Just nine days after the fall of the World Trade Center, George W. Bush announced that he was imposing a radical new policy on virtually the entire globe: “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
As dramatic as the statement was, just about every phrase was open to question in one form or another. But rather than launching into a long and vigorous debate about the meaning of terrorism or America’s right to impose diktat on the world at large, congressmen turned their minds off and gave Bush a standing ovation.
Today, the same Bush Doctrine is sinking beneath the waves as a growing portion of the punditocracy declares that some forms of terrorism are better than others and that harboring a terrorist may not be so bad if it advances U.S. interests. But once again, the response is not questioning, debate, or even applause, but silence.
The latest evidence of a sea change in establishment thinking is a blog that Ahmed Rashid, a prominent Middle East correspondent, recently published on The New York Review of Books website. Entitled “Why We Need al-Qaeda,” it argues that Al Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate, Al Nusra, are evolving in a more moderate direction in growing contrast to its rival, the super-violent Islamic State. So why not use Al Nusra as a counterforce against both Bashar al-Assad and ISIS?
As Rashid puts it: “Unlike ISIS, which demands absolute subjugation of the inhabitants of any territory it conquers (surrender or be executed), al-Nusra is cooperating with other anti-Assad groups and recently joined the ‘Army of Conquest’ alliance of rebel militias in northern Syria. Moreover, in contrast to ISIS’s
largely international and non-Syrian fighting force, al-Nusra’s fighters are almost wholly Syrian, making them both more reliable and more committed to Syria’s future.
“Meanwhile, in interviews with Al Jazeera, al-Nusra leaders have vowed not to attack
targets in the West, promoting an ideology that might be called ‘nationalist jihadism’ rather than global jihad. In recent months, al-Nusra’s leaders
have toned down the implementation of their own brutal version of Islamic law, while putting on hold their own plans of building a caliphate.”
Thus, according to Rashid’s viewpoint, Al Nusra is cooperative, patriotic, unthreatening to anyone other than Assad, and in favor of a kinder and gentler form of shari‘a as well. Yet, Rashid argues, that while Turkey and the Arab gulf states recognize that change is afoot, the U.S. keeps its eyes resolutely shut:
“With 230,000 killed and 7.6 million people uprooted in Syria alone, the Arab states want a quick end to the Assad regime and a viable solution for Syria. They know that solution will never come from the weak moderate opposition, and that
any lasting peace will require support by the strong and ruthless Islamist
groups fighting there.”
Gulf States’ Favorite
So the gulf states are backing the second most ruthless Islamist group in Syria (Al Qaeda’s affiliate) in hopes of offsetting the first most ruthless (ISIS) and making short work of the Baathist regime in Damascus. But as Arab leaders prepare for direct negotiations with Al Nusra, Rashid warns, “the only one not at the table could be the
This is dramatic stuff. After all, Rashid is not taking aim at some minor doctrine, but one that has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11. Moreover, he’s not the only one talking this way. Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to Riyadh in early March to meet with Saudi King Salman and discuss ways of upping support for the Syrian Islamist opposition, there has been a veritable boomlet in terms of calls for a rapprochement with Al Qaeda.
Within days of the Riyadh get-together, Foreign Affairs went public with an article arguing that even though “the United States is the closest it has ever been to destroying al Qaeda, its interests would be better served by keeping the terrorist organization afloat.” Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, wrote a few weeks later that “while not everyone likes Nusra’s ideology, there is a growing sense in the north of Syria that it is the best alternative on the ground – and that ideology is a small price to pay for higher returns.”
Charles Lister of the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center, wrote that Al Nusra is undergoing a “moderating shift.” Frederic Hof, Obama’s former envoy to the Syrian guerrillas and now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the group has become “a real magnet for young Syrian fighters who don’t have any particular jihadist or even radical sectarian agenda.” They are drawn to Al Nusra, he explained, for two reasons – because it’s “well-resourced” and because it “seems to have been willing to fight the regime and not to engage in some of the corrupt activities and warlordism that you would find elsewhere within the panoply of Syrian opposition.”
So, Rashid’s views are hardly unique. Nonetheless, they’re the most explicit and upfront to date, an indication that support for an alliance with Al Qaeda is on the upswing and that advocates are growing bolder and more self-confident. So how should ordinary people who are not part of the elite foreign-policy discussion respond?
For one thing, they might notice that such articles are remarkably one-sided and poorly reasoned. Rashid may be “one of Pakistan’s most respected journalists,” as the BBC puts it, someone whose work has appeared in such publications as the Daily Telegraph and the Far Eastern Economic Review. Yet shooting holes through his arguments is child’s play.
Take his claim that “al-Nusra’s leaders have toned down the implementation of their own brutal version of Islamic law.” Whatever the difference between Al Nusra and ISIS on this score, it’s less impressive than Rashid lets on.
The Soufan Group, a New York-based security firm headed by a Lebanese-American ex-FBI agent named Ali H. Soufan, notes, for instance, that while Islamic State released a video in January showing its forces stoning an accused adulteress, Al Nusra released one around the same time showing its forces shooting two women for the same alleged offense. Since the victims in either case were killed, the difference, as the Soufan Group noted, was purely “stylistic.”
Rashid claims that Al Nusra is less extreme in its hostility to Shi‘ism, in part because it thinks “anti-Shia fanaticism” is backfiring and becoming “an impediment to gaining more territory.” Indeed, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, Al Nusra’s commander-in-chief, told Al Jazeera in a rare interview on May 27 that his forces were willing to welcome Alawites, as Syria’s Shi‘ites are known, back into the fold.
“If they drop weapons,” al-Julani said, “disavow Assad, do not send their men to fight for him and return to Islam, then they are our brothers.” But when he described Alawism as a sect that has “moved outside the religion of God and of Islam,” the meaning became clear: Alawite must either convert or die.
Whether this makes Al Nusra less genocidal than ISIS is open to debate. According to the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, Al Nusra recently massacred more than 20 Druze villagers in northwestern Syria – reportedly after a local commander denounced them as kuffar, or infidels, while al-Julani, in his Al Jazeera interview, specified that Christians must pay the jizya, a special head tax imposed by Islamic law, as well – a stipulation Syria’s ten-percent Christian minority is not likely to find very reassuring.
Ordinary people viewing this from afar might notice that the government that al-Julani is seeking to overthrow is officially secular and non-discriminatory and that even Obama has conceded that it has “protected the Christians in Syria,” as he told a Syrian Christian delegation last September. They might also notice that Rashid’s article is in other respects highly revealing, although not in ways he cares to admit.
For instance, Rashid writes that U.S. policy in the Middle East is beset by “growing contradictions.” This is obviously correct. But the problem is not that Washington refuses to face facts about Al Nusra’s alleged moderating trend, but that the U.S. is attempting to hammer out an accord with Iran while struggling to preserve its alliance with Israel and the Arab gulf states, all of whom regard Iran as public enemy number one.
Obama’s Fence Straddling
The effort has led to monumental fence straddling. While entering into talks with Iran, the Obama administration has given the go-ahead to Saudi Arabia’s two-month-old assault on Iranian-allied forces in Yemen while turning a blind eye to growing Turkish and Saudi support for anti-Iranian terrorists in Syria.
While paying lip service to the Bush Doctrine that he who harbors a terrorist is as bad as a terrorist, the Obama administration made no objection when the Saudis and Turks donated U.S.-made TOW missiles to Al Nusra-led forces in northern Syria or when the Saudi bombing campaign allowed Al Qaeda to expand in Yemen.
It’s a mixed-up policy that has people in the Middle East shaking their heads. Yet Rashid adds to the confusion by misrepresenting the Saudi role. He writes, for instance, that the Arab States are swinging behind Al Nusra because they “want a quick end to the Assad regime and a viable solution for Syria,” when, in fact, Saudi Wahhabists have sought from the start to impose a government much like their own, as a report by U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency observed back in August 2012.
