by PATRICK COCKBURN
Syria is close to following Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya as the target of a major Western military intervention. It certainly looks that way after the American decision last week to send weapons to the rebels in a move that can only deepen the conflict.
The supposed aim of the United States arms supply is to “tip the balance” in favour of the insurgents and force Bashar al-Assad’s government to negotiate its departure from power. But Assad holds all but one of Syria’s cities and large towns, so, to transform the military situation on the ground the US, Britain and France would have to become the main fighting force of the rebels and engage in a full-scale war.
Such a war would be similar to what happened in Afghanistan in 2001 when the cutting edge of the anti-Taliban offensive was strategic and tactical American air support. The anti-Taliban militiamen led by the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara warlords of the Northern Alliance were few in number – I kept running into the same small units on the road from Kabul to Kandahar – and acted essentially as a mopping-up force that did little real fighting.
In northern Iraq in 2003 the Kurdish Peshmerga were careful not to advance anywhere until the Iraqi army facing them had been pummelled by US bombers. One Kurdish commander told me that his men could not advance an inch without US permission because “we have to co-operate with American air support”. Much the same happened in Libya in 2011 when, for all the laudatory media coverage of the rebels, they would not have survived for more than a few days without Nato Special Forces on the ground and air power overhead.
Of course, the Western intervention in Libya started off with the declared humanitarian purpose of preventing Gaddafi capturing Benghazi and massacring its people. The reality was that Nato leaders were determined to overthrow the regime. The main role of Libyan militiamen on the road south of Benghazi was to appear on foreign television. One of the more amusing sights at the time was to watch cameramen asking other members of the media to stand to one side so viewers would not see that journalists were more numerous than Libyan fighters in the front line.
The message of these three wars is that if the US and its Western allies do intervene in Syria it is they who will be the main players while the rebels will have only bit-parts or be there to give a Syrian gloss to foreign intervention. There are already signs of this happening. Brigadier Salim Idris, the chief of staff of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), appears to spend more of his time giving interviews to foreign journalists than commanding his troops. Not that these are numerous since even his own aides admit privately that he can give orders to a maximum of 10 per cent of the insurgent brigades in Syria.
There is a disconnect between the rebels as they really are and as presented by Western politicians such as David Cameron. Suddenly there is international concern about what will happen in Aleppo if the Assad forces launch a counter-attack to drive the rebels out of the parts of the city they hold. The rhetoric is similar to that used by then president Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron over the need to save the people of Benghazi from massacre in 2011. It is a measure of British and French cynicism that they hardly seemed to notice when, 10 days ago, militiamen in Benghazi, whom they formerly supported, shot dead 31 Libyans protesting against militia rule.
Britain and France speak as if the struggle was between an overwhelmingly popular insurgency and a hated dictatorship. But it was a rebel commander, Abu Ahmed, in the al-Tawheed Brigade that is part of the FSA in Aleppo, who volunteered to a reporter earlier this year that 70 per cent of people in Aleppo support Assad. “They don’t have a revolutionary mindset,” the rebel officer lamented, blaming this on the FSA’s oppression, and corruption caused by “parasites” who had infiltrated its ranks. Inured to horrors though Syrians have become, they were appalled last week to see pictures on Twitter of the mangled head of a 14-year-old boy selling coffee in the street in Aleppo. He had been shot twice in the face by rebels after they accused him of speaking ill of the Prophet. Also last week, rebels massacred 60 people in a Shia village in Deir Ezzor province in the east of the country.
The volume of propaganda justifying Western military intervention in Syria is so high because leaders advocating it know that polls show that such intervention is highly unpopular at home. Hence the White House’s claim that it decided to arm the rebels when it finally became convinced that the Assad regime had crossed a red line by using chemical weapons including sarin gas. Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Washington, while arguing for full-scale US intervention in Syria, says “the ‘discovery’ that Syria used chemical weapons may well be a political ploy. It seems very likely that the administration has had virtually all the evidence for weeks, if not months.”
In fact, the evidence smells very like that for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in 2003. It begs the question of why Assad should use small quantities of sarin gas knowing it would be used to justify Western military intervention when his forces are not short of artillery and every other weapon if they want to kill people. One curious aspect of the sarin gas story is that, at the end of May, the Turkish security forces said they had arrested in Turkey militants of the Syrian rebel al-Nusra Front, affiliated to al-Qa’ida, who had in their possession a 2kg cylinder filled with sarin. This is far more substantial evidence for the possession of poison gas than anything alleged against Assad’s forces, but the US, Britain and France showed no interest.
