Although a conservative estimate, physicians’ groups say the figure ‘is approximately 10 times greater’ than typically reported
How do you calculate the human costs of the U.S.-led War on Terror?
On the 12th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, groups of physicians attempted to arrive at a partial answer to this question by counting the dead.
In their joint report— Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the ‘War on Terror—Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival, and the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War concluded that this number is staggering, with at least 1.3 million lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone since the onset of the war following September 11, 2001.
However, the report notes, this is a conservative estimate, and the total number killed in the three countries “could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.”
Furthermore, the researchers do not look at other countries targeted by U.S.-led war, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and beyond.
Even still, the report states the figure “is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs.
In Iraq, at least 1 million lives have been lost during and since 2003, a figure that accounts for five percent of the nation’s total population. This does not include deaths among the estimated 3 million Iraqi refugees, many of whom were subject to dangerous conditions during this past winter.
Furthermore, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, note the researchers. The findings follow a United Nations report which finds that civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2014 were at their highest levels since the global body began making reports in 2009.
The researchers identified direct and indirect deaths based on UN, government, and NGO data, as well as individual studies. While the specific number is difficult to peg, researchers say they hope to convey the large-scale of death and loss.
Speaking with Democracy Now! on Thursday, Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-author of the forward to the report, said:
“[A]t a time when we’re contemplating at this point cutting off our removal of troops from Afghanistan and contemplating new military authorization for increasing our operations in Syria and Iraq, this insulation from the real impacts serves our government in being able to continue to conduct these wars in the name of the war on terror, with not only horrendous cost to the people in the region, but we in the United States suffer from what the budgetary costs of unending war are.”
According to Gould’s forward, co-authored with Dr. Tim Takaro, the public is purposefully kept in the dark about this toll.
“A politically useful option for U.S. political elites has been to attribute the on-going violence to internecine conflicts of various types, including historical religious animosities, as if the resurgence and brutality of such conflicts is unrelated to the destabilization cause by decades of outside military intervention,” they write. “As such, under-reporting of the human toll attributed to ongoing Western interventions, whether deliberate of through self-censorship, has been key to removing the ‘fingerprints’ of responsibility.”
This article examines and documents the Houla massacre of May 2012, a terrible incident in the Syrian Crisis which came closest to attracting UN intervention. The analysis here seeks to include all relevant evidence, both from witnesses and on the UN processes. A series of appalling civilian massacres during the conflict helped set the tone for another round of ‘humanitarian intervention’ or ‘responsibility to protect’ debates. The killings at Houla deserve close attention. However, because of NATO’s abuse of the ‘no fly zone’ authorisation for Libya and the wider geo-politics of Syria, Russia and China would not allow a similar UN Security Council authorisation of force. Big power intervention therefore remained indirect, through proxy militias. While the Syrian army attacked those militias and many Islamist groups carried out public executions, attempts to blame the Syrian Army for attacks on civilians remained hotly contested.
The context to this was two very different narratives. Western propaganda attacked Syrian President Bashar al Assad, claiming that he, through the Syrian Arab Army, was repeatedly ‘killing his own people’. From the Syrian side this was always a proxy war against Syria, with NATO and allied Gulf monarchies backing sectarian terrorist gangs, with the aim of ‘regime change’. The western line maintained that a peaceful protest movement, after many months of ‘regime brutality’, transformed into a secular (later ‘moderate Islamist’) ‘revolution’. The western popular media reinforced this line, with calls to arm the ‘civilian protestors’. One such article claimed ‘We will pay a high price if we do not arm Syria’s rebels’ (Slaughter 2012). In the first few months of western reports there is very little admission of an armed insurrection, except by suggested ‘civilian self-defence’ measures.
The Syrian Government, on the other hand, said the political reform movement and the sectarian Islamist attacks were quite distinct, the latter taking cover under the former. Armed sniping attacks on police and civilians began in March 2011. In fact, arms shipments were intercepted on the Syria-Iraq border a week before the first violence broke out (Reuters 2011) and former Saudi military official Anwar Al-Eshki would later confirm to the BBC that his country had armed Islamists at the al-Omari mosque in Daraa (Truth Syria 2012). Many Syrian citizens back their government’s explanation, saying that the early protests were not linked to the armed attacks, which made use of Islamist slogans. The protest movement was effectively driven off the streets by the armed conflict (Eva Pal 2014; Haidar 2012). It has emerged that both sides played down soldier deaths in the early weeks, as ‘the government did not want to show they are weak and the opposition did not want to show they are armed’. Yet 18-19 soldiers were massacred in Daraa in late March and another 88 were killed across Syria in April (Narwani 2014).
A similarly polarised view developed over how to characterise the violence in Homs over 2011-2012, when the first groups calling themselves Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades attempted to hold parts of the old city. The Farouq and Khalid bin Walid brigades were the main occupying groups. Western sources characterised Farouq, if not exactly secular, then as ‘moderate’ Sunni Muslims. One US report, while recognising Islamist ‘jihadis’ amongst the fighters, claimed that ‘the vast majority of the [FSA] opposition fighters are legitimate nationalists … pious rather than Islamists and are not motivated by sectarianism’ (Benotman and Naseraldin 2012). The Washington-aligned International Crisis Group similarly noted ‘the presence of a strong Salafi strand among Syria’s rebels’, but spoke of ‘a moderate Islamic tradition’, suggesting that the Farouk and Khalid bin Walid brigades might be pious rather than Islamist (ICG 2012). The Wall Street Journal also called Farouk ‘pious Sunnis’ rather than Islamists (Malas 2013). The BBC called them ‘moderately Islamist’, suggesting they exaggerated their Islamism by dress and beards ‘to attract financial support from the Gulf’ (Marcus 2013).
Yet many Homs residents were terrified by the sectarian-genocidal slogans of ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the tomb’ (Eretz Zen 2012; Adams 2012; Wakefield 2012). Reports of these slogans appeared in the US media as early as May 2011 (Blanford 2011). They did indeed drive Christians to Beirut. The Orthodox and Catholic churches blamed Farouq for the large scale ethnic cleansing of more than 50,000 Christians from Homs (CNA 2012). They began to impose an Islamic tax (Spencer 2012). A local analyst concluded most of Farouk were sectarian Salafis, armed and funded by Saudi Arabia; while ‘Khalid Ibn al-Walid remained loyal to and supported by the Muslim Brotherhood’ (Mortada 2012). Such ethnic cleansing would hardly have come from ‘moderate’ religious people, let alone a secular revolution.
The Houla massacre
After the Syrian Army had driven the FSA groups out of Homs, and on the eve of a UN Security Council meeting on Syria, a dreadful massacre of more than 100 civilians took place at the village of Houla, on the Taldou plains just north-west of Homs. The Houla massacre (25 May 2012) is important to ‘Responsibility to Protect’ discussions, because it formed the basis of a failed attempt to authorise UN intervention to protect civilians, based on the claim that the Syrian Government had massacred civilians. Evidence to back that claim, however, was hardly clear.
The governments of Britain, France and the USA immediately blamed the Syrian Government. In what has been called the ‘western and Arab media narrative’ the victims were killed by army artillery (Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013). The Syrian Government, in turn, accused the foreign-backed terrorists, in particular the groups that had been driven out of Homs. Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the army clashed with ‘hundreds’ of armed men who committed Friday’s massacre. The killers used knives, which they said was a ‘signature’ of Islamist militant attacks (Reuters 2012). The Government told the UN ‘the victims were reportedly killed by terrorists numbering between 600–800, who had entered Al-Houla previously from the villages of Al-Rastan, Sa’an, Bourj Qaei and Samae’leen, among other locations’. The General Command of the armed forces held an inquiry (HRC 2012a: 6).
Allegations of Islamist ‘false flag’ provocations had been made before. Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, the mother superior in charge of an ancient monastery in Qara, south of Homs, had observed the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Homs, and had grave suspicions about who was behind the killings at Houla. She had said publicly that Syrian Christians had been pressured to join FSA groups, had been used by the rebels as human shields and that Christian homes had been taken over by Sunnis. She denounced their ‘false flag’ crimes in 2011 (SANA 2011; AINA 2012), pointing out that the Catholic Media Centre had a list of names of hundreds of murder victims, many of whose images had been later used in [FSA] media setups (SANA 2011).
Western media reports, however, generally dismissed statements from Damascus. Several governments expelled Syrian diplomats, in moves designed to isolate the government. The UN Security Council said it:
‘condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings … in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood … [and] also condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range … [this] constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government’ (UNSC 2012). France’s representative at the UN, Martin Briens, said: ‘Tanks and artillery cannons from the government shelled residential areas killing civilians’ (RT 2012). Britain’s envoy Mark Lyall Grant said ‘there is not the slightest doubt that there was deliberate government shelling against a civilian neighbourhood’ (Cowan 2012).
These accusations were premature, betraying prejudice. Russia insisted on a UNSC briefing by UN Special Mission (UNSMIS) head, Norwegian General Robert Mood, who told them the victims included 49 children and 34 women, most of whom had been shot at close range or had their throats cut. Russian diplomat Aleksandr Pankin summarised: ‘very few of the people who died in Houla were killed by artillery shelling’ (RT 2012). From then, culprits in western media stories shifted to pro-government militia (shabiha). Britain’s Daily Telegraph blamed ‘Assad’s Death Squads’. The paper suggested a sectarian motive, from an opposition source: ‘They would fight for Bashar to the death. It is natural – they have to defend their sect’ (Alexander and Sherlock 2012).
The certainty of the British and French governments, and of the anti-government ‘activists’, was not evident in the statements of the head of UNSMIS. Mood’s group visited the massacre site and heard two distinct stories. The general’s public comments three weeks after the massacre deserve attention, given that the UN did not release the report to which he refers:
‘We have interviewed locals with one story and we have interviewed locals that have another story. The circumstances and … the facts related to the incident itself still remain unclear to us … we have sent [statements and witness interviews] as a report to UN headquarters New York … if we are asked [to assist] obviously we are on the ground and could help’ (Mood 2012).
This report was delivered to the UN Secretary General (UNSG 2012); yet it seems it was not received by the Security Council (Hauben 2012). Mood’s ambiguity may have been disconcerting for those wanting clear findings against the Syrian Government. On 1 June the Human Rights Council (three against and two abstentions) blamed the Houla killings on the Syrian Government (‘wanton killings … by pro-regime elements and a series of Government artillery and tank shellings’) before calling for a ‘comprehensive, independent and unfettered special inquiry’ (HRC 2012c). UNSMIS had its activities suspended and was disbanded in August.
Circumstances and timing were certainly important. As the Syrian Army drove Farouq from Homs and into surrounding towns, Syrians turned out for the 7 May National Assembly elections. Those sections of the opposition aligned to the FSA called for a boycott, and armed groups threatened to enforce this (al Akhbar 2012). In the event, the ruling Ba’ath party won 60% of the vote and their allied parties another 30%, though turnout was only 51% (Zarzar and al-Wahed 2012). There was reason to suspect enforcement of the threat, as reprisals against those who had participated and so lent legitimacy to the state and the government.
Yet that line of inquiry was not pursued by the second UN inquiry. With three of the UNSC permanent members openly backing regime change in Syria, the debate was heavily politicised. The Houla massacre inquiry was taken over by a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry, co-chaired by US diplomat Karen Koning AbuZayd (HRC 2012a; HRC 2012b). Appointing a US delegate was a mistake, on the part of the UN. Karen Koning Abu Zayd had worked for the UN for many years, but was explicitly listed as a USA delegate to the Commission. The US Government had, by this time, publicly blamed the Syrian Government for Houla, demanding that President Assad resign for ‘killing your fellow citizens’ (AP 2012) and, with Turkey, had ‘stepped up’ what it called ‘non-lethal aid’ to rebels in Syria (Barnard 2012). By any standard Washington was a belligerent party to the Syrian conflict. On principles of independence and avoiding conflicts of interest the Human Rights Council should not have incorporated a US representative.
