of the conference, had already cast a pall over its prospects, The release of e 55,000 photographs depicting torture and murder, allegedly by Syria’s security apparatus, could well lead to its premature end. It is therefore imperative to examine whether Assad really is the demon that the international media have made him out to be over the past three years.

The case it has built against him runs as follows: First, within months of succeeding his father Hafez Al Assad, in 2001, he had promised to turn Syria into a democracy but reneged on it repeatedly in the ensuing ten years. Second, he has run a brutal dictatorship that has felt no qualms about turning its guns on its own people’ Third his regime has committed innumerable human rights abuses culminating in the use of chemical weapons against its own people.

Finally it is the excesses of his own regime that have triggered the uprising of his people, drawn thousands of Jihadis from all over the world to Syria, and inflicted untold misery on his own people. The west must therefore end this war, no matter how, in the interests of the Syrians themselves.

Did Assad go back on promises of democracy?

Syrians whom I interviewed in October 2012 in Damascus, however, had a different story to tell. Assad had sincerely wished to start the transition to democracy a decade earlier, but was forced to postpone the changeover repeatedly by the growing turmoil in Syria’s neighbourhood —the US’ invasion of Iraq in 2003; the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the concerted bid to force Syria out of Lebanon in 2004; Washington’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Damascus in 2005; Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, its blockade of Palestine in 2007, and its bombing of Gaza in 2009. Faisal Al Mekdad, Syria’s vice minister for foreign affairs and its former permanent representative at the UN, summed up Assad’s dilemma as follows: “Each of these events reminded us of the need for unity in the face of external pressures and threats, and forced us to postpone democratization for fear of setting off fresh internal conflicts and forcing adjustments when we could least afford them’.

According to Bassam Abu Abdallah, a professor of International affairs at Damascus university, these external pressures did not make Assad entirely abandon the quest for democracy. It did, however, limit his reforms to devolving more administrative power to local government and lifting restrictions on press freedom. The most significant development of this period was a regional conference of the Baath party in Damascus in 2005. This conference drew up the blueprint for the sweeping democratic reforms that Assad has enacted in 2011 and 2012.

Was there a spontaneous protest and was it peaceful?

Despite the rethinking that has begun on wisdom of the western intervention in Syria it remains axiomatic among western journalists that Assad brought the civil war upon himself. Syria had been convulsed by a spontaneous movement for democracy, that the Assad regime converted into an insurgency by using overwhelming force against the peaceful demonstrators. But Syrians I talked to in October 2012, and resident diplomats concurred, that there had been no spontaneous popular upsurge against the regime in Syria, and that the civil war was a fructification of plans for regime change that had been hatched much earlier and brought forward because the opportunity provided by the ‘Arab Spring’, and western liberals’ ecstatic response to it, was too good to miss.

Damascus first became aware of the conspiracy when trouble broke out on March 18, 2011 in Dera’a, a small city astride the Syria – Jordan border. A peaceful demonstration demanding some political changes in the local administration and lowering of diesel prices turned violent when shots were fired killing four persons. The international media, led by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, and the Riyadh-based Al Arabiya television channels immediately accused Assad’s forces of firing into the crowd to disperse it.

The Syrian government’s version of what had happened was entirely different. The first shots, it claimed, were fired on March 18 but not by the police. They were fired by armed men who had infiltrated the procession and, at a pre-determined moment, begun to shoot at the security police. That is why, of the four persons killed on that day, one was a policeman. However, according to Dr Mekdad, what convinced the government that the Dera’a uprising was part of a larger conspiracy was what happened when the police sent for reinforcements. Armed men ambushed one of the trucks as it entered Dera’a and killed all the soldiers in it.

The Syrian government chose not to publicise this for fear of demoralizing its soldiers, But a careful search on the internet did provide indirect corroboration. Suleiman Khalidi, the local correspondent of Reuters, reported on March 23 that 37 bodies had been brought to the Dera’a hospital till then. The number was intriguing because all news reports had been unanimous that 13 civilians had been killed till March 23, so where did the other 24 bodies come from?

Incontrovertible confirmation came a month later when ‘peaceful protesters’ stopped an army truck outside Dera’a and again killed all the 20 soldiers in it. But this time they did so by cutting their throats. This was the sanctified method of killing that the ‘Afghanis’, as the Afghanistan-returned Jihadis were called in Algeria, had used to kill more than ten thousand villagers during two years of bitter insurgency after the First Afghan war. It was to be seen over and over again in Syria in the coming months.

