Islam

The Good, The Bad & The Unknown: Understanding Syria (Part 1)

Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Bashar al-Assad

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

Given the alarming escalation of international tensions over the Syrian conflict following the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Idlib and the United States’ subsequent missile strike on Syrian Air Force bases, it is time for a review of the situation that has now been presented to Western populations through mainstream newsmedia once again as grounds for war.

According to the narrative that we are given, it is religion – specifically, the internal divisions of Islam – that drives both pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces in Syria in what seems to be a Sunni vs Shia/Opposition vs Government ‘civil war’, and not a regional battle to get rid of an international coalition of terrorist factions decimating secular societies.

This analysis targets a narrative common to most Western media. Our Australian counterparts are similarly shallow and disaffected, and rarely research their own articles on foreign conflicts, rather importing them, for an even more homogenized mass world coverage. Because the supposed facts being paraded in this – or any – inflamed crisis imported from the Western intelligence organisations and mainstream media outlets are misleading, fallacious or wrong, any reader searching for truth or an honest interpretation based on facts regarding the conflict may find themselves more confused or, worse, completely deceived about its nature.

The leading news corporations of countries like the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Australia etc are holding to the agenda that supports the “we’re fighting ISIS,” and “Assad must go” group think. It can be outlined as follows:

  • The Syrian uprising was purely civilian, with terrorists groups entering the ongoing conflict later, taking advantage of the situation
  • The regime started the conflict by using violence against peaceful protestors, who then started “arming themselves” to fight back
  • To overthrow Assad The US and its allies fund, arm and train “moderate” Islamic rebel factions only
  • With complete disregard for international law and its institutions, the Syrian “criminal regime” must be toppled by an international coalition in its “Responsibility to Protect” civilians

Let’s take a look at these claims to see where they come from and what their intentions in terms of forming public opinion are.

What started as a peaceful civilian uprising against the Syrian president, turned into a bloody, armed civil war

This statement is the most important platform in the Western narrative regarding Syria, setting the stage for endless demonization of al-Assad and the Syrian government. The reality is that an opportunity was sought by the Sunni salafist regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to overthrow the secular Syrian state, which was an agenda that brought them into aligment with right-wing elements of the states of Israel and Turkey, who sought a territorial foothold in the Golan Heights and Northern Syria. This, in turn, brought the support of the US and its allies to the anti-Assad coalition, and into direct opposition to the Syrian allies of Russia and Iran.

A 2006 diplomatic report by US chargé de affaires William Roebuck shows a clear intention of State Department officials regarding the regime and its ‘vulnerabilities’:

“We believe Bashar’s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of this vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising”.

As Robert Naiman wrote in the WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire, “In public, the US was opposed to Islamist ‘extremists’ everywhere; but in private it saw the “potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists” as an “opportunity that the US should take action to try to increase”. Along with other advice, Roebuck suggests “playing on Sunni fears of Iranian influence… thought often exaggerated”, adding that both the “Egyptian and Saudi missions in Syria are giving increased attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue”. Fanning sectarian tensions is an old ploy, especially within strategies unconcerned by their effects on civilian societies.

Other formerly classified documents also look back into the moments before the 2011 uprising, as this heavily redacted US Defense Intelligence Agency document obtained via federal lawsuit, states: “AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) supported the Syrian opposition since the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. AQI declared its opposition to the Assad’s government because it considered it sectarian regime targeting Sunnis”.

Frans Van der Lugt, killed by extremists in 2014 in Homs, suggested , in a series of formerly classified cables that the beginning of the conflict was not as simple as mainstream media states:

“I have seen from the beginning armed protesters in those demonstrations … they were the first to fire on the police. Very often the violence of the security forces comes in response to the brutal violence of the armed insurgents.” There were indeed anti-Assad protests, sometimes clashing with pro-Assad protests, but they were in many cases infiltrated or even promoted by elements with very different goals, mainly not Syrian in origin, and used for violence against civilians and peaceful protestors, policemen and soldiers. “Many opposition sympathizers started to arm themselves, first as protection and later to expel government’s forces. (The conflict) soon acquired sectarian features… this dragged into the conflict other regional forces…”

Here the article refers to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, among others. These ‘other regional forces’ became increasingly involved in a more covert fashion as the ‘uprising’ took hold.

