Damascus – The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—along with certain Arab League countries, plus Turkey and Israel, have this past week reportedly committed themselves to raising nearly $6 billion to “beef up” the just-hatched Islamic Front (IF) in Syria. These “best friends of America” want the Obama administration to sign onto a scheme to oust the Syrian government by funding, arming, training, facilitating and generally choreographing the movement of fighters of this new front, a front formed out of an alliance of seven putatively “moderate” rebel factions.
Representatives of Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan reportedly told staff members on Capitol Hill that committing several billions to defeat the Assad regime by supporting the IF makes fiscal sense and will cost much less than the six trillion dollar figure tallied by the recent study by Brown University as part of its Costs of War project. According to the 2013 update of the definitive Brown study, which examined costs of the US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the total amount for all three topped six trillion dollars. This never before released figure includes costs of direct and indirect Congressional appropriations, lost equipment, US military and foreign contractors fraud, and the cost of caring for wounded American servicemen and their families.
Among the Islamist militia joining the new GCC-backed coalition are Aleppo’s biggest fighting force, Liwa al-Tawhid (Tawhid Brigade), the Salafist group Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Sham, al-Haq Brigades, Ansar al-Sham and the Islamic Army, which is centered around Damascus. The Kurdish Islamic Front also reportedly joined the alliance.
IF’s declared aim is to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, whatever the human and material cost it may require, and replace it with an “Islamic state.” Abu Firas, the new coalition’s spokesman, declared that “we now have the complete merger of the major military factions fighting in Syria.”
Formally announced on 11/22/13, the IF includes groups from three prior umbrella organizations: the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), and the Kurdish Islamic Front (KIF). From the SIF, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya (HASI), Kataib Ansar al-Sham, and Liwa al-Haqq all joined, as did the KIF as a whole, and former SILF brigades Suqur al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, and Jaish al-Islam. None of these groups have been designated foreign terrorist organizations by the US, and therefore, as an Israeli official argued in a meeting with AIPAC and Congress this week, nothing stands in the way of US funding and support for them. The Israeli official in question is the country’s new national security advisor, Yossie Cohen, who assures key congressional leaders that the tens of thousands of rebels making up the IF will all support “one policy and one military command.” Cohen also pledges that the new group is not as “insane” as other Muslim militia—Daash or al-Nusra or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, for instance—that comprise the IF’s chief rivals. Cohen and AIPAC are further telling Congress members and congressional staffers that the emergence of the IF is one of the war’s most important developments, and he vows that the new organization in effect brings seven organizations into a combined force that will fight under one command, a force estimated by the CIA to number at around 75,000 fighters. Reportedly the objective will link the fight in the north with that in the south in a manner that will stretch loyalist forces, and the Saudi-Israel team is also asking the Obama Administration to more than double the monthly “graduation class” of CIA-trained rebels in Turkey, Syria and Jordan—from its current level of 200 per month, up to 500 a month.
What the GCC/Arab League/Israeli team is asking of its western allies (meaning of course mainly the US) is to immediately fund the IF to the tune of $ 5.5 billion. This, Israeli security officials argue, is pocket change compared to the $6 trillion spent in US terrorist wars of the past decade. Plus it will have the presumed “benefit” of toppling the Assad regime and truncating Iran’s growing influence. The plan has reportedly been dismissed by some in the Obama administration as “risible and pathetic.” Nonetheless, Tel Aviv, the US Congressional Zionist lobby, and to a lesser extent Ankara, are pressing ahead under the assumption that linking with the IF now makes sense and that they can take their chances will al-Qaeda later. Ironically these are some of the same voices from AIPAC’s Congressional Team who four years ago were claiming that al-Qaeda was “on the ropes and will soon collapse.” Yet they are optimistic that if Assad goes, “we can deal with the terrorists and it won’t cost six trillion dollars.”
One House member who strongly agrees with AIPAC is Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who recently declared that “in my heart I am a Tea Party guy.” A member of the House Armed Services Committee, Hunter believes the US should use nuclear weapons against Tehran. In a Fox TV interview this week he declared his opposition to any talks with Iran, insisting that US policy should include a “massive aerial bombardment campaign” utilizing “tactical nuclear devices” to set Iran “back a decade or two or three.”
According to sources in Aleppo and Damascus, the IF’s top leadership positions have been parceled out among five of the seven groups. This at least is as of 12/5/13. Four days after the IF was announced, the organization released an official charter. In terms of its basic architecture, the document is similar to that put out by the SIF in January, but the new version is filled with more generalities than other militia proclamations, and seems designed to accommodate differing ideas among member groups. The charter calls for an Islamic state and the implementation of sharia law, though it does not define exactly what this means. The IF is firmly against secularism, human legislation (i.e., it believes that laws come from God, not people), civil government, and a Kurdish breakaway state. The charter states that the group will secure minority rights in post-Assad Syria based on sharia, which could mean the dhimma (“protected peoples”) system, or de facto second-class citizenship for Christians and other minorities. According to Saudi officials in Lebanon, the IF seeks to unify other rebel groups so long as they agree to acknowledge the sovereignty of God. Given this ‘moderate’ wording, the expectation of some is that that the southern-based Ittihad al-Islami li-Ajnad al-Sham will join the IF.
According to the Netanyahu government, the IF’s leading foreign cheerleader, this new coalition gives substance to that which states who have been wanting regime change in Syria have been calling for. One analyst on the Syrian conflict, Aron Lund, believes a grouping of mainstream and hardline Islamists, excluding any al-Qaeda factions, is significant. “It’s something that could be very important if it holds up,” he explained. “The Islamic Front’s formation was a response to both regime advances and the ‘aggressive posture’ of jihadists against other rebels, plus a good deal of foreign involvement, not least of which is Saudi and GCC pushing to unify the rebels.”
Contrary to reports out of Occupied Palestine that the Netanyahu regime is not worried about or much interested in the crisis in Syria, a measure of delight seems to be felt in Tel Aviv that Muslims and Arabs are once more killing each other, along with smugness over Hezbollah’s loss of key mujahedeen as it faces, along with Iran, its own “Vietnam experience.” Yet all this notwithstanding, near panic is reported to have been felt in Israeli government circles over Hezbollah’s achievements in Syria. Truth told, Tel Aviv knows that despite manpower losses by Hezbollah, the dominant Lebanese political party is bringing about major enhancements of its forces. It also knows that there is no substitute for urban battlefield experience with regard to effecting such force regeneration, and Israeli officials have also stated their belief that the Resistance is organizing non-Hezbollah brigades that share one goal in common despite disparate beliefs. That sacred goal is liberating Al Quds by any and all means.
A US Congressional source summarized the Obama administration’s take on this week’s assassination of a key Hezbollah commander as part of a major new Netanyahu government project to weaken Hezbollah. Hassan Houlo Lakkis’ assassination on the night of December 3-4 is deemed in Washington to be particularly significant since Lakkis was in charge of strategic files related to Israel and the Palestinians and also oversaw a number of key operations. The Resistance commander was deeply involved in the development of drones for Hezbollah, as well as smuggling weapons to Gaza via Egypt. He also had good relationships with the Palestinian factions in Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon. Lakkis was known by Washington to be a highly important cadre and a second rank Hezbollah official. According to one analyst “Israel appeared as if it was telling Hezbollah, come and fight me. Israel is upset over the Western-Iranian agreement. It is also upset over the new position that the West has concerning Hezbollah whereby the West is now viewing the party as a force that opposes the Takfiris. Thus, Israel’s objective behind the assassination is to lure the party into a confrontation thus allowing Tel Aviv to tell the West: Hezbollah is still a terrorist organization.”
According to sources on the US Foreign Relations Committee, the White House is being heavily pressured by the US Zionist lobby and the Netanyahu government to take “remedial measures” for the “catastrophic historic mistake” it made in defusing the Iranian nuclear issue and refusing to bomb Damascus. The measures being pushed for, of course, are funding and support for the IF, though doubts persist in Washington as to how “remedial” they will in fact be. The $5.5 billion “investment” is to be paid in large part by GCC/Arab League countries, with US and Zionist contributions. Cash from the latter two sources will come directly and indirectly out of the pockets of American taxpayers—with Israel paying nothing.
Some Washington officials and analysts are wondering if US participation would help unify notoriously hostile rebel ranks and curtail the growing power of al-Qaeda in Syria, or whether it is simply another zany Bander bin Sultan-concocted project, the latest of many—in this case to create a hierarchical revolutionary army with the aim of fighting the Syrian regime essentially alongside al-Qaeda? Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed his personal suspicions this week that “the Israel-Saudi team is trying to drag the US back into a potentially deepening morass,” alluding to what apparently is an effort to head off any plans the Obama administration may have of living with the Assad government until such time as Geneva II happens, that is if it happens, according to one congressional staffer.
Many among the American public also have doubts because they have been told that their government was ‘winding down’ its Middle East wars in favor of rebuilding America’s infrastructure, roads, health care and education systems, all of which, especially the latter, appear to be suffering dramatically. According to the most recent international survey, released this week, the average Chinese student, aged fifteen in Shanghai, is two full years ahead of America’s best students surveyed in Massachusetts. Recent top scores among secondary school youngsters, particularly in math, reading and science, were considerably lower than those achieved by students in Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Japan. The US is far down the list and declining, and the survey suggests that the gap is widening.
It’s too early to say whether this latest Saudi-Israel-Arab League collaboration will fail as others have recently, but given the continuing Obama administration efforts at taking back US Middle East policy from Tel Aviv, plus the perceptible movement away from support for the Netanyahu government along with growing angst among American taxpayers over funding the occupation of Palestine, it just might collapse.
Iran to Follow?
Damascus – Additional easing of Syrian sanctions is expected by mid-November according to staff at the US Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Asset Control (OFAC).
Pressure on Obama from Putin is part of the ‘price tag’ for Russia’s role in bailing out the American president, whose chemical weapons ‘redline’ became something of an albatross. But another reason for the relaxation is that the White House believes it needs to communicate to Damascus that prospects for better relations, and possibly even some cooperation, are not completely dead, despite the 32-month crisis still raging in the Syrian Arab Republic.
This second easing of sanctions will show more balance and neutrality than those of last June, which were perceived as supporting Saudi and Gulf aid to the rebels while weakening the Assad government just as the Syrian Army had begun gaining back ground from the rebels. At that time, licenses for exports of certain goods related to reconstruction of infrastructure were allowed in areas held by the rebels. Specifically, OFAC indicated that license applications would be accepted for commodities, technology and software related to water supply and sanitation, agricultural production and food processing, power generation, oil and gas production, construction and engineering, transportation, and educational infrastructure. Most benefited would be rebel-controlled areas.
No doubt it is with a deep patriotic spirit of wanting to help out their fellow Americans, that the US Treasury Departments heavily pro-Zionist OFAC asks US citizens to “consult our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to find answers to your most commonly-asked questions about how Syrian and Iranian sanctions may affect your own families and your business.”
That is unlikely to be easy given the obfuscatory legalize of the sanctions texts.
There are currently three types of sanctions that the U.S. government has imposed against Syria. The most comprehensive sanction, called the Syria Accountability Act (SAA) of 2004, prohibits the export of most goods containing more than 10% U.S.-manufactured component parts to Syria. Another sanction, resulting from the USA Patriot Act, was levied specifically against the Commercial Bank of Syria in 2006. The third type of sanction contains many Executive Orders from the President that specifically deny certain Syrian citizens and entities access to the U.S. financial system due to their participation in proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, association with Al Qaida, the Taliban or Osama bin Laden; or destabilizing activities in Iraq and Lebanon.
Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act
In May 2004, the President signed E.O. 13338 implementing the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SAA) which imposes a series of sanctions against Syria for its support for terrorism, involvement in Lebanon, weapons of mass destruction programs, and the destabilizing role it is playing in Iraq.
In addition, the Treasury Department’s Statement of Policy indicated that OFAC would consider on a case-by-case basis applications to permit certain services in the agricultural sector, as well as in the Syrian telecommunication industry, enabling private citizens better access to the Internet, while certain petroleum transactions benefiting rebel forces were also authorized. OFAC also revised Syria General License 11 and replaced it with General License 11A authorizing NGOs to engage in activities to preserve the cultural heritage of the country, including museums, historic buildings and archaeological sites.
The new lifting of sanctions, tentatively scheduled to be announced next month, will help the Assad government because international banking and trade prohibitions are expected to be reduced. At the same time, US officials are discussing with their Russian “partners” a number of proposals that would acknowledge the right of the Syrian people to choose who to support in next year’s Presidential elections without Washington insisting that Syrian President Bashar Assad step down as part of a “transition to democracy.”
In addition, the White House is telling Congressional leaders, loudly enough for all to hear, that the president’s recent waiving of restrictions on supplying arms to Syrian rebels was much more limited than depicted in mainstream media reports. In fact, the waiver—on certain portions of the Arms Export Control Act—authorizes only specific transfers to “vetted” members of the opposition and to NGOs in Syria. The defense items to be provided are described as those “necessary for the conduct of …operations inside or related to Syria, or to prevent the preparation, use, or proliferation of Syria’s chemical weapons.” Who was to be responsible for “vetting” the opposition members was not specified, nor were the particular articles detailed. But significantly the White House claims this is not a general waiver, but rather one with regard to a single specific contemplated transaction. Defense companies do not now have a blanket license to ship their wares to the Syrian opposition. This is because Section 40(g) of the Arms Export Control Act, 22 U.S.C. § 2780 (g), specifically gives the President authority to waive the provisions of the Act with respect to a specific transaction should he find that the waiver is “essential to the national security interests of the United States” and should he make the requisite report on the waiver to Congress. His determination on that finding directs the Secretary of State to make the required report to Congress.
The main opposition to White House plans to lessen the civilian targeting sanctions comes, as usual, from the US Congressional Zionist lobby. Israel’s supporters in Congress seek to prevent any lessening of US sanctions—against Iran first, and Syria second. Two days of talks are about to begin in Vienna between experts from the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) and their Iranian counterparts, who will discuss technical issues relating to Tehran’s nuclear program and international sanctions. The meeting will help lay the groundwork for the next round of diplomatic negotiations, scheduled to take place in Geneva on November 7-8, and it is anticipated that the White House will accede to EU and Russian proposals to send a reciprocal good faith response to Tehran by lifting some of the sanctions targeting Iranian civilians. Although the P5+1 and Tehran have agreed to keep the contents of their negotiations secret, the general aim of the talks has been for Iran to reduce its capacity to enrich uranium and certain other nuclear activities in return for relief from the sanctions regime, which is strangling the nation’s economy. The main hurdles include verification of any concessions Iran makes and the sequencing of any reduction in sanctions.
Signs of progress were visible earlier this week in comments made after separate talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. In a rare joint statement, both sides called the talks “very productive”—a significant departure from eleven previous meetings in recent years, all of which failed to achieve progress in resolving what the IAEA has called the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program. The new joint statement also indicates that a document discussed in past meetings has been set aside and a new approach taken.
Eager as it is for negotiations to succeed, the Obama administration has also echoed the Zionist lobby’s contention that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Yet if the talks fail, international support for sanctions will likely begin to fall apart, reducing U.S. leverage even further.
The world is watching, particularly U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, as well as regional “friends” like Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Though reportedly interested in lifting some of the sanctions on Syria and Iran, the White House is facing stiff opposition from Tel Aviv and Riyadh, with both governments criticizing the US for its lack of resolve in Syria and its presumed conciliatory attitude toward Iran.
Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly slated to continue meetings with Saudi-Israeli officials in an attempt to tamp down their growing angst.
The international crisis may be over, but the multisided war in Syria is continuing. On Friday government planes bombarded rebel positions in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor after heavy clashes claimed the life of one of President Bashar al-Assad’s top military intelligence officers. In the long-contested city of Aleppo, a renewed rebel assault on the city’s central prison has run out of steam. The Syrian Army is preparing an offensive in the Qalamoun region east of Damascus and secure the key road connecting the capital with Homs, near the border with Lebanon. Last Wednesday dozens of fighters were reported killed in clashes between the Kurdish YPG militia and al-Nusra Front jihadists in the oil-rich Hasake province in northeastern Syria.
The fighting will continue, but no strategically decisive event is on the horizon. A military stalemate is taking shape. The rebels are controlling large areas in the north and east of the country, while government forces have extended control over their strongholds in Damascus, the coastal strip, and the areas along the border with Lebanon. The capture of the town of Qusair in June and the failure of the U.S. military intervention to materialize in September have given the government a major boost, while accentuating political divisions among the rebels.
On October 16 dozens of rebel groups in southern Syria announced that they have severed links with the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, the political arm of the Free Syrian Army. Only weeks earlier several powerful rebel factions in the north of the country broke with the Coalition and declared support for the introduction of Sharia in the country. The rebels’ foreign backers are increasingly exasperated at the fighting groups’ failure to conceal their Jihadist agenda and their inability to present a coherent front. A major snag for the Obama Administration is the opposition’s reluctance to attend a peace conference in Geneva, tentatively scheduled for November 23-24 and jointly sponsored by the U.S. and Russia. The discord in opposition ranks casts serious doubts over whether any credible representatives will turn up. The Western powers and the Arab Gulf states are promising fresh assistance if they do attend, but no opposition leader seems willing to allow the possibility of a transitional government in which President Bashar al-Assad would play a role.
The rebels’ insistence on Bashar’s exclusion is unrealistic, now that the American military intervention is no longer on the cards and the Syrian government’s cooperation is essential in the process of dismantling the country’s chemical weapons arsenal. Unfortunately for the rebels, the program is proceeding smoothly and Washington is not interested in jeopardizing its success by supporting the rebels’ unreasonable demands. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced last Wednesday that its inspectors have so far visited 11 of more than 20 sites linked to the chemical weapons program. The team destroyed “critical equipment” at six sites as well as unloaded chemical weapons munitions, said the OPCW. At the same time there have been fresh calls on the rebels to provide inspectors with unhindered access. On Friday The New York Times quoted a Western diplomat as saying that “however divided the opposition might be, it would look very bad if the government was seen to be cooperating fully, while inspections were held up because of problems with the opposition.”