Rather than “viable,” such a government would be precisely the opposite for a highly variegated society like Syria with its large Christian, Shi‘ite, and Druze minorities fearful of Sunni fundamentalist domination – yet the gulf states, backed by the U.S., have pushed on regardless.
On the issue of Al Qaeda’s brutal intolerance, Rashid adds, “For Arab leaders, determining whether al-Qaeda has really changed
will depend on the group’s long-term attitude toward Shias,” suggesting that the gulf states are seeking a fairer outcome for Syria’s Alawites.
But this is misleading as well since Saudi attitudes toward the kingdom’s own 15-percent Shi‘ite minority are deeply oppressive and seem to be getting worse.
According to the Cambridge scholar Toby Matthiesen, for example, Saudi Shi‘ites are barred from the army and the National Guard as well as the top rungs of the government. State-mandated schoolbooks denounce them as “rejectionists,” while, according to the independent scholar Mai Yamani, they cannot testify in court or marry a Sunni and must put up with abuse from Wahhabist clerics who regularly preach that killing a Shi‘ite merits a greater heavenly reward than killing a Christian or a Jew.
Since Salman’s accession in late January, there is no sign of a softening. Indeed, by bombing Yemen’s Shi‘ite Houthi rebels and stepping up support for fanatically anti-Shi‘ite rebels in Syria, Salman gives every indication of intensifying his anti-Shi‘ite crusade and taking it abroad.
Neocons pushing for an explicit alliance with Al Nusra are thus attempting to plunge the U.S. ever more deeply into a growing sectarian war. Ordinary people might also notice that such “experts” expound their views from cushy posts financed by Qatar (the case with Brookings’ Doha Center) or by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain (the case with the Atlantic Council).
Yet Congress doesn’t care about such conflicts of interest and the White House is too intimidated to speak out, while the American people at large are not consulted. Questioning and debate are more imperative than ever, yet they are as absent as they were back in 2001.
The June 7 parliamentary election in Turkey could have a huge impact on the conflict in Syria. The invincible image of President Erdogan has been cracked. There is a real chance that the election might lead to substantive change in Turkish foreign policy promoting the war in Syria.
Even though Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the most votes, they lost their majority in parliament and must now find a coalition partner. Turkey’s new parliament was seated for the first time on Tuesday June 23. Now begins the political bargaining and negotiations to form a governing coalition. Depending on the outcome, Turkey may stop or seriously restrict the flow of weapons and foreign fighters through its territory into Syria. If Turkey does this, it would offer a real prospect for movement toward negotiations and away from war in Syria. Why? The Syrian war continues because Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, USA, France, UK and others are spending billions of dollars annually to fund the armed opposition and sustain the war in violation of the UN Charter and international law.
Closely allied with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey has been the primary path for weapons and foreign fighters in Syria. ISIS has depended on export of oil and import of weapons and fighters through Turkey. Jabhat al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham and other armed opposition groups have depended on weapons and foreign fighters coming in via Turkey for attacks on northern Syria including Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.
Turkish Government Support of War on Syria
The following examples show the extent of Turkish involvement in the war on Syria:
- Turkey hosts the Political and Military Headquarters of the armed opposition. Most of the political leaders are former Syrians who have not lived there for decades.
- Turkey provides home base for armed opposition leaders. As quoted in the Vice News video Syria: Wolves of the Valley: “Most of the commanders actually live in Turkey and commute in to the fighting when necessary.”
- Turkey’s intelligence agency MIT has provided its own trucks for shipping huge quantities of weapons and ammunition to Syrian armed opposition groups. According to court testimony they made at least 2,000 trips to Syria.
- Turkey is suspected of supplying the chemical weapons used in Ghouta in August 2013 as reported by Seymour Hersh here. In May 2013, Nusra fighters were arrested in possession of sarin but quickly and quietly released by Turkish authorities.
- Turkey’s foreign minister, top spy chief and senior military official were secretly recorded plotting an incident to justify Turkish military strikes against Syria. A sensational recording of the meeting was publicized, exposing the plot in advance and likely preventing it from proceeding.
- Turkey has provided direct aid and support to attacking insurgents. When insurgents attacked Kassab Syria on the border in spring 2014, Turkey provided backup military support and ambulances for injured fighters. Turkey shot down a Syrian jet fighter that was attacking the invading insurgents. The plane landed 7 kms inside Syrian territory, suggesting that Turkish claims it was in Turkish air space are likely untrue.
- Turkey has recently increased its coordination with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This has led to the recent assaults by thousands of foreign fighters on Idlib and Jisr al Shugour in northern Syria. Armed with advanced weaponry including TOW missiles, and using suicide bomb vehicles, the armed groups over-ran Syrian armed forces defending both cities. The assaults were facilitated by Turkey jamming and disrupting Syrian radio communications.
- Turkey has facilitated travel into northern Syria by extremist mercenaries from all parts of the globe including Chechen Russians, Uyghur Chinese, Europeans, North Africans, South Asians including Indonesians and Malaysians. The assault on Jisr al Shugour was spearheaded by Chinese Uyghur fighters and suicide bombers crossing over from Turkey with tanks and heavy artillery.
- Turkey itself has provided steady supply of recruits to the Islamic State. Like other countries which have had citizens indoctrinated with wahabi fanaticism, they have done little or nothing to limit the indoctrination or restrict emigration for ‘jihad’.
- Turkey has permitted the supply of huge quantities of car bomb ingredients (ammonium nitrate fertilizer) to the Islamic State. On May 4 the NY Times reported these shipments at the Turkish border. Sixteen days later ISIS over-ran Ramadi in an assault that began with 30 car bombs with ten reportedly the size of the Oklahoma City bombing.
- Finally, as part of its continuing effort to draw the U.S. and NATO into direct participation in the war on Syria, Turkey is an active player in various propaganda campaigns. For example, the “White Helmets” or “Syrian Civil Defence” are trained and supplied in Turkey. Some of the videos purportedly from Syria are likely filmed in Turkey at their training site. White Helmets and Syrian Civil Defence are both creations of the West and join with Turkey in calling for a “No Fly Zone”.
Turkish Repression of Journalism, Police and Courts
The AKP government has vigorously tried to suppress information about the extent of Turkey’s support of the war on Syria. They have resorted to repression and intimidation such as:
- Turkish authorities have charged four regional prosecutors with attempting to topple the government. Their “crime” was to insist on the inspection of four trucks headed from Turkey to Syria. The trucks contained weapons and ammunition in violation of Turkish law. The trial of the four prosecutors is ongoing, 18 months after the inspection.
- Turkish authorities arrrested seven high ranking military officers over the inspection of trucks taking weapons and fighters to Syria.
- Turkish authorities banned social media and news outlets from reporting on arms shipments through Turkey to Syria. Twitter and Facebook accounts that talked about the shipments where shut down. Erdogan went on to threaten to “eradicate” Twitter.
- Turkish President Erdogan threatened two life term sentences for the editor of Hurriyet daily newspaper for publicizing support of the armed opposition in Syria by Turkey’s intelligence agency MIT.
- A whistle-blowing MIT (intelligence agency) officer who opposed the agency’s collusion with terrorism in Syria was arrested, convicted and imprisoned. After two years he managed to escape and tell his story. The blockbuster account was broadcast on Turkey’s OdaTV and later translated into English and published here.
Was American Journalist Serena Shim Murdered?
As seen in the examples above, Turkish AKP authorities have aggressively tried to suppress information on the involvement in Syria. If they have been that aggressive with Turkish journalists, prosecutors and military officers, how far might they go against a foreign journalist working for Iran’s Press TV?
