WASHINGTON — The United States’ weapons and logistical support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen signals that Washington is backing Riyadh’s goal to crush Houthi rebels despite UN calls for a political solution, experts told Sputnik on Friday.
The United States is providing intelligence and refueling support to enable a four-month-old Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels and allied forces.
On Thursday, Washington decided to provide Riyadh with $500 million in ammunition to replenish stocks used up in the campaign.
“The Saudis want an extended war that leads to a Houthi defeat, and the United States is effectively backing that strategy with the arms deal,” Charles Schmitz, a specialist on Yemen at the Middle East Institute told Sputnik.
“The Saudis don’t want a political settlement; they want a Houthi surrender,” he added.
This week’s $500 million weapons deal, which includes ammunition, tracers, artillery shells and mines, is meant to resupply the Saudi military in its campaign against Houthi rebels, according to the State Department.
The sale was approved as Saudi Arabia has come under criticism for human rights abuses and violations of the international law of war by targeting and killing civilians in Yemen.
The conflict has claimed the lives of at least 1,900 civilians and has injured more than 4,000, according to the UN, while leaving 80 percent of the country in need of humanitarian assistance.
“The new sale by the United States of $500 million of munitions to Saudi Arabia is yet another example of how America is actually an active combatant in the Saudi war on the people of Yemen,” Haykal Bafana, Managing Director of Bafana Advisory, told Sputnik from Sana.
“Whether the US munitions are distributed by Riyadh for use by its Yemeni proxy forces or by the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] itself, the effect is similar: the United States is contributing actively to the deaths of more Yemenis,” Bafana added.
The multi-front war in Yemen pits Houthi rebels and loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi’s Sunni forces, tribes and south Yemen secessionists based in Aden.
Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula and the ISIL have also taken advantage of the situation to strengthen their hold in Yemen.
Saudi trained Yemeni proxies loyal to former president Hadi have recently pushed Houthi forces from Aden as several humanitarian ceasefires and political talks have broken-down.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has delayed a pledge to provide $274 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen as the UN and Riyadh discuss the terms of the assistance, the UN’s humanitarian chief said this week.
The US Defense Department has awarded major weapons maker Raytheon to provide the Persian Gulf Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with 355 air-to-ground missiles amid its persisting campaign of aerial strikes against civilian and economic targets in neighboring Yemen.
According to a Pentagon announcement cited Saturday by the Russia-based Sputnik News, in a $180-million contract assigned to the arms manufacturer, Raytheon is to deliver the AGM-154 series missiles to the Saudi regime in a move clearly regarded as a bid to support the aerial strikes against Yemen.
The AGM-154 is described as a Global Positioning System and infrared guided air-to-ground missile with stand-off capability.
The contract, the report adds, also includes the delivery of 200 AGM-154C-1 missiles to the US Navy.
Washington, the report adds, has justified the missile sales to Riyadh as part of an agreement by Persian Gulf Arab dictatorships to expand their military cooperation with Washington amid “concerns” over the recent nuclear talks conclusion with Iran as well as the Islamic Republic’s persisting influence as a major power and the most stable nation in the strategic region.
Meanwhile, the oil-rich Saudi Arabia, widely regarded as a US client in the Persian Gulf region, has been among the world’s largest importers of lethal weaponry over the years and has significantly expanded its purchase of armaments in recent months, becoming the world’s top importer in 2015 so far.
This is while Riyadh signed major arms deals worth billions of dollars with France last month for the purchase of patrol ships, border guard helicopters and aircraft as it escalated its war effort against Yemen.
The announcement of the deals came during a visit by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud to Paris.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius defended the selling of French patrol boats to Riyadh, claiming that they are meant “to enhance the capability of the Saudi Coast Guard, which is today facing growing threats.”
Saudi Arabia has been carrying out airstrikes against Yemen since March 26 without a UN mandate. The strikes are meant to undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement and restore power to fugitive former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a staunch ally of the Al Saud regime.
Thousands have been killed and at least 11,000 more injured in the airstrikes.
Iran and the United States after the Nuclear Deal: Hillary Mann Leverett, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, and Seyed Mohammad Marandi
Now that the P5+1 and Iran have concluded their Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it is important to look not just at how the parties will go about implementing the deal but also at the JCPOA’s strategic impact. Hillary, the University of Tehran’s Seyed Mohammad Marandi, and Princeton University’s Seyed Hossein Mousavian engaged in a good discussion of these issues on CCTV’s The Heat, see here or click on the video links below.
Mohammad underlines what—not just from an Iranian perspective but from any perspective that values the possibility of rules-based international order—is certainly a key aspect of the JCPOA’s long-term significance:
“For the first time, really, the United States has been forced to accept the Iranian peaceful nuclear program. I think that is the most significant thing to come out of this… Despite the United States forcing the UN Security Council, in previous years, to impose sanctions on the country, and despite the fact that the United States applied punitive sanctions itself, and threatened other countries with sanctions if they did business with Iran, despite all that, ultimately the United States had to accept Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. And we have to remember that, in the past, the United States was saying that Iran did not have the right to enrich uranium…
The fact that Iran has been able to retain its peaceful nuclear program shows Iran’s inherent strength as an independent country. And I think it also vindicates the fact that Iran continued to pursue its peaceful nuclear program over the past few years. This has given Iran the capability to have a strong hand at the negotiating table.”
As for the JCPOA’s impact on U.S.-Iranian relations, Hillary explains that this will depend very much on how Washington presents the JCPOA to its own public and the extent to which the agreement prompts a fundamental revision of U.S. strategy toward the Middle East:
“[The Obama administration] may try to sell it as a narrow arms control agreement. Well, there’s never going to be an agreement that’s good enough to contain what many in Washington see as this unreconstructed, ‘evil’ state, I think that’s going to fail. And I think that the attempt to say, ‘Well, the Iranians are going to abide by this, so you don’t have to worry,’ and, in the meantime, we’re going to continue to sell billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and Israel—while Iran still has the arms embargo in place—could make for a more destabilized region, a more highly militarized region.”
Similarly, Mohammad points out that, if the United States were ready to “rethink” its policy toward the Middle East and toward Iran,
“if the United States changes its behavior toward the country, it would benefit a great deal. But we have to also keep in mind that the United States is still imposing a large number of sanctions against the country. U.S. policy in the region is still in conflict with that of Iran, because of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia and Turkey in their support for al-Qa’ida. So, Iranian-U.S. relations are pretty poor, and I don’t think they will change very quickly.”
As Hillary underscores, the only way to reap the full potential benefit of the JCPOA is for the United States to pursue real, “Nixon to China” rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. But, at the moment, there is no consensus in favor of that within the Obama administration.
The discussion is worth watching in its entirety.
Former engineer Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, according to investigators, was a lone gunman with no prior infractions who this week targeted two US military facilities in Tennessee, killing four militants and no civilians.
Salman bin Abdulaziz is one of the world’s worst dictators. He has many prior infractions, such as publicly announcing becoming a rogue nuclear state, beheading and torturing hundreds of people and repressing millions, and is currently carrying out a war of aggression against one of the poorest countries in the world, Yemen, killing thousands of civilians and enforcing a blockade that risks starving millions, as Yemen imports almost all of its food.
