As the Syrian army and rebels fight for control of Qusair, it is necessary to realize why the town is strategically important and vital for Shias on both sides of the border, making it a military and media battleground.
There are far more elements surrounding the situation in Qusair than first meet the eye, RT’s Nadezhda Kevorkova reveals.
The army’s advance to Qusair is a key strategic operation. Qusair is near Homs, which is located on the road connecting Damascus with the Mediterranean seaport. And Qusair itself is the closest town to the Lebanese border. So taking control of it allows the forces to control the Lebanese border with the Shias living on both sides. There is an important high point between Qusair and the Lebanese village Al-Qasr. The Syrian army was forced to leave this area in the fall of 2012, so locals lost their protection. Opposition fighters took over the region and tried to chase out the Shias and take control of the high point – there were severe battles here in April 2013. (I was in Lebanon’s Al-Qasr at the time – the village came under heavy fire). But the rebels lost to the fighters from the Syrian People’s Committees. They were able to hold the high point.
Had the opposition forces won over this rather small and seemingly insignificant area, there would’ve been major consequences. The war would’ve spread to Lebanon, and Hezbollah would’ve been obligated to get involved. Jihadists would’ve been able to get into Syria from Lebanon and attack Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley.
But fighters from the Syrian People’s Committees didn’t let them do it and held the high point.
Thanks to their effort, the government forces were able to deploy troops here and start the Qusair counter-offensive on May 19.
Thirty-thousand Syrian Shias live on the Syrian side of the border (not the Alawites – the Shias). As we know, the border between Syria and Lebanon is relative – the Shias have lived here for ages. When colonial powers drew border lines between countries, they didn’t take the traditional settlement patterns of ethnic groups and communities into account. Many of the local residents have Lebanese passports.
In the fall of 2012, rebels and foreign mercenaries began to sweep Shia villages with fire. They also intimidated people and conducted ethnic cleansing operations. In mixed communities they would go into Shias’ houses telling people to get out, drew “outlaw” signs on the buildings, snipers shot at those who tried to exit these houses. If a family left a home, it was burned down. Rebels planned to drive all Shias out of the area near the border.
Opposition propaganda resources in major mass media and social networks have deployed a campaign in the Islamic world aimed at bolstering the idea that all the Shias are apostates – they are not Muslims, not native to these regions and are simply a tool that is used for proliferating Iranian policy across the Middle East. That is why jihad regards killing a Shia as noble. A number of propaganda resources that different sheikhs were using to broadcast anti-Shia sermons, were involved with the campaign.
Moreover, the mass media are thus instilling the minds of Muslims with the idea that all the Shias, including ordinary peasants, are Hezbollah militants, and Hezbollah, in its turn, is a supplement to the ‘dreadful thugs’ of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution.
Such an approach, which is used by the opposition and backed by the world’s major mass media, has a precise analogy.
The scorched-earth policy was first used in the region by the Irgun Jewish settlers in April 1948, when several Palestinian villages were wiped off the map (Deir Yassin is the most well-known). The goal was simple: the news about the massacre of 254 Palestinians – kids, women and old people would terrify all the rest so much, that they would run away voluntarily. The news about such unprecedented atrocities as, for instance, disembowelling pregnant women did strike terror into people: unarmed and unskilled in terms of war 740 thousand Palestinians fled from their home villages becoming refugees. Zionist ideologists still claim that the Palestinians are not native to Palestine and they were invited there as migrant workers, so they are either Bedouins, or nomads, or Gypsies from the Middle East who didn’t have any skills in agriculture and didn’t know how to farm.
This is also the reason that has been driving the mass-media campaign to discredit Hezbollah that has been accused of allegedly fighting against the Syrian people. Video footage and photographs of fallen Hezbollah fighters dating back to the 2006 Lebanon War have been circulated as “proof” that Hezbollah is involved in Syria and suffering losses. Back in 2006, 800 Hezbollah fighters put up resistance to the ground invasion of Lebanon by Israel, and these numbers were officially announced by the party leader Hasan Nasrallah.
I met with families that were forced to flee Syrian villages by the border. These were mostly large families who feared that their women, wives and daughters, would be raped by the opposition fighters and criminals that accompany them. Many also said that it was their strategy to intimidate the local population on purpose to have the houses vacated. Nonetheless many stayed and organized community defense volunteer squads to protect themselves from the rebel forces and mercenaries with arms in their hands.
The battle of Qusair has been of strategic importance, but not only that – Qusair is the only town, however small (with 50,000 people of population ) that had been given up by the government forces in the past – while the rest of the towns in Syria are under the government’s control. Mass-media that are telling their audience that the purpose of the battle of Qusair was “to regain control over the Mediterranean coast” and “re-deploy the government forces to Aleppo” are lying. The army is already in full control of the coast. Last Sunday, the army launched a massive offensive on all transit routes for weapons and supplies coming into the country.
As of today, Qusair is surrounded by the Syrian army, which is also in control of the downtown area. An escape corridor is being kept open for the fleeing population. The militants who fail to use it are contained in town’s quarters.
As for the losses, all the numbers cited are pure speculation and part of the propaganda attack on Syria. For example, the opposition initially reported online that they had killed “90 Hezbollah militants,” yet after a while changed the number to 30, and that’s in addition to the Syrian army’s losses of 20 soldiers reported by the army itself.
Israel’s reported second air strike on Syria in two days targeted a facility just outside the capital. But there was no escalation toward Israel to justify the attack – and Tel Aviv is only trying to drag the US into the conflict.
