“The irony is that the Nazi holocaust has now become the main ideological weapon for launching wars of aggression,” Norman Finkelstein tells Yoav Shamir in “Defamation,” the Israeli filmmaker’s award-winning 2009 documentary on how perceptions of anti-Semitism affect Israeli and U.S. politics. “Every time you want to launch a war of aggression, drag in the Nazi holocaust.” If you’re looking for evidence in support of Finkelstein’s thesis today, you need look no further than the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibit of images of emaciated and mutilated bodies from contemporary Syria.
The small exhibit, entitled “Genocide: The Threat Continues,” features a dozen images said to be from an archive of 55,000 pictures allegedly smuggled out of the country by “Caesar,” a mysterious source who claims to have defected from his job as a Syrian military photographer after having been ordered to take photos of more than 10,000 corpses. Emphasizing the threat of an impending genocide, the reportedly conscience-stricken defector warns that a similar fate awaits the 150,000 people he says remain incarcerated by President Bashar Assad’s government.
“They’re powerful images, and viewers are immediately reminded of the Holocaust,” Cameron Hudson, the director of the museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide, was cited as saying in an Oct. 15 Associated Press report. Hudson, whose intriguing career in genocide prevention includes a stint as intelligence analyst in the CIA’s Africa Directorate, added, “They show a side of the Syrian regime that hasn’t really been really seen. You might have heard about it, read about it, but when you’re confronted with these images, they’re impossible to ignore.”
The museum’s promotion of these impossible-to-ignore, Holocaust-recalling images dates from a few months earlier, however. In his July visit to Washington that included a series of meetings with U.S. government and congressional officials, Caesar’s first stop was at the Holocaust Museum.
On July 28, Michael Chertoff, a member of the museum’s governing board of trustees, presented the purported defector to a small group of reporters and researchers. According to the Washington Post’s Greg Miller, this event was the first time that Caesar had appeared publicly to answer questions about the photos deemed by some human rights organizations as evidence of war crimes committed by Assad.
Chertoff, a co-author of the USA PATRIOT Act, hasn’t hesitated to invoke the Nazis either in support of the neoconservative-conceived “global war on terror.” In an April 22, 2007 Washington Post op-ed entitled “Make No Mistake: This Is War,” the then secretary of the Department of Homeland Security wrote, “Al-Qaeda and its ilk have a world vision that is comparable to that of historical totalitarian ideologues but adapted to the 21st-century global network.”
Commenting on the former DHS secretary’s close ties to Israel, Jonathan Cook notes in his book “Israel and the Clash of Civilizations” that Chertoff’s mother was an air hostess for El Al in the 1950s. “There are reports that she was involved in Operation Magic Carpet, which brought Jews to Israel from Yemen,” writes the Nazareth-based British journalist. “It therefore seems possible that Livia Eisen was an Israeli national, and one with possible links to the Mossad.”
Among the other members of the Holocaust Memorial Council noted for their staunch support of Israel and American interventionism are the pardoned Iran-Contra neocon intriguer Elliott Abrams and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
Writing in Foreign Policy’s The Cable on April 23, 2012, Josh Rogin drew attention to Wiesel’s pointed introduction of President Barack Obama at a ceremony in the Holocaust Museum. Comparing the Syrian president and then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the perpetrators of the Nazi holocaust, Wiesel implicitly criticized Obama’s supposedly obtuse inaction, “So in this place we may ask: Have we learned anything from it? If so, how is it that Assad is still in power?”
As Rogin, a reliable media conduit for anti-Assad interventionism, pointedly observed, the speech was reminiscent of another one Wiesel gave at the opening of the museum in 1993, when he urged then President Bill Clinton to take military action in Bosnia: “Similarly, that speech came at a time when the Clinton administration was resisting getting entangled in a foreign civil war but was under growing pressure to intervene.”
The Lobby’s Syrian Interpreter
In a revealing interview published on Aug. 11, 2013 by the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, Caesar’s interpreter—who presided over a question-and-answer session at the museum—echoed Wiesel’s criticism of President Obama’s resistance to doing the bidding of the neocons and “liberal interventionists” seeking greater American intervention in Syria.
Asked by the Gülen movement-aligned daily if America had forgotten the Syrian war, Mouaz Moustafa replied, “It is the president who is against action in Syria not the whole of the U.S. government. President Barack Obama has been very insular and cautious about Syria. The president does not seem to understand how important Syria is to U.S. national security [....] The president does not feel the need to explain to the American people or the world that the risks with any of the bad options that we have are far outweighed by the risks of inaction.”
It is hardly a coincidence that Moustafa’s rhetoric bears a striking resemblance to that of Israel’s friends like Wiesel. Although one of best known pro-Israel media-promoted faces of the Syrian opposition in Washington has understandably sought to obscure his ties to Tel Aviv, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force has undeniable links to one of its American lobby’s leading think tanks.
After it emerged that Moustafa’s non-profit had coordinated Senator John McCain’s May 2013 trip to meet with the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels, an examination of the SETF executive director’s background revealed that he was one of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s “experts”; a contributor to WINEP’s Fikra Forum, “an online community that aims to generate ideas to support Arab democrats in their struggle with authoritarians and extremists”; and had addressed the AIPAC-created think tank’s annual Soref symposium entitled “Inside Syria: The Battle Against Assad’s Regime.”
Even more damningly, it was discovered that one of SETF’s web addresses was “syriantaskforce.torahacademybr.org.” The “torahacademybr.org” url belongs to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida, whose key values notably include promoting “a love for and commitment to Eretz Yisroel.”
When confronted with these embarrassing revelations, Moustafa responded via Twitter, “call me terrorist/Qaeda/nazi as others have but not Zionist Im [sic] denied ever entering palestine but it lives in me..” Dismissing the Syrian opposition group’s intriguing connection to a pro-Israel yeshiva in Florida, @SoccerMouaz claimed that the “url registration was due to dumb error by web designer.”
The Israel lobby-backed Moustafa also interpreted for Caesar, who was wearing dark glasses and a blue rain jacket with the hood pulled over his head, when he testified before a closed-door session of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs this July. At least some of its members would no doubt have recognized the ubiquitous interpreter, however.
As Foreign Policy’s The Cable reported on June 6, 2013, two leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), dispatched aides to Turkey to meet leading members of the Syrian Free Army between May 27 and June 3. As The Cable had “learned,” the meeting had been coordinated by Moustafa’s Syrian Emergency Task Force.
(This September, staff from SETF and the House Foreign Affairs Committee reportedly facilitated a meeting in Turkey that led to more than 20 Syrian rebel commanders signing “a historic agreement” to unite in the quixotic fight against both ISIS and Assad.)
Interestingly, the FP article noted that “[t]he two lawmakers don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on the question of whether the United States should intervene more aggressively in the protracted civil war,” with Engel having “carved out one of the most hawkish positions in Congress on Syria, being the first to introduce legislation authorizing lethal assistance for the rebels.”
Moreover, as Rep. Engel pointed out in his opening remarks at the Syria briefing, he has “been personally focused on Syria for a long time.” In 2003, he passed the Syria Accountability Act, which imposed sanctions on the government of Hafez Assad.