The despot Abdulaziz is one of Washington’s top allies. His terrorist regime is the recipient of the biggest shipment of weapons in US history, approved by Obama in 2010 (the US is the world’s biggest arms trafficker). These killing machines are now being used on the people of Yemen. In 2013, Obama sent the despot almost a billion dollars worth of banned cluster bombs, which both Obama and Abdulaziz have now used against Yemenis.
Many foreign nationals are trapped in the war-zone in Yemen, and eight countries, including India, China, and Russia, are performing risky missions to rescue civilians, their own citizens as well as others. While there are thousands of US civilians trapped in Yemen, Washington vocally refuses to rescue them, issuing a facile claim that it would be too risky, while at the same time performing rescue missions for Saudi pilots whose planes have gone down in Yemen.
Washington is also personally coordinating with dictator Abdulaziz on the strikes, and is refueling the US planes being flown by Saudi pilots.
Obama continues to bomb Yemen himself, killing hundreds of suspects and civilians in a death campaign he has been pursuing for years. He is also participating in enforcing the blockade, which human rights groups say has led the country to the brink of a mass humanitarian catastrophe.
The attack by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez is a small and diluted taste – no explosives were used and no suspects or civilians were killed – of what drone strikes on one’s country are like.
Whenever the US gets a small taste of its own medicine, it doesn’t like it, yet continues to administer the medicine to others in mega-doses. Washington elites know their violence causes violent retaliation, but continue it because they themselves are insulated and safe, and only lower-level grunts and civilians, their human shields, will take the hits.
The Tennessee shooter is quoted in his high school year book as saying that his name, Abdulazeez, “causes national security alerts”. This is now literally true, but is dependent on circumstances. One attack by an Abdulazeez is saturating US headlines and receiving stark condemnation from the US government/oligarchy (Obama called it “heartbreaking”), while an incomparably worse attack by an incomparably worse Abdulaziz, raining down on thousands of people, including US Americans abandoned by their oligarchy, is met with media silence and extreme support and participation from Washington.
Author is a US-based researcher focusing on force dynamics, national and global. @_DirtyTruths
There is a madness in how the mainstream U.S. media presents the world to the American people, a delusional perspective that arguably creates an existential threat to humanity’s survival. We have seen this pattern in the biased depiction of the Ukraine crisis and now in how Official Washington is framing the debate over the Iranian nuclear agreement.
In this American land of make-believe, Iran is assailed as the chief instigator of instability in the Middle East. Yet, any sane and informed person would dispute that assessment, noting the far greater contributions made by Israel, Saudi Arabia and, indeed, the United States.
Israel’s belligerence, including frequently attacking its Arab neighbors and brutally repressing the Palestinians, has roiled the region for almost 70 years. Not to mention that Israel is a rogue nuclear state that has been hiding a sophisticated atomic-bomb arsenal.
An objective observer also would note that Saudi Arabia has been investing its oil wealth for generations to advance the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, which has inspired terrorist groups from Al Qaeda to the Islamic State. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were identified as Saudis and the U.S. government is still concealing those 28 pages of the congressional 9/11 inquiry regarding Saudi financing of Al Qaeda terrorists.
The Saudis also have participated directly and indirectly in regional wars, including encouragement of Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980, support for Al Qaeda-affiliate Nusra Front’s subversion of Syria, and the current Saudi bombardment of Yemen, killing hundreds of civilians, touching off a humanitarian crisis and helping Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate expand its territory.
Then there’s the United States, which has been meddling in the Middle East overtly and covertly for a very long time, including one of the CIA’s first covert operations, the overthrow of Iran’s elected government in 1953, and one of U.S. foreign policy’s biggest overt blunders, President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Iran coup engendered a deep-seated hatred and suspicion of the U.S. government among Iranians that extends to the present day. And, the Iraq invasion not only spread death and destruction across Iraq but has spilled over into Syria, where U.S. “allies” – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel – have been seeking another “regime change” that is being spearheaded by Sunni terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State.
The U.S. government has further aided in the destabilization of the region by flooding U.S. “allies” with powerful military equipment, including aircraft that both Israel and Saudi Arabia have used to bomb neighboring countries.
Yet, in the fantasy land that is Official Washington, the politicians and pundits decry “Iranian aggression,” parroting the propaganda theme dictated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he spoke before an adoring audience of senators and congressmen at a joint session of Congress on March 3.
This Iranian “bad behavior” includes helping the Iraqi government withstand brutal attacks by the Islamic State and assisting the Syrian government in blocking a major victory for Islamic terrorism that would follow the fall of Damascus. Iran is also being blamed for the Houthi uprising in Yemen although most informed observers believe the Iranian influence and assistance are minimal.
In other words, the neoconservatives who dominate Official Washington’s “group think” may detest Iran’s regional activities since they are not in line with Israeli (and Saudi) desires, but less ideological analysts might conclude that – on balance – Iran is contributing to the stability of the region or at least helping to avert the worst outcomes.
A Lost Mind
The question becomes: Has Official Washington so lost its collective mind that it actually favors Al Qaeda or the Islamic State raising the black flag of Islamic terrorism over Damascus and even Baghdad? Is Iranian assistance in averting such a calamity such a terrible thing?
Apparently yes. Here’s how The Washington Post’s foreign affairs honcho David Ignatius – in a column entitled “Will Tehran Behave?” – describes the geopolitical situation following Tuesday’s signing of a deal to tightly constrain Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions:
“The problem isn’t the agreement but Iran itself. Its behavior remains defiantly belligerent, even as it signs an accord pledging to be peaceful. Its operatives subvert neighboring regimes, even as their front companies are about to be removed from the sanctions lists. The agreement welcomes Iran to the community of nations, even though its leader proclaims that Iran is a revolutionary cause.
“Obama argues that dealing with a menacing Iran will be easier if the nuclear issue is off the table for the next 10 years. He’s probably right, but the Iran problem won’t vanish with this accord. Iranian behavior in the region becomes the core issue. Having played the dealmaker, Obama must now press Iran to become a more responsible neighbor.”
By the way, I always thought that the United States proclaimed itself “a revolutionary cause.” But here is Ignatius, who is regarded as a “big thinker,” setting the parameters of the acceptable debate about the Iran nuclear deal. It’s all about Iran’s “behavior.”
Ignatius even quotes Netanyahu decrying the danger that, after 10 years, the agreement will give Iran “a sure path to nuclear weapons.” Of course, Ignatius doesn’t bother to note that Israel already has taken its own path to nuclear weapons. That context is almost never mentioned.
Nor does Ignatius admit how he and many of his fellow pundits supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which in a normal, parallel universe would disqualify Ignatius and his friends from lecturing anyone about how to “behave.” But in today’s Official Washington, a pre-war endorsement of the Iraq disaster is not a disqualifier but a prerequisite for being taken seriously.
Similarly, The Washington Post’s editorial page, which in 2002-03 eagerly backed Bush’s invasion and routinely asserted as flat fact that Iraq possessed hidden WMD stockpiles, now says the real risk in the Iran deal is, you guessed it, “Iranian behavior.”
The Post says the deal could unleash “a dangerous threshold nuclear state that poses a major threat to the United States and its allies.” And, the Post warns that Iran’s “leaders will probably use” the money from the sanctions relief “to finance wars and terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, the Gaza Strip, Yemen and elsewhere.”
Step into Crazy Land
Again, to appreciate the Post’s thinking, you have to step into crazy land. In the real Iraq and the real Syria, the Iranians are supporting internationally recognized governments battling against terrorist groups, Al Qaeda’s affiliate and the Islamic State.