That’s the view of journalist and Middle East expert Ali Rizk, who told RT he believes the actions are Israel’s attempt to influence US Middle East policy.
RT: This isn’t just an isolated incident but a series of air offensives above a foreign territory. Why has Israel been so persistent despite the fact that such military action is a clear violation of international law?
Ali Rizk: I think you have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Remember that all of the furor and havoc about chemical weapons? Who was the one that made this first announcement…it was Itai Brun, the military intelligence Israeli official who made the announcement about Syria using chemical weapons from the very beginning, after President Obama had said time and again, “that is the red line.”
That didn’t succeed thus far in dragging the US to war against Syria so now I think we had two incidents.
There was a reported Israeli strike on a convoy and now we have indeed an Israeli strike on Jamraya. So I think we have a classical example of what we might call Israel trying to manipulate US policy in the Middle East, trying to drag Obama yet again into another confrontation.
I think that is the case which we have right now, once again. So Israel is going to continue with these practices until it drags the US into conflict.
Why? The reason being that the Syrian army has made military advancements very recently. It seems that Bashar Assad militarily has gained the upper hand so Israel realizes Assad won’t be going unless there’s outside intervention. So Israel is trying to drag the US by saying “If you don’t go in, then we shall wreak havoc. We shall go ahead with our own military escalation.”
RT: We’ve heard from commentators from Israel that the strikes are a balanced reaction. Do you agree?
AR: Balanced reaction to what? It’s in Israel’s interests for this to happen. Has there been any escalation against Israel for Israel to react? Has there been any military action, has Israel been attacked by any side, whether it be Hezbollah or Syria? Has Israel been attacked by any side whatsoever? Israel has not been attacked.
So we hear this talk about game-changing weapons. But that doesn’t give the right or justification for such escalation…I have to emphasize, the clear message if anyone had any doubts I think now it has become clear: Israel wants Bashar Assad to fall. That is Israel’s choice. Netanyahu himself has said time and again: “Syria is the linchpin between Iran and Hezbollah.”
RT: The Assad government, which has been portrayed as warring tyrant by many countries, has now become the victim of a powerful war machine. Could Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran weigh in if Syria did go to war with Israel?
AR: That’s the big question. The Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah made it clear and provides an answer to this question. In a speech last Thursday, he said that Syria’s real friends – meaning Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia – won’t allow Syria to fall into the hands of the US, Israel, or Al-Qaeda affiliates…
I think what you have now is that Iran and Hezbollah now have a new significant ally of real significant weight which is Russia, which is continuing to the Middle East scene once again. So I think that if we do have escalation, Iran will intervene, Hezbollah will intervene, and I think also we might speak about a Russian intervention or some kind of a Russia role because Russia clearly has been very much present and there saying “I am here and I have a significant say.”
- Israel Attempts to Provoke Hezbollah (alethonews.wordpress.com)
It’s clear that Israel’s strategy is to use the Syrian Civil War to deliberately provoke Hezbollah. The provocation is designed to goad Hezbollah into retaliation for over-flying Lebanon while on their way to apparently destroy weapons that the Israelis say are bound for Hezbollah.
The strategy has worked before. In 2006 the Israelis flew low level high speed jet sorties over Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching rockets into Israel. The situation then quickly escalated when the Israelis prepared reconnaissance patrols into south Lebanon. This resulted in an Israeli patrol unit being attacked close to the Lebanese border when three Israelis were killed and two others taken either dead or mortally wounded. The result was a war that the Israelis hoped would put an end to Hezbollah once and for all. However, Hezbollah turned out to be far more tenacious than the Israelis imagined and the war ended when the US under Bush and Condoleezza Rice were no longer able to support Israeli aggression due to international pressure to stop the war as hundreds of Lebanese civilians were being killed. 44 Israeli civilians were killed and 121 Israeli military personnel died. While many Lebanese civilians lost their lives and there was horrendous damage done to Lebanon’s infrastructure, Israel, considering its war aims were to destroy Hezbollah and occupy south Lebanon up to the Litani River, suffered a humiliating defeat. Now the Israelis are trying a different tack except this time their war aims are far grander and they hope to include the US.
The Israelis are clearly hoping that Hezbollah will retaliate in some way to Israeli provocation. So far, Hezbollah have resisted the temptation to launch any anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli aircraft overflying Lebanon and/or launch rockets against Israel in an attempt to deter Israel from further aggression.
As for Israel’s claims that their raids against weapons dumps in Syria are aimed at preventing weapons from reaching Hezbollah, this too is simply part of an overall strategy designed to demonise the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance for propaganda purposes for when a wider regional war breaks out. It also provides a reasonable casus belli for when such a full on regional war does break out. The fact is, there would be no way that President al-Assad would want to provoke Israel by allowing any WMDs to be transferred to Hezbollah and Israel knows this. There is also no way that al-Assad would want to incur America’s wrath by using chemical weapons against anyone. Again, the Israelis know this. Yet it is the Israelis that are pushing this right to the very edge.
Israel is desperate to initiate a regional confrontation with all of their enemies that will allow them to pursue their territorial expansionist ambitions which will result in the long term in realising their dreams of a Greater Israel. There are a number of doors through which Israel can pass through in order to kick off their long sought after war. The civil war in Syria is just another door.
Lebanese political party Hezbollah denied on Thursday that it had sent a drone over the Mediterranean sea, hours after the Israeli air force said it shot down an unmanned aircraft near Haifa.
“Hezbollah denies sending any unmanned drone towards occupied Palestine,” the Hezbollah-affiliated television channel al-Manar said.