The American born journalist Serena Shim died just days after she documented the use of World Food Program trucks to transport foreign fighters to the border with Syria and into ISIS territory. After learning that Turkish intelligence was looking for her, Serena Shim was so concerned that she expressed her fear on television. Two days later, Serena Shim’s car was hit head-on by a cement truck. The driver of the cement truck disappeared but was later found. There are many discrepancies about what happened. The first reports indicated the truck and driver left without stopping. Then the driver and truck were located, and then photos appeared showing a collision.
While some Turkish security services have preemptively exonerated the driver of the cement truck, the local prosecutor has filed charges against the driver, accusing him of causing death through negligence. There are many suspicious aspects, not least is the fact that the cement truck’s wheels are angled toward the car, not away as one would expect with a vehicle trying to avoid collision.
The death of American journalist Serena Shim, and her factual investigative reporting on Syria and Turkey, stands in sharp contrast with the sensational media accounts about the “kidnapping” of NBC reporter Richard Engel. That event turned out to be a hoax contrived by “rebels” to manipulate American political opinion. With the complicity of individual reporters and mainstream media, the fraud was successful. The bias in mainstream western media is further demonstrated by the almost complete media silence about the death of Serena Shim and her important journalistic work.
For the past 13 years Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has had majority control of Turkey’s parliament. In the recent election AKP’s share of the popular voted plummeted 10% and they lost their parliamentary majority. The results are a clear rebuff to Erdogan and AKP policies. Sixty percent of voters went against AKP, splitting the vote among the three alternative parties. The pro-Kurdish and Leftist People’s Democratic Party (HDP) burst onto the scene capturing 13% of the votes and equaling the number of parliamentary seats captured by the rightist and anti-Kurdish National Movement Party (MHP). The main opposition party is the social democratic Republican Peoples Party (CHP) with 26% of the vote.
Over the coming weeks, AKP will try to form a coalition government with one or more of the alternate parties. However, it won’t be easy. The natural bedfellow would be the anti-Kurdish and rightist MHP, but they are demanding the resumption of a corruption trial against AKP leaders including Erdogan’s son Bilal. That trial would probably lead back to President Erdogan himself, so it seems unlikely AKP will ally with MHP. The three alternative parties could form a coalition to govern without AKP, but it’s hard to imagine the staunchly anti-Kurdish MHP allying with the pro-Kurdish HDP.
If a majority coalition cannot be formed within 45 days, the Turkish constitution requires a rerun of the election.
Election Should Bring Major Change in Syrian Policy
Even with severe repression and intimidation, the Turkish public is aware of Turkey’s policy supporting war on Syria. One consequence of the war has been almost 2 million immigrant refugees with the dispersal of many throughout Turkey, providing cheap labor and adding significantly to the unemployment problem. In addition, there have been terrorist attacks in the border region and an escalation of corruption and repression as external money and weapons have flooded the area en route to Syria. The war against Syria has been widely unpopular and played a significant role in the election.
- All the opposition parties called for change in Turkey’s foreign policy.
- Criticism of Erdogan and Davutoglu’s policy even comes from within the AKP membership: “Many believe that one reason for the AKP’s dismal showing in the 2015 elections is its policy on Syria.”
- The head of the main opposition party (CHP) says Turkey will start controlling the border and stop the flood of arms and fighters into Syria.
The coming weeks will indicate how Turkey moves forward: Will AKP manage to form a coalition government with one of the opposition parties? Or will there be another election?
Will Turkey start enforcing the border and stop shipments of arms to the armed opposition as demanded by the leader of the main opposition party? This would be a huge change in the dynamics within Syria. Without a rear base of constant and steady support, the armed opposition would be forced to rely on their own resources rather than those of foreign governments. They would quickly wither since they have very little support base within Syria.
Since the election, there are already signs of a shift in the balance. Kurdish forces recently captured ISIS’ important border crossing at Tal Abyad. This has been the main route of weapons, fighters and supplies between Turkey and the Islamic State’s ‘capital’ at Raqqa in eastern Syria.
The Past Year and Looking Ahead
Thirteen months ago it looked like the war in Syria was starting to move toward resolution. The last remaining armed opposition in the “capital of the revolution” Homs, reached reconciliation and withdrew from the Old City of Homs in May 2014. On June 3, 2014 the election in Syria confirmed substantial support for the government.
Since then, we have seen dramatic changes. On June 10, 2014 ISIS surged through western Iraq and captured the city of Mosul and huge quantities of American armaments including tanks, rockets, humvees, etc. That led to the creation of the “Islamic State” and expansion in eastern Syria including Tabqa Air Base where hundreds of Syrian soldiers and ISIS fighters died.
This past spring saw the coalescing of numerous foreign and Islamist groups into the Jaish al Fatah (Army of Conquest) supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. With high powered TOW anti-tank missiles and thousands of shock troops they were able to overtake both Idlib and Jisr al Shugour near the Turkish border.
ISIS and the Army of Conquest are both dependent on the Turkish supply line. If that is closed off or seriously restricted, it will dramatically change the situation.
With the prospect of losing their base of support in Turkey, will the opposition try something desperate to draw the US and NATO into the conflict directly?
The Turkish people have indicated they want to stop their government’s war on Syria. If their will is respected, it should lead to restricting and stopping the foreign funding and promotion of the conflict. If Turkey stops the flood of weapons and foreign fighters into northern Syria, it will be following instead of violating international law. This will give peace a chance in Syria.
Rick Sterling is active with the Syria Solidarity Movement and Mt Diablo Peace and Justice Center. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The United States has admitted that it has been fully aware of Turkey’s role in the transit of terrorists into Syria, but has failed to name it as a sponsor of terrorism.
Throughout 2014, Turkey served as a source and transit country for foreign terrorists seeking to enter Syria, the United States said in its annual report on terrorism.
However, the State Department report released on Friday failed to condemn Ankara or declare it as a sponsor of terrorism.
Surprisingly enough, the report leveled accusations against Iran which has supported the fight against the ISIL terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.
Syria has been gripped by deadly violence since 2011. The United States and some of its regional allies — especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — have been supporting the militants operating in Syria.
According to the United Nations, more than 220,000 people have been killed and millions displaced due to the turmoil that has gripped Syria for nearly four years.
The ISIL terrorists, who were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government, are engaged in crimes against humanity in the areas under their control.
They have been carrying out horrific acts of violence such as public decapitations and crucifixions against all communities, including Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians.
Turkey has been involved in a covert arms trade between Libya and the Takfiri militant groups operating in Syria, a report has revealed.
Turkish Nokta weekly news magazine published its findings after examining the markings on the ammunition and casings in photos recently released by Turkish daily Cumhuriyet of intercepted Syria-bound Turkish trucks, English-language Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman reported on Monday.
The magazine discovered that the weapons and ammunition came originally from Libya and ended up in the hands of ISIL militants in Syria.
Last January, authorities stopped and searched a convoy of trucks belonging to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, also known as the MIT, loaded with arms and ammunition near the Syrian border in the southern provinces of Hatay and Adana.
The Turkish government at the time claimed that the vehicles had been transporting humanitarian aid to Syria and denounced the interception as an act of “treason and espionage.”
However, the Cumhuriyet newspaper afterwards released photos and footage that showed steel containers filled with mortar shells and ammunition underneath boxes of medicine, saying they were transferred to Syria in trucks operated by the MIT.
The daily said the trucks had been carrying 1,000 artillery shells, 1,000 mortar shells, 50,000 machine gun bullets, and 30,000 heavy arms bullets.
After investigating the pictures, Nokta found out that in one photo, the words “Tripoli Socialist People”, which was written on one of the wooden boxes, should be read as “Tripoli Socialist People’s Libya.” It added that the word “Libya” could not be seen in the photo because it was on the wooden panel taken off by those examining its content.