The US and its allies fund, arm and train “moderate” Islamic rebel factions only

Earlier in the Syrian war, US officials had at least maintained the pretense that weapons were being funneled only to so-called moderate opposition groups. But in 2014, in a speech at Harvard, Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that we were arming extremists once again, although he was careful to pin the blame on America´s allies in the region, whom he denounced as “our largest problem in Syria.” In response to a student’s question, he volunteered that our allies “…were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis (sic) coming from other parts of the world.”

Biden’s explanation was entirely reminiscent of official excuses for the arming of fundamentalists in Afghanistan during the 1980s, which maintained that the Pakistanis had total control of the distribution of US-supplied weapons and that the CIA was incapable of intervening when most of those weapons ended up with the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

As an example, the “moderate” rebels from Nour al-Din al-Zenki are one of the groups supported by the CIA, who beheaded a Palestinian boy last July for the cameras and took ‘selfies’ of themselves while doing it. A few months later another incident, this time covered ‘Aleppo Media Center’, showed the world a wounded child by the name of Omran (Aylan in other reports), who then became the poster boy for the Syrian conflict by means of media exposition. The connection between this two apparently dissociated incidents goes by the name of Mahmoud Raslan, one of Omran’s rescuers and photographer, seen in the video footage of the rescue outside the ambulance holding a camera with members of the White Helmets (civilian rescuers). This individual is also in pictures with the ‘moderate’ beheaders of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki mentioned above, posing like friends on a weekend trip, blurring the already thin line between moderates, extremists and even the so-called non-partisan civilian rescuers (USAID-funded) White Helmets.

The US-led coalition in Syria claims divisions between the Sunni majority and the Alawite Shia have provoked both sides to commit atrocities that have caused not only an enormous loss in lives but the destruction of communities, strengthen positions and reduce hope on a political solution. However, the majority of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is Sunni, and has included in the past a few Christian generals. As Kamal Alam writes for The National Interest:

The fact remains: The moderate Syrian opposition only exists in fancy suits in Western hotel lobbies. It has little military backing on the ground. If you want to ask why Assad is still the president of Syria, the answer is not simply Russia or Iran, but the fact that his army remains resilient and pluralistic, representing a Syria in which religion alone does not determine who rises to the top.
Deir-Ezzor, an entirely Sunni city which has held out against ISIS encirclement for two years—and is commanded by the Druze General Issam Zahreddine, was attacked by the US Army, who targeted an SAA base killing 62 soldiers and wounding several more, in the first direct attack from the Pentagon on a Syrian Government facility or its forces. This incident happened on September 17th and ended the ceasefire, and not the alleged Russian attack on a UN aid convoy that allegedly took place two days later.

Taking in consideration the secular character of the Syrian society and its government, all bets on sectarian originated violence should be on the rebel side, also known for establishing Sharia law courts in controlled territories.

The Syrian ‘authoritarian regime’ must be toppled by an international coalition in its ‘Responsibility to Protect’ civilians

The often-quoted Syrian Observatory of Human Rights indicates that up to September 2016, the number of deaths is 301,000. These estimates put the numbers between 250,000 and almost 500,000 victims and several millions displaced and surviving as refugees mainly in neighbor countries and Europe.

However, the sources of this information are not without an allegiance either. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is a one man operation located in Coventry, England. It is run by Rami Abdulrahman, a declared member of the opposition: “I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes,” he told Reuters in 2012. It was also revealed by the New York Times that the SOHR is funded by subsidies from the European Union and a certain European country he won’t disclose.