The Syrian government again chose to remain silent, and the only whiff of this event in the media was a rebel claim that they had captured and burnt an armoured personnel carrier. But in Damascus the US Ambassador, Robert Ford, told a group of Ambassadors that included the Indian ambassador, that the Syrian insurgency had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda. He had come to this conclusion because, in addition to cutting throats, the insurgents had cut off the head of one of the soldiers.

Who killed Whom?

As the civil war intensified and the killing of civilians skyrocketed, the insurgents, now labeled and recognized by the west as the “Free Syrian Army” followed a set pattern of attack: This was to descend without warning on small towns, Alaouite villages and small army and police posts in hundreds, overwhelm them. After they surrendered, the insurgents would kill local officials, civilians they deemed to be pro-Assad and soldiers who would not desert to them, and claim that these were in fact deserters whom the government forces had executed after a successful counter attack. Two such episodes captured worldwide attention in 2011.

In Jisr al Shugour, a medium sized town in the northern border province of Idlib, the international media reported, based upon rebel claims, that the government had brought in not only tanks but also helicopters to bomb the town from the air- the first resort to air power against ‘protestors’. When some soldiers, who were disgusted by the indiscriminate carnage, attempted to defect the Syrian troops killed them. The indiscriminate firing forced civilians to flee to nearby villages. Some crossed over to Turkey.

This claim captured the headlines in the western media for days, but the story pieced together by a diplomat whom the Syrian government took to Jisr-al Shugour when the town had been recaptured, was however very different. In the beginning of June 2011 some five to six hundred fighters of the Free Syrian Army suddenly laid siege to the town for 48 hours. When the army sent in reinforcements the rebels, who had mined a bridge on the approach road blew it up as a truck was passing over it, killed the soldiers and cut the only access to the town by road. Two days later, when they overwhelmed the garrison, instead of taking them prisoner they killed all of them, many by cutting their throats, threw their bodies into the Orontes river, and later posted videos claiming that these were army defectors whom the Syrian forces had killed.

This was corroborated two months later by a resident of the town who came the Indian embassy to get a visa. According to him between 500 and 600 rebels had descended upon the town from Turkey. On the way they stopped a bus, shot six of its passengers and spread the word that army had done it. Many people believed them, were enraged and stood by as the hunt for fleeing soldiers and supporters of the government began. Some joined in the hunt. In all, he said, the number of soldiers and government supporters killed and dumped in the Orontes was not 120 but close to 300. This was the first of dozens of similar war crimes by the FSA.

Till the end of May the Syrian government’s frequent assertions that it was the rebels who were opening fire first, forcing the state forces to return their fire, had been treated with disdain by the western media or simply ignored. But it too was vindicated when Hala Jaber, a British journalist with a Lebanese father, the Diplomatic correspondent of the Sunday Times and a two time winner of human rights journalism awards, described precisely how violence on the scale of Deraa was unleashed upon the city of Ma’arrat –al Numan, not far from Jisr-al-Shugour.

“They came in their thousands to march for freedom in Ma’arrat al-Nu’man, a shabby town surrounded by pristine fields of camomile and pistachio in the restive northwest of Syria.

The demonstration followed a routine familiar to everyone who had taken part each Friday for the past 11 weeks, yet to attend on this occasion required extraordinary courage.

The previous week four protesters had been shot dead for trying to block the main road between Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo, the country’s largest city. The week before that, four others were killed.

So enraged were the townspeople at the blood spilt by the Mukhabarat, or secret police, that intermediaries had struck a deal between the two sides. Four hundred members of the security forces had been withdrawn from Ma’arrat in return for the promise of an orderly protest. The remainder, 49 armed police and 40 reserves, were confined to a barracks near the centre of town. By the time 5,000 unarmed marchers reached the main square, however, they had been joined by men with pistols.

At first the tribal elders leading the march thought these men had simply come prepared to defend themselves if shooting broke out. But when they saw more weapons — rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers held by men with heavy beards in cars and pick-ups with no registration plates — they knew trouble lay ahead.’

