Category Archives: President Bashar al-Assad

Why Venezuela and Syria Cannot Fall

Despite tremendous hardship which the Venezuelan people are having to face, despite the sanctions and intimidation from abroad, President Nicolás Maduro has won a second six-year term.

Two weeks ago, at the Venezuelan embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where I addressed several leaders of East African left-wing opposition, an acting Charge d’ Affaires, Jose Avila Torres, declared: “People of Venezuela are now facing similar situation as the Syrian people.”

True. Both nations, Venezuela and Syria, are separated by a tremendous geographical distance, but they are united by the same fate, same determination and courage.

During the Spanish Civil War, Czech anti-fascist fighters, volunteers in the International Brigades, used to say: “In Madrid we are fighting for Prague”. Madrid fell to Franco’s fascists in October 1939. Prague had been occupied by German troops several months earlier, in March 1939. It was the blindness and cowardice of the European leaders, as well as the support which the murderous fascist hordes received from populations of all corners of the continent, which led to one of the greatest tragedies in modern history – a tragedy which only ended on May 9, 1945, when the Soviet troops liberated Prague, defeating Nazi Germany and de facto saving the world.

More than 70 years later, the world is facing another calamity. The West, mentally unfit to peacefully end its several centuries long murderous reign over the planet – a reign that has already taken several hundreds of millions of human lives – is flexing its muscle and madly snapping in all directions, provoking, antagonizing and even directly attacking countries as far apart as North Korea (DPRK), China, Iran, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.

What is happening now is not called fascism or Nazism, but it clearly is precisely that, as the barbaric rule is based on a profound spite for non-Western human lives, on fanatical right-wing dogmas which are stinking of exceptionalism, and on the unbridled desire to control the world.

Many countries that refused to yield to brutal Western force were recently literally leveled with the ground, including Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. In many other ones, the governments were overthrown by direct and indirect interventions, as well as deceit, as was the case in the mightiest country in Latin America – Brazil. Countless “color”, “umbrella” and other “revolutions” as well as “springs” have been sponsored by Washington, London and other Western capitals.

But the world is waking up, slowly but irreversibly, and the fight for survival of our human race has already begun.

Venezuela and Syria are, unquestionably, at the front line of the struggle.

Against all odds, bleeding but heroically erect, they stand against the overwhelmingly mightier force, and refuse to give up.

President Hugo Chavez

“Here no one surrenders!” shouted Hugo Chavez, already balding from chemotherapy, dying of cancer which many in Latin America believe, was administered to him from the United States. His fist was clenched and heavy rain was falling on his face. Like this, died one of the greatest revolutionaries of our time. But his revolution survived, and is marching on!

I am well aware of the fact that many of my readers are from the West. Somehow, particularly in Europe, I cannot explain, anymore, what it really is to be a revolutionary. Recently I spoke at a big gathering of ‘progressive’ teachers, which took place in Scandinavia. I tried to fire them up, to explain to them what monstrous crimes the West has been committing all over the world, for centuries.

I tried and I failed. When the lights went on, I was drilled by hundreds of eyes. Yes, there was an applause, and many stood up in that fake cliché – a standing ovation. But I knew that our worlds were far apart.

What followed were pre-fabricated and shallow questions about human rights in China, about “Assad’s regime”, but nothing about the collective responsibility of people of the West.

To understand what goes on in Syria and in Venezuela, requires stepping out of the Western mindset. It cannot be understood by selfish minds that are only obsessed with sexuality and sexual orientation, and with self-interest.

There is something essential, something very basic and human that is taking place in both Syria and Venezuela. It is about human pride, about motherland, about love for justice and dreams, about a much better arrangement for the world. It is not petty; in fact, it is huge, and even worth fighting and dying for.

In both places, the West miscalculated, as it clearly miscalculated in such ‘cases’ as Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, DPRK.

Patria no se vende!”, they have been saying in Cuba, for decades – “Fatherland is not for sale!”

Profit is not everything. Personal gain is not everything. Selfishness and tiny but inflated egos are not everything. Justice and dignity are much more. Human ideals are much more. To some people they are. Really, they are, trust me – no matter how unreal it may appear in the West.

Syria is bleeding, but it refused to surrender to the terrorism injected by the West and its allies. Aleppo was turned into a modern-day Stalingrad. At a tremendous cost, the city withstood all vicious assaults, it managed to reverse the course of the war, and as a result, it saved the country.

Venezuela, like Cuba in the early 90’s, found itself alone, abandoned, spat at and demonized. But it did not fall on its knees.

In Europe and North America, analyses of what is happening there have been made “logically” and “rationally”. Or have they, really?

Do people in the West really know what it is like to be colonized? Do they know what the “Venezuelan opposition is”?

Do they know about the consistency of the terror being spread by the West, for centuries and all over Latin America, from such places like the Dominican Republic and Honduras, all the way down to Chile and Argentina?

No, they know nothing, or they know very little, like those Germans who were living right next to the extermination camps and after the war they claimed that they had no idea what that smoke coming up from the chimneys was all about.

There is hardly any country in Central or South America, whose government has not at least been overthrown once by the North, whenever it decided to work on behalf of its people.

And Brazil, last year, became the ‘latest edition’ of the nightmares, disinformation campaigns, ‘fake news’ and coups – being spread with ‘compliments’ from the North, through local ‘elites’.

You see, there is really no point of discussing too many issues with the ‘opposition’ in countries such as Venezuela, Cuba or Bolivia. What has to be said was already pronounced.

What goes on is not some academic discussion club, but a war; a real and brutal civil war.

I know the ‘opposition’ in South American countries, and I know the ‘elites’ there. Yes, of course, I know many of my comrades, the revolutionaries, but I am also familiar with the ‘elites’.

Just to illustrate, let me recall a conversation I once had in Bolivia, with the son of a powerful right-wing senator, who doubled as a media magnate. In a slightly drunken state he kept repeating to me:

We will soon kick the ass of that Indian shit [president of Bolivia, Evo Morales] … You think we care about money? We have plenty of money! We don’t care if we lose millions of dollars, even tens of millions! We will spread insecurity, uncertainty, fear, deficits and if we have to, even hunger… We’ll bleed those Indians to death!

All this may sound ‘irrational’, even directly against their own capitalist gospel. But they don’t care about rationality, only about power. And their handlers from the North will compensate their losses, anyway.

There is no way to negotiate, to debate with these kinds of people. They are traitors, thieves and murderers.

For years and decades, they used the same strategy, betting on the soft-heartedness and humanism of their socialist opponents. They dragged progressive governments into endless and futile debates, then used their own as well as Western media to smear them. If it did not work, they choked their own economies, creating deficits, like in Chile before the 1973 Pinochet’s coup. If that did not work, they’d used terror – naked and merciless. And finally, as the last resort – direct Western interventions.

They are not in it for ‘democracy’ or even for some ‘free market’. They are serving their Western masters and their own feudalist interests.

To negotiate with them is to lose. It is identical with playing the game by their own rules. Because behind them is the entire Western propaganda, as well as financial and military machinery.

The only way to survive is to toughen up, to clench teeth, and to fight. As Cuba has been doing for decades, and yes, as Venezuela is doing now.

This approach does not look ‘lovely’; it is not always ‘neat’, but it is the only way forward, the only way for progress and revolution to survive.

Before Dilma got ‘impeached’ by the pro-Western bunch of corrupt freaks, I suggested in my essay that was censored by Counterpunch but published by dozens of other outlets world-wide, in many languages, that she should send tanks into the streets of Brasilia. I suggested that it was her duty, in the name of the people of Brazil, who voted for her, and who benefited greatly from the rule of her PT.

She did not do it, and I am almost certain that now she is regretting so. Her people are once again getting robbed; they are suffering. And the entire South America is, as a result, in disarray!

Corruption? Mismanagement? For decades and centuries, the people of Latin America were ruled and robbed by the corrupt bandits, who were using their continent as a milking cow, while living in the repulsive opulence of the Western aristocracy. All that was done, naturally, in the name of ‘democracy’, a total charade.

Venezuela is still there – people are rallying behind the government – in terrible pain and half-starving but rallying nevertheless. It is because for many people there, personal interests are secondary. What matters is their country, socialist ideology and the great South American fatherland. Patria grande.

It is impossible to explain. It is not rational, it is intuitive, deep, essential and human.

Those who have no ideology and ability to commit, will not understand. And, frankly, who cares if they will or not.

Hopefully, soon, both Brazil and Mexico – the two most populous nations in Latin America – will vote in new left-wing governments. Things will then change, will become much better, for Venezuela.

Until then, Caracas has to rely on its far-away but close comrades and friends, China, Iran and Russia, but also on its beautiful and brave sister – Cuba.

Evo Morales recently warned that the West is plotting a coup in Venezuela.

Maduro’s government has to survive another few months. Before Brazil is back, before Mexico joins.

It will be a tough, perhaps even bloody fight. But history is not made by weak compromises and capitulations. One cannot negotiate with Fascism. France tried, before WWII, and we all know the results.

The West and its fascism can only be fought, never appeased

When one defends his country, things can never be tidy and neat. There are no saints. Sainthood leads to defeat. Saints are born later, when victory is won and the nation can afford it.

Venezuela and Syria have to be supported and defended, by all means.

These wonderful people, Venezuelans and Syrians, are now bleeding, fighting for the entire non-Western and oppressed world. In Caracas and Damascus, people are struggling, battling and dying for Honduras and Iran, for Afghanistan and West Africa.

Their enemies can only be stopped by force.

In Scandinavia, a Syrian gusano, who lives in the West, who smears president Assad and gets fully compensated for it, challenged me, as well as the Syrian ‘regime’ and Iran, during the Q/A session. I said I refuse to discuss this with him, as even if we were to spend two hours shouting at each other, in public, we would never find any common ground. People like him began the war, and war they should get. I told him that he is definitely paid for his efforts and that the only way for us to settle this is ‘outside’, on the street.

Venezuela and Syria cannot fall. Too much is now at stake. Both countries are presently fighting something enormous and sinister – they are fighting against the entire Western imperialism. It is not just about some ‘opposition’, or even the treasonous elements in their societies.

This is much bigger. This is about the future, about the survival of humanity.

Billions of people in all parts of the world have been closely following the elections in the Bolivarian Republic. There, the people have voted. President Maduro won. He won again. Scarred, bruised, but he won. Once again, socialism defeated fascism. And long live Venezuela, damn it!

Originally published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

The Foundation For International Justice Is Anti-Imperialism

An Anti-Imperialist Mural in Caracas, Venezuela (from Telesur)

The United States has had a policy of imperialism beginning after the Civil War. The US way of war, developed against Indigenous peoples, spread worldwide as the US sought to extend its power through military force, economic dominance and diplomatic hegemony.

Imperialism is driven by what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. identified at the end of his life, the triple evils of racism, capitalism, and militarism. Lenin described imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. Imperialism has justified mass slaughter, resulting in the US killing 20 million people since WW II. The People of the United States must say ‘no’ to imperialism.

Advocacy against imperialism is needed to prevent confusion around US militarism. The US disguises imperialism by attacking so-called “dictatorial” leaders who “use violence against their own people.” This results in Orwellian-phrased “humanitarian” wars – violence by US surrogates inside a country, massive funding to create opposition against a government or economic sanctions that cause widespread suffering.

The propaganda justifying these abuses hides the real intent — expansion of US domination so US corporations can profit from resources and cheap labor under a US-friendly government. People confused by this rhetoric sometimes repeat the propagandistic claims of US imperialists and help justify US intervention.

End US Imperialism (from PopularResistance.org)

Why US Imperialism Must Be Opposed Today

US imperialism is aggressively working on almost every continent through militarism, regime change, corporate trade agreements, economic blockades and creating indebtedness. The destruction of Libya, in an illegal “humanitarian” war, and the destruction of Iraq, in a falsely justified war, where both leaders were brutally assassinated, highlight the necessity of being clearly anti-imperialist.