As geopolitical researcher and writer Tony Cartalucci notes: “…it is beyond doubt that it is the United Kingdom itself – as Abdul Rahman has direct access to the Foreign Secretary William Hague, who he has been documented meeting in person on multiple occasions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The NYT in fact reveals that it was the British government that first relocated Abdul Rahman to Coventry, England after he fled Syria over a decade ago because of his anti-government activities.”

John Kerry and Samantha Power reduced themselves to advocates for terrorism by campaigning against Syria and Russia in their efforts to regain Eastern Aleppo from forces made up of 50% al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Who are also said to dominate any other faction fighting on that side. The phrase “rebel-held Aleppo” is a mainstream media fiction fostering support for terrorism among world public opinion.

Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government. Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.

While honest, ethical news outlets would denounce the audacity of a government whose officials advocate for human rights and point fingers at Russia for alleged war crimes while at the same time supporting terrorism as a manner of proxy army against Syria, Western mainstream media instead acts as a sort of PR asset for power. It’s not surprising to find recent cases when high ranking diplomats and politicians are caught lying to the public, even about supposed war crimes, to be then whitewashed by media giants as the New York Times or the BBC, like the fallacy of going to war with Iraq over it’s weapons of mass destruction – a term resurrected in demonizing Syria. Sadly, this is the kind of news available to most people in the world. It is in the interests of all peaceful and reasonable people worldwide to seek a deeper understanding of the truth, when so much is at stake.

The Hidden War: Saudi Arabia vs. Yemen

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Yemenis search for survivors under the rubble of houses in a UNESCO-listed heritage site in the capital, Sana’a, following an overnight Saudi airstrike, June 12, 2015. (Photo by AFP)

There’s a war going on and not everyone knows about it.

Not many here in Western nations like Australia and the US – for every day, Saudi Arabian cruise missiles and bombs are being launched into the country of Yemen. Homes, hospitals, schools, and mosques are being destroyed while at the same time United Arab Emirates and Sudanese ground forces have also crossed its borders. Over 7,000 people are dead as fighting continues. The war has been going on without cease since January of 2015, but the mainstream media is all but completely silent about it.

The current war in Yemen should actually be of great interest to the allies of the US-led coalition forces in their Middle East adventures — particularly because that government is actively involved, in effect taking sides in the conflict, as the Saudi cruise missiles and arms used by the Sudanese and Emirati troops are supplied by the United States. High-ranking Pentagon staff are also in Saudi Arabia advising king Salman bin Abdulaziz and the his military, with US defense satellites assisting the Saudi forces in reconnaissance and target selection. The general populations in the West need to be informed about a war that their governments are actively participating in, yet time continues to go by without our mainstream media corporations even making the slightest mention of Yemen or the extensive war taking place there.

One of the reasons western media is ignoring the war in Yemen is because the US position is indefensible. The United States is effectively aligned with the repressive monarchies of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in their support of Sunni extremist terrorism, in this instance intended to oppress the Yemeni people and their aspirations for self-determination and desire for democracy.

The origins of the Saudi-Yemeni conflict go back to the Arab Spring of 2011. The streets of Sana’a and Aden overflowed in a mass uprising agitating for democracy against the Saudi-backed dictatorship of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemeni Sunnis, Shias, and secular forces stood together demanding control of their country. The Ansarullah forces, also called known as Houthis,’ a Zaidi Shia group from Sa’dah in northern Yemen, have military experience and discipline. They won the respect of many people in the country during the street battles of 2011.

After the 2011 uprising, Yemen went on to experience a period of social upheaval as people’s assemblies began to spring up and broad democratic debate took place. However, the hopeful moment abruptly came to an end with a rigged election. As the only candidate on the ballot the Saudi-backed Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi was declared the president.

