SYRIA: Warmongers hesitate on the brink

The proxy war of intervention waged against the sovereign nation of Syria for the last two years has yet to achieve its goal of overturning the legitimate government and establishing a puppet government answerable to imperialism. Despite all the hardships and horrors inflicted upon the Syrian people by this Western-backed islamist revolt, aimed at deflecting the country from its independent, anti-imperialist, pro-Palestinian orientation, the US, Britain and EU imperialists still wait in vain for the decisive breakthrough of which they dream.

In June last year, when Kofi Annan’s peace plan had been successfully undermined by the warmongers, some in the Pentagon and the CIA thought that such a breakthrough was imminent. Perhaps if the puppet-masters became less coy about their support for the rebels, they told themselves, perhaps if they relied less upon arming the terrorists indirectly through Turkey and Qatar and instead simply dished out the weaponry directly, or even put boots on the ground, then maybe that would be enough to break the stalemate and trample over Syrian independence.

In the course of a recent Senate hearing Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with pusillanimity by the arch-reactionary John McCain, blurted out that last summer they personally had been all for dispensing with the middleman and running guns straight to the rats. What’s more, Hillary Clinton and the then boss of the CIA, David Petraeus had agreed with them – but they were all stopped in their tracks by Obama.

The same kind of frustrations were on display more recently by European officials at February’s security conference in Munich. Anxious to see the criminal ousting of President Assad over and done with, some EU representatives at Munich were eager to out-Hitler Hitler, clamouring to provide the rats with more powerful weapons. Britain and France in particular accused Washington of blocking Qatar from furnishing the rebels with sufficiently sophisticated arms and intelligence assistance. European officials briefed journalists that “the opposition is not winning, and that President Bashar al-Assad is not losing”, so another shove was needed – or another surge perhaps, like the one which failed so dismally in Afghanistan.

Lest anyone should suppose that Obama’s reluctance to directly arm the rebellion, let alone send in the marines, springs from the President’s peaceable disposition, listen closely to what he had to say in Munich.

“How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo? Those are not simple questions.”

Damn right they’re not. The scramble to extricate US troops from the failed occupation of Afghanistan promises to get messier still if Washington gets yet further enmeshed in Syria. Afghanistan and Iraq give a pretty good idea of the certain sure “aftermath” of US boots on the ground: coffins on the tarmac. And what are the prospects of a “stable post-Assad regime” when the quislings are already at each other’s throats now, whilst they still share a common enemy? Perhaps most intriguing of all though is Obama’s reference to the Congo. This sudden concern for the lives of Africans has less to do with Obama’s tender heart than with the alarm-bells set jangling in Washington by the progress China is making in forming mutually beneficial trade and development links in Africa. Whilst the EU is backseat driving round the Middle East, Washington is impelled to take the longer view. Vital as are US interests in the Middle East, the attempt to recolonise Africa plays an indispensable role in the longer term strategy of shouldering China out of the world market. European worries over US priorities will have been more aroused than allayed by a would-be placatory speech from Joe Biden in Munich which sought to reassure European allies of a continuing focus on European concerns despite the American “pivot to Asia.”

None of the above serves one jot to diminish the urgency and seriousness of the imperialist threat to Syria, Iran and Hizbollah, but it does indicate the scale of the obstacles the warmongers face in seeing their criminal enterprise through, not least the rivalries which divide “allies“. Whether Washington plunges on over the abyss now, or restrains itself a little longer for fear of the consequences, it is damned either way. And with every day that the stalemate persists, the ability of US imperialism to keep order in the axis of oppression, either amongst its terrorist puppets, its client states or its imperialist rivals, visibly diminishes.

Israel tries its arm

Another lurch towards the precipice came on 30 January, when Israeli warplanes violated Syrian airspace in order to destroy a scientific research centre in the area of Jamraya in the Damascus countryside, killing two workers and wounding five others. The US at first reported that no military facility had been targeted at all, speaking instead of an attack on a convoy carrying anti-aircraft weapons (denied by Damascus), then later changed the story, admitting the destruction of the scientific centre but transforming it into “the country’s main research centre for work on biological and chemical weapons“. Whether the shifting accounts sprang from routine US duplicity or actually reflected genuine ignorance about Israeli actions is unclear.