The magazine also cited the sand in the boxes as another indication that they came from Libya.
Nokta further said that apparent mortar shells with blue tips and markings of “FULL CHARGE, UOF-412, 100mm G” were found among the items. This kind of mortar shells are used in the D-10 type Soviet-made tanks or similar models such as the T-54 and T-55 battle tanks.
Only the Syrian army and the ISIL terrorist group have tanks that are capable of using these mortars, the weekly said, noting that since ISIL has purportedly seized some Syrian army tanks in areas under their control, they would need ammunition to be able to use the tanks.
Nokta magazine stated that numerous videos and photos have emerged on social media platforms showing how ISIL, the al-Nusra Front and other extremist groups are using these kind of tanks and mortar shells.
The report also pointed to many pictures from ISIL terrorists with boxes of weapons and ammunition similar to those discovered in the intercepted trucks.
The militancy in Syria started in March 2011. The Western powers alongside their regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, have been supporting the militants financially and militarily.
A Turkish newspaper says Ankara provides electricity to the Syrian town of Tal Abyad controlled by ISIL terrorists, who are also allowed to freely walk in the streets of a Turkish border district.
Citing a Friday report by the Istanbul-based BirGün daily, English-language Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman referred to “the not-so-secret presence of ISIL militants on the streets of Akçakale, in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa.”
Akçakale forms a divided city with the Syrian town of Tal Abyad and has been experiencing “first-hand” the spillover of the unrelenting Takfiri militancy raging in Syria.
“The enemy is no longer at the gate, locals have bemoaned. It is here, in Akçakale. They are, of course, talking about ISIL,” Zaman wrote.
According to the source, the ISIL uses hotels in Akçakale as a gathering point for its recruitment efforts, transporting the recruits through the Turkish town to Tal Abyad.
The report adds the terror group also offers the locals high salaries in return for joining their ranks amid the social and economic woes in the border area.
“If I didn’t have a family, I probably wouldn’t be able to resist their offer. They offer to write off your credit card debt, give you a high salary,” the daily quoted a local as saying.
The report also said that the northern Syrian town of Tal Abyad, located in Raqqa Province, continues to receive electricity from Turkey.
The international community has for long been critical of Turkey over its provision of assistance to Takfiri terrorists waging war in Syria.
Meanwhile, newly-surfaced video footage has corroborated widespread assertions that the Turkish government’s intelligence agency has been ensuring ISIL terrorists safe passage into Syria.
The center-left Turkish daily, Cumhuriyet, integrated the videos in a Thursday report implicating the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in assisting the notorious Takfiri group.
Cumhuriyet had also posted a video on its website on May 29, purportedly showing trucks belonging to Turkey’s intelligence agency carrying weapons to the Takfiri terror groups operating in Syria.
The Turkish opposition group, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has called for an immediate end to Ankara’s support for terrorists in Syria.
Selahattin Demirtas, HDP’s co-leader, has noted that the move would be the key to restore the foreign relations of the new Turkish government to normal state.
Russia has censured the United States and its NATO allies for “violating” the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by conducting nuclear planning and missions.
“The so-called joint nuclear missions practiced by the United States and their NATO allies are a serious violation of the said treaty,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on Thursday.
The statement also called for the return of all US nuclear weapons to the country, a ban on nuclear warheads abroad and the dismantling of the technology that facilitates the use of nuclear weapons as well as abstaining from nuclear exercises.
Back in April, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington is breaching the NPT by deploying its nuclear weapons in Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.
Also in March, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich urged the US, as a NATO member, to withdraw its nuclear weapons from Europe, highlighting that their deployment on the continent violates the NPT.
“We have repeatedly drawn NATO’s attention to the fact that such practices directly run counter to the spirit and the letter of NPT,” he said on March 24.
The remarks came days after the US State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, claimed that “the deployment of US nuclear weapons on the territories of our NATO allies is consistent with the NPT.”
Under the article 1 of NPT, no country is allowed to transfer its nuclear weapons to other parties while article 2 of the treaty prohibits those countries lacking nuclear know-how from having access to nuclear weapons, Lukashevich stated, adding that the US deployment of nuclear arms in Europe infringes upon the terms of the agreement.
Washington-Moscow relations have become markedly tense in recent months. The US and NATO accuse the Kremlin of supporting pro-Russia forces in east Ukraine. Russia categorically denies the allegation, saying NATO’s presence near the Russian borders is responsible for the flare-up in the restive region.
Newly-surfaced video footage has corroborated widespread assertions that the Turkish government’s intelligence agency has been ensuring ISIL terrorists safe passage into Syria.
The center-left Turkish daily, Cumhuriyet, integrated the videos in a Thursday report implicating the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in assisting the notorious Takfiri group.
The footage shows drivers admitting that they are “doing their duty to the state” by helping the militants bypass the territory near the heavily-defended Syrian city of Kobani.
One driver explains how vehicles would be accompanied by MİT agents during the trip, which would start from the Atme camp in Syria and end at the border town of Akçakale in Şanlıurfa Province, where the militants and cargo would reenter Syria.
One driver is seen saying, “They didn’t allow us to leave the vehicle [once we had arrived at Akçakale]. One of them [militants] was waiting by our side. Another vehicle came and parked behind my coach and they started moving the cargo from my vehicle [into the other one]. There were 46 [militants] in my coach, and I learned later on that there were 27 in the other bus. They were bearded men, scruffy looking.”
On June 5, the opposition daily had likewise accused Turkish authorities and intelligence agency of helping smuggle ISIL and other Takfiri terrorists into Syria from Turkey.
Cumhuriyet had also posted a video on its website on May 29, purportedly showing trucks belonging to Turkey’s intelligence agency carrying weapons to the Takfiri terror groups operating in Syria.
Syria has been struggling with an implacable militancy since March 2011. The US and its regional allies – especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey – are supporting the militants operating inside Syria.
The international community has long been critical of Turkey over its provision of assistance to Takfiri terrorists waging war in Syria.
The Turkish opposition group, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has called for an immediate end to Ankara’s support for terrorists in Syria.
Selahattin Demirtas, HDP’s co-leader, has noted that the move would be key to restoring the foreign relations of the new Turkish government to a normal state.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has publicly threatened the editor-in-chief of a Cumhuriyet daily for publishing a report, which showed police discovering weapons ready to be sent to Syrian rebels in trucks belonging to Turkish intelligence.
“This slander and this illegitimate operation against the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) are, in a way, an act of espionage. This newspaper got involved in this espionage activity, too,” Erdogan told the TRT public broadcaster.
The video published on the Cumhuriyet news website on Friday showed Turkish gendarmerie and police officers finding weapons due for dispatch to Syria on trucks belonging to the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
The Cumhuriyet report said the footage was dated January 19, 2014, and described the arms in the trucks as weapons and ammunition.
The Turkish president said the arms shown in the footage were transported to Turkmens in Syria. He added the numbers of weapons were provided to Cumhuriyet by a “parallel state” – political enemies determined to discredit his government.
“What only matters to them is casting a shadow on Turkey’s image.”
Erdogan promised sanctions against Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, Can Dundar.
“I suppose the person who wrote this as an exclusive report will pay a heavy price for this… I will not let him off lightly,” Erdogan said, apparently referring to Dundar.
Dundar responded to the Turkish president’s lambast on Twitter: “The person who committed this crime will pay a heavy price,” he wrote, adding a link to the Cumhuriyet’s story about Erdogan threatening him.
Reuters also investigated the incident and showed testimony from the gendarmerie and officers. The latter claimed they discovered rocket parts, ammunition, and semi-finished mortar shells that were being transported in trucks accompanied by the country’s state intelligence agency (MIT) to parts of Syria under Islamist control.
