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Posts Tagged Hafiz El-Asad

So, why is there such an explosion of violence across the Middle East? – Robert Fisk


The INDEPENDENT – Friday 31 October 2014 
So, why is there such an explosion of violence across the Middle East? – Robert Fisk
Never mind ISIS – it’s all down to the West’s desire to weaken Arab armies, a close adviser to Syria’s Assad tells Robert Fisk 
What on earth has descended upon the Middle East?
Why such an epic explosion of violence? It feels strange to ask these questions of Dr Bouthaina Shaaban, one of President Bashar al-Assad’s close advisers and former translator to his father, Hafez. Her office is spotless, flowers on the table, her female secretary preparing a morning round-up of the world’s press on the Middle East, the coffee hot and sweet. At one point, when she spoke of the destruction in Syria and the mass attacks on the region’s Arab armies, it was difficult to believe that this was Damascus and that a few hundred miles to the east Isis have been cutting the throats of their hostages. Indeed, Shaaban finds it difficult even to define what Isis really is.
Not so with America and the war in Syria. “Right from the beginning of this crisis, I never truly felt that the issue was about President Assad,” she says. “It was about the weakening and destruction of Syria. There has been so much destruction – of hospitals, schools, factories, government institutions, you name it. I think the Americans take their battles against leaders and presidents – but only as a pretext to destroy countries. 
Saddam was not the real target –it was Iraq. And it’s the same for Libya now – America told everyone it was about Gaddafi. The real issue is about weakening the Arab armies, whoever they are. When the Americans invaded Iraq, what was the first thing they did? They dissolved the Iraqi army.”
Shaaban, of course, reflects Syria’s regime. Thus she calls the war a “crisis” and does not choose to reflect on the regime’s responsibility for this – or the numbers killed by the regime forces as well as by the rebels. What she does have is a very clear analytical brain which can shape an argument into coherence however much you disagree with her. She showed this in her research through Syrian presidential and foreign-ministry archives when she was writing a remarkable book about Hafez al-Assad’s peace negotiations with the Clinton administration, in which the old “Lion of Damascus” turns out to be a lot shrewder than the world thought he was –and his betrayal by America much deeper than we suspected at the time. She talks on about the destruction of the Iraqi army, the losses in the Syrian army, the massive suicide attack against Egyptian troops in Sinai and the killing of Lebanese troops in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. And you have to listen.
“Now all Arab armies are targeted and the purpose is to change the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arab-Israeli conflict is the crux of all that is going on in the Middle East. I am not saying these tactics will work. I am saying ‘they’ are targeting the Arab armies. The Egyptian army is very strong. It is a logical army that is defending its country. And then it received this huge attack in Sinai. It’s my opinion that the target is to eliminate the threat that Arab armies represent for the liberation of Gaza and the West Bank and Golan and to make Israel’s occupation easier and less costly. 
This is a major dimension of the cause of the ‘Arab Spring’. In fact I call it an ‘Israeli Spring’.”
Of course, it’s not difficult to argue with this. Why should the West – presumably the author of these Arab military calamities – want to weaken an Egyptian army which is, by proxy (or directly) protecting Israel itself? Why would the West want the new Iraqi armies to be crushed by Isis – which Shaaban, even though she is speaking in English, naturally refers to by its Arab acronym of ‘Daesh’? Why, indeed, would the West be bombing Isis if it wished to weaken the Syrian army?
