The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written in his latest piece: “Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria? This is a time for Trump to be Trump — utterly cynical and unpredictable. ISIS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shiite Iranian militias — because ISIS is a Sunni terrorist group that plays as dirty as Iran and Russia… Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbollah’s and Russia’s headache — the same way we encouraged the mujahedeen fighters to bleed Russia in Afghanistan…”
The daily and the columnist enjoy reputations as old warhorses empathising with Israeli interests. The probability is that Friedman is advancing Israel’s project to refuel the US’ stalled project of ‘regime change’ in Syria. Israel is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the swathe of Syrian territory bordering its ‘occupied territories’ in the Golan Heights remain in the hands of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Israel nurtured these groups to create a buffer zone between the Syrian territory it illegally occupies and where Damascus’ writ ends.
The Israeli attacks on Syrian forces operating near Golan Heights are becoming more frequent. Another major attack took place two days ago. Every time Israel attacks Syrian government assets, it provides an alibi, but in reality these attacks coincide with Syrian government operations against al-Qaeda and ISIS groups. Clearly, Israel intervenes to protect its al-Qaeda and ISIS proxies.
Friedman’s piece falls into perspective. On two occasions in recent weeks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced unease that the US may rekindle the regime change agenda in Syria and give it precedence over the fight against the ISIS. He said on April 12:
- US-led coalition only delivered strikes on selected ISIS positions. Jabhat al-Nusra has always been spared. We strongly suspect, and nobody has dispelled this suspicion so far, that al-Nusra is being spared so as to enact Plan B to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime. I have mentioned the potential consequences of such an action. We have seen this in Iraq and Libya. I hope that those who can draw lessons from history will prevail.
Two days back, Lavrov again warned against a “return to the old plan for changing the Syrian government.” Of course, the US’ strategy to use ‘jihadi’ groups as geopolitical tools dates back to the CIA’s Afghan war in the eighties. The former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned repeatedly about such a scenario repeating, with ISIS furthering the US’ plan to weaken Russian influence in Central Asia.
All this draws attention to India’s policies toward Israel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Israel in June. Modi is on record that one main purpose of his visit is to buttress the interests of Gujarati diamond merchants who have lucrative business dealings with Israel. Presumably, fat cats who thrive on kickbacks from Israeli arms deals and our security experts struggling with the ‘Intifada’ in J&K are also stakeholders in Modi’s Israel trip.
However, Modi should have a frank conversation with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Israel’s clandestine dealings with the Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Our intelligence agencies are constantly planting stories in the Indian newspapers highlighting the ISIS threat to India’s security, with a focus on the Malabar region. Praveen Swamy of Indian Express has been copiously reproducing such raw intelligence reports. (here, here, here and here) Such sensational reports cannot be totally dismissed as rumor-based fear-mongering garbage propagated by interest groups within the Indian establishment to raise the bogey of a ‘Kerala Islamic State’ (to borrow a colourful expression from Swamy) who aim at Hindu-Muslim polarization in the southern state.
Incidentally, Fox News reported last week that the ISIS is shifting its ‘capital’ from Raqqa to Dier es-Zor to the south, closer to the Israeli border. The American drones spotted ISIS convoys heading for Dier es-Zor but didn’t interdict them – presumably because of Israeli interests involved. (It is useful to recall that last September, US and Israel had attacked the Syrian military base in Dier es-Zor to ‘degrade’ it just hours before a major ISIS offensive to capture it.)
According to Swamy, our Malabari radicals fighting for ISIS eventually hope to return home to take revenge on the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. And yet, clearly, ISIS in Syria serves Israeli interests. Suffice it to say, Israel’s unholy alliance with Al-Qaeda and ISIS seriously undermines India’s security interests and it is only proper that Modi makes a strong demarche with Netanyahu regarding Israel’s indirect backing for the radicalization of our region. We can forgo diamond trade but not national security.
At least 126 people, including 68 children, were killed and dozens of others sustained injuries on bus attack which happened this last Saturday.
Little media attention has been given to the horrific attack which saw a bomber blow up an explosive-laden car, ripping through multiple buses carrying evacuees from Kefraya and Foua villages in Idlib, as they were waiting in al-Rashidin district to enter the city of Aleppo.
CNN reporter Nick Patton Walsh covered the attack, referring to the massive car bombing as a “hiccup”.
68 “beautiful babies” were murdered in this ISIS-Al Qaeda attack.
US President Trump has yet to issue a statement or call for a Tomahawk missile strike against the “moderate rebels”.
US/EU sanctions against ISIS-Al Qaeda sponsors Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have yet to be enforced.
I’m no expert about Syria, so why these blogposts? The initial stimulus was realising that people of good will and similar ethics can have some markedly contrasting views of the situation in Syria. This was a puzzle to me. And given the gravity of what’s at stake, I felt an obligation to try and solve it.
The basic disagreement could not be explained by familiar sorts of political bias. It cuts across left-right and authoritarian-libertarian lines; a person’s stance on it can not even be predicted by their stance, say, on Palestine, or Cuba. Attitudes to Russia can be a better indicator, but if my own case is anything to go by, this has nothing particularly to do with political views and is anyway an effect rather than a cause. What Putin says about Syria tends to resonate with what I’ve come to think; I have never thought that any statement was true because Putin made it. I also just don’t think it very intellectually mature or responsible to suppose that something is false because he says it!
Still, it is understandable that people would rather accept the consensus view of our news outlets, especially since it is echoed by the vast majority of our politicians and opinion formers, along with NGOs like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and MSF. They present Assad as the problem in Syria and regime change as the solution.
The general public do not perceive that view as a controversial one. It seems established beyond the range of normal political debate that ‘Assad must go’. ‘Assad’s regime’ is regarded, like Hitler’s, as beyond the pale of reasonable disagreement. The only kind of debate there can be on this basis is whether Assad is as bad as Hitler. In fact, US spokesperson Sean Spicer recently suggested Hitler was less bad.
As karma would have it, the hapless Spicer also let us know, with a slip of the tongue, that America’s “first goal is to destabilise Syria”.
Should we believe the official narrative or the one that, while suppressed, still sometimes slips out? I have asked this question of reports from Channel 4, from BBC, from Amnesty International, from Doctors Without Borders, and from UK Government. I’ve shared my findings in the five blogs respectively linked. I have concluded that none of those reports provides credible evidence to support the mainstream account of what has been happening in Syria these past six years.
I ask nobody to take my word for it, though, and I would urge everybody, who gets the chance, to look more closely for yourself. This is not a matter on which any established authority should simply be assumed reliable.
It is not a matter of normal political loyalties. On Syria I now have more faith in the views of Peter Hitchens or Peter Oborne writing in the Daily Mail, for instance, than in those of George Monbiot in the Guardian; I got blocked on Twitter by Paul Mason for asking an awkward question; I’ve even questioned the wisdom of a statement by Caroline Lucas (here). I feel all the more resolutely ecologically socialist for recognising that independently conservative thought can sometimes be more astutely resistant than that of progressives to the deceptions of a delinquent neoliberal globalism.
The issue here is not a normal part of political argument. Politics can even serve to distract us from what I believe is a serious matter of truth against war. The agenda underlying foreign states’ investment in the war in Syria is continuous with what came to fruition in Iraq and Libya. We have good reasons to fear that it will lead on to a still more catastrophic confrontation with Iran and even Russia.
Perhaps that’s why those who do not accept the mainstream narrative can be presented as ‘siding with the Russians’, who don’t want war either! But I’d go further and say there are people of no nation on this planet who want war. That is why we should not let ourselves be deceived into thinking that anything we truly want can only be achieved at the price of war.
As for the war in Syria, please don’t believe me. Please just don’t let yourself be deceived. This is too important, not only for you and me, but for our children, and everyone else too. Please ask questions about who wants war and why, and please then think about how they can be stopped from getting it.
