WORLD AFFAIRSTerror as weapon
|Syria: Bomb blasts in Damascus kill the Defence Minister and three senior officials, while the West keeps working hard for a regime change.|
Smoke billows over Damascus on July 18 after a bomb ripped through a high-level security meeting.
JULY became one of the bloodiest months for Syria as the foreign-backed armed groups made a concerted attempt to further destabilise the government led by Bashar al Assad. The terror attack on July 18, which claimed the lives of Defence Minister Dawoud Rahja and three senior officials (Assef Shawkat, deputy head of the Syrian Army and brother-in-law of Bashar al Assad; Hassan Turkmani, Chief of Crisis Operations; and Hisham Bakhtiar, head of Intelligence) who were in the forefront of the security drive to clear the armed groups from their strongholds, was indeed a serious blow to the government. The fact that the bombing occurred in the National Security Building where meetings are often chaired by the President himself is a serious cause for alarm as it could not have happened without the help of hostile foreign powers.
The Turkish newspaper Habberturk reported that Israeli Intelligence played an important role in the attack. It quoted an unidentified former American intelligence analyst as saying that the “entire attack smelled of Mossad”. Israeli President Shimon Peres has publicly stated that he wants the Syrian government to collapse. If a pro-Western government is installed in Damascus, then Israel can turn its full attention to Hizbollah, and the United States can focus on regime change in Iran.
The Syrian government said that foreign powers were behind the attack and named “Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel” as the countries responsible for the act of terror. A Reuters report in the last week of July said that a secret base located in Adana province near Turkey’s border with Syria was the “nerve centre” from where operations to topple the government in Damascus were being launched. The U.S’ military base of Incirlik is also based in Adana.
The leaders of the countries ranged against Syria virtually applauded the terror attack. The U.S. State Department spokesman, while saying that Washington was against further bloodshed in Syria, “noted” that those killed and injured “were key architects of the Assad regime’s assault on the Syrian people”. A palpable regret could be noticed in the statements issued by some governments that the primary target of the bombing – the President – was not among the casualties. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the American reaction to the Damascus blasts “as a direct endorsement of terrorism”. He said that the position Washington had adopted was “a sinister one”.
The terror groups operating in the country have been lavishly funded and trained by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and also by Turkey and the U.S., two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking after the rebels had briefly seized two border crossings and massacred the soldiers manning the posts, said that cooperation with the armed rebels should increase. Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al Assadi told the media that the Turkey-based Free Syrian Army (FSA) “executed 22 Syrian soldiers in front of the eyes of Iraqi soldiers” after they briefly overran a border post at Abu Kamal, in eastern Syria, close to Iraq, in the third week of July.
According to reports, most FSA commanders are Iraqi Sunnis. A series of terror attacks had taken place in the Shia-dominated areas in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities in July. It is not surprising that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Malki has refused to endorse the Arab League’s call to Bashar al Assad to step down. The Iraqi government has obviously drawn a parallel with what is happening across its borders to the recent terror attacks in Iraq. Many of the Iraqi “jehadis” have transformed themselves into Syrian freedom fighters.
It is estimated that more than a hundred armed groups are operating in the urban areas of the country. The U.S. media have finally acknowledged that Al Qaeda and Salafist fighters who infiltrated from the neighbouring countries were responsible for the spectacular suicide bombings and sectarian attacks. Randa Kassis, one of the leading figures of the FSA, told the German magazine Der Spiegel that “the Islamist groups, which are superbly financed and equipped by the Gulf states, are ruthlessly seizing decision-making power for themselves”. Muslim clerics in many Arab countries are urging young people to turn Syria into another Afghanistan. German intelligence has estimated that around 90 per cent of the armed insurgents owe their allegiance to Al Qaeda. A recent Time magazine report said that Al Qaeda flags dominate in rural areas currently occupied by the armed groups.
Immediately after the Damascus terror attack, Washington and its allies started piling pressure on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to invoke Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter, which allows the use of outside military force against Syria. It was the third time in nine months that the U.S. and its allies tried to force a resolution on Syria. Russia and China once again vetoed the resolution. South Africa (a member of BRICS, an association of the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and Pakistan chose to abstain. But India, which currently occupies a seat in the UNSC, once again voted with the West. Russia and China have remained steadfast on the side of the beleaguered Syrian government even as traditional friends such as India have virtually deserted it in its time of need.