The U.N. peace envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, insists that the Geneva conference is needed because everyone in Syria is at military and political dead-end. “Geneva is a way out for everyone: the Americans, Russia, the Syrian regime and the opposition,” he said in a veiled warning to Bashar’s foes to get their act together. “Whoever realizes this first will benefit. Whoever does not realize it will find himself overboard, outside the political process.” The International Crisis Group (ICG), which has advocated robust U.S. engagement in the past, now says that the Syrian opposition “should develop a realistic strategy towards what remains the best hope for ending the war,” including “reaching internal consensus on workable negotiation parameters.” The Guardian, long an advocate of Western intervention, now notes that “mainstream opposition figures are alarmed at the growing success of the Syrian government’s argument that the country now faces a stark choice between Assad and al-Qaida.”
The rebels’ behavior in those areas they control has given ample credence to that argument. Cold-blooded executions of captured government soldiers have been going on for months, but the mass murder of unarmed villagers is a novelty. Proportionate to their numbers, the Christians are the main victims, as we have repeatedly warned they would be. According to Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III, more than 450,000 Christians out of a total population of 1.75 million had been displaced or left the country. Similar warnings came from Archbishop Cyril Karim of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch in the United States, who last summer led protests against the possibility of an American military strike on Syria.
Feeling abandoned by the West, Syria’s Christians are turning to Russia for protection. Tens of thousands want to apply for Russian citizenship, not in order to flee Syria but to be “under the protection of Russia if we face the threat of being physically eliminated by terrorists.” Over 50,000 Syrian Christians signed the address, including doctors, engineers, lawyers and businessmen from the Kalamoun area near Damascus. Their appeal follows President Vladimir Putin’s strong attack last July on the infringement of the rights of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world.
The United States, in the meantime, continues to supply the rebels with arms and training, directly or by proxy. The Administration is also preparing a new massive arms shipment to our good friends in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—$13 billion worth of “various munitions and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support.” This comes at a time of ongoing sabre-rattling from Gulf leaders who “threaten to stand steadfast to the cause—in spite of US ‘weakness’—determined to remake the Middle East in their authoritarian image.”
In a stern tone, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West on Wednesday not to indulge any one-sided military action against Syria amid increasing fears that Washington is preparing to put this sinister idea into practical shape in cahoots with regional puppet regimes.
In an interview with Channel One television, Putin clarified his stance on the issue, saying that only the “UN Security Council can give approval for the use of force against another state,” and warned against any such move which would be considered as an act of “aggression.”
“Any other ways to justify the use of force against another sovereign and independent state are unacceptable and cannot be qualified as anything other than aggression,” Putin said.
Yet, in a not-too-clandestine move, US Secretary of State John Kerry has formed a union with regional puppet regimes including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey and marshaled up their servile support for military action against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad with the express intention of sending Assad’s ‘regime’ straight to the morgue.
The realities on the ground clearly indicate that Washington’s former partners have been replaced by new ones in its warmongering pursuits. The vocal support of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar plus their dollar aids to those who persevere in fermenting chaos and commotion in Syria have sufficed to convince the Americans that they do not need to worry about the potentially colossal financial losses in case of a military strike as they would be taken care of. This fact, which strikes hard across the face of truth, was also reflected in the words of US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Key partners, including France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other friends in the region, have assured us of their strong support for US action,” Hagel said.
On Tuesday, the White House won backing for military action from two powerful Republicans e.g. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor.
In the midst of all this came a joint missile test by the US and Israel conducted on Tuesday in the eastern Mediterranean where they fired a missile from the sea toward the Israeli coast “to test the tracking by the country’s missile defense system.”
Strangely enough, the missile test fire was initially denied by the US. However, a statement released later by the Pentagon on Tuesday confirmed US involvement in the exercise.
Pentagon press secretary George Little told CBS that the US “provided technical assistance and support to the Israeli Missile Defense Organization flight test of a Sparrow target missile over the Mediterranean Sea.”
“The United States and Israel cooperate on a number of long-term ballistic missile defense development projects to address common challenges in the region,” added Little.
Apart from the regional allies, France seems to be a stalwart supporter of aggression against the Arab country. In Paris, French President Hollande said, “A large coalition must therefore be created on the international scale, with the United States — which will soon take its decision — (and) with Europe … and Arab countries,” Hollande said.
Mitigating all irritating doubts, he made it clear that even a no-vote by the Congress would entail no changes in France’s attitude towards Syria.
If Congress votes no, France “will take up its responsibilities by supporting the democratic opposition (in Syria) in such a way that a response is provided,” he added.
In a naked lobbying effort, three pro-Israel groups i.e. by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) urged American lawmakers on Tuesday to authorize President Barack Obama to launch an attack on Syria.
In the ADL’s statement, National Chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher and National Director Abraham Foxman said that “any nation that violates international norms and obligations which threaten the peace and security of the world must face the consequences of those dangerous acts.”
As a major beneficiary to an invasion of Syria, Tel Aviv may end up a bad loser in the eventuality of a war on Syria.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad has warned that it would lob rockets at Israel if it enters the war. A high-ranking official from Islamic Jihad told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Up until now, there has been no decision within Islamic Jihad to bomb Israel in response to an aggression on Syria. But that may happen in one circumstance: if Israel joins that war as a principal party.”
This warning aside, Israel will have to brook the ire of the entire Muslim world for partaking of the consequential chaos and for shedding the blood of innocent Muslim blood.
Despite all the intimidating techniques of the West and the lavish Zionist lobbying against the government of Syria, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not appear to want to waver an inch from his position as he says he has acquired conviction that those who fight against his government are but al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups and that he does not have the least intention of abandoning his country into the hands of those terrorists.
In an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro published on Monday, Mr. Assad said, “In the beginning, the solution should have been found through a dialogue from which political measures would have been born.”
“That is no longer the case,” he said, repeating his constant refrain that 90 percent of the opposition fighters are terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda. “The only way to cope with them is to liquidate them,” he said. “Only then will we be able to discuss political measures.”
This collective effort to bring Syria down to its knees stems to a large extent from the fact that the country has always been viewed by the West as a hotbed for dramatic changes which could be geared towards the supremacy of imperialist powers if they ever seized their grasp upon the country. It is unfortunate to note that this goal is being advanced by some regional countries harnessed by the West in the course of time.
The bipolarization of the world into the West and the Rest is not a new story and an invasion of Syria is only to be seen as a continuation of that accursed legacy which has lingered since time immemorial.
A report from CNN’s Jake Tapper has reintroduced “Benghazi-Gate” to the US media spotlight. The report claims that “dozens” of CIA operatives were on the ground in Benghazi on the night of the attack, and the CIA is going to great lengths to suppress details of them and their whereabouts being released. The report alleges that the CIA is engaged in “unprecedented” attempts to stifle employee leaks, and “intimidation” to keep the secrets of Benghazi hidden, allegedly going as far as changing the names of CIA operatives and “dispersing” them around the country.
One suspects this has a single and defined purpose – to hide the CIA’s culpability in supplying arms to known extremists in Libya and Syria. Moreover, the CNN report alludes to the CIA supplying “surface-to-air missiles” from Benghazi to rebels in Syria, but this may only be the tip of the iceberg. The report goes on to state: (my emphasis)
Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret. CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.
Since January, some CIA operatives involved in the agency’s missions in Libya, have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations,according to a source with deep inside knowledge of the agency’s workings. The goal of the questioning, according to sources, is to find out if anyone is talking to the media or Congress. It is being described as pure intimidation, with the threat that any unauthorized CIA employee who leaks information could face the end of his or her career.
Speculation on Capitol Hill has included the possibility the U.S. agencies operating in Benghazi were secretly helping to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels.
Although Saudi Arabia have recently been kindly given “the Syrian card” by the United States – with Prince Bandar once again becoming “Prince of the Jihad”; it has become common knowledge that since the onset of the Syrian crisis, it was Qatar at the forefront of supplying arms and funds to both the political and militant elements of the so-called “opposition”. This has undoubtedly included tacit support of the dominant radical elements among the plethora of brigades on the ground in Syria; with Jabhat al Nusra being the most obvious beneficiary of Qatari largesse. Earlier this year it wasreported that the CIA had been in direct “consultation” with the Qatari Monarchys’ network of arms smugglers – run primarily from the Emir’s palace in Doha. Accordingly, it seems certain that both the CIA and Qatari intelligence were involved in an operation to ship arms stockpiles from “rebels” in Libya; to the “rebels” in Syria: both varieties of which are inextricably linked to Al Qaeda affiliates and radical Salafi-Jihadi militants.
A New York Times report from 30th March 2011 reveals that the CIA had been active in Libya “for weeks”, to “gather information for [NATO] airstrikes, and to contact and ‘vet’ the rebels battling “Gaddafi’s forces”. The New York Times report also states that Obama had signed a presidential finding in the weeks previous, which gave authority to the CIA to arm and fund the rebels. Furthermore, the Independent revealed in March 2011 that Obama had requested Saudi Arabia supply arms to the Libyan militants. Obama had also given his blessing for Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to ship arms into Benghazi, urging them to supply non-US manufactured arms to avert suspicion – in violation of the No-Fly Zone and arms embargo he helped to enforce, and all in total violation of the US Constitution and International Law.
The current Libyan authorities have made little effort to disassociate themselves from reports of large-scale arms shipments bound for Syria, leaving from the port of Benghazi. As stated in a UN Security Council report; the sheer size, monetary and logistical requirement to organise such delivery would almost certainly require at least some local government knowledge and assistance, one Libyan congress-member has openly admitted as such. Moreover, in a Telegraph report from November 2011, it is noted that the post-Gaddafi Libyan military commander Abdel Hakim Belhadj – widely regarded as the former leader of Al Qaeda affiliate: the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and a lead figure in the militant uprising against Gaddafi – visited members of the Syrian opposition “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) in Turkey to discuss sending “money and weapons”, and also discussed “Libyan fighters to train troops”.
In a Fox News report from December 2012 an “International Cargo-Shipper” candidly revealed that arms shipments from Libya to Syria commenced “almost immediately after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi” (Oct 2011) and had continued on a weekly basis from multiple ports including Misrata and Benghazi. Some of the “sources” shipments were reported to be in excess of 600 tons. The report goes on to quote anonymous “sources” on the ground in Benghazi as alleging that: “Weapons and fighters were absolutely going to Syria, and the U.S. absolutely knew all about it – though most shipments have stopped since the attack on the American Consulate,”
Furthermore, an extensive UN report from the Security Council group of experts, from April 2013, also highlights the rife lawless proliferation of arms throughout Libya, and seeping beyond its borders. The report stated that arms were fueling conflicts from Syria to Mali, and arms were spreading from Libya at an “alarming rate”. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were singled out in the UN report for blatant violations of the arms embargo during the 2011 “uprising” against Gaddafi; the report revealed that multiple Qatari arms shipments had been allowed to flow into Libya with the full knowledge and acquiescence of NATO – in much the same way they have been allowed to flow into Turkey from Qatar, with Syria being the final destination.
Elements of the Libyan “military” leadership undoubtedly have strong links to former Al Qaeda affiliates, and were brought to power via Qatari largesse and special forces, CIA coordination, and a NATO airforce. Considering this, it is not hard to imagine the same actors would be willing to at least “turn a blind eye” to what has become an overt and unabated Libyan arms-smuggling route into Syria, as is once again demonstrated in this June 18th 2013 report from Reuters, titled: “The adventures of a Libyan weapons dealer in Syria:
Abdul Basit Haroun (former comander of “February 17th brigade”) says he is behind some of the biggest shipments of weapons from Libya to Syria, which he delivers on chartered flights to neighboring countries and then smuggles over the border…. A Reuters reporter was taken to an undisclosed location in Benghazi to see a container of weapons being prepared for delivery to Syria. It was stacked with boxes of ammunition, rocket launchers and various types of light and medium weapons.
Haroun says he can collect weapons from around the country and arrange for them to be delivered to the Syrian rebels because of his contacts in Libya and abroad. “They know we are sending guns to Syria,” Haroun said. “Everyone knows.” His weapon dealing activities appear to be well-known, at least in Libya’s east. Senior officials in Libya’s army and government told Reuters they backed supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition, while a member of Libya’s congress said Haroun was doing a great job of helping the Syrian rebels.
Furthermore, according to a recent New York Times report from June 29th 2013, Qatar have been carrying out arms shipments to “rebels” in Syria from Libya, since at least the same time they “stepped up efforts” to oust Colonel Gaddafi. Consequently, this can only be interpreted as Qatar commencing shipments of arms to Syria – from Benghazi – before Gaddafi had been killed, which means before October 2011.
It is highly plausible that Benghazi was indeed a CIA-run, arms “buy-back” program – with the further “possible” intent of forwarding those arms to Syria. As the State Department has confirmed, it allocated $40 million dollars for the purchase and “collection” of arms used during the conflict in Libya, including a “missing” stockpile of up to 20,000 MANPADS – which at least 15,000 are still unaccounted for. A report written by former US special forces operatives who served in Libya titled “Benghazi: the definitive report”, alleges that the “consulate” and weapons stockpile program was entirely run by John Brennan – Obama’s National Security Advisor at the time and now Director of the CIA – and outside the usual CIA chain of command with the sole purpose of “moving the stockpiled weapons to the another conflict – possibly Syria”. Furthermore, it should also be noted that several prominent US government figures (Clinton, Brennan, Patreaus, et al) were openly lobbying for that precise policy; this adds the possiblity that certain players within the government or the many factions of the Military Industrial Complex may have been acting outside of the Obama administrations specific consent – or building the logistics to fulfill such policy in the future. Thus, a possible explanation of the attack on the “consulate” – which we can now assume was a CIA operated arms cache – was the Obama administrations’ public reluctance to supply MANPADS or other specific heavy weaponry to the rebels fighting in Syria. Moreover, the authors of “Benghazi: the definitive report” claim that John Brennnan was targetting hardline Islamist militia in Libya via drone strikes and special operations, which may provide another pretext for the attack. Certain rebel factions, their regional donors, or their Libyan affiliates may have felt aggrieved and decided to act against the CIA and attempt to seize the weapons under their own volition.
The Libyan weapons route to Syria has quite possibly been ongoing since Qatari (and Western) special forces and their Libyan Al Qaeda affiliated proxies took a hold of Benghazi. In turn the shipments to Syria have gradually increased as Gaddafi’s stockpiles became available and the lawless possibilities inside Libya expanded. These developments could also explain fighters of Libyan origin representing a large percentage of foreign fighters within the oppositions ranks; with a recent study finding Libyan fighters making up over twenty percent of foreign fatalities. If Qatar were indeed coordinating arms shipments from Libya to Syria during the early stages of the Syrian crisis in 2011, and the CIA have also been “consulting” the Qatari shipments and their follow-on transit points through Turkey; then the simplistic mainstream narrative and timeline of the conflict in Syria merely erupting from the suppression of peaceful protesters, and in turn spiralling into full-blown civil-war, is again brought into doubt.
Uncovering the chain of events that led to the attack on the US “consulate”, and the variety of militia the US and its allies were arming in Libya; could in turn reveal the full extent of the Obama administrations’ support of extremist proxy-forces in Syria. Which may explain the administrations’ zealous attempts to stifle any debate or serious questioning of the events that surround Benghazi.
Source: Global Research
Wars of aggression follow. False arrests target innocent victims. Terror threats repeat. They’re strategically timed. They change the subject. They divert attention.
They fool most Americans. They do so most of the time. Here we go again. Media scoundrels march in lockstep. They regurgitate Big Lies.
On August 2, The New York Times headlined “Qaeda Messages Prompt US Terror Warning,” saying:
“The United States intercepted electronic communications this week among senior operatives of Al Qaeda, in which the terrorists discussed attacks against American interests in the Middle East and North Africa, American officials said Friday.”
“The intercepts and a subsequent analysis of them by American intelligence agencies prompted the United States to issue an unusual global travel alert to American citizens on Friday, warning of the potential for terrorist attacks by operatives of Al Qaeda and their associates beginning Sunday through the end of August.”
Al Qaeda’s a longstanding US asset. It’s used strategically as enemy and ally. Terror threats are fabricated. Bin Ladin was used as “Enemy Number One” years after he died.
Obama didn’t kill him. He was seriously ill with kidney disease. He had other illnesses. In December 2011, he died naturally. The Pakistan Observer reported it. So did BBC and Fox News.
In July 2002, The New York Times said he’s been dead for “almost six months.” He was “buried in the mountains of southeast Afghanistan.”
On August 1, 2013, The State Department headlined “Temporary Post Closures and Worldwide Travel Alert.” It’s like previous ones. They’re fake.
“The following posts normally open on Sunday will be closed” on August 3 and 4, 2013. It’s because of “increased security concerns.”
“For further information, please click on the links below. A Worldwide Travel Alert has also been issued.”
US Embassy Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
US Embassy Algiers, Algeria
US Embassy Amman, Jordan
US Embassy Baghdad, Iraq
US Consulate Basrah, Iraq
US Embassy Cairo, Egypt
US Consulate Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
US Embassy Djibouti, Djibouti
US Embassy Dhaka, Bangladesh
US Embassy Doha, Qatar
US Consulate Dubai, United Arab Emirates
US Consulate Erbil, Iraq
US Consulate Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
US Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan
US Embassy Khartoum, Sudan
US Embassy Kuwait City, Kuwait
US Embassy Manama, Bahrain
US Embassy Muscat, Oman
US Embassy Nouakchott, Mauritania
US Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
US Embassy Sana’a, Yemen
US Embassy Tripoli, Libya
According to an unnamed senior American official,”more than the usual chatter” was intercepted. Specifics were omitted. There are none. They don’t exist.
They come at Ramadan’s close. They followed Russia granting Snowden asylum. They came three days after fake Israeli/Palestinian peace talks began.
They’re during worsening economic crisis conditions. They affect growing millions. They’re when Washington threatens escalated war on Syria.
They’re at the same time administration officials try justifying institutionalized global spying. Meta-data mining is standard practice. NSA monitors everyone it targets all the time everywhere.
Russell Tice is a former Office of Naval Intelligence/Defense Intelligence Agency/NSA analyst. His career spanned 20 years.