The Zaidi Shias in the Ansarullah organization, the socialists and communists of the southern independence movement, the Arab Spring party of the more secular urban demographic and even some Sunni religious factions all refused to accept the new paradigm and were determined not to surrender.

MohammedAbdulsalam

Mohammed Abdulsalam, the spokesman of Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah (AFP photo)

In response to the one-man election and the fraught transition process the Ansarullah organization formed a people’s committee to take up arms and continue the revolution. The transitional process was disrupted by conflicts between the Houthis and Islah, as well as the al-Qaeda insurgency. Islah is a loose coalition of tribal and religious elements with origins in the Islamic Front, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliated militia funded by Saudi Arabia.

In the northern regions of Yemen Ansarullah carved out liberated territories in the countryside, built alliances and made compromises — gradually preparing to seize power. Former President Saleh, a rival of Hadi, was then able to reach a diplomatic agreement with them.

The Ansarullah forces marched into the capital city of Sana’a in January 2015 and seized power. The People’s Committee became the new government and called for a constituent assembly. The people’s assemblies originally formed during the Arab Spring 2011 uprising were restored and local community militias raised to defend the revolution. By February the ‘rebels’ were in control of the capital of Sana’a.

The barrage of Saudi missiles and bombs was launched in response to the gains made by the Ansarullah revolution. The Saudi royal family, the Israeli regime, and the United Arab Emirates are all seeking to restore Mansour Hadi to his position as their dictator of choice. Now still another force has joined this axis against the People’s Committee – ISIS.

The ISIS forces, who consider Ansarullah to be “shia apostates,” have set up shop in Yemen as well, seeking to bury the revolution with suicide bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings.

Currently, Shi’a Houthis are fighting against the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and Saudi Arabia. The US supports the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen against the Houthis, but many in US SOCOM reportedly favor Houthis, as they have been an effective force in order to roll back al-Qaeda and recently ISIS in Yemen.

As in Syria, the United States has allied with Saudi Arabia, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and a collection of autocratic Islamic monarchies against the Yemeni people’s Revolutionary Committee seeking to forge a constitutioal democracy.

Another important geopolitical consideration for the situation in Yemen is the fact that it has vast untapped oil resources. However, this oil remains in the ground, as Yemen remains under the stifling influence of Saudi Arabia. One of the key policies of the People’s Revolutionary Coalition is a commitment to begin extracting and refining Yemen’s oil resources under public control. Yemen is currently one of the poorest countries in the entire world, but this could rapidly change if it began exporting oil. Yemen has the potential for lucrative economic diversification similar to Iran or Venezuela, where public control of natural resources has laid the foundation for an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist government and a vibrant independent economy.

The revolutionary coalition maintains control of the capital of Sana’a. Despite their enemies having far more sophisticated weaponry, the people’s coalition has sunk Saudi naval vessels, launched homemade rockets across the Saudi border, and defeated the heavily armed US-trained troops from the United Arab Emirates in retaliation for the onslaught.

The Defense Minister of Iran, Hossein Dehghan, recently responded to the allegations that Ansarullah were nothing more than Iranian proxy warriors. When Ashton Carter stated in an interview with Atlantic Monthly that the war in Yemen was the result of Iranian influence, Dehqan responded, “US Secretary of Defense [Carter] had better go over his past record in this position of authority and reconsider his bully-like and aggressive stances and talk more sensibly and circumspectly.”

The Iranian angle is often presented in the rare instances Western media report on the conflict and recalls the US propaganda used during the Cold War. The ideological war between Marxist-Leninists and Western capitalism was supposed to have long been over. We are seeing now, however, that the world is rapidly re-polarizing and that one of the battles of the new century is a war between Western capitalism and those who reject it for independence and self-determination. In Yemen, those who demand independence, democracy, and control of their own natural resources are fighting and continue to prevail against some of the most well armed powers in the world.