There are many countries suffering from US imperialism today. Here are just a few:

Syria: Every president since the 1940s has sought to dominate Syria and has had specific plans for regime change. The Syrian conflict, often misdescribed as a civil war, is a war of aggression by the US, Saudi Araba, and Israel. During the George W. Bush administration, documents show plans to undermine the Assad government through terrorism, chaos and other attacks. In 2006, the United States started to finance an external opposition to Assad. In 2007, a plan for regime change in Syria was agreed upon between the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The US began to use “color revolution” tools, organizing opposition in Syria, training citizen journalists and urging an “insurgency.”

During the Arab Spring-era in 2011, arrests of anti-Assad youth in Deraa resulted in protests. The police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd, but on the third-day protests turned violent, even though Assad announced the release of the detained youths. The police fought armed protesters, resulting in the deaths of seven police. Protesters torched the courthouse and Baath Party Headquarters. Violent protests continued and escalated and the Syrian government responded with violence.

Robert Ford, the first US ambassador to Syria in five years, marched with the regime change protesters. He traveled through Syria inciting rebellion against Assad, according to this interview with a former CIA agent. He, Ford, had to flee the country out of fear.

The situation escalated into a seven-year war, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, mass displacement, war crimes on all sides and unproven accusations against Syria of using chemical weapons. This week, seventy Syrian tribes declared war on the US at a time when Israel and the US are increasing their military campaigns in Syria.

The US has multiple imperialist interests in Syria. The US would like to close Russia’s Navy base in Tartus, Syria on the Mediterranean. A gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey is competing with one from Iran to Syria. With large finds of methane gas in the coastal waters of Israel and Lebanon, it is likely they also exist in Syrian waters.

Iran: US imperialism in Syria is tied to Iran. As with Syria, domination has been the goal of the US since the 1950s when the CIA engineered a coup that put in place the Shah, a dictator who ruled until the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The US has long sought to control Iran‘s vast oil resources.

The US used the same tools of regime change as in Syria and other countries; e.g., massive funding to build opposition to the government, supporting, building and manipulating protests, economic sanctions, and threats of militarism. These strategies have caused disruption but have failed to undermine the government.

Sanctions and the US violation of the nuclear agreement may backfire against the US as countries are fighting back against them and the US is being isolated in the UN. The US also conducts a false propaganda campaign, with the media playing along, about a nuclear weapons program that never existed and makes false claims of Iran sponsoring terrorism. And, as it did in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, Israel is urging war on Iran. This may lead to the US creating a Syrian-like war in Iran, threatening world security.

Venezuela: Another country with vast oil resources, Venezuela has been threatened with regime change, coups and war due to US imperialism that is supported by the elites in the US. The US uses the same regime change tools; e.g., a propagandistic barrage of lies about a “dictatorship”, economic sanctions, high-levels of funding to build opposition, violent protests, terrorism and attempts to foment a civil war.

Venezuela has faced a continuous coup since the election of Hugo Chavez. In 2002, a coup against Chavez was reversed by people’s protests. There has been an economic war since then. Wikileaks’ documents show Hillary Clinton sought to undermine and replace the Chavez-Maduro government. A coup in 2016 was foiled. In 2017, there was an embarrassing failed coup supported by the US. Trump is continuing long-term US policies seeking to dominate Venezuela.

The economic war creates challenges for the Venezuelan government. The US economic war blocks food, medicine, and essentials, while traitors inside Venezuela, from the wealthy class, do the same. These internal traitors even call for sanctions and war. The US falsely claims a humanitarian crisis exists in order to justify intervention to steal the nation’s oil and natural resources.

Sadly, this fools too many people who are not clear on opposing US imperialism, while it also unites many in Venezuela against US imperialism. The US-allied internal traitors admitted to 17 years of crimes in a proposed amnesty law in 2016, when they controlled the National Assembly.

In Latin America, particularly in Venezuela, Colombia plays the role of Israel for the US as the point of the US spear threatening war. Colombia has long-worked with the CIA for regime change in Venezuela. Indeed, Colombia just brought the imperialism military tool, NATO, to Latin America. The US and its allies are looking toward war, making war preparations, conducting military exercises and are calling for a military coup. The world is saying ‘no’ to war against Venezuela as is much of Latin America.

In Venezuela, democratic elections resulted in a landslide victory for President Maduro, which was really a defeat of US imperialism. The election was important as the US, Canada, and the European Union were threatening Venezuela. It was a decisive election for the Bolivarian Revolution, which will continue for now.

And, There Are More: These are three examples of many. In Latin America through non-governmental organizations and US agencies, the US funds oligarchy, opposition to democracy and support for neoliberal policies and has a long history of US coups. In Nicaragua, the same tools of regime change are being used. There has been a US-supported soft coup in Brazil and Honduras.

Coups and militarism are not limited to Latin America. During the Obama era, US coups in Ukraine and attempts in the Middle East occurred. Ukraine deserves special mention as this country, which borders Russia, was a long-term imperial aim of the United States. State Department official Victoria Nuland said the US spent $5 billion to build an opposition to the government and manage a coup. There are now proposals to arm Ukraine against Russia, so the danger is growing.

The dramatic protest against democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 was a US coup spearheaded by violent neo-Nazis. This Obama-era coup was “the most blatant coup in history,” according to the corporate CIA-firm, Stratfor.  The US has taken over their gas industry, putting Joe Biden’s son and a longtime friend of John Kerry on their board, has taken over agriculture, has a former State Department official serving as finance minister, picked their Prime Minister and put in place the US’s “Our Ukraine Insider” president. In the US, media propaganda is constant, focusing on Crimea returning to Russia and demonizing Putin.

While there are more current examples of US imperialism, we will finish with a brief discussion of Africa, where the US seeks to dominate the land, resources, and labor of a continent which holds natural resources critical to 21st Century technology and oil and where $100 billion in US corporate theft occurs annually. Under Obama, AfriCom greatly expanded and the US now has bi-lateral military agreements across the continent, military bases, drone basesSpecial Operations Forces and a military presence in 53 of 54 countries creating an imperial-scale military presence.

The Congo, which has suffered 500 years of European and US imperialism and where four million people have been recently displaced, deserves special focus. The Congo has natural resources more valuable than the entire EU’s GDP. Tech companies violate human rights, such as children as young as seven mining cobalt for lithium batteries.  Africa is shaping up to be the center of 21st Century imperial US wars.

American Imperialism (from Countercurrents.org)

Anti-Imperialism: The Foundation For A Just Foreign Policy

These conflicts are all rooted in resource sovereignty in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Do these countries control their natural wealth or will US imperialism steal it from them? Peace and justice movements must build on a foundation of anti-imperialism and not be fooled by the lies of elected officials, militarists, and the corporate media.

Some will attack those clearest on opposing imperialism. At the Left Forum, a small group criticized long-time US human rights and peace advocate, Ajamu Baraka, for his stance opposing US imperialism in Syria.  The previously unknown group, the “League for the Revolutionary Party”, was made up of a small number of members of the International Socialist Organization and Democratic Socialists of America. They showed how those who do not make opposition to imperialism a foundation of their advocacy are easily confused.

They had to misquote Baraka and take his views out of context to justify their attack. By protesting Baraka, they attacked the leader of the Black Alliance for Peace, making their protest racist. They also protested someone who challenged the war party duopoly, as he was the vice presidential nominee of the Green Party. Their protest not only supported US militarism in Syria but sought to weaken the rebuilding of the black peace movement and challenges to the war parties.

If we ground ourselves in anti-imperialism, we will not be as easily misled. We must respect the sovereignty of other nations and support popular struggles without promoting US intervention.

The people of many countries unite in opposition to US imperialism, economic warfare and threats of militarism. It is our job in the United States to act in solidarity with them and say ‘no’ to US imperialism.

The Syrian Observatory: Funded By The Foreign Office

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, journalist Peter Hitchens commented last month on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR):

Talking of war, and Syria, many of you may have noticed frequent references in the media to a body called the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, often quoted as if it is an impartial source of information about that complicated conflict, in which the British government clearly takes sides. The “Observatory” says on its website that it is “not associated or linked to any political body”

To which I reply: Is Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office not a political body? Because the FO just confirmed to me that “the UK funded a project worth £194,769.60 to provide the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights with communications equipment and cameras.” That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? I love the precision of that 60p. Your taxes, impartially, at work.

This figure was confirmed in communication with the Foreign Office by independent political journalist Ian Sinclair.1

In 2011, Reuters reported that Rami Abdulrahman is ‘the fast-talking director of arguably Syria’s most high-profile human rights group’, SOHR:

When he isn’t fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife.

Given the tinpot nature of the organisation, SOHR’s influence is astonishing:

Cited by virtually every major news outlet since an uprising against the iron rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March, the observatory has been a key source of news on the events in Syria.

Described by Reuters as an ‘opposition group’, SOHR is openly pro-regime change:

After three short spells in prison in Syria for pro-democracy activism, Abdulrahman came to Britain in 2000 fearing a longer, fourth jail term.

“I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes”.

In December 2011, Stratfor, an influential research institute formed of former US security officials, cautioned:

Most of the [Syrian] opposition’s more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue … revealing more about the opposition’s weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime.

Reports from SOHR and other opposition groups, ‘like those from the regime, should be viewed with skepticism’, Stratfor argued: ‘the opposition understands that it needs external support, specifically financial support, if it is to be a more robust movement than it is now. To that end, it has every reason to present the facts on the ground in a way that makes the case for foreign backing.’

The Los Angeles Times described SOHR as ‘a pro-opposition watchdog’. And yet, as Reuters reported, Abdulrahman claims neutrality:

“I’m between two fires. But it shows I’m being neutral if both sides complain,” he said, insisting he accepts no funding and runs the observatory on a voluntary basis.

Two years later, the New York Times described a modified funding model:

Money from two dress shops covers his minimal needs for reporting on the conflict, along with small subsidies from the European Union and one European country that he declines to identify.

Thanks to Hitchens, we now know that the country in question is Britain and the funding in 2012 was £194,769.60.

In 2013, we compared the reflexive respect afforded SOHR with the earlier casual rejection of reports on the death toll in Iraq published in 2004 and 2006 by the Lancet, the world’s leading medical journal:

Figures supplied by SOHR, an organisation openly biased in favour of the Syrian “rebels” and Western intervention is presented as sober fact by… the world’s leading news agencies. No concerns here about methodology, sample sizes, “main street bias” and other alleged concerns thrown at the Lancet studies by critics.

In 2004, one of the Lancet co-authors, Gilbert Burnham of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told us:

Our data have been back and forth between many reviewers at the Lancet and here in the school (chair of Biostatistics Dept), so we have the scientific strength to say what we have said with great certainty. I doubt any Lancet paper has gotten as much close inspection in recent years as this one has!2

Despite this, the Lancet reports were subjected to ceaseless attacks from the US and UK governments, and dismissal by corporate journalists. David Aaronovitch wrote in The Times:

And Harold Pinter invents a statistic. “At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraqi insurgency began.” This is probably some mangling of a controversial estimate of Iraqi civilian fatalities published in The Lancet in 2004 and based, it was claimed, on standard epidemiological methods.3

An op-ed in the Washington Times commented in December 2004:

Or how about the constantly cited figure of 100,000 Iraqis killed by Americans since the war began, a statistic that is thrown about with total and irresponsible abandon by opponents of the war.4

As we described at the time, the ‘mainstream’ hosted all manner of confused and baseless criticisms of this kind.

By contrast, a recent BBC article noted of the Syrian war:

Over seven years of war, more than 400,000 people have been killed or reported missing, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

No-one, it seems, would dream of challenging such a high figure supplied by a clothes shop owner supporting regime change in Syria from Coventry. Nobody challenges SOHR’s methodology, or complains of statistics being thrown about with irresponsible abandon. Why? Because the 2004 and 2006 Lancet reports seriously undermined the US-UK case for conquering Iraq, whereas a high Syria death toll is used to damn the Assad government and to make the case for Western ‘intervention’.