Unlike UNSMIS, this Commission did not visit Syria. A review of evidence was carried out and eight additional interviews were conducted, at a distance from Syria. The interim report reflected some of the ambiguity of the UNSMIS team: ‘[We are] unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators at this time; nevertheless … forces loyal to the Government may have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10). This was an injudicious statement. The report blamed both government forces and anti-government groups for crimes of war, but came in more strongly against the Syrian government, relying on the formal duties of government to ‘prevent or punish’ violence, as well as not commit it (HRC 2012b: 23). That is, a ‘catch-all’ argument had it that the Government was ultimately responsible for all violence on its territory.
The Commission’s 15 August report firmed up against the Syrian Government, removing most of the earlier ambiguity, but without identifying perpetrators. They wrote:
‘The commission conducted eight additional interviews, including with six witnesses from the Taldou area, two of whom were survivors. They looked at a range of statements from ‘various sources’, including ‘international human rights NGOs’ (HRC 2012b: 64-65).
All statements, they said, were consistent with deaths being caused by government shelling and unidentified ‘shabiha’ forces. Even though they had heard evidence that the Al Sayed and Abdulrazzak families (the main groups of civilians killed) were government supporters, they concluded that the unidentified killers of those families ‘were aligned to the government’ (HRC 2012b: 67). They discounted evidence that FSA groups had committed the murders, claiming ‘apart from two witnesses in the Government report, no other account supported the Government’s version of events’ (HRC 2012b: 10). The Government ‘was responsible for the deaths of civilians as a result of shelling’, they said; while as regards the ‘deliberate killing of civilians, the Commission was unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators … [but] it considered that forces loyal to the Government were likely to have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10).
A prominent witness presented by the anti-government side was 11 year old boy Ali Al Sayed, who says many members of his family were murdered. In an online video little Ali says:
‘There were tanks in the street, they shot at us with machine guns … soldiers came out … they fired 5 bullets on the door lock … arrested my brother … [and] my uncle … then my mum screamed at them … they then shot her 5 times, they shot her in the head … then he went to my brother and shot him … some of them were dressed as military, some had regular clothes, had shaved heads and beards, shabiha’ (Marchfifteen 2012).
He pretended to be dead, and thus escaped being murdered. Later he saw news on state television of his uncles having been murdered. His story is not consistent in several respects (Larson in Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013: 20-28) and, at the end, with the help of some leading questions, he gives what appears to be a tutored appeal for foreign military intervention:
‘I demand that the international community stop the killing in Syria and in Houla … we are being killed … the international community is sitting, just talking and not doing anything … the people must fight for us, do what they say and protect us’ (Marchfifteen 2012).
Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the boy’s story, Ali’s was hardly the only eye-witness account of the massacre. Further, it was quite false for the UN Commission of Inquiry to suggest that only ‘two witnesses … supported the Government’s version of events’. By that time there was public evidence from at least fifteen witnesses, broadly consistent with the account by the Syrian Government. Russian journalists tried to present their interview material to the Commission and apparently met with a lack of interest (Janssen 2012). The Commission claimed that the Russian reports ‘relied primarily on the same two witnesses as the Government’s report’ (HRC 2012b: 66). Yet a simple reading of a summary of evidence from the latter’s witnesses shows this to be false. Below is a summary of evidence from witnesses the UN Commission ignored. These accounts of ‘rebel’ culprits are broadly consistent with the account of the Government and often quite specific. Several gunmen are named.
First, the Syrian news agency reported two unidentified people who feared for their safety. The first said the gunmen were locals plus a larger group from other areas. The locals assembled after noon prayers before attacking check-points. They then selected pro-government people, those who participated in elections or ‘didn’t give the gunmen money’. One was Haitham al-Housan. The bodies shown on television were of ‘people murdered by terrorists along with the bodies of the gunmen killed in the initial conflict’ (SANA 2012). The second witness, a woman, saw the larger group attacking a check-point. They heard of people from Tal Dahab, Aqrab and al-Rastan. A man called Saiid Fayes al-Okesh fired a mortar and police responded; he was shot in the leg. Another gunmen was Haitham al-Hallaq, who led a group of about 200. The victims belonged to the al Sayed family, with Muawiya al Sayed ‘a police officer who didn’t defect’ and others related to Meshleb al Sayed, who ‘recently became Secretary of the Peoples’ Assembly’. Other targeted groups included four households of the Abdelrazzaq family (SANA 2012).
Syrian television news showed interviews with two distressed male witnesses. The first man said:
‘The terrorists are from this area and all the areas around … a huge number of them, hundreds. They started to use shells and RPGs … hitting the houses with guns, machine guns … They killed people in their houses … some bodies have been burned’ (Syria News 2012: at 6.47). The second man said: ‘A man, his brother, and nephew were killed in front of my sister … [another] was able to run away and hide … the United Nations, those observers, what are they doing while shells are hitting us?’ (Syria News 2012: at 7.35).
German journalist, Rainer Hermann, who speaks Arabic, interviewed witnesses from Houla within days of the massacre. His sources included Syrian opposition members who had rejected violence, whose names he withheld. They said Islamist rebels had attacked three army checkpoints. His sources told him:
‘The massacre took place after Friday prayers … dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed … [in fighting of] about 90 minutes … those killed were almost exclusively families of the Alawite or Shia minorities … [including] several dozen members of a family which had converted to Shia Islam in recent years … and the family of a Sunni member of parliament, because he was considered a collaborator … after the massacre, the perpetrators filmed their victims, presented them as Sunni victims and spread their videos’ (Hermann 2012).
Hermann gave names to the gang leaders:
‘more than 700 gunmen under the leadership of Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf [Farooq leaders] came in three groups from Rastan, Kafr Laha and Akraba and attacked three army checkpoints around Taldou. The numerically superior rebels and the soldiers fought bloody battles … the rebels, supported by the residents of Taldou, snuffed out the families … [who] had refused to join the opposition’ (LRC 2012).
German journalist Alfred Hackensberger spoke with a man who had been given refuge in the Qara monastery headed by Mother Agnes Mariam. This man called ‘Jibril’ said:
‘The fighting began around noon, when the rebels, coming from Ar-Rastan and Saan, attacked the checkpoints … the rebels went to the hospital and killed patients there … several teams targeted and went in selected houses and started to shoot all of the inhabitants. He knew the Sajid’s personally. ‘They were Sunni Muslims, like all of us’, he says. ‘They were killed by them because they have refused to join the revolution. They’ve even murdered a Member of Parliament who … had refused the boycott of the FSA’.
Asked about the ‘regime loyalists’ claims, Jibril responded derisively:
‘Nonsense … Houla is in rebel hands since December 2011 … the Army would like to reclaim Taldu, but it has not been done … many people know what really happened … who’s there … can only replay the version of the rebels. Everything else is certain death’ (Hackensberger 2012).
The Arabic speaking Dutch writer Martin Janssen constructed his view from three sources: the Catholic Fides news agency, information from refugees at the Qara monastery and the accounts of Russian journalists Musin and Kulygina. He questioned the shabiha story because many victims were Alawi, who are almost all pro-government. Fides had reported that ‘large groups of Syrian Alawites and Christians were fleeing to Lebanon to escape the violence of armed gangs’, after the events at Houla (Janssen 2012). The Qara monastery told him witnesses said the army was absent in the region, with ‘Rastan and Saan … under full control of the Free Syrian Army’. The armed groups attacked the al-Watani hospital and killed the guards. ‘Then they invaded the hospital where armed rebels killed all present and … put the hospital on fire’ (Janssen 2012). At Tal Daw, near Houla, armed groups murdered all the Alawite families. The report from the monastery described the area around Qusayr as ‘in turmoil’ and wracked by sectarian violence (Janssen 2012).
Those Russian journalists, Marat Musin and Olga Kulygina from the Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA-News) had a camera crew in Houla on 25 May and took a number of witness interviews. Their sources make it very clear the murderers were Islamist ‘rebels’. An old woman called
‘The grandmother of Al-Hula’ said: ‘Checkpoint positions were attacked … All the soldiers were killed, then they attacked our villages, torched a hospital … Bandits killed our pharmacist … [because] he had treated a wounded soldier Nobody but the army will help us … They say there have been airstrikes! Lies, lies, lies. Liars, all of them come from Ar-Rastan’ (ANNA 2012).
Taldou resident Syed Abdul Wahab, said: ‘The terrorists want to come here … to take power. We have always lived in peace. We cannot leave the house’. A local woman from Al-Gaunt, next to Al-Houla, said ‘Nine terrorists killed my relatives in the field. The bandits set fire to our houses and we fled … we have a martyr, who was burned alive. Why, by what law did they die? Is this Islam? Is this justice?’ (ANNA 2012).
Another woman from Taldou they call Arifah told them she listened to the radio chatter from the ‘bandits’, before the massacre (Musin 2012a). They began by firing at the main checkpoint while a group from the al Hassan clan, led by Nidal Bakkur, attacked a ‘second checkpoint’ outside the village. The bandits lost about 25 people but after about two hours they had taken over both check-points. ‘They then proceeded to murder the Al-Sayed family which lived across the street from the police station’. Three families including about 20 children were murdered, along with another 10 from the Abdul Razaq family. That afternoon Abdul Razak Tlas, leader of the Farouq Brigade, arrived with 250 men from Ar-Rastan, Aqraba and Farlaha (Musin 2012a). The city of Ar-Rastan had been abandoned by most civilians for some time, taken over by Islamists from Lebanon (Musin 2012b). Arifah said that by 8pm the murdered civilians and dead bandits had been taken to the mosque. They then filmed for the Qatari and Saudi television stations. On Saturday morning, when the UNSMIS observers arrived, ‘The fallen rebels involved in the action were presented as civilians, while the conquering rebels dressed in army uniforms posed as defectors. They were surrounded by their family members who told the story of a government attack with heavy shelling and posed as victim’s relatives, while the relatives of the real victims were nowhere to be seen’ (Musin 2012a).
