Syria

Drums of war

Print edition : October 04, 2013

In the gardens of the United States Embassy in Paris on September 8, from left, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, during Kerry's diplomatic offensive in Europe on September 8 to win support for military strikes in Syria. Photo: Demarthon/AFP

A video grab taken on September 8 and provided by "CBS This Morning", of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responding to a question in an interview in Damascus. Photo: AP

A protest against the U.S. intervention in Syria, on September 7 in Chicago. Photo: SCOTT OLSON/AFP

Free Syrian Army fighters at their headquarters in the old city of Aleppo on September 9. Photo: REUTERS

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey arrive for a closed-door intelligence briefing with members of the House of Representatives on the situation in Syria, at Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C.. on September 9. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Barack Obama and his Secretary of State are trying to drum up support from allies and a reluctant American public for a war against Syria.

AMERICAN PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA is getting increasingly isolated on the issue of launching a “limited” attack on Syria. Domestically, the U.S. public, as opinion polls have reflected, are in no mood for another war. His international isolation was evident at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Only the French President, Francois Hollande, and the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, were enthusiastic supporters of a new war in West Asia. But the domestic opinion in these two countries remains steadfastly against another military adventure on the basis of spurious evidence.

In the second week of September, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry went on a tour of European countries to canvass support for the proposed U.S. aggression on yet another sovereign nation. He is now trying to peddle a new version of Obama’s “red line”. He said in Paris that the line drawn by him was actually an “international red line” and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had crossed it by using chemical weapons.

In an interview to an American television channel on September 8, Assad said, “There is no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people.”

Kerry’s testimony to the U.S. Congress has come in for widespread ridicule. While downplaying the role of Al Qaeda and assorted jehadi groups in the conflict, he had claimed that “moderate democrats” were in control of the rebel forces. Western intelligence agencies and analysts are unanimous in their views that it is Al Qaeda and the jehadi forces that are doing the fighting inside Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was scathing in his remarks about Kerry in St. Petersburg. He said that the Secretary of State’s remarks on Syria were “unpleasant and surprising” and added that Kerry “is lying and he knows he is lying”. Putin reiterated that Russia would help its ally Syria if it was subjected to aggression.

Atrocities by opposition forces

Meanwhile, the atrocities by the opposition forces continue unabated. In the first week of September, Al Nusra, the Al Qaeda-affiliated militia, seized the Christian enclave of Maloula and reportedly ransacked the medieval monasteries that house ancient icons and artefacts. Priests from the Jacobite Maronite Church in Kerala go to learn Aramaic, the language spoken during the time of Christ. Christians, Kurds, Shias and Alawites are being specifically targeted by these groups. Three Christians were publicly beheaded in Maloula. One recent video shows the beheading of a priest by the rebels. Kerry conveniently failed to mention in his testimony that around half of the casualties in the conflicts are Syrian army soldiers. In early September, another video showed the grisly killing of Syrian soldiers by the rebels. Another video was of three Alawite truck drivers being shot, with one of them pleading with his captors for mercy, saying that he “was only trying to earn a living”.

The Vatican has spoken out strongly against the proposed U.S. military intervention. Pope Francis, in a message to the G20 summit, pleaded for a “peaceful solution” to the Syrian conflict and urged world leaders to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution”. The U.S. Catholic hierarchy has addressed separate letters to every member of Congress urging them to vote against U.S. military intervention in Syria.

The Obama administration gives the impression that it is undeterred by the domestic and international outcry against a military intervention in Syria though it has to still provide a shred of verifiable evidence against the government in Damascus. Kerry claimed in Paris that the number of countries prepared to support military action against Syria was now in “double digits”. He, however, did not bother to name the countries supporting such a move. The only other countries openly supporting military action are the Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar along with Turkey and Israel. The Gulf monarchies, along with the U.S., France and the United Kingdom, were responsible for igniting the mayhem in Syria. The Syrian government is actually holding Saudi Arabia-supported fighters responsible for the chemical attack in a Damascus suburb, which has given Washington the pretext to plan a military assault on Syria.

The incident happened when the rebels were in retreat and a U.N. fact-finding mission to investigate an earlier gas attack in March in the city of Aleppo was in the Syrian capital. Even chemical weapons experts in the West and U.N. officials such as Carla del Ponte have blamed the rebels for the incident in Aleppo, which claimed many lives. The Syrian rebel groups and their foreign sponsors will stoop to any subterfuge to trigger Western intervention in Syria. They have concluded that they will not otherwise be able to bring about a regime change.

