Category Archives: President Bashar al-Assad

US Out Of Syria And The Middle East

US Out of the Middle East, Los Angeles protest against bombing in Syria from ABC7.com.

Stop The Turkish Invasion Of Syria

The crisis in Syria has taken a new direction with the Turkish invasion into the Northeast ostensibly to push the Kurdish peoples out. The US has added to this crisis by its green light to Turkey to attack after using the Kurds as a proxy force in the battle against ISIS.

The US’ role in Syria and in the greater Middle East has been destructive throughout this century. The invasion and occupation of Iraq have left destruction and chaos. The illegal bombing of Libya and the brutal murder of its prime minister, Muammar al-Gaddafi, have created a failed state. The US’ alliance with Saudi Arabia in the war against Yemen has resulted in mass murder and destruction. The ongoing conflicts with Iran through illegal unilateral coercive measures (sanctions), regime change attempts, threats of war and military skirmishes have created more instability in the region. And, the US’ ‘special relationship’ with Israel has allowed continued ethnic cleansing and land theft from the Palestinians and has been a tool for instability in the region. The never-ending war in Afghanistan continues to cause destruction as the US remains even though it has been defeated.

These actions have resulted in more than a million deaths and mass migration, which has not only impacted the region but also Europe, causing political instability and the advance of right-wing, anti-immigrant forces. The Middle East was better off, more stable and wealthier before the disastrous US actions of this century. The illegal wars have cost the US trillions of dollars with no benefit. US policy has not served any positive purposes but has caused instability, conflict, and destruction. It is time for the US to get out of Syria and out of the Middle East.

Syria: A Major Defeat for the US and a Geopolitical Game Changer

Mobilization against war protest in Vancouver, Canada

Pepe Escobar describes Syria as the biggest defeat for the CIA since Vietnam. It is a significant defeat, but US losses in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the running for the worst defeat since Vietnam. Escobar describes the failure “as a massive geopolitical game-changer” that strengthens Assad as he retakes control of Northeast Syria. Russia benefits as a guarantor for Syria and key player in the victory over US regime change. The losers are the United States and Kurds.

The US’ contribution to the current chaos and destruction precedes Trump. While the brutal attacks by Turkey in Syria are being blamed on Trump, in reality, they go back to President Obama. Max Blumenthal reports in The Grayzone that “many [of the Turkish fighters] were former members of the Free Syrian Army, the force once armed by the CIA and Pentagon and branded as ‘moderate rebels.’” Blumenthal cites a research paper published this October by the pro-government Turkish think tank, SETA: “Out of the 28 factions [in the Turkish mercenary force], 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat DAESH. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA ….”  Further, the leader of this force is Salim Idriss, who hosted John McCain when the late senator made his infamous 2013 incursion into Syria.

The Turkish attack in Syria has been filled with ugly extreme violence that is causing outrage. Mercenaries are sawing the heads off of Kurdish fighters they have killed, a Syrian Kurdish legislator was pulled from her car and executed along with her driver, unarmed Kurdish captives were filmed as they were murdered, the corpse of a female Kurdish fighter was vandalized, ISIS captives were deliberately freed from unguarded prisons, and in a video message, one of the invading fighters promised mass ethnic cleansing if Kurds in the area refused to convert to his Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam.

Ajamu Baraka points out that the US created the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), who were the good guys when they were overthrowing Assad, but have now been turned into the “Turkish supported FSA,”  especially after the gruesome graphic videos of the Turkish invasion emerged. In reality, Baraka points out, “many of us knew, along with the CIA and most of the honest foreign policy community, that the FSA was always al-Qaeda’s Syria operation in the form of Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadist militias.”

                             Listen to our interview with Ajamu Baraka on Clearing the FOG (available Monday).

Blumenthal concludes: “Left out of the coverage of these horrors was the fact that none of them would have been possible if Washington had not spent several years and billions of dollars subsidizing Syria’s armed opposition.”

These recent events need to be viewed through the context of sixty years of on-again, off-again coups and regime change campaigns that have failed. Timber Sycamore, the regime change project of the Obama administration, was a “secret” plan that allowed the CIA to arm terrorists in Syria. Timber Sycamore, which included Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey working with the US, officially began in late 2012 and ended in failure in 2017. The secret program trained future ISIS members as part of covert aid to the insurgents targeting Bashar al-Assad. The US was duplicitous and used terrorism as a tool as documented in the book The Management of Savagery.

When Obama’s regime change strategy failed, the US switched to occupying one-third of Syria, including the oil region in the Northeast. In January, Secretary of State Tillerson announced the US was creating a de facto Kurdish State there with a 30,000-strong Syrian Defense Force (SDF) troop, US air support, and eight new US bases. In April 2018, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced the US planned to maintain its illegal presence in Syria.

Obama’s effort to dominate Syria was rooted in the Bush-era. In 2001, former NATO commander Wesley Clark was on record stating that Syria was on a list of targeted nations to be toppled by the US. In 2002, former Secretary of State John Bolton said, in a speech titled “Beyond the Axis of Evil“, that Syria was among a handful of nations the US was targeting. The 2011 protests in Syria were quickly manipulated by the US and foreign powers who sought to destabilize Syria. CIA-backed Muslim Brotherhood assets were in place to snipe at both police and protesters when the demonstrations broke out and Saudia Arabia provided weapons to aid regime change.

Caitlan Johnstone points to more evidence that Syria was not an organic uprising but a foreign regime change effort from the beginning:

The former Prime Minister of Qatar said on television that the US and its allies were involved in the Syrian conflict from the very beginning. A WikiLeaks cable and a declassified CIA memo both show the US government plotting to provoke an uprising in Syria exactly as it occurred, years before it happened. Former Foreign Minister of France Roland Dumas stated that he was informed that the UK was engineering an uprising in Syria two years before the violence erupted.

Even the Obama era regime change goal needs to be put in the context of over sixty years of the US trying to control Syria. The first coup attempt by the CIA after it’s creation was in Syria in 1949. Controlling Syria has been a consistent policy objective. CIA documents from 1986 describe how the US could remove the Assad family.

Each of Trump’s efforts to get out of Syria has been opposed by bipartisan war hawks. In March 2018, Trump tweeted that the US would soon be withdrawing from Syria. One month later Secretary of Defense Mattis told Congress the US was not withdrawing testifying, “We are continuing the fight, we are going to expand it and bring in more regional support.” In January, Trump called for withdrawal from Syria, which was met with a firestorm of opposition. He was outmaneuvered by war hawks in his administration and Congress.

There continues to be resistance to withdrawal today. The US is not leaving Syria but is merely moving troops from the Northeast to other areas. David Macilwain reports, “The truth of US intentions – to remain in Eastern Syria until they are driven out militarily – has now been emphasized by US Defence secretary Mark Esper. At a press conference where he confirmed the US intention to withdraw 1000 troops from Syria, when asked whether this meant from all of Syria he simply repeated what he had said –’from Northern Syria.’”

It is past time for the US to leave Syria and end its long term desire to dominate the country. People in the United States and around the world must insist on the US obeying international law, which means the US must leave Syria as it has no legal grounds for being in that sovereign nation.

The Rojava Cantons direct democracy governance without a state (Still from video)

Kurds in Syria Negotiate Their Future With Damascus

Kurds, who live in Turkey, Syria, Iraq , and Iran, are often regarded as “the largest ethnic group without a state.” With the US withdrawal from Northeast Syria, the Kurds in Syria are now working with Damascus to repel the Turkish invasion and negotiate their future.

In mid-2012, Assad’s forces largely withdrew from the Kurdish area, and the battle against ISIS was left to the Kurdish militias: the YPG (People’s Protection Units) and the YPJ (Women’s Defense Forces), the autonomous women’s militias. When the Free Syrian Army failed, the US funded the Syrian Kurdish militias known as the Peoples Protection Unit using a new name, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).  The Kurdish never targeted the Syrian government but focused on ISIS.

The Kurdish Rojava cantons are a liberated area in Syria led by socialist-feminists and a population that makes decisions through local councils. Their economy is based on a cooperative model with thousands of co-ops, but private businesses are allowed. The co-ops are initiated and controlled by the communes; i.e., the community assembly structures. Their basic principle is the participation of everyone in production. In the words of a minister of economics: “If a single loaf of bread is manufactured in Rojava, everyone will have contributed to it.”