At the G8 meeting in Enniskillen tomorrow it may become clearer how far the US and its allies distinguish between propaganda and reality in relation to Syria. Do Britain and France really imagine that a mix of bluff, threats and a limited supply of infantry weapons will have a decisive impact on the battlefield? Cordesman argues for a no-fly zone that should be rapidly transformed into “a de facto no-move zone”. This is the most effective way to allow the rebels to defeat Assad if they can. In other words, only an all-out war by the West will work against Assad; anything else will be like being “half-pregnant”.
Cordesman is probably right in his military assessment but surely wrong, as we have seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, that this will end the fighting. Better by far for the G8 leaders to compel all parties in Syria to go to Geneva, agree a ceasefire, establish a UN mission in Syria to monitor it, and then seek to negotiate long-term solutions.
The first priority should be for the US and Russia to compel the sides they back to cease fire. This would have to be policed on the ground by a UN observer force. I recall the much-maligned UN Supervision Mission in Syria in 2012 arranging a ceasefire in the hardcore rebel town of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus. It did not stop all the shooting but many Syrians lived who would otherwise have died.
There may be a more sinister reason why the US has started setting the bar so high for talks. Washington’s involvement is greater than appears because so much of it goes through Qatar, with the CIA determining who gets arms and money sent via Turkey. This would also explain why Britain and France are so keen to send the rebels weapons.
The explanation for the actions of the Western states may be that they do not want the war to end except as a victory for their allies. This certainly is the view of many in the Middle East, such as Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the former Iraqi National Security Adviser, who told me the civil war “is the best option for the West and Israel because it knocks out Syria as an opponent of their policies and keeps Iran busy. Hezbollah is preoccupied by Syria and not with Israel. Turkey’s idea of a new Ottoman empire is gone with the wind.”
This is a cynical but probably correct explanation for why the US, Britain, France and the Sunni monarchies do not want the war to end until they can declare victory.
Question: what do the so-called “colour” revolutions – Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004), and
the rest – have in common with the uprising that drove Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak from power? Answer: the great majority of the people involved avoided committing acts of violence; and the organisers took advice from a young Serbianrevolutionary called Srdja Popovic and his colleagues.
For many of us, the way that one deeply embedded Middle Eastern dictatorship after another has collapsed this year is a baffling mystery. But for Popovic, tall, lean and brimming with vitality, it was no great surprise. “How do we see political power?” he asks. “Mainly we see power as the state wants us to, as a monolith. So we believe power is fixed; and nothing can change except the people at the top.” But at an age when he was still tender enough to do something with the information, Popovic (pictured right) discovered that power is not like that. “The true nature of power is very different. In a society, power can change very swiftly. It can become fragile and can be redistributed, especially in non-democratic regimes… Ultimately, power in society comes from the obedience of the people. And those people – each of whom is individually a small source of power – can change their minds, and refuse to follow commands.” Read more…
The man in charge of the military committee responsible for keeping order in Tripoli, and, (according to his words) a strong & grateful ally of the United States and NATO, is Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who fought in Afghanistan alongside the Mujahideen and in the Soviet-Afghan war.
In 1992 Abdel Hakim Belhaj returned to Libya, where he formed with others the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which tried to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi from 1994 onwards. Belhadj was known during this period as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, and was part of the LIFG that fought an insurgency campaign based from eastern Libya. But after three unsuccessful assassination attempts on Gaddafi, the LIFG was crushed in 1998. Belhadj and other leaders of the LIFG fled to Afghanistan, and joined the Taliban.
Belhaj as an enemy of the US
Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, Abdel Hakim was arrested in Pakistan in late 2001, and handed over to US security officials, but unlike other captives taken in Afghanistan, he was repatriated to Libya two months later.
Tracked by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), after a tip-off from MI6 gained from London-based informants, Belhadj was arrested with his pregnant wife in 2004 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia. Transferred on the same plane to Bangkok, he was then placed in the custody of the CIA, where he was retained at a secret prison at the airport. He was subjected to extraordinary rendition on behalf of the United States, and sent to Thailand. His pregnant wife, traveling with him, was taken away, and his child would be 6 before he saw him.
In Bangkok, Mr. Belhaj said, he was tortured for a few days by two people he said were C.I.A. agents, and then, worse, they repatriated him to Libya, where he was thrown into solitary confinement for six years, three of them without a shower, one without a glimpse of the sun.