Who do I believe? I tend to believe those I find sincere and whose statements are coherent, consistent, and not belied by their actions. I believe ISIS when they say they want to destroy the Syrian secular state and create their caliphate. I believe Al Qaeda and the multitude of other Islamist terror organisations that threaten terrible violence of the kind they routinely execute. I believe the ordinary people who live in Syria and say they just want to be left to live their lives in peace. I find I also believe, on the basis of scores of interviews I’ve now seen, that the Syrian president is doing all he can to fulfill the wish of the latter against threats of the former. I believe his claims that the foreign states’ regime change agenda has nothing to do with trying to do right by the Syrian people. If that makes me an ‘Assad Apologist’, I make no apology. For anyone who thinks Iraq or Libya today have better governance than Syria’s government-protected areas do is not someone I would feel capable of debating with. Of course, Syria could do a lot better still, and the Syrian people should be free to choose their government. My instinct, for what it’s worth, tells me that Bashar Al Assad and the First Lady Asma Al Assad long for such a day to come. But the nation’s sovereignty has first to be fully restored.
I have stopped believing reports about Syria from Amnesty International, an organisation I actively supported for two decades. For no report I have seen produces credible evidence to support its claims about the war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Syrian government. I illustrate this here, and here, and I further show how the organisation has been captured by people with no interest in human rights here. I fear there seems to be a similar problem even in some parts of MSF’s organisation. As for the news outlets, with almost nobody on the ground, they provide little coverage of areas that are under legitimate government, while, from occupied areas, they rely heavily on terrorist sources like Al Qaeda, under its various rebrandings. And our government? It provides funds, weapons and training for Al Qaeda. Some of this goes into the PR campaign sustained as White Helmets. If you are inclined to believe what the White Helmets say, then I suggest you watch the Oscar-winning documentary about them and ask yourself one simple question: where are the terrorists? I assume that anyone who is reading these words does not need me to make any comment about poor little Bana Alabed. But you might know people who do, so please be gentle with them. We are all at different stages of learning about how we are misled.
Russian Defence Minsitry: No one has asked for antidotes or medicines around location of alleged Idlib chemical attack
A puzzling new development has emerged in the aftermath of the alleged chemical weapons incident in Syria’s Idlib Governorate from the 4th of April.
Since the incident, apparently no one in the Khan Shaykhun area in question has asked for any antidotes for exposure to toxic sarin gas, the chemical allegedly deployed on the 4th of April.
Many have consequently questioned whether the images presented of sarin gas victims were entirely inauthentic.
Thus far, the only video of the alleged attack’s aftermath have been provided by the White Helmets, an organisation widely exposed as fraudulent, comprising known and open supporters of al-Qaeda factions in Syria.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov has described the rather strange and incongruous developments at the location of the alleged attack over the last weeks,
“The impact zone in Khan Shaykhun, from where locals had to be evacuated, has not been identified. The town is living its life. Neither locals nor pseudo-rescuers have even asked for medicines, antidotes, (nor) decontaminants.
It is clear that, as in Iraq and Libya, there are simply no plans to carry out a qualified investigation in Khan Shaykhun by the current ‘schemers’ of the chemical attack”.
“It has been exactly two weeks after the incident with the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun. However, the only ‘proof’ of the use of chemical weapons remain only two White Helmets videos”.
These revelations may indicate that the incident was more than even a false flag, it may have been a false attack in totality.
The reverberations of the US missile attack in Syria on Thursday are inexorably felt in the geopolitical arena. A series of developments through the weekend signals that the Syrian conflict is entering a new phase. The most consequential development was a phone conversation Sunday afternoon between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, at the latter’s initiative, to discuss the emergent situation in Syria and in the region.
Earlier in the day, Rouhani also had spoken with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to assure him of full Iranian support. On a parallel track, the Iranian and Syrian military chiefs also confabulated on Sunday. Prior to that on Saturday, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri and the Russian Chief of General Staff General Valeri Gerasimov discussed the Syrian situation. They vowed to continue their military cooperation in support of Assad “until the total defeat of the terrorists and those that support them” (according to the Iranian news agency.)
Again, on Saturday the chiefs of the Iranian and Russian national security councils, Admiral Ali Shamkhai and Nikolai Patrushev held a phone conversation to discuss Syria. Shamkhani hinted at intelligence available with Tehran that the chemical attack in Idlib on April 4 was executed “by a third party in order to create a pretext for carrying out a (US) military attack on Syria.”
Broadly, Moscow and Tehran have voiced identical demands that an independent investigation must be conducted on the chemical attack in Idlib to establish the culpability. Both have strongly condemned the US missile attack as an act of “aggression” and a violation of the UN Charter and international law.
The text of today’s Kremlin statement is reproduced below:
- On the initiative of the Iranian party a phone conversation between Vladimir Putin and President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani was held. … [The presidents] exchanged their views of the situation in Syria.
- Both parties pointed out the inadmissibility of US aggressive actions against the sovereign state in violation of the international law. Putin and Rouhani called for holding an objective, impartial investigation of all circumstances of the incident involving chemical weapons in the Syrian province of Idlib on April 4.
- Particular importance was paid to the key aspects of the bilateral cooperation in the sphere of counterterrorism, a readiness to deepen cooperation in order to ensure stability in the Middle East was expressed.
- The Leaders also noted the importance to continue close cooperation on political and diplomatic settlement of the armed conflict in Syria.
The statement hints at an intensification of the Russian-Iranian military operations in Syria. The intention could be to accelerate the liberation of areas still under the control of ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliates. Importantly, Idlib province bordering Turkey is one such priority area. The extremist groups ensconced in Idlib still enjoy the backing of Turkey, and some of them used to be the CIA’s proxy groups.
Secondly, it is more than likely that discussions have taken place as to how to counter any future US attacks in Syria. Iranian media linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reported today on a statement by the so-called Syria-Iran-Russia Joint Operations Room, which coordinates the military strategies in Syria. The statement warned that any future US aggression will be “given a lethal response”. It said, “We will respond to any aggression powerfully, as Russia and Iran would never allow the US to dominate the world.”
Significantly, the latest Iranian statements have referred to strategic cooperation among Iran, Syria, Russia and the “resistance front”. Today’s Kremlin statement pointedly touched on a mutual Russian-Iranian “readiness to deepen cooperation in order to ensure stability in the Middle East.” Taken together, Russian-Iranian military cooperation in Syria may assume new dimensions as a coordinated regional strategy.
The United States has launched on Friday morning dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria in response to this week’s alleged chemical attack that it has blamed on the Syrian government, the pentagon announced.
The US military launched about 60 Tomahawk missiles against several targets on al-Shayrat air base 38 kilometers southeast of the city of Homs. They were reportedly fired from the USS Ross and USS Porter, Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The strikes targeted aircraft and infrastructure, including the runway, but not people, US officials told NBC. But a Syrian military source was quoted by state TV as saying that the US missile strike has “led to losses.”
Syrian military personnel, as well as equipment, were evacuated from the airfield in prior to the late Thursday US missile attack, media report. The missile strike damaged runways, towers and traffic control buildings at the airbase, but personnel had been evacuated and equipment was moved ahead of the strike, ABC said on Friday citing eyewitness reports.
Governor of Homs Province Talal al-Barazi said that the Shayrat Airfield plays a key role in supporting Syrian government forces in their fight against ISIL terrorists.
“The Syrian army and armed forces are fighting terrorism, especially in the east of Homs. And recently significant progress has been reached, gas fields have been liberated as well as the city of Palmyra and its surroundings. This base to the east of Homs plays a key role in supporting military operations against ISIL, particularly in the eastern part of Homs,” al-Barazi said in a phone interview.
“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” US President Donald Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” Trump said.
“There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons,” he stated without providing a shred of evidence to back his claim.