A recent incident is illustrative of the blatant double standards being adopted by the West and its regional allies. Syrian rebel forces fired rockets into Israel and the Israeli army promptly responded by targeting a pro-Assad Palestinian group across the border with Lebanon. “On August 22, anti-Assad jehadists fired four rockets into northern Israel, causing minor damage and no casualties. The Israeli army retaliated the following day with an air strike against a secular, pro-Assad Palestinian militant group a few kilometres away from the bunkers of the Hizbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, in southern Lebanon,” wrote Daniel Nisman, an Israeli commentator, in a recent column in The New York Times. Nisman emphasised that the choice of targets was not a mistake.

Israel's line

Obama and his Secretary of State, in order to drum up domestic support, have now been unabashedly making out the case that an attack on Syria is essential for the security of their favourite client state in the region, Israel. Israeli officials have been candid about their immediate goals in Syria and the rest of the region. Senior Israeli government officials have been openly asking Obama to implement his “red line”, which they claim is essential for the weakening of their key enemy, Iran. At the same time, they do not want the Syrian government to be ousted and replaced by the opposition, which at this juncture is dominated by “Salafist” and “jehadi” forces; they want a military stalemate to prevail in the country. The Israeli authorities are alarmed at the string of defeats suffered by the rebels since the middle of the year. “Let them both bleed, haemorrhage to death; that’s the strange thinking here,” Alon Pinkas, the former Israeli Consul General in New York, told The New York Times.

As long as the bloody internal conflict continues in Syria, Israel can continue to do what it likes, including building new settlements and bombing targets in the region and beyond. The Obama administration, at this juncture, is also reading from the Israeli playbook. It is using the powerful Israeli lobby in the U.S., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to convince U.S. lawmakers who remain highly sceptical about the motivations and the legality of starting another war in West Asia. A high-level Israeli military delegation was in Washington to convince the U.S. political establishment that military action against Syria was an essential step to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. The AIPAC issued a statement endorsing the decision to attack Syria noting that the “critical decision comes at a time when Iran is rising towards obtaining nuclear capability”.

Obama has anyway said that he will retain the option of attacking Syria regardless of the outcome of the vote in Congress. At a press conference following the G20 summit, he once again insisted that the U.S. had the prerogative to attack a third country even if the military action was not sanctioned by the U.N. The U.N. charter defines such unprovoked unilateral acts as criminal acts of aggression. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is generally deferential to the West, has for a change spoken out strongly against the Obama administration’s plans for military intervention in Syria. Addressing the G20 summit, he said that any military intervention in Syria should have the backing of the Security Council. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Padilla has demanded a special emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly to kick start the Geneva 11 peace conference in order to preclude a military solution.

Mairead Maguire, the 1976 Nobel Peace laureate, issued an appeal to the world community to join the call to stop the war on Syria. She said any U.S. attack would embolden the thousands of Islamists who have poured into Syria from all over the world. “They are financially supported and trained by some Western governments and their intent is to remove the Syrian government and all those who oppose them. Their mission and their aim coincide with that of the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel—all of whom refuse to support Geneva 11 and a peaceful solution to the proxy war being perpetrated for oil, resources and control,” the veteran peace campaigner emphasised.

“War is the health of a totalitarian state. And peace is its disease,” Norman Mailer, the U.S. novelist and anti-Vietnam War activist, had once famously observed. The preparations for war are already in full swing. American B-52 bombers with cruise missiles, Stealth fighters and low-flying B1S fighter jets are being readied in the U.S. bases ringing Syria. The British media have reported that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is supervising the transfer of sophisticated arms to the Syrian rebels it has carefully whetted to help them capitalise on the massive attack Washington is planning.

“All sides are working together to take Damascus if the American strikes are truthful, and if they are targeted at the regime,” said a spokesman for the radical Ansar ul-Islam rebel group fighting near the capital. The arms being supplied include anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air weapons. According to Syrian officials, chemical weapons supplied by Saudi intelligence are already in the inventory ready to be used in order to provoke a massive foreign military intervention. “The authorisation for the use of military force” resolution that the Obama administration wants the Senate to approve calls for 60 days of air strikes with another 30 days’ extension, should the Pentagon determine that more strikes are needed to bring the Syrian government to heel.

American constitutional expert, Bruce Ackerman, writing in the website Foreign Policy, said that what Obama was demanding “is nothing less than an open-ended endorsement of military intervention in the Middle East and beyond”.

The Syrian President, in his recent interview, warned that a U.S. attack could have dangerous consequences for the region and beyond. He said an attack would change the balance of forces within Syria and strengthen the Islamist militias. Assad said he could not predict the reaction of his regional allies to any U.S. military aggression on Syria.

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Sharif, in a statement issued in the second week of September, said that the U.S. would ignite a fire across West Asia if it attacked Syria. “Those who are short-sighted and are beating the drums of war are starting a fire that will burn everyone,” he said.

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