In a 2015 interview with RT, Abdulrahman was asked how he could trust the hundreds of ‘activists’ supplying information from Syria. Claiming that ‘I know all of the activists working for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’, Abdulrahman said that he had last visited Syria in 2000. He added: ‘But I know some of the Observatory activists through common friends.’

Innumerable ‘mainstream’ reports of atrocities blamed on Syrian government and Russian forces have used SOHR as a key source. One of the highest profile claims concerned an alleged massacre of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla, Syria on May 27, 2012. The claim dominated the Independent on Sunday‘s front cover, which read:

SYRIA: THE WORLD LOOKS THE OTHER WAY. WILL YOU?

The text beneath read:

There is, of course, supposed to be a ceasefire, which the brutal Assad regime simply ignores. And the international community? It just averts its gaze. Will you do the same? Or will the sickening fate of these innocent children make you very, very angry?

As so often, SOHR loomed large in these accusations. The BBC reported:

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 90 people had died in the 24 hours since midday on Friday.

The Guardian described how SOHR was condemning Western ‘silence’:

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued an unusually harsh statement in the wake of the deaths, accusing Arab nations and the international community of being “partners” in the killing “because of their silence about the massacres that the Syrian regime has committed”.

But the picture was not quite so clear cut. Two weeks later, the BBC reported the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, as saying of Houla: ‘the circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear’. Mood commented significantly:

Whatever I learned on the ground in Syria… is that I should not jump to conclusions.

On June 27, a UN Commission of Inquiry said that in apportioning blame, it ‘could not rule out any of these possibilities’: local militia possibly operating together with, or with the acquiescence of, government security forces; anti-government forces seeking to escalate the conflict; or foreign groups with unknown affiliation. In August of the same year, UN investigators released a further report which stated that they had ‘a reasonable basis to believe that the perpetrators… were aligned to the Government’. (Our emphasis)

SOHR is omnipresent in the great Syrian atrocity claims that have gripped our media for years. On April 14, Donald Trump bombed Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Douma one week earlier. Reuters reported:

Heavy air strikes on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma killed 27 people including five children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

On April 7, 2017, Trump launched a missile assault on Syria just 72 hours after an alleged chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Reuters reported:

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack killed at least 58 people and was believed to have been carried out by Syrian government jets. It caused many people to choke and some to foam at the mouth.

Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters the assessment that Syrian government warplanes were to blame was based on several factors such as the type of aircraft, including Sukhoi 22 jets, that carried out the raid.

In August 2013, Barack Obama came close to launching a massive attack on Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Ghouta. The BBC reported:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based group that gets its information from a network of activists across Syria, later said it had confirmed at least 502 deaths.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures in Syria, says it has confirmed 502 deaths, including 80 children and 137 women.

Last February, the BBC reported:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least 250 people had been killed in [Syrian government and Russian] air strikes and artillery fire since then.

It said it was the highest 48-hour death toll since a 2013 chemical attack on the besieged enclave.

The power of these claims lies in the fact that Western journalists have been unable to report from ‘rebel’-held areas in Syria. Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn made the point:

All wars always produce phony atrocity stories – along with real atrocities. But in the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War… The real reason that reporting of the Syrian conflict has been so inadequate is that Western news organisations have almost entirely outsourced their coverage to the rebel side.

‘Rebel’ claims relayed by SOHR and others have been uncontested because they originated from ‘areas controlled by people so dangerous no foreign journalist dare set foot among them’.

Many atrocity claims relayed by SOHR and others have been sourced from the White Helmets group in Syria. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented:

In the western corporate media narrative, the White Helmets are a group of dedicated and selfless rescue workers. They are supposedly the humanitarians on whose behalf a western intervention in Syria would have been justified – before, that is, Syrian leader Bashar Assad queered their pitch by inviting in Russia.

However, there are problems with the White Helmets. They operate only in rebel – read: mainly al-Qaeda and ISIS-held – areas of Syria, and plenty of evidence shows that they are funded by the UK and US to advance both countries’ far-from-humanitarian policy objectives in Syria.

In 2016, political analyst Max Blumenthal wrote:

The White Helmets were founded in collaboration with USAID’s Office of Transitional Initiatives—the wing that has promoted regime change around the world—and have been provided with $23 million in funding from the department.

Liberal corporate journalists and politicians have been impressed by the fact that SOHR and White Helmets claims have been supported by ostensibly forensic analysis supplied by the Bellingcat website, which publishes ‘citizen journalist’ investigations. As we noted in a recent alert, Bellingcat is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded by the US government and is ‘a notorious vehicle for US soft power’.

We could link to thousands of corporate media articles citing SOHR as a source. As in the above examples, the vast majority of these claims are directed at the same targets – the Syrian government and its Russian ally. To monitor the BBC website in 2013, for example, was to witness what appeared to be a relentless propaganda campaign promoting yet one more Western ‘humanitarian intervention’.

This would seem to be an extraordinary scandal, not just for the BBC, not just for British corporate media and democracy, but for media and democracy globally. And yet, our media database search finds exactly one national UK newspaper article containing the terms ‘Peter Hitchens’ and ‘Syrian Observatory’. That, of course, was the original May 13 piece in the Mail on Sunday in which Hitchens reported the UK government’s £194,769.60 funding of SOHR. His report has been ignored.

  1. Email to Media Lens, May 17, 2018.
  2. Dr. Gilbert Burnham, email to Media Lens, October 30, 2004.
  3. Aaronovitch, ‘The great war of words,’ The Times, March 18, 2006.
  4. Helle Dale, ‘Biased coverage in Iraq,’ Washington Times, December 1, 2004.

“Skirmishes”: Israel’s Syria Blitz

A key ‘mainstream’ media theme in covering the Israeli army’s repeated massacres of unarmed, non-violent Palestinian civilians protesting Israel’s military occupation in Gaza – killing journalists, a paramedic, the elderly and children – has been the description of these crimes as ‘clashes’.

This has been a clear attempt to obfuscate the fact that while two groups of people are involved, only one group is being killed and wounded.

To the casual reader – and many readers do not venture beyond the headlines – a ‘clash’ suggests that both sides are armed, with both suffering casualties. One would not, for example, describe a firing squad as a ‘clash’. There was no ‘clash’ in New York on September 11, 2001, and so on.

Following Israel’s massive blitz on more than 100 targets in Syria on May 10, ‘mainstream’ coverage offered similarly questionable frameworks of understanding. A Guardian headline read:

Israel retaliates after Iran “fires 20 rockets” at army in occupied Golan Heights (Our emphasis)

For moral, legal and public relations reasons, the issue of which side started a conflict is obviously crucial. If the public recognises that the case for war is unjustified, immoral or illegal – that a country has chosen to launch a war of aggression – they will likely oppose it, sometimes in the millions, as happened in 2002 and 2003 in relation to the Iraq war. It is thus highly significant that the Guardian described Israel as retaliating.

The BBC reported of Israel’s attacks:

They came after 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military positions in the occupied Golan Heights. (Our emphasis)

Reuters took the same line as the Guardian and BBC:

Iran targets Israeli bases across Syrian frontier, Israel pounds Syria

Iranian forces in Syria launched a rocket attack on Israeli forces in the Golan Heights early on Thursday, Israel said, prompting one of the heaviest Israeli barrages in Syria since the conflict there began in 2011. (Our emphasis)

The New York Times also reported:

It was a furious response to what Israel called an Iranian rocket attack launched from Syrian territory just hours earlier. (Our emphasis)

And yet, the report buried a challenge to its own claim that Israel had retaliated in the second half of the piece:

Iran’s rocket attack against Israel came after what appeared to have been an Israeli missile strike against a village in the Syrian Golan Heights late on Wednesday. (Our emphasis)

According to the BBC (see below), the Israeli missile strike had targeted an Iranian drone facility killing several Iranians.

So, actually, it might be said that Iran was retaliating to Israeli attacks – a more reasonable interpretation, given recent history also described by the New York Times:

Israel has conducted scores of strikes on Iran and its allies inside Syria, rarely acknowledging them publicly.

Nevertheless, the corporate media theme has been that Israel retaliated, part of a long-term trend in media coverage. In a 2002 report, Bad News From Israel, The Glasgow University Media Group commented:

On the news, Israeli actions tended to be explained and contextualised – they were often shown as merely “responding” to what had been done to them by Palestinians (in the 2001 samples they were six times as likely to be presented as “retaliating” or in some way responding than were the Palestinians).

Was Iran Skirmishing?

But was Iran even involved at all? The opening, highlighted sentence in a front-page BBC piece by diplomatic editor Jonathan Marcus left the reader in no doubt:

These are the first skirmishes in a potential war between Israel and Iran that promises a fearful level of destruction – even by the standards of the modern Middle East.

So this was a ‘skirmish’, a clash involving Israel and Iran – they were both involved in the combat. And yet, in the second half of the article, Marcus wrote:

The alleged Iranian attack last night – I say alleged because at this stage there is no confirmation from Iranian sources as to the precise authors of the attack – involved a single and relatively short-range system, what appears to have been a multiple-barrelled rocket launcher.

How can the Iranian attack be merely ‘alleged’ half-way down the article but a bald fact in the highlighted opening sentence?

In fact, not only has there been ‘no confirmation’, there has been outright Iranian rejection of the claims. Abolfazl Hassan-Baygi, deputy head of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, commented:

Iran has nothing to do with the missiles that struck the enemy entity yesterday.

Associated Press (AP) reported Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi commenting that Israel’s attacks were based on ‘fabricated and baseless excuses’, and were a breach of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.

AP quoted a senior Lebanese politician and close ally of Syria and Iran, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, as saying: ‘this time the Syrian retaliation was in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights but next time it will be in Israel proper. (Our emphasis)

Later in his BBC piece, Marcus wrote:

The immediate tensions stem from an Israeli air strike on what they claimed was an Iranian drone facility at the so-called T-4 air base, near Palmyra, on 9 April, which reportedly killed several Iranian military advisers.

This again challenged the idea that Israel had ‘retaliated’, but again it was not given the kind of prominence that could challenge Israel’s version of events.

So the ‘skirmishes’ may actually have consisted of Israel first attacking an Iranian drone facility killing Iranian personnel, and then launching a massive attack against Iranian positions across Syria, without Iran responding at all. And yet Marcus wrote:

It is a conflict that needs to be averted and the time to do it is now. However Israel and Iran remain on a collision course.

Despite the uncertainty on whether Iran had attacked, Marcus concluded:

Iran’s strategic intent is clear…it is unlikely to be dissuaded from its efforts.

He added:

Israel has drawn its red lines and it is clearly not going to back down either.

Obama also famously drew his ‘red line’ in Syria in 2012, threatening a massive attack in the event of Syrian government use of chemical weapons. But for Marcus, Israel’s actual launch of a massive attack merely constituted the drawing of ‘red lines’.

And again, ignoring his own doubts about what had happened, the required warmongering ‘balance’ was favoured:

For the immediate future, the pattern of strike, attempted riposte, and counter-strike is likely to continue.

If it had started at all! Marcus concluded his article with three ominous lines identifying another threat alongside the danger of Israel drawing more ‘red lines’ with more massive attacks:

One clear danger is that Iran may seek to exact its revenge outside the Middle East.

Pro-Iranian factions have in the past attacked Israeli tourists abroad or Jewish organisations, notably in Latin America.

A successful terrorist attack of this kind would inevitably alter the picture, pushing Israel and Iran to the brink of a full-scale war.

The word ‘terrorist’ thus made its first appearance in the last line of Marcus’s piece, in reference to a hypothetical Iranian atrocity.

The idea that Israel might already have committed terrorist atrocities in Syria by launching unprovoked attacks, by illegal bombings committed completely outside of international law, is unthinkable.