Their governing model is direct democracy governance without a state, built on local assemblies. There are multiple levels with neighborhood councils, District Councils and a People’s Council for the entire region. And there is also ‘Democratic Self-Administration,’ which is a more conventional government structure of legislative and executive bodies as well as municipal administration. These bodies are not limited to Kurds but open to all religions and ethnicities. Women hold 40 percent of leadership positions at all levels. Three leftist enclaves make up an area slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut.

Some see Rojava’s governance without hierarchy, patriarchy or capitalism as a model for the future of the Middle East and beyond, and as an antidote to capitalism. It is the Communalist Model of Democratic Confederalism, an adaptation of the ideas of the Zapatistas in Chiapas and the work of Murray Bookchin.

In Turkey, Kurds remain part of Turkey and “have formed a political party (Peoples Democratic Party – HDP), which unites progressives of all ethnicities.  In the 2015 Turkish election, HDP emerged as the third most popular party and stopped Erdogan’s election domination.”  The HDP opposes Turkey’s invasion of Syria.

Turkey is concerned that the Kurds will use the territory they’ve captured to establish an independent Kurdish state for the region’s 25 to 35 million Kurds, roughly 15 million of whom reside in Turkey. Four percent of Kurds reside in Syria, approximately 1.6 million people. Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the region after Arabs, Persians, and Turks. After the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in World War I, they were not granted a homeland.

Peace activists and popular movements around the world should be in solidarity with the Kurdish people’s desire for a semi-independent territory. A contiguous Kurdish state is an impossible dream and negotiation will be required by each population in the country where they reside.

US Out of Syria Internationalist protest in NYC (Internationalist photo).

US Out of Syria and Out of the Middle East

We agree with the US Peace Council, which urges “the US peace movement to organize a united national campaign in support of the Syrian people and demand the total withdrawal of all occupying forces from Syria. Leave Syria to the Syrian People!”

The movement’s first demand must be the US out of Syria and out of the Middle East because the US is not yet leaving Syria or the region. Reports indicate between 200 and 300 U.S. troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf and 1,000 troops will shift into western Iraq adding to the more than 5,000 US troops in Iraq. US forces may conduct operations in Syria from Iraq.

On October 11, the US announced it was sending an additional 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. An additional 14,000 US troops have been deployed to the Middle East since spring, including more than 6,000 who are part of a naval strike group. The US is fighting in at least seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Niger, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

We must also be in solidarity with the Kurdish people and call for an end to the Turkish invasion of Syria. The Turkish invasion is already backfiring and people mobilizing against the invasion will lead to its retreat.

And, we must accept immigrants from Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan where migration crises have been caused by US wars. Rebuilding nations destroyed by the United States is a costly endeavor that the US owes to the region. These countries do not want the US meddling in their efforts so compensation must be made through the United Nations without any strings attached.

US Democrats cultivated the Barbarism of Isis

There is something profoundly deceitful in the Democratic Party and corporate media’s framing of Donald Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria.

One does not need to like Trump or ignore the dangers posed to the Kurds, at least in the short term, by the sudden departure of US forces from northern Syria to understand that the coverage is being crafted in such a way as to entirely overlook the bigger picture.

The problem is neatly illustrated in this line from a report by the Guardian newspaper of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s meeting this week with Trump, who is described as having had a “meltdown”. Explaining why she and other senior Democrats stormed out, the paper writes that “it became clear the president had no plan to deal with a potential revival of Isis in the Middle East”.

Hang on a minute! Let’s pull back a little, and not pretend – as the media and Democratic party leadership wish us to do – that the last 20 years did not actually happen. Many of us lived through those events. Our memories are not so short.

Islamic State, or Isis, didn’t emerge out of nowhere. It was entirely a creation of two decades of US interference in the Middle East. And I’m not even referring to the mountains of evidence that US officials backed their Saudi allies in directly funding and arming Isis – just as their predecessors in Washington, in their enthusiasm to oust the Soviets from the region, assisted the jihadists who went on to become al-Qaeda.

No, I’m talking about the fact that in destroying three key Arab states – Iraq, Libya and Syria – that refused to submit to the joint regional hegemony of Saudi Arabia and Israel, Washington’s local client states, the US created a giant void of governance at the heart of the Middle East. They knew that that void would be filled soon enough by religious extremists like Islamic State – and they didn’t care.

Overthrow, not regime change

You don’t have to be a Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi or Bashar Assad apologist to accept this point. You don’t even have to be concerned that these so-called “humanitarian” wars violated each state’s integrity and sovereignty, and are therefore defined in international law as “the supreme war crime”.

The bigger picture – the one no one appears to want us thinking about – is that the US intentionally sought to destroy these states with no obvious plan for the day after. As I explained in my book Israel and the Clash of Civilisations, these haven’t so much been regime-change wars as nation-state dismantling operations – what I have termed overthrow wars.

The logic was a horrifying hybrid of two schools of thought that meshed neatly in the psychopathic foreign policy goals embodied in the ideology of neoconservatism – the so-called “Washington consensus” since 9/11.

The first was Israel’s long-standing approach to the Palestinians. By constantly devastating any emerging Palestinian institution or social structures, Israel produced a divide-and-rule model on steriods, creating a leaderless, ravaged, enfeebled society that sucked out all the local population’s energy. That strategy proved very appealing to the neoconservatives, who saw it as one they could export to non-compliant states in the region.

The second was the Chicago school’s Shock Doctrine, as explained in Naomi Klein’s book of that name. The chaotic campaign of destruction, the psychological trauma and the sense of dislocation created by these overthrow wars were supposed to engender a far more malleable population that would be ripe for a US-controlled “colour revolution”.

The recalcitrant states would be made an example of, broken apart, asset-stripped of their resources and eventually remade as new dependent markets for US goods. That was what George W Bush, Dick Cheney and Halliburton really meant when they talked about building a New Middle East and exporting democracy.

Even judged by the vile aims of its proponents, the Shock Doctrine has been a half-century story of dismal economic failure everywhere it has been attempted – from Pinochet’s Chile to Yeltsin’s Russia. But let us not credit the architects of this policy with any kind of acumen for learning from past errors. As Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove explained to a journalist whom he rebuked for being part of the “reality-based community”: “We’re an empire now and, when we act, we create our own reality.”

The birth of Islamic State

The barely veiled aim of the attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria was to destroy the institutions and structures that held these societies together, however imperfectly. Though no one likes to mention it nowadays, these states – deeply authoritarian though they were – were also secular, and had well-developed welfare states that ensured high rates of literacy and some of the region’s finest public health services.

One can argue about the initial causes of the uprising against Assad that erupted in Syria in 2011. Did it start as a popular struggle for liberation from the Assad government’s authoritarianism? Or was it a sectarian insurgency by those who wished to replace Shia minority rule with Sunni majority rule? Or was it driven by something else: as a largely economic protest by an under-class suffering from food shortages as climate change led to repeated crop failures? Or are all these factors relevant to some degree?

Given how closed a society Syria was and is, and how difficult it therefore is to weigh the evidence in ways that are likely to prove convincing to those not already persuaded, let us set that issue aside. Anyway, it is irrelevant to the bigger picture I want to address.

The indisputable fact is that Washington and its Gulf allies wished to exploit this initial unrest as an opportunity to create a void in Syria – just as they had earlier done in Iraq, where there were no uprisings, nor even the WMDs the US promised would be found and that served as the pretext for Bush’s campaign of Shock and Awe.

The limited uprisings in Syria quickly turned into a much larger and far more vicious war because the Gulf states, with US backing, flooded the country with proxy fighters and arms in an effort to overthrow Assad and thereby weaken Iranian and Shia influence in the region. The events in Syria and earlier in Iraq gradually transformed the Sunni religious extremists of al-Qaeda into the even more barbaric, more nihilistic extremists of Islamic State.

A dark US vanity project

As Rove and Cheney played around with reality, nature got on with honouring the maxim that it always abhors a vacuum. Islamic State filled the vacuum Washington’s policy had engineered.

The clue, after all, was in the name. With the US and Gulf states using oil money to wage a proxy war against Assad, Isis saw its chance to establish a state inspired by a variety of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabist dogma. Isis needed territory for their planned state, and the Saudis and US obliged by destroying Syria.