In Yemen, Iranian involvement is probably minor at most. Plus, the Houthis are not a terrorist group, but rather an indigenous popular movement that has been fighting Al Qaeda’s terrorist affiliate in Yemen.
While it’s not clear what the Post thinks that Iran is doing in the Gaza Strip, which is under a tight Israeli military blockade, only fully committed neocons would think that the long-suffering people of the Gaza Strip don’t deserve some outside help.
Still, the larger issue for the American people is what to do with this insane political-media system that dominates Official Washington. Either these powers-that-be are detached from reality or they are deceitful propagandists who think they can manipulate us with lies and distortions.
Yet, by creating a false reality, whether from madness or cynicism, this system guides the nation into terrible decision-making. And, given the immense military power of the United States, this long national detour into a dark psychosis of delusion must be addressed or the future of humankind will be put into serious jeopardy.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
As the world waits to see if the P5+1 and Iran can, in fact, conclude a comprehensive nuclear deal, it is important to step back from the not just day-by-day, but minute-by-minute coverage of comings and goings at the Palais Coburg in Vienna and think about what is really at stake in the negotiating endgame. To this end, we post here a very good discussion of these issues by Hillary and the University of Tehran’s Seyed Mohammad Marandi on CCTV’s The Heat, see here or click on videos above. (Like Mohammad, Flynt is currently in Vienna for the nuclear talks.)
The most critical of the remaining issues to be resolved by the parties relate to the terms of a new United Nations Security Council resolution that would negate previous Security Council resolutions dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue, remove Security Council-authorized international sanctions against Iran, and formally start implementation of a comprehensive nuclear deal. As both Hillary and Mohammad point out, underneath discussions about the modalities for removing international sanctions, whether and how to lift the conventional arms embargo against Iran, and related matters are more fundamental issues:
–Can the United States, for its own interests, abandon its increasingly self-damaging quest to dominate the Middle East and adopt a more reality-based strategy toward this critical part of the world?
–Can the United States, for its own interests, finally accept the Islamic Republic of Iran as a legitimate political order representing legitimate national interests, and genuinely come to terms with this already indispensable and still rising actor in the Middle East?
–In the process, can the United States, for its own interests, replace its longstanding reliance on Israel and Saudi Arabia as its key “partners” in the Middle East with a more balanced approach characterized by strategically-grounded diplomacy with all major regional players?
Let’s see what happens in Vienna.
Turns out the United States and the Islamic State, ISIS, are de facto allies of Saudi Arabia and its alliance of dictator states, all bent on exterminating Yemeni Houthis and pretty much any other Yemeni in the neighborhood. This Yemenicide started in earnest in March 2015. After years of US drone strikes proved too slow and ineffective at wiping out people in the poorest country in the Arab world, it was time to expand the arsenal of war crimes. Rarely, in discussions of Yemen, does one hear much about the violations of international law that have reduced the country to its present war-torn and devastated condition.
Failing to acknowledge a foreign policy disaster in Yemen, the Obama administration has chosen instead to trash international law by supporting the criminal, aggressive war that Saudi Arabia’s coalition of police states launched on Yemen on March 26. Now, despite more than three months of Saudi-American terror bombing, the Houthis remain in control of northwest Yemen, their tribal homeland, as well as much of the southeast of Yemen, having overthrown the internationally-installed puppet government, later “elected” without any opponents, of President Abd Rhabbuh Mansur Hadi.
President Obama praised Hadi as his “successful” partner in attacking terrorists, by which Obama meant he was grateful to Hadi for not objecting to the US drone attacks against his own people. Hadi’s legitimacy always depended on foreign puppeteers, and it still does. Having resigned as president, fled the capital, and rescinded his resignation, Hadi fled again, to Saudi Arabia the day before the Saudi blitz began. The official story is that Hadi requested the undeclared Saudi attack on his own country. Hadi remains in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, free to go nowhere while he pretends to head a government-in-exile that is the presently desired fiction of his captor-protectors.
On July 8, from Riyadh, Hadi reportedly proposed a ceasefire in Yemen to start before the month of Ramadan ends July 17. On July 1, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called for a “humanitarian halt” in combat “until the end of the holy month of Ramadan.” So far, Hadi’s Saudi controllers have used the muslim holy month to rain increased terror on populated areas of Yemen, killing hundreds of civilians and Houthi fighters, with no accurate count available. July 7 saw the highest death toll in Yemen since the Saudi bombing campaign began. This bland-seeming coverage of the carnage by Reuters is riddled by propaganda deceits:
The United Nations has been pushing for a halt to air raids and intensified fighting that began on March 26. More than 3,000 people have been killed since then as the Arab coalition tries stop the Houthis spreading across the country from the north.
The Iran-allied Shi’ite Houthis say they are rebelling against a corrupt government, while local fighters say they are defending their homes from Houthi incursions. Sunni Saudi Arabia says it is bombing the Houthis to protect the Yemeni state.
The Reuters perspective represents the mainstream consensus, which also typically includes some of the same threads of deceit as these:
- “The UN has been pushing …” No, it hasn’t. The UN as a body has done little to protect the Yemenis, but the Security Council has done less for a country in which civil war has spanned generations. Security Council resolutions are determinedly “evenhanded” in their equal treatment of aggressors and victims. In June 2015, after two months of Saudi bombing, the Security Council expressed its “full support” for an impossibility: “a peaceful, inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led political transition process that meets the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Yemeni people.”
- “pushing for a halt to air raids …” No, it hasn’t. The air raids are being carried out by the nine UN member states in the Saudi Coalition, including Security Council member Jordan. The US, a permanent Security Council member, has supported the aerial war crime campaign with logistics, in-flight refueling of bombers, intelligence, air-sea rescue, and naval support for the blockade (which is also an act of war).
- “intensified fighting that began on March 26 …” Intensified fighting began long before March 26. Yemen’s civil war has waxed and waned over several decades. What began March 26 was the war crime nexus of bombing civilian targets by the nine-member Saudi Coalition that includes Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. The Houthi rebellion is more than a decade old and gained intensity in the fall of 2014. The Houthis drove out the Yemeni government and now control the western half of the country, where most of the population lived and most of the bombing takes place.
- “the Arab coalition tries to stop the Houthis spreading across the country from the north …” Reuters is just wrong on this. The Houthi spread was a fact, and the “Arab coalition” failed in an ill-conceived campaign. Faced with an army advancing on the ground, the “Arab coalition” has not deployed ground troops. Without serious objection from the international community, the “Arab coalition” attacks military forces in another country with which they are not at war, as well as terror-bombing that country’s civilians with US-made cluster bombs.
- As for spreading “from the north,” that is at best wrong, if not duplicitous. Saudi Arabia has declared the northernmost province of Yemen, Saada, a military zone in which every civilian is a presumed combatant. This is the same bloodthirsty policy that leads the US to count every drone victim as a combatant until proven otherwise. This is the same moral numbness that led the US to establish free fire zones in Viet-Nam, where every living thing was deemed an enemy. This is total war as waged by the powerful, at a distance, against the weak and almost defenseless. This is as bad as any Nazi onslaught of World War II.