In a reference to his introduction of the Free Syria Act in March 2013, which authorized the president to provide lethal assistance to those Engel euphemistically described as “carefully vetted members of the moderate Syrian opposition,” the reflexively pro-Israel Democratic congressman from New York said, “If we had taken that approach a year and a half ago, we may have been able to stem the growth of ISIS and weaken the regime of Bashar Assad. But we didn’t, unfortunately, so we’ll never really know what would have happened if we had acted then.”
The Israeli-Qatari Nexus
While Caesar and his Washington-based Palestinian-Syrian interpreter clearly have the enthusiastic support of Israel’s friends in America, the photos presented as evidence of an alleged Syrian “holocaust” by Assad’s forces received their initial boost from one of Tel Aviv’s closest, albeit covert, Arab allies in their mutual war against the Syrian government.
As part of a review of the photos commissioned by the government of Qatar, David Crane, a former war-crimes prosecutor for Sierra Leone, reportedly spent hours interviewing Caesar. An Oct. 13 Yahoo News report by Michael Isikoff—one of the photos’ most tireless promoters whose subsequently retracted, provocative 2005 Newsweek story of an American soldier flushing a Koran down the toilet triggered a wave of anti-American protests by outraged Muslims—quotes Crane as saying that they document “an industrial killing machine not seen since the Holocaust.”
Like the director of the Holocaust Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide, Crane has also worked for the U.S. government in the intelligence field. His former posts include Director of the Office of Intelligence Review, assistant general counsel of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Waldemar A. Solf Professor of International Law at the U.S. Army Judge Advocate Generals School.
Having ostensibly left the intelligence world behind him for Syracuse University’s College of Law, Crane founded and directs the Syrian Accountability Project (SAP), which describes itself as “a cooperative effort between activists, non-governmental organizations, students, and other interested parties to document war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of the Syrian Crisis.” According to its website, SAP has “worked closely with the Syrian National Coalition” which is listed as one of its clients.
Founded in Doha, Qatar in November 2012, the Syrian National Coalition represents the Free Syrian Army, which has reportedly collaborated with the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham in massacres of Syrian civilians such as the one this March in the village of Kassab, an ancestral home of Syria’s minority ethnic Armenians, on the Turkish border.
Professor Crane is also vice-president of I Am Syria, whose mission statement describes it as “a non-profit media based campaign that seeks to educate the world of the Syrian Conflict.” I Am Syria’s president, Ammar Abdulhamid, has been a fellow at two of the most prominent Washington-based pro-Israel think tanks, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy—which oversees the Qatar-based Brookings Doha Center—and the neocon Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; while one of its education directors, Andrew Beitar, is a regional education coordinator for the Holocaust Museum.
As the case of the mysterious Caesar and his trove of torture photos clearly shows, those who want to launch a war of aggression on Syria—as they have succeeded in doing in Iraq and Libya—have at every opportunity sought, as Finkelstein put it, to drag in the Nazi holocaust. As more and more people become wise to this ruse, they should keep in mind the two words espoused by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: “Never Again.”
Israeli Minister for Military Affairs Moshe Ya’alon says the borders of many Middle Eastern countries are bound to change in the future as a result of recent developments in the region.
The Israeli minister said in a recent interview with the US-based National Public Radio (NPR) that the current borders would change in the coming years, as some have “been changed already.”
The Israeli minister added that the borders of some countries in the region were artificially drawn by the West.
“Libya was a new creation, a Western creation as a result of World War I. Syria, Iraq, the same — artificial nation-states — and what we see now is a collapse of this Western idea,” he stated.
However, Ya’alon said the borders of some nations, including the Egyptian border with Israel, would remain unchanged.
“We have to distinguish between countries like Egypt, with their history. Egypt will stay Egypt,” said Ya’alon.
The minister did not say whether the borders of Israel, also drawn by Western powers after World War I, would change or not.
Regarding the right to return for Palestinian refugees, Ya’alon said Tel Aviv could not allow such a move, as it would keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alive “forever.”
He also said that the insistence to remove Israeli settlers from the West Bank amounts to ethnic cleansing.
The Israeli regime expelled more than 700,000 people from their homeland after it occupied Palestine in 1948.
Israeli forces have wiped nearly 500 Palestinian villages and towns off the map, leaving an estimated total of 4.7 million Palestinian refugees hoping for an eventual return to their homeland more than six decades later.
Since 1948, the Israeli regime has denied Palestinian refugees the right of return, despite United Nations’ resolutions and international laws that uphold the people’s right to return to their homeland.
Tel Aviv has built over 120 illegal settlements built since the occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.
Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari at the UN: “In Golan terrorists get paid ransom by Qatar with the help of Israel”.
A Lebanese-American reporter working for Iranian channel, Press TV, Serena Shim has been killed in a car crash in Turkey, following her reports of accusations from Turkey’s intelligence agency that she had been “spying.”
“Our correspondent Serena Shim has been killed near the Turkey-Syria border. Serena was killed in a reported car accident when she was returning from a report scene…their car collided with a heavy vehicle,” a Press TV broadcast stated on Monday. Shim had also been the mother of two young children.
The driver of the vehicle was subsequently arrested, according to Turkish news agency Hurriyet, citing the Turkish Doğan News Agency. Press TV disputed this, alleging that both driver and vehicle have disappeared.
Press TV has additionally expressed suspicion, implying that it may not have been an accident. “Just a couple of days ago she had been threatened by Turkish intelligence,” the broadcast said.
Shim had been returning to her hotel after reporting from Suruç – a rural district near the Syrian border, where a many foreign journalists are based. They are covering news from the Syrian northeastern border town of Kobani, under siege by Islamic State militants for the past month due to its strategic importance.
She had expressed fears for her own safety; her death came a day after she reported receiving threats from the Turkish intelligence agency (MİT), saying they had accused her of spying.
“The Turkish intelligence agency has now accused our correspondent Serena Shim of being a spy,” said a Press TV report on Saturday.
“I’m very surprised at this accusation – I even thought of approaching Turkish intelligence because I have nothing to hide,” Shim said in the broadcast on Saturday.
“I am a bit worried, because… Turkey has been labeled by Reporters Without Borders as the largest prison for journalists…so I am frightened about what they might use against me,” she said.
Shim had been reporting that IS militants had crossed the border from Turkey into Syria in trucks apparently affiliated with NGOs, some of which allegedly bore World Food Organization symbols. She claimed that she had received images from Islamic militants crossing the Turkish border and was one of the few reporters focusing on the matter.
“We were some of the first people on the ground –if not the first people – to get that story of… militants going in through the Turkish border… I’ve got images of them in World Food Organization trucks. It was very apparent that they were militants by their beards, by the clothes they wore, and they were going in there with NGO trucks,” she said.
Former Clinton Administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently called on the government to force young people to spend two years either “serving” in the military or performing some other type of government-directed “community service.” Neoconservative Senator John McCain has introduced legislation creating a mandatory national service program very similar to Reich’s proposal. It is not surprising that both a prominent progressive and a leading neocon would support mandatory national service, as this is an issue that has long united authoritarians on the left and right.
Proponents of national service claim that young people have a moral obligation to give something back to society. But giving the government power to decide our moral obligations is an invitation to totalitarianism.
Mandatory national service is not just anti-liberty, it is un-American. Whether or not they admit it, supporters of mandatory national service do not believe that individuals have “inalienable rights.” Instead, they believe that rights are gifts from the government, and, since government is the source of our rights, government can abridge or even take away those rights whenever Congress decides.