The allegations of chemical arms use are still made against Syria even as the dismantling of the country’s entire stockpile of chemical weapons as well as relevant production facilities was supervised by the UN.
Foreign-backed militants have repeatedly used chemical weapons against Syrian troops, some of which have been verified by UN officials, but the attacks have often been ignored by Western governments.
US Congressman Tulsi Gabbard said that Trump’s decision to conduct the missile strike against a Syrian airfield was a mistake that will escalate tensions with Russia and lead to more civilian casualties. “This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia — which could lead to nuclear war,” Gabbard stressed.
Russia will demand urgent UN Security Council meeting after US missile strike at an airbase in Syria, Victor Ozerov, the chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on Defense and Security, told Sputnik.
“Russia will first of all demand an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council. This can be regarded as an act of aggression on the part of the US against a UN state,” Ozerov said.
“After this incident the already clouded relations with the US will somewhat worsen,” Ozerov told Sputnik, adding that the missile attack will likely be “a very bad example for the armed opposition in Syria, which could put under question the agreements reached with the opposition, including in Geneva.”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement after the US attack that there were no discussions or prior contacts between the United States and Moscow ahead of the missile strike on the Syrian base.
Speech by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayed Hassan Nasrallah on March 18, 2017, on the occasion of the anniversary of the birth of Fatima al-Zahra (as), Women’s Day
Extract of the Political Section of the Speech
Today, or (rather) these days are actually a (special) opportunity, namely that the events in Syria and the war waged against Syria have entered their seventh year. That is to say, six years have passed, with all that they contain in terms of sufferings, wars, conspiracies, confrontations and sacrifices of human lives. With the end of the sixth year and the beginning of the seventh, we must stop briefly on this occasion, because it concerns us also in the first place.
All those who met in the first few months of the beginning of the events six years ago of state forces, great powers, regional countries, 140, 130 or 120 countries that have gathered under the name of “Friends Of Syria” and who plotted, doing everything they could (against Syria). They bet on their ability to seize Syria in 2 or 3 months in 2011. Today, with the end of the 6th year, they face a bloody and painful truth, namely rout and failure. After six years, these powerful and important countries of the world and the region have failed, a bitter failure, in achieving their goals.
For six years, tens of billions of dollars of Arab money – Turkey did not spend money, France and the United Kingdom did not spend money. All the money that financed the war in Syria is Arab money. This money could have eliminated the poverty of the Arab world. It could have brought Somalia out of famine and Yemen as well. It could have (re)built the houses of the Palestinians in Gaza. It could have strengthened the Palestinians at Bayt-al-Maqdis (Sanctuary House / Jerusalem). This money could have guaranteed hundreds of thousands of job opportunities for unemployed Arab youth. It could have ended the illiteracy of hundreds of millions, unfortunately, tens of millions of men and women in the Arab world who are illiterate. Not a single dollar has been spent on these problems, but tens of billions of dollars of Arab money have been spent on the war in Syria, against Syria, its regime, its state, its army and its people, and against the Resistance Axis within it.
And tens, hundreds of thousands of tons of weapons and ammunition (were sent there). And they came from all over the world with tens of thousands of fighters, white, black, brown, red, yellow, whatever you want. They have left no side, no color, no tongue, no race, they have brought fighters from every spot of the whole world. The Americans, their allies, the plotters funded and facilitated (sending fighters) and brought tens of thousands of fighters to fight in Syria to achieve a clear and precise goal: to bring down Syria, to get it out of the Resistance Axis and take control of it. To take control of its decisions, its sovereignty, its people and its choices on its territory, and its strategic position on the Mediterranean Sea (between Asia) and Europe, and its strategic position in the struggle against the Israeli enemy.
Today, the result is clear: failure, defeat and retreat.
Well, let me remind you a bit, at the beginning of the 7th year, about the beginning of the first year. We do not deny that some of the people really wanted reforms and changed some realities in Syria. But what came (on the scene) with force and changed all that are the takfiri forces that were brought from all over the world, and who refused political dialogue in the first weeks. They refused any political outcome, any discussion, and their choices were definitive: they went to the bloody, general and total military confrontation. They have formulated sectarian slogans and revived (religious) school quarrels, and have lifted the veil on their objectives and their hostility towards the Resistance in the first weeks.
Well, who brought the al-Qaeda organization? When they arrived in Syria, what was their name? The Islamic State in Iraq. They then added “and in the Levant” (Syria). Then they divided, the members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant divided. There were two factions: Daesh and the Al-Nosra Front. But in truth, they all belong to al-Qaeda, which is listed by the Americans on the list of terrorist organizations, as well as by the UN Security Council, by Saudi Arabia and by Europe. They brought tens of thousands of fighters, whom they regarded as terrorists themselves, gave them money and weapons, opened borders and brought them to Syria. They recognize that they themselves created (these groups), that they created Daesh to fight the Resistance and the Resistance Axis.
Today, the situation is different. I do not want to dwell on this point, and I will just focus on the new elements.
I want to remind you first of all that in the first year, the question did not require much political understanding, and that there was no need to make predictions and wait (and see). Anyone who had studied contemporary experiences in Afghanistan and elsewhere could reach the following conclusion, as I told them in the first months, I addressed the Al-Qaeda organization and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Daesh and the Al-Nosra Front who separated from it, and I said to them: “All of you of all nationalities, you were brought to Syria to gather you there, you were brought to Syria – now, anyone can check this out from 6 years ago – you were brought to Syria to gather you there and use you as combatants to achieve the American-Israeli goals in the region and when you will be pressed to the end, whether you have won or lost, you will be liquidated. We collect you (en masse) in order to liquidate you after having used you. You have been used… – and that is why I called them initially to be careful and wake up, and not to turn into wood and fuel for the fire lit by America and Israel as well as some regional countries, against whom they also plot, and who will pay the price. But sectarianism, foolishness, ignorance and stupidity have given them no opportunity (of lucidity).
They thought they were very smart, they believed that they were instrumentalizing America, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the countries of the world and the West so that they’d allow them to implement their own project in Syria. And they wrote all that in their strategic projects. And that was the pinnacle of stupidity.
Today, what happens? After Daesh became an object of scandal for the American project here, Daesh sees its last days in Iraq – (it’s a question of) weeks, months, (but) it’s over. Daesh has no military or political future in Iraq. And similarly in Syria, Daesh no longer has any military or political future in Syria. At best, they will have dormant cells that will carry out suicide bombings because the suicide bombings targeting civilians in Baghdad, Tikrīt, Damascus, Homs and elsewhere reflect strategic and military failure. When someone sends suicide bombers to kill children, women, in restaurants, passers-by, schoolchildren and students, this reflects his strategic failure and military failure. These are acts of vengeance, not of fighting. This is the future of Daesh. The future of Al-Nosra is the same.
Today, Daesh is bombed by the international coalition led by the United States, Britain, Turkey, Jordan, as well as Russia and the forces fighting them in Syria. And the Al-Nosra Front, the Al-Nosra Front brought (and supported) by the Americans and their Turkish and Gulf allies, the Al-Nosra Front is now bombed in Idlib and at the West of Aleppo. Is not that what I told you six years ago? Now we hear voices rising from Idlib and West of Aleppo against America, its betrayals and hypocrisy. Did you sleep well? After destroying Syria, after destroying Iraq, after destroying Yemen, you finally wake up and you understand? (You realize the nature of) this treacherous and hypocritical America, who uses you then massacres you? That is the truth.
And with that, of course, Israel interferes every day, with various pretexts. The pretext of striking weapons intended for Hezbollah, as they claimed yesterday, for any pretext: on the pretext that a mortar shell hit the Golan (occupied), etc., Israel intervenes and strikes positions of the Syrian Army in order to provide support and assistance to Daesh and these (other) terrorist groups. Today, this arrogant and occupying project, the project of hegemony and control over Syria, I frankly declare to you that it has failed, and that Syria has won, but that it is still waiting for the great and decisive victory. As for the rest of the factions, Daesh will disappear. And the Al-Nosra Front will disappear. And the terrorist takfiri groups will disappear. It is only a matter of time.