Violence continued after the UNSMIS visit. Musin and Kulygina later interviewed two wounded soldiers, a wounded policeman and another resident, who gave more detail of ‘rebel’ sniper attacks and murders, and of the ‘rebel’ escorts set up for the UN observers. They continued to identify attackers and victims. A group from the Al Aksh clan had been firing mortars and RPGs at the checkpoints. All checkpoint prisoners were executed: a Sunni conscript had his throat cut, while Abdullah Shaui of Deir-Zor was burned alive (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The police officer said ‘the attackers were from Ar-Rastan and Al-Hula. Insurgents control Taldou. They burned houses and killed people by the families, because they were loyal to the government’ (Musin 2012b). The resident saw the clashes from the roof of the police station. ‘Al Jazeera aired pictures and said that the Army committed the massacre at Al Hula … in fact, they [the gunmen] killed the civilians and children in Al-Hula. The bandits … steal everything … most of the fighters are from the city of Ar Rastan’ (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The second UN inquiry ignored these 15 witnesses, who told of specific perpetrators with clear political motives. An outline of major reports and their associated evidence is below.
|TABLE Houla massacre (May 2012): significant reports|
|Source/report||Method and conclusion|
|Mother Agnes Mariam||FSA had previously attacked Christians and was engaged in ‘false flag’ attacks, falsely blamed on the government|
|Most western media reports||Massacre by ‘Assad’s death squads’|
|British and French government||Massacre resulted from Government shelling of civilian areas; later changed this to ‘regime thug’ attacks|
|UN Special Mission on Syria (UNSMIS), Gen. Robert Mood||Went to massacre site, heard stories that blamed both sides. Could not resolve the two versions.|
|UN HRC Commission of Inquiry||Interviews in Geneva, co-chaired by US diplomat; witnesses selection assisted by anti-government groups; Commission blames pro-government ‘thugs’ (shabiha)|
|FSA video, on Al Jazeera and elsewhere||Show young boy Ali al Sayed, he blames ‘shabiha’ in army clothes with shaved heads and beards.|
|Syrian Government, state news agencies and television||Four direct witnesses say attacks were by armed gangs, who killed security and targeted pro-government families|
|German journalist Alfred HACKENSBERGER||Interviews refugee ‘Jibril’ at Qara monastery – massacre carried out by FSA gangs on pro-government families|
|German journalist Rainer HERMANN||Interviews anti-violence opposition people – they say local gangs and FSA killed pro-government families|
|Dutch Journalist Martin JANSSEN||Notes large outflow of Christian and Alawi refugees from Houla; refugees at Qara blame FSA gangs|
|Russian journalists Marat MUSIN and Olga KULYGINA||Eight witnesses blame FSA-linked anti-government gangs, victims pro-government families|
|Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson||Critical review of evidence and UN reports – say the Commission report is not credible.|
Dissent at the UN
The partisan report clearly influenced UN discussions. Although the HRC passed a motion with a strong majority, condemning the Syrian Government, the dissenting comments were significant. Russian representative Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischv (UNTV 2012: 7.00 to 8.10) said
‘We cannot agree with the one-sided conclusions put out in the resolution concerning the Commission on the Houla tragedy … We believe that the question of guilt is still open. An investigation should be carried out thoroughly … unfortunately some states are de facto encouraging terrorism in Syria therefore we have no doubt that the episode in Houla has definitely been whipped up in the media and has been used to carry out force against this country. The delegate from China (UNTV 2012: 13.25 to 15.50) also flagged that country’s intention to vote against the resolution, as there was a need ‘for a political solution … [and an] immediate end to violence … putting pressure on one party for the conflict will not help solve the problem’. The Cuban delegate (UNTV 2012: 16.05 to 18.50) said ‘there are parties that are interested in not fostering the path of dialogue and understanding … [some saying clearly they want] regime change, and even promoting the idea of military intervention with the use of force to impose on the Syrian people decisions that are being taken outside the country’. The Indian delegate (UNTV 2012: 19.00-21.30), who abstained, said India had given ‘unqualified support to the joint missions’ but urged the Human Rights Council to ‘always act with complete impartiality, in order to maintain its credibility and retain the trust and confidence of all … [there is a need for] a balanced and impartial resolution that can help start a meaningful political process in Syria’
The Syrian delegation (UNTC 2012: 24.33-35.30) came out hardest against the resolution, saying that the Commission of Inquiry ‘didn’t even visit Syria’ and had ignored the Syrian inquiry. Referring to some ‘Arab co-sponsors’ Syria said they had no right to ‘give advice’ because they were ‘directly involved in the killings of Syrian people, and criminals cannot be judges’, imposing sanctions and then ‘shedding tears about the humanitarian situation’. The refusal to condemn terrorism in Syrian reflected badly on the Council. Nevertheless, the big powers had the numbers, with 41 voting in favour, three against and three abstentions. The resolution was adopted but no UNSC action was possible because of opposition from two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China.
The unsatisfactory UN process does not negate the fact that strong prima facie evidence emerged against particular groups and individuals. Witnesses identified as perpetrators four local gunmen (Haitham al-Housan, Saiid Fayes al-Okesh, Haitham al-Hallq and Nidal Bakkur) along with groups from two clans (the al Hassan and the al-Aksh), plus a large Farouq group led by Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf. Their motive was to punish pro-government villagers, in particular the al-Sayed and Abdulrazzak families, then to set up a scene to falsely blame the government for their own crimes. The Houla massacre did not result in a Libyan-styled intervention, but false accusations afforded temporary impunity to the killers and created a great risk that military intervention could have been set in play.
Houla set the tone for a series of similar ‘false flag’ massacres. When the August 2012 massacre of 245 people in Daraya (Damascus) came to light, western media reports quickly suggested that ‘Assad’s army has committed [another] massacre’ (Oweis 2012). However that story was contradicted by British journalist Robert Fisk, who observed that the FSA had slaughtered kidnapped civilian and off-duty soldier hostages after a failed prisoner swap (Fisk 2012). Similarly, the 10 December 2012 massacre of 120 to 150 villagers in Aqrab (less than 15 kilometres from Houla, and also at that time under ‘rebel’ control) was also blamed by ‘activists’ on the Syrian Government. The New York Times suggested ‘members of Assad’s sect’ were responsible (Stack and Mourtada 2012). In fact, as British journalist Alex Thompson (2012b) later reported, from the tightly corroborated evidence of survivors, the FSA (including foreign fighters) had held 500 Alawi villagers for nine days, murdering many of them as the army closed in and the FSA fled. In this case those of ‘Assad’s sect’ were the victims, just as the victims at Houla had been mostly government supporters and their families.
The Houla massacre illustrates great dangers in the practice of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, when the big powers have proxy armies in the field. The idea that almost any sort of atrocity could be blamed on the Syrian Government, with little fear of contradiction in the western media, must have played heavily on the minds of Islamist armed groups. Farouq in particular was very media savvy, regularly producing videos for the television networks of Qatar (Al Jazeera) and Saudi Arabia (Al Arabiya). Up against a superior national army, which was not disintegrating along sectarian lines, Farouq and the others were in desperate need of military backing. Inflaming moral outrage against the Syrian Government just might bring in NATO air power, as it had in Libya. In the meantime, they could carry out major crimes with impunity.
The failure of UN processes to recognise the UN’s own role, in fomenting both impunity and escalation of the violence, further discredited the ‘no fly zone’ idea, which had been cynically exploited in the Libyan intervention. After Houla, while the propaganda war continued, there was no real hope of Security Council authorised intervention in Syria. The next major incident, involving the use of chemical weapons in ‘rebel’ occupied East Ghouta, more than a year later, would have as its reference point a unilateral ‘red line’ decree by Washington. Houla in many respects marked the collapse of UN-sanctioned ‘official truth’ in Syria.
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Hackensberger, Alfred (2012) ‘In Syrien gibt es mehr als nur eine Wahrheit’, Berliner Morgenpost, 23 June, online: http://www.morgenpost.de/politik/ausland/article107255456/In-Syrien-gibt-es-mehr-als-nur-eine-Wahrheit.html
Haidar, Ali (2012) Syria’s Ali Haidar: Both Sides Have Extremists’, Al Akhbar, 13 July, online: http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/9716
Hauben, Ronda (2012) ‘Why is the UNSMIS Houla Report Missing?’, 28 November, Netizenblog, online: http://blogs.taz.de/netizenblog/2012/11/28/why-is-unsmis-report-missing/
Hauben, Ronda (2013) ‘Why is the UNSMIS Houla Report Missing?’ in Correggia, Marinella; Alfredo Embid, Ronda Hauben, Adam Larson (2013) ‘Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre of May 2012’, CIWCL, May 15, online: http://ciwclibya.org/reports/realtruthhoula.html
Hermann, Rainer (2012) ‘Abermals Massaker in Syrien’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 7 June, online: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/neue-erkenntnisse-zu-getoeteten-von-hula-abermals-massaker-in-syrien-11776496.html
HRC (2012a) ‘Oral Update of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic’, Human Rights Commission, 26 June, online: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/OralUpdateJune2012.pdf
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Damascus – Ringleaders of terrorist groups deployed on Syrian territory asked Israel to maintain its logistical and military support and send messages of congratulation for the recent election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As highlighted by the website HispanTV today, the congratulations were sent through Israeli lawmaker Mendi Safadi, who acts as a mediator between Tel Aviv and Syrian opposition armed groups.
“We received with great hope and joy the news of his victory,” said one of the congratulatory messages sent by Syrian terrorists to the Likud party, winner of the elections in which Netanyahu was reelected.
The website also quoted another message asking the Zionist prime minister to “build better relationships at all levels between Syrian anti-government armed groups and Tel Aviv.”
Among the groups that congratulated Netanyahu are Al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda branch in Syria), the Free Syrian Army and other extremist armed groups.
Israel provides military, logistic and, particularly, medical services, offering their hospitals to armed rebels wounded in combat, violating Resolution 2170 of the Convention on the Separation of Forces and UN Security Council’s resolutions to fight terrorism.
Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, Israel has invested nearly 10 million dollars in medical services for armed groups trying to overthrow the Syrian government.
Avaaz describe themselves as a ‘global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere’, and are fairly well known within human rights and development circles.
They had previously used their reach and status to drum up support for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya (a call which was ultimately realised, to disasterous effect), and this isn’t the first time they’ve called for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria either.
Their work within Syria itself has attracted controversy, with Jillian C. York accusing them of being ‘naive’, among other things (lacking transparency, taking credit for work they haven’t carried out, potentially endangering lives, etc).
They’ve now reiterated their call for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria, in response to alleged chlorine gas attacks carried out by Syrian regime forces.
I just want to quickly outline why I think their call is misguided at best.
From their appeal:
‘The US, Turkey, UK, France and others are right now seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria. Advisers close to President Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in.
Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that just watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action’.
What is this if it’s not an open admission that – at least in this case – Avaaz see their role as helping to drum up public support for U.S. foreign policy?
And will they be publicising the fact that U.S. led bombing has already caused at least 100+ civilian deaths in Syria? Will these deadly raids, which themselves have shattered far too many ‘little bodies’, be prohibited under the ‘no-fly zone’ as well?
Realistically of course, they won’t be. Because it’s the people who have caused these deaths that are being entrusted with enforcing the ‘no-fly zone’ by Avaaz.
And that enforcement will almost certainly require a significant escalation in airstrikes, with all the risks to civilians on the ground that this entails.
General Carter Ham, the head of AFRICOM when the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya was being enforced, has said for example:
‘We should make no bones about it. It first entails killing a lot of people and destroying the Syrian air defenses and those people who are manning those systems. And then it entails destroying the Syrian air force, preferably on the ground, in the air if necessary. This is a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties and increased risk to our own personnel’.
While Philip Breedlove, the senior General within NATO, has said:
‘ I know it sounds stark, but what I always tell people when they talk to me about a no-fly zone is . . . it’s basically to start a war with that country because you are going to have to go in and kinetically take out their air defense capability’.
Indeed, the U.S. themselves have openly said that ‘rules meant to temper the civilian death toll from unmanned U.S. drones won’t apply in the fight against terrorists in Iraq and Syria’, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in their ability or willingness to avoid civilian casualties.
Nor does their history of committing, facilitating and supporting almost continuous mass murder and repression around the globe for the last 70 years.
Which is why I for one won’t be joining Avaaz’s campaign to drum up public support for more predatory U.S. led mass murder disguised as ‘humanitarianism’ a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria.
Groups like IS, which could be behind the Bardo Museum shootings, have a long history of collaborating with the West and may have attacked tourists just to maintain their anti-Western façade, says independent political analyst Dan Glazebrook.
RT: Do you think that the Western tourists were targeted on purpose?