Mandatory national service also undermines private charitable institutions. In a free society, many people will give their time or money to service projects to help better their communities, working with religious or civic associations. But in a society with government-enforced national service, these associations are likely to become more reliant on government-supplied forced labor. They will then begin to tailor their programs to satisfy the demands of government bureaucrats instead of the needs of the community.
The very worst form of national service is, of course, the military draft, which forces young people to kill or be killed on government orders. The draft lowers the cost of an interventionist foreign policy because government need not compete with private employers for recruits. Anyone who refuses a draft notice runs the risk of being jailed, so government can provide lower pay and benefits to draftees than to volunteers.
As the burden of our hyper-interventionist foreign policy increases, it is increasingly likely that there will be serious attempts to reinstate the military draft. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, continues to suggest that US troops on the ground may be needed to fight “Operation Inherent Resolve” in Iraq and Syria. A major escalation requiring a large US troop deployment will likely add pressure to consider a military draft.
The only real way the American people can protect their children from the military draft is to demand an end to the foreign policy that sees the US military as the solution to any and every problem — from ISIS to Ebola — anywhere in the world.
Some who share my opposition to a militaristic foreign policy support the draft because they think a draft will increase public opposition to war. However, the existence of a draft did not stop the American government from launching unconstitutional wars in Vietnam and Korea. While the draft did play a role in mobilizing political opposition to Vietnam, it took almost a decade and the death of thousands of American draftees for that opposition to reach critical mass.
It is baffling that conservatives who (properly) oppose raising taxes would support any form of national service, including the military draft. It is similarly baffling that liberals who oppose government interference with our personal lives would support mandatory national service. Mandatory national service is a totalitarian policy that should be rejected by all who value liberty.
ANKARA – Kurds are not going to fight alongside Turkey against Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria, Syrian Kurds leader Salih Muslim said in an interview with the Hurriyet newspaper Monday.
“Do you want us to fight against them in Damascus and be a soldier there instead of you? We will not do that. We have stopped being soldiers for others, which Kurds have done throughout history,” he said as quoted by Hurriyet.
Salih Muslim also commented on the situation in the Syrian border town of Kobani, which has been under attack by Islamic State (IS) militants for weeks now. Kurds living in the city have repeatedly asked Turkey for help, however Ankara has refused to intervene in the conflict.
“They [Turkish authorities] do not need to give anything else but anti-tank weapons if they really want to help our people in the region,” he stated.
The Kurdish leader added that he will see a single-sided establishment of buffer zones in northern Syria proposed by Turkey as an occupation. However, he stated that if the zone is established in accordance with international agreements, then he would not raise any objections.
For the past several weeks, the IS militants have besieged Kobani, one of the largest towns in the Kurdish region of Syria bordering Turkey. More than 400 people have died in clashes between the IS and Kurdish fighters in Kobani, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Some 200,000 refugees have crossed into Turkey to flee the IS threat.
The Islamic State is a Sunni jihadist group that has been fighting the Syrian government since 2012. In June 2014, it launched an offensive in Iraq, seizing vast areas in both countries and announcing the establishment of an Islamic caliphate on the territories under its control.
Last year, public pressure played a big role in stopping US missile strikes on Syria. The biggest difference between then and now was that televisions weren’t telling people that ISIS might be coming to their neighborhood to behead them. There were other, smaller differences as well: Britain’s opposition, Russia’s opposition, and the difficulty of explaining to Americans that it now made sense to join a war on the same side as al Qaeda.
But there’s another big difference between last year and this year. Last year was not a Congressional election year. With elections coming this November, Congress declared an early vacation in September and fled town in order to avoid voting a new war up or down. It did this while fully aware that the President would proceed with the war illegally. Most Congress members, including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Leader Harry Reid, believe that by allowing a war to happen without explicitly voting for or against it they can best win our votes for re-election without offending their funders.
Congress members have good reason to think that way. Numerous organizations and individuals are dumping endless energy and resources into trying to elect either Democrats or Republicans, regardless of their policies. Big groups on the left have told me that they will not have any time for opposing war until the elections are over, at which point they’ll be happy to “hold accountable” any of the Democrats they’ve just reelected. There are organizations who do the same thing for Republicans.
When war was made the top election issue in exit polls in 2006, Democrats took power and their leader in the House, Rahm Emanuel, openly told the Washington Post that they would keep the war in Iraq going in order to campaign against it again in 2008. And so they did. Republicans elected opposing war in 2010 have been more rhetorical than substantive in their “opposition.”
The current war, and the endless war it is part of, must be opposed by people across the political spectrum who put peace ahead of party. ISIS has a one-hour video asking for this war. Giving it to them, and boosting their recruitment, is insanity. Ending insane policies is not a left or right position. This is a war that involves bombing the opposite side in Syria from the side we were told we had to bomb a year ago, and simultaneously arming the same side that the U.S. government is bombing. This is madness. To allow this to continue while mumbling the obvious truth that “there is no military solution” is too great an evil to fit into any lesser-evil electoral calculation.
This war is killing civilians in such large numbers that the White House has announced that restrictions on killing civilians will not be followed. This war is being used to strip away our rights at home. It’s draining our economy. It’s impoverishing us — primarily by justifying the routine annual spending of roughly $1 trillion on war preparations. It’s endangering us by generating further hatred. And all of this destruction, with no up-side to be found, is driven by irrational fear that has people telling pollsters they believe this war will endanger them and they’re in favor of it.
According to the Congressional Research Service 79% of weapons shipments to Middle Eastern countries are from the United States, not counting arms given to allies of ISIS or used by the US military. Rather than arming this region to the teeth and joining in wars with US weapons on both sides, the United States could arrange for and lead an arms embargo. It could also provide restitution for what it has done in recent years, including the destruction of Iraq that allowed the creation of ISIS. Making restitution in the form of actual aid (as opposed to “military aid”) would cost a lot less than lobbing $2 million missiles at people who view them as recruitment posters and tickets to martyrdom. That shift would also begin to make the United States liked rather than hated.
We won’t get there unless people whose souls are un-owned by political parties take over town hall meetings and let Congress members know that they must work to end this war if they want to earn our votes.
In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said, “Anything that flies on everything that moves”. As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.
As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.
According to Pol Pot, his movement had consisted of “fewer than 5,000 poorly armed guerrillas uncertain about their strategy, tactics, loyalty and leaders”. Once Nixon’s and Kissinger’s B52 bombers had gone to work as part of “Operation Menu”, the west’s ultimate demon could not believe his luck.
The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They levelled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left monstrous necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air. The terror was unimaginable. A former Khmer Rouge official described how the survivors “froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told… That was what made it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over.”
A Finnish Government Commission of Enquiry estimated that 600,000 Cambodians died in the ensuing civil war and described the bombing as the “first stage in a decade of genocide”. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot, their beneficiary, completed. Under their bombs, the Khmer Rouge grew to a formidable army of 200,000.
ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of some 700,000 people – in a country that had no history of jihadism. The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common. Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence.
Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda – like Pol Pot’s “jihadists” – seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of Shock and Awe and the civil war that followed. “Rebel” Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey. The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote recently, “The [Cameron] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy – and in particular our Middle East wars – had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.”
ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington and London who, in destroying Iraq as both a state and a society, conspired to commit an epic crime against humanity. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in “our” societies.
