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Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister of the Saudi monarchy, cited a moral imperative to denounce the Syrian regime for its repression and outrageous violence. Yet, the Saudi monarchy, in coordination with the Obama regime, brokered a deal to provide immunity from prosecution for Ali Abdullah Saleh, despite utilising similar tactics, though in different magnitude, as Bashar al-Assad. The current president of Yemen, was brought in with a sham elections, being the only candidate. Voting papers even declared a vote for Abed-Rabo Mansour Hadi (Ali Abdullah Saleh’s long time second hand man and vice-president) as a patriotic duty! Predictably Ali Abdullah Saleh’s second-hand man gained victory with 99.8% of the vote and with the security apparatus and military mainly intact, despite orchestrating a violent repression that has led to the death of thousands. The Obama regime welcomed this as a ‘democratic transition’ and Abed-Rabo Mansour Hadi likewise signalled to his benefactors, in his inauguration speech, that he will carry out their agendas by promising a security clamp-down on ‘Al-Qaeda’ and thus the continuity of both military and security partnerships with the US and the Saudi monarchy.
In Egypt, the Obama regime were less forthright in their support of Hosni Mubarak, fearing the crumbling of US leverages in the security and military apparatus, engineered since the Camp David accords. Both Benjamin Netanyahu and the Saudi monarchy, at the time, signalled their outrage that the Obama regime should ‘interfere’ and make demands of their decades old ally, instead of sending a message of full support. Then King Abdullah hastily requested the Obama regime to continue in their backing of Hosni Mubarak, even if it necessitated the use of force against demonstrators:
The most difficult calls, officials said, were with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Mr. Netanyahu, who feared regional instability and urged the United States to stick with Mr. Mubarak. According to American officials, senior members of the government in Saudi Arabia argued that the United States should back Mr. Mubarak even if he used force against the demonstrators. By Feb. 1, when Mr. Mubarak broadcast a speech pledging that he would not run again and that elections would be held in September, Mr. Obama concluded that the Egyptian president still had not gotten the message.
These are merely examples to place the motives of the Saudi monarchy in place, considering the self-righteous moralising for the oppressed ‘people of Syria’ that is broadcast across the multiple outlets of the Saudi monarchy. The official withdrawal of the Saudi monarchy from the recent conference in Tunisia, was due to their crude diplomatic efforts to impose their own agenda of forcing the full recognition of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the arming of the Free Syrian Army and the use, if necessary, of force to implement a policy of regime change. The duplicity of Saud al-Faisal, as it is with the Obama regime, has little to do with concerns to end violence but everything to do with a proxy-war.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), on the anniversary of Rafiq al-Hariri’s assassination, have vowed to review all agreements/pacts between Syria and its Lebanese counterpart. For a coalition representing itself as a transitional body, it is novel that it should dictate strategic alliances and commitments in maintaining regional hegemony in favour of the US and its allies. The SNC also affirms its full solidarity with the Lebanese March 14th coalition and views the interference of this coalition in the Syrian uprising as coming from sincere concerns regarding suffering and solidarity with the oppressed (this concern for suffering was not shown, when the leaders of this coalition were collaborating with the both the US and Israel, in its massacre of civilians in the 2006 Lebanon war). Thus while claiming that both states will not interfere in each other’s sovereignty, as was the case during Hafeth al-Assad and his son’s dictatorship, the SNC (ironically) does not view itself interfering in Lebanese politics by promising to prop up the Saudi-US backed March 14 alliance as somehow representative of Lebanon.
In other words, the SNC seeks to frame their policies in benign terms and unlike their enemies, neither they nor their ‘friends’ interfere in the sovereignty of other nations. Their opponents policies ‘kill’ but their ‘friends’ are freedom loving and ‘moral’. The logic of the SNC is one of alliances, even if it means buttressing imperialism and its regional allies, in their attempts to manipulate the Syrian uprising for their own gains. This can be seen in documents produced by the SNC that frames any negative consequences of a military intervention in their effects on US and Israeli hegemony (the linked document is a report authored by retired general Akil Hachim, Osama Mounajed (SNC members) and prepared by a member of the neo-conservative Henry Jackson Society and ardent Zionist, Michael Weiss).