Crib Notes on Late Capitalism

Gordon Gekko, the fictitious corporate raider so memorably personified by Michael Douglas in Wall Street, lectured an assemblage of investors and flaccid board members with this eye-opening burst of insight:

The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

Gekko cut to the core of capitalism. He unclothed its essence, he upvoted its pseudo-scientific rationale, and he recognized its dominion over America. We should know by now, all these years and a Great Recession later, that sociopathic late capitalism reduces all morality to a single ethic: increase profits. At any cost. By any means necessary. And always as at a faster pace with fewer hands involved in the assembly, one day to be as seamlessly automated as it is amoral. Even when a throng of angry workers rise up and startle the bourgeoisie from its dogmatic slumber, the subsequent concessions are often piecemeal and temporary. As soon as they are implemented, the animated masses slip back into their consumer coma, and a cadre of capitalist purists, furiously underlining quotes in their laissez faire bibles, begin a massively financed rollback. Without round-the-clock vigilance by a perpetually agitated electorate, the restoration of unchecked plunder seems inevitable. Today that process of unchecked plunder is in full swing. It feels like late capitalism, an exhausted time when the rhetorical salves that once hid the gruesome core of exploitation, have lost their power, revealed as empty platitudes. Late capitalism is perhaps an era unfettered by regulatory regimes or unified labor, in which manufacturing has fled abroad, financialization is pre-eminent, bureaucracies enable blame-shifting and abdication of responsibility at the highest levels, where personal finances are credit-fueled, debt deflation cannibalizes income, and there is no sacred ground that is not ripe for commodification. And crucially, an era in which brutal economic and military aggression has become normalized. Wars are no longer historically bookended epochs, but quotidian realities for millions that live in the crosshairs of imperial greed. A few notes on our present reality and the ways in which we cloak it behind comforting facades:

Acceptable Casualties: What are the consequences of that rollback? Brutal corporate raiding, to be sure, of the Gekko variety. And strip-mining private equity firms like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. And supercharged offshoring kingpins like General Electric. But also extrajudicial murder. Assassinations. Indefinite detention. Saturation bombing. Backing coup d’états birthed at midnight on a distant Maidan. Funding jihadi terrorists in faux uprisings in drought-stricken border towns. Green-lighting neo-Nazi fascists in jackboots with Bandera flags held aloft. Stationing a fleet of drones above the clouds over Yemen, their 24-hour buzz reminding powerless villagers below that their futures and funerals are separated by a hair’s breadth. Launching Tomahawk missiles and flying sorties to destroy legitimate government forces as al-Qaeda terrorists advance toward Tripoli. Enabling a longtime leader’s death by rape in a featureless dune outside of Sirte. Parading tanks and Humvees down the roads of Eastern Europe, shadowing the frontiers of Russia with the clustered muzzles of their long artillery. And, of course, rolling out all the domestic austerities that they pretend must be cut to pay for our protection. And don’t forget jerry-rigging pensions to implode thanks to naive derivative bets placed by deluded municipalities. All to make a quick buck, protect a currency regime, or pulverize resistance to western dominion over MENA energy resources. But that’s just at the national level. On the individual level, the profits system is protected and reinforced and expanded using torture, including simulated drowning and anal rape (Abu Ghraib), slaughtering villagers (Vietnam, Nicaragua), shameless genocide (see history of Native Americans), rampant slavery (see history of African Americans), sending armed terrorists into sovereign nations with the intention of total ruin (Syria, Libya, Nicaragua), and numberless other particularized forms of cruelty against men and women. One of our former arbiters of torture is now assuming command of the CIA, her suburban soccer mom pose pacifying the tired assemblage of corporate supplicants in Congress.

The Pall of Good Intentions: All of this to secure profits (variously euphemized as power, wealth, resources, influence, liquidity, reserve currency, etc.). Of course, these acceptable consequences are acceptable because they can be written off as bad judgment or mistakes. Lapses in foresight. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. As national mythologist Ken Burns’ sagacious narrator purred in The Vietnam War, “It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings.” This rancid preface is enveloped in the amniotic afterbirth of every act of imperial violence, a postscript rationalization. One can imagine the wizened faces of imperial stormtroopers asking with incredulous naiveté, “What happened?” The Burns documentary is artfully presented, with a master’s touch, and dropped deep into the fog of war from which we can comfortably resolve, “…in war, there is no single truth.” Thus the resolution is no resolution at all. Judgment is judiciously reserved. What cannot be swept under the carpet or plausibly denied, can be amplified into total confusion, confounding even the most discerning observer. In the final analysis, there is no one to blame.

It’s the System! When ill-conceived choices don’t suffice, the blame can be offloaded onto the system itself. As automation in warfare improves, expect more of the moral blame to be shifted to technological malfunctions rather than human error. AI may play in war the same role bureaucracy plays in consumer capitalism, the abdication of responsibility. Remember the middle manager mantra: “Sorry, but that decision is above my pay grade.” This is the requisite assumption of bureaucratic capitalism and the reason why the abdication of responsibility and subterfuge of false historical narratives are so important to the capitalist system. It cannot be conceded that profitability is valued above human life. When such charges are leveled at imperial capital, blame for such inhumane values must be placed on the system, while individuals are set scot free. No major bankers were jailed for the bank-generated mortgage meltdown. No major government figures were jailed for their role in sanctioning torture and war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a consequence, a torturer now runs the CIA and banks have leveraged their derivative bets beyond 2008 levels. Obama launched the largest covert CIA operation since Afghanistan in Syria, ultimately generating the cauldron that displaced half the country and killed half a million. But his staunchest defenders will swiftly lift the accusations from their paladin’s slim shoulders, dust off his lapels, and deposit the blame squarely on the monolithic system itself. No one is powerful enough, therefore no one bears responsibility. Given the casuistry of capital, it any wonder then that the wages of capitalism are so often death?

Capital Fight, Capital Flight: Most of us don’t think of wars as capitalist wars. But what else are they? The United States has established bases inside of Syria’s predominantly oil-rich Kurdish region. That war itself began, conspicuously, not long after Bashar Al-Assad opted to back a gas line built with Russia and Iran over one involving Qatar and Turkey. Wars against Iraq and Libya were both conspicuously ramped up not long after those nations floated the idea of abandoning the US petro-dollar. And you know how temporary installations morph into permanent occupations. Baghdad’s Green Zone didn’t start out as a Bellagio-on-the-Tigris, but soon became a permanent encampment, even if it is now euphemistically named, “the international zone.” Military contractors still have a considerable presence there (surely cheered by the citizenry) and the American wrecking crew has whittled its official footprint to world’s largest ‘embassy’ cum occupation zone. Iraq, too, was a resource war, and yet is not generally grasped as a distinctively capitalist conflict. But the only apparent alternative to foreign exploitation in a rent-seeking system is capital flight.

Savagery as Security: The evidence of bloody exploitation is all around us, but most of it beyond our borders and across abyssal seas most of us have never crossed. Hence the worthlessness of this system of plunder for the majority is better grasped by people living outside the walls of our doctrinal system. People living in the 57 countries we’ve attempted to overthrow since WWII. People living in occupied territories, alongside the 800 military bases we’ve flung like a net across the planet. People living beneath the drone arsenals that float in the sky, or those in nations that suffered the 51,000 bombs President Obama let drop in the final two years of his presidency. These acts are all, suffice it to say, forms of aggression defined as defensive measures. Obama was thus the perfect avatar of imperial conquest, a man who neither seemed capable of anger or interested in expansion. Unlike snarling Dick Cheney and more akin to soothing Bill Clinton, Obama provided the necessary update on Jesse Jackson’s candidacy in 1984 and 1988, tweaking the persona from that of an impassioned African-American decidedly on the side of the working class to one of a cross-class unifier who healed divisions with a kind of amiable centrism. And so Obama and the Democratic Party merely inhabited the emptied husks of progressivism, while embodying in practice the regressive rollback of worker advances.

Domestic Digs: Evidence may be bloodier abroad, but the wages of capitalist globalization have also been coming home to roost for some time. The millions of middle class jobs exported abroad to line the coffers of rich shareholders and impoverish the sad ledgers of working men and women. If there is a definition of the word ‘sellout,’ it ought to sit astride the logos of companies like GE, Walmart, Nike, JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, and Halliburton. Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have committed suicide thanks to the ‘liberalization’ of markets, permitting western multinationals to savagely undercut subsistence farmers in nations like India, and deliberately drives them into urban slums to fortify the surplus army of cheap labor available to faceless capital. Now New York taxi drivers are killing themselves, unable to continue working 16 hour days for ever-declining wages while mobile sweatshops like Uber and Lyft lobby for deregulation, undercut the wages of the entire industry, and hire a multicultural new CEO with a kindly face who softly promises helpful innovation for all. Capitalists fear a falling rate of profit, but care nothing for the falling rate of wages. As Marxist geographer David Harvey said, capitalism will cannibalize the source of its own wealth–something no PR campaign can cure. Every revenue stream will be bled dry. Harvey also said capitalism’s current form, a viciously anti-state neoliberalism, is a conscious project of class restoration, a war on workers by elite shareholders looking to restore their class privilege, despite their role as a parasitic rentier class that induces debt deflation in the larger economy. If labor mis-attributes its travails to personal inadequacies, it likewise misses the fact that it is under attack. Labor is kept afloat through credit, with student, credit card, mortgage, and auto debts all swelling past the trillion-dollar threshold in the U.S. With that increase in debt come obvious corollaries: the one percent grabbed 95 percent of the overhyped recovery in America, while the overlapping global one percent will own two-thirds of all wealth by 2030.

Class Blinders: In practice, capitalism is primarily about the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor. That’s what Barack Obama signaled to elite constituencies when he campaigned for president, a willingness to either look the other way or facilitate exploitation. Even if he believed the lofty rhetoric he ventriloquized through his Ivy League education. Donald Trump may perhaps be a bit more aware that capitalism is red in tooth and claw. But like Gekko, he merely recites the tiresome credos of Social Darwinism, the naturalistic fallacy that conservatives and ambitious financiers never stop falling for. It may be the only method of rationalizing their success as the product of their intrinsic talents, rather than a stroke of fortune delivered by a confection of birth, breeding, temperament, and natural ambition. Marx was right when he proposed a materialist conception of history. Our circumstances do shape our consciousness. The rich have been taught to take credit for their successes and externalize responsibility for their failures. A tireless work ethic provides the moral backdrop to every Fortune 500 profile, but for every bankruptcy, regulation and taxation are reviled. On the flip side, the elite media never tires of conditioning the poor to do the reverse: self-indict for their failures and thank affirmative action and America for their successes. Read Adam Johnson on “perseverance porn,” the celebration of disenfranchised peasants who endure intolerable conditions. As such, too often the exploited blame themselves for their exploitation, and the exploiters blame the system for their failures (the system they rely upon in times of crises).

Money Never Sleeps: No matter, Gordon Gekko had it right. Greed is good–for the one percent. After all, they seem to be the only ones benefiting from institutionalized cupidity of imperial capitalism, for which all are blameless but from which only a handful may benefit. That its unchecked bacchanalia came to a juddering halt in Mesopotamia has bedeviled the plutocrats at the helm of the global capitalism. Their loyal serfs in the military-financial complex have demonstrated alarming judgment since the Syrian conflict began. The plutocrats surely fear their unipolar moment is being threatened by a poker-faced piker in the Kremlin and his infuriatingly refined ally in Damascus. The nervous frenzy in the western media only reflects the disturbed priorities of the corporate state. Perhaps the only question left appears to be whether Washington will make good on its implicit wish to use small nukes to salvage its hegemony, or strategize a more successful use of criminal sanctions, proxy forces and soft coups to redraw the balance of power to their liking. Either choice will entail not only decimation abroad but vacuuming more taxes from social need into metastasizing budgets that fuel military aggression and police a restive homeland. Peace and prosperity are not in the cards. As the infamous Margaret Thatcher said of capital’s creed: “There is no alternative.”