It is 23 years since this holocaust enveloped Iraq, immediately after the first Gulf War, when the US and Britain hijacked the United Nations Security Council and imposed punitive “sanctions” on the Iraqi population – ironically, reinforcing the domestic authority of Saddam Hussein. It was like a medieval siege. Almost everything that sustained a modern state was, in the jargon, “blocked” – from chlorine for making the water supply safe to school pencils, parts for X-ray machines, common painkillers and drugs to combat previously unknown cancers carried in the dust from the southern battlefields contaminated with Depleted Uranium.
Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Kim Howells, parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Blair government, explained why. “The children’s vaccines”, he said, “were capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction”. The British Government could get away with such an outrage because media reporting of Iraq – much of it manipulated by the Foreign Office – blamed Saddam Hussein for everything.
Under a bogus “humanitarian” Oil for Food Programme, $100 was allotted for each Iraqi to live on for a year. This figure had to pay for the entire society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. “Imagine,” the UN Assistant Secretary General, Hans Von Sponeck, told me, “setting that pittance against the lack of clean water, and the fact that the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of getting from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”
Disgusted, Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq. His predecessor, Denis Halliday, an equally distinguished senior UN official, had also resigned. “I was instructed,” Halliday said, “to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”
A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, found that between 1991 and 1998, the height of the blockade, there were 500,000 “excess” deaths of Iraqi infants under the age of five. An American TV reporter put this to Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the United Nations, asking her, “Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”
In 2007, the senior British official responsible for the sanctions, Carne Ross, known as “Mr. Iraq”, told a parliamentary selection committee, “[The US and UK governments] effectively denied the entire population a means to live.” When I interviewed Carne Ross three years later, he was consumed by regret and contrition. “I feel ashamed,” he said. He is today a rare truth-teller of how governments deceive and how a compliant media plays a critical role in disseminating and maintaining the deception. “We would feed [journalists] factoids of sanitised intelligence,” he said, “or we’d freeze them out.”
On 25 September, a headline in the Guardian read: “Faced with the horror of Isis we must act.” The “we must act” is a ghost risen, a warning of the suppression of informed memory, facts, lessons learned and regrets or shame. The author of the article was Peter Hain, the former Foreign Office minister responsible for Iraq under Blair. In 1998, when Denis Halliday revealed the extent of the suffering in Iraq for which the Blair Government shared primary responsibility, Hain abused him on the BBC’s Newsnight as an “apologist for Saddam”. In 2003, Hain backed Blair’s invasion of stricken Iraq on the basis of transparent lies. At a subsequent Labour Party conference, he dismissed the invasion as a “fringe issue”.
Now Hain is demanding “air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support” for those “facing genocide” in Iraq and Syria. This will further “the imperative of a political solution”. Obama has the same in mind as he lifts what he calls the “restrictions” on US bombing and drone attacks. This means that missiles and 500-pound bombs can smash the homes of peasant people, as they are doing without restriction in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia – as they did in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. On 23 September, a Tomahawk cruise missile hit a village in Idlib Province in Syria, killing as many as a dozen civilians, including women and children. None waved a black flag.
The day Hain’s article appeared, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck happened to be in London and came to visit me. They were not shocked by the lethal hypocrisy of a politician, but lamented the enduring, almost inexplicable absence of intelligent diplomacy in negotiating a semblance of truce. Across the world, from Northern Ireland to Nepal, those regarding each other as terrorists and heretics have faced each other across a table. Why not now in Iraq and Syria.
Like Ebola from West Africa, a bacteria called “perpetual war” has crossed the Atlantic. Lord Richards, until recently head of the British military, wants “boots on the ground” now. There is a vapid, almost sociopathic verboseness from Cameron, Obama and their “coalition of the willing” – notably Australia’s aggressively weird Tony Abbott – as they prescribe more violence delivered from 30,000 feet on places where the blood of previous adventures never dried. They have never seen bombing and they apparently love it so much they want it to overthrow their one potentially valuable ally, Syria. This is nothing new, as the following leaked UK-US intelligence file illustrates:
“In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces… a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals… a necessary degree of fear… frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention… the CIA and SIS should use… capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”
That was written in 1957, though it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes. Last year, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”
The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah. The obstacle is Turkey, an “ally” and a member of NATO, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian “rebels”, including those now calling themselves ISIS. Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.
A truce – however difficult to achieve – is the only way out of this imperial maze; otherwise, the beheadings will continue. That genuine negotiations with Syria should be seen as “morally questionable” (the Guardian ) suggests that the assumptions of moral superiority among those who supported the war criminal Blair remain not only absurd, but dangerous.
Together with a truce, there should be an immediate cessation of all shipments of war materials to Israel and recognition of the State of Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear. Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.
More than 40 years ago, the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia unleashed a torrent of suffering from which that country has never recovered. The same is true of the Blair-Bush crime in Iraq. With impeccable timing, Henry Kissinger’s latest self-serving tome has just been released with its satirical title, “World Order”. In one fawning review, Kissinger is described as a “key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter of a century”. Tell that to the people of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile, East Timor and all the other victims of his “statecraft”. Only when “we” recognise the war criminals in our midst will the blood begin to dry.
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The policies of the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are becoming more and more dangerous both in Syria and the whole Middle East.
Ankara has not only been promoting terrorist and extremist groups, alongside its sole ally in the region, Qatar, but it is now preparing an invasion of northern Syria.
Erdogan thinks that he has the right to invade and occupy territories of Turkey’s neighbors and ignore and violate the sovereignty of these Arab countries. He has supported terrorist organizations in Syria and allowed illegal oil trading by these groups, ignored Baghdad’s sovereignty over the Iraqi Kurdistan and its resources and insulted the Egyptian president in the United Nations.
The Erdogan government has long been a key supporter of ISIL, al-Nusra Front and some other terrorist organizations. However, Ankara is now trying to use ISIL advances towards its border as a pretext to illegally send troops to occupy a part of the northern Syrian territory without the authorization of the Syrian government. This is clearly a war act.
Turkish propaganda is invoking a false excuse, the humanitarian protection for Kurds fleeing the advance of ISIL, to promote the creation of a buffer zone and a no-fly zone in Syria.
The objective of this strategy is to weaken the Syrian state and give the Ankara-backed opposition armed groups a sanctuary from which they can launch attacks on the Syrian army and where the Turkish forces can train them.
On his return from New York, Erdogan unveiled some of the plans of the Turkish leadership, which explain the situation prevailing in northern Syria. “We must look to the events in Syria, not only from the angle of terrorism, but also from the angle of the Syrian regime”, he said.
He openly called for the creation of a buffer zone and a no-fly zone in northern Syria, while criticizing Germany’s decision to provide Peshmerga Kurdish forces fighting against ISIL in Iraq with arms, claiming that they could end up in the hands of terrorist organizations, according to the Turkish classification, such as PKK.
That is, from Erdogan’s point of view, the main enemy is not ISIL but the Syrian government and PKK, which are both fighting the ISIL terrorists.
It is noteworthy to point out that the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, has also claimed that Turkey opposes supplying the Iraqi army with weapons, because “95 percent” of the soldiers are Shiites, according to him.
Recently, Abdulkadir Selvi, journalist in the newspaper Yeni Safak, which is considered a leading pro-Erdogan outlet, said that Turkey will not take part in any air war or ground war with the coalition against ISIL in order to press the US to establish a buffer zone in Syria or allow Turkey to do so with its own warplanes and troops.