The international financial cartel headquartered jointly in Wall Street, London, Geneva and Tel-Aviv has disillusioned much of the world. It has not delivered the utopia of abundance promised by Rand or Friedman. The neoconservative interventionist reality has led to violent social and economic devastation, as is obvious in the current state of the Middle East. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization are presiding over the bankrupting of the Western middle classes just as willingly as they are continuing to facilitate the exploitaton and impoverishment of the developing world. The Bretton-Woods cartels have no loyalties, even to their countries of origin.

State-sponsored terror: what is ISIS in Paris?

 French police secure the area as shots are exchanged in St. Denis, France, near Paris, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the French capital. Credit: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

French police secure the area as shots are exchanged in St. Denis, France, near Paris, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night’s deadly attacks in the French capital. © Benoit Tessier/Reuters

It isn’t unusual to observe a progression from grief, to outrage, to retaliation after events like those that took place in Paris on November 13th, but it has been interesting to see how quick the escalation from those attacks to increasing the volatile stakes in Syria with air strikes on Islamic militants has taken place. It can safely be assumed that what we have come to know as ISIS now has ‘sleeper cells’ – if indeed the term is still relevant in the new paradigm – that can be found in all major European countries, along with the US, Canada and even Australia – yet this particular attack was carried out in France, further adding to its very recent list of vicious militant atrocities against its civilians.

In a country where national security and intelligence agencies are generally known for their competence, usually working in close cooperation with their NATO allies, it is a staggering prospect to conclude that the French security forces could have missed the preparations for such a carefully planned and well organised attack coordinated across no less than six targets simultaneously, especially given the recent increase in surveillance and powers of detention given to their police and intelligence establishments. However, now that the understandable yet often misguided rage provoked in the populations of France and other Western nations by the terrorist attacks in Paris has begun to simmer down, different analysts and intelligence agencies are now starting to try and establish why that city in particular was selected as the target for these attacks.

This attack was also carried out differently from previous terrorist attacks by ISIS, moving from cars packed with explosives and suicide bombers to intimidate its rivals in the Levant to Paris where we witnessed hostage-taking and raging urban gun battles – more like the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January – a very different modus operandi for the Middle Eastern group. Its organisers also may have been familiar with the details of the Dubrovka Theater siege in Moscow in 2002. Someone seems to have invested a lot of resources into these terrorists, perhaps in militant training camps in Turkey, Jordan, Syria or even still in Iraq.

 Shi'ite fighters launch a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of al-Alam March 8, 2015. Credit: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuter

Shi’ite fighters launch a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of al-Alam March 8, 2015. © Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

A common response from commentators and analysts after events such as the Paris attacks is to pose the question of cui bono. Yet to find an answer it is not enough to simply calculate who benefits from the attack, it is also critical to establish which elements of a foreign nature had a conflict of interests with Paris. It is ultimately irrelevant which terrorist group was tasked with the mission of terrorising the French Republic – be it ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, or some other form of Salafist radical movement. Often the case when those who carry out terrorist attacks remain ignorant of the fact of who was planning and sponsoring them. Moreover, what was witnessed in Paris on Friday was not a regular attack, but a carefully prepared operation where terrorists were acting simultaneously across different targets, far different from ‘lone wolf’ acts seen in other Western nations. The perception of a ‘new phase’ or increase in the capability of groups like ISIS claiming responsibility is more important and carries more weight than the unlikely reality of such a surge from a single terror group.

The assessment is that a similar attack in Germany would not be possible, where the security system is much tougher and more effective, whereas if terror groups targeted for example Spain or Italy the attack would not have the same impact, since those nations are not permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The legally dubious and militarily indecisive ‘retaliation’ strikes the French Air Force carried out against ISIS positions, striking a total of 20 targets in the Syrian city of Raqqa, testify to the fact that France has so far only assumed who actually organised the Paris massacre, not to mention the dangerously reactionary nature of such strikes and the effect on the already tense situation in the air above Syria. Nowhere near enough time has elapsed to perform a full investigation to uncover exactly the foreign source of the attacks to justify the French Air Force dropping more ordnance in Syria where Russia along with Assad’s forces actually have ISIS on the back foot.