This barbarian army, one that murdered other religious groups as infidels and killed fellow Sunnis who refused to bow before their absolute rule, became the west’s chief allies in Syria. Directly and covertly, we gave them money and weapons to begin building their state on parts of Syria.

Again, let us ignore the fact that the US, in helping to destroy a sovereign nation, committed the supreme war crime, one that in a rightly ordered world would ensure every senior Washington official faces their own Nuremberg Trial. Let us ignore too for the moment that the US, consciously through its actions, brought to life a monster that sowed death and destruction everywhere it went.

The fact is that at the moment Assad called in Russia to help him survive, the battle the US and the Gulf states were waging through Islamic State and other proxies was lost. It was only a matter of time before Assad would reassert his rule.

From that point onwards, every single person who was killed and every single Syrian made homeless – and there were hundreds of thousands of them – suffered their terrible fate for no possible gain in US policy goals. A vastly destructive overthrow war became instead something darker still: a neoconservative vanity project that ravaged countless Syrian lives.

A giant red herring

Trump is now ending part of that policy. He may be doing so for the wrong reasons. But very belatedly – and possibly only temporarily – he is closing a small chapter in a horrifying story of western-sponsored barbarism in the Middle East, one intimately tied to Islamic State.

What of the supposed concerns of Pelosi and the Democratic Party under whose watch the barbarism in Syria took place? They should have no credibility on the matter to begin with.

But their claims that Trump has “no plan to deal with a potential revival of Isis in the Middle East” is a giant red herring they are viciously slapping us in the face with in the hope the spray of seawater blinds us.

First, Washington sowed the seeds of Islamic State by engineering a vacuum in Syria that Isis – or something very like it – was inevitably going to fill. Then, it allowed those seeds to flourish by assisting its Gulf allies in showering fighters in Syria with money and arms that came with only one string attached – a commitment to Sunni jihadist ideology inspired by Saudi Wahhabism.

Isis was made in Washington as much as it was in Riyadh. For that reason, the only certain strategy for preventing the revival of Islamic State is preventing the US and the Gulf states from interfering in Syria again.

With the Syrian army in charge of Syrian territory, there will be no vacuum for Isis to fill. Its state-building rationale is now unrealisable, at least in Syria. It will continue to wither, as it would have done years before if the US and its Gulf allies had not fuelled it in a proxy war they knew could not be won.

Doomed Great Game

The same lesson can be drawn by looking at the experience of the Syrian Kurds. The Rojava fiefdom they managed to carve out in northern Syria during the war survived till now only because of continuing US military support. With the US departure, and the Kurds too weak to maintain their improvised statelet, a vacuum was again created that this time risks sucking in the Turkish army, which fears a base for Kurdish nationalism on its doorstep.

The Syrian Kurds’ predicament is simple: face a takeover by Turkey or seek Assad’s protection to foil Turkish ambition. The best hope for the Kurds looks to be the Syrian army’s return, filling the vacuum and regaining a chance of long-term stability.

That could have been the case for all of Syria many tens of thousands of deaths ago. Whatever the corporate media suggest, those deaths were lost not in a failed heroic battle for freedom, which, even if it was an early aspiration for some fighters, quickly became a goal that was impossible for them to realise. No, those deaths were entirely pointless. They were sacrificed by a western military-industrial complex in a US-Saudi Great Game that dragged on for many years after everyone knew it was doomed.

Nancy Pelosi’s purported worries about Isis reviving because of Trump’s Syria withdrawal are simply crocodile fears. If she is really so worried about Islamic State, then why did she and other senior Democrats stand silently by as the US under Barack Obama spent years spawning, cultivating and financing Isis to destroy Syria, a state that was best placed to serve as a bulwark against the head-chopping extremists?

Pelosi and the Democratic leadership’s bad faith – and that of the corporate media – are revealed in their ongoing efforts to silence and smear Tulsi Gabbard, the party’s only candidate for the presidential nomination who has pointed out the harsh political realities in Syria, and tried to expose their years of lies.

Pelosi and most of the Democratic leadership don’t care about Syria, or its population’s welfare. They don’t care about Assad, or Isis. They care only about the maintenance and expansion of American power – and the personal wealth and influence it continues to bestow on them.

It’s Curtains for US in Syria: Russia, Iran Owe Big Thanks to Erdogan

The scenario agreed on behind the curtains through months of confidential exchanges, often one-on-one, between the Russian and Turkish leaders regarding north-eastern Syria is entering a critical phase of implementation on the ground with the agreement between the Kurds and the Assad regime.

We have a complex scenario where on the one hand the Turkish army and the Syrian opposition units loyal to Ankara are relentlessly continuing their southward offensive expanding control over Syria’s border regions populated by the Kurds. According to Turkish President Recep Erdogan, 1000 sq.kms. of territory previously under Kurdish control have been “liberated.”

On the other hand, following up on the agreement with the Kurds, the first columns of Syrian government forces have moved into the north of the country toward the Turkish border.

Prima facie, Damascus is challenging the Turkish offensive — as it should — and, in principle, a confrontation can ensue. But things are never really quite what they appear on the surface in Syria.

A clash between the Turkish and Syrian forces is simply out of the question. That is not how the game is being played. A Turkish Defence Ministry statement on Monday disclosed that the military chief Gen. Yasar Guler and his Russian counterpart Gen. Valery Gerasimov were in contact on the phone and discussed the “security situation in Syria and recent developments.”

No further details have been divulged but the picture that emerges is that Russia proposed and Turkey agreed that Russian units will be patrolling between Turkish and Syrian forces in northern Syria after the withdrawal of the US troops from the area.

Accordingly, Moscow’s Defense Ministry has revealed that its military police in the Kurdish town of Manbij have begun patrolling along the Syria-Turkey border and interacting with Turkish authorities. Russian troops entered Manbij town with the Syrian government forces on Monday.

More importantly, through Russian mediation, Ankara and Damascus will prefer to agree on dividing the zones of control in northern Syria. That is to say, things are broadly moving in the direction of what the Adana Agreement of 1998 (over the Kurdish question) between Turkey and Syria had envisaged, namely, that the security of the Syrian-Turkish border will be a bilateral affair between Ankara and Damascus.

In the given situation, Turkey’s imperative need is to prevent a contiguous “Kurdistan” emerging on its borders. The so-called “safe zone” aimed at frustrating the US plans to create a Kurdistan in Syria akin to what it succeeded in creating in Iraq in the Saddam Hussein era.

Arguably, there could be congruence of interests between Ankara and Damascus on this score. (Tehran too has common interests with its two neighbours in this regard.)

Indeed, for Damascus all this is a bonanza insofar as the “deliberate withdrawal” (as Pentagon put it), or, more accurately, the inevitable eviction of the US troops in the northern regions of Syria triggered by the Turkish incursion, enables it to reoccupy parts of the northeast regions, especially those parts that are well-endowed with water resources and hydrocarbon reserves, which the American military had designated as its exclusive zone.

For President Bashar al-Assad, this is a great leap forward in the fulfilment of his pledge to reclaim control of entire Syria. (See the Euronews commentary Damascus is looking stronger than ever’: What next for Syria as Kurds join forces with Assad?)

As for the Kurds, they have nowhere to go but to settle with Damascus. They are simply no match for the highly professional Turkish army.

Clearly, the Turkish incursion and impending offensive against Kurds has made continued American military presence in northern Syria untenable and Russia has leveraged the situation to bring about the agreement between Kurds and Damascus.

Having succeeded in this endeavour, Russians have taken Turks into confidence. Unsurprisingly, President Recep Erdogan is nonchalant about the agreement between the Kurds and Damascus and has shrugged off the Syrian troop movements close to Turkey’s borders. He evasively referred to Vladimir Putin’s assurances.

In the final analysis, the Americans are paying a heavy price for being clever by half — stringing Turkey along in the recent years while methodically consolidating the ground for the creation of an autonomous Kurdistan on its borders, apart from arming and training the Kurdish militia to shape up as a regular army.

Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in Northern Syria has reportedly advanced to a 1000 square kilometers area

Erdogan gave a long rope to the Americans to hang themselves, literally. When he struck, the contradictions in the US policy got exposed overnight — the game plan to balkanise Syria and overthrow Assad; the Faustian deal with a terrorist group that has been bleeding a NATO ally; and the geopolitical agenda to sever Iran’s axis with Syria and the Levant.