The Russian Foreign Ministry noted that the attack ” blatantly violates the United Nations Charter and is unacceptable and unjustified, whatever its motives.” Iran’s Fars News Agency suggested that Tel Aviv’s aggression hoped to weaken Syria’s military and weapons stocks, demoralize Syria’s army and prepare public opinion for foreign military intervention in Syria. Damascus made it clear that such hopes would be dashed, declaring that “such criminal acts will not weaken Syria’s role nor will they discourage Syrians from continuing to support resistance movements and just Arab causes, particularly the Palestinian issue.”

Thieves Fall Out

Just how battered and split the opposition “coalition” has become was revealed when official council leader Sheikh Khatib suddenly broke ranks, announcing his willingness “to sit down with representatives of the Syrian regime in Cairo or Tunisia or Istanbul” in order to “search for a political resolution to the crisis”. Even though this offer came with contentious preconditions (release of 1,600 supposed political prisoners and the issue of passports to expat Syrians), it was a major U-turn from the previous insistence that no talks could take place until the president had been removed. Khatib went on to reiterate this apparent new coalition policy to Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mr Salehi. Both he and the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed Khatib’s change of heart as “a good step forward”. Mr Salehi said that Iran was happy to talk to anyone and was “ready to be part of the solution in Syria”. For his part, Mr Lavrov told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass that Sheikh Khatib’s proposal was “a very important step, especially since the coalition was created on the basis of categorical rejection of any talks with the regime.”

Syria’s minister of national reconciliation, Ali Haidar told Russia Today that the government was open to talks with any opposition members who reject violence. He added that it was willing to address the question of passports, but not necessarily the release of prisoners, the number of which was much exaggerated. However, he asked Khatib to send a list of prisoner names. The release of an unidentified number of captured terrorists in exchange for the release of an Italian and two Russians kidnapped by the rats was perhaps to be understood in the light of these developments.

The three foreign nationals had been abducted when a prominent opposition leader declared that Russians “present legitimate military targets for militants in Syria”, a statement which the coalition was prodded into withdrawing later on, piously condemning all attacks on civilians “regardless of their nationality.” The credibility of this declaration may be measured by the daily outrages against the Syrian people committed by the darlings of the West, of which the bomb attacks on 21 February in Damascus which claimed the lives of at least 58 were but the most recent example.

Khatib’s hour of glory was short lived however, as he came under fierce criticism from his own coalition, whose members complained that he had gone out on a limb without consulting anyone. After a feeble attempt to defend himself, describing his critics as “those sitting down on their couches and then saying, Attack – don’t negotiate”, he rapidly went into retreat, protesting that he had only been expressing a personal opinion, not speaking ex cathedra.

Meanwhile, the rebels’ imperialist backers were busy at Munich pulling the rug out from Khatib’s initiative, with both European and US officials briefing journalists that nobody expected anything to come of it and the UN’s “peace” envoy Brahimi chiming in with his own characteristically gloomy assessment: “I am much more conscious of the difficulties, of the country being broken down day after day, than I am of a solution”.

The hit-and-run attacks on some checkpoints which disturbed the peace of Damascus after Khatib’s ill-fated foray into diplomacy were widely admitted even in opposition circles to be more an attempt to undermine any possible talks with the government than any serious attempt at taking the capital. The rebel offensive followed close on the heels of verbal attacks by key opposition figures, many backed by Qatar and Turkey, against Khatib’s initiative.

What was really expressed in the Damascus violence was the ferocity of the divisions within the demoralised rat ranks. The New York Times noted that, whilst “Some antigovernment activists described the resumption of fighting, which had lapsed for the past few weeks, as part of a renewed effort by rebels to seize control of central Damascus, the Syrian capital… that depiction seemed highly exaggerated. Witness accounts said many people were going about their business, while others noted that previous rebel claims of territorial gains in Damascus had almost always turned out to be embellished or unfounded.” (‘Clashes Erupt in Damascus, Shattering Lull, as Prospects for Talks Dim’, 7 February, New York Times, Hania Mourtada and Rick Gladstone)

Nusra Front: the real voice of the rebellion

Whilst Washington wants to disclaim parentage of the jihadist head bangers of al-Nusra, in fact their voice better than anything captures the nihilistic essence of this vicious imperialist war-by-proxy.

The harder Washington tries to house-train rebel spokesmen into sounding statesmanlike and diplomatic, the more thuggish and backward does the ” opposition” reveal itself to be.