© AP Photo/ French Army

© AP Photo/ French Army

Under the pretext of fighting against terrorism, the United States and its allies militarily intervened into the sovereignty of Syria without the approval from the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad and without receiving an appropriate UN mandate. It should be noted that out of all the US-led coalition forces operating in Syria, France has previously been leading in the bombing of oil infrastructure facilities occupied by ISIS in Syrian territories as part of the Western coalition flying air strikes over Syrian airspace, a fact openly admitted by the French government. These important facilities have been the most critical assets of ISIS forces, providing the group with virtually unlimited funding, while those Middle-Eastern states or state-supported elements that have been buying oil from terrorists continue receiving huge savings from the black market trade. The Islamic State has been selling crude oil at a price at least half that which can be found at international markets, creating a huge network of smugglers operating in neighbouring countries interested in the preservation of their activities, a multi-billion dollar illicit Mid-East oil industry. According to some analysts, stolen oil has provided ISIS with up to 2 billion dollars a year in profits so far, with cross-border smuggling operations receiving just as much. It has also – not surprisingly – been reported that some smugglers are even selling cheap oil to the Syrian army and Iranian troops deployed in Syria, who are in turn fighting ISIS on a daily basis.

It should also be taken into consideration that this attack took place in the very heart of Paris, full of secret service agents in civilian clothes and police officers that are tasked with ensuring the safety of tourists. France relies heavily on its tourism industry, which accounts four up to 7% of GDP.  It is also a nation with large Arab and African Islamic communities cannot be carried out without the involvement of foreign intelligence agencies. Any terrorist group that would try to infiltrate France under the guise of Syrian refugees to prepare such an attack on its own would surely be uncovered in short matter of time, given the wide communication and coordination required for this incident. The same thing could be said about the terrorist attack on the Russian Airbus over the Sinai.

For France, the foreign state with the keenest interest in preserving the status quo is Turkey, due to the fact that it allows the majority of the stolen oil to be transported across its territory, while Jordan also enjoys a considerably smaller share of the profits from this business. Media sources have indicated that smugglers are connected with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a cartel of Turkish businesses. These activities are somewhat common for Ankara, since it used to smuggle Iraqi oil when Saddam Hussein’s regime faced UN sanctions. Turks and Kurds alike – especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party – were already profiting from transporting Iraqi oil from Dohuk across Turkish territory, bringing a flood of heavy-duty trucks with hidden tanks filled with diesel fuel from refineries in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baiji. This resulted in signs for ‘diesel fuel from Iraq’ appearing along most Turkish highways, where residents could buy fuel at half-price. Smuggling was carried out by merchant tanker owners as well – transporting oil and fuels from illegal refineries in Shatt al-Arab, across the Persian Gulf to the United Arab Emirates.

This raises the possibility that some elements of foreign state apparatus have decided to target France over its policies. Turkey is one suspect, however unlikely as it would present a high political risk for Erdogan, and Ankara’s secret services are not nearly as competent as other possible states. Another possible player – Qatar, an incredibly rich gulf state with efficient enough security forces trained by American, British and French experts and is still closely associated with the most effective intelligence service in the Middle East – the British MI6. Qatar has also been providing extensive amounts of financial support to ISIL and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Doha has been frustrated with the indecisiveness of the French government in the fight against the Syrian regime, despite formerly taking a leading role in the fight against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. After being struck by the terrorist attack in Algeria in 2013 and the need to carry out a military operation in Mali against the local branch of al-Qaeda, Paris officially declared that its main priority in the efforts to combat international terrorism would lie in the region of the Maghreb and the Sahara Sahel – in other words, in the areas where it used to maintain colonies. Roughly 95% of the immigrants in France originate from these regions, primarily from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Representatives of those states are numerous amongst ISIS ranks, with many holding French passports.

