by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1433)
Lakhdar Brahimi says the Syrian crisis threatens world peace while an Independent UN Commission has confirmed there is “alarming increase” in foreign terrorists in Syria.
Amid the turmoil that erupted in the Muslim world in the aftermath of the US-made anti-Islam movie, one glaring factor appears to have been ignored. The perpetrators of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans were members of a militia that was backed, supported and armed by the West to overthrow the regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi last year. True, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned it but only in the context that the Libyans should show more “gratitude” to the US for “liberating” them from Qaddafi’s tyranny. Soon after Qaddafi’s lynching last October, Clinton had said in a moment of punch-drunk hilarity thinking she was not on camera, “We came, we saw, he died.”
Have the chickens come home to roost? More importantly, will the West learn any lessons from the Benghazi episode in its arming and backing of similar armed gangs against the regime in Syria? Let us be clear: the Bashar al-Asad regime is not popularly elected but it is no more illegitimate than the one in Riyadh, Bahrain or Amman. In fact, it can be said that al-Asad enjoys more support among the Syrian people than many other rulers in the Muslim East who are closely allied with and supported by the West. Thus, legitimacy is not the issue; the basic criterion for the West is whether a particular regime is subservient to its foreign policy objectives and falls in lockstep with the all-important security of Israel.
Following the failure of Kofi Annan’s mission that was deliberately sabotaged by Western and Arabian regimes, the veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi was wheeled out of retirement to try his hand at the Syrian crisis. From September 13–15, Brahimi met various groups and government officials in Syria in what he described was a “listening mode” mission only. While in Damascus, Brahimi’s spokesman Ahmed Fawzi described the talks with al-Asad as “serious, frank and comprehensive.” Apparently both sides put forward serious proposals on how to end the impasse and resolve the 18-month-long crisis.
While Brahimi warned after the talks with al-Asad on September 15 that “the crisis is dangerous and getting worse, and it is a threat to the Syrian people, the region and the world,” neither he nor his spokesman gave any details about what proposals were put forward. He merely said, “we will make a great effort to make progress, and do our best… to help the Syrian people.” During his visit, Brahimi also met members of the National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change. “We told Mr. Brahimi… of our support for his efforts to resolve the crisis by ending the violence and killings, providing medical care and releasing political prisoners,” Hassan Abdel Azim, the bloc spokesman, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Whether Brahimi would have any more success than his luckless predecessor Kofi Annan is difficult to tell. Annan resigned in frustration because Western governments, while wishing him success, deliberately sabotaged his efforts. The West and its Arabian client regimes have only one objective in mind: to drive al-Asad from power no matter what the cost in Syrian lives.
The conspiracy to overthrow the Syrian regime is not succeeding because groups — political as well as military — are not capable of mounting an effective challenge. The Syrian National Council (SNC), touted as the main opposition group, is an assortment of opportunists who believe the West will deliver al-Asad’s head on a plate while they ride Western tanks into Damascus. It is riddled with contradictions and has been roundly denounced as made up of Western stooges by the National Co-ordination Committee. Nominally headed by Abdulbaset Sieda, the West’s favorite in the SNC is Ridwan Ziadah. Basma Kodmani, the previous favorite resigned from the Council on August 28 amid accusations that it was ineffective and unable to achieve its stated objectives.
Writing in the Guardian of London (September 15), Hassan Hassan appealed to the West not to abandon the SNC but to help reform it. A creation of the West, the SNC has little support inside Syria. Political divisions, however, are not the only problems facing Syrian opposition groups. Among the groups involved in armed struggle, there are serious differences between the SNC and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as well as foreign mercenaries that have flooded into Syria. Dr. Jacques Beras, co-founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) told Reuters on September 8, after returning from working clandestinely for two weeks in a hospital in Aleppo that 60% of those he treated were rebel fighters and at least half of them were foreigners.
The largest contingent of foreign fighters, according to Turkish sources, is from Libya, primarily members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) followed by French, Algerian, American, British and Jordanian fighters. There are also Pakistanis and Afghans among the foreigners. On September 15, a Turkish video report showed Israelis operating in Turkey’s Hatay province launching fighters into Syria. These reports give credence to al-Asad’s repeated charges that he is facing foreign terrorists that are being armed and financed from abroad. The Saudis and Qataris are providing money while the Americans, French, British and Israelis are providing training and logistics.
Foreign fighters from the West are mostly Arabic speaking Muslims, recruited by Western intelligence agencies to launch another “jihad” against an “infidel regime” in the manner of the one launched against Soviet forces in Afghanistan more than three decades ago. The Afghans have had no peace since then and there has been severe blowback from Western arming and financing of such groups. The latest installment was delivered in Libya when the American ambassador was killed in Benghazi on September 11. Hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters from Iraq and Saudi Arabia have also flooded into Syria. The Brazilian diplomat, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who headed the UN Independent Inquiry Commission on Syria confirmed in his report on September 17 about the “alarming increase in foreign fighters” is Syria. The same day, the New York-based Human Rights Watch in its report about Syria accused the Free Syrian Army of indulging in summary executions.
Of all countries, Turkey is the most deeply involved in Syria because of its long common border. According to Turkish sources, nearly 85,000 Syrian refugees have flooded into Turkey, most of them into Antakya, the major city in Hatay province. Antakya happens to be predominantly Alawite and there have been clashes between Syrian refugees and local inhabitants whose sympathies are with the Asad regime. The Turkish government has been forced to move Syrian refugees further inland to avoid an explosive situation on its border. Ankara’s support for Syrian rebels has also exacerbated the Kurdish question and may result in Turkey paying a heavy price for such a policy.
Was this what Brahimi was hinting at when he said following his meeting with Bashar al-Asad, “[The] Syrian crisis is very dangerous and it’s exacerbated and poses a danger to the Syrian people, the region and the world”?