Israel’s deputy defense minister earlier put the blame squarely on Hezbollah.
“An unmanned aircraft (UAV) was identified approaching the coast of Israel and was successfully intercepted by IAF aircraft five nautical miles off the coast of Haifa at approximately 2:00 pm today,” the military said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was inside an army helicopter when he was given the news of the drone, and was then forced to land until it was shot down.
“I see this attempt to breach our borders as extremely grave,” the premier said. “We will continue to do whatever we must to protect the security of Israel’s citizens.”
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters the drone had been identified moving down the Lebanese coast.
“A little after 1:00 pm, our aerial defense system identified (a drone) moving from north to south along the coast of Lebanon,” he said.
“Aircraft, helicopters and combat airplanes were alerted to the area and after confirmation that it was an unfriendly aircraft, they were approved to shoot it down.”
But despite reports blaming Hezbollah, Lerner was cautious, saying the incident was still being investigated.
“We don’t know where the aircraft was coming from and where it was actually going,” he said, adding that the navy was “searching for the remains of the UAV” as part of the probe.
But Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon accused the Lebanese movement of being behind the attack.
“We’re talking about another attempt by Hezbollah to send an unmanned drone into Israeli territory,” he told army radio, describing it as “another attempt to destabilize the Middle East.”
Israel would respond to the incident in its own time, he said.
“We are ready and we will react as necessary,” Danon warned. “They know not to provoke us.”
Hezbollah has previously claimed responsibility for several drone incursions in the past years, most recently on October 7.
Israel frequently stages incursions into Lebanese airspace, often sending drones at low altitude in South Lebanon.
In March, UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti slammed the Israeli overflights, calling them a violation of Lebanese sovereignty and of the UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the July 2006 war.
Hezbollah has never been shy about declaring its support for the Syrian regime. Since the launch of a Western and Arab campaign against the Resistance in 2005 – which only intensified after the July 2006 war – the party has never been reluctant in repeatedly confirming its close affinity to Damascus.
When the crisis in Syria erupted, Hezbollah sought to distinguish between what it saw as legitimate demands by the Syrian people for reforms that would end one-party rule and attempts by foreign power to seize the opportunity to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
For a year or so after the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, the party did not deem it necessary to intervene in the conflict, until military operations came close to areas of concern to Hezbollah on many levels.
Gradually, its role in Syria grew until the party became responsible for protecting a large number of Lebanese living in Syria – in addition to some Syrians, as well – who are under threat of being expelled from their lands by armed opposition groups backed by foreign powers.
Another area of concern for Hezbollah was the increasing role Israeli intelligence, backed by the West, began to play in the conflict, particularly in targeting people and places of concern to the Resistance.
The party did not stop at simply protecting its supporters in order to prevent their displacement, but took a further step of giving them the wherewithal to defend themselves from any attacks. It did this openly before the eyes of the public and in coordination with the regime, losing several of its fighters in the process.
The days will come when the details of Hezbollah’s role in Syria will be revealed, exaggerating the party’s involvement to such an extent as to suggest that it was the key factor in saving the regime, or to frame its largely defensive military activities as a crusade against the Sunnis of Syria.
Many of Hezbollah’s supporters in Lebanon and the Arab world are certainly not comfortable with its involvement in Syria, prompting party leaders to come up with convincing explanations to justify their actions. But if it is willing to give so much life and blood for the sake of the resistance, losing some of its popularity in defending what it considers to be a key ally in the struggle is not such a terrible sacrifice.
On the other side, those very same parties that threw themselves into the Syrian crisis from day one, supporting the armed opposition, do not let a day pass without attacking Hezbollah for fighting in Syria, while at the same time keeping quiet about the ugliest crimes being committed by the armed groups.
They raise empty slogans about Syria’s national unity despite the fact that 1.5 million Syrians from the country’s various minorities have been displaced at the hands of jihadi groups, who by all accounts have become the dominant current among the opposition forces.
With every denunciation of the Resistance for its role in Syria, the ground is slowly being prepared for war against the party under the banner of solidarity with the Syrian revolutionaries.
This is as Lebanon’s new guardian, Saudi Arabia, is doing its best to impose a government similar to that of Fouad Siniora in 2005, which spared no effort to undermine the Resistance even in the midst of the Israeli assault in 2006 and its aftermath.
This is yet another sign that there are preparations underway for a total war in the region. It could erupt due to a miscalculation by a particular side or as a result of a bloody explosion somewhere. And all we can do in this situation is sit and wait.
Obama’s visit to Israel and Jordan has brought joy to no one but the Israelis. The US president practically swore an oath of fealty to Israel, speaking not just as a friend and faithful ally, not as a head of state, but as a humble subordinate.
He waxed lyrical on Israel as a land of dreams, then advised the Palestinians to ignore the settlements being built on their land and issued stern warnings to Syria, Iran and Hizbullah.
So eager was Obama to court the Israelis that he suddenly started calling Netanyahu — the very man who supported his rival, Mitt Romney, in the elections — “Bibi”. Tensions between the US president and the Israeli prime minister seemed to evaporate as Obama wandered from one Biblical reference to another while praising Israel for its “shining future”.
Dressed in the colours of the Israeli flag, a blue tie over a white shirt, Obama spared the Israelis no compliment, saying that it was his honour to visit them on Israel’s 65th “independence day”.
“It is good to be in this land,” Obama said in Hebrew, before applauding Israel for being the land of kibbutz that made the desert bloom. His rhetoric was reminiscent of that of a century ago, when the promise of a “land without a people for a people without a land,” launched decades of Palestinian suffering.
