Beyond the noisy headlines, the real story in Syria

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Tahir Mustafa

Rabi' al-Thani 08, 1433 2012-03-01

News & Analysis

by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 1, Rabi' al-Thani, 1433)

Two competing narratives continue to dominate discussion about events in Syria. The first and most-often repeated narrative, eagerly projected by the Western corporate media as well as al-Jazeera, is that the people of Syria have risen up for their rights and will settle for nothing less than the ouster of President Bashar al-Asad. The counter narrative officially projected by the Syrian government posits that the regime faces foreign-backed armed gangs whose purpose is to unleash a civil war and possibly divide the country into sectarian and ethnic enclaves.

Both narratives contain elements of truth and have adherents that hold to their respective positions with great conviction. Let us outline the basic facts before proceeding to analyze them. Bashar al-Asad is not a democratically elected president. He assumed power on the death of his father Hafez al-Asad in the year 2000. Bashar did not want to be president. When he completed his studies in ophthalmology, he opened a clinic in London. It was members of the Syrian establishment that urged him to return home because without an Asad at the helm, they feared the country might slide into civil war. Thus, for the record, Bashar was not appointed by his father to become the president. One cannot say this about the other rulers in the Muslim East: Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or Morocco, for instance, that were appointed by a father or brother to succeed them. Yet many of these appointees are demanding Asad’s ouster today.

After becoming president, Bashar introduced some reforms, especially in the economic field opening up business opportunities for others besides the small circle of people around the president. In the nearly 12-year period of his rule, a substantial middle class has emerged in Syria that continues to support the regime. A survey conducted by the Qatari-funded Doha Debates found that 55% of Syrians support al-Asad as president fearing turmoil in the country if he were removed. Interestingly, Qatar is one of the regimes — the other being Saudi Arabia — that is in the forefront of financing armed groups and demanding the resignation of Bashar al-Asad.

The Syrian opposition is badly fractured. It is united only in demanding al-Asad’s resignation but what comes next is unclear. This is what makes many Syrians nervous about the demand made so vociferously by the Syrian National Council (SNC), which presents itself as the umbrella group of all opposition groups, a claim hotly contested by other groups both inside and outside Syria. The SNC has Western, primarily French, backing as well as the backing of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Burhan Ghalioun, a Paris-based secular professor heads the SNC but he has little support inside Syria. Within the country, there is another group, the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) that claims to represent and coordinate the disparate groups against the regime’s forces, but even its support base is limited although it is broader than that of the SNC.

There are two armed groups in addition to a host of local militias that can more accurately be described as armed thugs. The two prominent armed groups are the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian Liberation Army (SLA). The FSA, like the SNC, is based in Turkey. The FSA claims to be made up of deserters from the Syrian army. Its total strength is unknown; the FSA claims to have 40,000 fighters, a claim not borne out by ground realities in the country. The other group, that has emerged more recently, is equally unknown.

Then there are elements of al-Qaeda that have sneaked into Syria from Iraq and Jordan. It is interesting to note that while they initially fought the Americans in Iraq to build their credibility, they soon turned their guns on the Shi‘i majority. They claimed to be champions of the Sunni minority but essentially acted as a front for Saudi Arabia to relieve pressure on the Americans. The mayhem in Iraq — continuing to this day — is the direct result of their actions there.

These al-Qaeda fighters have now become partners in crime with the US and Israel against the Syrian regime. The Saudis and Qataris are funding al-Qaeda as well as the FSA. All these point to one thing: al-Qaeda is and has always been an American-led outfit that is dusted off the shelf whenever the US needs to advance a particular agenda. Western media outlets applauded the statement by Ayman al-Zawahiri urging his dwindling list of followers to fight the regime in Syria. Whatever happened to al-Qaeda fighting the Western crusaders? The Zionists are also involved in attacking Syria. After all, the weakening or destruction of Syria would serve a long-cherished goal of the Zionists.

The Russian Television (RT) website reported on February 21 that more than “10,000 Libyans are reportedly being trained in a closed-off zone in Jordan, before being snuck (sic) into Syria to fight for the opposition. These men are allegedly paid around US$1,000 a month, funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.” The RT news story quoting the Jordan-based al-Bawaba website further said: “both Saudi Arabia and Qatar actively support the Syrian opposition.” It must be borne in mind that initially the arms were smuggled from Jordan following a conspiratorial meeting in Paris attended by the Americans, Saudis, Israelis, Lebanese (Hariri group) and Syrian opposition groups last year to launch an armed insurrection in Syria.

There are also reports of Turkish involvement in Syria’s internal affairs. Turkish officials have issued provocative statements against Bashar al-Asad’s regime and have demanded his resignation. The Turks have also called for setting up safe zones inside Syria where people could be protected from the security forces and food delivered to them. While protecting civilians is a noble objective, it must be asked why such enclaves have not been established to protect the long-suffering Palestinians against incessant Zionist brutalities? Iran’s Fars news agency reported that some 50 Turkish officers were arrested in Syria in mid-February. Under questioning, the Turkish officers admitted they were trained by the Israeli Special Forces to carry out attacks against the Syrian government. Given that Turkish and Israeli militaries have deep ties that go back many decades, these reports cannot be discounted. Similarly, the arrested Turkish soldiers have reportedly admitted that they had also made contact with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Since December, there have been a number of attacks on Syrian government installations and officials. In January, there were several car bombings outside security buildings in Damascus in which scores of people were killed. Last month, similar car bombings devastated the intelligence ministry building in Aleppo that had hitherto been a relatively peaceful city without any opposition activities. The Free Syrian Army denied involvement in these attacks clearly pointing to al-Qaeda that operates in conjunction with the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Such acts are al-Qaeda’s signature mark.