The Americans are the major power in the world and they are weighing this power. But what is ‘Daesh’? I feel it could be the thing it is now without financial and political help from leaders. How does it sell its oil and get its money? In Syria, we are under sanctions and we cannot transfer a penny through New York. So how does ‘Daesh’ get financed in such a huge way? Let me ask you something. When Mosul fell to ‘Daesh’, the Americans did nothing. The Americans intervened only when Kurdistan was threatened – which means the US supports the partition of Iraq. So the US move against ‘Daesh’ is a political move for other objectives. It’s interesting that the Syrian people in Ain al-Arab” – this of course refers to the Syrian Kurds in the Isis-besieged town they call Kobane – “have been more successful in fighting ‘Daesh’ than the Americans.”
Shaaban looks at me sharply. There is no mention of the constant US air strikes against  Isis around the town. But she is also contemplating the darkness of that throat-cutting institution, the woman stoned to death in Idlib, the extraordinarily effective propaganda campaign which it runs. “This is propaganda made by very professional experts. There are professional media people involved. It is being ‘directed’ by professionals. And once those who are behind ‘Daesh’ achieve their goals, then they can dispense with it, take off the black clothes and become a ‘moderate’ opposition.”
Shaaban laughs. She knows this is a clever conceit – the Middle East has been littered with monstrous “terrorist” organisations– the PLO, the Muslim Brotherhood, Abu Nidal – which have either been turned into pussycats or eliminated themselves. The next line I was waiting for. “And by the way, what is this ‘moderate’ opposition which is supposed to exist here in Syria? ‘The moderate armed opposition’, they say. How can someone who is armed and puts a gun to your head be a ‘moderate’? Our army is defending our people.” I interrupt. The world would say that civilians have a right to bear arms when they are killed by the government’s forces. No reply. The people of Syria fight for their president, she says, morale is high, the destruction of their enemies – to the health and education systems and to the architectural heritage – is enormous. And so it goes on. President Bashar al-Assad, needless to say, gets a clean bill of health.
But then Shaaban turns to Saudi Arabia, the “Takfirist”curricula in Saudi schools, the culture of head-chopping criminals in Saudi Arabia, its support for the Taliban. “It is a culture very similar to the ‘culture’ of ‘Daesh’. So why was ‘Daesh’ created?” But as an Arab nationalist, does Shaaban want to restore the old Sykes-Picot colonial border between Syria and Iraq which Isis symbolically destroyed?
“I hope the new generation of Arab nationalists will break these borders and help to create a new Arab identity, the emergence of a different reality, to be a real player in international politics. I hope young Arabs will not cling to these borders. Why should Lebanese and Syrians have to stop at their border when the terrorists can move freely across? As Arabs, we should sit down and think how we can face these challenges together. There is a master-plan, a ‘maestro’ – yes, I know people say that this is a ‘conspiracy theory’. But what I’m saying is that the the conspiracy is no longer a ‘theory’ – it is a reality we must confront together.”
This was a bit like the end of a long symphony concert, the rousing send-off as Arab nationalism is reborn. Surely that is what the original Syrian Ba’ath party was supposed to be about. Shaaban condemned Turkey for its “lies” and President Erdogan’s desire for another “Ottoman military hegemony” in the Middle East. She takes comfort from the ease with which Sunni refugees from Idlib and Aleppo have settled among Alawites and Christians around Lattaki and Tartous – although she at no point names these religious groups. And she talks about the vast number of families who have lost loved ones – no blame attaching to anyone at this point – but then she utters an irrefutable truth. “When you kill a member of a family, you kill the whole family.” And there really is no answer to that one.