Erdogan is now using the events in the Kurdish town of Kobani to increase this pressure: If you do not allow me to send troops to Syria, Kobani will fall. This is Erdogan’s new strategy.
According to several media, Syrian Kurds are denouncing Erdogan’s plans. One of them, Binici Ibrahim, member of the Popular Democratic Party (HDP), has blamed Ankara for the situation in northern Syria due to its support for ISIL “The Turkish authorities are partly responsible for this situation. They protect ISIL, which is a terrorist organization”, Binici said, “Today they prevent young Kurds from returning to Syria to defend their territory.” “The Turkish government does not want to defend our city”, accused Mehmet Eminakma, another young HDP activist. “It crazily supports ISIL and not the Syrian people.”
Therefore, Ankara is trying to prevent young Syrian Kurds living in Turkey from returning and fighting against ISIL in order to create a humanitarian crisis and press ahead with its plans.
Facing this blackmail, the strategy of the Obama Administration is not clear. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has said that stopping ISIL terrorists in Kobani is not a priority because “the strategic objective of the US war is to attack ISIS infrastructure”.
This could mean that Washington understands the Turkish game and is unwilling to fall into the trap.
Nevertheless, on October 8, US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the UK and the US were “ready to examine the Turkish idea of setting up a buffer zone in Syria to protect refugees fleeing ISIL violence.” Kerry made the announcement in a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Washington DC.
“The buffer zone is an idea that is out there. It is worth examining. It is worth looking at very, very closely,” said Kerry. The US Secretary of State added that creating a buffer zone will be one of the issues General John Allen, President Barack Obama’s anti-ISIL envoy, will be discussing with Turkish officials during an upcoming meeting in Turkey.
Some months ago, Turkey sent some troops to protect the Tomb of Suleiman Shah, located 33 km from the border. According to Turkish media, the convoy entered the Syrian territory without asking permission of Damascus. The excuse was some alleged links between the site and the Ottoman history. If such an argument was acceptable, dozens of countries could use a similar pretext to invade other neighbouring states.
Obstacles for a Turkish intervention
However, there are some obstacles for a possible Turkish intervention. First of all, Syrian and Arab peoples remember the Ottoman occupation and they do not want to see the Turks return. Erdogan’s policies have outraged not only Syria and Iraq but also other states of the region. In fact, Jordan’s alleged decision to suspend its participation in the airstrikes in Syria has been linked by some Arab media to Turkish actions in this country.
Other countries, such as Egypt and United Arab Emirates, do not want a Turkish intervention in Syria either. They think that Turkish government, alongside with Qatar, is trying to mobilize its allies of the Muslim Brotherhood in northern Syria and this is a clear threat for these countries, which are battling this group in their territories.
Even Saudi Arabia, despite its hostility towards the Syrian government, will not likely be happy either, as the Saudi regime does not want a more powerful Brotherhood-supporting Turkey in the region.
Secondly, Syria and Iraq have rejected any military Turkish interference. Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar Abadi reiterated on October 7 to his Turkish counterpart, Ahmed Davutoglu, that Iraq rejects any ground intervention of foreign forces in his country under the pretext of fighting ISIL. Syria has also warned that any Turkish military deployment in its territory would be an “act of aggression”.
Thirdly, Iran and Russia have clearly stated that Syria is a red line and any aggression against Syria would violate their principles and interests. Russia will certainly block any project in the UN Security Council to create a buffer or a no-fly zone. Both countries would also respond to such a Turkish action. Russia has recently sent a new warship to the Mediterranean and has held military maneuvers in the Caspian Sea alongside with Iran in order to send a signal to Turkey.
In Turkey, a large part of the population strongly rejects Erdogan’s policies in the Middle East. Major Turkish opposition parties opposed a motion by AKP (Erdogan’s party) aimed at authorizing a military intervention in Syria and Iraq. The Republican People’s Party and Freedom and Democracy Party said that such a step would be “unacceptable”.
There have also been demonstrations in Istanbul and other cities against the government’s interference in Syria and its support for ISIL. On October 5th, 10,000 people marched in Istanbul behind banners proclaiming “ISIL killer; AKP accomplice”.
For the West, Erdogan’s Turkey is becoming a serious problem too. Turkey, a NATO member, is one of the main supporters of extremism in the Middle East, and its imperialist “neo-Otoman” dreams are endangering the whole region and feeding terrorism everywhere. Thus, it is not surprising that Erdogan has become the new hero of the extremist sites and forums in Internet.
However, a Turkish intervention in Syria would have dire consequences for both Erdogan and Turkey. He will soon discover everyone is against him and such a step would renew the fear of “the Otoman resurgence” among the Arab peoples. Therefore, it would become the last nail of the coffin of the Turkish leadership’s ambitions in the Middle East.
The 2nd conference “New Horizon: the International Conference of Independent Thinkers” was held in Tehran, September 29–October 1 2014, including over 30 journalists, writers and academics from around the world presenting papers and arguing issues of world geopolitics, with a focus on the Middle East. I came from Canada, along with University of Lethbridge Globalization Studies Professor Anthony Hall, author of Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism (2010). It was greeted in western media by hysterical denunciations; firstly, by the American Jewish Committee which accused it of “promoting hatred of Jews and Israel”, and the Anti-Defamation League which accused it of “promoting anti-Semitic propaganda”. The conference almost didn’t take place at all, having been officially cancelled, supposedly as a gesture to the West, after the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected last year. But after a flood of criticism on Iranian websites sympathetic to the organizers, the Iranian Foreign Ministry reversed itself. Nader Talebzadeh, the principle organizer, had had to lobby hard to reinstate the conference, calling the cancellation of the conference “a major mistake on the part of our government”.
“Have our leaders given in so much to the world that they are even afraid of a conference that might hurt Mr Obama’s feelings?” asked one blogger sarcastically.
The 1st New Horizon Conference in September 2012 was denounced in the West when it was addressed by the previous president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, probably best remembered in the West for his 2005 soundbyte that Israel should be “wiped off the map”, referring to Ayatollah Khomeini’s prediction that “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” The translation of the Persian text was later corrected but this was ignored in the West, where Ahmedinejad was further accused of “holocaust denial” for suggesting the figure of six million as the number of Jews who died in the holocaust was exaggerated, and he was mocked for suggesting that 9/11 was a conspiracy.
Indeed, most Iranians see 9/11 as involving some degree of conspiracy by the US and/or Israel, but then so do, for instance, 55% of Egyptians. So, not surprisingly, prominent at the New Horizon Conference this year was the world’s leading 9/11 conspiracy theorist, France’s Theirry Meyssan, who in 2002 published what is still considered the classic work on the topic, 9/11: The Big Lie (L’Effroyable imposture), translated into 28 languages, arguing that the attacks were organized by a faction of “the US military industrial complex in order to impose a military regime.” Meyssan also argues that the attack against the Pentagon was not carried out by a commercial airliner but by a missile. Also present was American filmmaker Art Olivier, who produced the feature film Operation Terror (2012), whose scenario followed Meyssan’s.
In a YouGov poll last year, 60% of Americans rejected the official explanation as published in the 9/11 Commission Report (2004), so Meyssan’s call for a UN investigation of 9/11 and the recent petition signed by 100,000 New Yorkers for an investigation of the collapse of World Trade Center building 7 are surely legitimate, though they have been blocked by politicians as “absolutely ridiculous” and “wild fantasies”.