At the time of the incident, the Syrian side of the border in Hatay province, neighboring Adana province, was controlled by Ahrar al-Sham, an Islamist group.
The prosecutors said the trucks were searched in several raids by police and the gendarmerie – one in November 2013 and three others in January 2014 – on the orders of prosecutors acting on tip-offs that they were carrying weapons.
“Our investigation has shown that some state officials have helped these people deliver the shipments,” prosecutor Ozcan Sisman, who ordered the search of the first truck on November 7, 2013 told Reuters in May.
Sisman and Takci, another prosecutor, have been arrested and now face charges of carrying out an illegal search. They both deny the charges.
About 30 officers involved in the search on January 1 and the incident on January 19 also face charges, including military espionage and attempts to overthrow the government, according to an April 2015 Istanbul court paper.
The United States is perhaps the principle nuclear weapons proliferator in the world today, openly flouting binding provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Article I of the treaty forbids signers from transferring nuclear weapons to other states, and Article II prohibits signers from receiving nuclear weapons from other states.
As the UN Review Conference of the NPT was finishing its month-long deliberations in New York last week, the US delegation distracted attention from its own violations using its standard Red Herring warnings about Iran and North Korea — the former without a single nuclear weapon, and the latter with 8-to-10 (according to those reliable weapons spotters at the CIA) but with no means of delivering them.
The NPT’s prohibitions and obligations were re-affirmed and clarified by the world’s highest judicial body in its July 1996 Advisory Opinion on the legal status of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The International Court of Justice said in this famous decision that the NPT’s binding promises not to transfer or receive nuclear weapons are unqualified, unequivocal, unambiguous and absolute. For these reasons, US violations are easy to illustrate.
Nuclear Missiles “Leased” to British Navy
The US “leases” submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (SLBMs) to Britain for use on its four giant Trident submarines. We’ve done this for two decades. The British subs travel across the Atlantic to pick up the US-made missiles at Kings Bay Naval base in Georgia.
Helping to ensure that US proliferation involves only of the most verifiably terrible nuclear weapons, a senior staff engineer at Lockheed Martin in California is currently responsible for planning, coordinating and carrying out development and production of the “UK Trident Mk4A [warhead] Reentry Systems as part of the UK Trident Weapons System ‘Life Extension program.’” This, according to John Ainslie of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which closely watchdogs the British Tridents — all of which are based in Scotland, much to the chagrin of the Scots.
Even the W76 warheads that arm the US-owned missiles leased to England have parts made in United States. The warheads use a Gas Transfer System (GTS) which stores tritium — the radioactive form of hydrogen that puts the “H” in H-bomb — and the GTS injects tritium into the plutonium warhead or “pit.” All the GTS devices used in Britain’s Trident warheads are manufactured in the United States. They are then either sold to the Royals or given away in exchange for an undisclosed quid pro quo.
David Webb, the current Chair of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament reported during the NPT Review Conference, and later confirmed in an email to Nukewatch, that the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico announced, in March 2011, that it had conducted “the first W76 United Kingdom trials test” at its Weapons Evaluation and Test Laboratory (WETL) in New Mexico, and that this had “provided qualification data critical to the UK [United Kingdom] implementation of the W76-1.” The W76 is a 100 kiloton H-bomb designed for the so-called D-4 and D-5 Trident missiles. One of the centrifuges at Sandia’s WETL simulates the ballistic trajectory of the W76 “reentry-vehicle” or warhead. This deep and complex collusion between the US and the UK could be called Proliferation Plus.
The majority of the Royal Navy’s Trident warheads are manufactured at England’s Aldermaston nuclear weapons complex, allowing both the Washington and London to claim they are in compliance with the NPT.
US H-bombs Deployed in Five NATO Countries
An even clearer violation of the NPT is the US deployment of between 184 and 200 thermonuclear gravity bombs, called B61, in five European countries — Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Turkey and Germany. “Nuclear sharing agreements” with these equal partners in the NPT — all of whom declare that they are “non-nuclear states” — openly defy both Article I and Article II of the treaty.
The US is the only country in the world that deploys nuclear weapons to other countries, and in the case of the five nuclear sharing partners, the US Air Force even trains Italian, German, Belgian, Turkish and Dutch pilots in the use of the B61s in their own warplanes — should the President ever order such a thing. Still, the US government regularly lectures other states about their international law violations, boundary pushing and destabilizing actions.
With so much a stake, it is intriguing that diplomats at the UN are too polite to confront US defiance of the NPT, even when the extension and enforcement of it is on the table. As Henry Thoreau said, “The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it.”
Ami Ayalon, the former chief of Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet, told Charlie Rose in a 2012 interview that Israel hoped to foster a ‘Sunni coalition’ led by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to assail Shia Muslims of the region led by Iran.
Ayalon told Rose that, “Iran is a huge threat. We cannot live with Iran having nuclear military power. We should not accept it.”
“How much time do we have and what do we do?” the Israeli spook asked.
“[We need to create] a kind of a Sunni coalition … with Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia… who understand that the major conflict is with Shia [Muslims] led by Iran.”
Interestingly, such a coalition has indeed formed in recent weeks with the Saudi-led bombing offensive in Yemen against the Iran-aligned Shia Houthi rebels who have seized power in the war-torn country.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Egypt and other Sunni-oriented dictatorships and Western-backed quisling regimes have formed a ‘coalition’ to stamp out the Shia rebellion in Yemen.
ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups currently fighting to topple the Shia/Alawite Assad regime in Syria may also be considered part of this ‘Sunni coalition’ that Ayalon speaks of. The Wahhabi militants who have besieged Syria and who previously attacked Libya were and continue to be subsidized and supported by Washington’s regional puppets (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Turkey).
In a 2014 interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu argued that the US should strive to weaken both Sunnis and Shias by letting them fight each other.
In a 2013 interview with the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s former ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, revealed that Israel’s main goal was to break down the Shia alliance of Damascus, Tehran and the Lebanese Hezbollah by siding with the Wahhabist radicals of ISIS and al-Qaeda.
“The initial message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted [President] Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” Oren said.
Reports of Israel aiding and abetting anti-Assad militants, including those of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, are abundant and well-founded.
Oren went on to remark with glee that the Gulf sheikhdoms have in recent years come to embrace Israel’s designs vis-a-vis Syria, Iran and even the Palestinian issue, saying:
In the last 64 years there has probably never been a greater confluence of interest between us and several Gulf States. With these Gulf States we have agreements on Syria, on Egypt, on the Palestinian issue. We certainly have agreements on Iran. This is one of those opportunities presented by the Arab Spring.
Ayalon’s admission confirms what many suspect is an Israeli-led divide and conquer strategy where Israel and the West are using Sunni and Wahhabi zealots, useful idiots, and sell-outs to do the bidding of the Zionist regime.
Copyright 2015 Non-Aligned Media
About Those Chlorine Gas Attacks in Syria
With allegations of chlorine gas attacks in Syria on March 16, some humanitarian groups have called for a “No Fly Zone” over part of Syria. I believe this is reckless and dangerous and will explain why.
Part 1 of this article was published on March 31. It documented the campaign by Avaaz and others for a “No Fly Zone” in Syria and contrasted the promises with the consequences in Libya.
Part 2 examines the allegations of chlorine gas attacks in Syria, what various organizations are doing and saying and where major violations of international law are occurring.
Humanitarians Pushing for Intervention
We have a strange situation where “human rights” groups are demanding foreign intervention in Syria via a “No Fly Zone” while military leaders are expressing caution saying “hold on…do you realize that’s an act of war?” The humanitarian interventionists may feel righteous in their cause, but they should be held accountable when it leads to disaster and tragedy as we saw in Libya.
After decades of wars and occupation based on deception, exaggeration and outright lies, it’s past time to demand proof of accusations and to be skeptical regarding any call for military action.