The British and French are also getting more deeply involved, just like in Libya last year. In an unusual move, the Russian Foreign Ministry for the first time issued a statement on February 17 saying British MI6 agents had entered Syria. Other reports talk of the involvement of French intelligence agents. Both the French weekly Le Canard Enchaine and the Turkish daily Milliyet have reported the presence of French intelligence agents training the Free Syrian Army in urban guerrilla warfare. Such reports have been circulating in the media since last November.

The Arab League, that is little more than a front for Saudi Arabia, has also played a dubious role. Last December, it sent an observer mission to Syria after demanding Damascus agree to it. When permission was granted and Arab League observers went in, they found that the security forces were not the only ones perpetrating violence; both sides were guilty. The Sudanese General, Mohammed al-Dabi who headed the Arab League mission, said in his report that there was an “active insurgency” and not “a popular anti-regime uprising.” This is not what the Saudis and the Qataris wanted to hear. This also did not fit into the narrative peddled by the US, Israel and their European allies that the regime was killing peaceful protesters and that it was essential to protect civilians. They wanted justification for another “humanitarian intervention.” The Arab League promptly terminated the mission, despite Syria’s agreement to extend it because the report’s findings did not serve their plan for regime change.

As in Libya, the Arab League (essentially Saudi Arabia and Qatar) went to the Security Council demanding the regime’s forces halt attacks and withdraw from all populated areas back to the barracks. No such demand was made of the rebels. When Russia asked that the Syrian opposition distance itself from extremist groups that commit violence and crimes against civilians, it was ignored by the US. Russia also demanded that the Security Council resolution include the provision that “armed groups must stop attacks against state institutions and the public while the Syrian armed forces are leaving the cities.” This was also dismissed out of hand. The US refused to countenance any changes to the draft resolution. It insisted on having its way that would have meant “regime change” and dissolution of the Syrian state. This left China and Russia with no option but to veto the resolution on February 4. They were not prepared to give the US and its allies another opportunity to do what they had done in Libya whose consequences are evident.

America’s ambassador to the UN Susan Rice denounced the Russian and Chinese vetoes as “disgusting” and “shameful”. Strong stuff from a UN diplomat! US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was equally impolite in her denunciation of Russia and China saying “faced with a neutered Security Council we have to redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations with our allies and partners….” This they did through the UN General Assembly resolution on February 16 but it has no mandatory force. Undeterred, Clinton called for establishing a contact group of “Friends of a Democratic Syria.”

The US has vetoed the largest number of resolutions in the Security Council. Since 1971, it has vetoed more than 70 resolutions; Russia by comparison has vetoed only 33. Most US vetoes have been cast to protect the Zionist State from criticism but Washington has also vetoed resolutions that have called for “protection from products harmful to health and the environment”; “declaration of education, work, health care, proper nourishment, and national development as human rights”, as well as “protection of the rights of women and indigenous people”. With such a dubious record, US officials have the gall to denounce Russia and China. What has happened is that the US failed to get its way in the Security Council. This, however, has not deterred the US from acting unilaterally, completely disregarding all laws and norms of civilized behavior.

Following its failure at the UN, the US is now planning to arm the Syrian rebels, according to an Associated Press report of February 21. Representatives from more than 70 countries gathered under US umbrella on February 24 in Tunisia for a “Friends of Syria” meeting to discuss ways of helping the rebels. It was essentially meant to allocate responsibility to the Arabitan potentates to support their favorite rebel group to fight the Syrian regime. In conjunction with the Arabian regimes and Turkey, the US, Israel and their European allies are determined to prevent a peaceful resolution to the conflict. There are important political figures in Syria that understand the US-Zionist-Saudi game and wish to have nothing to do with the criminal enterprise underway. They want a dialogue with the regime so that the crisis can be brought to a speedy end.

The regime announced that it would hold a referendum on February 26 introducing changes to the constitution that would allow other groups to participate in the political process. The naysayers appear determined to frustrate all attempts at bringing about peaceful change. They also find that the ongoing killing of civilians as helpful to their cause. The more civilians that are killed, the greater the opportunity to whip up hatred against the regime and call for its removal.

The over-arching objective of the mayhem in Syria is to deal a major blow to the resistance front against Zionist Israel and pave the way for an attack on Islamic Iran. This is not to suggest that those calling for reforms and change in Syria are all part of this grand conspiracy that is instigated and financed from the outside. Events in Syria are beginning to reveal the players lined up on either side of the conflict: the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Turkey are on one side; Syria, Hizbullah, Islamic Iran and Hamas are on the other.

Should the US-Zionist-Saudi conspiracy succeed, it will unleash forces that would be virtually impossible to control. Muslims will kill each other in numbers and in places that would make the mayhems in Iraq and Libya look like a bunch of noisy children arguing over falafel. God forbid, if the US-Zionist plan were to succeed, it will lead to the further disintegration of the Muslim East with tiny statelets that will exist only at the mercy of Zionist Israel. Is this what the groups in Syria really want?

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