President Bashar Al Assad, left, with Defence Minister Gen. Dawoud Rahja, right, at a ceremony in Damascus in October 2011 to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Gen. Rahja died in the July 18 blast.
South Africa, in fact, criticised the one-sided nature of the draft resolution. India, which had chosen to abstain on the crucial resolution which led to outside military intervention in Libya last year, changed its stance in the case of Syria. New Delhi has been consistently siding with the West and the Sunni Arab monarchies on issues ranging from Libya to Iran. The BRICS countries are supposed to present a united front on crucial foreign policy issues. The final declaration issued at the 2012 BRICS summit held in New Delhi in March, stressed the need for cohesiveness while voting on important political issues in international forums.
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador to the U.N., accused the Western members of the U.N. of attempting “to fan the flames of confrontation in the Security Council”. He said that the draft resolution on Syria, which was put to vote, was “biased”, adding that “the threat of sanctions was exclusively aimed at the government of Syria, and does not reflect the reality of the country today. It is especially ambiguous in the light of what happened with the grave terrorist attack that took place in Damascus.”
The Russian Foreign Minister said in Moscow that the position of the West in practical terms meant that they “are going to support such acts of terrorism until the UNSC acts on their demands”. He emphasised that the West was not interested in solving the crisis in Syria, which had been dragging on for more than a year, in a collective manner. The resolution presented in the UNSC made no mention of the terror groups inside Syria being backed by outside forces. Nor was there any suggestion from the West and its allies about stopping support for the armed militants fighting the Syrian government. The rebels in Syria know fully well that without outside intervention they will never be able to defeat the Syrian Army. The Security Council had invoked Chapter Seven against Libya last year, following which the West immediately started a bombing campaign and openly trained and armed the anti-government militias there. The result was more bloodshed and carnage. The goal of regime change was achieved, but instability in the region only increased, with civil war engulfing neighbouring Mali and militant groups, armed with weapons looted from Libya, creating havoc even in countries such as Nigeria. Libya itself is in danger of being balkanised, with the eastern part threatening to secede.
Washington was also not keen to extend the terms of the Kofi Annan-led Peace Mission to Syria. China, along with India, wanted to give the mission another 45 days. A compromise was finally reached on July 20, extending the mission by another 30 days with the possibility of a further extension provided there was a cessation of the use of heavy weapons. The tactics of the armed groups is to occupy sections of cities and towns, leaving the government with little option but to drive them away using heavy artillery at times. This happened in Damascus in late July. When the rebels were driven out of Damascus, they opened up another front in a section of Aleppo, the largest city in the country. Washington, which anyway was never too enamoured of the Annan plan, wants to give it a formal burial after the latest extension.
The Barack Obama administration knows fully well that the rebels it is arming and financing will keep on fighting and the Syrian state will respond to preserve law and order. The pliant media under its control will pin all the atrocities happening in the country on the government or groups supporting it. The veteran German war correspondent Jurgen Totenhofer, writing in the widely circulated newspaper Bild, accused the rebels of “deliberately killing civilians and then presenting them as victims of the government”. He described this “massacre marketing strategy” as being “among the most disgusting things I have ever experienced in an armed conflict”.
The Syrian government seems determined to ride out the maelstrom currently buffeting it. Besides diplomatic support from Russia and China, Syria is also assured of military backing from traditional allies such as Iran. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem was in Teheran on an unscheduled visit at the end of July. He said in Teheran that the bulk of the anti-government fighters were now staging a last-ditch fight in Aleppo. “They will definitely be defeated,” he told a joint press conference along with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi. Muallem said that his country “is a target of a global plot whose agents are in this region”. Salehi warned about the adverse consequences for the entire region if the Bashar al Assad government was ousted by force. He said that the consequences “would engulf the region and eventually the entire world”.