In 2010 under a “de-radicalisation” drive championed by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan authorities released him amongst 170 other Libyan Islamists. In March 2011, Belhadj appeared in an unreleased al-Jazeera film, in which he praised the mediation of Saif al-Islam for his release. In response, Gaddafi’s son said that the men who had been freed “were no longer a danger to society.” Read more…
The black flag of Al Qaeda has been spotted flying over a public building in Libya, raising concerns that the country could lurch towards Muslim extremism
The flag, complete with Arabic script reading “there is no God but Allah” and full moon underneath, was seen flying above the Benghazi courthouse building, considered to be the seat of the revolution, according to the news website Vice.com.
The flag was said to be flying over the building alongside the Libyan national flag but the National Transitional Council has denied that it was responsible.
Vice.com also reported that Islamists had been seen driving around the city’s streets, waving the Al Qaeda flag from their cars and shouting “Islamiya, Islamiya! No East, nor West”.
The revelation came just days after it emerged that rebels in Libya have imposed Sharia law in the some parts of country since seizing power.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council, said Islamic Sharia law would be the “basic source” of legislation in free Libya.
The move towards Islamic extremism is likely to alarm many in the West who supported the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.
Source: Telegraph UK
This is an interview conducted with Gilbert Achcar on Wednesday, August 24, in regards to news of the Libyan rebels entering Tripoli. The interview addresses the events surrounding this development, highlighting the dynamics of the NATO intervention and discussing the identities and interests that make up the rebel forces. Transcripts of the interview follow the below video.
Libyan rebels have consolidated their grip on the capital of Tripoli by capturing Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s main compound, but the whereabouts of the Libyan leader remain unknown, and he has vowed his forces would resist “the aggression with all strength” until either victory or death. Reporters in Tripoli say heavy gunfire could still be heard nearby the area of the Rixos Hotel, where dozens of international journalists guarded by heavily armed Gaddafi loyalists are unable to leave. The Arab League said on Tuesday it will meet this week to consider giving Libyan rebels the country’s seat at the League, after it was taken away a few months ago from the Gaddafi government. Today Britain’s National Security Council is meeting to discuss unfreezing Libyan assets to financially assist the National Transitional Council. We speak with Gilbert Achcar, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “Who are the rebels? Well, this is actually the $1 billion question,” says Achcar. “Even in NATO circles, you find the same questions.”
Gilbert Achcar, professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. He is author of several books, most recently,The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives. He has published a long essay, “NATO’s ‘Conspiracy’ Against the Libyan Revolution,” on Jadaliyya.com.
Source: Democracy Now
Refuting Juan Cole’s “Top Ten Myths about the Libyan War”
by CONN HALLINAN
In his essay, “Top Ten Myths about the Libyan War,” Juan Cole argues that U.S. interests in the conflict consisted of stopping “massacres of people,” a “lawful world order,” “the NATO alliance,” and oddly, “the fate of Egypt.” It is worth taking a moment to look at each of these arguments, as well as his dismissal of the idea that the U.S./NATO intervention had anything to do with oil as “daft.”
Massacres are bad things, but the U.S. has never demonstrated a concern for them unless its interests were at stake. It made up the “massacre” of Kosovo Albanians in order to launch the Yugoslav War, and ended up acquiring one of the largest U.S. bases in the world, Camp Bond Steel. It has resolutely ignored the massacre of Palestinians and Shiites in Bahrain because it is not in Washington’s interests to concern itself with those things. Israel is an ally, and Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Cole accepts the fact that Qaddafi would have “massacred” his people, but his evidence for that is thin, and he chooses to completely ignore the deaths and casualties resulting from the NATO bombing. Read more…
by Rick Moran on Mar 28th, 2011
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorizes a no-fly zone over Libya and the protection of civilians by all means necessary, is the culmination of a decade-long effort to radically strengthen the ability of the UN to intervene in sovereign nations through the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine. Behind the initiative are, unsurprisingly, some of the usual suspects: National Security Council adviser Samantha Power and her patron George Soros. Their call to prevent human rights abuses through military intervention masks an agenda to alter drastically the concept of state sovereignty and to allow the United Nations to essentially co-opt the US military.