Iran’s current President Rouhani was not associated directly with this year’s conference. Instead he was embroiled in a controversy with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who both extended his hand in friendship to Rouhani at the UN General Assembly in a “historic meeting”, and then slapped him in the face from the UN General Assembly podium, attacking Iran for its “support for terrorist organizations, its nuclear program, its treatment of its people”, calling it “part of the problem in the Middle East”.
“On the contrary,” said a peeved Rouhani in his address to the UN, blaming the West and Saudi Arabia for sowing the seeds of extremism in the Middle East with “strategic blunders” that have given rise to the Islamic State and other violent jihadist groups. He also criticized the West’s sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program and reiterated his government’s desire to resolve the dispute, stating that no cooperation with the West against ISIS is possible until the sanctions are lifted. He called Cameron’s comments at the UN “wrong and unacceptable.”
Appropriately, the New Horizon Conference opened with the book launch of the Persian edition of US journalist Gareth Porter’s Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (2014). Porter told me:
Through painstaking checking with experts and an IAEA official, I discovered that the documents submitted to the IAEA, which supposed showed Iranian plans to put nuclear warheads on their missiles, were fabricated by the terrorist group People’s Mojahedin of Iran and were passed on the IAEA by Mossad. They were contradictory—clearly doctored blueprints for an obsolete missile system.
Porter was awarded the UK Gellhorn Prize for investigative journalism in 2012 for exposing official lies concerning US policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With this latest expose, Porter did for the Iranian nuclear dossier what he and others did after 2003 in exposing the lies that prompted the US invasion of Iraq.
The sessions were varied. “The Gaza War and the BDS Movement Strategies” was addressed by Code Pink activist Medea Benjamin, who has been arrested dozens of time for her plucky protests at Congressional hearings against the war in Iraq, and who famously interrupted a speech by President Barack Obama in May 2013 protesting his continued use of drones against civilians. (She is barred from entering Canada.) Benjamin suggested a new project to highlight illegal Israeli settlements: activists hope to target one of the largest US-based real estate firms, RE/MAX, which “operates in over 90 countries, including Israel, where it sells homes complete with swimming pools in the West Bank to Israeli settlers in defiance of international law.” Every Sunday tens of thousands of “open houses” are held by RE/MAX around the world. Benjamin hopes activists will picket these open houses to embarrass RE/MAX into ceasing their West Bank activities. A session on Islam and the West, “Postsecularism and its Discontents”, emphasized the importance of ethics in Islamic civilization which makes subservience to market diktat unacceptable, and is a major stumbling block to understanding between the West and the Muslim world. “There is no teleology in western society, no guiding morality, only an obsession with materialism, with logos,” argued organizer Arash Darya-Bandari. “We believe it is necessary to control the negative tendencies in culture, such as pornography, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, to strive towards a more moral and justice society.”
“The ‘Islamic’ State Meme, its Precursors, and the US-Israel-Saudi Triangle” heard frontline reports from Meyssan and others about the intentional destruction of the Iraqi and Syrian states by the invasion of Iraq and ongoing western and Israeli support for insurgents in Syria, directly resulting in ISIS’s phenomenal success. “The West has abetted Sunni-Shia differences in the process to keep Muslims divided and allow continued western penetration and control of the growing chaos there,” charged Meyssan. Rouhani’s comment at the UN—“Certain intelligence agencies [who] have put blades in the hands of madmen, who now spare no one,”—is hard to argue with.
In the session “The Israeli Lobby in England”, Stephen Sizer, Anglican vicar and author of Christian Zionism—Road Map to Armageddon? (2004), explained that the vast majority of Zionists are not Jewish, but Christian. This prompted him in 2006 to draft what became known as the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism, signed by four of the Heads of Churches, declaring Christian Zionism a heretical belief, both immoral and a contradiction of faith. The rector of the University of Middlesex was pressured to rescind Sizer’s PhD but the examination committee wouldn’t budge. Nor has Sizer been cowed by constant harassment, including a break-in and the theft of his computer. At the same time, on his visits to Tehran, Sizer lobbies on behalf of Iranian religious minorities and always brings Persian-language New Testaments as “gifts”. “My intent is to show the Iranians that genuine Christians are not a threat to anyone, but bring the message of peace and love.”
Contrary to the shrill cries in the western media that the conference was anti-Semitic, it was unique in my experience in addressing Zionism and US imperialism forthrightly and intelligently, without a hint of racism. The issue of anti-Semitism was addressed and dismissed, as “There is no issue with Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” explained Darya-Bandari, “but rather with Zionism, that secular distortion of Judaism that itself is racist, and has been used as a pretext to dispossess and kill Palestinians.”
The American Defense League loudly attacked the conference for focusing on Zionist control of western media and the outsize influence of the Zionist Lobby in the US and around the world. So what’s wrong with that? There is more than enough documented proof of this, as I discover when I researched Postmodern Imperialism. The ADL labelled several of the delegates as anti-Semitic, including ex-US Marine Ken O’Keefe, who has led several relief convoys to Gaza, has appeared several times on BBC’s Hardtalk in support of Gaza, and famously renounced his US citizenship in view of US crimes around the world. It should be remembered that the ADL was successfully sued in the 1990s for false accusations of anti-Semitism.
The conference issued a resolution condemning ISIS, Zionism, US unconditional support of Israel, Islamophobia, and calling for activism locally to boycott Israeli goods and to promote understanding between the West and the Muslim world, and to fight sectarianism. “This was a great opportunity to meet anti-imperialist activists from around the world, to bring Russians, Poles, western Europeans, North Americans together with Iranians and other Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, in a forum without sectarianism, truly supporting peace and understanding,” said delegate Mateusz Piskorski, director of the European Centre of Geopolitical Analysis in Warsaw and former MP in the Polish Sejm.
Who is to blame for the proliferation of extremist groups in Syria? The West often points a finger at Assad and his allies, but two secret US documents tell a different story.
It is difficult to find US officials directly claiming that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in league with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but you will find plenty who will allude to it using specious reasoning:
US Secretary of State John Kerry is one of many who have sought to encourage this narrative:
“There is evidence that Assad has played footsie with them (ISIL), and he has used them as a tool of weakening the opposition. He never took on their headquarters, which were there and obvious, and other assets that they have. So we have no confidence that Assad is either capable of or willing to take on ISIL.”
That logic forms the basis of several key arguments used by Syria’s opponents to suggest a covert and symbiotic relationship between the Syrian government and Islamist extremists. They go something like this:
• Assad encouraged the growth of militants to create an either-or dilemma for Syrians who want him deposed, but who fear “what comes next.”
• Assad released militants from prison in 2011 so that they would overwhelm secular moderates.
• Proof of this is that the Syrian Army does not attack ISIL targets.
• Assad has a close history with militants – he sent hundreds over the border into Iraq to join the insurgency against US forces and is now suffering blowback.
But as a global confrontation with ISIL mounts, an entirely different picture has begun to emerge. The US-led coalition’s five Arab Sunni partners are providing little less than fig-leaf cover for airstrike operations. NATO has been unable to wrest – to date – a commitment from Turkey to enforce serious border security to stop militants from crossing over into Iraq and Syria. In recent weeks, Western media has unleashed a flurry of articles pointing to Qatar’s role in funding extremists.
Clearly, America’s Sunni Arab and Turkish allies are approaching the “ISIL Project”’ with something less than enthusiasm.