In December 2005, he accused NSA and DIA of unconstitutionally wiretapping US citizens. He got national attention, saying:
“Everyone at NSA knew what they were doing was illegal, because it’s drilled into our heads over and over that it’s against NSA policy, that you do not do that. The choice is to speak out and get fired.”
On August 1, he was interviewed on PBS’ News Hour. He said NSA collects “everything.” It accumulates content “word for word, everything of every domestic communication in this country.”
Every phone call, email, and other personal communication is gathered and stored. Nothing escapes its scrutiny. It lies claiming otherwise. Meta-data collection is official policy. It’s longstanding. It’s done with technological ease.
Earlier he said NSA “targets, sucks-in, stores and analyzes illegally obtained content from the masses in the United States.”
Elected officials are monitored. So are federal judges. Candidate Obama’s phone was tapped. His private emails were read.
Public awareness grows. Fearmongering diverts attention. False flags shift attention from what matters. Administration officials take full advantage.
On August 2, Russia Today headlined “US issues global travel alert over al-Qaeda attack threat,” saying:
It “warn(ed) US citizens about the ‘continued potential for terrorist attacks’ in the Middle East and North Africa.”
It comes weeks ahead of the 12th 9/11 anniversary. It’s also the Benghazi, Libya first anniversary.
The travel alert remains throughout August. The State Department “alert(ed) US citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa and possibly occurring and emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.”
“Current information suggest that al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorists attacks booth in the region and beyond and they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”
Americans were warned about potential dangers on subways, air travel, railways, ships, other forms of public transportation, and prime tourist sites.
Media scoundrels regurgitate fearmongering. They do it ad nauseam. On August 3, CNN headlined “US issues global travel alert, to close embassies due to al Qaeda threat.”
Embassy closings and travel alert warning remain in place. Britain and Germany said they’ll “close their embassies in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, on Sunday and Monday. The UK Foreign Office said it was a precautionary measure.”
An unnamed US senior official in Yemen called the threat there “much worse than it has (been) in a long time.”
According to other unnamed US officials:
“Various Western targets – not just those tied to the United States -are under threat.”
Former US ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said:
“There have been incidents where they’ve closed down a number of embassies in the Middle East because the information is not specific enough to say that ‘embassy X’ got to be closed as opposed to other embassies.”
“But I think this, closing all of these embassies in the Middle East to North Africa, is in fact unprecedented. At least, I didn’t see this during my career.”
Unsubstantiated fearmongering lacks credibility. The usual “experts” hype it. US broadcasters and cable channels feature them. So do major broadsheets.
Notable past terror attacks were false flags. Perhaps Obama has another one in mind. Perhaps multiple ones. Maybe something major.
Last April’s Boston Marathon bombing was a black ops scheme. It was state-sponsored terrorism. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were set up. They were innocent patsies.
They had nothing to do with it. Police murdered Tamerlan in cold blood. Dzhokhar faces longterm hard time.
The FBI bears responsibility for US terror plots. So does CIA. It’s longstanding policy. Post-9/11, it escalated.
Bush declared war on terrorism. Obama continues what he began. Washington needs enemies. When none exist, they’re invented.
Muslims are America’s target of choice. Innocent victims are entrapped. Doing so lets FBI operatives claim fabricated war on terror victories.
It lets NSA officials saying spying uncovers plots before they hatch. It lets America get away with murder. It does so on a global scale.
Lies, damn lies, and repeated lies facilitate state sponsored terrorism. It remains ongoing. Lots more is planned. America’s waging war on humanity. It’s longstanding US policy.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Palestine, Professor Richard Falk, came to Lebanon last week on an unofficial visit to survey opinion while fact finding the condition in Palestinian refugee’s camps.
It was the Professors first visit to Lebanon since the fateful summer of 1982. Back then, en route by sea to Beirut, which was under Israeli siege and blockade, Falk was Vice-Chair of the Sean McBride Commission of Inquiry into Israeli crimes against Lebanon. Mid –way between Cyprus and Lebanon, the Zionist navy, in a blatant act of piracy on the high seas, intercepted, circled and demanded the passenger list from the vessel.
Eventually, under reported American pressure via US Envoy Morris Draper’s telephoned profanity to Tel Aviv, the pirates allowed Falk’s delegation to disembark at the port of Jounieh, just north of Beirut. Draper, who like so many US diplomats, claims he finally “saw the light after retiring”, told this observer that “I never swore so much in my life as I did at those SOBS during that summer of 1982 and after I learned the details of Ariel Sharon’s choreography of the Sabra-Shatila massacre!” Ambassador Draper added, “The world will never know the extent of Israeli crimes committed against Lebanon and its refugees until Washington threatens to cut off all aid until Tel Aviv opens up its archives on this period.”
Professor Falk, as he mentioned during several events here, including a first-rate conference on the status of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and their struggle for the most elementary civil rights to work and to own a home, organized by the Institute of Palestine Studies, came to Lebanon not to offer counsel to Lebanon’s sects or even to the Palestinians. (The IPS, (http://www.palestine-studies.org) founded in 1969, is considered by this observer and many others, as the most reliable and authoritative source of information on Palestinian affairs and the Arab-Israel conflict.)
Falk came to listen and to learn. He did both. He listened intently to each speaker, scribing hurried notes regarding the current conditions of Palestinian refugee, including education and health status, in Lebanon’s 12 camps and two dozen “gatherings,” reports that were presented by several academics and NGO’s based here.
Falk and others in attendance at the briefings found the findings sobering and alarming. They included but are not limited to, the following.
There are currently 42,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria who have been forced into Lebanon as a result of the crisis in Syria. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – UNRWA -reported to the IPS workshop, that they expect 80,000 Palestinians by the end of the year. Others estimate the December 2013 number will exceed 100,000. According to figures, forwarded to Professor Falk by the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, supplied by refugee camp committees, approximately 6,000 Palestinians who fled Syria remain in Lebanon’s Bekaa |Valley, close to the Syrian borders, in two main gatherings, al-Jalil (4,216 refugees) and central Bekaa (2,352). In the North, Baddawi camp hosts 4,116 and Nahr al Bared 2,016. In Beirut, Burj al-Barajneh camp hosts 2,928 additional refugees from Syria, Shatila and the surrounding areas 2,800, and Mar Elias 862. In the South, 8,549 refugees arrived to Ain al-Hilweh and 2,400 are dispersed around Saida. Mieh Mieh camp hosts 1,512, with an additional 2,160 in Wadi al-Zaineh. Further south to Tyre, Palestinian refugees from Syria are distributed among Shabriha (184), Rashidieh (1,370), Al Bass (478), Burj al-Shemali (2,800), Qasimiyeh (372), and Jal al-Bahr (128).
Falk knew, before gracing Lebanon with his visit, that UNWRA is basically out of money and cannot continue to meet its mandate for aiding Lebanon’s Palestinians even less those arriving from Syria at the rate of more than two dozen families per day. On 5/5/13, the popular committee representative at Jalil Camp near Baalbec reported that they receive on average 8 additional families per day, with dozens now living in the Jalil camp cemetery.
Palestinian children in Lebanon, Falk was advised, unfortunately provide textbook examples of the fact of life that it is difficult to concentrate on school when ones stomach is growling with hunger. And it’s even harder to stay in school when there’s even a remote chance to work odd jobs and earn money for food – something education doesn’t immediately offer. One new local initiative is the Meals for Schools, whose organizers hope serve food to impoverished schoolchildren in Lebanese slum areas. One idea is to give coupons for meals to schools. Unfortunately the scope will not include Palestinian children “at this time due to limited funding”, according to one AUB student hoping to help children stay in school by helping them to have breakfasts.
Palestinian refugee children have limited access to the public educational system in Lebanon. Only 11 per cent these “foreign” children can access free public education in Lebanon while most refugees can’t afford the high tuition fees of private schools. Palestinian refugees who attend one of the 58 UNRWA begin at age seven since UNWRA cannot afford pre-school level education. Consequently, for Palestinians here, while the elementary sector comprises more than 60% of students, the number drops to 28% in intermediate and only 10% at the secondary level. While the attendance rate for 7 year olds is 98.6%, by the time they reach age 11 attendance falls to 93.4%. But from this level, the primary level school completion rate cascades to only 37%, due to astronomical dropout rates. The above figures reveal that Palestinian education levels have been indeed progressively dropping in recent years. This is further supported by the passing rate in the Brevet Official exams (official diploma qualifying entry into secondary) which was in some schools as low as 13.6% in some schools according to the UNRWA results of Brevet exams, despite the average passing rate in UNRWA schools being 43% for the 2009-10 academic year.
Professor Falk was briefed on myriad realities including the fact that Palestinians camps in Lebanon remain sites of control and surveillance by the Lebanese Army. People’s mobility and access to construction materials have been restricted by the army check points at the entrance of camps. Palestinian refugees are forbidden by law – since 2001 – to own or inherit real estate in Lebanon; consequently when a Palestinian dies, even if she or he inherited property between 1948-2001, before a wave of revenge led to the 2001 racist law, the property goes to Sunni Muslim Dar al-Fatwa one of the richest real estate holding entities in Lebanon. Accused of deep corruption by some, their leadership has a history of opposing full civil rights for Palestinian refugees here remain opposed to home ownership.
The UN’s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, reported this week that seven million people need humanitarian assistance in Syria. “The needs are growing rapidly and are most severe in the conflict and opposition-controlled areas” of the civil-war ravaged country, the global body’s humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the U.N. Security Council. Amos cited data showing there are 6.8 million people in need — out of a total population of 20.8 million — along with 4.25 million people internally displaced and an additional 1.3 million who have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
Falk was briefed on most recent household surveys of Palestinian refugees carried out by the American University of Beirut which show that two thirds of Palestine refugees are poor. The extreme poverty rate in camps (7.9%) is almost twice of that observed in gatherings (4.2%). The study also developed a Deprivation Index based on components of welfare which included components such as good health, food security, and adequate education, access to stable employment, decent housing, and ownership of essential household assets. The Deprivation Index showed that 40% of Palestine Refugees living in Lebanon are deprived. The study reported that 56% of refugees are jobless and only 37% of the working age population is employed (Hanafi et al. 2012). It is unsurprising that the poor socio-economic situation often encourages students to leave school to get a paid job.
Despite the importance of education fewer Palestinian refugee students are actually interested in continuing their higher education. Lack of motivation to learn, is believed to be one of the main reasons for the high dropout rates. Palestinian refugees’ access to Lebanon’s public university is limited by their status as foreigners, and their access to private universities is restricted by a lack of resources to pay tuition fees (Hroub, 2012).
The old cliché that stated that “The Palestinians are the most educated Arab nation”, is just a myth today. This educational hemorrhage among young Palestinians has been attributed to a number of factors such as the deteriorating socio-economic conditions amongst Palestinian refugees and the growing disillusionment with schooling and the benefits it brings. Palestinian students also suffer from an education acculturation as they are forced to learn only the Lebanese curriculum without being able to access the country’s system. The following section examines these three main challenges.
Statistics indicate that just under half of the classrooms in public schools have less than 15 students per class while 20 % are overcrowded with 26 to 35 students per class. However, in UNRWA schools, the average number of students per classroom is 30 making them the most crowded classrooms in Lebanon.
With respect to the UN refugee agency, (UNHCR) the current situation in both Syria and among the more than 450,000 Syrian in Lebanon is only marginally better than the conditions of arriving Palestinians. As Maeve Murphy, UNHCR’s Senior Field Coordinator in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, explained to this observer and others during a visit on 5/5/13, near the Nicolas Khoury Center in Zahle, Lebanon, amidst sea of hundreds of Syrians, some waiting for three months or longer just to get registered, the UN refugee agency is also unable to meet its mandate for the same reason as UNRWA and the World Food Program and others. Ms. Murphy reported that over 453,000 Syrians have either registered with the U.N. agency or are waiting to register. An additional several hundred thousand people are thought to be refugees but haven’t approached the U.N.
Complicating the desperate situation of Palestinian and Syrian refugees seeking sanctuary in Lebanon is the fact that millions of Syrian refugees face food rationing and cutbacks to critical medical programs because oil-rich Gulf states have failed to deliver the funding they promised for emergency humanitarian aid, an investigation by James Cusick for The Independent on Sunday has found. Pledges for $ 650 minion in donations from various sources including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, made during the January 2013, Kuwait UN emergency conference, have yet to materialize.
The World Food Program (WFP), the food aid arm of the UN, says it is spending $19m a week to feed 2.5 million refugees inside Syria and a further 1.5 million who have fled to official camps in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. By July, the WFP says, there is no guarantee that its work on the Syrian crisis can continue. A spokesman told the UK Independent, “We are already in a hand-to-mouth situation. Beyond mid-June – who knows?”
The emergency conference in Kuwait – hosted by the Emir of Kuwait and chaired by Mr Ban Ki Moon – promised to bring a “message of hope” to the four million Syrian refugees. Mr Ban proclaimed the outcome a shining example of “global solidarity in action”. The reality has been markedly different. Oxfam recently issued an appeal: “The League of Arab States must urge all Arab countries that have pledged to the Syrian crisis, to be transparent and to share information about their commitments, and mechanisms for fulfilling their pledges.”
Mousab Kerwat, Islamic Relief’s Middle East institutional funding manager, said: “It’s better for countries to stay away from donor conferences than to attend and make pledges they don’t intent to keep. As a minimum, they should communicate where their pledges have gone in a transparent process.
If Professor Falk was weary as he left Lebanon from all the data, visits, and wrenching experiences he was presented with, it would be understandable. But the humanitarian and scholar he showed no signs of fatigue but rather appeared to be energized by the experience. Given his history as a supporter of resistance to occupation and oppression, Richard Falk’s assurances that he will continue his work armed with the above sampling of data offers new hope for Palestinian and Syrian refugees from Syria and to those who support their Right and Responsibility to Return to Palestine.
Take Pentagon head Chuck Hagel’s tour of Israel and the “friendly” GCC (the de facto Gulf Counter-revolution Club) last week. US defense contractors had the Moet flowing as Hagel merrily congregated with that prodigy of democracy – United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed – to celebrate the sale of 25 F-16 fighter jets.
There’s more on the way; 48 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD missile interceptors, at a cool US$1 billion. The Pentagon is sending one of its only two of such systems to Guam this month to counter that other threat – missiles from North Korea.
The weaponizing free fest to Israel and the Gulf petro-monarchies – missile defense, fighter jets, mega-bombs – could not but be duly hailed as the proverbial “message” to “counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions”, or “the air and missile threat posed by Iran”, or the general “worry about Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon” or “Washington’s determination to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
There’s no “red line” here; just hardcore weaponizing of Israel and the GCC. Any doubts, blame it on Iran. And this while Saudi-controlled media in the Middle East – roughly everything except al-Jazeera – was breathlessly spinning that Tel Aviv is pursuing a deal to use Turkish soil for an attack on Iran.
Wait; there’s more weaponizing on the way – bound to neighboring latitudes. Kraus-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) from Germany closed another $2.48 billion deal with Qatar – five years in the making – to deliver 62 Leopard 2 tanks and 24 self-propelled howitzers. Qatar is not exactly using them for the 2022 FIFA World Cup; they are bound to “friendly groups in other countries” – as in Syria’s “rebels”, via Turkey.
Ask the Nenets
Now take the Syria chemical weapons charade. The White House now seems to be convinced that the CIA believes, with “varying degrees of confidence”, that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons. Secretary of State John Kerry – an “intervention” cheerleader posing as a dove – was already convinced.
But then Hagel said, “Suspicions are one thing; evidence is another.” Just to flip-flop a little while later, during his visit to Israel, he became convinced Bashar al-Assad was using sarin gas. Of course; after all, Hagel finally had unimpeded access to Israeli – not US – intel.
And now for the beauty of Hagel’s marketing; what about embarking as a traveling salesman to “our bastards” with a sales pitch of ” Look, Iran and Syria are both crazy, you might consider stacking up on this, this and this.”
The Nenets of Siberia – crossing the Ob river to enter the Arctic Circle – could teach a thing or two about real strategy to those limping armchair warriors in US Think Tankland. Even the Nenets would know that the current chemical weapons hysteria is a total fabrication by the CIA, MI6 and Israeli intelligence – corroborated by zero evidence. Still, the prevailing Washington “wisdom” is that a “red line” must be enforced over Syria so a “red line” must be enforced on Iran.
The fact is that the al-Assad government initially accused the “rebels” of using chemical weapons – and asked the United Nations for an official investigation.
Even the New York Times was forced, grudgingly, to admit the “rebels” acknowledged an attack happened in territory controlled by the government, with 16 Syrian Army dead, plus 10 civilians and over a hundred injured. But then the “rebels” changed the narrative, blaming Damascus of bombing their own soldiers. It was Moscow that introduced a measure of reality, detailing how Washington was stalling the UN investigation.
Our Nenets of Siberia would also know there’s hardly anything secular leading the “rebels” in Syria; it’s a motley crew of varying degrees of fanaticism. Once again, the Nenets would not need to freeze to death reading the New York Times to find out that the CIA is “secretly” funneling a free for all weaponizing to the “rebels” via Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Still the Obama administration peddles the fiction that Washington only supplies “non lethal” aid as Capitol Hill nutters keep insisting that Obama install a “no fly zone” over Syria – as in Libya-style NATO war remix.
Follow-on strike package, anyone?
US Think Tankland nonetheless is ecstatic that the GCC petro-monarchies now have access to precision-guided munitions to “strike Iranian targets”.
But nothing compares to the cheerleading of Israel’s new access to KC-135 aerial refueling tankers – or Stratotankers. Then there’s the imminent transfer of anti-radiation missiles as well – advanced versions of the AGM-88 HARM missiles. These toys will “reduce the threat to Israel’s follow-on strike package.”
No, this is not exactly about “US circumspection”, or “US resolve in the campaign against Iranian nuclear weapons”; it’s unqualified Dog of War barking.
Meanwhile, that police state run by King Playstation, also known as Jordan, has opened its airspace to Israeli drones now engaged in “monitoring” Syria.