For example, Redwan Ziadeh delivers a statement at a meeting organized by the ‘American Jewish Committee’ (a committee aligned to America’s biggest Zionist lobby (AIPAC)). In this statement, signed by prominent Neo-Conservatives and Redwan Ziadeh himself, a military intervention is argued as something necessary to protect civilians against the brunt of the regime. Yet these same signatories, such as Paul Bremner, oversaw or supported wanton mass-massacres and the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi civilians. Here (though the interview, it seems, was before the uprising), Basma al-Kudmani, from the leadership of the SNC, states the necessity and also need for the existence of Zionism in the region and argues for normalization of relations with it. This is likely a statement of belief and not political expediency, as she documents her work to buttress normalization and the acceptance of a Zionist project in the region.
Similarly, the SNC joins a media campaign, similar to the one before the war on Iraq, that includes stories of links between Al-Qaeda and Iran, attempts to assassinate diplomats, the participation of 15,000 (!) of Iran’s Badr Brigades (along with Hezbollah) in military operations (propagated by the SNC through Saudi media channels) and so on. So Iran interferes, is everywhere, pernicious and a threat that needs to be curtailed. Yet, the US and its allies do not interfere, or if they do, it is advocated in the benign language of partnerships, international law, protection of civilians and Arab unity.
The SNC is signaling its intentions of full collaboration with US hegemony and that under no circumstance will their regional interests face any threats. As stated before, judging from the SNC’s manoeuvring, the SNC will seek to intensify its campaign to militarise the revolt, seek a military intervention and full recognition. In doing so it will represent itself solely in terms of one side of a proxy-struggle between different powers; the side, in Basma Kudmani’s terms, of the protector of freedom and human rights in the world.
It is no secret that the Syrian National Council carry obsessions regarding Iran and this signifies the alliances they are seeking to build and endorse. In this message, they claim Bashar al-Assad is running an operations room with five key figures of the regime, according to their unnamed sources, and there is a decision to escalate within the regime to end the uprising in five days. The threshold given is two thousand fatalities in any operation and this is in coordination with both Russia and Iran, who have full knowledge of all plans. In another news item, reported by the Saudi monarchy’s mouthpiece (Al-Arabiyya), reported is the presence of 15,000 (!) of Iranian special forces in Syria, led by General Qasim Suleimani. The news is sourced to the Israeli Haaretz, Turkish As-Sabah and an Iranian opposition website calling itself ‘The Green Journalists’. These same sources, according to Al-Arabiyya, source the story to an unnamed leader in the SNC! The news item is also carried on the SNC’s official Facebook page.
The strategy of the SNC, since its inception, is to mimic the Libyan scenario but with more calculated attempts to ally itself with US imperialism, with hopes that this will result in a hands-on adoption of the SNC, including its recognition, and a NATO military intervention in Syria. Of course, what the SNC wants is not the same as the agendas of regimes they wish to ally themselves with. There is little evidence that Turkey will allow its territory to be a base for an open guerrilla war with the Syrian regime, let alone for the Turkish army to commit to an incursion in Syria. The US may value a more encompassing relation with the SNC but they themselves carry their own agenda, of which concerns over Iran and Israel are central. The SNC may promise collaboration with this agenda, as is seen in their statements, but the US may choose to work with its trusted client states, to orchestrate a transition, but not seek to engender themselves with another war in the middle-east, especially with a coming election year. More, the complications of such an intervention are incomparable with a Libya scenario, despite the wishes of the SNC to naively emulate it.
The ‘National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change’, in response to the Russian and Chinese veto in the UN Security Council, on the Arab League plan, issued a statement advising the SNC to quit from its pointless attempts to force a military intervention and instead to work with all powers to push for a consensus document that ensures that Russian fears of a NATO intervention or a US unilateralism are considered. The Russian veto, according to ‘National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change’, was partly induced with a hurrying of a resolution at the UN Security Council, with little dialogue with Russia in developing a consensus document. For this reason, the opposition, should dialogue with all nation states allied with the Syrian regime to break this alliance and work towards a democratic transition in Syrian and an end to the current violence orchestrated by the regime.