Obama didn’t neglect to remind his listeners that he had introduced Passover as a White House celebration.
“After enjoying Seders [Passover] with family and friends in Chicago and on the campaign trail, I’m proud that I’ve now brought this tradition into the White House. I did so because I wanted my daughters to experience the Haggadah and the story at the centre of Passover that makes this time of year so powerful.”
After mentioning the long history of the Jewish people and their years in exile, the sad memories of the Jewish holocaust, Obama showered the Israelis with praise for their many successes.
Then, he lashed out at Iran. Iran’s nuclear programme, he said, is “not simply a challenge for Israel. It is a danger to the entire world, including the United States. A nuclear-armed Iran would raise the risk of nuclear terrorism. It would undermine the non-proliferation regime,” he stated.
Reiterating US commitment to Israeli security, Obama made a pledge: “The security of the Jewish people in Israel is so important. It cannot be taken for granted. But make no mistake. Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere.”
The Israeli website Walla! pointed out that in his speech, the US president mentioned the word “Israel” 82 times and the word “Palestinian” only 21 times.
Obama also visited the tombs of Herzl and Rabin, then the Yad Vashaem Holocaust Memorial. But he declined to visit the tomb of Yasser Arafat. And he refused to meet the daughter of one of the political prisoners held in Israel’s detention camps.
The whole thing seemed as if the US president was telling the Palestinians and Arabs, “This is the land of the Jews; so go look for your land elsewhere!”
Now the writing is on the wall. Those who had taken the US president for a moderate should take note.
- Israel admits: Just 0.7% of West Bank allocated to Palestinians (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Obama’s Peace Antics in Israel – Four More Years of This? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Ankara – In the ugly panorama that is the contemporary Middle East a light hardly flickers on the horizon. Iraq has been destroyed as a unitary Arab state and jihadis unleashed in Syria are burning out another room in the Arab house. Lebanon has again been brought to the brink of implosion through the intrigues of outside governments and local proxies incapable of putting the interests of their country ahead of their sectarian and power intrigues. The Palestinians are divided between those who live under the authority of one man who has bound himself to Israel and the US and two others who have bound themselves to Egypt and Qatar. Fitna – the spreading of division and sowing of hatred amongst Muslims – is being fanned across the region by governments brazen enough to call themselves Muslim. Whether in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, Shiism is the enemy. Ceaselessly stirring this pot from the outside are governments that feast on division in the Arab world.
There are those who loathe Bashar so much that they are willing to commit or tolerate any crime in the name of getting rid of him, including the deliberate bombings of civilians, one taking the lives of a leading Sunni Muslim scholar and 48 other worshippers in a Damascus mosque only recently and another killing 100 people, amongst them children waiting for their school bus. A country Gamal abd al Nasir once described as the ‘beating heart of Arabism’ is being destroyed. Its enemies have their hands inside the body and they intend to rip the heart out. The cooperative at work on this venture includes the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the local and foreign-born jihadis who are their tools whether they realize it or not.
That the Syrian system needs changing goes without saying. In Syria possibly no-one understands this better than the much reviled Bashar al Assad. He could go tomorrow but that would solve nothing because the system would stay the same; for those who hate him, someone worse might take his place. Bashar has made serious mistakes, including the adoption of free market policies which have enriched the merchant class while further impoverishing the peasantry, who are now said to be many of the foot soldiers of the armed groups, but Syria is an easier place than it was under his father. The abolition of the Baath as the central pillar of state and society and the multi-party elections held last year were a start to political reforms. The elections were not perfect but if anyone is looking for perfection in the Middle East, they should look somewhere else. These are threads that could have been teased out if the collective calling itself ‘The Friends of the Syrian People’ had any serious interest in the best interests of the Syrian people. A process of national dialogue has begun in Damascus but this has been ignored, too, because these ‘friends’ want nothing less than the destruction of a government which is a strategic ally of Iran and Hezbollah and forms with them the ‘resistance axis’ to US-Israeli hegemony.
The achievements of this axis need to be set against the record of collaboration of those Arab governments who are now bent on destroying it. Iran and Syria have been solid in their support for the Palestinians, hosting resistance movements and working together to provide Hamas with the weapons it needed to defend Gaza. No weapons came from the direction of Saudi Arabia or Qatar. It was Hezbollah, the non-state partner in this alliance, that finally drove Israel from occupied southern Lebanon after nearly two decades of struggle involving not just the bravery of part-time soldiers but the mastery of electronic warfare, enabling Hezbollah to penetrate Israeli communications, including drone surveillance, as was made clear when Hasan Nasrallah produced intercepted film showing that an Israeli drone had been shadowing Rafiq Hariri for three months and was overhead when he was assassinated in February, 2005. When Israel tried to take revenge in 2006 it was humiliated. Hezbollah stood firm, destroyed its supposedly invincible Merkava tanks, disabled one of its warships in a missile attack and prevented its ground forces from advancing north of the Litani river. At the time, it might be remembered, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia vilified Hasan Nasrallah for bringing on this war, as they saw it.
It was Hezbollah which scored another triumph by breaking Israel’s spy network in Lebanon, now in the public eye because of the revelations that an Australian-born Mossad agent, Ben Zygier, had provided it with the names of two of its agents. The official Israeli version of the Zygier affair is that he handed over this information with the ultimate intention of setting up the assassination of Hasan Nasrallah. However, as the case is regarded as one of the most serious threats to national security in Israel’s history, much more might be involved than the collapse of a spy network. It is hard to imagine any agent who was not in fact a double agent doing what Zygier is reported to have done. What other information he might have passed on is a matter of conjecture but Israel’s nervousness about this affair could be a sign that far darker secrets are involved than the exposure of two spies.