As Asia Times Online has repeatedly warned, Obama in Syria is fast becoming a remix of Reagan in 1980s Afghanistan. We all know what came out of those “freedom fighters” afterwards. In this context, Robert Ford, Obama’s alleged Syria expert, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it’s important for Washington to “weigh in” to affect “the internal balance of power in Syria” qualifies as a joke line, not a red line.
There’s wild speculation that after the Boston bombing Obama and Russia’s Vladimir Putin made a deal; Washington lets Moscow do whatever it wants in Chechnya like, forever, but gets a nod to install a “no-fly zone” and further mayhem in Syria. There’s no evidence to that. What a geopolitically savvy Putin wants to know is what does he get out of Syria in practical terms (and Obama does not have a clue). Crumbs from a NATO banquet don’t apply.
As for allowing Syria to become a “Western-friendly” Wahhabi emirate or yet another failed Muslim Brotherhood fiefdom, one needs to go no further than Hezbollah’s Sheikh Nasrallah … “the goal of anyone standing behind the war in Syria, is destroying Syria so that a strong, centralized state would not be established in it, and so that it would become too weak to take decisions related to its oil, sea, or borders.”
Now that’s what a red line is all about.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Asia Times
Apparently, it’s a no-brainer. Mali holds 15.8 million people – with a per capita gross domestic product of only around US$1,000 a year and average life expectancy of only 51 years – in a territory twice the size of France (per capital GDP $35,000 and upwards). Now almost two-thirds of this territory is occupied by heavily weaponized Islamist outfits. What next? Bomb, baby, bomb.
So welcome to the latest African war; Chad-based French Mirages and Gazelle helicopters, plus a smatter of France-based
Rafales bombing evil Islamist jihadis in northern Mali. Business is good; French president Francois Hollande spent this past Tuesday in Abu Dhabi clinching the sale of up to 60 Rafales to that Gulf paragon of democracy, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The formerly wimpy Hollande – now enjoying his “resolute”, “determined”, tough guy image reconversion – has cleverly sold all this as incinerating Islamists in the savannah before they take a one-way Bamako-Paris flight to bomb the Eiffel Tower.
French Special Forces have been on the ground in Mali since early 2012.
The Tuareg-led NMLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), via one of its leaders, now says it’s “ready to help” the former colonial power, billing itself as more knowledgeable about the culture and the terrain than future intervening forces from the CEDEAO (the acronym in French for the Economic Community of Western African States).
Salafi-jihadis in Mali have got a huge problem: they chose the wrong battlefield. If this was Syria, they would have been showered by now with weapons, logistical bases, a London-based “observatory”, hours of YouTube videos and all-out diplomatic support by the usual suspects of US, Britain, Turkey, the Gulf petromonarchies and – oui, monsieur – France itself.
Instead, they were slammed by the UN Security Council – faster than a collection of Marvel heroes – duly authorizing a war against them. Their West African neighbors – part of the ECOWAS regional bloc – were given a deadline (late November) to come up with a war plan. This being Africa, nothing happened – and the Islamists kept advancing until a week ago Paris decided to apply some Hollandaise sauce.
Not even a football stadium filled with the best West African shamans can conjure a bunch of disparate – and impoverished – countries to organize an intervening army in short notice, even if the adventure will be fully paid by the West just like the Uganda-led army fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia.
To top it all, this is no cakewalk. The Salafi-jihadis are flush, courtesy of booming cocaine smuggling from South America to Europe via Mali, plus human trafficking. According to the UN Office of Drugs Control, 60% of Europe’s cocaine transits Mali. At Paris street prices, that is worth over $11 billion.
General Carter Ham, the commander of the Pentagon’s AFRICOM, has been warning about a major crisis for months. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. But what’s really going on in what the New York Times quaintly describes as those “vast and turbulent stretches of the Sahara”?
It all started with a military coup in March 2012, only one month before Mali would hold a presidential election, ousting then president Amadou Toumani Toure. The coup plotters justified it as a response to the government’s incompetence in fighting the Tuareg.
The coup leader was one Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who happened to have been very cozy with the Pentagon; that included his four-month infantry officer basic training course in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2010. Essentially, Sanogo was also groomed by AFRICOM, under a regional scheme mixing the State Department’s Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership program and the Pentagon’s Operation Enduring Freedom. It goes without saying that in all this “freedom” business Mali has been the proverbial “steady ally” – as in counterterrorism partner – fighting (at least in thesis) al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Over the last few years, Washington’s game has elevated flip-flopping to high art. During the second George W Bush administration, Special Forces were very active side by side with the Tuaregs and the Algerians. During the first Obama administration, they started backing the Mali government against the Tuareg.
An unsuspecting public may pore over Rupert Murdoch’s papers – for instance, The Times of London – and its so-called defense correspondent will be pontificating at will on Mali without ever talking about blowback from the Libya war.
Muammar Gaddafi always supported the Tuaregs’ independence drive; since the 1960s the NMLA agenda has been to liberate Azawad (North Mali) from the central government in Bamako.
After the March 2012 coup, the NMLA seemed to be on top. They planted their own flag on quite a few government buildings, and on April 5 announced the creation of a new, independent Tuareg country. The “international community” spurned them, only for a few months later to have the NMLA for all practical purposes marginalized, even in their own region, by three other – Islamist – groups; Ansar ed-Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”); the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO); and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Meet the players
The NMLA is a secular Tuareg movement, created in October 2011. It claims that the liberation of Azawad will allow better integration – and development – for all the peoples in the region. Its hardcore fighters are Tuaregs who were former members of Gaddafi’s army. But there are also rebels who had not laid down their arms after the 2007-2008 Tuareg rebellion, and some that defected from the Malian army. Those who came back to Mali after Gaddafi was executed by the NATO rebels in Libya carried plenty of weapons. Yet most heavy weapons actually ended up with the NATO rebels themselves, the Islamists supported by the West.
AQIM is the Northern African branch of al-Qaeda, pledging allegiance to “The Doctor”, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Its two crucial characters are Abu Zaid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, former members of the ultra-hardcore Algerian Islamist outfit Salafist Group for Predication and Combat (SGPC). Belmokhtar was already a jihadi in 1980s Afghanistan.
Abu Zaid poses as a sort of North African “Geronimo”, aka Osama bin Laden, with the requisite black flag and a strategically positioned Kalashnikov featuring prominently in his videos. The historical leader, though, is Belmokhtar. The problem is that Belmokhtar, known by French intelligence as “The Uncatchable”, has recently joined MUJAO.
MUJAO fighters are all former AQIM. In June 2012, MUJAO expelled the NMLA and took over the city of Gao, when it immediately applied the worst aspects of Sharia law. It’s the MUJAO base that has been bombed by the French Rafales this week. One of its spokesmen has duly threatened, “in the name of Allah”, to respond by attacking “the heart of France”.
Finally, Ansar ed-Dine is an Islamist Tuareg outfit, set up last year and directed by Iyad ag Ghali, a former leader of the NMLA who exiled himself in Libya. He turned to Salafism because of – inevitably – Pakistani proselytizers let loose in Northern Africa, then engaged in valuable face time with plenty of AQIM emirs. It’s interesting to note in 2007 Mali President Toure appointed Ghali as consul in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia. He was then duly expelled in 2010 because he got too close to radical Islamists.
Gimme ‘a little more terrorism’
No one in the West is asking why the Pentagon-friendly Sanogo’s military coup in the capital ended up with almost two-thirds of Mali in the hands of Islamists who imposed hardcore Sharia law in Azawad – especially in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, a gruesome catalogue of summary executions, amputations, stonings and the destruction of holy shrines in Timbuktu. How come the latest Tuareg rebellion ended up hijacked by a few hundred hardcore Islamists? It’s useless to ask the question to US drones.
The official “leading from behind” Obama 2.0 administration rhetoric is, in a sense, futuristic; the French bombing “could rally jihadis” around the world and lead to – what else – attacks on the West. Once again the good ol’ Global War on Terror (GWOT) remains the serpent biting its own tail.
There’s no way to understand Mali without examining what Algeria has been up to. The Algerian newspaper El Khabar only scratched the surface, noting that “from categorically refusing an intervention – saying to the people in the region it would be dangerous”, Algiers went to “open Algerian skies to the French Mirages”.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Algeria last October, trying to organize some semblance of an intervening West African army. Hollande was there in December. Oh yes, this gets juicier by the month.
So let’s turn to Professor Jeremy Keenan, from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at London University, and author of The Dark Sahara (Pluto Press, 2009) and the upcomingThe Dying Sahara (Pluto Press, 2013).
Writing in the January edition of New African, Keenan stresses, “Libya was the catalyst of the Azawad rebellion, not its underlying cause. Rather, the catastrophe now being played out in Mali is the inevitable outcome of the way in which the ‘Global War on Terror’ has been inserted into the Sahara-Sahel by the US, in concert with Algerian intelligence operatives, since 2002.”
In a nutshell, Bush and the regime in Algiers both needed, as Keenan points out, “a little more terrorism” in the region. Algiers wanted it as the means to get more high-tech weapons. And Bush – or the neo-cons behind him – wanted it to launch the Saharan front of the GWOT, as in the militarization of Africa as the top strategy to control more energy resources, especially oil, thus wining the competition against massive Chinese investment. This is the underlying logic that led to the creation of AFRICOM in 2008.
Algerian intelligence, Washington and the Europeans duly used AQIM, infiltrating its leadership to extract that “little more terrorism”. Meanwhile, Algerian intelligence effectively configured the Tuaregs as “terrorists”; the perfect pretext for Bush’s Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative, as well as the Pentagon’s Operation Flintlock – a trans-Sahara military exercise.
The Tuaregs always scared the hell out of Algerians, who could not even imagine the success of a Tuareg nationalist movement in northern Mali. After all, Algeria always viewed the whole region as its own backyard.
The Tuaregs – the indigenous population of the central Sahara and the Sahel – number up to 3 million. Over 800,000 live in Mali, followed by Niger, with smaller concentrations in Algeria, Burkina Faso and Libya. There have been no less than five Tuareg rebellions in Mali since independence in 1960, plus three others in Niger, and a lot of turbulence in Algeria.
Keenan’s analysis is absolutely correct in identifying what happened all along 2012 as the Algerians meticulously destroying the credibility and the political drive of the NMLA. Follow the money: both Ansar ed-Dine’s Iyad ag Ghaly and MUJAO’s Sultan Ould Badi are very cozy with the DRS, the Algerian intelligence agency. Both groups in the beginning had only a few members.
Then came a tsunami of AQIM fighters. That’s the only explanation for why the NMLA was, after only a few months, neutralized both politically and militarily in their own backyard.
Round up the usual freedom fighters
Washington’s “leading from behind” position is illustrated by this State Department press conference. Essentially, the government in Bamako asked for the French to get down and dirty.
And that’s it.
Not really. Anyone who thinks “bomb al-Qaeda” is all there is to Mali must be living in Oz. To start with, using hardcore Islamists to suffocate an indigenous independence movement comes straight from the historic CIA/Pentagon playbook.
Moreover, Mali is crucial to AFRICOM and to the Pentagon’s overall MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) outlook. Months before 9/11 I had the privilege to crisscross Mali on the road – and by the (Niger) river – and hang out, especially in Mopti and Timbuktu, with the awesome Tuaregs, who gave me a crash course in Northwest Africa. I saw Wahhabi and Pakistani preachers all over the place. I saw the Tuaregs progressively squeezed out. I saw an Afghanistan in the making. And it was not very hard to follow the money sipping tea in the Sahara. Mali borders Algeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Guinea. The spectacular Inner Niger delta is in central Mali – just south of the Sahara. Mali overflows with gold, uranium, bauxite, iron, manganese, tin and copper. And – Pipelineistan beckons! – there’s plenty of unexplored oil in northern Mali.
As early as February 2008, Vice Admiral Robert T Moeller wassaying that AFRICOM’s mission was to protect “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market”; yes, he did make the crucial connection to China, pronounced guilty of ” challenging US interests”.
AFRICOM’s spy planes have been “observing” Mali, Mauritania and the Sahara for months, in thesis looking for AQIM fighters; the whole thing is overseen by US Special Forces, part of the classified, code-named Creek Sand operation, based in next-door Burkina Faso. Forget about spotting any Americans; these are – what else – contractors who do not wear military uniforms.
Last month, at Brown University, General Carter Ham, AFRICOM’s commander, once more gave a big push to the “mission to advance US security interests across Africa”. Now it’s all about the – updated – US National Security Strategy in Africa, signed by Obama in June 2012. The (conveniently vague) objectives of this strategy are to “strengthen democratic institutions”; encourage “economic growth, trade and investment”; “advance peace and security”; and “promote opportunity and development.”
In practice, it’s Western militarization (with Washington “leading from behind”) versus the ongoing Chinese seduction/investment drive in Africa. In Mali, the ideal Washington scenario would be a Sudan remix; just like the recent partition of North and South Sudan, which created an extra logistical headache for Beijing, why not a partition of Mali to better exploit its natural wealth? By the way, Mali was known as Western Sudan until independence in 1960.
Already in early December a “multinational” war in Mali was on the Pentagon cards.
The beauty of it is that even with a Western-financed, Pentagon-supported, “multinational” proxy army about to get into the action, it’s the French who are pouring the lethal Hollandaise sauce (nothing like an ex-colony “in trouble” to whet the appetite of its former masters). The Pentagon can always keep using its discreet P-3 spy planes and Global Hawk drones based in Europe, and later on transport West African troops and give them aerial cover. But all secret, and very hush hush.
Mr Quagmire has already reared its ugly head in record time, even before the 1,400 (and counting) French boots on the ground went into offense.
A MUJAO commando team (and not AQIM, as it’s been reported), led by who else but the “uncatchable” Belmokhtar, hit a gas field in the middle of the Algerian Sahara desert, over 1,000 km south of Algiers but only 100 km from the Libyan border, where they captured a bunch of Western (and some Japanese) hostages; a rescue operation launched on Wednesday by Algerian Special Forces was, to put it mildly, a giant mess, with at least seven foreign hostages and 23 Algerians so far confirmed killed.
The gas field is being exploited by BP, Statoil and Sonatrach. MUJAO has denounced – what else – the new French “crusade” and the fact that French fighter jets now own Algerian airspace.
As blowback goes, this is just the hors d’oeuvres. And it won’t be confined to Mali. It will convulse Algeria and soon Niger, the source of over a third of the uranium in French nuclear power plants, and the whole Sahara-Sahel.
So this new, brewing mega-Afghanistan in Africa will be good for French neoloconial interests (even though Hollande insists this is all about “peace”); good for AFRICOM; a boost for those Jihadis Formerly Known as NATO Rebels; and certainly good for the never-ending Global War on Terror (GWOT), duly renamed “kinetic military operations”.
Django, unchained, would be totally at home. As for the Oscar for Best Song, it goes to the Bush-Obama continuum: There’s no business like terror business. With French subtitles, bien sur.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most recent book is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at email@example.com
Source: Asia Times Online
Once upon a time, early in the previous century, a line in the sand was drawn, from Acre to Kirkuk. Two colonial powers — Britain and France — nonchalantly divided the Middle East between themselves; everything north of the line in the sand was France’s; south, it was Britain’s.
Many blowbacks — and concentric tragedies — later, a new line in the sand is being drawn by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Between Syria and Iraq, they want it all. Talk about the return of the repressed; now, as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-Gulf Cooperation Council compound, they’re in bed with their former colonial masters.
Blow by blow
No matter what militarized Western corporate media spins, there’s no endgame in Syria — yet. On the contrary; the sectarian game is just beginning.
It’s 1980s Afghanistan all over again. The over 100 heavily armed gangs engaged in civil war in Syria are overflowing with Gulf Cooperation Council funds financing their Russian RPGs bought on the black market. Salafi-jihadis cross into Syria in droves — not only from Iraq but also Kuwait, Algeria, Tunisia and Pakistan, following enraged calls by their imams. Kidnapping, raping and slaughtering pro-Assad regime civilians is becoming the law of the land.
They go after Christians with a vengeance. They force Iraqi exiles in Damascus to leave, especially those settled in Sayyida Zainab, the predominantly Shi’ite neighborhood named after Prophet Muhammad’s grand-daughter, buried in the beautiful local mosque. The BBC, to its credit, at least followed the story.
They perform summary executions; Iraq’s deputy interior minister Adnan al-Assadi told AFP how Iraqi border guards saw the Free Syrian Army (FSA) take control of a border outpost and then “executed 22 Syrian soldiers in front of the eyes of Iraqi soldiers”.
The Bab al-Hawa crossing between Syria and Turkey was overrun by no less than 150 multinational self-described mujahideen — coming from Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Chechnya, and even France, many proclaiming their allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
They burned a lot of Turkish trucks. They shot their own promo video. They paraded their al-Qaeda flag. And they declared the whole border area an Islamic state.
Hand over your terrorist ID
There’s no way to understand the Syrian dynamics without learning that most FSA commanders are not Syrians, but Iraqi Sunnis. The FSA could only capture the Abu Kamal border crossing between Syria and Iraq because the whole area is controlled by Sunni tribes viscerally antagonistic towards the al-Maliki government in Baghdad. The free flow of mujahideen, hardcore jihadis and weapons between Iraq and Syria is now more than established.
The idea of the Arab League — behaving as NATO-GCC’s fully robed spokesman — offering exile to Bashar al-Assad may be as ridiculous as the notion of the CIA supervising which mujahideen and jihadi outfits may have access to the weapons financed by Qatar and the Saudis.
At first, it might have been just a bad joke. After all, the exile offer came from those exact same paragons of democracy, the House of Saud and Qatar, who control the Arab League and are financing the mujahideen and the anti-Syria jihad.
Baghdad, though, publicly condemned the exile offer. And the aftermath — in fact on the same day — was worthy of The Joker (yes, Batman’s foe); a wave of anti-Shi’ite bombings in Iraq, with over 100 people dead, duly claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq, al-Qaeda’s local franchise. Spokesman Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi energetically urged the Sunni tribes in Anbar and Nineveh to join the jihad and topple the “infidel” government in Baghdad.