Cold War Mentality Alive and Well in Australia

Writing in The Australian newspaper under the headline “Red Threats to Render White Paper just about Passé” (18 May 2018) ANU emeritus professor Paul Dibb offers a commentary that exemplifies much of what is wrong with Australian strategic thinking. The problem is all the more acute because Dibb is regularly quoted in the mainstream media and his views are considered influential. In this latest article he calls for a re-evaluation of the premises underlying the Foreign Policy White Paper released only six months ago.

That White Paper was certainly flawed, although not in the manner that Dibb suggests in underestimating what Dibb calls “an aggrieved and newly assertive Russia, as well as an aggressive rising power in China.”

The White Paper failed to grasp the realities of a newly emerging multipolar world, and in particular failed to perceive how Australia might best respond in a manner consistent with both its national security and economic interests.

That challenge is not assisted by Dibb’s contribution, which is full of faulty assumptions, factual errors, and grievous misinterpretations, not only of post-World War II history, but the current inevitable realignment away from the singularly dangerous exercise of hegemonic power by the United States.

Dibb quotes United States Secretary of Defence James Mattis with evident approval, saying “China and Russia wanted to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”  China is alleged to be seeking “regional hegemony and the displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”

The “evidence” Dibb cites for these assertions are China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea; Russia’s territorial expansionism in Crimea and Ukraine; Putin’s aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons; and Moscow’s State sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflecting Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of State borders. He even cites the “reports” of Beijing seeking to develop a military base in Vanuatu.  That the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Vanuatu and also the Chinese government have denied the latter report is of little consequence to Professor Dibb.

There is much more in Professor Dibb’s commentary in this vein, but those examples illustrate not only the fact free environment that strategic advisors such as Dibb operate in, but also are reflective of “strategic thinking” in the Australian defence, foreign policy and defence establishments.

In the cited example of China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea there are several components of this allegation that put it in a different context from the viewpoint usually advanced in the Australian media. The so-called Nine Dash Line within which China has made unspecified claims was, in fact, the first formulated in 1946 by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek. That government’s successors now rule Taiwan, and the Taiwanese government makes the same South China Sea claims as does the PRC.

Taiwan similarly rejected the findings of the UNCLOS Tribunal they ruled on a complaint by the Philippines1, a con complaint incidentally that was arguing exclusively by American and British lawyers.

It is correct that the PRC has fortified some of the eight artificial “islands” it has constructed in the South China Sea, but so has Vietnam, about which Dibb is silent. Taiwan has also fortified Taiping Island in the Spratly Group, more than 1000 km to its south.

Dibb makes no attempt to analyse why China should be taking steps to increase its military presence in the South China Sea. Those reasons would include China’s defensive reaction to being encircled by 400 US military bases; the US declaring that China is a major threat to the US, as it did and last year’s National Defence Strategy document; and the carrying out of provocative military exercises by the US in the South China Sea.

Australia, along with the United States, carries out a regular joint military exercise (Operation Talisman Sabre) which practices blocking the narrow (2.5km) Malacca Straits through which more than 80% of China’s oil imports currently pass.

Dibb claims also that Russia engaged in “territorial expansionism” in Crimea and Ukraine. Crimea is an example of consistent misrepresentation in the Australian media. It was for centuries part of Russia until 1954 when Soviet leader Khrushchev unilaterally “gifted” Crimea to Ukraine without consulting anyone, least of all the Crimean people.

Following the US organized and financed coup against the elected government of Ukraine in 2014, the Crimean people, who are predominately Russian speaking and culturally aligned with Russia, held a referendum. More than 90% of Crimeans voted in that referendum, and more than 90% of them voted for reunification with Russia. Crimea’s request to Russia for reintegration into the Russian Federation was in due course voted on in the Russian Parliament.

People’s right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, and was recognised by the West, for example, in supporting the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. Quite apart from illustrating the extraordinary demonization of Russia, the treatment of the Crimea question is a classic illustration of western hypocrisy.

There is zero evidence of any Russian territorial expansionism in Ukraine. There is obviously profound concern about Ukraine’s treatment of its Russian speaking eastern region of Donbass. An attempted resolution of the Donbass problem brokered by Germany, resulting in the Minsk Accord of 2015, has been repeatedly violated. According to the OSCE, more than 80% of the violations of the Minsk II Accord have been by the Ukrainian government. This is a government where neo-Nazi elements have undue influence, a fact of obvious legitimate concern to the Russian government given the history of 26 million Russian deaths at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Dibb also refers to Putin’s “aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons.”  This is simply bizarre. It was Russia who negotiated Syria relinquishing its chemical weapons and the OPCW has verified that the disarmament of chemical weapons by Syria is complete.

The alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government have been comprehensively debunked by independent experts.2

Dibb does not mention it, but Russia is in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate sovereign government of Syria. Thanks to Russia’s intervention in 2015 the US-Israeli-Saudi Arabia backed terrorists are on the verge of being completely defeated.

Russia is acting entirely within international law in their support of the Syrian government, unlike the United States and its ally Australia who have no legal justification for being in Syria at all. It is an illustration of the United States’ imperial agenda that they have set up military bases in Syria where they are neither invited nor wanted.

Dibb is completely unable to recognise that the greatest sponsor and perpetrator of terrorism in the world is the United States. Since 1945 it has been almost continuously engaged in warfare against self defined “threats” and “enemies;” has bombed, invaded, or overthrown the governments of more than 70 nations; and killed more than 30 million people in the process.3

In many of these activities, for example, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it has been actively supported by Australia, whose “joined at the hip” alliance with the United States is arguably Australia’s most dangerous and counter-productive foreign policy.

Dibb further claims “Moscow’s state-sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflects Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of state borders.”  This is presumably a reference to the recent Skripal case, although with Dibb’s casual and sweeping defamatory denunciations one cannot be sure.

If it is the Skripal case to which he refers, then not only have the United Kingdom claims been both ludicrous and overblown in their multiple variations, there is absolutely zero evidence of Russian involvement and considerable evidence of motivations by other actors.

Since the admission to hospital and now with the discharge of both of the Skripals the British government has refused to permit consular access by Russian officials. This is a direct violation of, inter alia, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and a separate treaty between Russia and the United Kingdom. The British are also in violation of the International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance (23 September 2005). The United Nations Human Rights Committee has also held that for persons to be held incommunicado for 15 days or more constitutes a violation of human rights law. In Dibb’s world these factors never rate a mention.

As for Mr Putin’s alleged contempt for the sanctity of state borders, he might like to compare the respective records of Russia since 2000 (when Putin first came to power) and his US counterparts over the same period.  There is simply no contest.

What Dibb and similar commentators in Australia fail to recognise is that the American dominated unipolar world order of the past 70 years is rapidly being transformed into a multipolar world.4

Australia’s adherence to the Pax Americana view, however, is potentially greatly to Australia’s detriment, economically and politically. If the new Cold War policies being pursued by the Trump administration deteriorate to a hot war, which is far from unrealistic, the devastation wrought upon Australia will be, to borrow Trump’s phrase, fire and fury like in the world has never seen.

  1. Shannon Tiezzi, Taiwan: South China Sea Ruling ‘Completely Unacceptable‘, The Diplomat, 13 July 2016.
  2. Dr. Theodore Postol, “Assessment of White House Intelligence Report About Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria“, Global Research, November 18, 2017.
  3. William Blum, Americas Deadliest Export: Democracy, Zed Books, 2013.
  4. Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century, Haymarket Books, 2017.

“A Suffocating Groupthink”: Sampling The Corporate Media On Israel, Iran, Syria And Russia

The gaping chasm between reality and unreality is exemplified by recent contrasting statements about journalism from two veteran reporters. On the one side we have Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, who enjoys a public image of principled honesty and a supposedly fierce commitment to news balance and impartiality. But, when he was challenged recently on Twitter about the blatant bias in BBC News reporting, he responded just as one would expect of a well-rewarded, high-profile employee of the national broadcaster:

We are the best source of decent, impartial reportage anywhere in the world.

As Noam Chomsky has observed of elite power and allied corporate journalists:

Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word.1

In reality, as hundreds of media alerts, and several of our books attest, and also the work of many others, Bowen’s assertion could not be further from the truth.

By contrast, consider a recent interview with renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger on ‘mainstream’ media coverage of Syria, Salisbury, Yemen and Korea. He said:

I’ve never known journalism to be so distorted in order to serve this propaganda […] What we’re seeing is the most intense campaign of propaganda at least since the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

Pilger often makes a specific point of including BBC News in his scathing criticism:

Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power?

In what follows, we itemise a range of important issues where current ‘mainstream’ reporting is not simply poor or weak; but systematically skewed in the interests of Western state-corporate power.

It is important to grasp that this is not about the so-called ‘failure’ of corporate journalism. Rather, this is a reminder that corporate journalism is performing exactly as it should. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky noted when introducing their propaganda model of the media in ‘Manufacturing Consent’, published thirty years ago:

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.2 Our emphasis.

1. Israelis Deliberately Killing Palestinians, Including Children

A recent media alert highlighted the mass killing and wounding of Palestinians in Gaza, including children, by Israeli armed forces in what the media often describe as ‘clashes’. Before the latest major massacre on May 14 (see below), Israeli forces had already killed over 50 Palestinian protesters and injured over 5000, including 1700 by live fire, during Great March of Return protests that began on March 30. UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk condemned Israel’s actions as violations of international law.

On April 21, an Israeli general confirmed in a radio interview that even children have been shot deliberately under clear and specific orders. United Nations peace process envoy Nickolay Mladenov declared the targeting of children ‘outrageous.’

In a sane world, such an appalling Israeli policy would be major headline news. Our searches revealed not a single ‘mainstream’ report about it in the days following the Israeli general’s comments. We asked senior BBC News editors and journalists to point us to the BBC News headlines and follow-up coverage on this revelation. BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet was the only one to respond. And that was after we observed that she had previously reported in 2013 that Syrian children had been ‘targeted by snipers’. What about Palestinian children targeted by Israeli forces? She replied:

Thank you for message. Am involved in another story now but will forward to colleagues working in the region now.

Predictably, there was no follow-up on BBC News, as far as we could see. We need only imagine the global outrage if Palestinian snipers were found to be deliberately targeting Israeli children to gauge the current level of media silence.

Even more mass killings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers have occurred since. On May 14, on the day that the US controversially opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers killed and wounded huge numbers of Palestinians. By the evening, the UN noted that 55 had been killed, including six children. 2,771 people were reported injured, including 1,359 by live ammunition, with 130 people in a critical condition. By the following day, the death toll had risen to 61, including an eight-month-old baby who died from tear gas inhalation.

All day long, BBC News disgraced itself with headline after headline on the top page of its website masking the truth. Despite weeks of public outrage at previous biased reporting of Gaza protests, BBC News was still using the Israeli-approved word ‘clashes’ to describe the deliberate mass killing of Palestinians.

Compare with the Guardian website which, for once, did not mince its words about Israel’s crimes: ‘Israeli troops kill dozens of Palestinians’. Would that really have been too difficult for someone at BBC News to type out? Clearly so, and no surprise given that the BBC routinely trembles in fear before the pro-Israel lobby. Why else would BBC News choose ‘Dozens die as US opens Jerusalem embassy’ as a headline, masking the fact that Israeli troops had massacred civilians? To be fair to the BBC, the Guardian print edition of May 15 was equally as bad, featuring the headline, ‘Israel: Trump’s new embassy opens – and dozens are killed’.

By the end of the day, the top headline on the BBC News website was: ‘Israel defends Gaza action as 55 killed’. As ever, the Israeli perspective is given prominence, even as it commits abhorrent crimes against civilians. The massacre of unarmed civilians was merely an ‘action’, and the identity of the people murdered by the Israeli army was obscured – perhaps a mix of Israelis and Palestinians had been killed? In fact, there were no Israeli casualties.