- The absurdity of the Reuters characterization is illustrated by another UN Security Council position in support of a “political solution to Yemen’s crisis in accordance with the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative.” The Gulf Cooperation Council is an oxymoron, in that it includes six of the seven Arab states (not Iraq) on the Persian Gulf who allied determinedly NOT to cooperate with the other Persian Gulf state, Iran. Further, the Security Council absurdly supports the “Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative” when five of the six Gulf Council members (not Oman) are busily bombing Yemen in violation of international law.
- “The Iran-allied Shi’ite Houthis …” There is no evidence of an alliance between Iran and the Houthis, certainly not in any sense equivalent to the overt alliances waging undeclared war on Yemen. The Houthis are Shi’ite muslims, and Iran has almost surely supported them to some extent, but most claims of Iranian involvement in the current fighting are patently over-stated and lack supporting evidence. Reuters here is parroting Arab, American, and Israeli propaganda about the “threat” from Iran.
- “say they are rebelling against a corrupt government …” Who says? Reuters doesn’t say. This is specious journalism. Yemen has a long history of corrupt government, but perhaps the Hadi government allowing US troops to wage war on Yemeni territory, killing Yemenis at will, raised the corruption bar to a new level.
- “local fighters say they are defending their homes …” is worse than specious journalism, it’s pretty much a lie since the main opposition to the Houthis comprises forces loyal to Hadi, as well as cohorts of both Al Qaeda and ISIS.
- “Sunni Saudi Arabia says it is bombing the Houthis to protect the Yemeni state” would be a laugh line were it not such a dark lie. Saudi bombing is destroying the Yemeni state in order to “save” it. The Saudis may be “protecting” the Hadi government, but only in the sense that the Mafia provides protection in a protection racket. The Saudis have longstanding territorial conflicts with the Houthis along the northwest Saudi-Yemeni border. And the Saudis are acting as if they believe their own demonizing propaganda about Iran. Saudi Arabia is more likely bombing the Houthis because they are defenseless and Saudi Arabia doesn’t dare bomb Iran.
Nobody seems to care about Yemen, not even The New Yorker
The widespread, bland disinterest in the unending victimization of Yemenis facing unrelenting, daily crimes against humanity is hardly unique to obtuse observers like Reuters. The New Yorker, which eventually distinguished itself in opposition to the horrors of Vietnam, last published a piece on Yemen on May 1 (according to a site search). That piece conveys the American denial of its own terrorism with a tone of mild distaste suitable to Eustace Tilley, whose monocled default opinion is to blame the victim, as Robin Wright wrote little more than a month after the Saudi-American bombardment began:
The current Houthi rebellion – the seventh – is only the latest. The Houthi clan are Zaydi Muslims, who make up about a third of Yemen’s twenty-six million people. A once powerful people from the rugged northern highlands, they ruled an imamate for a millennium and deeply resented their reduced influence under [former President] Saleh [now a Houthi ally]. Between 2004 and 2010, they fought six other wars against his government….
The quarter-century experiment in uniting Yemen has definitively failed. There is no military solution, and there are unlikely to be any winners out of such a multilayered conflict, whatever the territorial gains….
Last week, the United States dispatched the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Teddy Roosevelt to supplement seven American warships off the Yemen coast. Washington strongly supports a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, but without interested players the risks of unintended consequences increase.
Rhetorically the US may support a “political solution” (to its own liking) and gullible reporters may accept that as some sort of reality. The reality on the ground (and on the water) is that the US supports and participates in endless terror bombing and a naval blockade. That is to say, the US supports and participates in the war crimes that are leading toward mass starvation and human devastation, what the discreet Ban Ki-moon refers to as a “humanitarian crisis” or a “catastrophe,” as if there were no agency causing it.
An editorial July 7 in The New York Times takes the same concerned-but-oblivious-to-the-genocidal-actors tone that reinforces the general pretense that no one is responsible:
Yemen has now been added to the United Nations’ list of most severe humanitarian emergencies, along with South Sudan, Syria and Iraq. It is a tragic distinction, highlighting the peril to 80 percent of the country’s 25 million citizens. The international community, including the United States, is not doing enough to push for an immediate cease-fire in the war that is ravaging the country to make it possible to deliver aid.
Yemen, a poor country, was deeply unstable even before a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States, started bombing the Houthi rebel movement in late March. Last week, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, declared the situation a “catastrophe.”
Is it possible to commit a long string of war crimes in self-defense?
Having tiptoed up to the edge of US war crimes, the Times retreated. The rest of the editorial comprises little more than helpless hand-wringing, without even hinting at the most effective way to save Yemeni lives: stop the bombing. That means you, “Saudi Arabia … backed by the United States.” Like most of the rest of the world, the Times settled for asking for a reasonable-sounding impossibility, which it then undercut with another wisp of Saudi reality:
What is needed is a permanent political solution that will ensure the Houthis, who have some legitimate grievances and are unlikely to give up, get a significant role in any new government. Negotiations should be started without preconditions. But Saudi Arabia and its allies have appeared intent on forcing the Houthis to surrender, no matter what the cost to civilians and Yemen’s cities and villages.
Well, “Saudi Arabia and its allies” includes the US and others. The Times needs to look in the mirror without flinching. Saudi Arabia and its allies need to stop their bombing.
Ironically, they are not bombing Al Qaeda or ISIS forces in Yemen with anything like the same intensity they’re bombing Yemenis. In fact, Al Qaeda and ISIS are supplementing Saudi-American bombing with their own terror-bombing of Yemenis. For whatever reason, if there is one, the Saudi-American aerial genocide against Yeminis is making most of Yemen a much safer haven for terrorists. Yet this lunatic policy continues without serious opposition apparent anywhere. Who decided that Yemen should be treated as if it were the Haiti of the Arab world?
If any of the umpteen candidates for president of the United States has said anything humane, useful, or even dimly relevant about Yemen, it is hard to find (and I have found nothing). And nowhere have I found any call to establish the appropriate International War Crimes Tribunal to judge the illegality of the multiple, heinous predations of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and their sundry allies, all members in good standing of the world peacekeeping authority.
Here are excerpts from a 2007 report from award winning journalist Seymour Hersh. His report, published in the New Yorker under the heading “The Redirection,” outlines in clear language that the conspiracy to topple the governments of Syria and Iran, specifically by sponsoring terrorist groups as mercenaries against them, was conceived and initiated during the Bush years, and began to take shape in earnest in 2007.
In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”
Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.
The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations.
The new strategy “is a major shift in American policy—it’s a sea change,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,” he said. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it.”
This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”
In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction. At least four main elements were involved, the U.S. government consultant told me. First, Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran.
Second, the Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)
The third component was that the Bush Administration would work directly with Sunni nations to counteract Shiite ascendance in the region.
Fourth, the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria. The Israelis believe that putting such pressure on the Assad government will make it more conciliatory and open to negotiations. Syria is a major conduit of arms to Hezbollah.
Towards the end of Saudi Arabia?