These issues were raised by the permanent representative of Russia at the UN (Vitaly I. Churkin), who claims the proposed resolution contained unilateral measures, e.g. sanctions, and did not stipulate the withdrawal of all armed presence in town and cities (both government and opposition). The main issue was a Russian sense that the US and its allies were pushing forward their own resolution through the Security Council and not working with others towards a negotiated solution. The Syrian uprising is now fully on the agenda of geopolitics and is turning into a proxy war between conflicting blocs.
Syrian liberals and alliances with the US State Department
Instead of heeding the advice of the ‘National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change’, the SNC have gone an extra mile in its attempts to win over the US imperialism and its gulf allies. Ridwan Ziyadeh, a member of the SNC, has openly called for an alliance with the US, the Gulf states and Turkey, as a coalition of what he terms as ‘friends of Syria’. Muhammad al-Abdullah, also a member of the SNC, claims the Obama regime are supportive of freedoms and human rights in what is the ‘Arab Spring’. Empty claims that apart of the logic of alliances and partisanship requires little consideration but this is something that is regular discourse among Arab liberals and specifically this wing of Arab liberals that are now the dominant voice in the SNC. According to Muhammad Rassas, a gradual shift has occurred in the ranks of the Syrian opposition - the emergence of a faction of Syrian liberals that while a prominent faction and voice before the uprising, has now become a dominant faction of the Syrian opposition. This rise of this faction can be traced to a shift in some members of the Syrian opposition from their older Marxist beliefs, from a variety of Communist and revolutionary Socialist parties, to the adoption of what are liberal politics and its derivative discourses of a ‘modern enlightenment project’. This faction was largely supportive of alliances and garnering support from US imperialism. Something made known through a Wikileaks documents, that affirmed the support and backing of factions of the Syrian opposition from the US State Department.
Together with Kurdish parties and other leftist socialists, a coalition of Syrian opposition coalition emerged (Damascus Declaration) in 2005 (later both the Muslim Brotherhood, Nasserite parties and some Marxists from the Communist Action Party joined this coalition). It is this coalition and the different trends within it that can provide some understanding for the current split in the Syrian opposition. Contradictions within this coalition remained, specifically the topic of alliances with the US state department, and this all re-emerges in the split between the Syrian National Council, with its current coalition between the Muslim Brotherhood and many of the past liberal voices, and the ‘National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change’. The question of a foreign intervention and alliances was put forward early on the uprising but the formation of the Syrian National Council provided the dominant faction of Syrian liberals (one of the dominant and founding factions of the Damascus Declaration) with a body to formulate these alliances with the intensification of regime repression. The Muslim Brotherhood provided support to these calls but this came later, after initially refusing any military intervention but then only supporting a Turkish intervention in Syria.
Thus all indications show the SNC will seek to no ties with ‘National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change’ and will push towards their hopes of seeking recognition and building alliances with the US and its allies, as one one side of a geopolitical struggle. Instead of attempting to build a consensus around the Arab League initiative, the SNC will seek to aggravate and heighten its rhetoric against Russia, China and Iran. In what is a geopolitical proxy war, the SNC has framed its allies as ‘friends’ of Syria and others as complicit in the regime’s repression.
In probably one of the largest massacres commited by the Syrian regime, since the beginning the uprising, over 200 civillians were killed and with hundreds more injured. The massacre occurred in Homs, with Al-Khalediya neighbourhood the flashpoint of the regime’s assault. According to a witness, a defection took place in the area and the regime responded swiftly by shelling a densely populated area in Homs. Syrian regime television broadcast, expectedly, that nothing happened and the fatalities filmed were merely bodies planted by roaming armed gangs, after they were kidnapped and killed (see below):
Below is a Syrian National Council advertisement published in the Saudi monarchy owned Al-Hayat newspaper. It is signed by the Syrian National Council, Association of Syrian Scholars, Conference of Muslim Scholars in support of the Syrian people and the Syrian expatriate community residing in Saudi-Arabia. The poster delivers gratitude and thanks to the Saudi monarchy, with special mention of the current crown-prince and former [ruthless] interior minister (Prince Nayef).