Suffice to say, with the eviction of the US forces from northern Syria, the Turks have achieved something that Russia and Iran (and Damascus) all along wished for but couldn’t attain. From this point onward, Russia and Iran will prevail upon Ankara to reconcile with Damascus.

The US has belatedly understood that Turkey has summarily terminated its 8-year old intervention in Syria to overthrow the Assad regime. The vitriolic reaction by Trump and US defence Secretary Mark Esper (here and here) is self-evident.

But the threat of US sanctions will not deter Erdogan, as the spectre of Kurdistan on its borders threatened Turkey’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and there is no scope for compromise when national security is under threat. By the way, the Turkish domestic opinion is overwhelmingly supportive of Erdogan.

Turkey was uncharacteristically patient with the US, hoping that the latter would give up the nexus with YPG (Kurdish militia) once the fight against ISIS got over. It is not Trump so much as the Pentagon that is responsible for the breakdown in trust between Turkey and the US. Like on most foreign policy issues, Washington had two policies on Syria — Trump’s and the US security and defence establishment’s.

The US has no locus standii under international law to keep a permanent military presence in Syria and when Trump first announced the troop withdrawal, it should have been implemented. But, instead, the Pentagon undercut Trump’s decision, whittled it down and finally ignored it altogether.

Erdogan knows that the US will huff and puff but will get used to the “new normal” in Syria. Europe won’t have an alibi either, as Russians will never allow ISIS to surge in Syria. Trump is reportedly deputing VP Mike Pence to travel to Turkey to seek a “negotiated settlement” — whatever that may mean in tackling the fait accompli that Erdogan has created.

On the Road to Damascus

“Welcome to your second country” was the greeting our Syrian hosts gave us when we arrived for the International Trade Union Forum for “solidarity with the workers and people of Syria against the economic blockade, imperialist interventions, and terrorism.”

Throughout my short one-week stay, Syrians, on seeing I was a foreigner, would muster their best English to ask where I was from. Invariably upon hearing that I was from the US, the questioner would shake my hand, touch hand to heart, and say “welcome.” Ironically, these victims of the US-backed war of regime change and economic sanctions went out of their way to extend their hospitality to us, while the jihadists, whom the US has been arming, training, and implicitly backing, are the ones who, at least according to George W. Bush, “hate us.”

After their expansive hospitality, the most striking aspect of the Syrians I encountered was their pride in their country’s culture of diversity and tradition of a secular state. Mosques of various denominations were cheek to jowl with a variety Christian churches.

Although I was not permitted to photograph military personnel, no restrictions limited our activities or where we could go, though we stayed mainly in the vicinity of Damascus. I was free to either travel on my own or to accept the offers of our hosts to show us the sights.

For all the reality of over eight years of vicious war, life appeared normal. Damascus had the appearance of a bustling world capital; in fact, it is the oldest continuously occupied capital in the world. I didn’t encounter US fast food restaurants or see any skyscrapers. Thriving commerce and a remarkable diversity of dress and ethnicities were everywhere. The antiquities of this ancient city were not antiseptically preserved behind museum glass, but part of the living landscape. Houses built into the old city wall were still inhabited.

As a Syrian university student proudly explicated about her homeland: “We are a country where people resist any colonialism; we have 9,000 years of culture.”

Conference addresses illegal sanctions

The two-day conference addressed the illegality under international law of economic sanctions and other coercive measures, as well as the effects of the blockade on the people of Syria. The importance of solidarity was emphasized in confronting imperialist interventions that aim at undermining the security of peoples and the sovereignty of states. The role of trade unions, civil society, and media was recognized in exposing the political hypocrisy of states that claim to fight terrorism while supporting it in reality.

The conference opened with a welcoming address by Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis and was attended by other government officials and members of the governing party. If there were any security precautions for these high-level dignitaries, they were invisible to me.

Some 232 delegates representing 52 countries attended. Leading members of the World Federation of Trade Unions, Organization of African Trade Union Unity, (Syrian) General Federation of Trade Unions, International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions, Arab Labor Organization, and the 15-million-member Indian confederation (the world’s largest trade union) spoke at the conference.

The North American delegation included trade unionists, peace activists, and journalists.  Ajamu Baraka of the US Peace Council, Black Alliance for Peace, and Black Agenda Report declared: “There can be no working-class justice, no working-class rights in a world where powerful elite social forces are prepared and are using extreme violence.”

Noting that the “US spends more on national defense than China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and India combined,” Baraka explained that the “theft of public resources for the military and militarism domestically and abroad represent a one-sided class war waged on the working class in the US. The six trillion dollars spent on US wars since 2003 are resources that could have been directed to address the increasing desperate plight of workers and poor people in the US.”

The final declaration of the conference called for the closure of US and Turkish bases in Syrian territory, withdrawal of uninvited foreign forces from Syria, the cessation of aggressive US-alliance air raids, and solidarity with similarly US-sanctioned Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

Blowback

The Jerusalem Post on September 9, the second day of the conference, had already trolled social media to discover that reporter Max Blumenthal “claimed (emphasis added) that he was in Damascus at the General Federation of Trade Union conference.” The Israeli newspaper criticized Blumenthal for investigating “regime-held areas” by actually visiting them. Similarly criticized were Lebanese-American journalist Rania Khalek (also at the conference) for a visit to Syria in 2016 and US Representative and Democratic presidential primary candidate Tulsi Gabbard for a visit the following year. Presumably, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, funded by the British Foreign Office and run by a clothing dealer out of his home in Coventry, England, is where they should have gone for information on the Middle East.

The blowback experienced by Donald Lafleur has been far more vehement. He has been threatened with losing his position as executive vice president of the 3.3 million-member Canadian Labour Congress. The Canadian National Post newspaper, whose journalism on the Middle East is not simply a fallback to the Cold War but to the Crusades, attacked Lafleur for attending the conference with “neo-Stalinist ‘anti-war’ zombies.” The veteran postal worker, traveling to Syria on his own dime and time, had the temerity to express solidarity with fellow workers instead of with the bourgeoisie the National Post so loyally champions.

Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, attacked Lafleur for calling for an end of punishing and illegal sanctions on his fellow workers in Syria. Ken Stone of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada responded:

If we believe in democracy, trade unionists can visit another country without accepting our government’s positions on international affairs. In fact, a healthy trade-union movement would offer a different analysis of world issues than Canada’s government, which is subservient to corporations. The solidarity actions of a leading trade unionist serve as an example to us all in removing barriers of distrust and misunderstanding, permitting us to learn from the struggles of the Global South.

Also attacked by the National Post for attending the conference were “Kremlin-friendly” journalists Max Blumenthal and Anya Parampil with The Grayzone, anti-war activist Fra Hughes from Belfast, and “Lebanese-Californian” Paul Larudee with the Syria Solidarity Movement. (Larudee was actually born in Iran, but the distinction between Arabic-speaking Lebanon and Farsi-speaking Iran is too subtle for the National Post.)

Meeting with Assad

Security-wise, it was a lot easier to get into the presidential palace to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad than it is to take a commuter plane from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The president individually greeted each one of us as we entered. He thanked a German delegate for his country’s acceptance of Syrian refugees. The German, in turn, mock-implored Assad to “take me in.”

After apologizing for keeping us waiting while he shook hands with each one of us, Assad explained that 90% of Syria had been “liberated” and the intention was to regain the entirety of the national territory. Final victory, however, would not come until all Syrians are won over to national unity.

Syria, according to Assad, is socialist where workers are in “partnership with the state” and are the “leading section” of the society. Minimal medical care and education are free in Syria, even during the height of the war.

Assad explained that the gap between capitalists and those who produce the wealth – the working class – has widened internationally since the 1970s and particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Workers paid the price for the world capitalist financial crisis of 2008.

“Conflicts,” Assad noted, “won’t end in the near future” but “Syria is not isolated.” The US, he explained, does not enjoy the monopoly of technology that it held 20 years ago.  Today a new network of relationships is developing among Brazil, China, Russia, India, and the small states of the world. The US, he warned, may end up blockading itself.

The 2-hour meeting, including a robust Q&A, concluded with Assad’s recommendation to “teach reality.”