On the flagship BBC News at Ten, graphics and headlines proclaimed, ‘Gaza Clashes’, an abomination used by the BBC instead of ‘Gaza Massacre’. The heart-breaking reality behind the lie of ‘clashes’ could be seen in the anguish of a Palestinian father crying in farewell to his little boy:

Oh people, my son

The following day (May 15), the BBC’s truth-mangling headline read:

Gaza braced for further violent protests

A more honest headline would have been:

Gaza civilians braced for a further Israeli massacre

A glimmer of hope for sanity was seen when, following public outrage, The New York Times changed its headline on an article from ‘Palestinians died in protest’ to ‘Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians’. As Twitter user @FalafelDad observed:

media accountability is NECESSARY and can be achieved.

2. Fact-Checking Trump’s Iran Deal Speech

When Donald Trump announced last week that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, analysis by Now This News website revealed in a short video that, in his speech:

Trump averaged one false claim every 83 seconds.

For example, Trump claimed:

The deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and – over time – reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.

As the video pointed out:

False. The deal forced Iran to give up all weapons-grade uranium and barred it from producing more.

Trump continued:

The deal lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for very weak limits on the regime’s nuclear activity.

And in the real world?

Wrong. The deal gave inspectors unrestricted access to all Iranian nuclear sites and suspicious facilities.

And so on.

In contrast, BBC News at Ten essentially took Trump’s speech at face value. Our challenge to senior BBC editors and correspondents to actually fact-check Trump’s assertions was met with the usual silence.

In an online piece, Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent, did go so far as to say:

The inconvenient truth for Donald Trump is that, as far as it goes, the nuclear deal was working.

Despite this, Mr Trump presented it in stark and frankly erroneous terms – for leaving out things that it was never supposed to cover in the first place.

But two lines couched in rather vague and non-specific terms is scant compensation for flagship BBC News television reporting that is little more than stenography. Senior editors and journalists seem to believe that their job is to tell the public what ‘our’ leaders say, and not to scrutinise claims made. This is galling; all the more so when dangerous rhetoric, making war more likely, goes unchallenged. But then, as John Pilger once wrote, corporate journalists are:

the essential foot soldiers in any network devoted to power and propaganda.

3. Douma And The Salisbury Attack

There is so much that could be said on Douma following our recent two-part media alert. Note, for instance, the corporate media’s response to a press conference at the headquarters of the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW in the Hague on April 26. A number of Syrians, including children, gave their version of events in Douma, casting serious doubt on the official Western narrative of a chemical weapons attack that provided the pretext for missile attacks by the US, the UK and France on April 14. ‘Mainstream’ media dutifully headlined the scathing dismissal by Western powers of the Russia-organised press conference as ‘nothing more than a crude propaganda exercise‘ and an ‘obscene masquerade.’

Meanwhile, the corporate media blanked the assessment of Scott Ritter, the UN weapons inspector vindicated in his detailed appraisal that Iraq had been fundamentally disarmed of ‘WMD’ before the 2003 war. Last month, interviewer Dennis Bernstein of Flashpoints Radio asked Ritter:

Isn’t it also the case that there were problems with the allegations concerning Syria using chemical weapons in 2013 and then again in 2015? I believe The New York Times had to retract their 2013 story.

Ritter replied:

They put out a story about thousands of people dying, claiming that it was definitely done by the Syrian government. It turned out later that the number of deaths was far lower and that the weapons systems used were probably in the possession of the rebels. It was a case of the rebels staging a chemical attack in order to get the world to intervene on their behalf.

He continued:

A similar scenario unfolded last year when the Syrian government dropped two or three bombs on a village and suddenly there were reports that there was sarin nerve agent and chlorine gas wafting through the village, killing scores of people. Videotapes were taken of dead and dying and suffering people which prompted Trump to intervene. Inspectors never went to the site. Instead they relied upon evidence collected by the rebels.

Ritter expanded on this vital point:

As a weapons inspector, I can tell you that chain of custody of any samples that are to be used in the investigation is an absolute. You have to be at the site when it is collected, it has to be certified to be in your possession until the laboratory. Any break in the chain of custody makes that evidence useless for a legitimate investigation. So we have evidence collected by the rebels. They videotaped themselves carrying out the inspection, wearing training suits that would not have protected them at all from chemical weapons! Like almost everything having to do with these rebels, this was a staged event, an act of theater.

Ritter then turned to the US/UK/France missile attack on Syria on April 14:

We bombed three targets, a research facility in Damascus and two bunker facilities in western Syria. It was claimed that all three targets were involved with a Syrian chemical weapons program. But the Syria weapons program was verified to be disarmed. So what chemical weapons program are we talking about? Then US officials said that one of these sites stored sarin nerve agent and chemical production equipment. That is a very specific statement. Now, if Syria was verified to be disarmed last year, with all this material eliminated, what are they talking about? What evidence do they have that any of this material exists? They just make it up. [Emphasis in original]’

Serious questions also remain regarding the official story on the Skripal poison attack in Salisbury; not least, why the rebranded D-Notice committee has issued not just one, but two notices in an attempt to shut down aspects of media coverage.

As ever, the views of ‘experts’ and witnesses whose testimony accords with the Western narrative are given heavy coverage in the corporate media; while those whose testimony runs counter to that narrative tend to be either dismissed or simply ignored. As Noam Chomsky once observed:

Under what’s sometimes been called “brainwashing under freedom,” the critics, or at least, the “responsible critics” make a major contribution to the cause by bounding the debate within certain acceptable limits – that’s why they’re tolerated, and in fact even honored.3

4. Today’s McCarthyism

As noted earlier, the ‘intense campaign of propaganda’ described by John Pilger is severely distorting what passes for journalism. A constant target of this distortion is Russia, in a grotesque echo of Cold War propaganda. From Moscow, the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg plays the required role, recently commenting on the inauguration ceremony following Russian president Putin’s re-election:

The symbolism and the message couldn’t be clearer. Putin, the modern tsar. Loved by his people.

Putin and Russia are forever portrayed as flexing their military muscles and representing a threat to the West, not least by BBC News. It is notable that a similar snooty, doom-mongering tone is absent when UK state occasions, or military exercises, are reported.

Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News responded to us on Twitter:

You will find Putin has a little more power than the Queen by the way. Just a tad…

We replied:

UK churnalism endlessly drools over “our” dear leaders. Remember the Blair adulation? And Obama? But that’s okay, because they’re “good guys”, not like Putin.

Thomson followed up with:

I don’t see much drooling. And neither Blair nor Obama routinely liquidate opposition/journalists as happens under Putin’s Kremlin, unarguably.

Our response:

Because you don’t want to see it. But you can see Putin’s crimes. Can you also see that Blair and Obama destroyed entire countries [Iraq, Libya], also unarguably? Can you see that the state-corporate system they served is ferociously violent, exploitative and criminal?

Thomson did not answer, other than to request to be ‘untagged’ from an exchange he had initiated, following a further critical response from another tweeter.

Meanwhile, the increasingly neocon Guardian plastered on its front page, not just one, but three, pieces of anti-Russia propaganda:

Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance
‘Deny, distract and blame’: how Russia fights propaganda war
Clickbait and Skripal jokes: Russia’s RT thrives online

The Guardian, once regarded by many on the left as the vanguard of power-challenging journalism, was clearly pushing the ‘red scare’ agenda hard, in line with UK government priorities.

The big ‘Revealed’ piece was written by Patrick Wintour, the paper’s diplomatic editor. The main message, which could have come straight from a government press release, was this:

The UK will use a series of international summits this year to call for a comprehensive strategy to combat Russian disinformation and urge a rethink over traditional diplomatic dialogue with Moscow, following the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign of denials over the use of chemical weapons in the UK and Syria.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook was rightly critical in a blog piece:

When I trained as a journalist, we reserved a “Revealed” or an “Exposed” for those special occasions when we were able to bring to the reader information those in power did not want known. These were the rare moments when as journalists we could hold our heads high and claim to be monitoring the centres of power, to be fulfilling our sacred duty as the fourth estate.

Cook continued:

But today’s Guardian’s “exclusive” story “Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance” is doing none of this. Nothing the powerful would want hidden from us is being “revealed”. No one had to seek out classified documents or speak to a whistleblower to bring us this “revelation”. Everyone in this story – the journalist Patrick Wintour, an anonymous “Whitehall official”, and the named politicians and think-tank wonks – is safely in the same self-congratulatory club, promoting a barely veiled government policy: to renew the Cold War against Russia.

The author of the second piece on ‘how Russia fights propaganda war’ was, ironically, Luke Harding, the paper’s former Moscow-based correspondent who regularly churned out pro-West propaganda in that role. Former UK diplomat Craig Murray describes Harding as ‘MI6’s most important media conduit (after [BBC security correspondent] Frank Gardner)’. The pinpoint demolition of Harding by Aaron Maté of The Real News Network last year is a must-watch.

A later Guardian piece by Amanda Meade, Guardian Australia’s media correspondent, actually contained this line:

RT is a powerful PR arm of the Russian government which is used as a weapon in the global information war.

When did the Guardian ever write the following line?

The BBC is a powerful PR arm of the British government which is used as a weapon in the global information war.

As Caitlin Johnstone rightly notes, any discussion of ‘Russian disinformation’ is invalid if it sweeps under the carpet previous massive Western propaganda campaigns; not least that leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Those questioning the official Western narratives on Russia and Syria have been subjected to an appalling McCarthyite campaign of vilification and intimidation; in large part initiated by The Times and followed up by others, including Guardian columnist George Monbiot and Huffington Post. This has led to the late rearrangement of a planned conference in Leeds, titled ‘Media on Trial,’ after the city council pulled the plug on allowing Leeds City Museum to be used as the venue. A report on the event’s cancellation, written by Chris York, a senior editor at HuffPost UK, smeared the speakers, including Professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson, as ‘pro-Assad’. Indeed, York has been relentless in attacking the academics as ‘pro-Assad’.

As for George Monbiot, the Guardian’s long-time resident ‘dissident’, his subservience to the official narrative on Russia and Syria was starkly exposed by journalist Peter Hitchens in recent exchanges on Twitter. Hitchens had previously published a detailed piece on his blog titled, ‘Who Gassed Whom in Syria? We don’t Know. Please Don’t be Rushed into War.’

The Twitter exchange is lengthy and not archived in a single thread, as far as we are aware. But as an indicator of Monbiot’s inability to respond to Hitchens, consider this discussion on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW):

Monbiot:

The OPCW/JIM report on Khan Shaykhun [in 2017] presented a mountain of evidence for a chemical weapons attack by the Assad government

Hitchens:

1. The report is based on a study that breaks the OPCW’s own stated 2013 rule: No assessment without visiting the site. But the OPCW never visited the site. It is full of anonymous judgements of likelihood, phrases such as “appeared to be” and “highly likely”

Followed up by:

2. Sorry to put it like this George (but not very) but any proper journalist knows that “appears to be;” and “highly likely” are phrases used by people who would have loved to say “is”, but haven’t the facts which would allow them to do so.

And:

3. I’d also say that in a long career I have learned to be sceptical of opinions convenient to the person presenting them, originating from unnamed and unidentified sources, and of people with firm views about events they did not themselves witness.

After Monbiot had ‘liked’ a tweet smearing Hitchens as ‘a chemical weapons denier/Assad-Putin stooge’, together with Monbiot’s clear inability to properly respond to reasonable questions from Hitchens about supposed incontrovertible evidence of Assad’s guilt, Hitchens concluded:

I have been dismayed and disappointed by the behaviour of @GeorgeMonbiot on this issue, where he has preferred smear to rational, fact-based debate. What has happened to radicalism in the west, when prominent left-wingers behave like this?

Indeed. Although, when it comes to UK foreign policy, far from being a ‘left-winger’, Monbiot has consistently aligned himself with dubious neocon and ‘interventionist’ voices for some considerable time.

Concluding Remarks

It may have taken several years, but Guardian columnist Owen Jones has come to realise something vital about the ‘mainstream’ media which, to his credit, he has been willing to share:

The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.

As Ian Sinclair pointed out in the Morning Star:

the indignant responses [from corporate journalists] — perfectly illustrating Jones’s argument — came thick and fast.