A 2008 backgrounder produced by The Heritage Foundation on the Responsibility to Protect articulates one of the most dangerous aspects of the doctrine: “R2P would effectively cede U.S. national sovereignty and decision-making power over key components of national security and foreign policy and subject them to the whims of the international community.” What we are seeing unfold in Libya today may very well be a test case for this doctrine: the United Nations has “borrowed” the US military to enforce its idea of Gaddafi’s “responsibilities.” And one question of grave concern is: Might the UN also “borrow” the U.S. and other Western militaries in future to impose its will on member states it feels are not living up to the UN’s nebulous idea of state responsibilities?
Before we examine the ingredients of this potentially catastrophic scenario, a bit of historical background is necessary. The Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which is deliberately nebulous and ill-defined, is not new. In fact, Hitler’s intervention in the Sudetenland was justified by “humanitarian reasons.” Hitler’s propaganda machine created mass hysteria in Germany by falsely accusing Czechoslovakia of carrying out atrocities against ethnic Germans. Hitler negotiated with Neville Chamberlain on the basis that he was only going to intervene to save lives. Chamberlain may not have bought Hitler’s lies, but Munich occurred nonetheless.
The doctrine was applied sporadically for the next 50 years because military intervention of any kind during the Cold War risked nuclear confrontation. Although the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was justified by Moscow as a “humanitarian” endeavor, there were few other cases. Read more…
The NATO continues it’s assassination campaign
Benghazi, Libya: Four rockets struck the compound of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday, killing at least two people, a government spokesman told CNN.
After the blasts, which could be heard in the center of Tripoli, sirens blared and at least two emergency vehicles sped toward the Bab al-Aziziya compound.
The Libya government took journalists near the site of the blast and smoke could be seen still rising from the compound. At least two dead bodies were at a nearby hospital, both of them men.
Government officials said 27 people affected by the strike were also brought to the hospital. Most seemed to be suffering from smoke inhalation.
On May 1, the Libyan government said another attack on the same compound had killed Gadhafi’s son Saif al-Arab Gadhafi and three of the leader’s grandchildren.
Thursday’s strike came a day after spokesmen for the Libyan rebels sparred with a spokesman for the Libyan government over who was in control of the airport in the besieged city of Misrata.
NATO warplanes and missiles have been pounding Gadhafi’s forces since March as Gadhafi’s troops try to quash a nearly three-month-old revolt against his nearly 42 years of rule.
Almost 750,000 people have fled the country amid the fighting, and 58,000 more are displaced within Libya, Valerie Amos, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs said.
At least 5,000 more are stranded at border crossings between Libya, Tunisia and Niger, Amos said.
Others have tried to flee by sea, but one such attempt appears to have ended in disaster for hundreds of refugees as their ship capsized off the capital.
By ISRAEL SHAMIR
Did the UN Security Council Authorize Assassination?
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced on Thursday that he would soon stand before the United Nations and report on alleged Libyan war crimes. We can only hope that his brief will include the latest war crime, the murder of Qaddafi’s family, his son and three grandchildren, and the assassination attempt on the life of the Libyan leader on May Day, 2011. Cameron, Sarkozy, the NATO field commanders and the Danish air crew should all be indicted for this crime.
UNSC Resolution 1970 is not a licence to commit mass murder. The resolution simply established a no-fly zone; it was designed to stem the violence, not turn Tripoli into a killing field. This is a clear case of coldly calculated targeted murder, as ruthless and brutal as any other form of political assassination. The date of the operation was known well beforehand, and had already been openly discussed in late April by the Russian Secret Service SVR (External Intelligence Service). On April 29th, a Russian netzine published an article by Kirill Svetitsky who quoted an anonymous source within SVR:
“There will be an attempt to kill Muammar Qaddafi on or before May 2. The governments of France, Britain and the US decided on it, for the warfare in Libya does not proceed well for the anti-Libyan alliance: the regular army has substantial gains; Bedouin tribes entered the fight on the government’s side; in Benghazi, a “second front” was opened by the armed local militias who are tired of rebels’ presence, their incessant fights and robberies.
“But the main reason for the timing is that the Italian parliament plans to discuss Italy’s involvement in Libyan campaign on May 3. Until now, decisions were taken by Berlusconi, but there are strong differences of opinion within the government coalition regarding the Libyan war, and they will probably bring the government down on May 3, and Italy will effectively leave the anti-Libyan alliance. It is likely to have a domino effect. For this reason leaders of the UK, the US and France decided to eliminate Qaddafi not later than May 2d, before the session of the Italian parliament on May 3d.”