Dan Glazebrook: Yeah, I think so. The thing is with ISIS and these groups – they have a long history of collaborating with the West. It’s fundamental to their appeal that they kind of try to present themselves as anti-Western. If you look over the last several years, they’ve been singing from the same song-sheet – whether it’s on Libya, the fight against Gaddafi; Syria, the fight against Assad. We’ve had revelations about fighters’ passage to Syria to go and fight against Assad being facilitated by MI5, by British intelligence. This all came out in the hearings in Mozambique last year. So these guys are on the same page, they are helping to fulfill the West strategic aims of destabilization in the area. … The thousands and thousands people they’ve killed, the vast majority of them have been other Muslims and non-white people. From time to time they have to kill some Europeans and some Westerners in order to maintain this façade of somehow being opposed to the West, whilst they continue to carry out and facilitate the West’s strategic aims.
RT: A large number of Islamic State fighters reportedly come from Tunisia. Why is that?
DG: It was estimated at one point that the actual majority of foreign fighters in Syria were of Tunisian origin, over 3,000… They’ve also fought in Libya; they’ve fought in terrorist campaigns in Algeria. There are many different reasons; part of it is a kind of extremist backlash against the extremist secularism of the previous President [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali and his predecessor [Habib Bourguiba]. But I think a lot of it is just simply to do with the economics and finances. There is very high unemployment in Tunisia. It is rumored that you can get up to $27,000 a year for going to fight for ISIS… Billions of dollars were put into these sectarian militias to build up these groups by Saudi Arabia and the USA as a bulwark against the resistance axis of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. These billions of dollars are still slushing around.
‘Attack might be publicizing Ansar al-Sharia’s merger with ISIS’
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, also commented on the Tunis museum attack.
RT: No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. Who in your view is most likely to be behind it?
Brian Levin: The most likely would probably be Ansar al-Sharia which is a radical Salafist terrorist group which started in Tunisia shortly after the Tunisian revolution in January, 2011. It was formed three months later by a fellow named Abu Ayadh. That is the most likely suspect, although, ISIS affiliates are present in neighboring Libya as well.
RT: Do you think the attackers were pursuing any particular goal with this terrible assault?
BL: Yes, I would think that if it is Ansar al-Sharia or if Ansar al-Sharia is using this to publicize some kind of merger with ISIS – this would be the time and the place to do it. Tunisia, as I said, in an area where ISIS has been exporting its brand of radicalism. That is one thing – Tunisia is Western friendly and it has got a strong economy.
RT: Earlier, a warning for tourists had been issued calling on them not to visit certain areas. Is this kind of attack in Tunisia a rare event and just how dangerous is the country for travelers?
BL: There have been advisories put out about travel to Tunisia. Its biggest industries are in fact tourism and minerals. It is a democratic society and it is Western friendly. Its economy is strong [but] it relies on these exports and tourism. And an attack like this could really hurt the economy in a place where there is fragility with respect to the economic situation. Remember again, Tunisia was the success story of the Arab Spring. This is the time and the place where groups like ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia are trying to make radicalism an imprint there and in the neighboring countries as well.
RT: The EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said that IS was behind the attack. Do you believe that that is likely?
BL: It could be in a sense to the extent that these actors had the same goal… Ansar Al-Sharia is allying itself with the al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa. The fact of the matter is it very well could be ISIS. ISIS does have an imprint in North Africa. One of the things that ISIS had wanted to do even when it was just AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] back in 2004, they wanted to export their terrorism to places like Jordan, and now has an imprint in places like Libya which neighbors Tunisia.
With the situation in the Middle East seemingly spinning out of control, many political observers are left wondering what it all means. The war in Syria has been at the forefront of the news since 2011, and rightly so, as Syria has become the epicenter of a larger regional conflict, particularly with the ascendance of ISIS in the last year.
Undoubtedly, the mainstream acceptance of the ISIS threat has changed the strategic calculus vis-à-vis Syria, as the US prepares to launch yet another open-ended war, ostensibly to defeat it. And, while many in the West are willing to buy the ISIS narrative and pretext for war, they do so with little understanding or recognition of the larger geopolitical contours of this conflict. Essentially, almost everyone ignores the fact that ISIS and Syria-Iraq is only one theater of conflict in the broader regional war being waged by the US-NATO-GCC-Israel axis. Also of vital importance is an understanding of the proxy war against Iran (and all Shia in the region), being fomented by the very same terror and finance networks that have spread the ISIS disease in Syria.
In attempting to unravel the complex web of relations between the terror groups operating throughout the region, important commonalities begin to emerge. Not only are many of these groups directly or tangentially related to each other, their shadowy connections to western intelligence bring into stark relief an intricate mosaic of terror that is part of a broader strategy of sectarianism designed to destroy the “Axis of Resistance” which unites Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. In so doing, these terror groups and their patrons hope to internationalize the war in Syria, and its destructive consequences.
Terrorism as a Weapon in Syria and Iraq
In order to understand how these seemingly disparate groups fit into the regional destabilization, one must first recognize how they are connected both in terms of ideology and shared relationships. On the one hand you have the well known terror outfits operating in the Syria-Iraq theater of this conflict. These would include the ubiquitous ISIS, along with its Al Qaeda-affiliated ally Jabhat Al-Nusra.
However, often left out of the western narrative is the fact that the so called “moderate rebels,” such as the Al Farouq Brigade and other similar groups affiliated with the “Free Syrian Army,” are also linked through various associations with a number of jihadi organizations in Syria and beyond. These alleged “moderates” have been documented as having committed a number of egregious war crimes including mutilation of their victims, and cross-border indiscriminate shelling. And these are the same “moderates” that the Obama Administration spent the last three years touting as allies, as groups worthy of US weapons, to say nothing of the recent revelations of cooperation with US air power. But of course US cooperation with these extremist elements is only the tip of the iceberg.
A recent UN report further corroborated the allegations that Israeli military and/or Mossad is cooperating with, and likely helping to organize, the Jabhat al-Nusra organization in and around the Golan Heights. Such claims of course dovetail with the reports from Israeli media that militant extremists fighting the Syrian government have been treated in Israeli medical facilities. Naturally, these clandestine activities carried out by Israel should be combined with the overt attacks on Syria carried out by Tel Aviv, including recent airstrikes, which despite the inaction of the UN and international community, undeniably constitute a war crime.
Beyond the US and Israel however, other key regional actors have taken part in the destabilization and war on Syria. Turkey has provided safe haven for terrorists streaming into Syria to wage war against the legally recognized government of President Assad. In cooperation with the CIA and other agencies, Turkey has worked diligently to foment civil war in Syria in hopes of toppling the Assad government, thereby allowing Ankara to elevate itself to a regional hegemon, or so the thinking of Erdogan and Davutoglu goes. Likewise, Jordan has provided training facilities for terrorists under the guidance and tutelage of “instructors” from the US, UK, and France.
But why rehash all these well-documented aspects of the destabilization and war on Syria? Simple. In order to fully grasp the regional dimension and global implications of this conflict, one must place the Syria war in its broader geopolitical context, and understand it as one part of a broader war on the “Axis of Resistance.” For, while Hezbollah and certain Iranian elements have been involved in the fighting and logistical support in Syria, another insidious threat has emerged – a renewed terror war against Iran in its Sistan and Baluchestan province in the east.
Rekindling the Proxy War against Iran
As the world’s attention has been understandably fixed upon the horrors of Syria, Iraq, and Libya, a new theater in the regional conflict has come to the forefront – Iran; specifically, Iran’s eastern Sistan and Baluchestan province, long a hotbed of separatism and anti-Shia terror, where a variety of terror groups have operated with the covert, and often overt, backing of western and Israeli intelligence agencies.
Just in the last year, there have been numerous attacks on Iranian military and non-military targets in the Sistan and Baluchestan region, attacks carried out by a variety of groups. Perhaps the most well known instance occurred in March 2014 when five Iranian border guards were kidnapped – one was later executed – by Jaish al-Adl which, according to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium is:
an extremist Salafi group that has since its foundation claimed responsibility for a series of operations against Iran’s domestic security forces and Revolutionary Guards operating in Sistan and Balochistan province, including the detonation of mines [link added] against Revolutionary Guards vehicles and convoys, kidnapping of Iranian border guards and attacks against military bases… Jaish al-Adl is also opposed to the Iranian Government’s active support of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which they regard as an attack on Sunni muslims… Jaish ul-Adl executes cross border operations between the border of Iran and Pakistan and is based in the Baluchistan province in Pakistan.
It is important to note the centrality of Iran’s support for Syria and the Syrian Arab Army (and of course Hezbollah) in the ideological framework of a group like Jaish al-Adl. Essentially, this terror group sees their war against the Iranian government as an adjunct of the war against Assad and Syria – a new front in a larger war. Of course, the sectarian aspect should not be diminished as this group, like its many terrorist cousins, makes no distinction between political and religious/sectarian divisions. A war on Iran is a war on Shia, and both are just, both are legitimate.
Similarly, the last 18 months have seen the establishment of yet another terror group known as Ansar al-Furqan – a fusion of the Balochi Harakat Ansar and Pashto Hizb al-Furqan, both of which had been operating along Iran’s eastern border with Pakistan. According to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium:
They characterize themselves as Mujahideen aginst [sic] the Shia government in Iran and are linked to Katibat al Asad Al ‘Ilamiya; Al-Farooq activists; al Nursra Front (JN), Nosrat Deen Allah, Jaysh Muhammad, Jaysh al ‘Adal; and though it was denied for some time, appears to have at least personal relationships with Jundallah… The stated mission of Ansar al Furqan is “to topple the Iranian regime…”
Like its terrorist cousin Jaish al-Adl, Ansar al-Furqan has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks against the Iranian Government, including a May 2014 IED attack on a freight train belonging to government forces. While such attacks may not make a major splash in terms of international attention, they undoubtedly send a message heard loud and clear in Tehran: these terrorists and their sponsors will stop at nothing to destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Two inescapable facts immediately come to the fore when examining these groups. On the one hand, they are Sunni extremists whose ultimate goal is the destruction of the Iranian state and all vestiges of Shia dominance, political, military or otherwise. On the other hand, these groups see their war against Iran as part and parcel of the terror wars on Syria and Iraq.
And then of course there’s Jundallah, the notorious terror organization lead for decades by the Rigi family. Anyone with even cursory knowledge of the group is undoubtedly aware of its long-standing ties to both US and Israeli intelligence. As Foreign Policy magazine reported in 2012, Israeli Mossad and US CIA operatives essentially competed with one another for control of the Jundallah network for years. This information of course directly links these agencies with the covert war against Iran going back years, to say nothing of the now well-known role of Israeli intelligence in everything from assassinations of Iranian scientists to the use of cyberweapons such as Stuxnet and Flame. These and other attacks by Israel and the US against Iranian interests constitute a major part of the dirty war against Iran – a war in which terror groups figure prominently.
It should be noted that a number of other terror outfits have been used through the decades in the ongoing “low-intensity” war against Iran, including the infamous Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a terrorist group hailed as heroes by the US neocon establishment. Thanks to Wikileaks, it is also now documented fact that Israel has long since attempted to use Kurdish groups such as PJAK (Iraqi Kurdish terror group) to wage continued terror war against Iran for the purposes of destabilization of the government. Additionally, there was a decades-long campaign of Arab separatism in Iran’s western Khuzestan region spearheaded by British intelligence. As Dr. Kaveh Farrokh and Mahan Abedin wrote in 2005, “there is a mass of evidence that connects the British secret state to Arab separatism in Iran.”