The response from Deborah Haynes, Times defence editor, was typical when she proudly declared:

No-one tells me what to think

US writer and media critic Michael Parenti had the perfect response for this recurring facile boast from corporate journalists:

You say what you like because they like what you say.

In other words, journalists are filtered for ‘reliability’; only those who say, write and even think the right things are able to reach senior positions in journalism. The consequences for genuine truth-telling journalism are horrendous, as the above examples show.

  1. Chomsky, Year 501, Verso, 1993, p.20.
  2. Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Vintage, 1988/1994, p. 1.
  3. Quoted, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, The New Press, New York, 2002, p. 13.

Selective Reporting Increases the Risk of a Greater Middle East War

The mainstream media news in recent days has carried reports of an exchange of rockets between forces based in Syria and what has been generally characterized as an Israeli “response.”  The Israelis claim that Iranian forces fire the rockets aimed at the Golan Heights. There are conflicting accounts as to whether or not the Iranian’s are responsible or whether the rockets were in fact fired by Syrian forces.

The claim and counterclaim have obscured more significant points that are not mentioned by the mainstream media. The first of these is that the latest round of attacks by the Israeli forces on military positions in Syria is not the first such attack.

Israel has long taken to itself the right to attack Syrian military positions. These attacks have intensified in recent years and are part of Israel’s dual aims with regard to Syria. The first aim is to expedite the overthrow of Syria’s President Bashar al Assad. The Israeli attacks generally benefit the various terrorist groups fighting the Syrian army and its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

Israeli support for the terrorist groups further extends to the use of Israeli military hospitals in the Golan Heights treating wounded terrorists.

The second important factor is that the Iranians, like the Russians and Hezbollah, are in Syria at the request of the legitimate sovereign Syrian government, recognised as such and by the United Nations and other international bodies. The almost invariable use of the pejorative nomenclature “Syrian regime” is a non-subtle attempt to propagandize the view of the US government and its lackeys that the Syrian government is in some way illegitimate.

The third omission in the news reports is that the area being shelled by the Syrians and/or Iranians is that the sole target is the Golan Heights. This is a significant (700 mi.²) piece of land, the western two thirds of which has been occupied by Israel since the six-day war in 1967.

It is a fundamental principle of international law that territory conquered in a war cannot be retained by the conquering power, in this case Israel. This principle is restated in Security Council resolution 242 (1967) which in the preamble emphasized “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” and further emphasized the requirement of all member states “to act in accordance with article 2 of the charter” (prohibiting force in the resolution of disputes).

The resolution went on to require (clause 1 (i) the “withdrawal of Israel Armed Forces from territories occupied in the recent (6 Day War) conflict.” Israel simply ignored this resolution is it ignores all obligations under international law that do not record with its geopolitical goals.

On 14 December 1981 Israel went further and purported to annex the territory it had illegally occupied since 1967. Three days later on 17 December 1981 the United Nations Security Council unanimously (with no abstentions) in Resolution 497 declared that Israel’s Golan Heights Law, which gave effect to  the annexation, was “null and void and without international legal effect”, and called on Israel to rescind its action.

Again, that was ignored by Israel, as was a later General Assembly resolution on 29 January 2007 which expressed the General Assembly’s deep concern that Israel had it not withdrawn from the Syrian Golan, contrary to relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, and stressed the illegality of Israel’s settlement constructions and other activities in the occupied Syrian Golan since 1967.

The resolution went on to state that the occupation and de facto annexation constituted a “stumbling block in the way of achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region.”  It demanded once more that Israel withdraw to the pre-June 1967 lines.

In a familiar pattern, voting was 107 in favour, 6 against and 60 abstentions.

Apart from ignoring Israel’s continuing disregard of UN resolutions condemning its occupation and annexation of Syrian Golan, the media also fail to examine why Israel should continue its defiance of the overwhelming wishes of the international community.

There are two major factors in operation here. The first is that the geographical expansion of Israel’s territory has been a central plank of Israeli policy since at least the publication of the Yinon Plan in February 1982, which set out the blueprint for a “greater Israel.”  The Plan envisaged the incorporation into Israel wholly or significant parts of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

There is no possible legal basis upon which such a plan could be an advanced, but as noted, considerations of international law are rarely factored into Israel’s geopolitical considerations.

The second factor in operation here is that the Syrian Golan is, according to a November 2015 article in the UK journal The Economist (7 November 2015) the site of three test drillings conducted by a subsidiary of the US company Genie Energy. These drillings indicated oil reserves “with a potential of billions of barrels.”  Again according to the Economist, the Israeli government is being urged by lobby groups to take advantage of the chaos in Syria to demand international recognition of Israel’s annexation.

One clue as to why Genie Energy should receive so little media coverage of its activities, including the potential theft of Syrian resources, can be found in the composition of the board of directors. That board includes Jacob Rothschild of the UK banking dynasty, Dick Cheney, former US vice president under GW Bush, James Wolsey, a former head of the CIA, and Rupert Murdoch. The latter’s media empire ensures that coverage of Israel is rarely critical. Murdoch, whose 1700 worldwide newspapers unanimously editorialized in favour of the 2003 Iraqi invasion, also ensures that the public is not given vital relevant information.

That was never clearer than in the current (non) coverage of the sustained illegal interventions in the Syrian war by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia and Australia or the astonishingly one-sided coverage of the current massacre of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers as they protest the theft of their land and destruction of their human rights. Also completely missing from the media commentary is a discussion of what Robert Kennedy Jr aptly called “another pipeline war” (www.ecowatch.com 25 February 2016).

The Syrian war is a highly relevant component of the wider geopolitical issues affecting the region. These include, but are not limited to, the US plan to use Qatari gas via a pipeline to Europe with the overall objective of reducing or eliminating European reliance upon Russian gas. This pipeline necessarily transits Iraq and Syria. The hybrid war waged on Iran since 1979, and most recently including the unilateral withdrawal of United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is also part of this wider geopolitical framework.

Iran and Syria are also key elements in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a transformative infrastructure program that the US and some of its key allies are seeking to undermine.

The Australian government is very fond of proclaiming its belief in and support for the “international rules based order.” The disjunction between the rhetoric and the reality is again something that is ignored by the mainstream media. By its continuing failure to fully and accurately inform its readership of Middle Eastern realities, the risk of a wider war is measurably increased.

A Tool to Combat Washington’s Middle East Wars

The Plot to Attack Iran gives a readable and well-referenced look at Western — especially US — abuse of Iran. The author and human rights lawyer Dan Kovalik presents a concise overview of US imperial conduct since World War II. The book is a reminder, which we need from time to time, of the outrageous hypocrisy and deceit of the US government and the corporate media. Kovalik also drives home that Washington’s foreign policy operations are not just a threat to other countries, but threaten the basic safety of the US people.

The US strove to crush any Iranian attempts to create their own development path for their country, particularly as oil became an important resource. The US has continuously sought to overthrow the government since the 1979 revolution. The book reviews the US-British coup against Iranian democracy in 1953 which installed the brutal Shah, who established the SAVAK torture network. The double standard of Jimmy “Human Rights” Carter, the struggle against the Shah’s murderous regime, the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the background to Iran-Contra, the US playing both sides against each other during Iraq’s war on Iran, the US relations with the Taliban, and the US-Saudi war on Yemen are all covered.

One aspect that could be added to the book is a summary of the social gains made by the Iranian people in the Islamic Republic, particularly under President Ahmadinejad (2005-2013), who instituted many anti-neoliberal programs which helped the poor. For instance, poverty had been reduced to one-eighth of what it was under the Shah, while health care is free for those who can’t pay.

Kovalik does note that in 1970 only 25% of Iranian women could read and write. By 2007 it was 80.3%, compared to 88.7% for men, and 90% percent of women are enrolled in school, free for all even through university. While about one-third of university students were women before 1979, now women make up 65 to 70% of the students. Women are legally entitled to ninety days maternity leave at two-thirds pay, have an entitlement to employer-provided child care centers, both gains which are denied women in the US. Iran has an equal pay for equal work requirement, also denied women here.

1953: US Overthrows Iranian Democracy

That Iran has an Islamic government which the United States and Israel abhor, is a direct result of the US coup against Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953. The US’ subsequent support of the Shah made popular revolt inevitable, and when it broke out the US directly supported Islamists in Iran over the secular left.

Mossadegh had taken action to nationalize Iranian oil, then mostly under British control. Britain proceeded to sabotage Iran’s oil production and export, wrecking its economy.  Mossadegh actually appealed to President Eisenhower to mediate and resolve the issue in a way Eisenhower saw fit. The US reply came in the form of a coup, which showed many of the tactics we have seen in recent color revolutions and regime change interventions, one of the most current being in Venezuela.

CIA agents bought off secular politicians, religious leaders and key military officers, newspaper editors, hired thugs to run rampant through the street, sometimes pretending to be Mossadegh supporters, sometimes calling for his overthrow, anything to create a chaotic political situation. Thousands of demonstrators, unwittingly under CIA manipulation, surged through the streets, looting shops, destroying pictures of the Shah, and ransacking the offices of royalist groups. The impression was that Iran was sliding towards anarchy.

The Shah then took power and for a quarter century established one of the most barbarous regimes in the world.

US Trains Shah’s Military and SAVAK Torturers

The CIA helped train the Iranian security services in torture techniques—techniques borrowed, as in the case of Pinochet’s Chile, from the experienced experts, the Nazis. Every year 350 SAVAK agents were taken to CIA training facilities in Virginia, where they learned interrogation and torture. Top SAVAK brass were trained through the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Public Safety Program. SAVAK created torture prisons that outdid Dante’s Hell. The CIA filmed techniques it had taught SAVAK to use and made them available to torture centers in other countries.

The most common SAVAK instrument was an electrically heated table called the ‘frying pan,’ on which the victim was tied down by his hands and feet. Many died on these tables. Often, the accused was already raving by the time he entered the torture chamber—few people could bear the screams they heard while they waited, nor the smell of burning flesh.

This “Made in the USA” product makes it clear why Iran calls the US “The Great Satan.”

Amnesty International stated in 1974, 20 years after the US-backed coup and US training of repressive forces, that no country had a worse human rights record than Iran under the Shah. Yet Jimmie Carter maintained weapons supplies to Iran, and the human rights situation got even worse.

In 1978, anti-Shah street protests in Tehran drew more than a million strong. The Shah’s army, trained by the US, killed 4,000 demonstrators in Tehran’s Jaleh Square on September 8 alone. Kovalik notes that if such a thing happened in Venezuela or Cuba, or in Iran in 2018, this would be cause for the United States to invade. There was an explosion of corporate media condemnation against China during the Tiananmen Square protests ten years later, where probably one-tenth the number were killed. But who knows of this Jaleh Square massacre – not the only one – outside of Iran? Yet Washington approved of it, continuing to back the Shah and his methods for another half year.

1980s: US Provides Iraq with Chemical Weapons for their War on Iran

Kovalik notes the flagrant hypocrisy of the West’s noise about chemical weapon attacks in Syria, repeatedly and without evidence blaming the Assad government. Not only did the West arm Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with chemical weapons, but it downplayed their massive use against Iranian troops and civilians.  Kovalik reminds us of the US’ widespread and criminal use of chemical weapons in Korea, Vietnam, and more recently in Iraq in Fallujah and Mosul.

The US Department of Commerce and even the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) exported to Iraq items used for chemical weapons and nuclear weapons development. The US government approved 771 different export licenses of dual-use technology to Iraq.  The CDC sent Iraq 14 separate agents “with biological warfare significance.” The CDC was not involved in controlling disease, but in spreading it.

For its part, Iran itself refused to use chemical weapons against Iraq, and also pronounced a fatwa in 2005 against developing nuclear weapons. The UN International Atomic Energy Agency determined in 2003 and 2007 that Iran did not intend to build a nuclear weapon. This was confirmed by sixteen US intelligence agencies.