This message of gratitude comes after the Syrian National Council met with the foreign minister of the Saudi monarchy (Prince Saud al-Faisal) and comes as a message of encouragement in hope of future recognition from the Saudi monarchy.
As the Syrian National Council seeks backing and support from the US and its client states, it also signals to re-direct Syria’s regional alliances and break its strategic ties with Iran. It seems to offer, in exchange for recognition and support of a military intervention, gains for the US and the Saudi monarchy in a responsive body that re-structures alliances to curtail Iran’s threat, as an emerging regional power, to Israel’s hegemony as a US imperial outpost. However, this was not always the case - for many months into the uprising the Obama regime intentionally avoided any official ties with the Syrian National Council, as it sought to keep some status quo by the preservation of the Syrian regime but with some reforms. It was only later, in relation to the contingencies and the advance state of the Syrian uprising, that the Obama regime sought ties and dialogue channels with the Syrian National Council as not only a leverage in a post-Bahsar al-Assad Syria but also as an opportunity, through its satellite of regional allies, to break Iran’s strategic depth in the region.
Asa Winstanley has published an excellent investigative piece on the ’ The Syrian Observatory’, an organisation that has become a source of information for many mass-media outlets. The more recent split within the organisation, reported by the Guardian, can find some root in different political camps of the Syrian opposition - those opposing and supporting a NATO led intervention in Syria:
While both Abdulrahman and Azzawi stress their work is not influenced by political allegiances, their respective political positions correlate with a greater dispute between Syria’s opposition groups on the question of foreign intervention and the military option.
The campaign led by Azzawi to discredit Abdulrahman seems to come on the heels of a major fallout between the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB). A controversial Cairo agreement struck in December between Haytham al-Manna of the NCB and SNC head Burhan Ghalioun collapsed on the very question of foreign intervention and the militarization of the uprising. The letter attacking Abdulrahman surfaced a few weeks after.
To access the full report please click here …
I originally posted the story of the capture of claimed Iranian ‘Revolutionary Guard’ soldiers by a group claiming itself as ‘Al-Farouq Brigade’ of the ‘Free Syrian Army’. In the post I noted that the passports exhibited by those capturing the alledged soldiers showed that at least two of the captives were police officers from the Iranian immigration and passport service. In fact, the officer named in the passport is merely a signatory of the passport and not the owner of the passport. According to a diplomat in the Iranian embassy in Damascus, the pictures broadcast in the video and the claims made on that basis were laughable, as every passport is signed off by officials in the immigration and passport office in the interior ministry. Also claims that the captives have no visa in their passports as somehow indicating a special security clearance is flawed, considering that Iranian citizens, for some time, require no visa to enter Syria. It is due to this that a thriving Shi’a pilgrimage tourist industry exists in Syria.
Head of PR (Public Relations) in Mapna (one of the largest electrical contracting companies in Iran that specialises in the development and building of power plants) confirms all seven of the captives as employees of their company. The military documentation they owned, he states, were conscription books that every Iranian carries (similar to Syria) upon completion of military service. The company official also states the man featured in the video and likely forced to read from a script, is an engineer that has worked for some time in the ‘Jandar’ eletricial plant in Homs. Considering those kidnapped are vouched by the very company that employs their services, then it is likely that the Iranian citizens appearing in the video are engineers that were captured and forced to confess in what appears to be either a propaganda stunt or a growing hysteria and paranoia with the presence of any Iranian citizen in Syria.
It is not surprising that the usual suspects are now carrying the story (e.g. see here, here and here) and framing it in whatever manner suiting a media campaign for what is turning into a proxy war against Iran.