Even the world that supported, funded, helped and assisted them has now abandoned them and is fighting them. For the spell has turned against the sorcerer. For the world has discovered that this serpent which he has raised in his bosom (and launched against Syria) has become a danger and a poison to him, in Paris, London, Germany, Belgium, inside Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia, etc.
The rest of the factions of the Syrian opposition, what is their current situation? They have no leader, no leadership, no united front, no national project, they don’t know what they want, they are divided, lost, and wander between (foreign) embassies and security services. Yes, there is still a bet on patriotic personalities or cadres of the opposition, that they can participate in the political solution and dialogue to rebuild Syria.
Today, for the commemoration of the birth of (Fatima al-Zahra), the daughter of the Prophet of God, who was sent to the worlds as a Mercy, allow me to renew my address to all those still fighting in Syria in the enemy front, and who believe that they are fighting in the front of Islam, the front of the (Islamic) Community or the front of the Fatherland, and who are 100% wrong. Allow me to appeal to them, to address them and tell them: this project has failed. Your struggle is in vain and leads to nothing but more deaths, battles and destruction, and bloodshed on both sides, which benefits America and Israel.
Look, Netanyahu went to Moscow imploring. Why? He went to intercede with President Putin because he is afraid of the defeat of Daesh in Syria. For the defeat of Daesh for Putin – excuse me, for Netanyahu, constitutes a victory for the Resistance and the Resistance Axis. Because for Netanyahu, Daesh’s defeat in Syria is a failure of the project he has supported for 6 years. So he went to beg (Putin). Oh, what do you do with Daesh, calm down with Daesh! For if you finish Daesh, what are you going to do with Iran, Hezbollah, President Assad, and the rest of the Resistance Axis?
Do not believe, (you Daesh fighters), that you are on the Front of Islam, the Community or the Fatherland. Whether you realize it or not, you have fought for 6 years on the Front of America and Israel and the Front of those who plot against you to kill you, imprison you and massacre you. Will not all this blood poured in Syria and Iraq awaken you? Is not that enough to reconsider things? I call upon them to lay down their arms, to cease fighting, to a real ceasefire, to seek a genuine humanitarian and political solution, to leave the front of hypocrisy for the front of Islam, leave Israel and America for the front of the Community, and leave the front of the enemy for the front of the Resistance. And it is still possible. It is still possible. (I call them to) stop these destructions. Your project has no future.
The Resistance Axis, as we said in the first days and months, today, after six years, from the beginning, we declared that the Resistance Axis would not be defeated in Syria, neither in Iraq, nor in Yemen, and that it would not break. And now that six years have passed, the Resistance Axis triumphs in Syria, and it triumphs in Iraq, and it is steadfast in Yemen where it will also win, if God wills, a great decisive victory. But these people must be aware of what they do with their lives, their blood, their future and their afterlife, and they must reconsider all their bloody actions that persist in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ‘working visit’ to Moscow last week had a key objective relating to the conflict in Syria — a demarche at the highest level with President Vladimir Putin over Iranian presence in that country. Before emplaning for Moscow, Netanyahu told his cabinet in public remarks,
- In the framework of a (future peace agreement) or without one, Iran is attempting to base itself permanently in Syria – either through a military presence on the ground or a naval presence – and also through a gradual attempt to open a front against us on the Golan Heights. I will express to President Putin Israel’s vigorous opposition to this possibility.
In characteristic style, he cornered Putin in his very opening statement as they sat down in the Kremlin,
- One of the things that unites us (Israel and Russia) is our common fight against radical Islamic terrorism. Substantial progress has been made over the last year in fighting radical Sunni Islamic terrorism led by ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and Russia has made a great contribution to this result and this progress. Of course, we do not want to see Shia Islamic terrorism led by Iran step in to replace Sunni Islamic terrorism.
The Russian readout faithfully quoted Netanyahu but left out Putin’s brusque response. The Kremlin later chose to convey via an RT report,
- Putin noted that those events had taken place “in the fifth century BC,” added that “we now live in a different world” and suggested discussing the actual up-to-date problems in the region.
In short, Putin urged Netanyahu to get real instead of digging up the ancient legend of an Iranian forefather’s attempt to eradicate the Jewish people. (RT) The Russians are familiar with Netanyahu’s style of functioning — his swagger and capacity to dissimulate. He was obviously hoping to complicate the Russian-Iranian relationship at a time when Moscow and Tehran are working to put together a Syrian settlement. Evidently, Putin saw through the ploy. (Moscow is preparing for an official visit by the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.)
Netanyahu keeps playing up the Iran bogey to divert attention away from the Palestine problem. However, importantly in the current context, Israel wants a say in the Syrian settlement. Israel’s motivations here are complex.
Israel’s preference is that the al-Qaeda affiliates fighting in Syria, who are its proxies, should be allowed to retain the swathe of land straddling the occupied Golan Heights so that its annexation of the Syrian territory remains unchallenged.
Russia simply will not acquiesce with the presence of any al-Qaeda affiliate in any residual form on Syrian soil. In fact, Jordan is involved in talks with Russia, which appears to be geared to battle plans under preparation to evict the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda from the Jordan-Israel-Lebanon borderline. Israel is getting frantic that the Russian-Iranian juggernaut proposes to put its al-Qaeda surrogates shortly into the meat grinder.
The alliance with Iran becomes vital for Russia in the coming weeks and months before a complete destruction of terrorist groups on Syrian soil is achieved and the peace process reaches the home stretch. However, this does not mean that Russian-Iranian relationship is smooth as silk. There strong convergence of interests at this point, but, as Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour said on Saturday in Tehran,
- We will interact with the Russians to the extent that they cooperate with us and we will not be willing to cooperate with them when they are not willing to do so.
The two countries have their respective long-term objectives and agenda in a future Syrian settlement. Clearly, the Syria that emerges in a settlement can very well be a federated country. The US seems to be working toward a federal Syria and Russia may live with it as the realistic outcome of the brutal conflict. Thus, both US and Russia have dealings with Syrian Kurds whose top priority is the establishment of a Kurdish autonomous region in northern Syria bordering Turkey.
Now, it is entirely conceivable that a federal Syria may overlap the ‘spheres of influence’ of foreign powers. Without doubt, the US intends to keep the military bases it has established in the two Kurdish cantons on the eastern part of the Euphrates in the recent years. Russia too has a big presence along western regions of Syria facing the Mediterranean coast and in the Damascus region. The Russian bases in Latakia and Hmeimim in Syria are on permanent footing.
Therefore, how the emergent scenario of federal Syria would grate on the Russian-Iranian relationship remains a ‘known unknown’. After all, Iran made huge sacrifices to defeat Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Syria. A report last week put the casualty figures of Iranians killed in the fighting as exceeding 2000 military personnel.
Read an analysis, here, by Frederick Kagan of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute – surprisingly realistic for an American ideologue – on the complex web that makes Russian-Iranian bonding a geostrategic imperative of our times.
Many have expressed their shock and horror that the ‘documentary’ on the White Helmets organisation has won the Oscar for Best Documentary.
The White Helmets purports to be an aid organisation but has been widely discredited as such. What is more, the organisation has been exposed as a handsomely funded western propaganda tool. Even worse, the White Helmets have been exposed as actively supporting (both materially and in terms of PR) the criminal acts of groups like Al-Qaeda/Al-Nusra. The Syrian government which considers the group a terrorist organisation has been totally vindicated. The UN consequently do not recognise the White Hemlets as any sort of aid agency.