One view of a complex picture

“In the west, are people stupid or are they just thinking stupidly?” asked a young Syrian woman. We were at Damascus University after the conference. An Australian conference attendee, Tim Anderson, had just spoken to a standing-room-only crowd on his book Axis of Resistance: Towards an Independent Middle East. In response to her question, Anderson explained how the western mass media paints a particular view of the complexity of Syrian reality.  “Imperial cultures have tried to normalize war in the 21st century,” adding “regime change is a soft term for a war of aggression.”

For the Syrians I met, their president, Bashar Al-Assad, was seen as the guarantor of national unity in the face of aggression from abroad. Many were the stories of friendly encounters with the president and his family. It may well be that those who held contrary views did not express them to foreigners, but those who did seemed genuine in their personal affection for the person they regarded as their leader in these times of peril.

My experience on the road to Damascus was also one view of a complex picture, a view not often seen in the West. But whatever view one takes in the Syrian conflict, the US policy of economic sanctions, restricting access to food and medicines, is an illegal and unconscionable collective punishment of the Syrian people.

With Strikes Against Iran, Netanyahu Risks Jeopardising his Closest Alliance

Every Israeli prime minister – not least Benjamin Netanyahu – understands that a military entanglement with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s armed Shia movement on Israel’s northern border, is a dangerous wager, especially during an election campaign.

It was Shimon Peres who lost to Mr Netanyahu in 1996, weeks after the former prime minister had incensed Israel’s Palestinian minority – a fifth of the population – by savagely attacking Lebanon in a futile bid to improve his military, and electoral, standing.

Lebanon proved a quagmire for Ehud Olmert too, after he launched a war in 2006 that demonstrated how exposed Israel’s northern communities were to Hezbollah’s rockets. The fallout helped pave Mr Netanyahu’s path to victory and his second term as prime minister three years later.

Mr Netanyahu has faced off with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for the full 13 years he has been in power. But unlike his political rivals, he has preferred to play a cautious hand with his Lebanese opponent.

Which makes a recent spate of drone attacks by Israel across the region, including in Lebanon, all the more surprising, even in the context of a highly contested election due to take place next Tuesday. During the campaign, Mr Netanyahu has been buffeted by yet more corruption allegations.

According to the Israeli media, two drones dispatched over Beirut late last month were intended to destroy Iranian-supplied equipment that would allow Hezbollah to manufacture precision-guided missiles.

It was the first such Israeli attack on Lebanese soil since a ceasefire ended the 2006 war. Hezbollah and Israel have preferred to flex their muscles in neighbouring Syria, weakened after more than eight years of war.

The attack outraged Lebanon’s leaders, with Mr Nasrallah warning that Hezbollah would shoot down any Israeli drones encroaching on Lebanese airspace. He also vowed revenge, which finally came a week ago when Hezbollah fired at an Israeli military vehicle carrying five soldiers close to the border. Israel said there were no casualties.

That was followed by Hezbollah shooting down an Israeli drone in southern Lebanon early on Monday. The Israeli army confirmed it had been on a “routine mission” when it fell in Lebanese territory.

In retaliation for last week’s attack, Israel shelled Hezbollah positions, a clash Israeli media described as being a “hair’s breadth” from escalating into all-out war.

Neither Israel nor Hezbollah appear to want such an outcome. Both understand the likely heavy toll in casualties and the damaging political consequences.

Nonetheless, Mr Netanyahu appears to be stoking a fire he might ultimately struggle to control – and not just in Lebanon. Around the time of the Beirut attack, Israeli drones were also in action in Iraq and Syria.

First, Israel hit a building near Damascus, killing two Hezbollah operatives. According to Israel, they were working with Iranian forces to prepare a drone attack on the Golan Heights, Syrian territory annexed by Israel in violation of international law.

Then a day later, more Israeli drones – apparently launched from Azerbaijan – targeted depots housing Iranian weapons close to the Iraqi-Syrian border.

There have been reports of half a dozen such attacks since mid-July. They are the first known Israeli strikes on Iraq’s territory in four decades.

The running thread in these various incidents – apart from Israel’s violation of each country’s sovereignty – is Iran.

Until recently, Israel had launched regular forays deep into Syrian airspace to target what it said was the transport through Syria of long-range precision missiles supplied by Iran to Hezbollah, its Shia ally in Lebanon.

Hezbollah and Iran view this growing stockpile of precision weapons – capable of hitting key military installations in Israel – as a vital restraint on Israel’s freedom to attack its neighbours.

Over the past year, Israel’s ability to hit missile convoys as they pass through Syria has narrowed as Bashar Al-Assad has regained control of Syrian territory and installed more sophisticated, Russian-made air defences.

Now Israel appears to be targeting the two ends of the supply chain, from deliveries dispatched in Iraq to their receipt in Lebanon. In the words of Mr Netanyahu, Iran “is not immune anywhere”.

The US has not taken kindly to Israel’s actions in Iraq, fearing that a local backlash could endanger the 5,000 troops it has stationed there and push Iraq further into Iran’s arms. In response, the Pentagon issued a statement condemning “actions by external actors inciting violence in Iraq”.

So what is Mr Netanyahu up to? Why risk provoking a dangerous clash with Hezbollah and alienating his strongest asset, a supportive US administration headed by Donald Trump, at this critical moment in the election campaign?

The answer could be that he feels he has little choice.

The same weekend that Israel launched its wave of attacks across the region, French President Emmanuel Macron engineered an unexpected visit by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to the G7 summit in Biarritz.

It was part of efforts by Mr Macron, and Europe more generally, to encourage Mr Trump to repair relations with Tehran after the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement last year and reimposed sanctions. Mr Netanyahu has taken partial credit for the administration’s tough stance.

Now he has been jolted by Mr Trump’s apparent willingness to reconsider, possibly to protect shipping lanes and oil supplies in the Gulf from Iranian disruption, just as the US president seeks re-election.

Any U-turn would conflict sharply with Mr Netanyahu’s agenda. Domestically he has long presented Iran as the ultimate bogeyman, hell-bent on gaining a nuclear bomb to destroy Israel. His strongman image has been built on his supposed triumph both in reining in Tehran and recruiting the Trump administration to his cause.

If Mr Trump indicates a readiness for rapprochement with Iran before polling day, Mr Netanyahu’s narrative is sunk – and the corruption allegations he faces are likely to take a stronger hold on the public imagination.

That was why, as he headed to London last Thursday, Mr Netanyahu issued a barely veiled rebuke to Mr Trump: “This is not the time to talk to Iran.”

It might also be why a report in the New York Times last week suggested that Israel is contemplating a risky, go-it-alone strike on Iran, something Mr Netanyahu has reportedly been mulling for several years.

Certainly, he has every interest in using attacks like the recent ones to provoke a reaction from Iran in the hope of pre-empting any US overture.

It is a high-stakes gamble and one that risks setting off a conflagration should Mr Netanyahu overplay his hand. These are desperate times for Israel’s longest-serving but increasingly embattled prime minister.

• First published in The National

NPR Mocks Cancer Survivor in Drumbeat of Syria Propaganda

Asma al-Assad, First Lady of Syria (from released Syrian Presidency Facebook page)

It may be a new low in propaganda. National Public Radio (NPR) used the news that Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad had overcome breast cancer to mock her and continue the information war against Syria. They interviewed a Human Rights Watch staffer named Lama Fakih who is an American from Michigan now based in Beirut.

Do you believe Ms. Fakih in Beirut or do you believe people who live in Syria who say we are being lied to?  Lilly Martin is such a person. Although she is American from Fresno California, Lilly has lived in Syria for nearly 25 years. She is married to a Syrian and has two Syrian sons.  Dr. Nabil Antaki is another such person. He is a medical doctor in Aleppo, fluent in English and French as well as his native Arabic.

While NPR snorts about Asma al-Assad “sporting a chic blonde pixie cut”, Lilly Martin points out that she was recently bald while fighting for her life.

While Ms. Fakir in Beirut says that there is “quite a lot of anger” because Asma al-Assad has conquered cancer, Dr. Antaki says that Syrians are happy at the news.  Asma al-Assad is First Lady, mother to three children, and known for her compassion. Lilly Martin says that even while she battled cancer Mrs. al-Assad continued her charitable work.