The official press release of Mapna, on the kidnapping of the Iranian engineers in Homs, can be accessed here …
Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyya broadcast a video by a group claiming itself as ‘Al-Farouq’ brigade from the ‘Free Syrian Army’. The video claims to show the kidnapping of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Rumours of the capture of Hezbollah fighters and Iranian officers, specifically snipers, is nothing new and has been passing around Saudi owned media outlets since the onset of the uprising. However, in this instance we have claimed footage of captives from the Revolutionary Guard (they are shown to be snipers, with a rifle made salient in the video, to affirm their supposed profession) and video footage of their passports. Two passports appearing in the video do not indicate membership of the ‘Revolutionary Guard’ or even their military affiliation but documents that two of the captives to be police officers from Iranian immigration and passport services. The discrepancy between the claims of the kidnappers and the passports they film questions their claims. This is pertinent considering the persistent and almost obsessive sectarian campaign, in the Saudi and March 14 Alliance owned media, to broadcast any rumour of the presence of snipers from Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards. For example, this news item from the overtly sectarian website ‘Al-Watan’, claims from an unnamed ‘Free Syrian Army’ officer the killing of 160 fighters from Hezbollah and the Iranian ‘Revolutionary Guard’! Similar media campaigns were run by Israeli news outlets during the 2006 onslaught on Lebanon, claiming the capture or killing of Iranian ‘Revolutionary Guard’ soldiers, though expectedly no evidence was provided.
Press TV, a media organ of Iranian state, reported the kidnapping of Iranian engineers, in Homs, from late December 2011. A picture is published in a more recent news item of some of the captives and substantiates the claims of the video producers that at least two of the captives were engineers working in the city of Homs. Other than the engineers taken captive, though it is not clear why an armed group would kidnap these engineers, Press TV reports the kidnapping of Iranian pilgrims, according to a foreign ministry spokesman, in a trip from Aleppo to Damascus. It is not clear if some of those appearing in the video were pilgrims but considering the discrepancies in the claims of those filming the footage, including the strange presence of engineers as captives, there is serious doubt that the captives are military personnel.
Al-Jazeera has published an insightful article by Bassam Haddad responding to those painting the uprising in Syria in binary terms i.e. either supporting the Syrian regime or the calculating regional and global powers, seeking a war by proxy, for their own regional designs. While intervening nations, specifically the US regime, are driven by imperialist agendas, it would be disingenuous to paint those protesting to be motivated in achieving these designs or that the regime is indeed orchestrating its crackdown to counter these objectives, rather than remaining in power to dictate its own terms.
Rather the full knowledge of the terms of intervention should direct a position that is both supportive of those revolting against a dictatorship but while opposing any military intervention led by these same external actors:
In other words, Syria is being used by various powers, including the United States and Saudi Arabia and their chorus, as an occasion to accomplish their own objectives in the region - reactionary ones, to be sure, in terms of the interests of most people in the region as the decades behind us attest, and as the current uprisings against the “fruits” of such objectives make clearer even to some skeptics. That does not mean, that we should withdraw our opposition and halt the struggle against dictatorship in Syria. It only serves to remind us how not to do it
Bashar al-Assad’s recent speech carried nothing new and re-iterated previous talking points on claimed conspiracies, roaming terrorist gangs and a promise of a victory through a fictitious popular support for the Syrian regime. Within a speech that lasted over an hour, the key point emerging was a message directed from Bashar al-Assad to his support base, especially the army and security apparatus. A special salute was given, in the speech, to the army and the state security apparatus.
Bashar al-Assad also harked back to the armed revolt faced by Hafeth al-Assad, striking similarities to the period and the need to persist until a final ‘victory’ over what he termed as armed terrorists. He reminded his listeners that the economy is still in a good condition; Syria will now seek to produce for itself and trade with non-Western countries, amidst the sanctions. The intent, it seems, was to signal that there will be no chance of his own step-down (something rumoured before the speech) and he sends this message to his own support base, to make clear that this uprising will be brutally quelled and this could possibly take, as was the case with his father, a few years.