The Saudi-American war against Yemen, led by a coalition of the richest Gulf monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, etc. along with their servants like Egypt and Morocco) against the poorest Arab country, enters its fourth month. According to the United Nations, it has killed more than 3,100 and wounded 15,000, displaced 1 million and created 245,000 refugees, and created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis which the United Nations has declared to be on the level of maximum humanitarian alert. Ruthless and indiscriminate strikes target all civilian infrastructure, up to residential areas, markets, granaries, water tanks, hospitals, schools, mosques, and even archaeological remains and tombs – which recalls that the destructive ideology of the Islamic State takes its roots in Saudi Arabia – without sparing civilian convoys fleeing violence. A merciless siege has been imposed in Yemen, a country which imports 90% of its food, and Relief Organizations are prevented from delivering supplies to the country, and even see their workers targeted while providing humanitarian assistance. More than 21 million people (80% of Yemen’s population) are without adequate access to staples and essential services such as food, clean water, medical care, electricity and fuel. Already, it appears that Saudi Arabia has used unconventional weapons (cluster munitions, and perhaps even chemical weapons) and has committed war crimes and perhaps even crimes against humanity.
However, this war remains largely ignored by the mainstream media, both in the West and in the Arab-Muslim world (with the exception of Iran and the media close to Hezbollah in Lebanon). The US sponsors this illegal and criminal military intervention that they provide full support for, putting all their resources at the service of the Gulf monarchies who have acquired the most modern weapons to the tune of $115 billion for the single year 2014: they can therefore destabilise the region without sending their armed forces, conforming to the Obama no-boots-on-the-ground doctrine that favours proxy wars. It is the same for the other NATO member countries – United Kingdom, France, etc., which is not surprising coming from the supporters and apologists of terrorism in Syria. Regarding Riyadh, Wikileaks has recently unveiled the procedure of Saudi censorship of the entire Arab world, between corruption and intimidation. All these actors provide direct support to Al Qaeda and to the Islamic state, which has appeared on the Yemeni scene and is now on the border of Saudi Arabia, their long-time goal. The Saudi blindness seems to know no bounds.
The Saudi assault was not to repel an alleged advance of Iran and/or Shiism, but to break the attempts towards independence of this country that historically has been a vassal of Riyadh. So far, this war has not realised any of its stated objectives. On the contrary, the Yemeni resistance has taken hold of most major Yemen cities, and it takes more and more initiative by carrying the war into the territory of Saudi Arabia, bombing its border towns and attacking its military bases and convoys, and causing dozens of casualties among the Saudi forces – of which the extent of the losses is inviolable military secret. Moreover, the attacks resulted in uniting the country – the regular armed forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Houthi rebels and other popular committees – behind the slogan “Death to the House of Saud”, an unprecedented development in the Middle East, and revealed both the barbarism of the Wahhabi regime and its vulnerability and powerlessness on the purely military field. Held in check despite the benefit of the steady stream of Western weaponry, Riyadh already sees its influence wane in the Middle East.
In a message to the combatants dated 1st July 2015 – that evokes those of Hassan Nasrallah to Hezbollah fighters during the 2006 war –, Abd-al-Malik al-Houthi, head of the Yemeni resistance, denounced the collusion of the Washington-Tel Aviv-Riyad Axis, denouncing the war and the siege imposed in Yemen as even more barbaric than the Israeli crimes in Gaza. He agrees with the analysis of the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, who recalled that even the Zionists did not have a systematic policy of targeting hospitals, tombs and archaeological remains. Abd-al-Malik al-Houthi brandished nothing less than the slogan of the holy war against the cradle of Islam, equated to the “devil’s horn”, which is, according to a famous prophetic tradition, an evil heresy called to arise in the Najd region – where Wahhabism emerged. Again, this is an unprecedented development: Saudi Arabia, which, since March 2015, broke with its policy of underground action and now acts without cover, has never been so violently shaken.
Riyadh is now in an impasse: its air campaign is a bitter failure, as was predictable given the six previous offensives since 2004 by the forces of President Saleh (yesterday supported by Saudi Arabia and now allied with the Houthi rebels), which all ended up in a failure, as well as the Israeli experiences in Lebanon and Gaza, which constitutes the perfect model of the Saudi aggression. As for the option of a ground operation, all data indicates that it would be absolutely disastrous and would end with a rout of Saudi forces. But there is no question for the House of Saud, blinded beyond any possible return, of accepting a cease-fire that would be a victory for Yemen; rather it must continue this fanatic war of terror at all costs, by torpedoing all attempts of agreement or truce, at the risk of rushing towards the abyss. As for the forces of the Yemeni resistance, they are far from having exhausted all their possibilities, and multiply the incursions into enemy territory. They could even question its territorial integrity by claiming Yemeni provinces formerly annexed by Saudi Arabia. And as a last resort, they could close the strategic Strait of Bab al-Mandeb – which they are quite capable of –, one of the largest global maritime passages, especially for hydrocarbons, which would have severe global repercussions. If, like Syria, Iraq and Libya, Yemen is threatened with disintegration, Saudi Arabia itself is now on the way to becoming destabilised, and even dismantling.
Will the Saudi crusade push into the Axis of Resistance a new country, Yemen – about which Hassan Nasrallah declared that the awakening and resistant spirit of its people were such that he could without hesitation send 100,000 or 200,000 men to fight Israel? Whatever the case may be, already the Ansarallah movement has reached the extent of a new Hezbollah, and the Saudi war is doomed to failure. It announces with certainty the inevitable fall of the House of Saud, whose Wahhabi ideology and foreign policy have been the cancer of Islam and of the Arab world for decades, and ultimately, the end of the US-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. More than one of the region’s peoples will rejoice.
Sayed Hasan (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Translated from French by Jenny Bright
“I have seen from the beginning armed protesters in those demonstrations … they were the first to fire on the police. Very often the violence of the security forces comes in response to the brutal violence of the armed insurgents” – Jesuit priest Father Frans Van der Lugt, January 2012, Homs Syria
“The claim that armed opposition to the government has begun only recently is a complete lie. The killings of soldiers, police and civilians, often in the most brutal circumstances, have been going on virtually since the beginning.” – Professor Jeremy Salt, October 2011, Ankara Turkey
“The protest movement in Syria was overwhelmingly peaceful until September 2011” – Human Rights Watch, March 2012, Washington
A double story began on the Syrian conflict, at the very beginning of the armed violence in 2011, in the southern border town of Daraa. The first story comes from independent witnesses in Syria, such as the late Father Frans Van der Lugt in Homs. They say that armed men infiltrated the early political reform demonstrations to shoot at both police and civilians. This violence came from sectarian Islamists. The second comes from the Islamist groups (‘rebels’) and their western backers, including the Washington-based Human Rights Watch. They claim there was ‘indiscriminate’ violence from Syrian security forces to repress political rallies and that the ‘rebels’ grew out of a secular political reform movement.
Careful study of the independent evidence, however, shows that the Washington-backed ‘rebel’ story, while widespread, was part of a strategy to delegitimise the Syrian Government, with the aim of fomenting ‘regime change’. To understand this it is necessary to study the outbreak of the violence in Daraa, in March 2011. Central to that insurrection were shipments of arms from Saudi Arabia to Islamists at the al Omari mosque.
In early 2011 Syrians were well aware of a piece of history few western observers would remember: a strikingly similar Islamist insurrection took place in the town of Hama, back in 1982. Yet this was crushed within weeks by the Syrian Arab Army. Reviewing this conflict is useful because of the myths that have grown up around both insurrections.