What is the Evidence from Syria?
Syrian rebels and supporters have repeatedly accused the Syrian military of using chemical weapons, often with the accompanying demand for foreign intervention. The Syrian government has consistently denied the accusations.
A major push for a foreign attack on Syria followed the highly publicized incidents in Ghouta in outer Damascus on August 21, 2013. Many humanitarian groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) joined or led in accusing the Syrian government of being responsible and calling for “action.” A military attack was averted by the Syrian government agreeing to remove its existing chemical weapons and manufacturing facilities.
Opposition supporters like Kenan Rahmani predicted that the Syrian government would not comply with the agreement. But it did. On October 1, 2014, the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced that the elimination of prohibited chemical weapons and facilities in Syria had been successfully completed. It was a remarkable achievement and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Syria received little credit.
During 2014, as the Syrian government was working to successfully implement the agreement to dispose of banned chemical weapons, new unverified accusations emerged that the Syrian military was using barrel bombs containing poisonous chlorine gas. The accusations prompted renewed demands from governments actively supporting the armed opposition. The Syrian government removed all prohibited chemicals and facilities but now is accused of using a chemical which is not on the prohibited list.
According to its report, in May 2014, an OPCW team tried to investigate at the site of alleged chlorine gas attacks. The Syrian government gave the OPCW team passage to the rebel controlled area but the convoy was attacked by a rebel faction. None of the team members was injured but that stopped their on-site investigation. Instead, the OPCW worked with the well-funded opposition-supporting Violations Documentation Center to arrange interviews with numerous people from three villages. The interviews were conducted outside Syria, probably in Turkey. They gathered photographs, videos and other evidence and expressed “high confidence that chlorine had been used as a weapon in Syria” in three villages. They did not ascribe responsibility.
More recently there was an alleged chlorine gas attack on March 16, 2015 with six deaths including three children. The Avaaz petition and campaign sprung from this alleged incident.
Along with these accusations, there has been a steady drumbeat from various organizations that the Syrian government is committing war crimes. For example, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) issued a press release on May 14 with the title “New Map Shows Government Forces Deliberately Attacking Syria’s Medical System.”
Are the Accusations Objective or Biased?
Following are some of the major organizations reporting or making accusations regarding the conflict in Syria:
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – This is the official intergovernmental organization tasked with promoting adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention. It has been responsible for removal of chemical weapons from Syria. It was then tasked with investigating allegations about use of chlorine gas as a weapon. While OPCW seeks to be highly professional and nonpartisan, there are questions of potential conflict of interest and bias as follows:
* The director general of OPCW, Ahmet Uzumcu, is the appointee of Turkey, a country which actively supports the Syrian opposition and has pushed for a No Fly Zone. Given that Uzumcu is a political appointee of a state directly involved in the conflict, he has a potential conflict of interest: he might advance his own career and please the Turkish government by making the Syrian government look bad.
* The interviews with villagers were done with OPCW “working closely” with the partisan “Violations Documentation Center.” How did OPCW verify the integrity of the witnesses?
* According to OPCW report, NATO’s CBRN Task Force (Chemical-Biological-Radioactive-Nuclear) collected data “in the field following reported attacks” and supplied this to OPCW. What exactly was the NATO task force doing in the rebel controlled territory?
* The official report of the OPCW notes that in the UN Security Council “Some doubts and questions were also raised in regard to the procedures and methods (of the Fact Finding Mission).”
AVAAZ – Avaaz is clearly biased and was involved in the Syria conflict from early on. They were supplying satellite phones and otherwise aiding and promoting local activists from early on. Is that a good thing? Not necessarily; their claims and actions in Syria have been controversial and criticized.
WHITE HELMETS / SYRIAN CIVIL DEFENCE – This is a new organization, highly publicized as civilian rescue workers in Syria. Their video and reports have influenced Avaaz and other humanitarian groups. Avaaz refers to the White Helmets as “Syria’s respected and non-partisan civil protection force.”
In reality the White Helmets is a project created by the UK and USA. Training of civilians in Turkey has been overseen by former British military officer and current contractor, James Le Mesurier. Promotion of the program is done by “The Syria Campaign” supported by the foundation of billionaire Ayman Asfari. The White Helmets is clearly a public relations project which has received glowing publicity from HuffPo to Nicholas Kristof at the NYT. White Helmets have been heavily promoted by the U.S. Institute of Peace (U.S.IP) whose leader began the press conference by declaring “U.S.IP has been working for the Syrian Revolution from the beginning”.
Apart from the PR work, White Helmets work in areas of Aleppo and Idlib controlled by Nusra (Al Queda). The video from a medical clinic on March 16 starts with a White Helmets logo. The next video of same date and place continues with the Nusra logo.
US and UK tax dollars pay for a program which has an appealing rescue component and is then used to market and promote the USA and UK policy of regime change in Syria in de facto alliance with Nusra.
The fake “independence and neutrality” of White Helmets is shown by their active promotion of a No Fly Zone.
MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERS (MSF) and other humanitarian groups no longer have staff in Syria. They rely on witnesses and videos provided by rebels. In a war zone it is difficult to ascertain when someone is speaking out of fear or intimidation or for payment. Witnesses in rebel-controlled territory may claim that helicopters dropped bombs with chlorine. But what if the witnesses are lying? The possibility for manipulation and deceit is huge.
PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (PHR) is also active reporting on the Syria conflict. They make bold but sometimes inaccurate assertions. They recently claimed that “people in Homs are facing serious health consequences as the medical system collapses, with only three doctors available.” This is inaccurate. I personally visited Homs one year ago and drove around the city for hours. Since the rebels departed the Old City last May it is being rebuilt and nearly all the city continues normally except for periodic terrorist car bombs.
A recent PHR press release is headlined “New Map shows Government Forces Deliberately Attacking Syria’s Medical System.” It looks slick and impressive but is inaccurate. For example, one of the most dramatic attacks on a Syrian hospital was the suicide bombing of Al Kindi Hospital in Aleppo. Yet the PHR map shows the attack having been carried out by “government forces.” Readers are encouraged to look at the 3 minute rebel video of the suicide attack which leaves no doubt who was responsible.
SUMMARY. Statements/documentation from the Syrian government and supporters tend to be dismissed or ignored; statements/video from opposition witnesses and activists tend to be accepted uncritically. That is bias.
The starting point for many criminal investigations is who has a motive? Who benefits from an action or event?
In order to prevail, the Syrian opposition needs foreign intervention. In order to prevail, the Syrian government needs to prevent foreign intervention.
Who benefited from from use of sarin gas that would cross Obama’s ‘red line’? The answer was always obvious. This received surprisingly little consideration as the US Government and humanitarian groups like Human Rights Watch argued that the Syrian Government was culpable without even considering who had motive.
Since that time, in-depth analysis of the August 2013 chemical attack in Ghouta increasingly points to the use of sarin gas by the rebels not the Syrian government. The “vector analysis” advanced by HRW has been discounted. The US and other countries almost began an international attack on the basis of false claims and analysis.
Similarly, who benefits from the use of chlorine gas that would violate the new UN Security Resolution? To ask the question is to answer it. Clearly it is the opposition rebels who benefit when the Syrian government is charged with using chlorine gas bombs. Clearly they are the ones who seek foreign intervention or imposition of a No Fly Zone.
A War of Aggression Against Syria
Supporters of intervention sometimes claim Syria has been “abandoned” by the international community. On the contrary, the Syrian conflict has continued primarily BECAUSE of foreign involvement.
The unholy alliance of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, USA, France and Britain (with silent partner Israel) have supplied, trained, provided weapons and salaries for Syrian and international fighters seeking to topple the government. They openly called themselves, with Orwellian chutzpah, the “Friends of Syria” as they divide the tasks of supplying the rebels and consider who should be the “legitimate political representatives”.