The mujahideen/jihadi back and forth between Syria and Iraq has been more than confirmed by Izzat al-Shahbandar, a senior member of Iraq’s Parliament and close aide to Prime Minister al-Maliki. Baghdad even has updated lists. The crossover could only spawn more frenetic Orwellian newspeak, nailed by the website Moon of Alabama.
Mujahideen and jihadis active in Iraq are now “Iraqi insurgents”. And mujahideen and jihadis active in Syria remain the usual “Syrian rebels”. They have been all decommissioned as “terrorists”. Under this logic, the Colorado Batman shooter may also be described as an “insurgent”.
Follow the money
As it stands, the romanticized Syrian “rebels” plus the insurgents formerly known as terrorists cannot win against the Syria military — not even with the Saudis and Qataris showering them with loads of cash and weapons.
Nor is there any evidence the regime is contemplating a retreat to the Alawite mountains in northern Syria, as evoked by this collective foreign policy blog discussion. After all, the “rebels” do not control any territory.
What’s certain is who would profit from Syria being progressively balkanized. The House of Saud and Qatar would love nothing better than to have the civil war exported to Iraq and Lebanon; in their very narrow calculations, that would eventually yield fellow Sunni regimes.
So expect Saudi and Qatari funds buying every well-connected Syrian regime apparatchik in sight — even while the urban Sunni bourgeosie still has not abandoned the ship.
And as the civil war spreads out, a tsunami of weapons will keep inundating Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and of course Turkey, boosting assorted guerrilla outfits, Kurdish included — yet one more facet of now ostracized neo-Ottoman Turkey impotently watching nation states carved out of that 1920s colonial line in the sand being smashed.
Strategically, this will always be a war by proxy; essentially Saudi Arabia vs Iran — with the House of Saud behind hardcore Islamists of all colors compared to Qatar supporting “its” Muslim Brotherhood. But most of all this is the US-NATO-GCC vs Iran.
Israel’s motives go way beyond the Saudi-Qatari sectarian lust. Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has just excavated a Bushism — calling Iran-Syria-Hezbollah an “axis of evil”. What Tel Aviv wants in the long run is clear; for Washington, Obama administration or not, to bring down the axis.
Meanwhile, this long-term goal does not prevent Defense Minister Ehud Barak from getting crazy — speculating on an invasion of Syria based on a hypothetical transfer of Syrian anti-aircraft missiles or even chemical weapons to Hezbollah.
Washington for its part would love at least a pliable/puppet Sunni regime in Damascus to turbo-charge the encircling of Iran — without increasing Israel’s substantial fears. Meanwhile, what passes for “smart power” is no more than glorified wishful thinking. Here in detail is how pro-Israel functionaries in the US are designing post-Assad Syria.
Meet the new Bane
For all its production values, NATO’s jihad — in conjunction with al-Qaeda affiliates and copycats — still has not delivered regime change. UN Security Council sanctions won’t be forthcoming, as Beijing and Moscow have already stressed three times. So Plan Bs keep surfacing all the time. The latest is straight from the Iraq playbook; Damascus will attack civilians with chemical weapons. This lasted only for a few news cycles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has already made it clear; regime change is anathema, especially for a reason that eludes most in the West — jihadis at the gates of Damascus means they are a stone’s throw from the Caucasus, the possible new pearl in a lethal collar bound to destabilize Muslim Russia.
Blowback meanwhile is ready to strike like the Medusa. What is for all practical purposes NATO-GCC mujahideen/jihadi death squads will be more than happy to bleed Syria across sectarian lines — in the sand and especially in urban areas. It’s hunting season now, not only for Alawites but also Christians (10% of the population).
A foreign policy that privileges Sunni jihadis formerly known as terrorists to create a “democratic” state in the Middle East seems to have been conjured by Bane — the Hannibal Lecter meets Darth Vader bad guy in The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter of the Batman trilogy. And yes, we are his creators. While the best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity, a masked Sunni jihadi superman is slouching towards Damascus to be born.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most recent book is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/homepage /world-news/detail/articolo/siria-syria-15868/
4. http://www.moonofalabama.org/2012/07/nyt-terrorists-are -now-insurgents.html#comments
5. http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/07/20/ inside_the_secret_effort_to_plan_for_a_post_assad_syria
Source: Asia Times
The recently declared plan by the members of Persian Gulf Cooperation Council to annex the soil of Bahrain to Saudi Arabia and form a greater Arab union has attested to the fact that the tyrannical and merciless rulers of Arab sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf are still obliviously living in the colonial era, dating back to the early 1550s, when the world’s major colonial powers relied on the power of arms and ammunitions to conquer and attain new territories and put the rivals’ nose out of joint in a conspicuous show-off of muscle-flexing.
It’s more than one year that the spirited, courageous youths of Bahrain have refused to leave the streets of capital Manama and other major cities of the country, continuously demanding the downfall of the dictatorial regime of Al Khalifa which is unconditionally financed, armed and backed by the United States and its puppet allies Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
The Witness Bahrain website associated with the opposition groups puts the number of civilian deaths resulting from Al Khalifa crackdown on the peaceful protesters in the past 15 months at 65; but it’s for sure that the number of protesters killed at the hands of the mercenaries of Al Khalifa regime is far greater than this.
Over the past year, the Bahraini officials resorted to every means at their disposal to distract public attention from their bloody crackdown on peaceful protestors demanding the ouster of the King and the dissolution of his despotic government. They even refused to cancel the Grand Prix 2012 race in April 2012 amid growing international protests by the mass media, human rights groups, academicians and politicians who had felt and recognized the depth of the catastrophe taking place in the tiny Persian Gulf country.
But the British Prime Minister, whose country is a major supplier of weapons and money to Bahrain, made a controversial statement in defense of the Formula 1 race in Bahrain, saying that “Bahrain is not Syria; there is a process of reform underway and this government backs that reform and wants to help promote that reform.” And nobody was there to complain to Cameron for his hypocritical stance on Syria while indifferently turning a blind eye to the painful suffering of the defenseless nation of Bahrain.
The very government which Cameron claimed is defending and promoting reforms, has relentlessly detained and tortured hundreds of peace activists and protesters since the beginning of revolution in the island backing to February 2011, and killed many innocent children and teenagers with vicious, brutal torture in its horrific jails. Several protesters are sentenced to life prison and many of them await trial in military courts without any lawyers and official jury.
One of the heartrending cases of regime’s atrocious treatment with its own people is the issue of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. The audacious Bahraini peace activist who is now a national hero and symbol of resistance against the tyranny of Al Khalifa has started an open-ended hunger strike since February 8, 2012 and it’s about four months that he hasn’t eaten anything nor drunk a sip of water. Bahraini activist Alaa Shehabi wrote for the Foreign Policy on April 12 that the possible death of al-Khawaja “could mark a significant breaking point for the regime’s efforts to rehabilitate its tarnished reputation — and could accelerate the disturbing trend toward militant radicalization in the opposition.” And it’s an undeniable fact. Although al-Khawaja is thankfully alive, he is spending the unbearable and intolerable days of being tortured while he is on hunger strike, and pictures taken of him which were published on the Bahraini websites show that he is in a tremendously throbbing and agonizing situation.
Just three days ago, King Hamad of Bahrain who is now seen as a bloodthirsty dictator in the region and one of the most hated leaders of the world was invited by Queen Elizabeth II to attend a royal ceremony in London. He was among the 50 foreign royals who attended the “diamond jubilee” feast. Tens of angry protesters gathered outside the Buckingham Palace to protest the controversial invitation.
“We feel it’s tremendously important to show that there are British people who do not agree with these royal dictators being invited to Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
“The queen has misjudged the public mood. Most British people would not agree with our head of state wining and dining dictators who stand accused of very serious human rights abuse,” he said.
And now, the Bahraini rulers are plotting a dangerous conspiracy with their Saudi cronies to form a union, seeking certain ends such as establishing an alliance against Iran which has seriously stood up against the carnage of the Bahraini people and supported their revolution. The Bahraini officials have laughably accused Iran of meddling in their internal affairs.
Unquestionably, Bahrain’s annexation to Saudi Arabia will pose a serious threat to the security and stability of the Persian Gulf and overturn the regional equations drastically. And it should not be neglected that such plans are mostly dictated by the world’s most infamous colonial power, the United Kingdom.
The American author and former university professor Kevin Barrett has likened this Saudi-British-Israeli plot to the colonial ploys of Hitler.
“I think this is more of an alliance of Hitler’s Anschluss, when Nazi Germany invaded Austria,” said Kevin Barrett in an interview with Press TV.
“The big difference is that the majority of people in Austria supported that. Whereas today, the vast majority of people in Bahrain will be horrified to be occupied by and digested into Wahhabi Saudi Arabia,” Barrett added.
The Al Khalifa regime which has found itself incapable of silencing the loud voice of Bahraini people who demand an end to this authoritarian regime is seeking ways through which it can extricate itself from the crisis it has been entangled into. Maybe joining Saudi Arabia can be a short-term solution, but indubitably it will portend dangerous consequences for the region including a firm response of the Iranian nation and the strong reaction of other Muslim nations around the world. And moreover, such a Bahraini-Saudi union will not be tolerated by the people of Bahrain. Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Saudi Arabia’s Malek Abdullah can bet that this dangerous union is doomed to failure.
The early 21st century is addicted to war porn, a prime spectator sport consumed by global couch and digital potatoes. War porn took the limelight on the evening of September 11, 2001, when the George W Bush administration launched the “war on terror” – which was interpreted by many of its practitioners as a subtle legitimization of United States state terror against, predominantly, Muslims.
This was also a war OF terror – as in a manifestation of state terror pitting urban high-tech might against basically rural, low-tech cunning. The US did not exercise this monopoly; Beijing practiced it in Xinjiang, its far west, and Russia practiced it in Chechnya.
Like porn, war porn cannot exist without being based on a lie – a crude representation. But unlike porn, war porn is the real thing; unlike crude, cheap snuff movies, people in war porn actually die – in droves.
The lie to finish all lies at the center of this representation was definitely established with the leak of the 2005 Downing Street memo, in which the head of the British MI6 confirmed that the Bush administration wanted to take out Iraq’s Saddam Hussein by linking Islamic terrorism with (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction (WMD). So, as the memo put it, “The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
In the end, George “you’re either with us or against us” Bush did star in his own, larger-than-life snuff movie – that happened to double as the invasion and destruction of the eastern flank of the Arab nation.
The New Guernica
Iraq may indeed be seen as the Star Wars of war porn – an apotheosis of sequels. Take the (second) Fallujah offensive in late 2004. At the time I described it as the new Guernica. I also took the liberty of paraphrasing Jean-Paul Sartre, writing about the Algerian War; after Fallujah no two Americans shall meet without a corpse lying between them. To quote Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, there were bodies, bodies everywhere.
The Francisco Franco in Fallujah was Iyad Allawi, the US-installed interim premier. It was Allawi who “asked” the Pentagon to bomb Fallujah. In Guernica – as in Fallujah – there was no distinction between civilians and guerrillas: it was the rule of “Viva la muerte!”
United States Marine Corps commanders said on the record that Fallujah was the house of Satan. Franco denied the massacre in Guernica and blamed the local population – just as Allawi and the Pentagon denied any civilian deaths and insisted “insurgents” were guilty.
Fallujah was reduced to rubble, at least 200,000 residents became refugees, and thousands of civilians were killed, in order to “save it” (echoes of Vietnam). No one in Western corporate media had the guts to say that in fact Fallujah was the American Halabja.
Fifteen years before Fallujah, in Halabja, Washington was a very enthusiastic supplier of chemical weapons to Saddam, who used them to gas thousands of Kurds. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the time said it was not Saddam; it was Khomeinist Iran. Yet Saddam did it, and did it deliberately, just like the US in Fallujah.
Fallujah doctors identified swollen and yellowish corpses without any injuries, as well as “melted bodies” – victims of napalm, the cocktail of polystyrene and jet fuel. Residents who managed to escape told of bombing by “poisonous gases” and “weird bombs that smoke like a mushroom cloud … and then small pieces fall from the air with long tails of smoke behind them. The pieces of these strange bombs explode into large fires that burn the skin even when you throw water over them.”
That’s exactly what happens to people bombed with napalm or white phosphorus. The United Nations banned the bombing of civilians with napalm in 1980. The US is the only country in the world still using napalm.
Fallujah also provided a mini-snuff movie hit; the summary execution of a wounded, defenseless Iraqi man inside a mosque by a US Marine. The execution, caught on tape, and watched by millions on YouTube, graphically spelled out the “special” rules of engagement. US Marine commanders at the time were telling their soldiers to “shoot everything that moves and everything that doesn’t move”; to fire “two bullets in every body”; in case of seeing any military-aged men in the streets of Fallujah, to “drop ‘em”; and to spray every home with machine-gun and tank fire before entering them.
The rules of engagement in Iraq were codified in a 182-page field manual distributed to each and every soldier and issued in October 2004 by the Pentagon. This counter-insurgency manual stressed five rules; “protect the population; establish local political institutions; reinforce local governments; eliminate insurgent capabilities; and exploit information from local sources.”
Now back to reality. Fallujah’s population was not protected: it was bombed out of the city and turned into a mass of thousands of refugees. Political institutions were already in place: the Fallujah Shura was running the city. No local government can possibly run a pile of rubble to be recovered by seething citizens, not to mention be “reinforced”. “Insurgent capabilities” were not eliminated; the resistance dispersed around the 22 other cities out of control by the US occupation, and spread up north all the way to Mosul; and the Americans remained without intelligence “from local sources” because they antagonized every possible heart and mind.
Meanwhile, in the US, most of the population was already immune to war porn. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke out in the spring of 2004, I was driving through Texas, exploring Bushland. Virtually everybody I spoke to either attributed the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners to “a few bad apples”, or defended it on patriotic grounds (“we must teach a lesson to “terrorists”).
I Love A Man In Uniform
In thesis, there is an approved mechanism in the 21st century to defend civilians from war porn. It’s the R2P – “responsibility to protect” doctrine. This was an idea floated already in 2001 – a few weeks after the war on terror was unleashed, in fact – by the Canadian government and a few foundations. The idea was that the concert of nations had a “moral duty” to deploy a humanitarian intervention in cases such as Halabja, not to mention the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the mid-1970s or the genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990s.
In 2004, a panel at the UN codified the idea – crucially with the Security Council being able to authorize a “military intervention” only “as a last resort”. Then, in 2005, the UN General Assembly endorsed a resolution supporting R2P, and in 2006 the UN Security Council passed resolution 1674 about “the protection of civilians in armed conflict”; they should be protected against “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.
Now fast-forward to the end of 2008, early 2009, when Israel – using American fighter jets to raise hell – unleashed a large-scale attack on the civilian population of the Gaza strip.
Look at the official US reaction; “Israel has obviously decided to protect herself and her people,” said then-president Bush. The US Congress voted by a staggering 390-to-5 to recognize “Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza”. The incoming Barack Obama administration was thunderously silent. Only future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We support Israel’s right to self-defense.”
At least 1,300 civilians – including scores of women and children – were killed by state terror in Gaza. Nobody invoked R2P. Nobody pointed to Israel’s graphic failure in its “responsibility to protect” Palestinians. Nobody called for a “humanitarian intervention” targeting Israel.
The mere notion that a superpower – and other lesser powers – make their foreign policy decisions based on humanitarian grounds, such as protecting people under siege, is an absolute joke. So already at the time we learned how R2P was to be instrumentalized. It did not apply to the US in Iraq or Afghanistan. It did not apply to Israel in Palestine. It would eventually apply only to frame “rogue” rulers that are not “our bastards” – as in Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. “Humanitarian” intervention, yes; but only to get rid of “the bad guys.”
And the beauty of R2P was that it could be turned upside down anytime. Bush pleaded for the “liberation” of suffering Afghans – and especially burqa-clad Afghan women – from the “evil” Taliban, in fact configuring Afghanistan as a humanitarian intervention.
And when the bogus links between al-Qaeda and the non-existent WMDs were debunked, Washington began to justify the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq via … R2P; “responsibility to protect” Iraqis from Saddam, and then to protect Iraqis from themselves.
The Killer Awoke Before Dawn
The most recent installment in serial episodes of war porn is the Kandahar massacre, when, according to the official Pentagon version (or cover up) an American army sergeant, a sniper and Iraqi war veteran – a highly trained assassin – shot 17 Afghan civilians, including nine women and four children, in two villages two miles apart, and burned some of their bodies.
Like with Abu Ghraib, there was the usual torrent of denials from the Pentagon – as in “this is not us” or “we don’t do things these way”; not to mention a tsunami of stories in US corporate media humanizing the hero-turned-mass killer, as in “he’s such a good guy, a family man”. In contrast, not a single word about The Other – the Afghan victims. They are faceless; and nobody knows their names.
A – serious – Afghan enquiry established that some 20 soldiers may have been part of the massacre – as in My Lai in Vietnam; and that included the rape of two of the women. It does make sense. War porn is a lethal, group subculture – complete with targeted assassinations, revenge killings, desecration of bodies, harvesting of trophies (severed fingers or ears), burning of Korans and pissing on dead bodies. It’s essentially a collective sport.
US “kill teams” have deliberately executed random, innocent Afghan civilians, mostly teenagers, for sport, planted weapons on their bodies, and then posed with their corpses as trophies. Not by accident they had been operating out of a base in the same area of the Kandahar massacre.
And we should not forget former top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who in April 10, 2010, admitted, bluntly, “We’ve shot an amazing number of people” who were not a threat to the US or Western civilization.
The Pentagon spins and sells in Afghanistan what it sold in Iraq (and even way back in Vietnam for that matter); the idea that this is a “population-centric counter-insurgency” – or COIN, to “win hearts and minds”, and part of a great nation building project.
This is a monumental lie. The Obama surge in Afghanistan – based on COIN – was a total failure. What replaced it was hardcore, covert, dark war, led by “kill teams” of Special Forces. That implies an inflation of air strikes and night raids. No to mention drone strikes, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas, whose favorite targets seem to be Pashtun wedding parties.
Incidentally, the CIA claims that since May 2010, ultra-smart drones have killed more than 600 “carefully selected” human targets – and, miraculously, not a single civilian.