As-Safir (a Lebanese newspaper) has published the transcript of the Syrian National Council’s (SNC) meeting with the Hillary Clinton. The transcript displays US concerns with the condition of ‘minorities’ in a post-Bashar al-Assad Syria, the need for better unity within the opposition’s ranks and for it to carry out its policies in coordination with other actors and specifically the Arab League.
In the meeting, Burhan Ghalioun’s registers his request that the US administration back the SNC and open channels for communication to better coordinate with the US regime. The mindset and general direction of the SNC is made apparent when Basma Qudmani, a SNC leader, states to Hillary Clinton her high opinion of US imperialism:
We do not expect a lot from the Security Council as far as we expect from the United States, the protector of freedom and rights in the world.
In terms of policy vision, the SNC aims to pursue a strategic shift for Syria, re-structuring aspects of its foreign policies. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Burhan Ghalioun states Syria will break its strategic ties with Iran and Hezbollah and seek better relations with other Arabic states (more likely the satellite of US backed potentates), specifically noting Syria will buttress the regional role of Arabic and Gulf states. Hezbollah, he opines, will not be the same after the fall of Bashar al-Assad, cutting all military cooperation with the group. The Golan Heights are acknowledged as part of Syria but its return will be through a brokered ‘peace’ treaty, as has been the policy of Bashar al-Assad. The original transcript registers a question on Syria’s relations with both Hezbollah but while answering on Hezbollah, as described above, avoids any clear answer on Hamas. Instead Burhan Ghalioun responds, tellingly, that Syria’s relationship with Hamas will be through the PLO :
Hamas has shifted to a new policy and they are now working with the PLO to unite the ranks of the Palestinians. It’s no longer the Hamas supported by the Syrian regime. Our relationship with Hamas will be through our relationship with the PLO politically and the Palestinian civil society.
In another interview with As-Sharq al-Awsat, Burhan Ghalioun re-iterates his original statements by affirming all strategic and military ties with Iran will be cut, though economic trade still remains plausible . Either way, this qualification does not negate that despite SNC declaring itself as only a transitionary body envisaging itself to lead Syria towards a pluralistic democracy, is somehow pontificating beyond its own scope and role – little speculation is required for the reasons behind this and the intended audience of these messages.
BBC Arabic hosted a programme on the topic of a foreign military intervention in Syria. The discussion hosted Haitham al-Manna representing the ‘Syrian National Coordination Committee’ and Radwan Ziadeh representing the ‘Syrian National Council’ (SNC) (he is also the head of the council’s foreign affairs office). Haytham al-Manna clearly rejected any foreign military intervention in Syria and also argued that such an intervention, under Article Seven of the United Nations, is not feasible with both Russian and Chinese officials stating their opposition to any Security Council mandate for a military intervention. Instead, argues Haitham al-Manna, the policy of the opposition should be focused on what may be achievable to end the current repression in Syria and it is the Arab League initiative that offers a realistic means to achieve that purpose.
On the other hand, Radwan Ziadeh demonstrates enthusiasm for a NATO led intervention. NATO’s intervention in Kosovo is cited as an example of an intervention opposed by Russia and not mandated by a Security Council resolution but still went ahead. For Radwan Ziadeh, the Free Syria Army (made of defecting officers and soldiers) will be encouraged by an intervention and able to provide further ground support to NATO’s aerial power.
The position given by Radwan Ziadeh is present in another document drafted by the ‘Syrian National Council’ and presented to the Obama administration. The document sells the SNC as a US ally that if offered US recognition can then officially endorse a US led intervention. The main talking points, in the document, focuses on potential concerns regarding this intervention in the form of Iran, Hezbollah (the document claims the Syrian regime provided Hezbollah with Scud missiles and which could plausibly be used by the group), Al-Qaeda inspired groups and more broadly issues relating to regional security (potential dangers to regional security are tied to what are rogue regimes and sectarian agitators. On the other hand, The US and its allies are framed as benevolent actors!). The document itself offers nothing new and is a blueprint to convince the US regime to intervene militarily in Syria, advocating this in the name of its own regional interests.