While Ms. Fakih says that the “Assad government has been systematically targeting medical facilities and medical personnel”,  Dr. Antaki, who has remained in Aleppo throughought the conflict, says this is not true. While there are many western accusations that the Syrian government attacks hospitals, the evidence is remarkably thin.  One of the most highly publicized cases was regarding “Al Quds Hospital” in east Aleppo. In April 2016 there was a media blitz about this hospital having been destroyed by the Syrian Army. Following  the departure of the “rebels”, it was discovered that “Al Quds Hospital” was an unmarked portion of an apartment building, that it had NOT been bombed and was the LEAST damaged building in the area. It was determined that the nearby Nusra (Al Qaeda) headquarters and ammunition depot was the Syrian army target.  Accusations that “Al Quds Hospital” was bombed were false. It was a media stunt.

Ms. Fakih says that “Syrians have not been able to benefit from medical care in Syria since the beginning of the uprising in 2012”.   Lilly Martin simply says “This is factually untrue. The Syrian system of national hospitals, free services to the public, are in every area of Syria and have run continuously throughout the war.”  Dr. Antaki is an example; he is one of THOUSANDS of doctors working at HUNDREDS of hospitals throughout Syria. But you would never know it from NPR or Ms. Fakih.

It is true that there have been disruption and damage to many hospitals, as demonstrated in this jihadi assault on Al Kindi Hospital.  These are the “rebels” supported by Ms. Fakih and Human Rights Watch. They effectively supported them in east Aleppo until they were expelled from the city. Now Ms. Fakih and HRW are supporting the “rebels” in their last redoubt in Idlib.  There are countless videos demonstrating the cruelty and fanaticism of the “rebels”.  For example, the aftermath of the above assault on Kindi Hospital and the execution of the Syrian soldiers who defended the hospital.  Those who are cheerleading for the “rebels” and trying to prevent the Syrians reclaiming Idlib should look at the execution video to see what they are supporting.

The West has provided weapons and other support to the “rebels”. In parallel, there has been a campaign to whitewash the “rebels” and demonize the Syrian government.  On top of this, the USA has imposed crushing sanctions on Syria which make it difficult or impossible to get critical medicines and replacement parts for western medical equipment. Dr. Antaki says it took him 1.5 years to obtain a replacement part for a Japanese medical instrument.  I had my own experience with the draconian and inhumane sanctions. It took one year and endless hassle to send hearing aid batteries to help a deaf child in Syria.

This is one among hundreds of Syria “regime change” propaganda pieces broadcast on NPR. Behind a facade of authority and objectivity, there is bias and misinformation along with crocodile tears.  As Lilly Martin says, “While the Syrian government medical system has tried to meet all the needs of Syrian civilians during 8 years of armed conflict, still there are numerous cases where the needs were not met and Syrians have suffered, and that blame must be shouldered by every person who held a gun against Syria and their foreign supporters who have succeeded in bringing the Syrian people into the depths of destruction and despair.”

As to Asma al-Assad and her integrity, it is best to listen and judge for yourself.  At about 5:30 of the interview she speaks of the families of 100 thousand Syrian martyrs who died defending their country. “On a personal level, I am humbled by their determination, by their resilience, and by their love of Syria. They are my biggest source of strength and hope for the future.”

The sneers, misinformation, unverified accusations and de facto defense of Nusra/Al Qaeda by NPR and Lama Fakih stand in stark contrast.

Debunking the Rumors about Russia Caving in to Israel

• Author’s Note:  This analysis was written for the Unz Review

*****

This Spring saw a sudden increase in the volume of articles in the so-called “alternative media and blogosphere” about Putin “selling out” Syria or Iran to the Israelis and their US patrons, or both. What was particularly interesting about this campaign is that it was not triggered by any kind of event or statement by Putin or any other senior Russian decision-makers. True, Israeli politicians made numerous trips to Russia, but each time they walked away without anything tangible to show for their efforts. As for their Russian counterparts, they limited themselves to vague and well-intentioned statements. Nonetheless, the “Putin sold out to Netanyahu” campaign did not stop. Every meeting was systematically interpreted as The Clear Proof that the Zionists control the Kremlin and that Putin was doing Netanyahu’s bidding. The fact that this campaign began ex nihilo did not seem to bother most observers. Soon I started getting steady streams of emails asking me to react to these articles. My reply was always the same one: let’s do the opposite of what these supposed “specialists” are doing and wait for the facts to come out and only then form an opinion.

Truth be told, I had already tackled that canard in my article “Why is Putin “allowing” Israel to bomb Syria.” I also had tried to debunk some of the most persistent and toxic falsehoods about Russia and Israel in my article “Putin and Israel: A Complex and Multi-Layered Relationship.” I also wrote an article entitled “Is Putin Really Ready to “Ditch” Iran?” trying to debunk that stupid theory. Finally, I even tried to compare and contrast the Russian approach towards Israel (which I qualified as “self-interest”) with the attitude of the “collective West” (which I qualified as “prostitution”) in an article entitled “Russia, Israel and the Values of “Western Civilization” – Where Is the Truth?”.

I was naïve to think that any of my arguments would elicit any doubts amongst the “Putin is a traitor” crowd. After all, if being wrong for years could not convince them otherwise, no rational argument would.

Then, news agencies began to report that General Nikolai Patrushev, the Director of the Russian Federal Security Service and the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, would travel to Israel to meet with John Bolton and Bibi Netanyahu. At this point, the steady stream of concerned emails suddenly turned into a deluge! After all, why would such a high-ranking (and rather secretive) Russian official travel to Israel to meet two of the worst and most evil politicians of the Anglo-Zionist Empire? Surely, he had something important to say, no? The consensus (of sorts) was that Patrushev would sell out Iran and Syria in exchange for some (entirely theoretical, quite unlikely and inevitably vague) “concessions” on the Ukraine, Crimea or sanctions.

My reply remained the same. Let’s wait until these folks actually meet and let’s see if their meeting brings about something significant (as a rule, I find getting facts an essential first step before engaging in any analysis; apparently, my detractors feel otherwise).

So, again, I decided to wait.

Then something weird happened: the meeting took place, it was even reported (albeit mostly in general terms), the participants issued their statements and… …nothing. The outcome of the “Jerusalem summit” was greeted by a deafening silence and a few vapid commentaries. My first hunch was that, as the Russian saying goes, the “mountain had given birth to a mouse” and that nothing of importance came out of the summit. Boy, was I ever wrong!

The official Russian position on Iran

The summit *did* indeed produce something of vital significance, but for some reason, the most senior-official statement on Iran that any Russian decision-maker ever made received very little attention. Unless you happened to be a Saker blog reader, you would never find out about it.

See for yourself and click here for both the video and the transcript.

To my knowledge, this is the only full-length English language transcript of Patrushev’s statement. (Ruptly posted a video dubbed in English, but it was hardly noticed. As for the transcript, to my knowledge it was never reposted in full).

Which is too bad, since the following words have now been spoken by one of the most authorized and high-ranking Russian officials to date: (emphasis added)

“We have emphasized an importance of easing of the tensions for the country (Syria) between Israel and Iran, by the way of implementation the mutual approaching steps. We have made an emphasis that Syria must not be turned into an arena for geopolitical confrontation. We have also highlighted the need for the international community to help Syria to rebuild its national economy. Among other things, Syria should be free of illegal trade restrictions, unilateral sanctions, as well as sanctions on economic operators that help Syria to rebuild. They also have to be free from all sanctions.

We also turned everyone’s attention to the relations of Syria and other Arab states that should be normalized again. Syria is once again should be a full-fledged member of the Arab League. Also, we pointed out an importance of establishing the contacts of Syrian government with its Kurdish ethnic minority. We stated of importance to unite the efforts to eliminate all remaining in Syria terrorists. We called for immediate disruption of all channels through which terrorists might be able to obtain weapon grade chemical materials and their precursors.

Russia, the United States and Israel should join their efforts to help peace to return to Syria.

In the context of the statements made by our partners with regard to a major regional power, namely Iran, I would like to say the following: Iran has always been and remains our ally and partner, with which we are consistently developing relations both on bilateral basis and within multilateral formats,

This is why we believe that it is inadmissible to describe Iran as the major threat to the regional security and, moreover, to put it on par with the Islamic State or any other terrorist organization, Especially, since Iran contributes substantial efforts to bring peace to Syria and to stabilize the situation in Syria.