The crime has not been the absence of international effort; it has been the absence of enforcement of international law. The US and allies are doing to Syria what the US did to Nicaragua in the 1980’s. As the International Court at the Hague said in its decision on June 27, 1986:
… the United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the “contra” forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.
The Nicaraguan Foreign Minister at that time was Father Miguel D’Escoto. He served as president of the United Nations General Assembly in the year 2008-2009. When recently asked his opinion on what is happening in Syria he responded:
“What the U.S. government is doing in Syria is tantamount to a war of aggression, which, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal, is the worst possible crime a State can commit against another State.”
The conflict in Syria continues primarily because foreign powers continue to “arm, equip, finance and supply” the equivalent of the Contras. Imposing a No Fly Zone in Syria would not make anyone safer; it would dramatically expand the war and lead to vastly more, not fewer deaths.
Those who genuinely want peace in Syria need to press for ENDING foreign intervention in Syria via proxy armies and ENCOURAGING reconciliation and negotiations without preconditions.
The humanitarians pushing for intervention in Syria are not R2P (responsible to protect). They are R4W (responsible for war).
Rick Sterling is a founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be reached at email@example.com
There is media confusion about what is going on in Yemen and the broader Middle East. Pundits are pointing out that the US is looking schizophrenic with policies that back opposite sides of the fight against al-Qaeda-style extremism in Iraq and in Yemen.
But it isn’t that hard to understand the divergent policies once you comprehend the underlying drivers of the fight brewing in the region.
No, it isn’t a battle between Shia and Sunni, Iranian and Arab or the much-ballyhooed Iran-Saudi stand-off. Yes, these narratives have played a part in defining ‘sides,’ but often only in the most simplistic fashion, to rally constituencies behind a policy objective. And they do often reflect some truth.
But the ‘sides’ demarcated for our consumption do not explain, for instance, why Oman or Algeria refuse to participate, why Turkey is where it is, why Russia, China and the BRICS are participants, why the US is so conflicted in its direction – and why, in a number of regional conflicts, Sunni, Shia, Islamist, secularist, liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, Arab and Iranian sometimes find themselves on the same side.
This is not just a regional fight – it is a global one with ramifications that go well beyond the Middle East. The region is quite simply the theatre where it is coming to a head. And Yemen, Syria and Iraq are merely the tinderboxes that may or may not set off the conflagration.
“The battle, at its very essence, in its lowest common denominator, is a war between a colonial past and a post-colonial future.”
For the sake of clarity, let’s call these two axes the Neo-Colonial Axis and the Post-Colonial Axis. The former seeks to maintain the status quo of the past century; the latter strives to shrug off old orders and carve out new, independent directions.
If you look at the regional chessboard, the Middle East is plump with governments and monarchies backed to the hilt by the United States, Britain and France. These are the West’s “proxies” and they have not advanced their countries in the least – neither in self-sufficiencies nor in genuine democratic or developmental milestones. Indebted to ‘Empire’s’ patronage, these states form the regional arm of the Neo-Colonial Axis.
On the other side of the Mideast’s geopolitical fault line, Iran has set the standard for the Post-Colonial Axis – often referred to as the ‘Resistance Axis.’ Based on the inherent anti-imperialist worldview of the 1979 Islamic revolution, and also as a result of US/UK-driven isolating sanctions and global politics, Tehran has bucked the system by creating an indigenous system of governance, advancing its developmental ambitions and crafting alliances that challenge the status quo.
Iran’s staunchest allies have typically included Syria, Hezbollah and a handful of Palestinian resistance groups. But today, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring counter-revolutions – and the sheer havoc these have created – other independent players have discovered commonalities with the Resistance Axis. In the region, these include Iraq, Algeria and Oman. While outside the Mideast, we have seen Russia, China and other non-aligned nations step in to challenge the Neo-Colonial order.
Neo-Colonial Axis hits an Arab Spring wall
Today, the Neo-Colonials simply can’t win. They lack two essential components to maintain their hegemony: economy and common objectives.
Nowhere is that more clear than in the Middle East, where numerous initiatives and coalitions have floundered shortly after inception.
Once Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya, all parties went their own way and the country fractured. In Egypt, a power struggle pitted Sunni against Sunni, highlighting the growing schism between two Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) patrons Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In Syria, a heavyweight line-up of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, the US and UK could not pull together a coherent regime-change plan or back the same horse.
In the vacuum created by these competing agendas, highly-organized al-Qaeda-style extremists stepped in to create further divergence among old allies.
Western hegemons – the original colonials and imperialists – grew fatigued, alarmed, and sought a way out of the increasingly dangerous quagmire. To do so, they needed to strike a compromise with the one regional state that enjoyed the necessary stability and military prowess to lead the fight against extremism from within the region. That would be their old adversary, Iran.
But the West is geographically distant from the Mideast, and can take these losses to a certain extent. For regional hegemons, however, the retreat of their Western patrons was anathema. As we can see, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have recently rushed to resolve their differences so they can continue to design the region’s direction in this Western vacuum.
These counter-revolutionary states, however, share grandiose visions of their own regional influence – each ultimately only keen to achieve their own primacy. And the continued ascendance of Iran has really grated: the Islamic Republic seems to have moved from strength to strength during this ‘Arab Spring,’ picking up new allies – regional and global – and consolidating its gains.
For Saudi Arabia, in particular, Iran’s incremental victories go beyond the pale. Riyadh has, after all, staked its regional leadership role on a sectarian and ethnic divide, representing Arab and Sunni stakeholders against “Iranian” and “Shiite” ones. Now suddenly, not only are the Americans, British and French dallying with the Iranians, but the GCC itself has been split down the center over the issue of ‘engagement vs. confrontation’ with the Islamic Republic.
Worse yet, the Saudi efforts to participate in the overthrow of Gaddafi, squash uprisings in Bahrain, control political outcomes in Yemen, destabilize Syria, divide Iraq and conquer Egypt seem to have come to naught.
In all instances, they have yet to see cemented, meaningful gains – and each quagmire threatens to unravel further and deplete ever more Saudi funds
Today, the Saudis find themselves surrounded by the sickly fruits of their various regional interventions. They have endured recent attacks by violent extremists on their Iraqi and Jordanian borders – many of these recipients of past Saudi funding – and now find themselves challenged on a third border, in Yemen, by a determined constituency that seeks to halt Saudi interventions.
Beyond that, Syria and Lebanon have slipped out of Riyadh’s grip, little Qatar seeks to usurp the traditional Saudi role in the Persian Gulf, Egypt dallies with Russia and China, and Pakistan and Turkey continue a meaningful engagement with Iran.
Meanwhile, the Iranians don’t have to do much of anything to raise the Saudi ire. Iran has stepped up its regional role largely because of the Saudi-led counter-revolution, and has cautiously thwarted Riyadh’s onslaughts where it could. It has buoyed allies – much like NATO or the GCC would in similar circumstances – but with considerably less aggression and while cleaving to the letter of international law.
The Saudis see Iranian hands everywhere in the region, but this is a fantasy at best. Iran has simply stepped into an opportunity when it arises, met the threats coming its way, and utilized all its available channels to blunt the Saudi advances in various military and political theaters.
Even the US intelligence community’s annual security assessment – a report card that regularly highlights the “Iranian threat” – concludes in 2015 that the Islamic Republic of Iran has “intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.”
Yet all we hear these days blaring from Western and Arab media headlines is “Shia sectarianism, Iranian expansionism and Persian Empire.”
Tellingly, the American intelligence assessment launches its section on “terrorism” with the following: “Sunni violent extremists are gaining momentum and the number of Sunni violent extremist groups, members, and safe havens is greater than at any other point in history.”