Unlike many Internet predictions, this one turned out to be timely and exact. On May 1, the US, France and the UK made a failed attempt on the life of Muammar Qaddafi, although they did succeed in killing his son and three grandchildren. Such unusual operative foreknowledge implies that Western leaders had advised the Russians of the planned attack, and that the SVR had then leaked the plans.
The attack itself imitated the Israeli technique of “targeted killings”. The Israeli Air Force is notorious for dropping a one-ton (1800 pounds) bomb on a Gazan house in an attempt to liquidate Salah Shehadeh, a Hamas leader, in 2002. As “collateral damage” 13 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed and many others injured. Among the dead were Shehadeh’s wife Layla and his 15-year-old daughter Iman, who happened to be with him in the house at the time. This act of mass murder was publicly described as “a war crime”, and Israeli military personnel were later indicted in Spain and the UK.
If God does not punish Las Vegas then he owes an apology to Sodom, quipped Jay Leno. Likewise, if the initiators of the Qaddafi assassination attempt are not called to justice, then Europe owes an apology to the Israeli military.
This assassination attempt should open the eyes of those in Europe and the US who still believe that this war is ‘just’, or at least ‘justifiable’. The true reasons behind Western neocolonial interventions in the Middle East now stand revealed to all. One small example: the same source in Russian Intelligence also leaked a document, a letter from Libyan rebel leaders promising France 35 per cent of all Libyan oil. So much for humanitarian reasons!
It appears more and more that the whole Libyan affair was done up with smoke and mirrors. Initially the Benghazi Uprising was nothing more than a small local riot; the rebellion was unknown in other cities. Soon, however, the government was destabilized by Al-Jazeera, as the popular Arab network broadcast the “news” that Muammar Qaddafi and his sons had fled the country for Venezuela and that his black mercenaries were about to unleash another holocaust on hapless Libyans. Al-Jazeera’s lies have proven to be more damaging even than NATO’s bombs; they have fought Qaddafi tooth and nail, from the first rebel yell to the last foul scene of murder. Even today, while the bodies of Qaddafi’s family were spread before Libyan churchmen, al-Jazeera continued to broadcast denials from Benghazi. Stephen Lendman correctly notes that “Jazeera has become a more efficient propaganda machine against the Arab minds than the BBC ever was”. The uprising was led by Guantanamo detainees like Abu Sufian Hamuda bin Kumu. Perhaps they should be put onto the next flight back to the USA: thanks, but no thanks.
The Libyan campaign deserves to end like its predecessor,the Suez campaign – with the embarrassing withdrawal of NATO forces, and the sooner the better. Enough is enough! Let the Libyans solve their differences themselves.
First Libya, Then Syria?
Even as Libya settles into the typical intervention quagmire, developments in Syria are starting to heat up. While Russian President Medvedev did manage to override his own Foreign Office and Putin’s government, pulling off an abstention during the UNSC vote on the Libyan intervention, there is not the slightest chance for a similar trick regarding Syria. Syria has a Russian naval base in Tartus, practically the only base Russia has managed to keep out of the many Soviet bases lost, from Cuba to Vietnam. Moreover, Syria has a large Orthodox Christian community that openly supports President Bashar el Assad and is plainly nervous about the possible success of the Dera’a uprising. They believe the rebels are Salafist anti-Christian fanatics armed by the Saudis. Russia has always been the traditional protector of the Christian Orthodox in the Middle East, and is not likely to renege on its responsibilities towards these communities.
BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY, 62, a Zionist French philosopher is the man behind the French and American War on Libya, and he admits doing so freely and at leisure.
In the space of roughly two weeks, Mr. Lévy managed to get a fledgling Libyan opposition group a hearing from the president of France and the American secretary of state, a process that has led both countries and NATO into waging war against the forces of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
It was Mr. Lévy, by his own still undisputed account, who brought top members of the Libyan opposition — the Interim Transitional National Council — from Benghazi to Paris to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy on March 10, who suggested the unprecedented French recognition of the council as the legitimate government of Libya and who warned Mr. Sarkozy that unless he acted, “there will be a massacre in Benghazi, a bloodbath, and the blood of the people of Benghazi will stain the flag of France.”
After persuading Sarkozy, Mr. Lévy, gives Mr. Sarkozy sole credit for persuading London, Washington and others to support intervention in Libya.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is very famous in France, to the extent that he is known simply as B.H.L., a brand name of his own! A man of inherited wealth, a socialist whose trademarks known most for his strong support for Israel and a continuous desire to meddle in Foreign politics.