These and other groups, too numerous to name here, represent a part of the voluminous history of subversion against Iran. But why now? What is the ultimate strategy behind these seemingly disparate geopolitical machinations?
Encircling the Resistance in Order to Break It
To see the obvious strategic gambit by the US-NATO-GCC-Israel axis, one need only look at a map of the major conflicts mentioned above. Syria has been infiltrated by countless terrorist groups that have waged a brutal war against the Syrian government and people. They have used Turkey in the North, Jordan in the South, and to a lesser degree Lebanon and, indirectly, Israel in the West. Working in tandem with the ISIS forces originating in Iraq, Syria has been squeezed from all sides in hopes that military defeat and/or the internal collapse of the Syrian government would be enough to destroy the country.
Naturally, this strategy has necessarily drawn Hezbollah into the war as it is allied with Syria and, for more practical reasons, cannot allow a defeated and broken Syria to come to fruition as Hezbollah would then be cut off from their allies in Iran. And so, Hezbollah and Syria have been forced to fight on no less than two fronts, fighting for the survival of the Resistance in the Levant.
Simultaneously, the regional power Iran has made itself into a central player in the war in Syria, recognizing correctly that the war could prove disastrous to its own security and regional ambitions. However, Tehran cannot simply put all its energy into supporting and defending Syria and Hezbollah as it faces its own terror threat in the East. The groups seeking to topple the Iranian government may not be able to compete militarily with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, but they can certainly create enough destabilization through terrorism to make it more difficult for Tehran to effectively aid in the fight in Syria.
The US-NATO-GCC-Israel alliance has not needed to put its own boots on the ground to achieve its strategic objectives. Instead, it is relying on irregular warfare, proxy terror wars, and small-scale destabilizations to achieve by stealth what it cannot achieve with military might alone.
But it remains paramount for all those interested in peace to make these connections, to understand the broad outlines of this vast covert war taking place. To see a war in Syria in isolation is to misunderstand its very nature. To see ISIS alone as the problem is to completely misread the essence of the conflict. This is a battle for regional hegemony, and in order to attain it, the Empire is employing every tool in the imperial toolkit, with terrorism being one of the most effective.
With ISIS carrying out rampages through archaeologically sensitive areas of Iraq, a pertinent question to ask now is what group’s cultural heritage in the Middle East is being preserved, and whose is being destroyed.
Over the past couple of weeks shocking reports have surfaced concerning mass destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage at two locations–the museum in Mosul and the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, located in northern Iraq. Both incidents were perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State. The one at the Mosul museum was recorded on video.
But destruction with sledge hammers, bonfires, and heavy equipment isn’t the only threat to priceless objects thousands of years old. Artifacts are also being illegally excavated and pilfered on a massive scale. An enormous black market in stolen antiquities in fact has arisen in the last four years since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, and the general rule of thumb seems to be if it’s small enough to be carted off, take it and sell it on the black market; if it’s too large to move, then smash it to pieces. This is what we’ve seen repeatedly in Syria and Iraq since ISIS took over large swaths of both countries.
By the way, the trade in looted antiquities seems to be quite lucrative, with some of these items fetching in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the total black market trade has been estimated at roughly $7 billion per year.
This is not just Iraq’s cultural heritage that is at stake, of course; it’s all of humanity’s. If we think of human history collectively as a lepidopteron, drifting lazily from the flower of the Neolithic past, into the age of proto-writing, and finally early recorded history, then Syria, Iraq and the Fertile Crescent stand out perhaps unique among regions of the earth. This is where human civilization got started, and the looting and destruction of these antiquities is a loss to all of us.
Interestingly, an exhibition entitled “By the Rivers of Babylon” has now opened at a museum in Israel, and among its exhibits are a large number of ancient Babylonian cuneiform tablets–110 of them altogether. These tablets belong to a London-based Israeli collector by the name of David Sofer, but a controversy has sprung up, since there seems to be some question about the provenance, or origin, of the artifacts.
The tablets are said to be some 2,500 years old and reportedly shed light on the biblical Israelites during their exile in Babylon (in what is, of course, today Iraq). Sofer claims he purchased the tablets in the 1990s from a person who supposedly obtained them through public auction some 20 years previous. However, he reportedly has refused to name the person he bought them from.
The rise of ISIS has made it extremely perilous for archaeologists to continue to work in Iraq and Syria, and most expeditions have in fact come to a halt. But in Israel these days things are a bit different.
Unhindered by ISIS marauders, the Israeli Antiquities Authority has undertaken archaeological excavations in numerous areas of the country, including one begun last year in the occupied West Bank, where the objective is to recover artifacts dating back to the King David era. Finds of this nature would, by some views at any rate, help validate Israel’s “3000-year-old land claim,” as it’s been called, and thus you won’t be surprised to learn that this isn’t the only such archaeological dig going on–not by a long shot.
In fact, you can go to the website of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, where no less than 19 separate excavations are listed as currently active for the year 2015.
So what to make of it all? That’s a good question. All I can really say is that it seems enormous efforts are being expended to recover and safeguard Jewish cultural heritage–this, ironically, as everyone else’s cultural heritage in the Middle East is being looted and destroyed.
At any rate, here is an article recently published about the museum exhibition in Israel featuring the artifacts in Sofer’s possession.
Museum Embroiled in Looting Row
A new exhibition in Jerusalem is causing heated debate.
The exhibition, ‘By The Rivers of Babylon’, at the Bible Lands Museum, displays some spectacular examples of ancient Babylonian tablets. On show for the first time, the 2,500-year-old clay tablets written in cuneiform present artefacts from an important time in the Middle East.
Experts note that the collection of 110 clay tablets provides the earliest written evidence of the Biblical exile of the Judeans in the area of modern-day Iraq. As such, the Babylonian tablets provide fresh insight into a formative period of early Judaism.
Filip Vukosavovic, a curator for the exhibition, says the tablets complete a 2,500-year puzzle. Many Judeans returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonians allowed them to in 539 BCE, but some remained in the area to build a Jewish community that lasted for two millennia.
“The descendants of those Jews only returned to Israel in the 1950s,” Vukosavovic said. As a result, the tablets provide a unique insight into a little known period of Jewish history.
Controversy has surrounded the exhibition however, as the tablets are the product of a modern, shadowy process. The recently chaotic climate in Iraq and Syria has led to the rampant theft of the area’s archaeological heritage. Widespread looting has led to the international antiquities markets being stocked with cuneiform tablets.
Many museums have promised not to exhibit artefacts that may have been looted, as part of an effort to discourage the illicit trade in antiquities. Cuneiform inscriptions, however, are a notable exception to this. Since 2004, cuneiform artefacts with no record of where or how they were unearthed have been allowed to be transported, in order to be examined by scholars. This is done on the condition that Iraqi authorities give their consent, and that the tablets are eventually returned to Iraq.
Some argue that these precious objects, some of which are the earliest examples of writing in the world, could be forever lost if they are not looked after by conservators.
“We are not interested in anything that is illegally acquired or sneaked out,” said Amanda Weiss, director of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. “But it is the role of a museum to protect these pieces,” she added. “It’s what we are here for.”
It has been claimed that the Islamic State extremist group and other militants are part-funding their campaigns through the illegal trafficking of historic artefacts. Trafficking and looting have, however, been going on for a long time. Archaeologists were first alerted to the problem during the first Gulf War, when Western antiquities markets were flooded with cuneiform artefacts.
London-based collector David Sofer, who owns the cuneiform collection currently exhibited in the Bible Lands Museum, has denied his artefacts were trafficked. He said he had bought the tablets legally in the United States in the 1990s; and the tablets had previously been obtained from public auctions in the 1970s.
The exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum allows the public to see some remarkable artefacts and to learn more about an important part of Jewish history. What must not be overlooked, however, is the damage which can be caused by illicitly-obtained artefacts.
A little bit more on the Bible Lands Museum and Sofer’s collection of cuneiform tablets can be found here. The article focuses especially on a symposium entitled “Jerusalem in Babylonia” held at the museum in early February, asserting that the tablets provide “new insights into the social and economic life of the Judeans… in their own community of Al Yahudu (Jewtown) and their interrelationships with and assimilation to their West Semitic and Babylonian neighbors.”
Another article on the museum display is here and includes the following (emphasis added):
Sofer said a few tablets from the collection were displayed in a New York museum and a Los Angeles museum in 2013, and their import and export in the U.S. was properly reported to U.S. authorities. He would not name the two museums, or the person who sold them to him.
“These things would be lost, and wouldn’t be recognized for what they are” if he hadn’t bought them, Sofer said.
As common as cuneiform tablets are, few have been as celebrated as those on display in Jerusalem.
More on David Sofer (or someone from Israel going by the same name, at any rate) can be found here in an L.A. Times article from 1991. It seems he and a fellow Israeli, Nahum Vaskevitch, were implicated in insider trading in 1987. While the Sofer named in the article appears to have reached a settlement in his own case, Vaskevitch went on to be named in a 45-count indictment accusing him of conspiracy and violation of US insider trading laws from 1984-87.
A New York Times article on Sofer from 1987 includes a quote describing him as “a financial wizard, a genius manipulator with brilliant ideas in everything financial,” and reports that he made his fortune through the Jordan Exploration and Investment Company. The company engaged in oil development in the Sinai in the 1970s, yet the same article goes on to also mention investments in real estate in Israel, “including interests in such choice property as the Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv and the Ben Yehuda arcade in Jerusalem, as well as in hotels and other interests.”
Two additional articles, both from 2008–one here in YNet and the another here in Haaretz–describe a controversy which arose over a Sofer-owned property, a highly prized piece of Jerusalem real estate known as the Villa Salameh. The rightful owners of this property were a Palestinian Christian, Constantine Salameh, and his family, who completed construction on the villa in 1935.
But in 1948 the family left Israel and the property was seized by the new Israeli state under the so-called Absentee Property Law. The government of Belgium also entered the picture, leasing the property for its consulate in Jerusalem. But instead of paying rent to the Israelis, the Belgians made a decision apparently based upon conscience and sent their rent payments directly to the Salameh family, who by this time were living in Egypt.
However, in 1983 Sofer (or, again, someone by that name) acquired the property for a faction of its worth and sued the Belgian government for full payment of rent. The case was decided in an Israeli court. Fortunately the Salameh family had some political clout and was able to negotiate a settlement awarding them $700,000 as compensation for their lost property–a small fraction of its total value.
“The man (Salameh) sought to appeal his status as an absentee and a discussion began about his case,” said former Israeli Justice Minister Moshe Nissim. “We reached the conclusion that instead of being in a situation in which all the property would be registered in his name, it would be worth the state’s while to purchase Salameh’s vast property – which already then was worth millions of dollars – for a pittance.”
Quite an interesting story, to be sure, but what does it have to do with the theft of archaeological artifacts going on today? Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot.
There has of course been abundant evidence of Israeli support for terrorist rebels in Syria (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for instance) and it has been noted that neither ISIS nor Al-Nusra have launched attacks against Israel, even though the latter, in particular, seems to be active in the Golan Heights very close to Israel’s border.
And not only do Israel and Al-Nusra not attack each other, but Israel has even transported wounded terrorists across the border for medical treatment in Israel.
Most people seem to be of the opinion that the Jewish state’s motivation in all this is its desire for regime change in Syria, but are there perhaps a few lesser-discussed fringe benefits as well?