Iran’s Vice-President in charge of international affairs, Ali Saeedlou, told a visiting Syrian delegation in the last week of July that his country was ready to share its “experience and capabilities with the brother nation of Syria”. In the same week, General Massoud Jazayeri said that Syria had friends in the region who were ready to “strike out”. He was probably referring to the Hizbollah in Lebanon. The Hizbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, in an important speech delivered in the third week of July to commemorate the 2006 war against an Israeli invasion force in Lebanon, said that “Syria is a genuine problem for the U.S. and Israel” because it is “a linking bridge between Iran and the resistance and, in better words, the principal supporter of the resistance at a special military level”.He went on to say that it was Syria’s help that proved crucial in its victory against the Israeli forces. He said that Syria gave most of the arms and missiles to the resistance forces during the 33-day war in 2006. Nasrallah blamed the West for sponsoring terrorist activities in Syria and blocking a national dialogue. He said the main reason why the U.S. was trying to destabilise Syria was the country’s support for the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance against Israel, “the gendarme of the region”. Almost on cue, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.S. media that his government was ready to take military action against Syria to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands “of Hizbollah and other terror groups”. U.S. and Israeli officials are now citing the pretext of “chemical weapons” to intervene militarily in Syria. The U.S. had used the non-existent threat of weapons of mass destruction as a ruse to invade Iraq in 2003.
Syria: Some in opposition fear rebels miscalculated in Aleppo
The Syria activists fear that the Aleppo offensive may lead to a humanitarian crisis and undermine the revolution by turning the city against them.
Syrian rebels keep watch during their battle against the Syrian army on a street near Aleppo. (Cem Ozdel / Anadolu Agency, European Pressphoto Agency
August 13, 2012
Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times
Al-Qaeda flags fly over rebel-held Syria
By John Rosenthal There has recently been a small stir in the American media, as media organizations from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to the Associated Press have finally gotten around to acknowledging a "presence" of al-Qaeda and like-minded jihadist groups among the Syrian rebel forces seeking to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It is difficult to see what the cause of the excitement is. After all, such a presence has been blindingly obvious for many months: whether as a result of the dozens of suicide attacks that have
plagued Syria or the numerous videos that have emerged showing rebel forces or supporters proudly displaying the distinctive black flag of al-Qaeda. But observations made by German journalist Daniel Etter during a recent visit to rebel-controlled towns near the embattled city of Aleppo suggest that there is no mere "presence" of jihadists among the rebels: religiously-inspired mujahideen is what the rebels are. The real question is whether there is a presence of anything else. Etter's report, which appeared in the leading German daily Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, also provides evidence that rebel authorities are subjecting civilians to arbitrary detention and torture and summarily executing captured members of the regular Syrian armed forces. In the town of Maraa, north of Aleppo, Etter saw some 120 prisoners, apparently civilians, "herded into a large classroom" in what had previously been a school. Many of the prisoners showed signs of abuse. The prison director, whom Etter identifies only as "Jumbo," refused to allow Etter to speak with them alone. Etter notes that Jumbo "looks like his name." "Jumbo is not someone with whom you would like to pick a fight," Etter writes:
[N]ot someone whom as a prisoner you would like to have as your jail keeper. Thus the detainees say that their wounds and bruises are the product of falls or shrapnel. They say how well they are treated here, and they swear loyalty to the Free Syrian Army. Much of what they say is not credible.The most gruesome wounds that Etter describes involve a certain "Tamer" from Aleppo: until recently an enthusiastic supporter of Assad - so enthusiastic that he had a portrait of the Syrian president tattooed on his chest. In the meanwhile, the tattoo has been excised from Tamer's body with a razor blade. Tamer insists that he did the deed himself after rebel forces entered Aleppo. He says that he ran to the rebels' headquarters and sliced at the tattoo while yelling, "I give my blood for the Free Syrian Army!" In a remarkable journalistic leap of faith, Etter writes, "Tamer's story cannot be independently verified either, but it is unlikely that Jumbo would have let a journalist speak with him if his scars were the result of abuse." As made clear by Etter's own description of the circumstances under which he was able to speak with the detainees, it is surely far more unlikely that Tamer would have accused his captors with "Jumbo" present. Moreover, even supposing that Tamer did indeed inflict his own wounds, why would he commit such an act of self-mutilation if he did not expect worse from the "new authorities," as Etter puts it, if the tattoo was discovered? Rebel groups have repeatedly made clear that they feel entitled to target any and all supporters of the ancien regime. Jumbo says that Tamer was a member of a pro-Assad militia: a so-called "shabiha". But there is no evidence presented for this in the article. "I have no proof that he killed anyone," Jumbo concedes. It is equally unclear what "crimes" the other detainees are supposed to have committed. But their daily routine makes clear, at any rate, the ideological orientation of their captors. "They pray five times a day," Etter writes:
[A]nd study the Quran. Perhaps out of a sense of remorse, perhaps to please their jailers, perhaps because they are forced to do so. Jumbo seems to be convinced that their turn to God is doing good. "They are happier and they are changing their attitude," he says.In the neighboring town of Azaz, Etter encountered a less didactic form of Islamism: namely, in the person of rebel commander Abu Anas. Etter describes meeting Abu Anas in his office: a Koran and a "silver sword" were lying on his desk and a black flag hung over it. An Arabic inscription on the flag proclaimed, 'There is no God but God. Mohammed is his Prophet" "It is the flag that al-Qaeda also used," Etter remarks. Seemingly taking his cue from Western supporters - or perhaps indeed advisors - Abu Anas emphasized that the black flag was also used before al-Qaeda. But if it is the distinctive black flag with the circular white "seal of Mohammed" in the middle, there appears to be no evidence that this is the case. This is the flag made famous by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq: notably, as a result of the group's notoriously harrowing videos documenting the executions of captured Iraqi security personnel and American and other hostages. Indeed, even Zarqawi's group went through various versions of its flag before settling on the version that has since become the standard banner of al-Qaeda affiliates around the world. In any case, it is not only the choice of flag that appears to have been inspired by al-Qaeda in Iraq. The rebel leader tells Etter that his forces captured Syrian government troops in the battle for Azaz. Asked what became of the government soldiers, Abu Anas responds, "We could not take care of them. Most of them are dead." "Earlier," Etter explains, "when Abu Anas was not yet in the room, a smiling subordinate of his showed with gestures how they bound prisoners and shot them." While there is not much he can do to put a positive spin on the actions of Abu Anas and his men, Etter labors mightily to try at least to cast "Jumbo" and his prison in Maara in a more positive light. In one somewhat surreal paragraph, he even praises the rebels for their supposed efforts to build a "fairer" system of justice in Maara - after he has raised the specter of prisoner abuse in Jumbo's prison. Jumbo tells him about one case involving a group of Alawites who were detained by the rebels, but then later released since "we had no evidence against them". Etter does not ask: evidence of what? But even supposing that Jumbo's claim is true, it amounts to an admission that Alawites are being detained in rebel-controlled territories simply because they are Alawites. In the language of international humanitarian law, what Etter has described in his article are clearly war crimes and probably too crimes against humanity. But when it is a matter of the crimes of the Syrian rebels, the West's otherwise supposedly so acute moral sensibilities appear to have become dull. John Rosenthal is a journalist who specializes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. His website is Transatlantic Intelligencer (Copyright 2012 John Rosenthal.)
What if the Empire Project Fails in Syria?
By Michael Collins
Al Jazeera’s weekend coverage of the critical battle for Aleppo, Syria reveals a major obstacle for the United States-NATO Empire Project. Hardly anyone in Aleppo is signing up to fight with rebels.
Reporter Anita McNaught: “[The rebels] know they have to win if the revolution is to succeed but Aleppo was slow to demonstrate any widespread support for the opposition.” The reticence was due to fear of Syria’s intelligence service a local claimed.
McNaught followed up: “Why now, when the Free Syrian Army was so quickly consolidating its hold, were its ranks not being swelled by volunteers from the city?”
One of the rebels (gesturing in image) responded: “They are afraid of the situation now. It’s new to them. It’s not like the countryside all around here which has had time to get used to the fighting.” Trauma requires practice.
The government of Qatar owns Al Jazeera. Qatar partnered with NATO in Libya by providing troops on the ground and cash to the Libya rebels. The built in bias gives credibility to the claim of tepid local support. Like the people of Damascus who also kept their distance from rebels, Syrians in Aleppo are not consumed by anti-regime passion. That may have something to do with public polling showing that “most Syrians are in favour of Bashar al-Assad remaining as president.”
What kind of revolution is this? Fighters from the countryside plus foreign fighters including al Qaeda move into the nation’s largest city, attack police and government security installations inspiring … nothing much. The response of citizens both cities show that this is more an attack on cities rather than a broad based revolution.
There are a number of ways the revolution can succeed. However, success will be meaningless if the cause can’t even inspire noticeable support from citizens in the two largest cities.
Over time, the ruling Ba’ath party of Bashar al-Assad relied on strong support from rural areas and the military. City dwellers were less inclined to support the regime, particularly in Aleppo. The rebels have not inspired much support in an area where support was expected. Where will they find it?