“In a new video uploaded on YouTube, a cleric from the Nusra Front, an anti-Assad Islamist militant group that the Obama administration has classified as a terrorist organization, said in a prayer speech that brute force against Mr. Assad and his disciples was the only solution. ‘We will cut their heads, we swear to kill them all, and they will see our worst war,’ said the cleric, who spoke in Libyan-accented Arabic at a mosque in the contested northern city of Aleppo, holding a sword in his right hand. ‘No for the negotiations, no for the talks, no retreat in a jihad, for God’s sake.'” (ibid)

The Syrian news agency SANA poured a little cold water on this hysterical grandiloquence, noting that insurgent claims of combat success in Damascus were false: “Those are miserable attempts to raise the morale of terrorists who are fleeing our valiant armed forces.”

Syria endures

Meanwhile, even under the hammer of the sanctions, the threat of terror and the transformation of peaceable communities into war zones, the Syrian government soldiers on, doing all possible to maintain normal life whilst protecting the independence of the nation. Whilst a recent cabinet reshuffle left untouched the Defence and Interior ministries, some of the ministries concerned with the economy saw a change of leadership. Also, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs was split into two, possibly the better to focus on the refugee crisis imposed by the war. Such humdrum facts are noteworthy precisely because they are so humdrum, reflecting Syria’s dogged persistence, her refusal to be stampeded away from her chosen path and her popularly mandated constitutional arrangements. The New York Times rubs its eyes at the way life carries on regardless in the nation’s capital, despite all the disruption imposed by the war of intervention. “People keep going to work, even as electric service grows sporadic and groceries dwindle, even as the road to the airport is often cut off by fighting outside the city, and even as smoke from artillery and airstrikes in suburbs becomes a regular feature on the horizon.” (‘Damascus on Edge as War Seeps into Syrian Capital’, 10 February)

We invite all those in the anti-war movement to join us in saluting the courage of the Syrian people and in wishing all success to the Syrian armed forces in their resistance to imperialist subversion. The anti-war movement will be enormously strengthened when it becomes firmly rooted in support for all those forces in the world that are actually resisting imperialism.

The political bankruptcy of the Stop the War Coalition has done untold harm over the last decade, first by withholding consistent support from the Iraqi and Afghan resistance, then yet more disastrously coming out in support of those reactionary forces backed by imperialism against the progressive Green Revolution, leaving the anti-war movement bewildered and demotivated. Yet rather than learn from its mistakes, StW is now repeating them flawlessly over Syria. Whilst formally criticising western intervention, the flunkeys for social democracy at the helm of StW repeat and reinforce the slander against Syria’s progressive national leadership, thereby contributing to the imperialist war effort.

Imperialism tries to demonise Hezbollah

Syria’s struggle cannot be divorced from the related struggle of all its allies in the axis of resistance, including Iran and Hezbollah.

It is fear of the growing strength and influence of the axis of resistance that lies behind current moves to denounce the anti-imperialist Hezbollah movement as a “terrorist” organisation. Hezbollah became an influential force in the Middle East because of the crucial role it played in kicking Israel out of the Lebanon, and it has gone on to win broad respect for its constructive work in the field of education and welfare, making it particularly difficult to make the “terrorist” label stick.

Washington has been leaning on Bulgaria to help concoct a story about Hezbollah involvement in an attack on Israeli tourists on the Black Sea, hoping by this bunkum to stampede the EU into adding Hezbollah to their “terror” list. However in Europe at the moment, only the UK and the Netherlands describe it thus, with the pipsqueak Hague calling on the EU to respond “robustly to an attack on European soil.” Not every European country is so convinced that its best interests are served by acting as an auxiliary in America’s phony “war against terror“.

Frustrated at the reluctance of France and Germany to join the lynching party, Obama wheeled out his nominee to run the CIA, John Brennan, to ” call on our European partners as well as other members of the international community to take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah’s infrastructure and disrupt the group’s financing schemes and operational networks” – in other words, to sabotage and undermine a legitimate popular resistance movement.

Iran stands defiant

Imperialism dreams of a “post-Assad Syria” opening the way to “regime change” in Teheran, the next target on the agenda. Israel’s not-very covert war (the assassination of the country’s scientists) is supplemented by the economic war of sanctions waged most viciously by European and US imperialism. The US has just tightened measures intended to make it harder for Iran to collect the revenue for its oil resources. These measures have already reportedly slashed oil exports by 50%, attempted to exclude Iran from the global banking system and sent the national currency plummeting. Contrary to imperialist hypocrisy about “targeting the regime, not the people“, the reality is that the West are rubbing their hands at the poverty created by the resultant 40% inflation rate, praying that, come the June elections, this will frighten the masses into dropping their support for the government’s firm resistance to imperialist bullying over its entirely legitimate nuclear energy programme.