On Thursday, US Vice President Joe Biden let the cat out of the bag. During a speech at Harvard University, Biden told his audience:
“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks… the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world … we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.”
He, of course, failed to mention Washington’s own arming, training and funding activities coordinated with these very same allies. Predictably, Biden was forced to “apologize” for his undiplomatic comments over the weekend.
But just last month, during a hearing in the US Senate for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, Senator Lindsey Graham asked: “Do you know of any major Arab ally that embraces ISIL?”
To the surprise of many, Dempsey countered: “I know of major Arab allies who fund them.”
The revelations keep flowing from once tight-lipped Western sources. According to US news reports, current and former officials now say wealthy Gulf donors are the source of early funding:
“These rich individuals have long served as ‘angel investors’ for the most violent militants in the region, providing the ‘seed money’ that helped launch ISIS and other jihadi groups… Former U.S. Navy Admiral and NATO Supreme Commander James Stavridis says the cash flow from private donors is significant now and was even more significant in the early fund-raising done by ISIS and al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front,” NBC’s Robert Windrem wrote in an article.
And on Saturday, the UK’s former Assistant Chief of the Defense Staff General Jonathan Shaw, who specialized in counter-terrorism and security policy and retired in 2012, told The Telegraph :
“This is a time bomb that, under the guise of education, Wahhabi Salafism is igniting under the world really. And it is funded by Saudi and Qatari money and that must stop.”
The ‘Assad-has-encouraged-extremism’ argument
Has the Syrian government exploited extremism while at the same time fighting a three-year nationwide military campaign to thwart it? Perhaps. Politics are opportunistic by nature.
But the narrative about Assad encouraging Islamist militancy has always failed to note the historic role of armed Islamists in Syrian “rebellions.”
A US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document that was declassified in 2012 provides a starkly different reading of events leading up to the controversial “Hama massacre” of 1982. It tells a story remarkably similar to events in Syria beginning in early 2011. Here is a montage of quotes from the document:
“In early 1979, encouraged by the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood developed a plan to trigger a similar popular revolution in Syria to oust (Hafez) Assad. The massacre of 50 Alawite cadets, on 16 June 1979 at the Artillery School in Aleppo, signaled the start of the MB offensive.”
The Syrian MB regroups for a “new round of fighting” in late 1980, announces the formation of an “Islamic Front”’ and increases cooperation with the Sunni (Baathist) government of Iraq which had helped the MB covertly in 1979-80 to oust Assad.
“The plan, apparently developed by the leadership of the Syrian MB and probably coordinated with Iraq, centered on two complementary actions. The first was a full-scale revolt by the city of Hama, a traditional Brotherhood stronghold and the location of its covert headquarters in Syria. Once this rebellion was unleashed, similar uprisings were to take place in Aleppo, Damascus and other major cities, accompanied by a general strike designed to paralyze Syria…”
“Simultaneously, a sophisticated worldwide propaganda campaign was to be launched supporting the rebellion and emphasizing its victories and the wholesale desertion of Army units to the rebel side. Press releases were to be made in Europe and the US, while propaganda broadcasts against Syria were to be carried by the Phalange-controlled Voice of Lebanon and the Iraqi-controlled Voice of Arab Syria.”
“At least 100 militants were transported from Jordan, where they had taken refuge, into Iraq where they probably received training prior to their movement into Syria… Sometime after this, the infiltration of ‘Secret Apparatus’ militants began from staging areas in Iraq, and to a lesser degree from Turkey, where others had fled. During the interim period, a number of terrorist bombings and shootings took place in Syria to demonstrate the Brotherhood/dissident Alawites ability to strike at the government.”
“As a result of Syrian security actions, the MB was forced to prematurely unleash the Hama rebellion with the hope that it might spark widespread fighting in other cities… The rebellion would also force the Damascus government to become even more oppressive. The Brotherhood leadership believed this would, in turn, cause greater alienation of the Assad government from the Sunni Muslim majority and within the Alawite community.”
“On February 2, following a clash between the MB and Syrian security forces, the loudspeakers atop the mosque minarets in Hama called on the people to begin a Jihad (Holy Struggle) against the government. The appeal also told the people that arms were available at specified mosques. At about the same time, teams of the MB’s ‘Secret Apparatus,’ some in army uniforms, moved to attack preselected government targets in the city.”
“Despite the propaganda reporting, the uprising in Syria had never spread outside of Hama, although some limited bombings had taken place in Damascus and elsewhere… The total casualties for the Hama incident probably number about 2,000. This includes an estimated 300-400 of the Muslim Brotherhood’s elite ‘Secret Apparatus’… The Syrian dissidents’ modus operandi will continue to be terrorism, particularly bombings and assassinations.”
WikiLeaks: Syria’s government and terrorism
On February 24, 2010, a Cable classified as ‘Secret’ was dispatched from the US Embassy in Damascus to the CIA, DIA, National Security Council, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Office of Homeland Security and a smattering of key US embassies in the Middle East and Europe.
It details the communications between Syria’s General Intelligence Director (GID) Ali Mamlouk who dropped in on a meeting between Syria’s Vice Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad and a US delegation, headed by State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin.
The participants discuss possible future security and intelligence cooperation on issues related to terrorism, particularly on the Syria-Iraq border.
What is notable about this US-framed communiqué is that the American delegation does not take any of the Syrian officials in the room to task for “encouraging and coordinating” the passage of extremist fighters from Syria into Iraq to participate in an insurgency against US forces. This accusation has become a key narrative advanced by Washington in recent years, so why not challenge the Syrians face-to-face when the opportunity is there?
According to the Cable, Benjamin says “the two countries should still work to cooperate on immediate threats facing both the U.S. and Syria, including the proliferation of takfiri groups in the region, such as al-Qaeda, and stopping the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.”
The Syrian response? According to the US Cable:
“Mamlouk said the foreign fighters come from a large number of Arab and Muslim countries and that the Syrians detain ‘large numbers plus their local facilitators.’ As an example, Mamlouk said he handed over 23 Saudis detained in Syria to Saudi Prince Muqrin last year.”
The US delegation even acknowledges the fact that the Syrians have been helpful:
“Benjamin commended Mamlouk on reducing the flow of foreign fighters, while encouraging further progress.”
And the Syrians offer additional cooperation, provided that Damascus takes the lead in these efforts:
“Miqdad interjected that the issue of foreign fighters using Syrian soil is a matter of national security for Syria. ‘We have zero tolerance,’ he said. Miqdad said Syria needs the cooperation of other countries, namely those from which the terrorists are coming. ‘If we can close this circle – with us, you, and other countries – we will succeed,’ he concluded.”
The Cable does reveal some interesting information about Syrian strategies in dealing with terrorism, which Mamlouk says differs considerably from the American approach:
“The GID Director said Syria had been more successful than the U.S. and other countries in the region in fighting terrorist groups because ‘we are practical and not theoretical.’ He stated Syria’s success is due to its penetration of terrorist groups. ‘In principle, we don’t attack or kill them immediately. Instead, we embed ourselves in them and only at the opportune moment do we move.’ Describing the process of planting embeds in terrorist organizations as ‘complex,’ Mamlouk said the result had yielded been the detention of scores of terrorists, stamping out terror cells, and stopping hundreds of terrorists from entering Iraq.