Both Iran and Syria have been targeted with economic sanctions because of their disobedience. Iran has been threatened with military attack ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and now that the attempt to destroy the government in Damascus through armed proxies has clearly failed, if more than two years of trying qualifies as failure, the US is sending out signals that it is prepared to intervene directly despite the regional and global risks. The collapse of the Syrian National Council last year has now been followed by the disintegration of the Syrian National Coalition, with ‘president’ Mu’adh al Khatib resigning and the chief of its military wing refusing to recognize the authority of new ‘prime minister’ Ghassan al Hitto. Riad al Assad, the displaced former commander of the self-styled Free Syrian Army, has just been carried back across the border into Turkey with only one leg, the other having been blown off by a roadside car bomb. Some sources say it was only a foot but either way he is out of action for a long time to come. As the leading armed groups do not recognize the authority of Mr Assad or the squabbling coalition of which the FSA is supposed to be the military arm, his absence from the scene is not going to make a great deal of difference.
For Muadh al Khatib to be given the Syria seat at the recent summit of the Arab League in Doha is farcical in more than one respect. Al Khatib is no longer even a member of the group Qatar is trying to set up as an alternative government. The group itself is in a state of complete collapse, with al Khatib walking out and other members rejecting the appointment of Hitto, a Syrian-born American who has not visited the country of his birth for decades. That Al Khatib should demand that his ragged, motley crew be given Syria’s seat at the UN goes beyond preposterous. The government of Syria sits in Damascus, not Doha, and Bashar al Assad is still its president, not the former imam of the Umayyad mosque. Compounding this theatre of the absurd, it was the ruler of Qatar who directed that Al Khatib be given the Syrian seat at the Doha summit, underlining the degree to which the Arab League has become no more than an instrument of this gentleman’s drive for regional dominance. That King Abdullah should have stayed away from Doha is a sign of the deepening rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, especially over how to manage Syria. The determination of the ruler of Qatar to persevere with this chaotic bunch of exiles is the measure of his determination to destroy the government in Damascus.
On the ground the armed groups are taking a beating at the hands of the Syrian army but like an irresponsible trainer sending a punched-out boxer out from his corner for the next round, their outside sponsors are pouring arms into Syria to keep them on their feet. The tactics of these groups include bombings aimed at civilians that in other circumstances their backers would not hesitate to call terrorism but steadfastly refused to call terrorism when Syrians are the victims and their proxies are the perpetrators. Al Khatib’s dissatisfaction with his ramshackle coalition was possibly brought to a head by the assassination in Damascus of Sheikh Muhammad Said Ramadan al Bouti, a former colleague and a man he greatly admired. Al Bouti and close to 50 other worshippers were murdered in the Iman mosque by a suicide bomber. Two days earlier an armed group had loaded CL 17 chlorine – an ingredient normally used in swimming pool cleaner – into the warhead of a small missile and fired it at a Syrian army checkpoint, killing 26 people. Soldiers were among the dead and the army was there to look after the survivors, so the claims of activists that ‘the regime’ was responsible had even less traction than usual. Having warned of direct intervention in Syria should chemical weapons be used, the US had little to say now that such a weapon had been used, not by the Syrian army, but by the ‘rebels’ it has been supporting.
Hezbollah, Syria and Iran’s record of resistance has to be compared with the long Saudi and Qatari record of collaboration with the US and Israel. Having deserted Damascus in its hour of need, what does Khalid Mishaal think he is going to get from the ruler of Qatar besides money and somewhere to stay? What is Ismail Haniyeh expecting from Muhammad Morsi, who began his presidency by blocking off the tunnels into Gaza and confirmed where he intends to take Egypt with his letter calling Shimon Peres ‘my dear friend’? Is it forgotten already, apart from his record in violence and destruction going back to 1948, that it was Peres who authorized the attack on southern Lebanon in 1996 which took the lives of more than 100 people sheltering inside the UN compound in Qana? If the friend of my enemy is my enemy, where does that leave Haniyeh, Misha’al and Abbas?
The beneficiaries of intervention in Iraq, Libya and Syria are outside and regional governments who have combined forces to reshape the Middle East in their own interests. As Ibrahim al Amin has remarked (‘Partitioning Syria at the Doha summit’, Al Akhbar English, March 25, 2013), they are fighting a global war against Syria in the name of bringing the people freedom and justice. In truth, western governments only intervene in their own interests and the people always end up being sliced and diced on the chopping board of their grand designs. There has been no exception to this rule. Civilization, liberation, freedom, democracy, the rights of the people and the responsibility to protect are the unctuous phrases that have rolled off the lips of western prime ministers, foreign ministers and presidents for two centuries. This is the rhetorical buildup to a self-assigned ‘duty’ to intervene: the only real difference between intervention in the 19th century and intervention in the 21st lies in the vastly increased killing power of western governments and the development of weapons that would have been regarded as science fiction until only recently.