French relations with Qatar were also strained by Paris’ reluctance to apply pressure on Lebanon and lack of opposition to a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

There are certain factors that inevitably bring agencies like the British MI6 into consideration. A historical mistrust exists between England and France, British jealousy of to the strong Franco-German axis within the EU, and a growing desire within the UK government to withdraw from the EU, due to its financial and immigration problems. Border policies are seen by Whitehall as too liberal in the EU, which leads to flows of refugees from the Middle East reaching Britain through France. Should Britain leave the EU it will be able to dramatically tighten border controls, while weakening the united Europe as a whole. In addition, MI6 involvement in such attack would correspond well with the aspirations of the UK’s primary strategic partner – the United States, which perceives a strong united Europe as a growing rival. The leaders of the EU – namely France and Germany – have also started drifting towards Russia’s position on the crisis in Ukraine, which challenges Washington’s position in that conflict.

While it may be improbable that state actors in the UK would be directly organising such attacks, it does not in theory prevent British security services from assisting a friendly state, such as Qatar, to facilitate terrorist operations that would progress shared goals in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

It is unlikely that any investigation into the terrorist attacks in Paris will provide answers as to which entities facilitated the alleged terror cell to establish, organise, coordinate and operate so effectively. However, what is important is that they have gone some way already to achieving the goals of terrorism – Europe is further alarmed and weakened, and there is an acceleration of the gradual disintegration of the Union. European dependence on the United States has also sharply increased in the aftermath of the attack – therefore one cannot expect the leading EU countries including France and Germany, to change their positions over Russia and the Middle East in the foreseeable future.

The Russians are coming, 2015: neo-conservative propaganda in the West

With the recent Russian approval of military action to support its Syrian allies, propaganda in Western media ramps up to fever pitch with headlines like: “Russian President Vladimir Putin launches air strikes in Syria, but what’s he really up to?” The Australian mainstream media – along with a great part of Australian politics – has become disappointingly predictable in its blind, no-questions-asked endorsement of US neo-conservative interventionist policies. This unfortunately keeps an important discussion on Syria and the foreign policies being adopted as far away from Damascus as Canberra out of the public realm altogether.

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Image via AFP/GETTY

After barely registering the former Abbot government’s decision to support US actions in Syria, the Australian press for example falls all over itself in decrying any action taken by the Kremlin to ostensibly achieve the same goals – that is, ensuring that militant Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS and the al-Nusra Front are prevented from taking over the Assad regime.  At thus point, it seems clear that not many commentators question whether the US-led coalition has considered much beyond its parochial “Assad must go” neocon vision.

Indeed, according to an article on news.com.au the US is “…suggesting the Russians are helping Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Assad fight off rebel forces and accusing Putin of ‘pouring gasoline on the fire’ in Syria.” It would appear that to some in the Obama administration leaving a power vacuum which the extremist groups would inevitably fill is preferable to supporting Assad in fighting the ‘rebels’ whose forces would become part of a new Islamic Syrian state.

Middle-East based journalist Martin Chulov said Russia sees itself as a counter to US influence in the region, had “outfoxed” the US by announcing it would go it alone against Islamic State. “He wants a victory,” Fisk writes in The Independent. “Syria’s army, the only institution upon which the regime — indeed, the entire state apparatus — depends is being re-armed and trained for a serious military offensive against ISIS, one which is meant to have enormous symbolic value both in the Middle East and in the world.”

The issue for leaders and policy makers in the West now seems to be one of trust – do we follow the US in constant soft power plays like sponsored regime change (as in Ukaraine) to achieve what are often unclear aims or do we allow Russia to take more of a lead in the Middle East to achieve what seems to be their own unclear goals.