Back in May of 2003, after the fall of Baghdad and the looting of Iraq’s national museum, a large trove of Jewish communal documents, Torah fragments as well as public records dating back several centuries, were discovered in a flooded basement and taken to the United States for restoration and safeguarding. Iraqis were given assurances that the collection would be returned to them at a later date.
Eventually the summer of 2014 was set as the target date for when the restored documents would be handed back over, but this got sidetracked in late 2013 when a campaign was launched to have the entire collection remain in the US… or possibly transferred to Israel.
It is, after all, Jewish heritage, so the argument went, and since there aren’t many Jews left in Iraq today, why on earth should the collection go back there?
Initially the position of US officials was that America would honor its commitment and return the collection to Iraq. But then in the summer of 2014, ISIS took over large parts of the country, including the city of Mosul, and in September it was announced that highlights of the archive, rather than going back to Iraq, would be taken on a tour of US cities.
The plot thickened further in January of 2015 when it was reported that one of the artifacts, a 200-year-old Torah scroll, had not actually been taken to the US at all, but rather instead had been deposited at the Israeli Embassy in Jordan–and from there it made its way into Israel.
Reportedly the scroll is now housed in a synagogue attached to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and a ceremonial “Torah inauguration” is said to have been held on January 22.
By all accounts the text of the scroll had been copied onto a deer skin parchment using concentrated pomegranate juice as ink. Supposedly the use of deer skin was unusual, as most of the Torah scrolls at the time in question were comprised of cow parchment.
In any event, the disposition of the scroll, and its ending up in Israel, have prompted accusations of collaboration on the theft of Iraqi heritage by the US and Israel.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Iraqi Jewish archive purportedly remains in “safe hands” in the US.
Alas, the same cannot be said of Iraq’s, or humanity’s, “non-Jewish” heritage, as it were, the destruction of which continues at an alarming pace. The attacks upon the Mosul Museum and the ancient city of Nimrud, as well as the earlier ransacking and burning of documents at the Mosul library–these and other incidents like them exact a dreadful toll. They are, in essence, “taking us back to the dark ages,” as an Iraqi official recently described it.
And it doesn’t seem to be letting up.
Just within the past several days news has surfaced of destruction at two more sites, Khorsabad, located 12 miles northeast of Mosul, and Hatra, also in the general vicinity of Mosul though 68 miles to the southwest. Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has confirmed reports of ISIS attacks at both sites, though the extent of the damage is unclear at this time.
Deliberate destruction of cultural heritage by belligerent parties in war is of course not unprecedented. But clearly it is now being carried by ISIS to levels heretofore unseen.
“They are killing the diversity of this region,” says Hélène Sader, an archaeologist at the American University of Beirut. “This is ethnic cleansing. You throw the people out, erase their history, and you can claim they were never there.”
Protection of cultural property is covered under several international treaties, including the 1954 Hague Convention, though many critics are now saying that the laws are not tough enough and need to be strengthened considerably.
With growing public outrage at the destruction now occurring in Iraq, chances are probably good we will see some toughening of international law on the matter. But the question is whether or not individual nations can muster the political will to adopt rigid enforcement of any new measures should they pass–and part of the problem in that regard seems to be complicity on the part of certain museums and auction houses, if not in the black market trade itself, at least insofar as knowingly accepting unprovenanced artifacts.
As long as someone is making a profit or benefiting in some way, and as long as the geopolitical interests of certain powerful nations are served by continuing the conflict in the Middle East, the looting and destruction are not likely to let up anytime soon.
The Ottawa Citizen has reported that an individual who authorities believe helped three British schoolgirls travel to Syria to join ISIS is linked to Canada’s intelligence agency, CSIS.
The Citizen noted that, “Turkish news agencies reported Thursday that a foreign intelligence agent detained in that country on suspicion of helping the girls travel to neighbouring Syria to join ISIL was working for the Canadian government.”
Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the suspect in question was working for an intelligence agency that is part of the US-led coalition fighting ISIS, adding that it wasn’t the US or an EU member.
Turkish media reports later identified the suspect as a CSIS agent, citing sources close to the Turkish government.
Ottawa issued a prototypical denial that one of their operatives was involved.
The story confirms what many analysts have been saying all along, which is that ISIS is an elaborate Western intelligence operation.
Thousands of Western citizens have joined ISIS over the past year, but who is arranging their safe travel out of their countries of origin and into Syria without being nabbed by authorities?
As this case demonstrates, these individuals are being safely escorted to Syria by Western operatives.
The idea that Western intelligence agencies don’t have the resources to track these people is absurd. Russia Today ran a report showing how a Canadian open source intelligence research group called iBRABO geo-tracked a Canadian woman who joined ISIS through her Twitter account. Every tweet she posted revealed her exact location. Intelligence agencies have far more resources at their disposal than a private research group, so the suggestion that these people just slip under the radar doesn’t hold up.
Analysts contend that Western intelligence agencies are trolling for young, impressionable, and disenfranchised people to send off to fight and die in Syria. This is done in accordance with the West’s ‘regime change’ policy in Syria.
US Senator Rand Paul recently told CNN that the United States is “allied” with ISIS in Syria as Washington aims to depose the secular government of Bashar al-Assad. Former US General Wesley Clark said that America’s allies (and by extension America itself) funded ISIS to weaken the Shia arc of resistance consisting of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.
While the West fights an artificial ‘fake war’ against ISIS officially, it continues to clandestinely support the group as it beheads its way to Damascus, and on to Beirut and Tehran.
Copyright 2015 Non-Aligned Media
Activist Post | March 9, 2015
Putting its hypocritical and biased nature on full display once again, the alleged human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, was recently caught in an attempt to fabricate “evidence” of Assad’s use of barrel bombs in civilian areas for the purposes of further demonizing the secular Syrian government.
On February 25, HRW posted a photo of a devastated civilian area in Syria with the tagline “Syria dropped barrel bombs despite ban.” The “ban” HRW is referring to is the ban on bombing civilian areas that applies to both sides in Aleppo after the United Nations stepped in to save the Western-backed terrorists from annihilation. Assad’s forces had surrounded the city and had cut off a major supply route for the death squads from Turkey thus making the ultimate elimination of the jihadist forces a virtual inevitability.
As Somini Sengupta wrote for the New York Times on February 24,
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the Syrian government had dropped so-called barrel bombs on hundreds of sites in rebel-held towns and cities in the past year, flouting a United Nations Security Council measure.
In a report released Tuesday, the group said it relied on satellite images, photos, videos and witness statements to conclude that the Syrian government had bombarded at least 450 sites in and around the southern town of Daraa and at least 1,000 sites in Aleppo in the north.
The report focused on the period since Feb. 22, 2014, when the Security Council specifically condemned the use of barrel bombs, which are large containers filled with explosives and projectiles that can indiscriminately hurt civilians and are prohibited under international law.
There was only one problem with HRW’s tweet – the photograph the organization provided was not Aleppo.
In fact, the damage that had been wrought upon the civilian area in the photograph was not committed by the Syrian military but by the United States.
The photo was actually a picture of Kobane (Ayn al-Arab), the city which has been the site of heavy US aerial bombardment over the last several months as the US engages in its program of death squad herding and geographical reformation of sovereign Syrian and Iraqi territory.
But, while HRW was content to use the destruction of the city as a reason to condemn the Assad government and continue to promote the cause for US military action in Syria, the “human rights organization” was apparently much less interested in the exact same destruction wrought by US forces.
In other words, if Assad’s forces bomb a civilian area into the stone age, it is an atrocity, a war crime, and justification for international military involvement. If the United States bombs a civilian area into the stone age, it’s no biggie.
For instance, when Western media propaganda had reached a crescendo regarding the outright lie that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people, HRW stood right beside Barack Obama and John Kerry in their effort to prove Assad’s guilt. HRW even went so far as to repeat the lie that the UN report suggested that Assad was the offending party, driving the final nail into the coffin of any credibility HRW may have had.
When a last-minute chemical weapons deal was secured by Russia in an effort to avoid yet another US/NATO invasion of Syria, HRW did not rejoice for the opportunity of peaceful destruction of chemical weapons and a chance to avoid war, it attacked the deal by claiming that it “failed to ensure justice.” Of course, the deal did fail to ensure justice. There were no provisions demanding punishment of the death squads who actually used the weapons or the US/NATO apparatus that initiated and controlled the jihadist invasion to begin with.
Regardless, when Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross released her report that refuted what the US/NATO was asserting in regards to chemical weapons in Syria, HRW embarked upon a campaign of attack against her and her work.
Even as far back as 2009, however, HRW was showing its true colors when it apparently signed off on and supported renditions – the process of kidnapping individuals off the street without any due process and “rendering” them to jails and prisons in other countries where they are often tortured – in secret talks with the Obama administration.
If HRW ever had any credibility in terms of the question of actual human rights, then all of that credibility has assuredly been lost. HRW is nothing more than a pro-US, pro-NATO NGO that acts as a smokescreen for the continuation of the violation of human rights across the world – that is, unless those violations are committed by America’s enemies.
Reports that US and British aircraft carrying arms to the Islamic State group – better known as ISIS – have been shot down by Iraqi forces have been met with shock and denial in western countries. Few in the Middle East doubt that Washington is playing a ‘double game’ with its proxy armies in Syria, but some key myths remain important amongst the significantly more ignorant Western audiences.
A central myth is that Washington now arms ‘moderate Syrian rebels’, to both overthrow the Syrian Government and supposedly defeat the ‘extremist rebels’. This claim became more important in 2014, when the rationale of US aggression against Syria shifted from ‘humanitarian intervention’ to a renewal of Bush’s ‘war on terror’.
A distinct controversy is whether the al-Qaida-styled groups (especially Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS) have been generated as a sort of organic reaction to the repeated US interventions, or whether they are actually paid agents of Washington.
Certainly, prominent ISIS leaders were held in US prisons. ISIS leader, Ibrahim al-Badri (aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) is said to have been held for between one and two years at Camp Bucca in Iraq. In 2006, as al-Baghdadi and others were released, the Bush administration announced its plan for a ‘New Middle East’, a plan which would employ sectarian violence as part of a process of ‘creative destruction’ in the region.
According to Seymour Hersh’s 2007 article, ‘The Redirection’, the US would make use of ‘moderate Sunni states’, not least the Saudis, to ‘contain’ the Shia gains in Iraq brought about by the 2003 US invasion. These ‘moderate Sunni’ forces would carry out clandestine operations to weaken Iran and Hezbollah, key enemies of Israel. This brought the Saudis and Israel closer, as both fear Iran.
While there have been claims that the ISIS ‘caliph’ al-Baghdadi is a CIA or Mossad trained agent, these have not yet been well backed up. There are certainly grounds for suspicion, but independent evidence is important, in the context of a supposed US ‘war’ against ISIS. So what is the broader evidence on Washington’s covert links with ISIS?
Not least are the admissions by senior US officials that key allies support the extremist group. In September 2014 General Martin Dempsey, head of the US military, told a Congressional hearing ‘I know major Arab allies who fund [ISIS]’. Senator Lindsey Graham, of Armed Services Committee, responded with a justification, ‘They fund them because the Free Syrian Army couldn’t fight [Syrian President] Assad, they were trying to beat Assad’.
The next month, US Vice President Joe Biden went a step further, explaining that Turkey, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia ‘were so determined to take down Assad … they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad … [including] al-Nusra and al- Qaida and extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world … [and then] this outfit called ISIL’. Biden’s admissions sought to exempt the US from this operation, as though Washington were innocent of sustained operations carried out by its key allies. That is simply not credible.