Expect to see this war porn extravaganza celebrated in an orgy of upcoming, joint Pentagon-Hollywood blockbusters. In real life, this is spun by people such as John Nagl, who was on General David Petraeus’ staff in Iraq and now runs the pro-Pentagon think-tank Center for New American Security.
The new stellar macho, macho men may be the commandos under the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). But this a Pentagon production, which has created, according to Nagl, an “industrial strength counter-terrorism killing machine”.
Reality, though, is much more prosaic. COIN techniques, applied by McChrystal, relied on only three components; 24-hour surveillance by drones; monitoring of mobile phones; and pinpointing the physical location of the phones from their signals.
This implies that anyone in an area under a drone watch using a cell phone was branded as a “terrorist”, or at least “terrorist sympathizer”. And then the focus of the night raids in Afghanistan shifted from “high value targets” – high-level and mid-level al-Qaeda and Taliban – to anyone who was branded as helping the Taliban.
In May 2009, before McChrystal arrived, US Special Forces were carrying 20 raids a month. By November, they were 90 a month. By the spring of 2010, they were 250 a month. When McChrystal was fired – because of a story in Rolling Stone (he was competing with Lady Gaga for the cover; Lady Gaga won) – and Obama replaced him with Petraeus in the summer of 2010, there were 600 a month. By April 2011, they were more than 1,000 a month.
So this is how it works. Don’t even think of using a cell phone in Kandahar and other Afghan provinces. Otherwise, the “eyes in the sky” are going to get you. At the very least you will be sent to jail, along with thousands of other civilians branded as “terrorist sympathizers”; and intelligence analysts will use your data to compile their “kill/capture list” and catch even more civilians in their net.
As for the civilian “collateral damage” of the night raids, they were always presented by the Pentagon as “terrorists”. Example; in a raid in Gardez on February 12, 2010, two men were killed; a local government prosecutor and an Afghan intelligence official, as well as three women (two of them pregnant). The killers told the US-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) command in Kabul that the two men were “terrorists” and the women had been found tied up and gagged. Then the actual target of the raid turned himself in for questioning a few days later, and was released without any charges.
That’s just the beginning. Targeted assassination – as practiced in Afghanistan – will be the Pentagon’s tactic of choice in all future US wars.
Pass The Condom, Darling
Libya was a major war porn atrocity exhibition – complete with a nifty Roman touch of the defeated “barbarian” chief sodomized in the streets and then executed, straight on YouTube.
This, by the way, is exactly what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a lightning visit to Tripoli, had announced less than 48 hours before the fact. Gaddafi should be “captured or killed”. When she watched it in the screen of her BlackBerry she could only react with the semantic earthquake “Wow!”
From the minute a UN resolution imposed a no-fly zone over Libya under the cover of R2P, it became a green card to regime change. Plan A was always to capture and kill Gaddafi – as in an Afghan-style targeted assassination. That was the Obama administration official policy. There was no plan B.
Obama said the death of Gaddafi meant, “the strength of American leadership across the world”. That was as “We got him” (echoes of Saddam captured by the Bush administration) as one could possibly expect.
With an extra bonus. Even though Washington paid no less than 80% of the operating costs of those dimwits at NATO (roughly $2 billion), it was still pocket money. Anyway, it was still awkward to say, “We did it”, because the White House always said this was not a war; it was a “kinetic” something. And they were not in charge.
Only the hopelessly naïve may have swallowed the propaganda of NATO’s “humanitarian” 40,000-plus bombing which devastated Libya’s infrastructure back to the Stone Age as a Shock and Awe in slow motion. This never had anything to do with R2P.
This was R2P as safe sex – and the “international community” was the condom. The “international community”, as everyone knows, is composed of Washington, a few washed-up NATO members, and the democratic Persian Gulf powerhouses of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), plus the House of Saud in the shade. The EU, which up to extra time was caressing the helm of Gaddafi’s gowns, took no time to fall over themselves in editorials about the 42-year reign of a “buffoon”.
As for the concept of international law, it was left lying in a drain as filthy as the one Gaddafi was holed up in. Saddam at least got a fake trial in a kangaroo court before meeting the executioner (he ended up on YouTube as well). Osama bin Laden was simply snuffed out, assassination-style, after a territorial invasion of Pakistan (no YouTube – so many don’t believe it). Gaddafi went one up, snuffed out with a mix of air war and assassination. They are The Three Graceful Scalps of War Porn.
Syria is yet another declination of war porn narrative. If you can’t R2P it, fake it.
And to think that all this was codified such a long time ago. Already in 1997, the US Army War College Quarterly was defining what they called “the future of warfare”. They framed it as “the conflict between information masters and information victims”.
They were sure “we are already masters of information warfare … Hollywood is ‘preparing the battlefield’ … Information destroys traditional jobs and traditional cultures; it seduces, betrays, yet remains invulnerable … Our sophistication in handling it will enable us to outlast and outperform all hierarchical cultures … Societies that fear or otherwise cannot manage the flow of information simply will not be competitive. They might master the technological wherewithal to watch the videos, but we will be writing the scripts, producing them, and collecting the royalties. Our creativity is devastating.”
Post-everything information warfare has nothing to do with geopolitics. Just like the proverbial Hollywood product, it is to be “spawned” out of raw emotions; “hatred, jealousy, and greed – emotions, rather than strategy”.
In Syria this is exactly how Western corporate media has scripted the whole movie; the War College “information warfare” tactics in practice. The Syrian government never had much of a chance against those “writing the scripts, producing them, and collecting the royalties”.
For example, the armed opposition, the so-called Free Syrian Army (a nasty cocktail of defectors, opportunists, jihadis and foreign mercenaries) brought Western journalists to Homs and then insisted to extract them, in extremely dangerous condition, and with people being killed, via Lebanon, rather than through the Red Crescent. They were nothing else than writing the script for a foreign-imposed “humanitarian corridor” to be opened to Homs. This was pure theater – or war porn packaged as a Hollywood drama.
The problem is Western public opinion is now hostage to this brand of information warfare. Forget about even the possibility of peaceful negotiations among adult parties. What’s left is a binary good guys versus bad guys plot, where the Big Bad Guy must be destroyed at all costs (and on top of it his wife is a snob bitch who loves shopping!)
Only the terminally naïve may believe that jihadis – including Libya’s NATO rebels – financed by the Gulf Counter-revolution Club, also know as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are a bunch of democratic reformists burning with good intentions. Even Human Rights Watch was finally forced to acknowledge that these armed “activists” were responsible for “kidnapping, detention, and torture”, after receiving reports of “executions by armed opposition groups of security force members and civilians”.
What this (soft and hard) war porn narrative veils, in the end, is the real Syrian tragedy; the impossibility for the much-lauded “Syrian people” to get rid of all these crooks – the Assad system, the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Syrian National Council, and the mercenary-infested Free Syrian Army.
Listen To The Sound of Chaos
This – very partial – catalogue of sorrows inevitably brings us to the current supreme war porn blockbuster – the Iran psychodrama.
2012 is the new 2002; Iran is the new Iraq; and whatever the highway, to evoke the neo-con motto, real men go to Tehran via Damascus, or real men go to Tehran non-stop.
Perhaps only underwater in the Arctic we would be able to escape the cacophonous cortege of American right-wingers – and their respective European poodles – salivating for blood and deploying the usual festival of fallacies like “Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map”, “diplomacy has run its course”, “the sanctions are too late”, or “Iran is within a year, six months, a week, a day, or a minute of assembling a bomb”. Of course these dogs of war would never bother to follow what the International Atomic Energy Agency is actually doing, not to mention the National Intelligence Estimates released by the 17 US intelligence agencies.
Because they, to a great extent, are “writing the scripts, producing them, and collecting the royalties” in terms of corporate media, they can get away with an astonishingly toxic fusion of arrogance and ignorance – about the Middle East, about Persian culture, about Asian integration, about the nuclear issue, about the oil industry, about the global economy, about “the Rest” as compared to “the West”.
Just like with Iraq in 2002, Iran is always dehumanized. The relentless, totally hysterical, fear-inducing “narrative” of “should we bomb now or should we bomb later” is always about oh so very smart bunker buster bombs and precision missiles that will accomplish an ultra clean large-scale devastation job without producing a single “collateral damage”. Just like safe sex.
And even when the voice of the establishment itself – the New York Times – admits that neither US nor Israeli intelligence believe Iran has decided to build a bomb (a 5-year-old could reach the same conclusion), the hysteria remains inter-galactic.
Meanwhile, while it gets ready – “all options are on the table”, Obama himself keeps repeating – for yet another war in what it used to call “arc of instability”, the Pentagon also found time to repackage war porn. It took only a 60-second video now on YouTube, titled Toward the Sound of Chaos, released only a few days after the Kandahar massacre. Just look at its key target audience: the very large market of poor, unemployed and politically very naïve young Americans.
Let’s listen to the mini-movie voice over: “Where chaos looms, the Few emerge. Marines move toward the sounds of tyranny, injustice and despair – with the courage and resolve to silence them. By ending conflict, instilling order and helping those who can’t help themselves, Marines face down the threats of our time.”
Maybe, in this Orwellian universe, we should ask the dead Afghans urinated upon by US Marines, or the thousands of dead in Fallujah, to write a movie review. Well, dead men don’t write. Maybe we could think about the day NATO enforces a no-fly one over Saudi Arabia to protect the Shi’ites in the eastern province, while Pentagon drones launch a carpet of Hellfire missiles over those thousands of arrogant, medieval, corrupt House of Saud princes. No, it’s not going to happen.
Over a decade after the beginning of the war on terror, this is what the world is coming to; a lazy, virtually worldwide audience, jaded, dazed and distracted from distraction by distraction, helplessly hooked on the shabby atrocity exhibition of war porn.
Source: Asia Times
In an effort to undermine Iran by overthrowing its strategic ally, Syria, western nations are using their Middle East client states to conduct a multi-pronged attack against Syria through the media, the Arab League, the United Nations and now through military proxy forces. This fact is widely recognized by many mainstream western media sources. For example, the well-connected pro-western magazine, the Economist, casually states:
“Iran and Russia aide the [Syrian government] regime; Saudi Arabia and Turkey favor the rebels… Left alone, the rival camps will fuel a worsening conflict that could destabilize the entire region.” (January 28, 2012).
Of course Saudi Arabia and Turkey are key U.S. allies. Saudi Arabia doesn’t sneeze until first consulting its U.S. ambassador.
A grouping of U.S. client states known as the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain — recently dealt a death blow to the Arab League’s monitoring mission in Syria and are now demanding that the UN Security Council take all “necessary measures” — presumably including an invasion — to ensure regime change in Syria, the same diplomatic maneuver that the U.S. and its European partners in NATO used to justify its mass bombing campaign of Libya.
The Gulf Cooperation Council — a grouping of nations with totalitarian monarchies — appears to be pursuing a serious campaign to overthrow the Syrian government. According to The Times of London:
“Saudi Arabia and Qatar have agreed to fund the Syrian opposition, which is struggling to afford weapons in its fight against President Bashar al-Assad, a Syrian dissident has told The Times… [Syrian] opposition figures held a secret meeting with Saudi and Qatar officials after an Arab League meeting in Cairo last weekend. All the Gulf countries [Cooperation Council] decided then to pull their observers from a monitoring mission that has been widely criticized for being toothless.” (January 27, 2012).
When it comes to the so-called Syrian Free Army — the various armed groups inside Syria attacking the Syrian government — U.S. allies are instrumental in arming, funding, and shielding the fighters. It is no coincidence that the Syrian Free Army is strongest on the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Northern Lebanon, and Jordan — areas with strong U.S. alliances. The Asian Times reports:
“In spite of Turkish denials of support, FSA [Free Syrian Army] fighters are exploiting the relative safety they enjoy in southern Turkey to mount attacks against Syrian forces. The FSA is also alleged to have established bases in northern Lebanon and northern Jordan, regions that have similarly witnessed an influx in Syrian refugees.” (December 20, 2011).
In fact, Turkey hosted the initial meetings of the pro-western, anti-Syria government opposition group, The Syrian National Council, which enjoys tremendous support by the United States but very little inside of Syria.
Another military proxy force was flown in from the U.S.’ new ally, Libya, as reported by the London Telegraph:
“At the meeting, which was held in Istanbul and included Turkish officials, the Syrians [opposition] requested “assistance” from the Libyan representatives and were offered arms, and potentially volunteers.”
“There is something being planned to send weapons and even Libyan fighters to Syria,” said a Libyan source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There is a military intervention on the way. Within a few weeks you will see.” (January 29, 2012).
Indeed we have seen!
This is confirmed by the Wall Street Journal: ”… [It is] estimated that 300 to 400 Libyans have based themselves in southern Turkey and crossed the border to join Syrians in skirmishes against government forces… Once inside Syria, they [Libyan fighters] fought in two separate skirmishes in an area they said they believed was in Idlib.” (December 20, 2011).
It is widely rumored that the Libyan fighters are the same Islamic extremists that NATO admits it used to attack the Libyan government.
U.S. allies are enlisting the help of Islamic extremists who fight either for cash or for Jihad. Sunni extremists are enlisted in this fight because the Syrian government relies on Shia Muslim support domestically and also externally, since Iran’s regime is largely Shia Muslim and is a key Syrian Ally.
The majority of Muslims in the world care very little about the small differences between Shia and Sunni Islam; only small groups of extremist sects are willing to kill for their unique vision of Islam. But it is precisely these sects that the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies rely upon as a military and political force in the region. These sects are powerful only because of years of immense financial and military support by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
Dating back before the U.S.’ support of Islamic extremists later known as the Taliban against the USSR in Afghanistan, the U.S. and its ally, Saudi Arabia (a Sunni Islam extremist dictatorship), have used extremist proxy forces all over the Middle East as pawns in their geo-political chessboard (Vijay Prashad documents Saudi Arabia’s exporting of Sunni extremism in a chapter of his excellent book, The Darker Nations).
One recent example of U.S. backed Sunni extremism is in Iraq, where the United States armed and funded the now-powerful Sunni extremist “Awakening Council” in order to hunt down any Iraqi opposition to the U.S.’ military presence. Now the Awakening Council is being discarded by the Shia majority in Iraq, but the 80,000 plus armed members will not go silently; many of them are rumored to have gone into Syria to further serve their Saudi and U.S. masters.
The New York Times reported about the recent Sunni extremist trend in Syria:
“In interviews last week, some residents of Homs, including several Christians and Alawites [Shia Muslims], expressed fears that hard-line Sunnis known as Salafis were forming armed groups and stoking violence. Those fears… reflected mounting concerns among secular activists that as the conflict drags on, an Islamist [extremist] presence in some militias was giving the uprising an increasingly sectarian character. The tensions played out this week between secular and Islamist activists, with the Islamists pushing to name the weekly Friday protests “Al Jihad,” …” (January 28, 2012).
The article also explains that much of the violence in Syria is not due to the Syrian government gunning down un-armed protesters, but responding instead to the violent attacks from these armed groups.
The above Asian Times article also commented on the Sunni extremist trend mounting against the Syrian government from northern Lebanon, a country which contains some key U.S. allies:
“Prominent radical Salafist [Sunni] clerics in Tripoli [Lebanon], including Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal, have called on Syrian Sunnis to join the uprising against the Ba’athist [Syrian] regime… Lebanon’s US- and Saudi-aligned “March 14 Alliance” (which includes former Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri’s Sunni-dominated Future Movement) is in the forefront of organizing anti-Syrian [government] activities in Lebanon.”
Fanning sectarian flames in Syria is especially dangerous. Like Iraq, Syria has a complex make-up of ethnic and religious groups that, if armed and manipulated, could easily lead to another Iraqi-style humanitarian tragedy. But the U.S. and its allies know no other form of intervention; divide and rule is a very effective way to overthrow a government. What the U.S. and its allies have not fully considered is whether they can confine the potential devastation to Syria.
Iran and Russia have a huge stake in the Syrian government’s survival; Russia has freely admitted to recently sending $550 million worth of fighter jets to Syria, while also sending Russian battle ships as a deterrent to a foreign invasion. As the proxy war lumbers on, further foreign intervention — money and arms — on both sides will increase; the interfering nations will thus become more “invested” in the conflict, increasing the urge to protect their investments, possibly pulling them directly into the war.
Tensions in the Middle East have already reached explosive levels. The U.S. and its allies careless attitude in provoking a possible regional war seems more than a little mad. But this insanity has a logical basis; the declining economic power of the United States has forced it to rely on its military might as it battles China and Russia for global economic/political supremacy. The U.S.’ activity in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya is pushing Russia and Iran to take a more confrontational stance in stopping the spread of U.S. client states in the region. Syria is thus a global proxy battleground in a larger series of events that now directly threatens the entire Middle East, and possibly beyond.
Welcome to an edgy world where a single incident at an energy “chokepoint” could set a region aflame, provoking bloody encounters, boosting oil prices, and putting the global economy at risk. With energy demand on the rise and sources of supply dwindling, we are, in fact, entering a new epoch — the Geo-Energy Era — in which disputes over vital resources will dominate world affairs. In 2012 and beyond, energy and conflict will be bound ever more tightly together, lending increasing importance to the key geographical flashpoints in our resource-constrained world.
Take the Strait of Hormuz, already making headlines and shaking energy markets as 2012 begins. Connecting the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, it lacks imposing geographical features like the Rock of Gibraltar or the Golden Gate Bridge. In an energy-conscious world, however, it may possess greater strategic significance than any passageway on the planet. Every day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, tankers carrying some 17 million barrels of oil — representing 20% of the world’s daily supply — pass through this vital artery.
So last month, when a senior Iranian official threatened to block the strait in response to Washington’s tough new economic sanctions, oil prices instantly soared. While the U.S. military has vowed to keep the strait open, doubts about the safety of future oil shipments and worries about a potentially unending, nerve-jangling crisis involving Washington, Tehran, and Tel Aviv have energy experts predicting high oil prices for months to come, meaning further woes for a slowing global economy.
The Strait of Hormuz is, however, only one of several hot spots where energy, politics, and geography are likely to mix in dangerous ways in 2012 and beyond. Keep your eye as well on the East and South China Seas, the Caspian Sea basin, and an energy-rich Arctic that is losing its sea ice. In all of these places, countries are disputing control over the production and transportation of energy, and arguing about national boundaries and/or rights of passage.