Turkey is the designated U.S.-NATO proxy. The Asia Times reported a conversation between President Obama and Turkey’s President Erdogan in which Obama urged Turkey to send al-Assad on a permanent vacation. However, Turkey is experiencing some immediate blowback from its alliance with the West.
Long term hostilities between the Turkish state and its huge Kurdish population (nearly 20%) have been inflamed by the Syrian conflict. The Kurdish military arm, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), recently set up a base in Iraq. The PKK launched attacks on Turkish officials and facilities in the Kurdish region.
This is President Recep Erdoğan’s worst nightmare. He’s set up his Foreign Minister as the fall guy if things go terribly wrong for Turkey (e.g., Syria survives as a viable state, a robust conflict with the Kurds).
There are few voices out there predicting that the Syrian government will survive the rebel assault. But the rebels can’t find any open support in an area that should be sympathetic during the critical battle (Aleppo). Therefore, it is reasonable to ask: what happens if the enterprise falls on its face?
The United States and NATO would have to question the viability of its Libyan formula for regime change.
1. Take advantage of a political clash between a used up/undesirable leader and some internal faction (the rebels).
2. Covertly arm and otherwise assist the rebels;
3. Get a UN resolution decrying human rights violations based on evidence from an NGO aligned with the rebels;
4. Overtly arm and otherwise assist the rebels;
5. Win the battle for the rebels.
The steps must be followed in sequence. The current effort in Syria has stalled on step three.
This gives the Obama administration an opportunity. It can stop interfering with a sovereign state that poses no imminent threat to the United States and refocus its time and efforts on the people who are sinking in a very real economic depression.
Yara Saleh’s kidnappers deny having ties with Paris
An Al-EkhbariyaTV crew was kidnapped by the Free Syrian Army when filming the clashes taking place in Al-Tal.
A group of fighters has entrenched itself in this small city which was immediately abandoned by the population. The national army moved in to surround the area, ordering the combatants to lay down their arms.
The Free Syrian Army announced several times the release of the Al-EkhbariyaTV team, including journalist Yara Saleh. Finally, it communicated its demands through a video.
To be noted:
The FSA officer in Al-Tal is reading a text not written by him.
The FSA does not consider the kidnapped journalists as "hostages", but as "guests." It specifies, however, that they are serving as human shields (to prevent the national army from bombing or attacking) and that their safe return would be jeopardized if the FSA’s demands are not met.
The FSA presents itself as an Islamist organization. (1) The statement is preceded by a Koranic verse; (2) it contains an implicit reference to Islam; (3) the negotiator is referred to as "brother"; (4) while Islam prohibits the taking of women and children as hostages, journalist Yara Saleh is being held and forced to wear a veil.
The FSA says that civilians are being bombarded by the regular army from which it is trying to protect them, while stating at the same time that they have actually fled the city. Then it calls for the lifting of check points allegedly to allow people to return, whereas in reality it is to permit its fighters to escape.
Strikingly, for the first time since the outbreak of the crisis, the FSA has named as negotiator a contact in Saudi Arabia. This is an attempt to camouflage that its orders come from the NATO headquarters in Incirlik. On this air base in southwestern Turkey, the U.S., France and Turkey are working hand in hand. The FSA prefers to acknowledge its lack of independence and present itself as an organization run by the Saudis rather than unveiling its ties with Paris. With a touch of unintentional humor, the officer reading the paper ends with "Long live independent Syria!."
To obtain the release of Yara al Saleh-Abbas and her team, write to the real sponsors of the FSA at the Elysée presidential palace, "Mr. Hollande, stop supporting terrorism! Free Yara!"
Jihadists Ambush checkpoint in Hama Province, Syria
(31/07/2012) Audacious ambush by Islamist group Aharar Al Sham in Al-suqaylabiyah, Hama governorate.Ahrar Al Sham, a Salafist extremist group based in Idlib are probably the most powerful insurgent group in Syria, their operations are often celebrated on Al Qaeda forums. The Jihadists drive right up to the checkpoint before opening fire and jumping out. The tactic strongly resembles those employed by Al Qaeda in Iraq in their latest video release and appears to be an attempt to by Ahrar Al sham to emulate them. They do not however meet with the same success, the vehicle takes fire, one of the attackers doesn't appear to return to the car and the the vehicle is seen taking fire, one of the men in the back seems to be shot in the shoulder towards the end.
Monday, August 13, 2012