However, what this document demonstrates is a serious lack of co-ordination within the SNC. Haitham al-Manna touches upon this in the above identified programme. In it he reminds Radwan Ziadeh that his faction of the opposition has reached an agreement with the SNC leadership that rejects any foreign military interventions and requests that Radwan Ziadeh confer with his colleagues before advocating for a NATO led intervention. The extent of tensions and disparate views within SNC is made apparent by the fact that Ridwan Ziyadeh is head of the council’s own foreign affairs office!
In another interview with Barada TV, Ridwan Ziyadeh similarly promotes a military intervention in Syria. Ridwan Ziyadeh, when reminded by the presenter that Burhan Ghalioun (chairman of the SNC) rejects any intervention, responds that this is only Burhan Ghalioun’s view and does not represent the council! On the other hand, Muhammad Riyadh Sheqfa, head of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood [an important faction within the SNC], rejects any NATO led intervention and views Turkey, exclusively, to be a partner that can lead any intervention. Burhan Ghalioun, himself, despite his lukewarm stance on any foreign intervention, is still supportive of an ‘international protection’ that activates the full scope of United Nations law and this includes military means. It is not clear what voice will finally be made dominant and what direction the SNC will take but there are strong indications that the SNC will eventually seek a military intervention under the heading of an ‘international protection’ of civilians.
Mark Toner, US state department spokesperson, has signalled the plausibility of such an intervention if the Syrian regime does not cooperate with the Arab League initiative. On the other hand, Turkey’s foreign ministry has previously rejected intervening inSyria, unless there is clear issues that affect Turkey’s own security, but more recently indicated openness to such a scenario.
In an interview with Al-Arabiyya new channel, Rif’at al-Assad denies any responsibility for the massacres and gross human rights abuses between the late 1970s and early 1980s. He specifically denies responsibility for the 1982 Hama massacre, that led to the death of up to 40,000 of the city’s inhabitants and the destruction of much of the city. As for the wealth he has amassed, then he claims that he left Syria with not even his clothes and relied upon generous offerings from Damascus’s wealthy merchant class. Supposedly it was with these donations that he was then able to invest and amass his wealth.
Much of Rif’at’s claims are spurious and a figment of his own imagination. For one, Abdul-Salaam Jalloud, former prime-minister of Libya and junior only Muammar al-Qathafi for many decades, personally arbitrated between Hafeth al-Assad and his brother, when the latter attempted to grapple power from his brother. It was Jalloud who accompanied Rif’at al-Assad on a plane, from Syria, and provided him with a deed for 200 million dollars from Muammar Al-Gathafi. This information was also asserted by Abdul-Haleem Khaddam, who claims that Rif’at al-Assad was provided with 400 million dollars by Hafeth al-Assad upon his expulsion from Syria and that 300 million (not 200 million) of this was a loan from Libya that was to be repaid.
His claims of innocence regarding his leading role in most of the massacres of the late 70s and 80s are also spurious. Two months before the Hama massacre, Rif’at al-Assad was appointed by his brother, under martial law, as the ruler of north and central Syria (this was administrative order 984). It was under the same decree by Hafeth al-Assad that he was made responsible for 12,000 soldier that were also the first to enter the city of Hama. This was also confirmed by Abdul-Haleem Khaddam, who was minister of foreign affairs at the time, claiming that it was unit 569, under the personnel auspices of Rif’at al-Assad, that were the first unit to enter the city. Regarding the Tadmor prison massacre, again it was the defence brigades, under the direct command of Rif’at al-Assad, that was directly culpable in carrying out the massacre - the operation was led by Rifa’t al-Assad’s own son in law, Major Mo’een Naseef.
For Rif’at al-Assad to live free since his expulsion from Syria, with no arrest warrant from the ICC,UK or French government, implicates the hypocrisy of both French and UK claims of concern about the fate of Syrian civilians.