Demonisation intensified – Houla and chemical weapons

February 2012 was a turning point in the Syrian civil war. Bashar Al Assad held a referendum for the Syrian people to endorse the new, democratic constitution that he had promised to the Syrian democracy movement at a conference held in Damascus in the previous July, and the Syrian army recaptured Baba Amr, the FSA’s stronghold in the city of Homs, after a four month siege.

This twin setback forced a change of strategy upon Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and their western backers. From February Saudi Arabia started shipping arms openly to he FSA and offering vast bribes – salaries ranging from %100 to $3,000 a month to Syrian soldiers and officers to desert from the army and join the FSA. On the other, they ramped up the effort to demonise Assad till no one in the west would dare to have any dealings with him again.

The first major effort occurred four months on May 25 2012. Reports appeared almost simultaneously in several international media that Assad’s army and Shabiha irregulars had massacred 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, using knives, hatchets and guns in the villages of Houla and Taldou, close to Lattaqia in the north of the country. The timing of this massacre was suspicious because it occurred within days of Syria’s first ever multi party election under the new constitution. But based on these reports, supposedly by eyewitnesses, 11 western countries, Japan and Turkey expelled Syria’s ambassador and the UN security council set up an independent commission of inquiry into the massacre.

Only later did it emerge that all of these reports had been based upon the statements of a single supposedly 11 but probably 8 or 9 year old boy, and that several other eyewitnesses had given detailed, graphic accounts, which showed that the killers were Islamists belonging to the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’. A detailed investigation by a European Citizen’s group, published in May 2013 revealed that five groups of the FSA that had taken part in the massacre. By then, however, the damage had been done.

Inspite of this, as the summer wore on the pendulum continued to swing in favour of the government. By October 2012 it was the FSA that was on the run. Its fragmented leadership was incapable of coherent action and the trickle of deserters from the Syrian army had all but dried up. Its cries for help from a direct intervention by the west on the Libya model grew more shrill. It may not therefore be a coincidence that October was the month in which Israel ‘s satellites ‘discovered’ that the Syrian army was mixing the chemicals normally held separately that together produce Sarin Gas.

Thus was planted the seed of the diplomatic –cum-propaganda offensive that first trapped Obama in December 2012 into promising to attack Syria if it crossed the red line of using chemical weapons, and then culminated in the Sarin gas attack against civilians in the Ghouta on August 13 last year the precise day on which a UN team of inspectors began its investigations into two earlier allegations of gas attacks in Damascus and Aleppo that, by then, had been all but proven to have been launched by the insurgents.

The last throw of the dice

By then however, behind the screen of rhetoric defending its past actions, the US had seen through the game. It knew that the Syrian National Coalition which had replaced the Syrian National Council as the west’s chosen vehicle for replacing Assad, was anything but a coalition; that al Qaeda and its affiliates had taken over the war against Assad and a moderate FSA was a fiction; that its Arab allies were arming the Jihadis with wire-guided anti-tank missiles and surface to air heat seeking missiles against its express wishes, and that Al Qaeda was using the war in Syria to re-invigorate Al Qaeda in Iraq.

With enormous courage therefore, Obama has turned US policy around 180 degrees from confrontation towards cooperation, from military pressure to diplomatic peruasion. A new era is trying to be born, therefore, in international relations. But this turnaround has left Israel and the Gulf sheikhdoms especially vulnerable. The 55,000 picture assault on Assad’s regime unveiled, with a by now familiar accuracy in timing, could therefore be their latest attempt to using the military and diplomatic might of the US to continue down the road to war and destruction. It could be their last throw of the dice.

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Many people have warned against an attack on Syria because it could ignite a sectarian bloodbath in the entire middle east. But I have seen no exhaustive analysis of precisely what could happen. In the paragraphs that follow I have tried to follow the logic of current developments to their logical conclusion and see where it leads. Comments will be welcome.

On Thursday September 5 the Daily Telegraph of London carried the headline “Obama will strike Syria to end war”. Only the heartlessly cynical could make such a statement; only the hopelessly naive will believe it. For the strike on Syria will be not be the end of war but a beginning. What it will end is the Syrian government’s capacity to stave off the waves of al Qaeda linked Jihadis who are flooding into Syria through Turkey from over 40 countries. And it will be the beginning of a larger civil war that will plunge the entire eastern Mediterranean littoral into a sectarian holocaust.