As they always get away with it, there is no reason for them to stop. Iraq was a terrible crime but while the UN Security Council or the International Criminal Court points the finger at Robert Mugabe, Umar al Bashir or Saif al Islam al Gaddafi it never points the finger at western politicians whose crimes are infinitely greater. Slobodan Milosevic was a rare exception but even his crimes do not measure up to what George Bush and Tony Blair authorized in Iraq in and after 2003 – not to speak of the horrors that Bush senior, Clinton and Blair authorized through the decade of sanctions which followed the attack of 1991. Because they are protected by a world system which is highly selective about who it punishes, the politicians who follow them feel free to repeat the experience. They know that whoever suffers, whoever is bombed, whoever has to look at the faces of dead parents, children, aunts, grandfathers and neighbors being dug out of the rubble of bombed cities and towns, it is not going to be them. William Hague is perfectly comfortable in his desire to give more weapons to the ‘rebels’ because he knows that the calamitous consequences of decisions he takes are never going to bounce back on his own doorstep.
It is obvious but needs to be said anyway that the first priority of people across the Middle East should be solidarity rising above ethnic and religious divisions. No problem can be solved without it and certainly not the core issue of Palestine. In his recent Edward Said memorial lecture, Noam Chomsky drew attention to what is going on while the world’s attention is diverted by the ‘Arab spring.’ In 1967 the Jordan Valley had a Palestinian population of 300, 000. The policy of ‘purification’ pursued by the Israeli government has now reduced that population to 60,000. On a smaller scale the same policy has had the same results in Hebron and elsewhere in the occupied territories. There is nothing accidental or incidental about this. Netanyahu is no more than faithful to the racist policies set in motion by Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion. Continuing without letup for 65 years these policies are neither forgettable nor forgivable.
It is not surprising that Israel’s strongest supporters always have been similar colonial settler states. There are no exact parallels but the Zionist settlers in Palestine and the American colonists both turned on the mother state while setting out to crush the native people. Thomas Paine had much to say about the American ‘war of independence’ that is relevant to Palestine. First of all, it was an ‘independence war’ being fought on land long since inhabited by another people. The colonists wanted to be independent of the mother country, which planted them in this foreign soil in the expectation that they would maintain it as part of the king’s domains. A loyal colony was what the British also sought in Palestine but the American settlers and later the Zionists had other ideas. The war between Britain and the American colonists was brutal, generating deep hatreds on both sides, just as the Zionist war against the British did in Palestine.
Paine was writing of settler feelings towards the savagery of the mother country but the words equally apply to the people who were the victims of double colonialism in North America or, nearly two centuries later, in Palestine:
‘Men of passive tempers look somewhat lightly over the offences of Great Britain and still hoping for the best are still apt to call out come, come, we shall be friends against for all this. But examine the passions and feelings of mankind; bring the doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature and then tell me whether you can hereafter love, honor and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land. If you cannot do all these then you are only deceiving yourself, and by your delay bringing ruin upon posterity. Your future connections with Britain, whom you can neither love nor honor, will be forced and unnatural and being formed only on the plan of present convenience, will in a little time fall into a relapse more wretched than the first. But if you say you can still pass the violations over, then I ask hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on or bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or child by their hands and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor? If you have not, then you are not a judge of those who have. But if you have and can still shake hands with the murderers, then are you unworthy the name of husband, father, friend or lover; and whatever may be your rank or title in life you have the heart of a coward and the spirit of a sycophant.’
Paine was a democrat within the limitations of his time. He was writing for the settlers and had no thought of admitting the indigenous people of North America to representation in the colonies. Except for the passage of almost 250 years Paine might be a Zionist today, but the two and a half centuries make all the difference. Israel was an anomaly from the beginning, a colonial state arising at the tail end of colonialism. It would be no more possible to imagine Thomas Paine supporting an America in which native and Afro-Americans did not have the vote now than it would be to imagine him supporting a situation where a people not only did not have the right to vote but had been denied the right to live on the land where they or their forebears had been born.
In today’s world Paine could not support an Israel built on blatantly racist and discriminatory lines. Everything he says in the passage quoted above applies to Israel. The wounds it has inflicted have gone deep and far from making any attempt to heal them Israel has endlessly inflicted new wounds. The state of Israel – to be differentiated from those pockets of its citizens who oppose its brutal mindset – is not interested in any kind of genuine settlement with the Palestinians. It is not interested in them as a people. It is not interested in their stories of suffering. It is not interested in its own guilt because it is blind to its own guilt. It has no humility and would scoff at the idea of penance for crimes it refuses to admit it has committed, like the worst recidivist offender hauled before a court. It is interested in the Palestinians only as a problem to be solved and the solution is for them somehow to disappear or to be made to disappear. Hence the ‘purification’ in the Jordan Valley and the daylight oppression of the Palestinians in Hebron and the racist demographic war being waged in East Jerusalem. These are crimes against humanity.
If we substitute Israel and the Oslo process for the reconciliation proffered by the British monarch the result is the same: the policy, wrote Thomas Paine, is there ‘in order that he may accomplish by craft and subtlety in the long run what he cannot do by force and violence in the short one’. His conclusion that ‘reconciliation and ruin are nearly related’ sums up the consequences for the Palestinians of the Venus fly trap known as the ‘peace process.’ Violence works but ‘peace’ has a deadly potency of its own: whatever the means employed, the Zionist aim of reducing the Palestinians to dust that will eventually be whirled away by history has not changed in 100 years.
By themselves, however bravely they have resisted, the Palestinians have never had the power to fend off the forces arrayed against them. This has been true from the time Britain implanted the Zionist project in Palestine until the present day. Britain and the US were not just any countries but the two most powerful states of their time and with their support both Zionist success and Palestinian failure were assured. Never have the Palestinians been able to draw on anything like such sources of strength despite the immense potential in their own backyard. Israel’s dominance as a regional power is still sustained by the US while being continually replenished by Arab weakness: Arab weakness is built on chronic Arab disunity, now being promoted in sectarian form by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. As long as there is no way out of this trap the Palestinians will remain stuck in their trap.