US intelligence (DIA 1982) and the late British author Patrick Seale (1988) give independent accounts of what happened at Hama. After years of violent, sectarian attacks by Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, by mid-1980 President Hafez al Assad had ‘broken the back’ of their sectarian rebellion, which aimed to impose a Salafi-Islamic state. One final coup plot was exposed and the Brotherhood ‘felt pressured into initiating’ an uprising in their stronghold of Hama. Seale describes the start of that violence in this way:
‘At 2am on the night of 2-3 February 1982 an army unit combing the old city fell into an ambush. Roof top snipers killed perhaps a score of soldiers … [Brotherhood leader] Abu Bakr [Umar Jawwad] gave the order for a general uprising … hundreds of Islamist fighters rose … by the morning some seventy leading Ba’athists had been slaughtered and the triumphant guerrillas declared the city ‘liberated’ (Seale 1988: 332).
However the Army responded with a huge force of about 12,000 and the battle raged for three weeks. It was a foreign-backed civil war, with some defections from the army. Seale continues:
‘As the tide turned slowly in the government’s favour, the guerrillas fell back into the old quarters … after heavy shelling, commandos and party irregulars supported by tanks moved in … many civilians were slaughtered in the prolonged mopping up, whole districts razed’ (Seale 1988: 333).
Two months later a US intelligence report said: ‘The total casualties for the Hama incident probably number about 2,000. This includes an estimated 300 to 400 members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s elite ‘Secret Apparatus’ (DIA 1982: 7). Seale recognises that the Army also suffered heavy losses. At the same time, ‘large numbers died in the hunt for the gunmen … government sympathizers estimating a mere 3,000 and critics as many as 20,000 … a figure of 5,000 to 10,000 could be close to the truth’ He adds:
‘The guerrillas were formidable opponents. They had a fortune in foreign money … [and] no fewer than 15,000 machine guns’ (Seale 1988: 335). Subsequent Muslim Brotherhood accounts have inflated the casualties, reaching up to ‘40,000 civilians’, and attempting to hide the vicious insurrection by claiming that Hafez al Assad had simply carried out a ‘civilian massacre’ (e.g. Nassar 2014). The then Syrian President blamed a large scale foreign conspiracy for the Hama insurrection. Seale observes that Hafez was ‘not paranoical’, as many US weapons were captured and foreign backing had come from several US collaborators: King Hussayn of Jordan, Lebanese Christian militias (the Israeli-aligned ‘Guardians of the Cedar’) and Saddam Hussein in Iraq (Seale 1988: 336-337).
The Hama insurrection helps us understand the Daraa violence because, once again in 2011, we saw armed Islamists using rooftop sniping against police and government officials, drawing in the armed forces, only to cry ‘civilian massacre’ when they and their collaborators came under attack from the Army. Although the US, through its allies, played an important part in the Hama insurrection, when it was all over US intelligence dryly observed that: ‘the Syrians are pragmatists who do not want a Muslim Brotherhood government’ (DIA 1982: vii).
In the case of Daraa, and the attacks that moved to Homs and surrounding areas in April 2011, the clearly stated aim was once again to topple the secular or ‘infidel-Alawi’ regime. The front-line US collaborators were Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The head of the Syrian Brotherhood, Muhammad Riyad Al-Shaqfa, issued a statement on 28 March which left no doubt that the group’s aim was sectarian. The enemy was ‘the secular regime’ and Brotherhood members ‘have to make sure that the revolution will be pure Islamic, and with that no other sect would have a share of the credit after its success’ (Al-Shaqfa 2011). While playing down the initial role of the Brotherhood, Sheikho confirms that it ‘went on to punch above its actual weight on the ground during the uprising … [due] to Turkish-Qatari support’, and to its general organisational capacity (Sheikho 2013). By the time there was a ‘Free Syrian Army Supreme Military Council’ in 2012 (more a weapons conduit than any sort of army command), it was two-thirds dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood (Draitser 2012). Other foreign Salafi-Islamist groups quickly joined this ‘Syrian Revolution’. A US intelligence report in August 2012, contrary to Washington’s public statements about ‘moderate rebels’, said:
‘The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq, later ISIS] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria … AQI supported the Syrian Opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media’ (DIA 2012).
In February 2011 there was popular agitation in Syria, to some extent influenced by the events in Egypt and Tunisia. There were anti-government and pro-government demonstrations, and a genuine political reform movement that for several years had agitated against corruption and the Ba’ath Party monopoly. A 2005 report referred to ‘an array of reform movements slowly organizing beneath the surface’ (Ghadry 2005), and indeed the ‘many faces’ of a Syrian opposition, much of it non-Islamist, had been agitating since about that same time (Sayyid Rasas 2013). These political opposition groups deserve attention, in another discussion. However only one section of that opposition was linked to the violence that erupted in Daraa. Large anti-government demonstrations began, to be met with huge pro-government demonstrations. In early March some teenagers in Daraa were arrested for graffiti that had been copied from North Africa ‘the people want to overthrow the regime’. It was reported that they were abused by local police, President Bashar al Assad intervened, the local governor was sacked and the teenagers were released (Abouzeid 2011).
Yet the Islamist insurrection was underway, taking cover under the street demonstrations. On 11 March, several days before the violence broke out in Daraa, there were reports that Syrian forces had seized ‘a large shipment of weapons and explosives and night-vision goggles … in a truck coming from Iraq’. The truck was stopped at the southern Tanaf crossing, close to Jordan. The Syrian Government news agency SANA said the weapons were intended ‘for use in actions that affect Syria’s internal security and spread unrest and chaos.’ Pictures showed ‘dozens of grenades and pistols as well as rifles and ammunition belts’. The driver said the weapons had been loaded in Baghdad and he had been paid $5,000 to deliver them to Syria (Reuters 2011). Despite this interception, arms did reach Daraa, a border town of about 150,000 people. This is where the ‘western-rebel’ and the independent stories diverge, and diverge dramatically. The western media consensus was that protestors burned and trashed government offices, and then ‘provincial security forces opened fire on marchers, killing several’ (Abouzeid 2011). After that, ‘protestors’ staged demonstrations in front of the al-Omari mosque, but were in turn attacked.
The Syrian government, on the other hand, said that armed attacks had begun on security forces, killing police and civilians, along with the burning of government offices. There was foreign corroboration of this account. While its headline blamed security forces for killing ‘protesters’, the British Daily Mail (2011) showed pictures of guns, AK47 rifles and hand grenades that security forces had recovered after storming the al-Omari mosque. The paper noted reports that ‘an armed gang’ had opened fire on an ambulance, killing ‘a doctor, a paramedic and a policeman’. Media channels in neighbouring countries did report on the killing of Syrian police, on 17-18 March. On 21 March a Lebanese news report observed that ‘Seven policemen were killed during clashes between the security forces and protesters in Syria’ (YaLibnan 2011), while an Israel National News report said ‘Seven police officers and at least four demonstrators in Syria have been killed … and the Baath party headquarters and courthouse were torched’ (Queenan 2011). These police had been targeted by rooftop snipers.
Even in these circumstances the Government was urging restraint and attempting to respond to the political reform movement. President Assad’s adviser, Dr Bouthaina Shaaban, told a news conference that the President had ordered ‘that live ammunition should not be fired, even if the police, security forces or officers of the state were being killed’. Assad proposed to address the political demands, such as the registration of political parties, removing emergency rules and allowing greater media freedoms (al-Khalidi 2011). None of that seemed to either interest or deter the Islamist insurrection.