Why then did the Hollywood elite honour such a dangerous group? One could say, with a great deal of truth, that the Hollywood elite are out of touch, bordering on the mad, but there is a far more devious reason behind the awarding of a terrorist group.
The truth of the matter is that the US government, typically through the CIA, has for years influenced US news media, the artistic elite and Hollywood, using both willing and unwilling accomplices to propagandise a pro-deep state narrative.
In the 1950s, the young CIA didn’t waste time in this respect. Operation Mockingbird was a CIA initiative wherein US journalists at organisations like the New York Times and CBS were fed propaganda stories to send out to their then virtually monopolised share of American readers and viewers.
Many journalists were paid by the CIA to promote such stories. In other cases, naive journalists were simply given the information and put it out as real news, when in fact it was what today we would call ‘fake news’.
But the CIA didn’t limit their activities to media. The so-called Congress for Cultural Freedom funded artistic performances, publications and exhibitions designed to promote the CIA’s version of the ‘American way’, even though ironically, much of the work promoted was overwhelmingly rejected by Middle America.
The CIA supported all sorts of causes and art forms that many in America found anathema to traditional conservative tastes, ranging from the Abstract Expressionist movement in painting to radical feminism.
Much of the CIA’s meddling in media and creative industries was kept under wraps until the 1970s when many in Congress began questioning the modus operandi of the CIA in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. The full extent of Operation Mockingbird was not however fully revealed until pertinent information became declassified in 2007.
Much has been reported of so-called Hollywood blacklists against real and alleged communists at the height of the McCarthy era, but little in the mainstream media has been said of the CIA’s influence on Hollywood.
In 2012, much of the CIA’s influence on Hollywood in the post Cold War era was laid bear in a book by Tricia Jenkins called The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television.
Whilst many thought the era of big CIA would diminish with the end of the Cold War, Jenkins’s book has demonstrated that such ties continue. The rapid expansion of the surveillance state under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and the current deep state war on alternative media, has only entrenched the position of portions of the US government in actively trying to influence the narratives that audiences often ignorantly consume.
The media-industrial complex/media-entertainment complex is not a conspiracy theory. The trail of influence and money which both directly and indirectly weighs on the content put out by Hollywood and the US mainstream media is very real. It is both historical fact and sadly it is also part of the present reality.
It is for this reason alone that no one should be surprised that Al-Qaeda’s helpers, the White Helmets won an Oscar. What still is more surprising is that many in America do not question why the terrorist organisation blamed for the 9-11 attacks is now lionised as a sound alternative to the secular government of Syria.
The Netflix movie The White Helmets may win an Oscar in the “short documentary” category at the Academy Awards on Sunday February 26. It will not be a surprise, despite the fact that the group is a fraud and the movie is a contrived infomercial.
The White Helmets are a “feel good” story like a Disney hero movie: 90% myth and fabrication. Most of what is claimed about the Syrian rescue group is untrue. They are not primarily Syrian; the group was initiated by British military contractor James LeMesurier and has been heavily funded (about $100 million) by the USA, UK and other governments. They are not volunteers; they are paid. This is confirmed in the Al Jazeera video which shows some White Helmet “volunteers’ talking about going on strike if they don’t get paid soon. Most of the heavy funding goes to the marketing which is run by “The Syria Campaign” based in New York. The manager is an Irish America woman Anna Nolan who has never been to Syria. As an example of its deception, “The Syria Campaign” website features video showing children dancing and playing soccer implying they are part of the opposition demand for a “free and peaceful” Syria. But the video images are taken from a 2010 BBC documentary about education in Syria under the Baath government.
White Helmets and Nusra
When eastern Aleppo was finally freed from the armed militants, it was discovered that the White Helmets headquarters were alongside the headquarters of the Al Qaeda Syrian militant group. Civilians from east Aleppo reported that the White Helmets primarily responded when the militants were attacked. Soon after departing Aleppo in government supplied buses (!) the White Helmets showed up in the mountains above Damascus where they allied with terrorist groups in poisoning then shutting off the water source for five million people in Damascus.
The White Helmets’ claim to be neutral and independent is another lie. They only work in areas controlled by the rebel groups, primarily Nusra/Al Qaeda. Their leaders actively call for US and NATO intervention in Syria. Video shows White Helmet workers picking up the corpse of a civilian after execution and celebrating Nusra/Al Qaeda terrorist battle wins.
White Helmets and Nusra
The movie is as fraudulent as the group it tries to heroize. The film-makers never set foot in Syria. Their video footage takes place in southern Turkey where they show White Helmet trainees in a hotel and talking on cell phones. Thrilling. There is some footage from inside Syria but it looks contrived. The opening scene depicts a White Helmet “volunteer” going to work and beseeching his son not to give mommy a hard time. Real or scripted?
The message is simple: here are people we can support; they are under attack by the brutal “regime” … shouldn’t we “do something” to stop it??!
ISIS and One Finger Salute
White Helmets’ One Finger Salute
Khaled Khatib is said to be the person who filmed the footage from inside Syria. He has reportedly received a US visa and will attend the Oscars. This will likely garner special media attention. Ironically, some of those who have exploited the refugee issue for their own fund-raising campaigns, like Human Rights Watch, are groups which promote the war which created the refugee crisis.
Khatib has tweeted the first video he took showing the White Helmets. It looks remarkably unrealistic, with a girl who was totally buried being removed without injuries or wounds or even much dirt. Is it really possible to rescue people that quickly? In the real world, rescue workers are told to work slowly so as to not damage or exacerbate body injuries. The original video has the logo of Aleppo Media Center (AMC) which was created by the Syrian Expatriates Organization. Their address on K Street in Washington DC suggests this is yet another Western funded media campaign driven by political objectives.
In the past few days, with perfect timing for the upcoming Oscars, there is yet another “miracle” rescue … another girl totally buried but then removed and whisked away in record breaking time — perfect for social media. Is it real or is it contrived?
This raises a question regarding the integrity of the Academy Awards. Are awards given for actual quality, authenticity, skill and passion? Or are Oscars sometimes given under political and financial influence? There is political motivation to promote the White Helmets as part of the effort to prevent the collapse of the Western/Israeli/Gulf campaign to overthrow the Syrian government. These same governments have given boatloads of money to fuel the propaganda campaign. Last week Syria Solidarity Movement reached out to three marketing firms in the LA area to request help challenging the White Helmets nomination. Two of the firms declined and the third said they were already being paid to promote the nomination!
The true source and purpose of the White Helmets was exposed almost two years ago. More recently Vanessa Beeley has documented the fact there is a REAL Syrian Civil Defence which was begun in the 1950’s and is a member of the International Civil Defense Organizations. This organization is opposite to the group created in Turkey in 2013. According to on-the-ground interviews in Aleppo, terrorists began by killing real Syrian rescue workers and stealing their equipment. Since then the White Helmets have been supplied, by the West through Turkey, with brand new ambulances and related rescue equipment.
Max Blumenthal has written a two part detailed examination of the “shadowy PR firm” behind the “White Helmets”. And Jan Oberg has written an overview survey of the “pro” and “con” examinations in his work “Just How Gray are the White Helmets“.
Yet mainstream media, and some ‘alternative’ media, continue to uncritically promote the myth of the “White Helmets”. The promoters of the group absolutely deserve an award for marketing and advertising. This is a field where truth and reality is irrelevant; it’s all about sales and manipulation. On that basis, the “White Helmets” has been an incredible success. The group was started as “Syria Civil Defense” in Turkey in 2013. It was re-branded as the “White Helmets” in 2014. It was heavily used in 2014 and 2015 by Nicholas Krisof, Avaaz and others to campaign for all out aggression against Syria. In 2016 the group received the Rights Livelihood Award and was seriously considered for a Nobel Peace Prize. These facts show how corrupt and politically and financially influenced the Rights Livelihood Award and Nobel Peace Prize can be.