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Ramifications of military adventurism in Syria

Ramifications of military adventurism in Syria

Asif Haroon Raja

Patrick J. Buchman, an American political commentator stated on March, 24, 2003, “There is a memo at the Pentagon that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off Iran.” George W. Bush also talked of axis of evil in which North Korea was the only non-Muslim country.   Joint Forces Staff College Norfolk, Virginia suggested threatening Saudi Arabia with starvation, reducing Islam to cult status and Mecca, Medina destroyed. Out of seven target countries, three have been destroyed and one divided, one is being destroyed and after its destruction it will become easier to destroy the remaining two.  Emphasis is on piecemeal destruction.

Consequent to non-resolution of Palestinian issue and the ongoing Arab Spring, the Middle Eastern countries that have remained in the iron grip of US backed authoritarian rulers for many decades are in revolt. The old order of subservience to US dictated policies has been replaced by hatred and defiance. The US for all practical purposes has lost its moral authority in the Middle East, as has been amply confirmed by Robert Fisk. Egypt which had remained a secure base of USA and CIA since the times of Anwar Sadat has become insecure in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011 by the people, followed by democratically elected Muhammad Morsi and his Islamic regime in July 2013 by Egyptian military.

Lebanon which was in control of CIA and Israel is now dominated by Iran backed Hezbollah which is connected with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Hamas which was democratically elected in 2011 holds on to Gaza Strip despite being hounded by Israel. Iran refuses to roll back its nuclear program despite tough sanctions and recent regime change.  Pakistan refuses to roll back or hand over its nukes to USA in spite of massive covert war launched since 2002 and defiantly stands up to external challenges.  

Having forcibly changed Qaddafi’s regime in Syria, the US and its western allies are now fully focused towards Syria since early 2011 to bring down Assad’s regime. Billions of dollars are being pumped in in-support of the Syrian rebels to keep the civil war inflamed. In April 2012 Summit held in Turkey and attended by 70 nations, a total of $ 100 million was pledged by Saudi Arabia, Qatar Kuwait and UAE to pay salaries to rebels Free Army. The US pledged $12 million and London $800,000 including satellite communication and night vision goggles. NATO military advisers based in Syria have been providing guidance to the rebels. High salaries provided to the rebels were a bait to lure government soldiers to defect.

Almost 30-month old civil war in Syria which has cost over 100,000 lives including 40,000 civilians and resulted in displacement of seven million including two million fleeing to other countries has suddenly become explosive because of use of chemical weapons in Ghouta near Damascus on August 21 killing 1400 people including children. Syrian President Assad categorically denied the charge, but international imperial alliance forged between NATO and but Arab client states seeking perpetuation of violence within Syria has a fixed agenda of his forcible removal.   

Truculent Obama tied his hands by impulsively blurting that if Syria crosses the red line, it will face military action. He is now pumped up and wants to strike Syria irrespective of the consequences. While the US Senate has approved military action, Obama is now seeking Congress approval for strikes against Syria. Although US officials insist that US limited military intervention in Syria in which no boots will be used on ground is not aimed at regime change, but to deter Assad from reusing chemical weapons; however, the fact remains that support to Syrian rebels is being extended by the US to bring down Assad regime which is anti-US and anti-Israel and pro-Russia and install pro-US regime. This change in US-Israel-Arabs view would weaken and isolate both Iran and Hezbollah and help in attacking Iran at a later date.

British PM David Cameron, eager to emulate disgraced Tony Blair hastened to state that there was no doubt about the use of nerve gas by Syrian regime. British lawmakers however tripped him and passed a resolution that UK wouldn’t support military action. This move has raised the image of Britain but has caused a setback to both Cameron and Obama. France however, is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with USA but has now modified its stance by saying that UNSC approval is necessary. John Kerry is carrying out intense lobbying to win over allies.

Like in case of Iraq in 2003 when millions protested in Europe and in USA against intended invasion, the Europeans and Americans weary of war and suffering the impact of economic depression have once again come out on the streets, protesting against contemplated use of force in Syria. Both the US and British leaders have lost their credibility after their big lies to justify interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq and false promises of restoring peace and democracy. The people are not prepared to get duped again since the two misadventures resulted in destruction of two sovereign countries and loss of over two million lives together with displacement of millions. They now know that the dramas were enacted to serve selfish interests of the elites only. The common people had no share in the loot.

The drama of gas attack has been staged since the rebels despite being armed to teeth are not making any headway and are getting demoralized while the government forces are rapidly gaining ground. Hezbollah has helped in getting Qusayr vacated by the rebels and area north of Homs is also on the verge of falling to Syrian forces. Notwithstanding that minority Alawides under Assad rule majority Sunnis, and Assad has used excessive force against the rebels ruthlessly; he having witnessed the tragic end of Qaddafi cannot afford softness. The rebels have been no less brutal. They have been chided by Human Rights Watch for committing myriad human-rights abuses against Syrian people. They have been involved in kidnapping, detention, torture of security forces, pro-government elements and militias.    

Limited strikes by NATO, which include cruise missiles, air strikes and drones, would aim at crippling the Syrian air defence, air power, rockets and artillery sites, tanks and APCs, ammunition dumps and all such military targets which have enabled the Syrian armed forces to gain an upper edge over rebels. Such a destructive exercise had been undertaken by UK-France military against Libyan regime in support of rebels. This support will be available to Syrian rebels for their final assault on Damascus. The US thinks that US intervention will help in boosting the sagging morale of Syrian rebels. The US has become more assertive after the change of leadership in Tehran under the assumption that the new Iranian President Rouhani being moderate will not act recklessly like his predecessor.     