Whilst Mossad simply murders Iranian scientists on their way to work, the sanctions take a more roundabout way of trying to undermine the scientific and technical foundations of modern industrial existence, banning all kinds of scientific imports on the pretence that they might have some sinister “dual use“. The latest example of this is Iran Electronic Industries, now targeted on the pretext that the company produces “goods and services related to jamming, monitoring and eavesdropping.”

The effects of all these measures on the health of the people are particularly distressing, as is highlighted by an open letter from Iranian Mothers for Peace to the World Health Organization. The letter points out that “sanctions on banking transactions are preventing Iran from even purchasing its needed medical supplies and instruments. On the other hand, to avoid suspicion for dealing with Iran, the European banks are fearful not to engage in any kind of financial transactions with Iran and, therefore, in practice, refuse any transfer of payment for medical and health-related items and raw materials needed for the production of domestic pharmaceutical drugs, even payment for well-recognized drugs for the treatment of Special Diseases, which are not of dual use.”

The letter concludes with a direct plea to the WHO to fulfil its duty: “The right to health and access to medical treatment and medication is one of the fundamental human rights anywhere in the world. Please do not allow the killing of our sick children, beloved families, and fellow Iranians from the lack of medicine.”

The killing of sick Iranian children by sanctions, however, like the killing of so many Iraqi children before, is no less a deliberate policy than is Mossad’s murder of Iranian scientists. And it is a policy which has been underwritten by the UN itself, of which the WHO is a part. Little assistance may be expected from that quarter.

But Iran is fighting back against this economic war. “Swift“, the most widely used electronic payment system to which access by Teheran has been denied, recently confessed that Iranian banks have managed to find ways around the blockade, falling back on telephone and email. More significantly, there are many countries which are not prepared to absent themselves from the lucrative Iranian oil trade to please the would-be Masters of the Universe. Pakistan, whose loyalty to US imperialism has been severely strained by seeing its homeland turned into a free fire zone for drone attacks, has decided to press on with a $1.5bn pipeline for Iranian gas, connecting its gas grid in Sindh to the Iranian border in southwest Baluchistan. This will ease Pakistan’s fuel shortages whilst supplying Iran with much needed foreign exchange. Shortages in Pakistan have already caused street protests over the number of power cuts, so the government in Islamabad has chosen to risk the wrath of the US rather than face that of its own people.

And in spite of the attempts to suppress her scientific development, Iran has just successfully sent a monkey into orbit and brought it back alive. The West was in two minds how to react to this. Either the Iranians were too stupid to have achieved this at all (the State Department line), or they were so fiendishly clever that they must be planning to bolt on a nuclear warhead next time. However, millions of people round the planet will draw inspiration from this scientific feat by a country under ruthless blockade.

Another achievement relates to the CIA’s RQ-170 Sentinel drone which was captured in Iran in 2011. The Iranian army fooled the drone’s avionics system into a guided landing, enabling scientists to retrieve it intact so that it could be reverse-engineered. Now it turns out that the scientists were also able to extract encrypted video footage from the camera, now broadcast on TV – including some of America’s own base in Kandahar!

Axis of resistance” is a phrase that was coined by the Iranian government to refer to those forces (such as the Syrian national resistance, Hezbollah and Iran herself) which have become today’s frontline states in the struggle against imperialism. This axis of resistance, no less than the frontline states of Africa in the 1980s or the Spanish Republic of the 1930s, deserves the support of all progressive people in its struggle against oppression. By withholding it, the anti-war movement not only covers itself in shame, but also fatally weakens its own ability to mobilise support. By giving it, we not only pay a debt of honour, but also begin to lay the foundations of an anti-war movement capable of mobilising workers at home in solidarity with the oppressed masses of the world. Far from narrowing the base of the anti-war movement by “scaring off the Quakers” (most Quakers are made of much sterner stuff than the social democrats who use them as an alibi for their own inaction), if we demonstrate the community of interests between those who fight capitalist austerity at home and those who fight imperialist oppression abroad we can broaden and strengthen the anti-war movement way beyond its current social democratic straitjacket.

Join the axis of resistance!

Hands off Syria and Iran!