Washington’s relationship with the Saudis, as a divisive sectarian force in the region, in particular against Arab nationalism, goes back to the 1950s, when Winston Churchill introduced the Saudi King to President Eisenhower. At that time Washington wanted to set up the Saudi King as a rival to President Nasser of Egypt. More recently, British General Jonathan Shaw has acknowledged the contribution of Saudi Arabia’s extremist ideology: ‘This is a time bomb that, under the guise of education. Wahhabi Salafism is igniting under the world really. And it is funded by Saudi and Qatari money’, Shaw said.
Other evidence undermines western attempts to maintain a distinction between the ‘moderate rebels’, now openly armed and trained by the US, and the extremist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. While there has indeed been some rivalry (emphasised by the London-based, Muslim Brotherhood-aligned, Syrian Observatory of Human Rights), the absence of real ideological difference is best shown by the cooperation and mergers of groups.
As ISIS came from Iraq in 2013, its Syrian bases have generally remained in the far eastern part of Syria. However Jabhat al-Nusra (the official al-Qaida branch in Syria, from which ISIS split) has collaborated with Syrian Islamist groups in western Syria for several years. The genocidal slogan of the Syrian Islamists, ‘Christians to Beirut and Alawis to the Grave’, reported many times in 2011 from the Farouk Brigade, sat well with the al-Qaida groups. Farouk (once the largest ‘Free Syrian Army’ group) indeed killed and ethnically cleansed many Christians and Alawis.
Long term cooperation between these ‘moderate rebels’ and the foreign-led Jabhat al-Nusra has been seen around Daraa in the south, in Homs-Idlib, along the Turkish border and in and around Aleppo. The words Jabhat al-Nusra actually mean ‘support front’, that is, support for the Syrian Islamists. Back in December 2012, as Jabhat al-Nusra was banned in various countries, 29 of these groups reciprocated the solidarity in their declaration: ‘We are all Jabhat al-Nusra’.
After the collapse of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ groups, cooperation between al-Nusra and the newer US and Saudi backed groups (Dawud, the Islamic Front, the Syrian Revolutionary Front and Harakat Hazm) helped draw attention to Israel’s support for al-Nusra, around the occupied Golan Heights. Since 2013 there have been many reports of ‘rebel’ fighters, including those from al-Nusra, being treated in Israeli hospitals. Prime Minister Netanyahu even publicised his visit to wounded ‘rebels’ in early 2014. That led to a public ‘thank you’ from a Turkey-based ‘rebel’ leader, Mohammed Badie (February 2014).
The UN peacekeeping force based in the occupied Golan has reported its observations of Israel’s Defence Forces ‘interacting with’ al-Nusra fighters at the border. At the same time, Israeli arms have been found with the extremist groups, in both Syria and Iraq. In November 2014 members of the Druze minority in the Golan protested against Israel’s hospital support for al-Nusra and ISIS fighters. This in turn led to questions by the Israeli media, as to whether ‘Israel does, in fact, hospitalize members of al-Nusra and Daesh [ISIS]’. A military spokesman’s reply was hardly a denial: ‘In the past two years the Israel Defence Forces have been engaged in humanitarian, life-saving aid to wounded Syrians, irrespective of their identity.’
The artificial distinction between ‘rebel’ and ‘extremist’ groups is mocked by multiple reports of large scale defections and transfer of weapons. In July 2014 one thousand armed men in the Dawud Brigade defected to ISIS in Raqqa. In November defections to Jabhat al-Nusra from the Syrian Revolutionary Front were reported. In December, Adib Al-Shishakli, representative at the Gulf Cooperation Council of the exile ‘ Syrian National Coalition’, said ‘opposition fighters’ were ‘increasingly joining’ ISIS ‘for financial reasons’. In that same month, ‘rebels’ in the Israel-backed Golan area were reported as defecting to ISIS, which had by this time began to establish a presence in Syria’s far south. Then, in early 2015, three thousand ‘moderate rebels’ from the US-backed ‘Harakat Hazzm’ collapsed into Jabhat al-Nusra, taking a large stock of US arms including anti-tank weapons with them.
ISIS already had US weapons by other means, in both Iraq and Syria, as reported in July, September and October 2014. At that time a ‘non aggression pact’ was reported in the southern area of Hajar al-Aswad between ‘moderate rebels’ and ISIS, as both recognised a common enemy in Syria: ‘the Nussayri regime’, a sectarian way of referring to supposedly apostate Muslims. Some reported ISIS had bought weapons from the ‘rebels’.
In December 2014, there were western media reports of the US covert supply of heavy weapons to ‘Syrian rebels’ from Libya, and of Jabhat al-Nusra getting anti-tank weapons which had been supplied to Harakat Hazm. Video posted by al-Nusra showed these weapons being used to take over the Syrian military bases, Wadi Deif and Hamidiyeh, in Idlib province.
With ‘major Arab allies’ backing ISIS and substantial collaboration between US-armed ‘moderate rebels’ and ISIS, it is not such a logical stretch to suppose that the US and ‘coalition’ flights to ISIS areas (supposedly to ‘degrade’ the extremists) might have become covert supply lines. That is precisely what senior Iraqi sources began saying, in late 2014 and early 2015.
For example, as reported by both Iraqi and Iranian media, Iraqi MP Majid al-Ghraoui said in January that ‘an American aircraft dropped a load of weapons and equipment to the ISIS group militants at the area of al-Dour in the province of Salahuddin’. Photos were published of ISIS retrieving the weapons. The US admitted the seizure but said this was a ‘mistake’. In February Iraqi MP Hakem al-Zameli said the Iraqi army had shot down two British planes which were carrying weapons to ISIS in al-Anbar province. Again, photos were published of the wrecked planes. ‘We have discovered weapons made in the US, European countries and Israel from the areas liberated from ISIL’s control in Al-Baqdadi region’, al-Zameli said.
The Al-Ahad news website quoted Head of Al-Anbar Provincial Council Khalaf Tarmouz saying that a US plane supplied the ISIL terrorist organization with arms and ammunition in Salahuddin province. Also in February an Iraqi militia called Al-Hashad Al-Shabi said they had shot down a US Army helicopter carrying weapons for the ISIL in the western parts of Al-Baqdadi region in Al-Anbar province. Again, photos were published. After that, Iraqi counter-terrorism forces were reported as having arrested ‘four foreigners who were employed as military advisers to the ISIL fighters’, three of whom were American and Israeli. So far the western media has avoided these stories altogether; they are very damaging to the broader western narrative.
In Libya, a key US collaborator in the overthrow of the Gaddafi government has announced himself the newly declared head of the ‘Islamic State’ in North Africa. Abdel Hakim Belhaj was held in US prisons for several years, then ‘rendered’ to Gaddafi’s Libya, where he was wanted for terrorist acts. As former head of the al-Qaida-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, then the Tripoli-based ‘Libyan Dawn’ group, Belhaj has been defended by Washington and praised by US Congressmen John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
Some image softening of the al-Qaida groups is underway. Jabhat al-Nusra is reported to be considering cutting ties to al-Qaida, to help sponsor Qatar boost their funding. Washington’s Foreign Affairs magazine even published a survey claiming that ISIS fighters were ‘surprisingly supportive of democracy’. After all the well published massacres that lacks credibility.
The Syrian Army is gradually reclaiming Aleppo, despite the hostile supply lines from Turkey, and southern Syria, in face of support for the sectarian groups from Jordan and Israel. The border with Lebanon is largely under Syrian Army and Hezbollah control. In the east, the Syrian Army and its local allies control most of Hasaka and Deir e-Zour, with a final campaign against Raqqa yet to come. The NATO-GCC attempt to overthrow the Syrian Government has failed.
Yet violent destabilization persists. Evidence of the covert relationship between Washington and ISIS is substantial and helps explain what Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad calls Washington’s ‘cosmetic war’ on ISIS. The extremist group is a foothold Washington keeps in the region, weakening both Syria and Iraq. Their ‘war’ on ISIS is ineffective. Studies by Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgent database show that ISIS attacks and killings in Iraq increased strongly after US air attacks began. The main on the ground fighting has been carried out by the Syrian Army and, more recently, the Iraqi armed forces with Iranian backing.
All this has been reported perversely in the western media. The same channels that celebrate the ISIS killing of Syrian soldiers also claim the Syrian Army is ‘not fighting ISIS’. This alleged ‘unwillingness’ was part of the justification for US bombing inside Syria. While it is certainly the case that Syrian priorities have remained in the heavily populated west, local media reports make it clear that, since at least the beginning of 2014, the Syrian Arab Army has been the major force engaged with ISIS in Hasaka, Raqqa and Deir eZour. A March 2015 Reuters report does concede that the Syrian Army recently killed two ISIS commanders (including Deeb Hedjian al-Otaibi) along with 24 fighters, at Hamadi Omar.
Closer cooperation between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah is anathema to Israel, the Saudis and Washington, yet it is happening. This is not a sectarian divide but rather based on some clear mutual interests, not least putting an end to sectarian (takfiri) terrorism.
It was only logical that, in the Iraqi military’s recent offensive on ISIS-held Tikrit, the Iranian military emerged as Iraq’s main partner. Washington has been sidelined, causing consternation in the US media. General Qasem Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force is a leading player in the Tikrit operation. A decade after Washington’s ‘creative destruction’ plans, designed to reduce Iranian influence in Iraq, an article in Foreign Policy magazine complains that Iran’s influence is ‘at its highest point in almost four centuries’.
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya (2006) Plans for Redrawing the Middle East: The Project for a ‘New Middle East’
Seymour Hersh (2007) The Redirection
Al Akhbar (2011) Syria: What Kind of Revolution?
The New Yorker (2013) Syrian Opposition Groups Stop Pretending
RT (2014) Anyone but US! Biden blames allies for ISIS rise
Iraqi News (2015) American aircraft dropped weapons to ISIS, says MP
Washington Post (2015) Syrian rebel group that got U.S. aid dissolves
David Kenner (2015) For God and Country, and Iran, Foreign Policy
Reuters (2015) Syrian air strike kills two Islamic State commanders
One of the most popular pieces of “information” that is being circulated on the internet and newspapers in my own country of birth, Italy, is an announcement of the imminent arrival of ISIS fighters on our shores. According to United States intelligence agencies, which are not exactly impartial or neutral sources, throngs of Islamic terrorists are about to be shipped to our boot-shaped Mediterranean country from Libya. Panic. Fear. Insecurity. These are the words that are being thrown around like stale bread to the birds. Few column inches in the Italian national press, and elsewhere for that matter, have been devoted to any analysis of the validity of the threats or their inherent origins. Alas, this is a well-known technique: capitalize on those points that suit the needs of international interests and national politicians, and omit the information that really matters. It’s a dirty trick that causes entire populations to be plagued by short-term memory loss.
Sponsoring proxy armies
ISIS was founded in 1999 by a shadowy figure, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He has been reported killed and resurrected numerous times, as has been its successor. Let us not dwell on the first 12 years of ISIS, when it was a spinoff of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Instead, let us fast forward to 2011, when the NATO powers, led by France and the UK, engaged in an aerial offensive against Libya to topple Gaddafi and replace him with a pro-West government. This approach has been standard geopolitical operating procedure for the US and its Western-European allies for decades in places such as Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, Chile and many more, where despotic regimes have been installed after Western-engineered coups. Often, the major powers do not get directly involved or send their own troops to die on foreign lands, because this would have severe repercussions on the standing of politicians in the public opinion. The praxis is to sponsor, fund and arm ruthless bands of “rebels” to fight against an established government. These groups are first funded to serve geopolitical interests, and when they are unwilling to do so any longer, they become an excuse to invade. Once in power, in fact, these groups tend to believe that they can stand on their own two feet without the support of their previous benefactors and often turn against them. Power beckons, and history indeed repeats itself. This is precisely the case with ISIS.