We have called on our partners to show restraint and readiness for reciprocal steps, which must serve as the basis for the consistent advancement towards the easing of tensions in the Israeli-Iranian relations”

To my knowledge, this is the very first time that Russia has officially declared Iran not only as a partner but as an ally! A few days later, President Putin confirmed that this was an official position which had his imprimatur when he stated in his interview to the FT that:

We have established sufficiently good business-like relations with all regional countries, and our positions in the Middle East region have become more stable. Indeed, we have established very good, business-like, partner-like and largely allied relations with many regional countries, including Iran, Turkey and other countries.

This is absolutely huge, especially considering that, unlike Eltsin’s “democratic” Russia or western politicians, Putin does not abandon his allies (if anything, he sometimes defends them for too long even when they have been found guilty of dishonorable actions). Let me repeat this:

Russia has declared that Iran is her *ally*.

The official Russian position on Syria

Next, let’s parse the Patrushev statement once again for some specifics about Syria:

  1. Israel does not get to impose its will upon Syria. (“Syria must not be turned into an arena for geopolitical confrontation “).
  2. All sanctions against Syria must be lifted. (“Syria should be free of illegal trade restrictions, unilateral sanctions, as well as sanctions on economic operators that help Syria to rebuild. They also have to be free from all sanctions“).
  3. The Arab League must fully reinstate Syria. (“Syria once again should be a fully-fledged member of the Arab League”).
  4. All the remaining terrorists in Syria must be eliminated. (“unite the efforts to eliminate all remaining terrorists in Syria”).

It sure looks to me that Russia’s commitment to Syria’s integrity and freedom is as strong as ever.

Does that look to you like Russia and Israel are working hand-in-hand in Syria?

If so, please read the following for a quick reality check (excerpt from this article):

The initial AngloZionist plan was to overthrow Assad and replace him with the Takfiri crazies (Daesh, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, ISIS – call them whatever you want). Doing this would achieve the following goals:

  1. Bring down a strong secular Arab state along with its political structure, armed forces, and security services.
  2. Create total chaos and horror in Syria justifying the creation of a “security zone” by Israel not only in the Golan but further north.
  3. Trigger a civil war in Lebanon by unleashing the Takfiri crazies against Hezbollah.
  4. Let the Takfiris and Hezbollah bleed each other to death, then create a “security zone,” but this time in Lebanon.
  5. Prevent the creation of a Shia axis Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon.
  6. Break up Syria along ethnic and religious lines.
  7. Create a Kurdistan which could then be used against Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.
  8. Make it possible for Israel to become the uncontested power broker in the Middle-East and force the KSA, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and all others to have to go to Israel for any gas or oil pipeline project.
  9. Gradually isolate, threaten, subvert, and eventually attack Iran with a broad regional coalition of forces.
  10. Eliminate all center of Shia power in the Middle-East.

That was an ambitious plan, but the Israelis felt pretty confident that their US vassal-state would provide the resources needed to achieve it. Now this entire plan has collapsed due to the very high effectiveness of an informal but yet formidable alliance between Russia, Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. To say that the Israelis are seething with rage and in a state of total panic would be an understatement. Do you think I am exaggerating? Then look at it from the Israeli point of view:

  1. The Syrian state has survived, and its armed and security forces are now far more capable than they were before the war started (remember how they *almost* lost the war initially? The Syrians bounced back while learning some very hard lessons. By all reports, they improved tremendously, while at critical moments Iran and Hezbollah were literally “plugging holes” in the Syrian frontlines and “extinguishing fires” on local flashpoints. Now the Syrians are doing a very good job of liberating large chunks of their country, including every single city in Syria).
  2. Not only is Syria stronger, but the Iranians and Hezbollah are all over the country now, which is driving the Israelis into a state of panic and rage.
  3. Lebanon is rock solid; even the latest Saudi attempt to kidnap Hariri is backfiring.
  4. Syria will remain unitary, and Kurdistan is not happening. Millions of displaced refugees are returning home.
  5. Israel and the US look like total idiots and, even worse, as losers with no credibility left.

The simple truth is that Russia foiled *ALL* the Israeli plans for Syria. All of them!

This is an extremely important statement. It is also a somewhat ambiguous one since “ally” means different things to different people. The Allied Powers during WWII included the Anglo nations and the Soviet Union, which did not prevent the western powers to plot and conspire to attack and destroy their putative “ally” (who happened to have destroyed about 80% of the Nazi war machine).

[Sidebar: for those who need a reminder of how the West treats its allies, here is a small memento with three examples of how the West planned to “solve the Russian problem”:

  • Plan Totality (1945): earmarked 20 Soviet cities for obliteration in a first strike: Moscow, Gorki, Kuybyshev, Sverdlovsk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Saratov, Kazan, Leningrad, Baku, Tashkent, Chelyabinsk, Nizhny Tagil, Magnitogorsk, Molotov, Tbilisi, Stalinsk, Grozny, Irkutsk, and Yaroslavl.
  • Operation Unthinkable (1945) assumed a surprise attack by up to 47 British and American divisions in the area of Dresden, in the middle of Soviet lines. This represented almost a half of roughly 100 divisions (ca. 2.5 million men) available to the British, American and Canadian headquarters at that time. The majority of any offensive operation would have been undertaken by American and British forces, as well as Polish forces and up to 100,000 German Wehrmacht soldiers.
  • Operation Dropshot (1949): included mission profiles that would have used 300 nuclear bombs and 29,000 high-explosive bombs on 200 targets in 100 cities and towns to wipe out 85% of the Soviet Union’s industrial potential at a single stroke. Between 75 and 100 of the 300 nuclear weapons were targeted to destroy Soviet combat aircraft on the ground.

I could also list all the so-called “allies” the West has ditched, betrayed and even murdered since WWII, but that would take too many pages]

So what does Russia mean exactly when she says that Iran is her “ally”?

Patrushev uses the words партнер (partner) and союзник (ally). Just as in English, the word “partner” evokes some community of interests and collaboration but is generally value-neutral. This is why Russian politicians sometimes even speak of countries hostile to Russia as “partners.” Not only are they sarcastic, but “partner” does not invoke any particular feeling or moral obligation on anybody’s part. Partner is just a polite word, nothing more.

The word “ally,” however, is a much stronger one which implies not only common interests but also a real, sincere friendship and a common stance against a common enemy. Unless it is used sarcastically, the term “soiuznik” strongly implies a mutual moral obligation.

It remains unclear what that really means in the case of Iran and Russia. Theoretically, having a common enemy attack one of the members of an alliance (“soiuz”) could mean that Russia would intervene and offer military support or even directly intervene herself. I doubt that Patrushev (or anyone else in the Kremlin) has this kind of intervention in mind, if only for one reason which is that there would be very little, if any, popular support for a war against the USA for the sake of Iran. A much more realistic interpretation of Patrushev’s words would be that:

  1. Russia will not “sell-out” Iran to anybody in any way, shape or form.
  2. If Iran is attacked, Russia will offer her total support short of any direct military intervention.

Total support short of any direct military intervention is what the USSR offered the DPRK and, even more so, to Vietnam, and in both cases, the West was eventually defeated. Also, “short of any direct military intervention” does not mean “no military aid”: sending military equipment and instructors, is also below the threshold of “direct military intervention,” as would be the case with political and economic support. Furthermore, Russia has formidable intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities which could play a crucial role in helping Iran resist an AngloZionist attack (look at what Russian radars, electronic warfare, and battle management systems have done to the effectiveness of US and Israeli attacks against Syria!).

Let’s also remember the nature of the Iranian theater of military operations: Iran is a huge country with a very large population (80M+). What this means is that Iran cannot be taken over in a ground invasion. That, in turn, means that the resistance of the Iranian people will never be crushed. And that, in turn, means that there is no need for Russia to prevent a military takeover of Iran. All Russia needs to do is to give Iran the means to effectively resist and the rest will happen naturally (just like Hezbollah did in 2006 against Israel when Iran did not intervene directly and militarily, but simply gave Hezbollah the means to beat back the “only Jewish democracy in the Middle-East”).

Besides, Iranians are fiercely patriotic, and they would probably not welcome any visible Russian military intervention in their country anyway (they won’t say “no” to covert aid, especially not the IRGC). This is a wise approach, especially when compared to cowardly little statelets which always want one occupier to boot out a previous occupier (think Poland, the Baltic statelets or the Nazi-occupied Ukraine nowadays).