After the expected failure of the Arab League initiative (though the regime still has some leeway to implement the initiative) a GCC manoeuvre has eventuated in the suspension of Syria’s membership of the Arab League. What is different, this time, is that the Arab League has openly taken sides with the opposition in a move to further isolate the regime, either forcing it to change its internal and foreign policies or find itself slowly ousted out of power by growing pressure that could lead to a military intervention. In reality, with a US backed despot hypocritically calling for Bashar al-Assad to resign, the substantive issue for the US, France and the GCC countries [more Saudi-Arabia] is Iran and US hopes of forcing the Syrian regime to give up its foreign policy leverages and to be a more dependable axis for US regional designs.
There is an acceptance that the regime has no wishes to re-gain some form of consent from large segments of its populace but only to remain in power through coercion. Even if the regime may eventually seek to take conciliatory measures there is the recognition that such measures will never bring back any consent or even resolve the crisis by mere coercion, after eight months of brutal repression. The issue now is how can the crisis be administered in directions that result in either gains or at least no damage to US hegemony in the region. That the GCC countries are leading a US push in that direction is, as was the case in a Saudi intervention in Bahrain, part of a regional struggle with Iran and hopes of further isolating and weakening it.
This can extrapolated from the procedures adopted by the GCC countries in suspending the Syrian regime. Not only did it suspend the regime but also called on the opposition to seek international recognition and for it to coordinate with the Arab League (this means the GCC countries and other close allies of the US), a transition away from Bashar al-Assad’s rule:
Call on all sides of the opposition to meet in the League’s headquarters within three days to agree on a unified vision for a transition phase in Syria and for the council to decide on what it sees as appropriate in the matter of recognition of the Syrian opposition.
The two main opposition coalitions, the Syrian National Council and the ‘National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change’, have welcomed the Arab League’s suspension of Syria. Haitham al-Manna, a leading member of the ‘National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change’, has welcomed the suspension as it does not formally freeze Syria’s membership and so keeping the Arab League initiative alive. For him, any effort by the Arab League to resolve the crisis is to commended and is also a less worse case scenario.
The worse case scenario, for Al-Manna, would be external powers controlling the destiny of Syria and manipulating the uprising for their own objectives. Of particular fear for Al-Manna is a military intervention that Turkey will seek to monopolize. This Turkish led move would also be conducive to the interests of Syrian Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood). For him, in a crude and stereotyped view of Islamists, he rejects a state led by Mullahs or one that is dominated by what he terms Al-Bab al-A’ali (here he is indicating aSyriaunder the influence of Turkey. Bab al-A’ali was an area of Istanbul that was the headquarters of the Ottoman sultanate).
Nabeel al-Arabi denies plans for a military intervention
Nabeel al-Arabi, chairman of the Arab League, vehemently denied that the organisation’s suspension of Syria is a prelude that would lead to an eventual Arab cover for a foreign military intervention. While the statement declaring the suspension of Syria did not clearly refer to a military intervention, there is still considerable vagueness on this option. In other words, there is no outright refusal of the scenario. Point two of the statement reads:
Provide protection to Syrian civilians through the prompt contact with relevant organization including the United Nations as long as there is no halt to violence and murder
Currently this would mean sending international observers to Syria, something already requested by both the Arab League and Syrian National Council.
Regarding Turkey’s current position on it leading military intervention, a Syrian opposition source, according to the Saudi owned As-Sharq al-Awsat, has relayed Turkey’s own preparedness to implement a five kilometre buffer zone within Syrian territory, though the Syrian opposition delegation suggested a 30 kilometre zone in their meeting with Turkish officials. In the same article, As-Sharq al-Awsat also quoted a Turkish official (Irshad Hormozlo) as stating the possibility of a Turkish intervention but on the condition of both an Arab and international mandate.
However, other than As-Sharq al-Awsat there is no source for the above quote, which would signify a significant policy shift if accurate. What is known is that the Turkish government has escalated its rhetoric and imposed sanctions but with no open commitment to a possible military intervention.