Libya: using the pretext of the Arab Spring
The meteoric rise of ISIS to power is not a coincidence or byproduct of innocent geopolitical mistakes. ISIS was initially created, for the sake of foreign-policy interests, to remove uncooperative governments like those in Libya, and then Syria which arguably became the pivotal point for the rise of ISIS. Until 2011 Libya was largely secular, sovereign, and fairly prosperous; now this country lies in ruins and is portrayed as having been invaded by a horde of foreign “Islamists”. The reality, however, is that France, Italy, the UK, and the US sponsored a small group of discontents to fight Gaddafi in 2011. They called themselves the Shabab, and they later constituted the “Libyan Transitional Council” which is now in government. The Libyan rebels were portrayed to the Western public as being “freedom fighters” who sought greater government accountability and increased liberties. In reality, it almost immediately became apparent that Islamic extremists had taken the leadership of the movement; the western powers were certainly aware of this.
Numerous reports warned that many of the fighters were affiliated with Al-Qaeda, another organization originally made powerful by the US to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. From the start, the global left had denounced these pseudo-revolutionaries as being violent as well as extreme in their religious zeal: in short, bad news for everybody. Nobody heeded their calls. The demonization of Gaddafi continued in the mainstream Western media, and the glorification and support for the rebels grew to the point when NATO’s governments felt secure that their public would support bombing Libya. So they did. Let us also remember that the Libyan army was sufficiently well trained and disciplined to have almost neutralized the opposition, and it would have done so if NATO had not intervened. In short, if Gaddafi’s government existed today, ISIS might not.
It was not made widely public that many of Libya’s rebels were not Libyans but Iraqis from Al-Qaeda in Iraq. This organization cleverly re-branded itself to confuse the public, and it became ISIS. Abdel Hakim-Belhadj was the commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group that helped NATO to depose Gaddafi. It is almost unknown that Hakim-Belhadj was in fact an al-Qaeda lieutenant, turned double agent after being in the care of the CIA, and released back into operation. “The US was fully aware of and facilitating the delivery of weapons to the Al Qaeda-dominated rebel militias throughout the 2011 rebellion”, as stated by The Citizen’s Commission on Benghazi’s interim report. Far from the US being able to claim ignorance, this program was run and administered by Hillary Clinton, then the Secretary of State.
With NATO’s air support, the Libyan rebels captured Gaddafi (he was murdered by the rebels in a horror show that the mainstream media did not hesitate to broadcast). With Gaddafi gone, Hakim-Belhadj was rewarded by NATO and Washington with the title of Governor of Tripoli. With this position, he ensured the recruitment of Jihadists into Libya and the smuggling of hundreds of them to Syria through Turkey. This would create the backbone of what would eventually, and ironically, be named the “Free Syrian Army”. There is no equivocation on the fact that the very same members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group were flying the Al-Qaeda and ISIS flags following the murder of Gaddafi. This happened “before and during the time they were shipped on to fight in Syria against Bashar al Assad’s government forces – on behalf of those very same NATO-allied agencies” as reported by the 21st Century Wire.
Syria: toppling Assad
One year later, the Free Syrian Army arguably brought us to the brink of World War III by using chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, and they attempted to frame Assad for it. They are the same fighters who were using weapons shipped by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with logistic support from the CIA operating in Jordan, and they were also funded by the Saudis, Qataris and Americans. All of this, despite their benefactors’ knowledge that the weapons were falling in the hands of the Jihadists rather than the secular opposition. With help from the CIA, these governments and that of Turkey sharply increased their support for the Syrian rebels throughout 2013, expanding exponentially an airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against Assad.
With the Jihadization of Damascus having failed, ISIS was born, led by the infamous al-Baghdadi, who was being sponsored just a few months before by the US to fight against Assad. This was achieved through missions coordinated by the likes of John McCain, who to this day maintains that he “knows these people very well” and they “are not terrorists”. The cognitive dissonance does not register in the minds of the majority of the western public. It is not understood that the people who are being paid by the US and NATO in Syria to get rid of Assad are the same people that we must supposedly fight in Libya. Politicians lie, the media parrots, and the populace believes. The infamous “Caliph” al-Baghdadi is now the new bogeyman, the new Bin Laden, the new scapegoat upon which the neocons of the world can capitalize. With Jeb Bush poised to be the leading US Republican candidate for the presidency, the parallels with his brother George W. Bush and his crusade against Al-Qaeda to justify the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are simply too sinister to ignore. It hardly matters whether one believes that ISIS is under direct control of the US or not. The point is that ISIS has achieved its primary role: that of creating an atmosphere of fear that can be exploited and manipulated to justify military and political interventions abroad.
We have to wonder about the goal of ISIS in bombing in Libya. If ISIS really wants to attack Rome, it can easily do so with home-grown members rather than risk the laborious task of smuggling fighters from Libya. Could it be to influence the US elections in favor of a neoconservative? Or to pretend to be fighting ISIS while bombing the pro-Gaddafi militias that have re-taken most of the southern regions of Libya? Whatever the reason, it appears that the support from the US to the supposed enemies of the US is allegedly not waning. The Pentagon is set to send 1,000 troops to aid the Syrian rebels, and in June 2014 Obama requested $500 million from the US Congress to train and arm the group that potentially includes ISIS combatants. This comes amidst claims from an alleged Islamic State commander in Pakistan that the US is directly funding ISIS fighters on the ground there, and from the Iraqi parliament that their army has downed two British military planes that were carrying weapons and explosives to be allegedly air-dropped on ISIS-controlled areas. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the NATO powers are not the only ones who have at least indirectly supported ISIS; Israel too has also thrown its lot with these unsavory characters. For 18 months the Israeli “Defense” Forces provided medical and technical help to opposition groups fighting inside Syria, as observed by the UN peacekeeping missions in the Golan Heights.
If a hand strikes you, do you blame the hand that hit you or the mind that commanded it? The situation with ISIS is similar, and so the real question to be asked is the following: Who is the greatest enemy to our security here, ISIS or the US? For those willing to see, the truth is in plain sight.
Etymology, or the study of where words come from, can be a fascinating topic.
Yesterday I put up a post which contained a description of Victoria Nuland as Obama’s “hit lady,” and which mentioned also that Nuland is married to Jewish neocon Robert Kagan.
It’s interesting to take a look at the word “kagan” in terms of its etymology. Is the word perhaps derived from another language? Did its use originate in another country?
The answer to that is yes on both counts. The words comes from Khazaria, a kingdom which once existed in what is today Ukraine and which underwent a mass conversion to Judaism in about the 8th or 9th century AD. Ashkenazi Jews today are descendents of the Khazars, and as I discussed in an article I wrote last year, the leader or head of state of the Khazar kingdom was not referred to as a “king”, but rather as the “kagan.”
It’s just a little something I thought might interest readers.
In the post I put up yesterday, I mentioned that Robert Kagan was one of the founders of the Project for a New American Century, a group of neocons who organized themselves in 1997 and who are probably most famous today for having composed a report entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” That document envisioned a “new Pearl Harbor” befalling the United States, and was released in September of 2000. One year later 9/11 happened.
Kagan and William Kristol were the two co-founders of PNAC. You can go here to see a list of others who have been involved with the organization. Nuland’s husband is the only “Kagan” but other names on the list are “Abrams,” “Cohen,” “Decter,” “Gaffney,” “Podhoretz,” and “Wolfowitz”–all Jewish. That’s not to say there weren’t a few Gentiles in the merry little klan. Jeb Bush and Dick Cheney are there as well.
Like Nuland, Elliot Abrams also seems to be cheer leading for war with Russia, as do Kristol, Dick Cheney, Eliot A. Cohen, and Frank Gaffney. These and others collectively are building a momentum toward war with Russia, and President Obama seems for the most part to be going with the flow.
It does seem very much as if America has a ruling class of “Kagans.” And equally, it seems Obama either can’t or won’t stand up to them. But then after all, they’re “kagans” and he’s only a “president.”
Below is an interesting little piece written by Kevin MacDonald and posted last year on February 9, less than two weeks before Viktor Yanukovych, the legitimate, democratically elected president of Ukraine, was ousted from power.
Victoria Nuland’s Family Ties: The Permanent Government in Action
Intertwined Jewish power families are an important aspect of Jewish history, cementing business relationships by creating networks of close relatives who married only among themselves—e.g., the Court Jews of 17th- and 18th-century Europe (see here, pp 150-152). We see echoes of that in the contemporary world, as among the neocons.
As with the other Jewish intellectual movements I have studied, neoconservatives have a history of mutual admiration, close, mutually supportive personal, professional, and familial relationships, and focused cooperation in pursuit of common goals. For example, Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary, is the father of John Podhoretz, a neoconservative editor and columnist. Norman Podhoretz is also the father-in-law of Elliott Abrams, the former head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (a neoconservative think tank) and the director of Near Eastern affairs at the National Security Council. Norman’s wife, Midge Decter, recently published a hagiographic biography of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whose number-two and number-three deputies at the Pentagon, respectively, are Wolfowitz and Feith. Perle is a fellow at the AEI. He originally helped Wolfowitz obtain a job with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in 1973. In 1982, Perle, as Deputy Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, hired Feith for a position as his Special Counsel, and then as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Negotiations Policy. In 2001, Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz helped Feith obtain an appointment as Undersecretary for Policy. Feith then appointed Perle as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. This is only the tip of a very large iceberg. “Neoconservatism as a Jewish movement” (p. 32)
Ethnic networking and ties cemented by marriage are on display in the flap over Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s phone conversation with Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. As VDARE’s Steve Sailer puts it, Nuland is a member of
a talented, energetic [Jewish] family that is part of the Permanent Government of the United States. It doesn’t really matter who wins the Presidential election: some Kagan-Nuland will be doing something somewhere in your name and on your dime.The Kagan connection is via her husband, Robert Kagan. As noted by Your Lying Eyes, “Robert and brother Fred seem to have strategically implanted themselves in key policy-making positions within the Democratic and Republican party apparatus. Robert is embedded at Brookings, while Fred is ensconsed at AEI.”
So we have another Jewish neocon family tree, beginning with Donald Kagan, a Yale historian whose history of the Peloponnesia War has been used by neocons as a rationale for invasions of countries Israel doesn’t like (see Sailer). Donald Kagan was also a signatory to a 2002 letter to George W. Bush put out by Bill Kristol’s Project for the New American Century (PNAC) equating threats to Israel (Iran, Syria, Iraq) with threats to the U.S.
The next generation, Fred Kagan (American Enterprise Institute) and Robert Kagan (Brookings) are neocon stalwarts as well. (E.g., Donald, Robert and Frederick are all signatories to the neocon manifesto, Rebuilding America’s Defenses (2000), put out by PNAC.) They and their wives, are all graduates of elite universities and well entrenched in the neocon thinktank/government infrastructure. Fred’s wife Kimberly (nee Kessler) is the head of the Institute for the Study of War and holds typical neocon positions.
And although U.S. policy toward Ukraine likely stems from other issues besides the neocon hostility toward Russia (the latter due to issues such as Putin’s crackdown on the oligarchs and Russia’s support of Israel’s enemies, Iran and Syria), there be little doubt that Nuland’s energetic support of the pro-EU opposition to the Yanukovych government dovetails with the attitudes of her neocon network. Our Permanent Government at work.