Mamlouk acknowledged some terrorists were still slipping into Iraq from Syria. ‘By all means we will continue to do all this, but if we start cooperation with you it will lead to better results and we can better protect our interests,’ he concluded.”
War of words
The tactics described by Mamlouk explain, in part, why Syrian forces today do not typically launch assaults on terrorist groups unless there is an immediate and direct threat to its military strategy of maintaining control over key areas and disrupting rebel supply lines.
While groups like ISIL are viewed as a security threat, they have not always posed an imminent one.
For the better part of the Syrian conflict, ISIL has not controlled the “priority zones” of the Syrian Army.
Those areas have always been Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama and their surrounding countryside (Rif), with Quseir and Qalamoun, Daraa, Tal Kalakh and other border towns playing an important role. When ISIL fighters have been present in those areas, the Syrian Army has fought them – as in Qalamoun and the Damascus suburbs.
In early 2014, pro-opposition writer and researcher A.J. Tamimi questioned in detail accusations of collaboration between the Syrian government and ISIL/al Nusra. Among his many points, Tamimi notes:
“One must ask what the regime would gain strategically by constantly bombing ISIS strongholds in Raqqa province, or ISIS strongholds elsewhere, for that matter, located far beyond the frontlines. As in the wider east of Syria, the regime lacks ground forces to launch an offensive to retake any territory in Raqqa province, and must depend on airlifts from elsewhere to maintain its remaining airbases. Hence, the regime is focusing its airstrikes where it has some real expectations of advancing: most notably in Aleppo city.”
Nevertheless, the Syrian air force did take immediate action when ISIL escalated in Mosul in June, which changed the geopolitical dynamic well beyond the Syrian-Iraqi border. Kerry is misleading when he suggests that Assad will not strike ISIL headquarters: this is about timing and gains from both a military and political perspective – not necessarily a response that trigger-happy Americans can understand.
As for accusations that the Syrians have released militants from their prisons to “populate” ideologically extremist rebel groups that will make Assad look like an angel… You can’t have it both ways – political prisoner releases were initiated to defuse conflict and demonstrate leniency. Were some of these prisoners “extremists” of the variety that man Islamist rebel groups? Almost certainly. But that was the Sunni constituency that the Syrian government was also trying to placate in the early days.
Even today, after grueling “reconciliation” negotiations, the Syrian government is allowing these very rebels to “go free” after they lay down their arms – this, according to volunteers involved in negotiations from Homs to Rif Damascus. What is to stop these same “reformed rebels” from hopping over to al-Raqqa and taking up bigger arms? Should the Syrian government kill them instead? How does one win in a situation like this?
Critics of Syria’s prisoner releases should be reminded of the “Big One” carried out by the Americans in 2009 when they allegedly freed future ISIL ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from an Iraqi prison.
Does anyone have the right to point fingers after that monumental gaff? The fact is – from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, from Turkey to the United States, from Iraq to France – there appears to be plenty of complicity in fueling ISIL and the jihadi phenomenon. Is Syria complicit too? It depends who is asking – and why.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She tweets @snarwani
MOSCOW – Ekaterina Blinova – 38 years ago, on October 6, 1976, Cubana Airlines Flight 455 was downed by terrorists, only now known to be CIA operatives; experts further claim it was not the only case when CIA was sponsoring terrorists.
“The US Government, being consistent with its stated commitment to fight terrorism, should act without double standards against those who, from US soil, have carried out terrorist acts against Cuba,” said Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to Barbados Lisette Perez, as cited by the Barbados Advocate, during the ceremony of commemorating the victims at the Cubana Monument at Paynes Bay, Barbados.
The sudden explosion of two bombs onboard Cubana Flight 455, traveling between Havana and Panama, led to the plane’s crash, killing all 73 passengers and five crew members.
“For the past three months, Dr. Castro’s opponents in the US have waged a terrorist campaign in the Caribbean against those who break bread with the Cuban leader,” the Guardian wrote on October 8, 1976, reporting on the tragic accident. The media source noted that a previous attempt to place explosives on the plane was carried out in July, 1976, when a suitcase bomb exploded just before it was loaded onto the plane. In the same month the “office of a Trinidad airline was bombed in Barbados and a mysterious fire in Guyana destroyed a large quantity of Cuban-supplied fishing equipment,” the Guardian wrote.
According to the media outlet, the terror acts were presumably conducted by right-wing Cuban exiles and were aimed at states with political and economic ties with Cuba. Four suspects, Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, Freddy Lugo and Hernan Ricardo Lozano were arrested. In August 1985, Bosch was acquitted because of the lack of evidence, while Posada fled from prison under mysterious circumstances on the eve of the announcement of his verdict. Both Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch later ended up in the US.
Remarkably, in May 2005 the National Security Archive, an independent non-profit organization at George Washington University, released declassified CIA and FBI documents, indicating Cuban exile Luis Posada was a former CIA agent and a mastermind of the terror attack on Cubana Airlines flight 455. It was also revealed Posada was linked to a series of bombing in Barbados in 1976. Additional CIA records confirmed Posada indeed served as an agent in the 1960s and early 1970s and worked as an informant until June 1976. Posada was on a payroll, “receiving approximately $300.00 per month from CIA,” according to the FBI’s Memorandum, written on July 14, 1966. In that period, Posada was involved in military activities directed against Fidel Castro. Particularly, under the guidance of the US intelligence services he organized a military base in the Dominican Republic, drawing in fighters from different anti-Castro organizations.
According to the declassified CIA report, dated June 21, 1976, the US intelligence service was informed by Posada, allegedly, that Orlando Bosch, the leader of extremist Cuban exile group was planning to place two bombs on a board of a Cubana Airlines Flight, traveling between Havana and Panama. The US security agency did not inform the authorities of Barbados, which in 1970s granted Cuba stopover rights for its passenger planes flying to Africa, nor did they warned Havana about the preplanned terrorist act.
Furthermore, in July of 1990, US President George H.W. Bush pardoned Orlando Bosch of all American charges and rejected an extradition request to those seeking to arrest Bosch for his terrorist activities. Interestingly enough, the Cuban terrorist was exempted from charges at the request of Jeb Bush, a Potential 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate. Washington had also refused to extradite Luis Posada to Venezuela, under the pretext that he could face torture and mistreatment there.
The National Security Archive cited Peter Kornbluh, the Director of the Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project, who warned in 2005 that Posada’s presence in the US “poses a direct challenge to the Bush administration’s terrorism policy.” Although Bush claimed that no nation should shelter terrorists, surprisingly, the White House provided asylum to the murderers responsible for terrorist crimes against peaceful civilians.
Experts assert that the policy is mutable when Washington and its intelligence services use their own terrorists in order to threaten and undermine “disagreeable regimes.” For instance, political analysts point to the fact that ISIL fighters were trained in NATO camps located in Jordan and Turkey. The assistance, provided by the US to the so-called “Syrian opposition,” was aimed to oust Syria’s President al-Assad. In fact the Islamic State “was actually an integrated part of the ‘opposition movement’ supported, trained and financed by the West and its regional allies,” notes Andre Vltchek, an investigative journalist. Former CIA analyst Kenneth M. Pollack confirms that the US was carrying out military training of anti-Assad rebels in Jordan and Turkey in his article “An Army to Defeat Assad,” published in August 2014 in Foreign Affairs magazine. Some experts insist that the IS plot is a pretext for a large-scale military operation against Syria and Bashar al-Assad.