The Syrian people are fully aware of this: in Damascus they are mobilising for war: young men are acquiring arms; tailors are working night and day to sew uniforms for them; and families are stockpiling food and water for the grim days that lie ahead. Christians and Alawis who can afford to, are sending their families to Lebanon. “After the Americans finish bombing the Jihadis will come”, said one young man to BBC as he waved his pro-Assad wristband in front of the camera lens. We will be waiting for them. I am prepared to die for my country.”

Shias are mobilising in neighbouring Iraq. “This is Iraq 2003 all over again”, an Iraqi told the Guardian. “We will not leave our Syrian brethren to fight alone”. In Lebanon the Hezbollah is geared for battle. Its cadres have decimated fleeing Jihadis who have sought shelter in Lebanon. Today they are preparing to flood into Syria with the full backing of the bulk of the Lebanese population.

Syria’s Kurds are also being drawn into the war. Fazel Hawramy, an independent journalist from Iraqi Kurdistan reported in his blog on August 28 that about 70 Kurds belonging to the Al Qaeda linked Ansar-ul-Islam, had joined the Jabhat al Nusra and were fighting Kurds belonging to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria. The Syrian Kurds therefore already know that Al Qaeda has no intention of respecting their autonomy. This suggests that the wider war that the bombings will unleash is likely to engulf Syrian Kurdistan as well. Lastly since the PYD is the Syrian affiliate of the powerful Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, the fighting can spread not only to sections of Turkey’s 22 million Alawites but to its 11 million Kurds as well.

Obama’s administration cannot be unaware of these dangers, but believes that it will be able to extract a win-win result for itself and its principal ally, Israel. A strong but limited missile strike on Syria, it believes, will weaken the Assad regime without giving the Jihadis an outright victory. The prolonged civil war that will follow will eliminate most of the Jihadis, weaken the Hezbollah and bleed Syria into impotence, leaving Israel the undisputed master of the eastern Mediterranean. It will also send an unambiguous signal to Iran on what will happen to it if it pursues its nuclear weapons programme.

The arrogance that underlies these calculations is breathtaking: indeed this is power gone berserk for it presupposes a capacity to control the outcome of war that, history has shown, does not exist. How can Obama and his planners be so confident that their air-cum-missile strike will draw no response from the Syrian armed forces? How can they be so sure that it will be ineffective? Iraq’s response was ineffective because 12 years of sanctions had left its armed forces without aircraft, guns, ammunition, and missiles. Libya’s was ineffective because the country was tiny, militarily isolated and taken by surprise.

Syria, by contrast has had days of warning. It has a battle hardened army, an array of sophisticated Russian missiles including an upgraded version of the Yakhont anti-ship missile and, just possibly, a few operational batteries of the S-300. What is more, unlike Libya, it will not be cyber-blind. Seven Russian warships are stationed along the Syrian coast, ready to feed it real time information on American ship movements and missile launches.

Can Obama be sure that Syria will not succeed in sinking a single American ship or bringing down a single aircraft? And if it does, how will a President who feels too politically weak to disregard taunts about his inability to enforce an imaginary ‘red line’, face the taunts that will be hurled at him when American soldiers are killed and ships or aircraft destroyed ?

Can he be sure that Iran will not join in the battle; that Baghdad will not give safe passage to Iranian and Iraqi fighters, and Russians will not send ships loaded with S-300 and other deadly missiles to Syria, daring the US to stop them?

To forecast what is likely to happen in Syria one needs to look not at Iraq or Libya but Kosovo . When NATO first drew up plans for bombing Yugoslav forces in Kosovo it had expected to use 40 aircraft and bomb Kosovo for two weeks. But when its supposedly deadly precision bombing damaged or destroyed no more than 20 percent of Yugoslavia’s guns and armour in Kosovo the NATO commander General Wesley Clarke was compelled to seek permission to widen his attack. As a result by mid-April, 1999, three weeks after the bombing began, NATO had committed 1000 aircraft to a non-stop bombing of Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.

In the next fifty days, NATO bombers flew nearly 6,000 bombing missions, dropped 20,000 bombs, knocked out half of Serbia and Montenegro’s airports, all of their oil refining capacity, 31 bridges (including all but two over the Danube), seventy percent of its power supply, two railway systems that linked Serbia to Kosovo, and most of its telecommunications system. By early May 1999 these raids had already killed 1200 civilians and seriously injured another 5,000. The total number of bombs dropped exceeded those dropped on Iraq during the 1991 gulf war. The result: an independent Kosovo —a semi criminal state whose revenues are derived largely from the trans-shipment of narcotics from Asia to Europe.