Meet the White Helmets
The White Helmets movie is a tactic in the ongoing campaign of distortion and deception around Syria. It’s a fraud, just like the fake kidnapping of NBC reporter Richard Engel. The Oscars will be a demonstration of the integrity of the Academy Awards. The reporting on the story will be a test of the integrity and accuracy of media outlets. Ironically, the Israeli mainstream TV program I24 presented both sides and titled the segment “White Helmets: Heroes or Hoax?” In contrast, the highly popular and widely respected DemocracyNow! has only broadcast a puff piece promoting the “White Helmet” disinformation. The coming days will reveal more about the ongoing information war against Syria. Meanwhile an on online petition continues to gather signatures to NOT give the Oscar to the White Helmets deception.
Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist and member of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Just over a week into the Trump Administration, the President issued an Executive Order giving Defense Secretary James Mattis 30 days to come up with a plan to defeat ISIS. According to the Order, the plan should make recommendations on military actions, diplomatic actions, partners, strategies, and how to pay for the operation.
As we approach the president’s deadline it looks like the military is going to present Trump with a plan to do a whole lot more of what we’ve been doing and somehow expect different results. Proving the old saying that when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, we are hearing increasing reports that the military will recommend sending thousands of US troops into Syria and Iraq.
This would be a significant escalation in both countries, as currently there are about 5,000 US troops still fighting our 13-year war in Iraq, and some 500 special forces soldiers operating in Syria.
The current Syria ceasefire, brokered without US involvement at the end of 2016, is producing positive results and the opposing groups are talking with each other under Russian and Iranian sponsorship. Does anyone think sending thousands of US troops into a situation that is already being resolved without us is a good idea?
In language reminiscent of his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, the president told a political rally in Florida over the weekend that he was going to set up “safe zones” in Syria and would make the Gulf States pay for them. There are several problems with this plan.
First, any “safe zone” set up inside Syria, especially if protected by US troops, would amount to a massive US invasion of the country unless the Assad government approves them. Does President Trump want to begin his presidency with an illegal invasion of a sovereign country?
Second, there is the little problem of the Russians, who are partners with the Assad government in its efforts to rid the country of ISIS and al-Qaeda. ISIS is already losing territory on a daily basis. Is President Trump willing to risk a military escalation with Russia to protect armed regime-change forces in Syria?
Third, the Gulf States are the major backers of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria – as the president’s own recently-resigned National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, revealed in a 2015 interview. Unless these safe zones are being set up to keep al-Qaeda and ISIS safe, it doesn’t make any sense to involve the Gulf States.
Many will say we should not be surprised at these latest moves. As a candidate, Trump vowed to defeat ISIS once and for all. However, does anyone really believe that continuing the same strategy we have followed for the past 16 years will produce different results this time? If what you are hammering is not a nail, will hammering it harder get it nailed in?
Washington cannot handle the truth: solving the ISIS problem must involve a whole lot less US activity in the Middle East, not a whole lot more. Until that is understood, we will continue to waste trillions of dollars and untold lives in a losing endeavor.
Difficulties faced news organisations attempting to cover events in the war in Syria, particularly in the eastern part of Aleppo when under siege. Western journalists had stopped even trying to enter that area for fear of being kidnapped, or worse, at the hands of one or other of the armed factions holding the area. International relief agencies and NGO’s were not to be found on the ground either, for the same reasons.
This is one of the two main problems for media coverage of Syria that Eva Bartlett highlighted at a UN press conference in November 2016 when talking about her first hand experience of conditions in Aleppo. Asked by a journalist from a mainstream publication why she seemed to be challenging ‘all these absolutely documentable facts that we’ve seen from the ground’, she pointed out that he was referring to a hearsay narrative, not facts, because ‘sources on the ground? You don’t have them.’
Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear had earlier in 2016 grappled with this problem, of “safe access denied to objective independent journalists from outside”, and had devised a strategy for circumventing it. He commissioned coverage from a Syrian woman called Wa’ad Alkateab who could move safely in the opposition-held area. She went on to make a series of films – Inside Aleppo – that, thanks to the prominence Channel 4 gave them, became influential in forming public opinion about the circumstances in Aleppo.
This neat side-stepping of the first problem, however, put Channel 4’s coverage at risk of succumbing to the second problem highlighted by Eva Bartlett: any testimony coming out of opposition-held areas has to be considered compromised. For we have to assume that whatever is reported from the opposition-held area is only what those with the guns will permit. So the presumption must be that information coming out is unlikely to be the whole truth and may contain untruths.
For some reason, this presumption – which follows from the most basic principles of credible journalism – seems at times to have been suspended by Channel 4 News in its coverage of Syria. It entered no caveats about the reports and tended to treat their content – without corroboration or independent evidence – as if it had come from verified sources. Channel 4 was thus knowingly complicit in promoting a narrative that was necessarily one-sided.
To take just one obvious example of partiality: Alkateab’s films prominently feature the medical facility where her husband Hamza Al-Khatib played a central role, and we hear repeatedly how the Syrian government and its Russian allies are bombing areas with civilians including the children they treat. What we would never know from these films is that there are many more hospitals in the larger part of Aleppo treating children and other civilians who are victims of rockets and mortars launched into residential areas by fighters from the opposition enclave in the eastern part. These, moreover, can be corroborated.
It should go without saying that a single individual will always have their own limited perspective; an individual with a strong ideological commitment who is deeply embedded with oppositional militants must be assumed to be partial. (The commitment may be sincere and held with good intention but this does not diminish the questions about its partiality.)
This may be why people at Channel 4 responded in a particularly defensive manner to the simple moral force of Eva Bartlett’s cautionary words. They engaged in a rather disingenuous attempt to discredit her. An article published on their website, that merely took issue with one incidental in Bartlett’s account, was promoted by Channel 4 people – from John Snow and Ben de Pear down – as if it had disposed of her critique of mainstream coverage in Syria. The article in fact made no comment on her main points.
Two major claims Bartlett had made – that there were no independent news sources on the ground in Aleppo and that any sources used there should be regarded as compromised – were incontrovertibly true. The factual truth of the first was clearly acknowledged by Channel 4 itself, as we noted. The truth of the second is of a normative kind that would be accepted by any decent journalist under the circumstances prevailing in Aleppo.
What is really at issue, therefore, if we assume agreement about the basic standards of reputable journalism, is whether anyone has an effective reply to her main substantive argument about coverage of the war in Syria, namely, that it involves the promotion of a narrative that lacks a basis in verifiable fact. Bartlett claims that the mainstream media have systematically occluded an entire side of the Syrian story, and they have done so in a way that supports the interests of the NATO and Gulf states that were pressing for ‘regime change’ in Syria; in doing this, they have supported the visitation of a devastating war upon the Syrian people that has been unnecessary and unjustified. The mainstream media are thereby complicit in an egregious contravention of the laws of war and human morality.
Channel 4’s defensiveness on the subject indicates that they saw the charge applied to them as a part of the mainstream consensus. But if they were going to answer it, why did they not play what should have been their strongest card? If Bartlett’s claim is that people on the ground contest the mainstream narrative, why not appeal to contrary testimony from the ground that supports it? They have the Alkateab videos, after all, and these repeatedly show people injured or bereaved by bombings. The thing is, what those videos show is something that is not in dispute: people are being killed by war, and it is difficult to run medical facilities in conditions of war. By contriving to suggest that Bartlett is denying this, which she is obviously not, they evade the real challenge.
In fact, a major evasiveness is at the heart of the series Inside Aleppo. If we bear in mind that the films are shot in an area of the town that is being besieged by the Syrian army and the Russian air force, then we realise this is because there is considerable military resistance being put up. Yet in the Alkateab films there is an eerie silence about the military forces on the ground around them. Although in the film of the couple and their baby entering Aleppo we catch sight of one of their companions carrying an AK47, the rest of the time we see nobody onscreen bearing any arms. Nor do we hear anything about any of the score or so of armed brigades, dominated by the militias of Al Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria) that are controlling the town and holding at bay the combined military might of Syria and Russia. We do not even hear anything explicit about the so-called ‘moderate opposition’ that the mainstream media refer to.