Several reports, including video reports, observed rooftop snipers firing at crowds and police, during funerals of those already killed. It was said to be ‘unclear who was firing at whom’ (Al Jazeera 2011a), as ‘an unknown armed group on rooftops shot at protesters and security forces’ (Maktabi 2011). Yet Al Jazeera (2011b) owned by the Qatari monarchy, soon strongly suggested that that the snipers were pro-government. ‘President Bashar al Assad has sent thousands of Syrian soldiers and their heavy weaponry into Derra for an operation the regime wants nobody in the word to see’. However the Al Jazeera suggestion that secret pro-government snipers were killing ‘soldiers and protestors alike’ was illogical and out of sequence. The armed forces came to Daraa precisely because police had been shot and killed.
Saudi Arabia, a key US regional ally, had armed and funded extremist Salafist Sunni sects to move against the secular government. Saudi official Anwar Al-Eshki later confirmed to BBC television that his country had sent arms to Daraa and to the al-Omari mosque (Truth Syria 2012). From exile in Saudi Arabia, Salafi Sheikh Adnan Arour called for a holy war against the liberal Alawi Muslims, who were said to dominate the Syrian government. The Salafist aim was a theocratic state or caliphate. The genocidal slogan ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave’ became widespread, a fact reported by the North American media as early as May 2011 (e.g. Blanford 2011). Islamists from the FSA Farouq brigade would soon act on these threats (Crimi 2012). Canadian analyst Michel Chossudovsky (2011) concluded:
‘The deployment of armed forces including tanks in Daraa [was] directed against an organised armed insurrection, which has been active in the border city since March 17-18.’
After those first few days in Daraa the killing of Syrian security forces continued, but went largely unreported outside Syria. Nevertheless, independent analyst Sharmine Narwani wrote about the scale of this killing in early 2012 and again in mid-2014. An ambush and massacre of soldiers took place near Daraa in late March or early April. An army convoy was stopped by an oil slick on a valley road between Daraa al-Mahata and Daraa al-Balad and the trucks were machine gunned. Estimates of soldier deaths, from government and opposition sources ranged from 18 to 60. A Daraa resident said these killings were not reported because: ‘At that time, the government did not want to show they are weak and the opposition did not want to show they are armed’. Anti-Syrian blogger, Nizar Nayouf, records this massacre as taking place in the last week of March. Another anti-Government writer, Rami Abdul Rahman (based in England, and calling himself the ‘Syrian Observatory of Human Rights’) says:
‘It was on the first of April and about 18 or 19 security forces … were killed’ (Narwani 2014). Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad, himself a resident of Daraa, confirmed that: ‘this incident was hidden by the government … as an attempt not to antagonize or not to raise emotions and to calm things down – not to encourage any attempt to inflame emotions which may lead to escalation of the situation’ (Narwani 2014).
Yet the significance of denying armed anti-Government killings was that, in the western media, all deaths were reported as (a) victims of the Army and (b) civilians. For well over six months, when a body count was mentioned in the international media, it was usually considered acceptable to suggest these were all ‘protestors’ killed by the Syrian Army. For example, a Reuters report on 24 March said Daraa’s main hospital had received ‘the bodies of at least 37 protestors killed on Wednesday’ (Khalidi 2011). Notice that all the dead had become ‘protestors’, despite earlier reports on the killing of a number of police and health workers.
Another nineteen soldiers were gunned down on 25 April, also near Daraa. Narwani obtained their names and details from Syria’s Defence Ministry, and corroborated these details from another document from a non-government source. Throughout April 2011 she calculates that eighty-eight Syrian soldiers were killed ‘by unknown shooters in different areas across Syria’ (Narwani 2014). She went on to refute claims that the soldiers killed were ‘defectors’, shot by the Syrian army for refusing to fire on civilians. The Washington based group Human Rights Watch, referring to interviews with 50 unnamed ‘activists’, claimed that soldiers killed at this time were all ‘defectors’, murdered by the Army (HRW 2011b). Yet the funerals of loyal officers, shown on the internet at that time, were distinct. Even Rami Abdul Rahman, keen to blame the Army for killing civilians, said ‘this game of saying the Army is killing defectors for leaving – I never accepted this’ (Narwani 2014). Nevertheless the highly charged reports were confusing, in Syria as well as outside.
The violence spread north, with the assistance of Islamist fighters from Lebanon, reaching Baniyas and areas around Homs. On 10 April nine soldiers were shot in a bus ambush in Baniyas. In Homs, on April 17, General Abdo Khodr al-Tallawi was killed with his two sons and a nephew, and Syrian commander Iyad Kamel Harfoush was gunned down near his home. Two days later, off-duty Colonel Mohammad Abdo Khadour was killed in his car (Narwani 2014). North American commentator Joshua Landis (2011a) reported the death of his wife’s cousin, one of the soldiers in Baniyas.
Al Jazeera, the principal Middle East media channel backing the Muslim Brotherhood, blacked out these attacks, as also the reinforcement provided by armed foreigners. Former Al Jazeera journalist Ali Hashem was one of many who resigned from the Qatar-owned station (RT 2012), complaining of deep bias over their presentation of the violence in Syria. Hashem had footage of armed men arriving from Lebanon, but this was censored by his Qatari managers. ‘In a resignation letter I was telling the executive … it was like nothing was happening in Syria.’ He thought the ‘Libyan revolution’ was the turning point for Al Jazeera, the end of its standing as a credible media group (Hashem 2012).
Provocateurs were at work. Tunisian jihadist ‘Abu Qusay’ later admitted he had been a prominent ‘Syrian rebel’ charged with ‘destroying and desecrating Sunni mosques’, including by scrawling the graffiti ‘There is no God but Bashar’, a blasphemy to devout Muslims. This was then blamed on the Syrian Army, with the aim of creating Sunni defections from the Army. ‘Abu Qusay’ had been interviewed by foreign journalists who did not notice he was not Syrian (Eretz Zen 2014).
Journalist Nir Rosen, whose reports were generally against the Syrian Government, also criticised the western consensus over the early violence:
‘The issue of defectors is a distraction. Armed resistance began long before defections started … Every day the opposition gives a death toll, usually without any explanation … Many of those reported killed are in fact dead opposition fighters but … described in reports as innocent civilians killed by security forces … and every day members of the Syrian Army, security agencies … are also killed by anti-regime fighters’ (Rosen 2012).
A numbers game was being played to delegitimise the Syrian Government (‘The Regime’) and the Syrian Army (‘Assad loyalists’), suggesting they were responsible for all the violence. Just as NATO forces were about to bomb Libya and overthrow the Libyan Government, US voices began to demand that President Assad step down. The Brookings Institution (Shaikh 2011) claimed the President had ‘lost the legitimacy to remain in power in Syria’. US Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman said it was time ‘to align ourselves unequivocally with the Syrian people in their peaceful demand for a democratic government’ (FOX News 2011). The big powers began to demand yet another ‘regime change’.