The longer that Obama bombs Syria, the more certain will a Jihadi victory become. This will upset the US and Israel’s calculations and become the starting point of a much more intense terrorist war that will engulf Jordan, Egypt and, ultimately Israel itself. The precedent for understanding this is Afghanistan 1991. Between 1980 and 1991 around 16,000 Arab Mujahideen graduated from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri’s Beit al Maqtab. After the Russians withdrew, some 2,800 to 3,000 remained behind in Pakistan and around ten thousand headed for home. Within months these plunged Egypt, Libya, and Algeria into civil wars that have still not ended. Many of them , however, became the first mercenaries in the new global army of Islam and headed for Bosnia and Chechnya.

A Jihadi victory in Syria willleave 10,000 to 15,000 foreign jihadis ( John Kerry’s estimate) unemployed penniless and unwanted. With shattered economies and little chance of finding a job at home few will wish, or be allowed, to return to their home countries. Their only option will be to find another holy war to fight. As Osman, a Kurdish member of Jabhat al Nusra, wrote to his brother in Halabja shortly before his death, “Once the fight is over here [in Syria], we will go anywhere the kuffar are fighting against Muslims.”

Al Qaeda and its numerous affiliates, like the Hizbut Tahrir, have never made any secret of their ultimate goal, which is to liberate Al Quds (Jerusalem) and the Al Aqsa mosque. This requires the destruction of Israel. The easiest way to Israel lies through Jordan and the Sinai. So these Islamist mercenaries will target the strongly pro-west half-British monarchy in Jordan and the tottering, army-backed, secular regime in Egypt. In both countries the influx of several thousand battle-hardened fighters who are willing to die for Islam will tilt the scales against the survival of the government.

Obama’s intervention will not therefore ‘end the war in Syria’ but ignite a far larger bloodbath. The death toll will not be counted in thousands but millions. And when it ends there is a more than even chance that the entire region will be under Al Qaeda’s sway. Should this happen Israel’s survival will become doubtful, for it will be surrounded. Its hostile borders will be ten times longer and will therefore become well-nigh indefensible. Iran will then be the least of its worries.

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Who fired the missiles? Assad or the rebels?

The West is accusing Assad and they say they have evidence.

Here is my take on it.

I found a collection of 59 videos that ‘livestreamed’ the Ghouta outrage. The first of them is a video uploaded by the ‘social activists’ that claims to be of the chemical rocket being fired by the Assad government. Please take a careful look at it.

You will notice the following anomalies:

  1. The Ghouta videos started appearing on the internet at 4.00 AM. So this video had to have been shot between 2.00 and 3.00 AM on Aug 21, Syria time. This means that there was someone on a balcony looking towards the launch site at this unearthly hour of the morning. This raises the following questions: why was he up at that time? Why did he have his phone with him then?
  2. Suppose he was just answering an overseas phone call that came at this unearthly hour. How was he able to switch on the phone camera and take this video quickly enough to capture the launch?
  3. As one will see, the entire launch from first small flash to the end of the big flash took no more than two seconds. Assume he had the phone in his hand, and happened to be looking at the exact spot the rocket rose from, how was he able to capture the entire three seconds on the camera?
  4. Only after I asked myself these questions did I notice that the cameraman had done more than that. He had had his camera running for four seconds BEFORE the rocket was launched.
  5. Then I noticed more: He had been pointing at the precise spot where he expected the rocket to rise from, because he found that it was slightly off center to the left, he immediately corrected the camera angle to get the flash in the center.
  6. The time the sound took to follow the flash was between six and seven seconds. That placed the camera man almost exactly a mile away from the launch site.

To sum up: a man with a phone or other camera was on a balcony that was at a perfect distance for recording a small rocket launch, with his camera running, facing the precise spot from which the rocket rose, and had begun filming a pitch black night, in which there was almost complete silence, four seconds before a chemical rocket was to rise from that spot.

Was this coincidence or design, and if design, whose design?

In case you have any difficulty opening the video from this page, please go to the url

http://www.reddit.com/r/syriancivilwar/comments/1kry33/live_thread_stream_of_videos_coming_out_of/

and see video titled “video claiming to show chemical missile being launched”.

Post script: This video was removed from Youtube shortly after the above article was uploaded.

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