As it happens, though, Channel 4 did make one film showing the ‘moderate opposition’ at work. It was billed as giving ‘a glimpse into why Syrian and Russian forces have so far been unable to re-take the whole of Aleppo.’ Up Close with the Rebels (released in October 2016) features an example of so-called ‘moderate rebels’ in action. In his voiceover, Krishnan Guru-Murthy introduces the action as “one small but famous victory, as rebels fought back against the forces of Bashar Al-Assad”. With this vicarious sharing of their glory, the Channel 4 man is in no doubt about who they are: they are “Islamist fighters”, he tells us, noting also that “many civilians in West Aleppo are frightened of these rebel fighters”, which would not be surprising given that they are “launching rockets into the western side of the city”. “This group is well equipped”, he adds, “paid for and supplied by Gulf States, mainly Qatar.”
I think we need to pause here. It appears that the film thereby illustrates, point by point, exactly what Bartlett has said about the anti-government forces being foreign-funded terrorists that the ordinary citizens of Syria want to be protected from. Guru-Murthy appears to be corroborating Bartlett’s account as against that promoted by Channel 4.
The manner of the reporting, though, is truly strange. It involves glorifying in the victory of jihadi terrorists while admitting that ordinary civilians in the greater part of Aleppo are in fear of these fighters. I literally cannot imagine what was going through the head of Guru-Murthy as he was saying all this out loud. Nor can I imagine how exactly he thinks the ordinary civilians trapped in the eastern part of Aleppo felt towards these and all the other fighters ruling their lives. After all, he and his colleagues dared not even set foot there.
Still, worse is to come. It relates to a story that shocked the world, in July 2016, when from Aleppo came news – and footage – of a group of Islamists severing the head off a twelve-year old boy with a small knife. That group was Nour Al-Din Al-Zinki, and several of the men directly involved are clearly recognizable in photos that circulated the globe.
One of the men involved in decapitating the twelve-year-old features centre stage in Channel 4’s film.
That, then, is what you find if you actually get up close with the rebels. Channel 4, on being apprised that ordinary observant members of the public apparently knew, or cared, more about the people they were working with than its own news team did, hastily withdrew the video from its website. (I say hastily, as to my knowledge Channel 4 has issued neither apology nor explanation for sending out a news report and then retracting it after people may have relied on it.) The film remains readily accessible elsewhere on the internet – as does the harrowing footage of the decapitation.
The films by Alkateab remain on Channel 4’s catalogue, and it is to be noted that she was not responsible for the Nour Al-Din Al-Zinki footage. But a friend of hers was. Abdul Kader Habak was driving the car that brought Waad and her family into Aleppo. He, like her husband, is interviewed in her film. They presumably all enjoy the same protection.
I make no claim to know which individuals belong to which groups, armed or otherwise, in the ‘rebel-held’ area, but anyone curious enough to look at their public facebook and twitter feeds will see that Wa’ad and Hamza are passionately committed to the anti-government cause. They even use their own baby as a symbol of their struggle. None of this necessarily means their testimony is untrue. But Channel 4 was surprisingly uncritical in its showcasing of the material.
The truth or otherwise of stories from Channel 4’s sources in eastern Aleppo was to be put to the test in the final days of the siege. These saw intense tweeting from the rebels, and retweeting of it by the Channel 4 news team. ‘Massacre was imminent’, and eastern Aleppo was about to ‘fall’ to the merciless forces of the Syrian ‘regime’. These would probably be the ‘last messages’ before government forces ‘annihilated’ them in #holocaustaleppo. Channel 4 bought into this fully, even featuring a filmed ‘letter’ by Wa’ad which starts “Maybe this will be my last letter to you and the world…”.
In the event, those same people would soon be tweeting again from Turkey or other rebel-held parts of Syria. Meanwhile, according to the kinds of observer that regard Eva Bartlett with respect – and according also to the copious footage showing it – the majority of the population of eastern Aleppo, reunited with the western part, celebrated their liberation, welcoming the Syrian army, and the Russians that followed with their sappers to clear buildings of mines and booby-traps left behind by the ‘moderate rebels’.
As the liberated city has started to rebuild and function again, the Western media have gone silent. Channel 4 no longer talks much about Aleppo. But if the news bandwagon may have moved on, real lives have been lost or changed forever as a result of a war that was unjustified and unnecessary. The rest of us must try and learn from such awful chains of events as led to the unspeakable carnage and displacement in Syria.
Most of us know nothing about Syria except what we can glean from the media – either mainstream news outlets or independent investigators on social media. We are not in a position to check facts as such. Yet we can assess the credibility of testimony, even if only by ascertaining whether it is internally consistent rather than self-contradictory. A fully self-consistent story is not guaranteed to correspond to the true facts, of course, but one that is internally inconsistent cannot be the whole or unalloyed truth.
An account of the circumstances in Aleppo, that was internally consistent during the siege, and vindicated by subsequent events, was provided by those few witnesses from the West who were on the ground. The testimony of Eva Bartlett is consistent with that of a number of other independent observers with first hand experience in Syria at this historic moment who show sides to the story closed off by the mainstream media. They include US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, filmmaker Carla Ortiz, journalist Vanessa Beeley, peace campaigner Jan Oberg, and Virginia State Senator Richard Black.
These individuals, have in varying degrees and ways been vilified, patronised or ignored by mainstream outlets – deploying the low tactics of those who cannot win an argument by means of reason or evidence. But why should news agencies even be in the business of making an argument? What exactly is the social role and purpose of the press?
I have chosen to focus on Channel 4, of all the news outlets that promoted the orthodox narrative, for several reasons. Channel 4 has a better reputation among much of the public than some other news outlets: it is thought to have high journalistic standards, and since it also has a public service remit, people tend to expect its coverage to exhibit investigative integrity and objectivity. Yet with regard to its coverage of Syria, not merely did Channel 4 disappoint those expectations, it went the extra mile to reinforce a misleading narrative by commissioning a partisan filmmaker to produce its flagship series of programmes on the war in Syria.
In my opinion, the Channel 4 News team owe a collective apology to Eva Bartlett for suggesting she was discredited when the truth was quite otherwise. I also think that Channel 4 owe us, the public, a commitment to do better than this in future. As for what Channel 4 owes to the people of Syria? The harms of this war can never be made good. Harms of future wars may yet be mitigated or even avoided, and I believe the one thing Channel 4 can and should do is join the side of truth with those who are seeking ways to break up the monolithic deceptions that our communications are increasingly being submerged in.
 “During the summer we made a conscious decision to try and report what was happening in Syria, and particularly in Aleppo, on a daily basis. One person, Wa’ad al Kateab, has made this possible.” Ben de Pear, Channel 4 News, October 2016 http://insidealeppo.com/ It was never made especially clear in Channel 4 news reports on Aleppo how much they relied on this one source, and references to reports on the ground – while unattributed – were also often in the plural. Something to note, however, is that there was not necessarily a plurality of viewpoints coming out of the Aleppo Media Centre, which was the one functioning agency on the ground in eastern Aleppo. Other journalists used and referred to by channel four include Abdul Kader Habak (the cameraman on Up Close With The Rebels) and ‘a photographer for Reuters’ who I presume would be Abdalrhman Ismail, both of whom appear to move freely among militants. So while Wa’ad was possibly not the only source, there was still no meaningful corroboration since all sources accessed by Channel 4 should most safely be assumed to have been compromised in similar ways. Quite generally, Chanel 4 have tended to treat anti-government claims as true whereas they always voice scepticism in relation to claims on the other side, even on those rare occasions where they air them (as in Thomson example below) or the occasional interview, as with Jon Snow’s shameful haranguing of the Aleppo parliamentarian Fares Shehabi on 30 November 2016 https://www.channel4.com/news/aleppo-syrian-mp-fares-shehabi.