The extent of the mistrust of Assad’s regime and Putin’s foreign policies is revealed in sampling some recent Australian mainstream news articles:

Defiant Russia pledges more Syria assistanceThe West Australian, September 10, 2015
Abbot considers expanding fight to SyriaThe West Australian, August 23, 2015
Bashar al-Assad the accidental dictatorThe West Australian, August 30, 2015
In bed with a homicidal maniacnews.com.au (News Limited) September 21, 2015
Assad must go but his regime could save Syria from IslamistsThe Australian, September 16, 2015
Assad’s fall may not spell the end of Syria’s agonyThe Australian, August 22, 2015

Characterizing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in such ways – maniac – parallels the childish way in which Russian President Vladimir Putin is also portrayed in the right-wing Australian press. It belies the ideological fears that drive the tightly-framed narrative in conservative newsrooms.

It follows the propaganda-style treatment of other (former) heads of state such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. The US invasion of Iraq is now not only widely seen as a strategic blunder, but also possibly a war crime, based on the unilateral nature of the decision to invade a sovereign nation on false pretenses (Hussein’s touted but non-existant links to al Qaeda) without the sanction of the UN. It follows, then, that the subsequent capture and execution of Hussein bears dubious legality at best. The torture and murder of Gaddafi was seen by the then US Secretary of State as a geopolitical master-stroke. “We came, we saw, he died,” she enthused upon being informed of his demise.

The reasoning behind the Obama administration’s continued “Assad must go” policy now sits within the framework of so-called humanitarian considerations, with liberal war-hawks such as Victoria Nuland driving the discussion. This is in contrast to demanding other regime changes in the Middle East based on fraudulent claims of support of global terrorism (as in the case of Iraq), yet the states of Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria have been on a neocon hit-list at least since the Bush-42 administration.

As Russia continues to take a greater role in the Middle East, Western media outlets would be well advised to be wary of slipping into a Fox News-style propaganda and war-mongering mode of news presentation. This is not to say that Assad and Putin are without any kind of culpability – no more or less than most other heads of powerful states – or that their domestic and foreign policy records should not be held to account. Rather, some balance needs to be restored to the coverage and discussion of these matters, relying less on regurgitating propaganda from allied governments and lobby groups and more on a considered approach to viewing complex international geopolitical in the greater historical, ethnic and social context.

Sami al-Arian: terrorist or activist

elarianAs the discussion in Australia around terrorism, free speech, and the law heats up in Parliament, the media, and kitchens everywhere, it would be remiss of us not to learn from the similar journeys being undertaken by ordinary citizens throughout the developed world. There are events and proceedings in other countries from which we could surely take what are often hard-earned lessons without having to endure some of the pain those people may have gone through. Often, there are particular cases that highlight exactly the difficulties we are already facing.

Researching US independent media articles about the Israel-Palestine conflict shows up two very differing schools of thought amongst the network of leading online US investigative journalists.

On one hand, you have authors like Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett who are highly regarded for their work – Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and – from 2001 to 2003 – was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. They are authors of Going to Tehran.

Their article on consortiumnews.com regarding the deportation of their admitted friend and colleague Sami al-Arian takes the view that he was wrongly targeted by the US Justice Department simply for being “…one of the most prominent and effective advocates for Palestinian rights that U.S. officials had ever faced.”  They also claim that the “…defining moral and political challenge of our time” is how the West treats Muslims, and that the US is failing in this challenge.

On the other hand there is the view – apart from the stance taken by the US Department of Justice and the FBI –  of anti-fascist researchers like Dave Emory that al-Arian was not only the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), but was actively involved in fund raising for the terrorist group through other front organisations such as the Islamic Committee for Palestine (ICP) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).

It would seem that the case highlights the difficulties presented to justice officials in effectively prosecuting cases involving alleged terror cells and their funding apparatus, as well as the problem of understanding and reporting on a federal case that itself deals with misinformation and propaganda in a climate of heightened sensitivities to questions of national security, terrorism and justice.

NB. This is an article stub, to be expanded.