The US armed Iran the same time it aided Iraq in its war on Iran and used $18 million from the $30 million in weapons sales to illegally fund the Nicaragua contra terrorists after Congress had cut off their aid. This became known as the Iran-Contra Scandal. Israel, with US consent, also sold Iran hundreds of millions of dollars of US-manufactured weapons during the Iraqi war on Iran. Later Washington funded the contras by directing them to import crack cocaine into the US, fueling a drug addiction epidemic.

Kovalik notes that “the United States is continuing this cruel policy of playing both sides against each other today by supporting, but also trying to contain, ISIS forces in order to molest and undermine both Syria and Iran.”

Incredibly the US without shame justified its 2003 war on Iraq with the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction,” in particular, banned chemical weapons, which the West had previously sold him. That was, as is said now, “fake news” because Hussein’s chemical weapons had been destroyed under UN supervision years before.

To heighten the hypocrisy, the US itself used chemical weapons (white phosphorus and depleted uranium) in its war on Iraq in 2003, causing spikes in cancer rates and birth defects in areas like Fallujah.

US Trains Taliban in Afghanistan

During this whole period the US had been increasingly intervening in Afganistan. It was instrumental in ousting the progressive secular government in Afghanistan by supporting Islamic extremist forces, the Mujahideen, which included Osama bin Laden. The US later aided the Taliban taking power, and backed them until 2001. Al Qaeda then turned on the United States and, among other things, carried out the 9/11 attacks against the United States.

Osama bin Laden was himself a Saudi, and, as we now know, Al Qaida has received much support over the years from Saudi Arabia, the United States’ long-time partner in crime in the Middle East and mortal enemy of Iran. Yet, while Iran cooperated with the US in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11, and while Saudi Arabia financed the 9/11 attack more than any other country, the US has remained closely allied with Saudi Arabia against Iran.

In early 2001, the US pledged $124 million in aid to the Taliban. But when negotiations between the two worsened over an oil pipeline project, the US threatened to carpet bomb and invade Afghanistan — even prior to the September 11 attacks.  Jane’s Defense Newsletter reported that in March 2001 Washington was planning an invasion.

Kovalik notes that in 2006 the FBI listed bin Laden on its “Most Wanted List,” but it did not include the 9/11 attacks as a basis for this listing. The FBI chief of investigative publicity stated, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Osama bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11.”

While ruling Afghanistan, the Taliban had basically eradicated opium production (from which heroin is made). Then just four years after the US invaded and allied with the drug lords there, 90% of the world’s heroin came from that country. We now have what Trump admits is a “national health emergency” due to opiate addiction, yet it was US policy that contributed to that epidemic.

This shows how Washington’s foreign policy threatens the US people: contributing to the present opiate epidemic; creating the previous crack epidemic and the ongoing cocaine epidemic (which comes from US ally Colombia); financing and supporting the Taliban allies who attacked the US on 9/11. The US aided the rise of ISIS with arms and funding and is closely allied to Saudi Arabia, the country more than any other responsible for 9/11, ISIS, and Al Qaeda affiliated groups. The US has sought to destroy secular left movements in the Middle East, in Egypt, in Iraq by putting Saddam Hussein in power, in Iran by working with the Shah to murder it off and bringing in Khomeini as the lesser evil, in Afghanistan by using the Mujahideen and Taliban to eliminate the previous progressive government. In sum, the US has helped to empower Islamic extremists.

US War on Iraq

After invading Afghanistan, the US invaded Iraq, though it had nothing to do with 9/11. Saddam Hussein, like the leadership of Iran, had been a mortal enemy of Al Qaeda. “Iran watched in 2003 as its neighbor Iraq was invaded by the United States and its coalition partners, suffering the worst destruction it ever had since the Mongol invasion of 1258 led by Genghis Khan. And Iranians are painfully aware that the United States is intent on doing the very same to their country.”

When the US overthrew Saddam Hussein, whose base was among Iraqi Sunnis, Iraqi Shiites came to power, who then allied themselves with Shiite Iran. Then Washington sought to weaken Iran, which it had just strengthened through the Iraqi invasion.

Washington turned to aiding the very forces who attacked on 9/11 as a tool to contain Iran. The US aided Sunni extremists in Libya and Syria to try to overthrow Gaddafi and Assad. The US supported the opposition in Syria from the beginning and has spent $12 billion funding it just from 2014-2017. Now Iran is lawfully in Syria (and Iraq) to fight ISIS and Al Qaeda at the invitation of the Syrian government. In contrast, the US intervention in Syria is in violation of international law. Trump has announced the US will stay in Syria, not to fight ISIS, but to counter Iran, which has become a regional power due to US miscalculations in its interventions in the Middle East.

Present Day Threats against Iran

The US under both Obama and Trump has been arming and aiding Saudi Arabia in bombing and blockading Yemen (dependent on imports for 90% of its food), alleging the Houthis are “proxies for Iran,” and creating starvation and slaughter of Yemeni civilians. In Yemen, 22.2 million people need humanitarian assistance, 17.8 million are food insecure, and 8.4 million people are severely food insecure at risk of starvation.

The Iran nuclear deal, which Trump wants to scuttle, did not serve to significantly alleviate the economic problems the Iranian people faced. Sanctions on Iran have cost the country $160 billion since 2012, and Trump has increased these sanctions.

The 2017 protests in Iran were sparked by cuts to social benefits, a consequence of sanctions and US-Saudi engineered fall in oil prices. Washington spent over $1 million trying to convert the protests into a push for regime change, and another $20 million on Voice of America’s Persian Service seeking to turn Iranians against the government.

This brutal anti-democratic US conduct against Iran is similar to what it has also inflicted on Greece, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, etc. – if the US did not resort to massive invasion, killing millions as in the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq.

We can see the brutal present world the US has created when we compare what humanitarian Third World leaders it overthrew or sought to, compared to the US-backed leader: Arbenz and the Guatemalan dictators, Sukarno and Suharto, Lumumba and Mobutu, the Sandinistas and Somoza, Goulart and the Brazilian generals, Allende and Pinochet, Mandela and apartheid, Mossadegh and the Shah, Chavez and the Venezuelan putschists, Fidel and Batista, Aristide and the Haitian generals, Juan Bosch and Balaguer, and so on. These are great losses to creating a more humane world.

Now the US blames Iran and Russia for the problems confronting the Middle East, and the US government wants us to believe that regime change in Iran will help fix the problem. This ignores the fact that none of the other regime changes the United States has been involved in have done anything but make matters worse. Millions have been killed, modern countries destroyed, and the US national debt has skyrocketed.

The Plot to Attack Iran gives us a well-referenced summary to the US war against Iranian democracy and the complex situation in the Middle East. The US has been backing groups it is also at times fighting, groups that still engage in terrorist attacks against the US, France, and Britain.

Kovalik’s book is a useful resource for our anti-imperialist movement. We get a taste of what liberal-lefts will say and do as the US advances its regime change strategy in Iran by looking at how they responded to the US attack on Libya and on Syria. The Plot to Attack Iran will aid us when we confront the same expected capitulation by much of this “left” when the US pushes ahead with its war plans on Iran.

The Real War for Syria is Taking Place in its Skies

The hidden battle in Syria – the one that rarely appears on our television screens – has been raging for years between Israel and a coalition comprising the Syrian government, Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

Watching over the proceedings without directly intervening has been Russia, although that might be about to change.

The prize is control over Syrian territory but the battlefield is Syria’s skies.

According to United Nations figures, the Israeli military violated Syrian airspace more than 750 times in the four-month period leading up to last October, with its warplanes and drones spending some 3,200 hours over the country. On average, more than six Israeli aircraft entered Syrian airspace each day in that period.

Powerful rocket strikes reported on two sites in Syria on Sunday were widely attributed to Israel. Since war broke out in Syria just over seven years ago, Israeli fighter jets are believed to have carried out hundreds of offensive missions.

Israel regards the stakes as high. It wants Syria to remain an enfeebled state, ensuring Bashar Assad’s government cannot again become a regional foe. But Israel also needs to prevent other powerful, hostile actors from being drawn into the resulting vacuum.

Israel achieved one major aim early on: Western powers insisted that the Syrian government be disarmed of its large arsenal of chemical weapons, Damascus’s only deterrent against an Israeli nuclear threat.

Since then, Israel’s focus has shifted to Iran and blocking its ambitions on various fronts: to prop up Assad, establish a military presence close to Israel’s northern border and use Syria as a conduit for transferring arms to Hezbollah.

Iran’s aim is to recreate a balance of terror between the two sides and free itself from diplomatic isolation; Israel’s is to maintain its military pre-eminence and dominance of the Middle East’s skies.

In addition, Israel seeks to exploit Syria’s collapse to claim permanent title over the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in 1967 and later annexed in violation of international law.

It is unlikely to have been a coincidence that Sunady’s large attacks on Syria occurred moments after Mike Pompeo, the hawkish new US Secretary of State, had visited Jerusalem and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had spoken to US President Donald Trump by phone. At least one of the targeted sites was reported to be a base at which Iranian personnel were stationed.

Iran was apparently the focus of Mr Netanyahu’s talks, including discussions about the fate of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, due for renewal next month. Israel hopes the US will tear up the deal, allowing sanctions to be intensified and forcing Iran to concentrate on its diplomatic woes and mounting protests at home rather than project its influence into Syria.

In the meantime, tensions in Syria are ratcheting up. Unusually, Israel admitted in early April that it was behind a strike on an Iranian base in Syria that killed seven Iranian troops. According to the Wall Street Journal, Israel targeted an anti-aircraft battery under construction, one Tehran hoped would limit Israel’s freedom to patrol Syria’s skies.

The attack followed Israel’s interception of a drone over northern Israel, presumably dispatched to gain the same kind of intelligence about Israeli military bases that Israel has of Iranian bases in Syria.

According to a senior Israeli military official, the move from proxy clashes to direct ones has “opened a new period” of hostilities. Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has warned that Israel is prepared to prevent Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, “regardless of the price”.

Echoing him, US Defence Secretary James Mattis warned on Thursday that it was “very likely” Israel and Iran were on a collision course. Neither appears to believe it can afford to climb down.

But Israel’s gameplan not only risks a dangerous escalation with Iran. It could draw Russia even deeper into Syria too.

Last week Russian officials indicated there are plans to supply the Syrian army with Russia’s advanced S-300 missile defence system. For the first time, Israeli planes would face a real risk of being shot down if they violated Syrian airspace.

So far Israel has suffered only one known loss: an F-16 was brought down in February by the Syrian army in what Israel claimed was a crew “error”.

But Israel could soon find itself with an unnerving dilemma: either it exposes its warplanes to Syrian interception, or it attacks Russian defence systems.

Russian officials have reportedly warned that there would be “catastrophic consequences” if Israel did so. But apparently unmoved, Lieberman asserted last week: “If anyone shoots at our planes, we will destroy them.”

The reality, however, is that the Russian proposal, if carried out, threatens to bring to an end impunity for an Israeli air force that has roamed the skies above parts of the Middle East at will since its lightning victory over its Egyptian counterpart in 1967.

Until now, Israeli and Russian officials have co-ordinated closely about their respective spheres of action in Syria to avoid mishaps. But events are spiralling in a direction that makes the status quo hard to sustain.

Russia has suggested that supplying Syria with the S-300 is retaliation against the US, a punishment for its airstrike on Syria earlier this month. The defence system is intended to ramp up the pressure on US President Donald Trump to make good on his recent promise to pull US troops out of Syria.

But it does so chiefly by harming Washington’s key ally in the region, Israel. Russia will effectively be introducing tripwires across Syria that Israel will be constantly in danger of setting off.

Israel’s largely successful ploy till now has been to play both sides of the Syrian war – assisting its US patron in keeping Iran on the back foot while co-operating with a Russian military committed to stabilising the Syrian government.

That approach is now beginning to unravel as Israel and the US seek to prevent Moscow and Iran from helping consolidate Assad’s hold on power. The longer the fighting continues, the more likely it is that Israel will make an enemy not just of Iran but of Russia too.

• A version of this article first appeared in the National Abu Dhabi.