 For background and useful sources on this see Vanessa Beeley. ‘Channel 4 Joins CNN in Normalising Terrorism, Then Removes Their Own Video’, 21st Century Wire, 9 October 2016.
 Corroboration includes that of the Aleppo Medical Association. For background on the real situation of medical facilities across the whole of Aleppo, which is entirely occluded in the Channel 4 films, see for instance: Tim Anderson, ‘The Aleppo Hospital’ Smokescreen: Covering up Al Qaeda Massacres in Syria, Once Again’, Global Research, 9 May 2016; Eva Bartlett, ‘Western corporate media ‘disappears’ over 1.5 million Syrians and 4,000 doctors’ SOTT 14 August 2016; Vanessa Beeley, ‘Journey To Aleppo Part II: The Syria Civil Defense & Aleppo Medical Association Are Real Syrians Helping Real Syrians’, Mint Press News, 27 September 2016.
 All Channel 4 in reality even attempted to debunk was an aside by Bartlett about how the White Helmets, in staging some of their videos, sometimes used the same actor more than once. Their article goes to great lengths to show there is reasonable doubt about that matter.
Channel 4 were not dishonest about the limited nature of their piece in its title: ‘Eva Bartlett’s Claims About Syrian Children’. The promotion of it by all the colleagues on the news team, however, presented it as a definitive ‘fact check’ or ‘debunking’ of Bartlett. And that is how it went out into the wider world. Representative – and influential – was the tweet of famous Channel 4 anchor Jon Snow on 21 December 2016 linking to an altered title ‘FactCheck: Eva Bartlett’s Syria Claims’, which transforms the narrowly appropriate original one into one that implies a more comprehensive ‘debunking’. He tweets: ‘Even Syria’s children are caught up in lies and propaganda: A remarkable fact check puts the record straight’. All the piece actually does is show there to be reasonable doubt about Bartlett’s claim that the White Helmets publicity featured some children on more than one occasion. Doubt on this score does not even affect her claim that some of the videos were staged (since staging can be done with different actors each time, obviously). On this more substantial claim, the Channel 4 piece does not say much, but it does seek to show that at least one of the White Helmets filmed rescues was genuine. While not disputing that some of their rescues will have been genuine, I would just note that the reasons Channel 4 give would not establish the case for the example they look at. They say this: ‘The long sequence in which rescuers [are shown] painstakingly clearing rubble away from around the girl suggests that it would have been difficult to fake this footage. Someone would have had to have buried a screaming child up to their chest in rubble and carefully assembled a large amount of heavy wreckage around and on top of her – an extraordinary logistical challenge and an extraordinary collective act of child abuse.’
Certainly, it would be an extraordinary collective act of child abuse. As for the logistical challenge, however, it is no more difficult to place some rubble around and above the child than it is to then pick it off. Of course, we ordinary people will recoil at the very thought of seeing this as simply a logistical challenge, because it is such an ‘extraordinary collective act of child abuse’. But we are not terrorists or obliged to work with them. It cannot be a rebuttal of Bartlett’s claims that the White Helmets are embedded with terrorists to show that for her claims to be credible they would have to act in ways that are consistent with terrorist acts. The problem of how children are used, abused and even weaponised by armed groups in the pay of NATO AND Gulf states is a very real one. That the White Helmets are paid from those sources is a matter of public record; that some of them bear arms is illustrated by various videos, including Channel 4’s own documentary Up Close With The Rebels, where, at 2:27, one of the jihadis is clearly seen sporting a jersey with white helmets logo.
Among the various dishonest tactics carefully used in connection with the attempt to discredit and isolate Bartlett is the use of this kind of statement: ‘Supporters of the Assad regime have variously accused the White Helmets of being puppets of western powers, peddlers of faked footage or even terrorist fighters posing as humanitarian workers, all of which the organisation vigorously denies.’ The fact is, anyone who studies the evidence now widely available in the public domain can reasonably infer that the White Helmets are indeed a tool of the western powers, that they have indeed issued faked footage, and that some of them do have demonstrable terrorist affiliations. One can infer these things without have any view at all about Assad. The Channel 4 piece flirts with dishonesty by implying that scepticism about the White Helmets is the preserve of dupes of Assad.
 ‘Published on 4 Oct 2016, 20:08 ‘This report, filmed by Syrian cameraman Abdul Kader Habak, gives a glimpse into why Syrian and Russian forces have so far been unable to re-take the whole of Aleppo.’ http://newsvideo.su/video/5313805
 I am not the first to criticize Channel 4’s coverage of Aleppo. As well as Vanessa Beeley’s piece cited in n3, see also Daniel Margrain, ‘Syria: the Western media’s unending propaganda war’, Scisco Media 5 December 2016.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4H9xia3Mis&t=292s. Channel 4 cites ‘multiple reports of summary executions of civilians’ 13 Dec 2016 (https://www.channel4.com/news/inside-aleppo-latest-from-source-in-the-city), which presumably come from the same ‘activists on the ground’ that Jon Snow uncritically relays statements from in this item – https://www.channel4.com/news/aleppo-have-we-reached-the-endgame. In the same item, Alex Thomson includes an interview run by Russian TV where civilians leaving the east call the militias in charge there “animals from hell” who had prevented them having food and tried to stop them leaving (https://www.channel4.com/news/aleppo-have-we-reached-the-endgame). In response to this, Thomson comments from his studio, ‘blaming the rebels may well be genuine, but it could also save your life.’ What? This gratuitous comment he permits himself is given no substantiation. So an identifiable individual manifestly suffering on the screen in front of him is treated as an object of scepticism and insinuation while unidentified activist sources can come out with any tales they choose and these are treated as tantamount to fact.
There is a certain amount of misdirection in the editing too. While referring to unattributed ‘reports’, Channel 4 would run stock footage (unlabelled as such) showing for instance the White Helmets on the ground – as in this one: https://www.channel4.com/news/east-aleppo-bombardment-continues-with-dozens-reported-dead – but they were in reality keeping a very low profile in those days. Misleading interviews, too, as in this one – https://www.channel4.com/news/the-latest-from-aleppo – with a ‘teacher’ who also featured as one of the ‘last days’ webcam publicists, and who later (in February 2017) is writing on Facebook that ‘it is not easy to leave five years of fighting for freedom … The Evil has won a battle but I hope we will get the Freedom in the final stage.’
A particularly egregious practice at Channel 4 is to permit themselves to claim to know Syrian government plans and strategies. Channel 4 is prepared to report on the basis of unspecified sources about ‘what appears to be a deliberate strategy by the Russians to block the evacuation of medical staff from what remains of eastern Aleppo’ (https://www.channel4.com/news/inside-aleppo-latest-from-source-in-the-city) This echoes earlier claims, as in the report that asserted the Syrian government had a plan to make life too unbearable for civilians to stay in Aleppo (https://youtu.be/U7Y_46OE35QS). Such claims are not only preposterous but also implicitly reinforce a disputed claim that it is not the armed militias who are keeping the ordinary population trapped in the area they still hold. This poor journalistic practice seems to be somewhat engrained. We find as recently as 20th January 2017 in the Press Gazette : ‘Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear told Press Gazette : “Waad and her family really were on the last bus to get out of Aleppo and we know that they and the other doctors and activists and journalists in the city were the number one target of the Assad Regime.”’ http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/channel-4-news-filmmaker-waad-al-kateab-safe-in-turkey-after-escaping-aleppo-siege-on-last-bus-out/ The claim is preposterous in more ways than are worth analysing, but the only question I’d trouble to ask is how de Pear thinks he knows this.