It is indeed ironic that loss of 100,000 lives has not evoked any sympathy in US led western world but loss of 1400 lives has made them grief stricken. On what moral grounds Obama and his hawkish team are huffing and puffing and trying to moralize Syrian regime when the US military is occupying Afghanistan since November 2001 and devastating the country and its people? Are drones used with impunity in FATA, Somalia and Yemen less lethal than chemical weapons?  Is Sarin gas deadlier than nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or Agent Orange in Vietnam, or cluster bombs, daisy cutters and depleted uranium in Afghanistan, or white phosphorous in Fallujah (Iraq)?  Aren’t US and UK the biggest manufacturers of chemicals and commercializing the product in international market?

Why such a hullabaloo over poisonous chemicals when these were used by Iraq against the Kurds of Hallabjah in 1988 and against Iran’s military in the Iran-Iraq war in Fao Peninsula, or by Russia in Chechnya. The US and the West didn’t utter a word since at that time Saddam was a good boy being their ally and Chechnyans were Muslims. Where were their moral scruples when Israeli forces used white phosphorous and cluster bombs against Gazans? Why are US and Russia holding on to their stockpiles of chemical weapons when they were required to destroy them by April 2012?  What role OIC and Arab League are playing to defuse the volatile situation? Pathetic Arab League is paradoxically egging on the UN to take measures against Syria, which implies ‘sort out Assad regime’. Saudi Arabia is more worried about Shia threat and is not inclined towards peaceful resolution of the conflict. Why Saudi Arabia didn’t object when the US pitched Shias against Sunnis in Iraq? How is it so sure that Iran and not Israel will harm it?          

How does the US leadership lecture on human rights when it is the biggest violator of human rights? Blaming Syrian regime is like the pot calling the kettle black. While Syria has no record of using chemicals or other prohibited weapons, the US track record on this account is dismal. While there is little doubt that Sarin nerve gas was used at Ghouta, what is the proof that Syrian troops and not the rebels have used it? The US has no evidence to support its contention and is giving no importance to UN inspectors. There are strong suspicions that chemical weapons were provided to the rebels by their western backers in the wake of Syrian forces gaining an upper edge over the utterly demoralized rebels. Col Lawrence Wilkerson in his article appearing in Jerusalem Post suspects that Israel may be behind it.   


It is surprising that Assad is unacceptable to the US and a hotchpotch future government of rebels comprising local Sunni Syrians, al-Qaeda elements and Salafis will be acceptable. Military intervention against a sovereign state and that too without UNSC approval, whether limited in scale or full scale, is illegal and condemnable. Military action will further fuel civil war and there is likelihood that it may lead to wider conflagration with dangerous repercussions for the region which is already in a flux. Any glimmer of hope for ending the conflict peacefully will die down.

Libya stood alone to face the wrath of NATO, but Syria is not alone. Russia and Iran have high stakes in Syria and both have cautioned the US that they too have options to exercise. If Israel is important for USA, so is Syria for Russia since it is its oldest and sole reliable ally in Middle East. Apart from oil interest, Russia cannot afford to lose its strategically important deep-sea port facility in Tartars in Mediterranean Sea. Loss of Assad will be a strategic blow to Iran and will make it vulnerable. Hezbollah in Lebanon is a close ally of Syria and will not sit idle. Syrian conflict has sharpened Shia-Sunni divide, which by itself has serious ramifications for the Muslim world.

With such high stakes together with presence of so many aircraft carriers and warships of USA, Britain and Russia in Mediterranean Sea, the obtaining environment in the Middle East has made the overall situation perilous. In case of US intervention in Syria, the affected countries and their allies may wittingly or unwittingly get drawn into the Syrian inferno and may trigger a 3rd World War.

The writer is a retired Brig, defence analyst, researcher and columnist and author of books. asifharoonraja@gmail.com


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