Sectarianism is a powerful weapon but would be useless if people were not susceptible to it. A people divided are doomed to be dominated. George Antonius prefaced The Arab Awakening with a quote from Ibrahim Yaziji: ‘Arise Arabs and awake!’ That was in 1938. An Arab awakening did follow and while it would be tempting to say the Arab world has gone back to sleep, in reality what is happening is far worse than sleep. A fire is raging and it is hard to see how and when it will be put out.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
Hezbollah condemned on Friday the stances announced by US President Brarack Obama during his visit to the Zionist entity, stressing that this position proves the rightfulness of the resistance path.
“Obama’s visit to the occupied Palestinian territories… assures the continuous and full American commitment to support the Zionist entity and its offensive and criminal policies, especially regarding the right of Palestine, its people and the people of the region,” Hezbollah said in a statement released by it Media Relations office.
“It was clear, according to Obama’s remarks, that the US President doesn’t respect the Islamic and the Arab governments, as he turns away from the simplest and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”
“He (Obama) also goes further in voicing full commitment to the Zionist project in the Palestine, through imposing conditions on Arabs to accept the enemy’s entity as a pure Jewish state in the region”, the statement added.
Hezbollah slammed the US President, saying he “speaks like an employee of the Zionist entity (Israel) and not the highest-ranking official in the administration of the independent state that is the United States.
“And the speech of Obama would not be consummated except if the US leader attacks the resistance through urging the world to brand Hezbollah a terrorist organization”.
The party said it was not surprised by Obama’s speech “which have gotten to be repetition to the choir of the hostile and boring stances of the US”.
However, Hezbollah denounced the US stances “which are adopting the Zionist projects, something that makes Washington an accomplice in the crimes committed by the Israeli enemy.”
“All these stances assure again that betting on negotiations and compromises is fruitless, therefore the rightfulness of the resistance choice becomes deep-rooted,” the statement concluded.
Harper Government Sides with US and Israel Against Lebanon
In response to hotly contested claims that Hezbollah was responsible for bombing Israeli citizens in Bulgaria last July, immigration minister Jason Kenney called the Lebanese group a “vile anti-Semitic terrorist organization” and urged the European Union to “follow Canada’s lead in listing Hezbollah as a proscribed and illegal terrorist organization.”
Kenney’s comment last week is part of a concerted campaign against a group the Los Angeles Times has called “Lebanon’s largest political party and most potent armed force.” Stephen Harper blamed Hezbollah for Israel’s summer 2006 invasion, Israel’s fifth, of Lebanon, which left 1,100 (mostly civilian) Lebanese dead and much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed. The month after Hezbollah successfully held off the Israeli invasion, foreign minister Peter MacKay said: “Lebanon is being held hostage by Hezbollah. There can be no doubt about that. Hezbollah is a cancer on Lebanon, which is destroying stability and democracy within its boundaries.” For his part, public safety minister Stockwell Day claimed the “stated intent of Hezbollah is to annihilate Jewish people.” (Despite Day and Kenney’s claims, Hezbollah was created in response to Israel’s 1982-2000 occupation of southern Lebanon and its pronouncements suggest it is largely concerned with Israel’s occupation of Arab lands.)
Almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media, the Conservatives’ demonization of Hezbollah gathered steam when Daniel Bellemare, a Canadian official, took charge of the international investigation into the February 2005 assassination of five-time Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. In November 2007 Bellemare, deputy attorney general and special advisor to the deputy minister of justice until October 2007, was appointed commissioner of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) into the bombing that killed Hariri and two dozen others. Concurrently, he was named prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which was set to continue the UNIIIC’s work beginning in March 2009.
Both the internal and international investigations into Hariri’s killing were far from conclusive. Initially, Syrian security officers were implicated in the killings and in the post assassination upheaval Syrian troops were driven from the country. Four Lebanese generals were also incarcerated for four years in the killings but they were released when the evidence against them was dismissed.
In 2010 the Netherlands-based STL began to point its finger at Hezbollah and in August 2011 four members of the Party of God were formally charged in the Hariri killings. But before the charges came down the international investigation was discredited in the eyes of many. A July 2011 survey of 800 Lebanese, sponsored by leading Arabic-language daily As-Safir, found that 60 percent of the country believed the international probe was politicized. The poll also found widespread distrust of Bellemare, who was accused of being pro-Israel and anti-Hezbollah. He also had suspiciously close relations with US officials.
Just after Bellemare issued the indictments against four individuals with ties to Hezbollah Lebanese daily Al Akbar published a detailed article on the Canadian titled “UN Tribunal: A Prosecutor’s ‘Tunnel Vision’” (translated by its English edition). “An example of this bias appears in paragraph 59 of the indictment, where Bellemare states that ‘all four accused are supporters of Hezbollah, which is a political and military organization in Lebanon. In the past, the military wing of Hezbollah has been implicated in terrorist acts.’ Bellemare does not offer a reference supporting his assertion that Hezbollah was involved in terrorism, and, so far, no international judicial body has issued a decision describing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In fact, there is no international consensus surrounding Hezbollah’s ‘terrorism’ status, and the UN does not recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Several countries, including the US, Israel, and Canada have officially labeled the group as a terrorist organization — though, notably, the European Union has not. Bellemare seemingly chose to include his personal political opinion and perhaps the views of some of his colleagues in an international indictment.”