In June, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton dismissed the idea that ‘foreign instigators’ had been at work, saying that ‘the vast majority of casualties have been unarmed civilians’ (Clinton 2011). In fact, as Clinton knew very well, her Saudi Arabian allies had armed extremists from the very beginning. Her casualty assertion was also wrong. The United Nations (which would later abandon its body count) estimated from several sources that, by early 2012, there were more than 5,000 casualties, and that deaths in the first year of conflict included 478 police and 2,091 from the military and security forces (OHCHR 2012: 2; Narwani 2014). That is, more than half the casualties in the first year were those of the Syrian security forces. That independent calculation was not reflected in western media reports. ‘Watchdog’ NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, along with US columnists (e.g. Allaf 2012), continued to claim, well into 2012, that Syrian security forces had been massacring ‘unarmed protestors’, that the Syrian people ‘had no choice’ but to take up arms, and that this ‘protest movement’ had been ‘overwhelmingly peaceful until September 2011’ (HRW 2011a, HRW 2012). In fact, the political reform movement had been driven off the streets by Salafi-Islamist gunmen, over the course of March and April.
In June reporter Hala Jaber (2011) observed that about five thousand people turned up for a demonstration at Ma’arrat al-Numan, a small town in north-west Syria, between Aleppo and Hama. She says several ‘protestors’ had been shot the week before, while trying to block the road between Damascus and Aleppo. After some negotiations which reduced the security forces in the town, ‘men with heavy beards in cars and pick-ups with no registration plates’ with ‘rifles and rocket-propelled grenades’ began shooting at the reduced numbers of security forces. A military helicopter was sent to support the security forces. After this clash ‘four policemen and 12 of their attackers were dead or dying. Another 20 policemen were wounded’. Officers who escaped the fight were hidden by some of the tribal elders who had participated in the original demonstration. When the next ‘demonstration for democracy’ took place, the following Friday, ‘only 350 people turned up’, mostly young men and some bearded militants (Jaber 2011). Five thousand protestors had been reduced to 350, after the Salafist attacks.
After months of media manipulations, disguising the Islamist insurrection, Syrians such as Samer al Akhras, a young man from a Sunni family, who used to watch Al Jazeera because he preferred it to state TV, became convinced to back the Syrian government. He saw first-hand the fabrication of reports on Al Jazeera and wrote, in late June 2011:
‘I am a Syrian citizen and I am a human. After 4 months of your fake freedom … You say peaceful demonstration and you shoot our citizen. From today … I am [now] a Sergeant in the Reserve Army. If I catch anyone … in any terrorist organization working on the field in Syria I am gonna shoot you as you are shooting us. This is our land not yours, the slaves of American fake freedom’ (al Akhras 2011).
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The latest reports from Vienna indicate that the negotiators from Iran and the “5 +1″ nations, i.e., UN Security Council’s Permanent Powers plus Germany, have reached a tentative deal and are only inches away from turning it into the final agreement.
According to a source close to the Iran negotiation team, as of July 4th, there were still some residual issues regarding the sanctions, the Additional Protocol, and what is referred to as the “Possible Military Dimension (PMD),” but none of these at this stage is going to “break the deal” and are expected to be resolved in the next few days.
One of the reasons for the rapid progress of the Vienna talks has to do with the important Tehran visit of the head of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was reportedly successful in closing the gaps between Iran and the agency, which has repeatedly confirmed the absence of any evidence of diversion of nuclear material in Iran and, yet, insisted that it is unable to verify the complete peacefulness of Iran’s civilian program in light of the PMD issues.
From Iran’s vantage point, however, the PMD has been exploited as a license to access Iran’s military secrets, which is why it was important for Mr. Amano to meet with Iranian leaders last week and reach a new understanding on the future scope of IAEA’s inspection access. Certainly, the U.S.’s unreasonable demand for inspections “anytime, anywhere,” is unacceptable and by now the Americans have realized it and retreated from what could have been a deal-breaker.
On the issue of sanctions, Iran has rightly insisted on the concept of simultaneity, so that the other side will not have the luxury of playing with delays after Iran’s fulfillment of its obligations. With respect to the timeline for the removal of sanctions, there would be a UN Security Council resolution that would render moot the existing sanctions resolutions on Iran. By all indications, this is a tremendous diplomatic victory for Iran, thus short cutting a potentially arduous and lengthy process.
Henceforth, with the imminent announcement of a final agreement in Vienna, the stage is set for a tremendous breakthrough in a nuclear stalemate that has blocked normal relations between Iran and the West. In addition to releasing the potential for rapid growth in market relations between the two sides, the final nuclear agreement also carries the seed of “linkage” to anti-terrorism, deemed as a “common threat” by Iran’s lead negotiator, foreign minister Javad Zarif, who has exhorted the West to wrap up the nuclear talks so that both sides can focus on a hitherto missing comprehensive strategy to defeat the growing menace of terrorism, reflected in the on-going barbaric atrocities of the self-declared Islamic State (Daesh).
In terms of the reaction by the conservative Arab bloc led by Saudi Arabia, the final nuclear deal ought to bring a new sense of realism to Riyadh, which has been led astray by a senseless, even genocidal, unilateral war on Yemen, which must be brought to an end for the sake of millions of suffering people in Yemen as well as regional stability. Some of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council states such as UAE are eyeing to rip huge economic benefits from the lifting of Iran sanctions and, therefore, it is futile for Saudi Arabia to continue with its anti-deal approach that is bound to put it at odds with some PGCC member states.
Israel, on the other hand, is expected to continue with its current negative campaign against the deal, hoping that the U.S. Congress would ruin it, yet even the Republican opponents of the deal have recently conceded that they lack the votes to override a presidential veto. Hopefully, the nuclear deal will spawn a new era of attention on Israel-Palestinian issue, which has been quietly festering and requires serious global focus, which has to some extent been deflected so far due to the Iran nuclear crisis.
While it remains to be seen what a final nuclear agreement would look like in the technical details, it is a sure bet that it will be complex, multi-layered, and fully dependent on the faithful implementation by both sides, which is why a special dispute resolution commission will be handling the issues of potential non-compliance. A similar panel set up by the 2013 Geneva Agreement was highly successful in this regard and has thus set a positive precedent. One of Iran’s informal complaints during the timeline of the Geneva agreement has been, however, that the U.S. had officially agreed to certain provisions, such as the lifting of restrictions on shipping insurance, and yet would send envoys to Europe to discourage the Europeans from entering into new contracts with Iran. Such “double dealings” with Iran must stop after a final deal is signed, which will sound the death knell for the unjust sanctions regime on Iran.
Saudi fighter jets have once again targeted various areas in war-torn Yemen, killing at least 10 people in the Arab country.
At least 7 people were killed on Sunday night after Saudi warplanes pounded residential areas in the town of al-Ma’ala in Yemen’s southwestern Aden Province, the country’s al-Masirah television reported.
Another two people lost their lives in airstrikes carried out against the al-Zamah district in the northwestern Yemeni city of Sa’ada.
Saudi planes also bombarded Yemen’s coast guard base in the town of al-Makha in the southwestern province of Ta’izz, killing one person.
A school in the town of Midi in the northwestern province of Hajjah was also targeted in air raids.
In the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, Saudi jets reportedly pounded the houses of tribal chiefs and businessmen loyal to the Houthi Ansarullah movement in addition to the Republican Guard Academy.
In a retaliatory attack, the Yemeni army backed by Popular Committees targeted the al-Radif military base in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern city of Jizan with six missiles.
Saudi Arabia has been bombarding different areas in Yemen since March 26 without any authorization from the United Nations and heedless of international calls for the cessation of its deadly airstrikes against the impoverished country.
Over 2,600 Yemeni people have been killed and at least 11,000 others injured in the conflict in Yemen since March 19, according to the UN.
Local Yemeni sources put this number at more than 4,500.