In the years to come, the location of energy supplies and of energy supply routes — pipelines, oil ports, and tanker routes — will be pivotal landmarks on the global strategic map. Key producing areas, like the Persian Gulf, will remain critically important, but so will oil chokepoints like the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca (between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea) and the “sea lines of communication,” or SLOCs (as naval strategists like to call them) connecting producing areas to overseas markets. More and more, the major powers led by the United States, Russia, and China will restructure their militaries to fight in such locales.
You can already see this in the elaborate Defense Strategic Guidance document, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership,” unveiled at the Pentagon on January 5th by President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. While envisioning a smaller Army and Marine Corps, it calls for increased emphasis on air and naval capabilities, especially those geared to the protection or control of international energy and trade networks. Though it tepidly reaffirmed historic American ties to Europe and the Middle East, overwhelming emphasis was placed on bolstering U.S. power in “the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean and South Asia.”
In the new Geo-Energy Era, the control of energy and of its transport to market will lie at the heart of recurring global crises. This year, keep your eyes on three energy hot spots in particular: the Strait of Hormuz, the South China Sea, and the Caspian Sea basin.
The Strait of Hormuz
A narrow stretch of water separating Iran from Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the strait is the sole maritime link between the oil-rich Persian Gulf region and the rest of the world. A striking percentage of the oil produced by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE is carried by tanker through this passageway on a daily basis, making it (in the words of the Department of Energy) “the world’s most important oil chokepoint.” Some analysts believe that any sustained blockage in the strait could trigger a 50% increasein the price of oil and trigger a full-scale global recession or depression.
American leaders have long viewed the Strait as a strategic fixture in their global plans that must be defended at any cost. It was an outlook first voiced by President Jimmy Carter in January 1980, on the heels of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan which had, he told Congress, “brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world’s oil must flow.” The American response, he insisted, must be unequivocal: any attempt by a hostile power to block the waterway would henceforth be viewed as “an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America,” and “repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
Much has changed in the Gulf region since Carter issued his famous decree, known since as the Carter Doctrine, and established the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to guard the Strait — but not Washington’s determination to ensure the unhindered flow of oil there. Indeed, President Obama has made it clear that, even if CENTCOM ground forces were to leave Afghanistan, as they have Iraq, there would be no reduction in the command’s air and naval presence in the greater Gulf area.
It is conceivable that the Iranians will put Washington’s capabilities to the test. On December 27th, Iran’s first vice president Mohammad-Reza Rahimi said, “If [the Americans] impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz.” Similar statements have since been made by other senior officials (and contradicted as well by yet others). In addition, the Iranians recently conducted elaborate naval exercises in the Arabian Sea near the eastern mouth of the strait, and more such maneuvers are said to be forthcoming. At the same time, the commanding general of Iran’s army suggested that the USS John C. Stennis, an American aircraft carrier just leaving the Gulf, should not return. “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added ominously, “will not repeat its warning.”
Might the Iranians actually block the strait? Many analysts believe that the statements by Rahimi and his colleagues are bluster and bluffmeant to rattle Western leaders, send oil prices higher, and win future concessions if negotiations ever recommence over their country’s nuclear program. Economic conditions in Iran are, however, becoming more desperate, and it is always possible that the country’s hard-pressed hardline leaders may feel the urge to take some dramatic action, even if it invites a powerful U.S. counterstrike. Whatever the case, the Strait of Hormuz will remain a focus of international attention in 2012, with global oil prices closely following the rise and fall of tensions there.
The South China Sea
The South China Sea is a semi-enclosed portion of the western Pacific bounded by China to the north, Vietnam to the west, the Philippines to the east, and the island of Borneo (shared by Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia) to the south. The sea also incorporates two largely uninhabited island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys. Long an important fishing ground, it has also been a major avenue for commercial shipping between East Asia and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. More recently, it acquired significance as a potential source of oil and natural gas, large reserves of which are now believed to lie in subsea areas surrounding the Paracels and Spratlys.
With the discovery of oil and gas deposits, the South China Sea has been transformed into a cockpit of international friction. At least some islands in this energy-rich area are claimed by every one of the surrounding countries, including China — which claims them all, and has demonstrated a willingness to use military force to assert dominance in the region. Not surprisingly, this has put it in conflict with the other claimants, including several with close military ties to the United States. As a result, what started out as a regional matter, involving China and various members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has become a prospective tussle between the world’s two leading powers.
To press their claims, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines have all sought to work collectively through ASEAN, believing a multilateral approach will give them greater negotiating clout than one-on-one dealings with China. For their part, the Chinese have insisted that all disputes must be resolved bilaterally, a situation in which they can more easily bring their economic and military power to bear. Previously preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has now entered the fray, offering full-throated support to the ASEAN countries in their efforts to negotiate en masse with Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi promptly warned the United States not to interfere. Any such move “will only make matters worse and the resolution more difficult,” he declared. The result was an instant war of words between Beijing and Washington. During a visit to the Chinese capital in July 2011, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen delivered a barely concealed threat when it came to possible future military action. “The worry, among others that I have,” he commented, “is that the ongoing incidents could spark a miscalculation, and an outbreak that no one anticipated.” To drive the point home, the United States has conducted a series of conspicuous military exercises in the South China Sea, including some joint maneuvers with ships from Vietnam and the Philippines. Not to be outdone, China responded with naval maneuvers of its own. It’s a perfect formula for future “incidents” at sea.
The South China Sea has long been on the radar screens of those who follow Asian affairs, but it only attracted global attention when, in November, President Obama traveled to Australia and announced, with remarkable bluntness, a new U.S. strategy aimed at confronting Chinese power in Asia and the Pacific. “As we plan and budget for the future,” he told members of the Australian Parliament in Canberra, “we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.” A key feature of this effort would be to ensure “maritime security” in the South China Sea.
While in Australia, President Obama also announced the establishment of a new U.S. base at Darwin on that country’s northern coast, as well as expanded military ties with Indonesia and the Philippines. In January, the president similarly placed special emphasis on projecting U.S. power in the region when he went to the Pentagon to discuss changes in the American military posture in the world.
Beijing will undoubtedly take its own set of steps, no less belligerent, to protect its growing interests in the South China Sea. Where this will lead remains, of course, unknown. After the Strait of Hormuz, however, the South China Sea may be the global energy chokepoint where small mistakes or provocations could lead to bigger confrontations in 2012 and beyond.
The Caspian Sea Basin
The Caspian Sea is an inland body of water bordered by Russia, Iran, and three former republics of the USSR: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. In the immediate area as well are the former Soviet lands of Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. All of these old SSRs are, to one degree or another, attempting to assert their autonomy from Moscow and establish independent ties with the United States, the European Union, Iran, Turkey, and, increasingly, China. All are wracked by internal schisms and/or involved in border disputes with their neighbors. The region would be a hotbed of potential conflict even if the Caspian basin did not harbor some of the world’s largest undeveloped reserves of oil and natural gas, which could easily bring it to a boil.
This is not the first time that the Caspian has been viewed as a major source of oil, and so potential conflict. In the late nineteenth century, the region around the city of Baku – then part of the Russian empire, now in Azerbaijan — was a prolific source of petroleum and so a major strategic prize. Future Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin first gained notoriety there as a leader of militant oil workers, and Hitler sought to capture it during his ill-fated 1941 invasion of the USSR. After World War II, however, the region lost its importance as an oil producer when Baku’s onshore fields dried up. Now, fresh discoveries are being made in offshore areas of the Caspian itself and in previously undeveloped areas of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
According to energy giant BP, the Caspian area harbors as much as 48 billion barrels of oil (mostly buried in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan) and 449 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (with the largest supply in Turkmenistan). This puts the region ahead of North and South America in total gas reserves and Asia in oil reserves. But producing all this energy and delivering it to foreign markets will be a monumental task. The region’s energy infrastructure is woefully inadequate and the Caspian itself provides no maritime outlet to other seas, so all that oil and gas must travel by pipeline or rail.
Russia, long the dominant power in the region, is pursuing control over the transportation routes by which Caspian oil and gas will reach markets. It is upgrading Soviet-era pipelines that link the former SSRs to Russia or building new ones and, to achieve a near monopoly over the marketing of all this energy, bringing traditional diplomacy, strong-arm tactics, and outright bribery to bear on regional leaders (many of whom once served in the Soviet bureaucracy) to ship their energy via Russia. As recounted in my book Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, Washington sought to thwart these efforts by sponsoring the construction of alternative pipelines that avoid Russian territory, crossing Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to the Mediterranean (notably the BTC, or Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline), while Beijing is building its own pipelines linking the Caspian area to western China.
All of these pipelines cross through areas of ethnic unrest and pass near various contested regions like rebellious Chechnya and breakaway South Ossetia. As a result, both China and the U.S. have wedded their pipeline operations to military assistance for countries along the routes. Fearful of an American presence, military or otherwise, in the former territories of the Soviet Union, Russia has responded with military moves of its own, including its brief August 2008 war with Georgia, which took place along the BTC route.
Given the magnitude of the Caspian’s oil and gas reserves, many energy firms are planning new production operations in the region, along with the pipelines needed to bring the oil and gas to market. The European Union, for example, hopes to build a new natural gas pipelinecalled Nabucco from Azerbaijan through Turkey to Austria. Russia has proposed a competing conduit called South Stream. All of these efforts involve the geopolitical interests of major powers, ensuring that the Caspian region will remain a potential source of international crisis and conflict.
In the new Geo-Energy Era, the Strait of Hormuz, the South China Sea, and the Caspian Basin hardly stand alone as potential energy flashpoints. The East China Sea, where China and Japan are contending for a contested undersea natural gas field, is another, as are the waters surrounding the Falkland Islands, where both Britain and Argentina hold claims to undersea oil reserves, as will be the globally warming Arctic whose resources are claimed by many countries. One thing is certain: wherever the sparks may fly, there’s oil in the water and danger at hand in 2012.
Source: Michael T. Klare | TomDispatch.com
The most significant aspect of President Obama’s speech on the Middle East (May 19) is the absence of a plan to revive the “Peace Process.” The passing storm over his statements regarding the 1967 borders notwithstanding, it is already evident that there will be no new initiatives in the months to come. This is just as well, because any new initiative would be doomed to fail for as long as the political future of several key countries in the region remains uncertain. The PLO-Hamas coalition hopes, with good reason, that as several key Arab regimes become more democratic, they will become more willing to pursue policies supportive of the Palestinian views and aspirations.
The “Arab Spring” may yet produce regimes with enhanced domestic legitimacy. This will be reflected in the reduced willingness of the countries thus democratized to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state, let alone to sign peace treaties and establish normal relations with that state. A secondary result will be an enhanced ability of those states, in the long run at any rate, to fight wars successfully. This is one of the reasons why “spreading democracy” in the Middle East has always been a dubious idea. The quagmire in Iraq is largely due to George W. Bush and his team extending the original mission from containment—depriving Saddam of his (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction—to regime change and the establishment of “democracy.” Iraq was supposed to be only the first step in transforming the region as a whole, and “democracy” was claimed to be the universal remedy for the ills of Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, poverty and violence.
As we now know, and as some of us had warned back then, the objective of democratizing the Middle East is unattainable in practice and undesirable in principle. The regime changes contingent upon “democratic transformation” would benefit only one variety of political Islam or another—from the Muslim Brotherhood’s various offshoots to al-Qaeda affiliates—which are happy to use the rhetoric, legal form and mechanisms of “democracy” for the imposition of a very different model of society. That scenario is being played out even in the formerly Kemalist Turkey, which is now yet again an integral part of the Middle East.
It cannot be otherwise: the system of governance based on the concept of popular sovereignty is not viable outside of the framework of ideas, beliefs and habits of the culture and civilization which sustain it. In the Muslim world Allah is “the true sovereign of the community, the ultimate source of authority, the sole source of legislation” (Bernard Lewis). All over the Middle East governments consist in practice of only one branch—the executive—controlled by a political party (Turkey) or a family (the Emirates, Saudi Arabia), or an oligarchy (Egypt, Syria).
This is not to say that the United States is powerless, or should remain passive, faced with the many unpleasant aspects of the Middle Eastern politics and society. Insisting on greater respect for the rule of law can and should be demanded from the governments in the region Washington considers friendly. Limiting capricious exercise of state power and especially limiting its abuse for political ends is the least the United States should demand of those regimes which expect to be regarded as “friendly.” Such demand should be accompanied by a clear statement of intent: those regimes will become more stable by making their legal systems less arbitrary. This is the not the first step on the road to “regime change,” this is its exact opposite.
In addition it is important to note that—unlike “democracy”—an impartial, efficient and predictable system of justice is not inherently contradictory to the spirit of Islam. The discriminatory strictures of Sharia vis-à-vis women and “infidels” are intolerable and should be discouraged, of course, but at its base is the demand for the scrupulous observance of legal strictures. This principle per se is a more promising base to build upon in the Middle East than the legacy of Pericles, Jefferson, or Lech Walesa.
A long overdue start should be made with Turkey, which at least nominally remains committed to the Western values, principles and practices bequeathed by its founder 85 years ago. A spectacular miscarriage of justice is in the making there, orchestrated and manipulated by the government and obediently followed by a pliant judiciary. The story is huge but it has been under-reported in the United States, which reflects a long-established reluctance of the Obama Administrations, and its predecessors, to confront the realities of Turkey under the Islamist regime of the Justice and Progress Party (AKP).
On April 6 the Turkish Army General Staff deplored the arrest of over a hundred active-duty officers as part of an investigation into an alleged plot to topple the government. The latest arrests bring to 196 the number of active and retired officers who stand accused of involvement in the so-called Sledgehammer Plot dating back to 2003. In February, prosecutors requested that 163 of the accused remain under arrest—most of them active duty senior ranks—on a dubious legal pretext. The suspects include the former commanders of the Turkish navy and air force.
What we are witnessing is a massive purge in preparation for the largest show trial ever in the non-Communist world. The charges, too, are worthy of Moscow 1937. The Sledgehammer plot, the government alleges, was to have included bombings of historic mosques in Istanbul, an attack on a museum, and the provocation of military tensions with neighboring Greece including aerial attacks on Greek islands. Such acts of terrorism and outright military aggression were supposedly designed to plunge Turkey into utter chaos and provide an opportunity for the military to step in and remove the AKP-controlled government from power.
The Sledgehammer is connected to the reported Ergenekon conspiracy. This is supposedly the Mother of All Plots, the mega-conspiracy in which the “Deep State”—a shadowy coalition of senior military officers, the intelligence services, the judiciary, and organized crime—planned terrorist attacks to foment unrest leading to a military takeover. As Claire Berlinski explains, the claims about these supposed conspirators defy logic:
Arch-secular nationalists, the prosecutors say, have been in bed with the Maoist PKK, the extreme-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party, the Islamist Hizbullah and Milli Görüş, the ultranationalist Turkish Revenge Brigades, the Turkish Workers’ and Peasants’ Liberation Army, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party, and the Islamic Great East Raiders Front. This is a bit like imagining that the Weathermen hooked up with the John Birch Society, the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Panthers, Act Up, the Zeta drug cartel, and a dissident faction of the Republican National Committee, and that all concerned managed to refrain from killing each other long enough to design a serious plan to overthrow the American government—with a bit of willing propaganda assistance from Bob Woodward and the Huffington Post.
Details of the “Sledgehammer” emerged after an anonymous source delivered a suitcase full of supposedly secret military documents to a newspaper reporter in January 2010. Prime Minister Erdoğan and other AKP leaders have openly lent support and credibility to the charges. There are countless inconsistencies in the accusations, however. To take but one example, dozens of entities—hospitals, NGOs, companies, and even military units—were referred to by names or acronyms which they acquired many years after 2003, in some cases as late as August 2009.
The military has strenuously denied the allegations, claiming that the documents were forged, and insisting thatthe scenarios were part of a hypothetical war game that took place at a military training seminar. “The Turkish Armed Forces, which have especially avoided any actions that could be seen as interfering with the ongoing judicial process, have explained through repeated statements, in no uncertain terms, what the seminars were, how they were carried out, what they involved and who participated under what orders,” the April 6 General Staff statement said.
The Sledgehammer case is not a “case” at all; it is an attempt by the AKP regime to neutralize Turkey’s once-powerful military once and for all. The government’s specific objective is to discredit the officer corps and thus facilitate the abolition of the Army’s traditional role as the guardian of the country’s secular political system. According to Dani Rodrik of Harvard University—whose father-in-law, retired four-star general Cetin Dogan, is one of the defendants—we are witnessing machinations in the guise of the judicial process aimed at achieving political advantage instead of justice. The result is that “Turkey’s relevance as a democratic beacon for the Middle East” will be undermined.
Turkey has grand ambitions as a “beacon.” It is pursuing an openly neo-Ottoman strategy all over the region. Its president, Abdullah Gül, claims that Turkey can have a “great and unbelievably positive effect” on the Middle East. Its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu delares modestly, “If the world is on fire, Turkey is the firefighter… assuming the leading role for stability in the Middle East.”
The United States should take note of such aspirations and act accordingly. It is probably too late to encourage the generals not yet in jail to bring the AKP to heel, but it is still possible to demand that the Prozess in the making be abandoned as a precondition of tolerating Turkey’s attempts at regional grandstanding. Messrs. Erdoğan, Gül and Davutoğlu should be told that this would be the test of Turkey’s putative “positive effect” and “leading role” in the region. That much Ankara should and probably would do to maintain its bid for regional leadership which remains unhindered from Washington.
Standing up for the Turkish army at its time of need—the only true ally the United States has had in the country for some decades now—is both just and prudent. Among the accused officers several have maintained close professional and personal ties with their American colleagues.
The U.S. should demand no more (but also no less) than a scrupulous observance of Turkey’s own laws and legal procedures. As Ms. Berlinski points out, Turkey’s legal system has always been viewed “as something opaque, arbitrary, and capricious—another weapon to be used by the powerful against their enemies, not a source of justice for ordinary people.” Its continued misuse is an issue which is a matter of legitimate American concern, if we are to take seriously President Obama’s rhetoric about Turkey as the essential bridge between the East and the West.