Many Lebanese believe the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had a hand in Hariri’s death yet Bellemare refused to say if he interviewed any Israeli suspects. A TV station linked to Hezbollah, Al Manar, claimed Bellemare “lost credibility” for his “politicized tribunal” because he was unwilling to investigate Israel’s possible implication in the killings. The “Israeli enemy is ‘innocent’ and will remain so in the eyes of the international community and the STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare.”
The most damning evidence against Bellemare came from the US State Department. A series of US diplomatic cables, released by Wikileaks, suggest he worked closely with the US embassy in Beirut. On one occasion Bellemare asked US officials for information on Syria and for help in convincing the British to assist an investigation committee. The former deputy attorney general also requested two temporary FBI investigators be paid by the US. An October 2008 cable from the ambassador in Beirut to Washington read: “Bellemare showed a good understanding of the problems [for the US] associated with complying … but his frustration was nonetheless evident: ‘You are the key player [he said]. If the US doesn’t help me, who will?’” The US embassy gave Bellemare “an ‘excellence’ preliminary assessment for his effort and determination, and we urge Washington to exert every effort to respond to the investigation committee’s request related to the information and support.”
Hezbollah claimed the Wikileaks cables confirmed that the US manipulated the probe. “The information leaked on meetings between the prosecutor and the US ambassador confirms what we have always said — that the US administration is using the court and the investigation committee as a tool to target the resistance [to Israel, i.e. Hezbollah],” noted Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah in December 2010.
In January 2011 the Lebanese government collapsed when 10 cabinet ministers and one presidential appointee withdrew over then Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s refusal to reject the STL. At the start of 2011 many feared that the STL’s expected indictment of Hezbollah members could re-ignite the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1975-1990. This didn’t bother Washington. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in favour of the STL and announced $10 million in added funding for the floundering tribunal. The US ambassador in Lebanon Maura Connelly said “the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is an irrevocable, international judicial process; its work is not a matter of politics but of law.” Even President Obama chimed in, saying the STL’s first indictment could end an “era of impunity” and that it was “a significant and emotional time for the Lebanese people.”
In the first 10 weeks of 2011 Foreign Affairs released three statements that dealt with the STL. On January 13 the ministry complained about the dissolution of Lebanon’s government over the matter. “These resignations are an attempt to subvert a safe and secure Lebanon and cannot be tolerated. Hezbollah’s actions in bringing down the government are a clear attempt to undermine the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Canada believes that the work of the Special Tribunal should go forward so that justice can be served.” A follow-up statement explained: “We urge the future Lebanese government to continue to support and cooperate with the Tribunal and to continue to uphold its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions on Lebanon.” In March 2011 the Conservatives gave a further $1 million contribution to the STL. “Canada has been a strong supporter of the Tribunal, having already contributed $3.7 million to the voluntarily funded Tribunal since 2007,” explained foreign minister Cannon.
An August 2011 Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) report, detailed in Montréal daily La Presse, found that “many Lebanese consider the work of the STL an inquest led by Canadians.” At the time more than 20 Canadians were involved in the Tribunal’s work and last March another Canadian replaced Bellemare. According to CSIS, this country’s association with the highly divisive tribunal increased the likelihood of Canadians being targeted.
The Conservatives latest salvo against Hezbollah is another reminder that the Harper government has sided with the US and Israel against most Lebanese.
Yves Engler’s latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy
Argentina’s top diplomat slammed Israel Wednesday for interfering in its judicial process over the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish charities building in Buenos Aires.
Last month, Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner announced an agreement with Iran to create an independent “truth commission” to investigate the bombing of the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA), and said it would clear the way for Iranian suspects to be questioned by an Argentine judge.
The move was blasted by Israel and members of Argentina’s 300,000-strong Jewish community, the largest in Latin America.
“Israel has no right to ask for explanations. We are a sovereign state,” Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said on the first day of testimony about the “truth commission” to his country’s Congress.
He added that cooperation with Iran would “bring them closer to the truth”, and in an apparent snide at Israel’s dubious history said that Argentina was not in the habit of carrying out extrajudicial punishment.
“Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told me that we cannot sign an agreement with Iran. So maybe he wants us to kidnap the suspects or put a bomb below the car of one of them.”
Timerman announced that suspects flagged by INTERPOL would be interrogated by Argentine judges, and under Argentine law.
There are five Iranians wanted by the international police group over the Argentina bombing, including current Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
Iran has offered mixed responses to the revelation that top officials might be questioned, denying a report about it that had surfaced earlier this week.
However, on Wednesday, Timmerman told the Senate committee that “the Iranian foreign minister said he is going to implement all the points that were agreed on in our memorandum of understanding, and that the accused will be questioned.”
Argentine Jude Rodolfo Canicoba Corral and prosecutor Alberto Nisman, the lead investigator, would go to Tehran to take the Iranians’ testimony.
Washington has cast doubt that any solution will emerge from the deal.
Israel has repeatedly accused Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the 1994 bombing, which killed 85 people and wounded 30, and another attack on the Israeli embassy in Beunos Aires two years before.
Hezbollah and Iran have repeatedly denied involvement in both.
On the 11th anniversary of the embassy bombing, Israel’s foreign ministry released a statement saying: “The mystery has been resolved, and it is now clear to Israel that Hezbollah, through its overseas agents under the command of Imad Moghniyeh, was the organization responsible for the deadly attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires,”
“Moreover, Israel has also been told recently that Hezbollah and Iran were involved in the July 1994 attack on the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA).”
A recently declassified communique from the US embassy in Beirut two months after the Buenos Aires reiterates the US’s intention to discredit Hezbollah.