And US officials admit: many of these Sunni extremists have been assisted and financed by none other than Washington allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
The Yemeni theater – a final battleground?
A senior official within a Resistance Axis state tells me: “The biggest mistake the Saudis made is to attack Yemen. I didn’t think they were that stupid.”
In the past week, the Saudis have cobbled together yet another Neo-Colonial ‘coalition’ – this time to punish Yemenis for ousting their made-in-Riyadh transitional government and pushing into the southern city of Aden.
The main Saudi adversaries are the Houthis, a group of northern, rural highlanders who have amassed a popular base throughout the north and other parts of Yemen over the course of ten years and six wars.
The Saudis (and the US) identify the Houthis as ‘Shiites’ and ‘Iranian-backed’ in order to galvanize their own bases in the region. But Iran has had little to do with the Houthis since their emergence as a political force in Yemen. And WikiLeaks showed us that US officials know this too. A 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Riyadh notes that Yemen’s former Saudi-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh provided “false or exaggerated information on Iranian assistance to the Houthis in order to enlist direct Saudi involvement and regionalize the conflict.”
And allegations that Iran arms the Houthis also fall flat. Another secret cable makes clear: “Contrary to ROYG (Republic of Yemen Government) claims that Iran is arming the Houthis, most local political analysts report that the Houthis obtain their weapons from the Yemeni black market and even from the ROYG military itself.”
Saleh was deposed in 2011 as a result of Arab Spring pressures, and in a twist worthy of the complicated Middle East, the wily former president now appears to be backing his former adversaries, the Houthis, against his old patrons, the Saudis.
The Houthis are adherents of the Muslim Zaydi sect – which falls somewhere between Sunnism and Shiism, and is followed by around 40 percent of Yemenis. Saleh, who fought the Houthis in half a dozen wars, is also a Zaydi – evidence that Yemen’s internal strife is anything but sectarian.
In fact, it could be argued that the Houthi – or Ansarallah movement – are a central constituency of Yemen’s ‘Arab Spring.’ Their demands since 2003 have, after all, largely been about ending disenfranchisement, gaining economic, political and religious rights, eliminating corruption, railing against the twin evils of America and Israel (a popular Post-Colonial Arab sentiment), and becoming stakeholders in the state.
To ensure the balance continued in their favor during the Arab Spring, the Neo-Colonial Axis installed a puppet transitional leader upon Saleh’s departure – an unelected president whose term ran out a year ago.
Then a few months ago, the Houthis – allegedly with the support of Saleh and his tens of thousands of followers – ousted their rivals in the puppet regime and took over the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. When the Saudis threatened retaliation, the Houthis pushed further southward… which brings us to the war front amassing against Yemen today.
This is not a battle the Saudis and their Neo-Colonial Axis can win. Airstrikes alone cannot turn this war, and it is unlikely that Riyadh and its coalition partners can expect troops on the ground to be any more successful – if they are even deployed.
The Houthis have learned over the past decade to fight both conventional and guerilla wars. This relatively small band of highlanders managed in 2009 to push 30 kilometers into Saudi territory and take over several dozen Saudi towns. When coalition-partner Egypt last fought a war with ground troops in Yemen, it became Gamal Abdel Nasser’s ‘Vietnam’ and nearly bankrupted the state.
Even majority-Sunni Pakistan, a traditional pipeline for staffing GCC armies, seems wary about this conflict. It too is fighting elsewhere on the same side as the Houthis, Iranians, Syrians, Iraqis – against violent Sunni extremists inside its borders and from their bases in neighboring Afghanistan. No amount of Saudi money will quench the anger of militant-weary Pakistanis if their government commits to this Yemeni fight – against the very groups (Houthis) that are battling al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
And, yes, it is ironic that the United States is now providing assistance and intelligence for the Saudi-led coalition – against the Houthis, who are fighting al-Qaeda.
But as mentioned earlier, this is not Washington’s neighborhood, and it does not approach this fight with the same goals of its close ally, Saudi Arabia.
The Resistance Axis official explains:
“The Americans see all outcomes as good: If the Houthis win, they will help get rid of al-Qaeda in Yemen. If the Saudis win, well, these are still the US’s allies. And if both sides enter a protracted war, that is “not a problem either,” referring to the ever-present US interest of selling weapons in conflict zones.
Despite a global ban, the United States has sold the Saudis $640 million worth of cluster bombs over the past two years, some of which have been used to carpet bomb parts of Yemen in the past few days. The cluster munitions were part of an overall $67 billion worth of arm deals with Saudi Arabia since the Arab uprisings kicked off in 2011.
The Iranians, meanwhile, are not doing much of anything, except insisting – like the Russians and others – that the bombardment of Yemen is criminal and that Yemenis need to solve their own problems via an internal dialogue.
And why should they make any moves? The Saudis are digging their own graves right now – and hastening the demise of the entire Neo-Colonial project in the Middle East, to boot.
“Tehran realizes that the fact that Riyadh had to bring together a major coalition to fight a group that is only on the outskirts of Iranian influence is a victory in itself,” says the US-based, conservative risk-analysis group, Stratfor.
Riyadh’s move to attack Yemen has just dragged the not-so-financially-flush Kingdom into yet another military quagmire, and this time directly, bypassing proxies altogether. Every airstrike in Yemen – and it is clear in the first few days that dozens of civilians, including children, have been killed – threatens to draw more adherents to the Houthi cause.
And every day that the Houthis are tied up in this battle, AQAP gets an opportunity to cement its hold elsewhere in the country. The net winner in this conflict is unlikely to be Saudi Arabia, but it may just be al-Qaeda – which is guaranteed to draw the Post-Colonial Axis into the strategically vital waterways surrounding Yemen.
The Arab League, under Saudi Arabia’s arm-twisting, just upped the ante by demanding that only a complete Houthi surrender (laying down weapons and withdrawing) would end the airstrikes. This ultimatum leaves very little room to jumpstart dialogue, and shows shocking disregard for the normal goals of military engagement, which try to leave ‘negotiation windows’ open.
It may be that the Saudis, who have rapidly lost influence and control in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Oman, and other states in the past few years, have decided to go to the wall in Yemen.
Or it may just be some posturing to create momentum and bolster bruised egos.
But conflict has a way of balancing itself out – as in Syria and Iraq – by drawing other, unforeseen elements into the fray. With all the conflicts raging in the Middle East and encroaching on their borders, the Post-Colonial Axis has been forced to take a stand. And they bring to the field something their adversaries lack: common objectives and efficiency.
This is possibly the first time in the modern Mideast we have seen this kind of efficiency from within. And I speak specifically of Iran and its allies, both regional and external. They cannot ignore the threats that emanate from conflict, any more than the west can ignore the jihadi genie that threatens from thousands of miles away. So this Post-Colonial Axis moves further into the region to protect itself, bringing with it lessons learned and laser-focused common goals.
The Neo-Colonials will hit a wall in Yemen, just as they have in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Their disparate objectives will ensure that. The main concern as we enter yet another storm in Yemen is whether a flailing Empire will turn ugly at the eleventh hour and launch a direct war against its actual adversary, the Post-Colonial Axis. The Saudis are a real wild card – as are the Israelis – and may try to light that fuse. When the threat is existential, anything goes.
Yes, a regional war is as much a possibility over Yemen as it was over Syria. But this battle lies on a direct border of Saudi Arabia – ground zero for both violent extremism and the most virulently sectarian and ethnocentric elements of the anti-Resistance crowd – and so promises to deliver yet another decisive geopolitical shift in the Mideast. From Yemen, as from any confrontation between the two global blocs, a new regional reality is likely to emerge: what the Americans might call “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.”
And Yemen may yet become the next Arab state to enter a Post-Colonial order.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She tweets @snarwani