Different in magnitude and political implications but not in legal and moral substance is the case of an American citizen, Zack Shahin, who was arrested in Dubai in 2008, held in isolation for months on end. Shahin still remains in jail on what appear to be spurious charges with no trial date in sight. All this is happening in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which still purport to be the forward-looking showcase of Arab capacity for liberalism and entrepreneurial flair.
Before the financial crisis the UAE attracted thousands of Western investors and experts. Dubai in particular started growing into a glittering metropolis of high-rise towers, expensive hotels and top-tier shops. It became Arabia’s Las Vegas (minus the gambling and showgirls), a financial Disneyland without the fun.
But then, as reported in Human Events last February, in early 2008 Dubai’s investment flagship, Dubai_World, showed signs of financial instability and the authorities looked about for scapegoats: “As the world economic downturn expanded, Dubai’s $80 billion debt threatened the emirate with financial collapse. It withdrew from free-trade negotiations with the U.S. over disagreements about its foreign worker labor laws and human rights… While Dubai sought a bailout from the rest of the UAE, it engaged in highly autocratic behavior.”
Those same expatriates who built Dubai’s economy and helped enrich its rulers were suddenly presented as predatory speculators to be blamed for the downturn in what had been obviously an overheated property market. Shahin, a former top executive of Deyaar Development, was held in isolation for 13 months, denied U.S. consular assistance—in blatant violation of international treaties to which the Emirates are a party—and in April 2009 charged with embezzlement. There is no indication when he will be tried. While incommunicado he was allegedly tortured and forced to sign papers in Arabic he did not understand. After investigating one misdemeanor charge against Shahin for the past 3 years, it suddenly dawned on the presiding judge that he may not have jurisdiction over the case. Therefore, he decided to send the case back to the public prosecutor. This maneuver will now enable the prosecutor to apply a new law that never existed at the time of Shahin’s arrest, where Shahin can be labeled a public official and potentially, if ever tried and convicted, face a sentence of up to 20 years. Shahin has twice been “released” on bail, and then immediately rearrested. Dozens of other non-American foreignershave been treated in a similar vein. Tourists in Dubai have sometimes fared far worse, such as British tourist Lee Bradley Brown, who was apparently beaten to death by his jailors following his arrest for allegedly using abusive language.
The U.S. government has sent at least three formal Diplomatic Notes expressing concerns about Shahin’s treatment but they remain unanswered. His case has been raised with UAE officials by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton during her visit last January and by other American diplomats, but all have been rebuffed. Letters to the UAE ambassador in Washington DC from both Ohio Senators and from former Rep. Deborah Pryce have never been answered.
The State Department has yet to make a public statement about Shahin’s predicament, however. This is in marked contrast to the case of three American hikers who strayed into Iran. Paradoxically, the U.S. government has taken far keener interest in the legal problems of two foreigners—Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Russia and Liu Xiaobo in China—than in the ongoing predicament of one of its citizens.
In these uncertain times for the region, the UAE are precariously stable but vulnerable. Looking at the neighboring Bahrain, its mega-rich rulers are feeling uneasy. They, too, are a minority in their own country—a mere fifth of the population—and they, too, suspect the impermanence of their wealth and power. Dubai’s ruling Al Maktoums in particular provide vivid evidence of Carnegie’s dictum that “there is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else.” They control an ostensibly U.S.-friendly, economically weakened and politically fragile Middle Eastern autocracy which needs robust encouragement from Washington to clean up its act in the legal sphere. This needs to include rectifying victimization of foreigners through a corrupt judicial processes. A public expression of concern by the Secretary of State about the specific case of Zack Shahin would be a commendable first step.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—the biggest regional offender in this and many other fields—is a tougher nut to crack. It is actively engaged in spreading Islamic extremism all over the world and it is the biggest terrorist offender in the world. The desert kingdom does not only disregard the rights of its own people, it tramples on those of Americans, too. American citizens can be detained indefinitely at the pleasure of an Islamic judge—or of a Saudi Muslim father who had kidnapped them from their American mother. This happened a decade ago to Patricia Roush, whose daughters Alia and Aisha—now grown up and married to their father’s cousins twice their age—remain clad from head to toe in the black abbaya. Yet the State Department directed the U.S. embassy in Riyadh to remain “impartial.” Ray Mabus, ex-U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, explained that diplomats feel they should be working on the “big stuff.” Ms. Roush’s book At Any Price details her horrendous experiences with the Saudi government and with a society steeped in barbarity.
That barbarity is manifested in the extensive use of judicial corporal punishment, including amputations of limbs for robbery and flogging for “sexual deviance” and intoxication. The Saudis insist that their “legal traditions” are divinely ordained. That is no reason for the U.S. not to express an unambiguous and publically stated opinion on the matter, especially
- when the condemned is accused of the nebulous “crime” of sorcery and sentenced to eight years in jail and 800 (!) lashes, compliments of the “Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” (CPVPV), aka the religious police; or
- when high-school students are sentenced to six months in prison and 120 lashes each for stealing examination papers.
Large sections of the American and European elites are being fed Saudi money, directly and indirectly, to bribe them to exert pressures at home favorable to the Kingdom. Its kleptocracy owns huge parts of major American corporations, and that is the “big stuff.” The focus on the “big stuff” also allowed thousands of young Saudis easy access to American visas under various pretexts, many of them hell-bent on waging jihad against the unbelievers. The Saudi authorities issued them exit visas in the full knowledge what they were up to. The Islamic “charities” that financed terrorists included prominent members of the royal family on their boards. Many are now more discrete about their involvement than a decade ago, but no less committed.
America is still reluctant to read the riot act to the Saudis. It is high time she did. Their money earned during the oil boom has been largely squandered on palaces, cars, armaments, white hookers and brown foreign laborers. The fabulous flow of wealth was not used to create a serious industrial base. The only expanding industry is that of Islamic extremism. The ability of the fanatical and mendacious (as well as profligate and corrupt) rulers of the desert kingdom to remain in power is uncertain. The Saudis seem to believe that the North African storm has passed them by and that the US officials prefer to deal with the devil they know anyway. America needs to set herself free from the urge to pander to Saudi whims, however, because leaving the Saudis to their own devices will end in an Iranian scenario, more sudden and more violent than the drama in Teheran in 1979.
* * *
America cannot and should not try to effect regime changes in Turkey, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, or for that matter anywhere else in the Middle East. Washington has all kinds of political and economic tools at its disposal, however, to make their governments more observant of the rule of law, domestic as well as international. Using those tools judiciously but firmly has the potential to create far more good—for those countries’ people, for America, and for the rest of the world—than using cruise missiles has ever done.
Think of the defining image of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa – the idea that unites Egypt with Tunisia, Bahrain and Libya. It has not been, in itself, the celebrations of Hosni Mubarak’s fall nor the battles in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Nor even the fact of Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, which acted as a trigger for all the events that have unfolded.
Instead, that defining image is this: a young woman or a young man with a smartphone. She’s in the Medina in Tunis with a BlackBerry held aloft, taking a picture of a demonstration outside the prime minister’s house. He is an angry Egyptian doctor in an aid station stooping to capture the image of a man with a head injury from missiles thrown by Mubarak’s supporters. Or it is a Libyan in Benghazi running with his phone switched to a jerky video mode, surprised when the youth in front of him is shot through the head.
All of them are images that have found their way on to the internet through social media sites. And it’s not just images. In Tahrir Square I sat one morning next to a 60-year-old surgeon cheerfully tweeting his involvement in the protest. The barricades today do not bristle with bayonets and rifles, but with phones.
As commentators have tried to imagine the nature of the uprisings, they have attempted to cast them as many things: as an Arab version of the eastern European revolutions of 1989 or something akin to the Iranian revolution that toppled the Shah in 1979. Most often, though, they have tried to conceive them through the media that informed them – as the result of WikiLeaks, as “Twitter revolutions” or inspired by Facebook.
All of which, as American media commentator Jay Rosen has written, has generated an equally controversialist class of article in reply, most often written far from the revolutions. These stories are not simply sceptical about the contribution of social media, but determined to deny it has played any part.
Those at the vanguard of this argument include Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker (Does Egypt Need Twitter?), the New Statesman’s Laurie Penny (Revolts Don’t Have to be Tweeted) and even David Kravets of Wired.co.uk (What’s Fuelling Mideast protests? It’s More Than Twitter). All have argued one way or another that since there were revolutions before social media, and it is people who make revolutions, how could it be important?
Except social media has played a role. For those of us who have covered these events, it has been unavoidable.
Precisely how we communicate in these moments of historic crisis and transformation is important. The medium that carries the message shapes and defines as well as the message itself. The instantaneous nature of how social media communicate self-broadcast ideas, unlimited by publication deadlines and broadcast news slots, explains in part the speed at which these revolutions have unravelled, their almost viral spread across a region. It explains, too, the often loose and non-hierarchical organisation of the protest movements unconsciously modelled on the networks of the web.
Speaking recently to the Huffington Post, Rosen argued that those taking positions at either extreme of the debate were being lazy and inaccurate. “Wildly overdrawn claims about social media, often made with weaselly question marks (like: ‘Tunisia’s Twitter revolution?’) and the derisive debunking that follows from those claims (‘It’s not that simple!’) only appear to be opposite perspectives. In fact, they are two modes in which the same weightless discourse is conducted.
“Revolutionary hype is social change analysis on the cheap. Debunking is techno-realism on the cheap. Neither one tells us much about our world.”
A protester in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut. Photograph: Sharif Karim/REUTERS
Rosen is right. And when I began researching this subject I too started out as a sceptic. But what I witnessed on the ground in Tunisia and Egypt challenged my preconceptions, as did the evidence that has emerged from both Libya and Bahrain. For neither the notion of the “Twitter Revolutions” or their un-Twitterness, accurately reflects the reality. Often, the contribution of social networks to the Arab uprisings has been as important as it also has been complex, contradictory and misunderstood.
Instead, the importance and impact of social media on each of the rebellions we have seen this year has been defined by specific local factors (not least how people live their lives online in individual countries and what state limits were in place). Its role has been shaped too by how well organised the groups using social media have been.
When Tarak Mekki, an exiled Tunisian businessman, politician and internet activist returned to Tunisia from Canada in the days after the Jasmine Revolution he was greeted by a crowd of hundreds. Most of them know Mekki for One Thousand and One Nights, the Monday-night video he used to post on YouTube ridiculing the regime of the fled President Zine Alabidine Ben Ali.
“It’s amazing that we participated via the internet in ousting him,” he said on his arrival. “Via uploading videos. What we did on the internet had credibility and that’s why it was successful.”
Tunisia was vulnerable – under the Ben Ali regime – to the kind of external and internal dissent represented by One Thousand and One Nights. In a state where the media were tightly controlled and the opposition ruthlessly discouraged, Tunisia not only exercised a tight monopoly on internet provision but blocked access to most social networking sites – except Facebook.
“They wanted to close Facebook down in the first quarter of 2009,” says Khaled Koubaa, president of the Internet Society in Tunisia, “but it was very difficult. So many people were using it that it appears that the regime backed off because they thought banning it might actually cause more problems [than leaving it].”
Indeed, when the Tunisian government did shut it down briefly, for 16 days in August 2008, it was confronted with a threat by cyber activists to close their internet accounts. The regime was forced to back down.
Instead, says Koubaa, the Tunisian authorities attempted to harass those posting on Facebook. “If they became aware of you on Facebook they would try to divert your account to a fake login page to steal your password.”
And despite the claims of Tunisia being a Twitter revolution – or inspired by WikiLeaks – neither played much of a part. In Tunisia, pre-revolution, only around 200 active tweeters existed out of around 2,000 with registered accounts. The WikiLeaks pages on Tunisian corruption, says Koubaa, who with his friends attempted to set up sites where his countrymen could view them, were blocked as soon as they appeared – and anyway, the information was hardly news to Tunisians. However, “Facebook was huge,” he says. Koubaa argues that social media during Ben Ali’s dictatorship existed on two levels. A few thousand “geeks” like him communicated via Twitter, while perhaps two million talked on Facebook. The activism of the first group informed that of the latter.
All of which left a peculiar loophole that persisted until December, when the regime finally launched a full-scale attack against Facebook. This in in a country that already tortured and imprisoned bloggers, and where the country’s internet censors at the Ministry of the Interior were nicknamed “Amar 404″ after the 404 error message that appeared when a page was blocked.
“Social media was absolutely crucial,” says Koubaa. “Three months before Mohammed Bouazizi burned himself in Sidi Bouzid we had a similar case in Monastir. But no one knew about it because it was not filmed. What made a difference this time is that the images of Bouazizi were put on Facebook and everybody saw it.”
And with state censorship rife in many of these countries, Facebook has functioned in the way the media should – as a source of information. Around a week after Ben Ali’s fall, I run into Nouridine Bhourri, a 24-year-old call-centre worker, at a demonstration in Tunis against the presence in the government of former members of the old regime.
“We still don’t believe the news and television,” he says, a not surprising fact when many of the orginal journalists are still working. “I research what’s happening on Facebook and the internet.” Like many, Bhourri has become a foot soldier in the internet campaign against the old Tunisian regime.
“I put up amateur video on Facebook. For instance, a friend got some footage of a sniper on Avenue de Carthage. It’s what I’ve been doing, even during the crisis. You share video and pictures. It was if you wrote something – or made it yourself – that there was a real problem.”
A Bahraini protester displays a picture of a wounded man on her phone. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AP
If Twitter had negligible influence on events in Tunisia, the same could not be said for Egypt. A far more mature and extensive social media environment played a crucial role in organising the uprising against Mubarak, whose government responded by ordering mobile service providers to send text messages rallying his supporters – a trick that has been replicated in the past week by Muammar Gaddafi.
In Egypt, details of demonstrations were circulated by both Facebook and Twitter and the activists’ 12-page guide to confronting the regime was distributed by email. Then, the Mubarak regime – like Ben Ali’s before it – pulled the plug on the country’s internet services and 3G network. What social media was replaced by then – oddly enough – was the analogue equivalent of Twitter: handheld signs held aloft at demonstrations saying where and when people should gather the next day.
Sultan Al Qassemi, a columnist based in the United Arab Emirates who has tweeted non-stop on the uprisings, passing on information and English translations of key speeches, believes that some claims about the impact of social media need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
“Social media has certainly played a part in the Arab Spring Revolutions but its impact is often exaggerated on the inside. Egypt was disconnected from the outside world for days and yet the movement never stopped. I have missed work, I have missed sleep, I have forgotten to eat, I have strained my eyes, fingers and hands, I am not Tunisian, Egyptian or Libyan, but it’s all been worth it.
“Today Libya is facing an even more severe internet disruption, yet we continue to see the movement picking up pace. Where social media had a major impact was conveying the news to the outside world, bloggers and Twitter users were able to transmit news bites that would otherwise never make it to mainstream news media.
“This information has been instrumental in garnering the attention of the citizens of the world who expressed solidarity with those suppressed individuals and may even put pressure on their own governments to react. Other uses for social media were to transmit information on medical requirements, essential telephone numbers and the satellite frequencies of Al Jazeera – which is continuously being disrupted.”
Indeed, this is what has been most obvious about social media’s impact in Bahrain and Libya in the past week. Social networking sites have supplied the most graphic images of the crackdowns on protesters, but also broadcast messages from hospitals looking for blood, rallied demonstrators and provided international dial-up numbers for those whose internet has been blocked. Libyan activists also asked Egyptians to send their sim cards across the border so they could communicate without being bugged.
But above all it has been about the ability to communicate. Egyptian-born blogger Mona Eltahawy says that social media has given the most marginalised groups in the region a voice. To say “‘Enough’ and ‘This is how I feel.’”
In many respects, what people were doing on Facebook and Twitter was just what dissident bloggers had been doing in the runup to the uprisings – often at great risk. And in Tunisia under its old regime – as elsewhere – the consequences for blogging against the government’s abuses could be extremely harsh.
Zuhair Yahyaoui, the founder of Tunezine, an opposition website, was imprisoned, not least for publishing a letter written by his uncle, a judge, demanding an independent judiciary.
Tortured and abused in prison, he died two years after his release, aged 37. “It was a heart attack,” his uncle Mokhtar told the Guardian, “and it was made worse by prison.”
One day in Tunisia I meet Lina Ben Mhenni, who blogs under the name A Tunisian Girl. The 27-year-old teacher of linguistics at Tunis University was one of the most high-profile bloggers following Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, travelling to his home town of Sidi Bouzid to chronicle events both for her blog and Facebook.
“It was through Facebook that the first support groups following what happened in Sidi Bouzid were set up and the first demonstrations organised,” she says. “Social media was critical at a time when everything else was censored.”
Which is not to say that everything broadcast over social media sites has been either accurate or reliable. The unedited and unmediated nature of the stories that have been told have led to inaccuracies, which have sometimes proven beneficial to those opposing the regime.
One of these narratives – created right at the beginning – was the story of Bouazizi himself. The story of a university graduate forced to sell fruit who killed himself when he could not even do that proved to be incendiary. Except one of the key facts wasn’t true. Bouazizi not only hadn’t been to university, he had not even completed his school baccalaureate.
And while it is unclear how the story came to be so widely believed, what is certain is that some people have planted material they believe is helpful, even if it is not true. Video of a demonstration – claimed to be a recent gathering in Iran – and placed on social media sites was actually a protest that occurred in 2009. The footage was unmasked as a fraud by Twitter users, ironically enough.
But there has been another critical factor at work that has ensured that social media has maintained a high profile in these revolutions. That is the strong reliance that mainstream media such as the Doha-based television network Al Jazeera has had to place on material smuggled out via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. This arrangement means that videos have often been broadcast back in to the country of origin – when Al Jazeera has managed to avoid having its signal blocked.
For me it is a phenomena best summed up by an encounter I had with a group of young Tunisians I met during a demonstration on the day after my arrival in Tunis. I asked them what they were photographing with their phones.
“Ourselves. Our revolution. We put it on Facebook,” one replied laughing, as if it were a stupid question. “It’s how we tell the world what’s happening.”