Finally, Russia is not acting by herself or in a vacuum: the Chinese have made numerous statements (see here, here or here) showing that Iran also has their backing, which resulted in a state of consternated shock amongst MAGA fanboys. The fact that the US’s “European allies” seemed to be getting cold feet about this entire project (attacking Iran on behalf of Israel, blowing-up the entire Middle-East while bringing down the world economy) only adds to their distress.

[Sidebar: the USN should rent out a few transport/amphibious assault ships, fill them up with Polaks, Balts, Ukies, and Georgians and send them to fight for “the USA” (i.e., for Israel, of course). After all, these folks are locked in a desperate competition to see who of them can brown-nose the Empire the deepest, so why not give them a way to prove their unfailing loyalty to “western values” and the rest of the propaganda nonsense the legacy corporate Ziomedia feeds us (and them!) on a daily basis]

Will any of the above affect the “Putin is a traitor” or “Putin works for Bibi” crowd?

Facts? No! Who needs facts?

No, most probably not. What they will do is just ignore Patrushev’s very official statement just like they have ignored all the facts since they began predicting a “Grand Russian Betrayal” for no less than 5 years now, even if proved wrong every time: remember their whining about Syria “losing” its (utterly useless, dangerous and expensive to destroy) chemical weapons? What about their whining about Russia not doing enough for Novorussia? Or their whining about the Russians being “soft” on Israel after the Israelis caused the loss of a Russian recon aircraft? All these folks who present to us the “proof” that Putin, Bolton, and Netanyahu are “in cahoots”, and have predicted that Patrushev would “sell out” are now very busy looking somewhere else for evidence of Russia’s subservience to Israel.

At the time of writing (July 2nd), the Israelis have yet again conducted an airstrike on Syria, killing four people including a baby. The MI6 sponsored “The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” reported that “at least ten targets were hit in Damascus while a scientific research center and a military airbase were attacked in Homs.” Sounds quite impressive, no?

Actually, no.

For one thing, to evaluate the effectiveness of an airstrike, you don’t list targets, you make a bomb damage assessment (BDA) to ascertain what in reality sustained a hit, and how severely. Now, the Zionist propaganda always issues triumphant reports about how the invincible Israeli air force can make minced meat out of any Russian (or other) air defense system. Some, for example, have already concluded that the Israelis have “neutralized” the S-300 system while others go even further and claim that Russia either “approved” the Israeli attack or even “coordinated” it!

The Russian military has a saying “гражданский – это диагноз” which can be roughly translated as “civilian – that is a diagnosis.” In the case of these ignorant and even silly articles about the Russian air defenses in Syria (“the S-300 don’t work!!!”), that is precisely the case: these are civilians who have no understanding whatsoever of military matters in general, and even less so of air defense topics.

In my article “S-300 in Syria – a Preliminary Assessment,” I explained that:

Sooner or later, however, we can be pretty confident that both the Israelis and the US will have to try to strike Syria again, if only for PR purposes. In fact, this should not be too difficult for them, here is why: First, and contrary to what is often claimed, there are not enough S-300/S-400’s in Syria to indeed “lock” all of the Syrian airspace. Yes, the Russians did create a de-facto no-fly zone over Syria, but not one which could withstand a large and determined attack. What the combined Russian and Syrian forces have done so far is to deny some specific segments of the airspace above and around Syria to the AngloZionist aggressors. This means that they can protect some specific, high-value targets. However, as soon as the US/Israelis get a feel for what has been deployed and where, and how this entire integrated air defense network works, they will be able to plan strikes which, while not terribly effective, will be presented by the propaganda machine as a major success for the AngloZionists. (…) So, all the AngloZionists really need to do is to be very careful in their choice of paths of approach and choice of targets, use low-RCS aircraft and missiles under the cover of a robust EW engagement and then use a large enough number of missiles to give the appearance that the Empire has defeated the Russian and Syrian air defenses.

This is *exactly* what we are witnessing now. How do we know that? After all, we don’t have access to classified BDAs. True. What we can do is use Christ’s wise words and “judge a tree by its fruits” and notice that no amount of Israeli airstrikes in Syria have made any difference. Not only that, but we also know the kind of sustained air campaign which would be needed to meaningfully impact the Syrian armed forces, Hezbollah, the Iranians or the Russians. It sure ain’t what we have seen since the Russians beefed up their air defenses in Syria.

By the way, the SOHR article mentioned above also makes a mistake saying that a “scientific research center” was attacked. Why does this matter? Well, since we know that Syria has no nuclear, chemical or bacteriological research program or weapons, we can immediately conclude that whatever the “scientific research center” was doing (assuming this was not some empty building in the first place) was not something relevant to the Syrian war effort. In other words, this “scientific research center” was chosen as a symbolic target which, for all we know, might not even have been protected in the first place. However, “Israel destroys secret Syrian research center” sounds oh-so-triumphant and presents that it was well worth attacking that target. Heck, the SOHR article even mentions destroyed *orchards* (I kid you not!). I am sure that Hezbollah and the IRGC were both very impressed by the Israeli military prowess and totally heartbroken to have been deprived of their precious orchards :-)

My question to the “Putin is a Zioagent” folks is: why in the world would you expect the Syrians or the Russians to defend empty buildings or orchards from Israeli airstrikes anyways?

Conclusion 1: Putin, the traitor? Hardly!

My regular readers will know that my support for the Kremlin is a sincere one, but also a critical one. Not only do I not believe in flag-waving (called “hat tossing” in Russian), but I do also believe that there is a very dangerous and toxic 5th column inside the Russian elites working to subordinate Russia to the Empire. So while I sometimes like to call myself a “Putin fanboy” or “Putin groupie,” I do that only in a tongue-in-cheek manner. In reality, I believe that Russia in general, and Putin specifically, actually need the criticism of those who want to see Russia truly become a sovereign nation again. So I am all for being critical of Putin and Russia. However, not all criticisms are equal or offered in a sincere spirit.

I have concluded that the folks at Langley (and elsewhere) have figured out that accusing Putin of being a journalist-murdering dictator or a nationalist freak who wants to restore the Russian Empire have entirely failed (especially inside Russia). So they switched strategies and have embarked on a major strategic PSYOP we could call “Putin the traitor”: instead of moaning about Putin being too much of a Russian patriot, they have now decided to paint him as a “not sincerely patriotic” and, truth be told, that new strategy has proven much more effective, especially against the background of the Medvedev government continuing to champion socially reactionary policies.

In fact, I suspect that Patrushev’s statement was, at least in part, designed to debunk the canard about Russia ditching either Iran or Syria. Not only that, but since the Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and Secretary of the Security Council of Russia has made the Russian support for Iran crystal clear, this will now force the 5th columnists to either shut up or face sanction.

Will the putatively pro-Russian “useful idiots” who spent so much energy trying to convince everybody that Putin was Netanyahu’s puppet learn their lesson? I doubt it. In fact, I don’t think that they will ever admit being wrong: they will explain-away Patrushev’s statement as “empty talk” or something similar and resume their mantras (which is the only thing which gives them “click-visibility” anyway).

Let’s sum up what we all could observe: Russia remains the single biggest “resistance nation” on the planet (the other contender for the top position would, obviously, be Iran). The “Putin betrayed” folks have been denouncing a Russian betrayal for at least five years. The fact that no such betrayal ever materialized has had no impact on those who are little more than useful tools for the Empire. Expect more “Putin the traitor” and “IDF defeats S-300s” articles in the future (the only way to stop them would be to stop clicking on their bait-titles which would force them to find a new source of revenue; I am not holding my breath on this one).

Conclusion 2: back to reality

In the real world the most interesting questions now are 1) how viable the current partnership between Russian and Turkey will prove over time and 2) how strong the Russian-Iranian alliance will become. It is also unclear what role the SCO will play or whether the SCO will grow more impressive military “teeth” (so far, at least as far as I know, no SCO member state has offered military help to Russia). And finally there is the big question of what China will do.

For the time being we see the Empire spewing a lot of hot air and making threats to an almost endless list of countries, while the Israelis engage in what I would call “murder psychotherapy” (which is all that IDF strikes really are) to keep their racist delusions afloat. And while the AngloZionists maniacally pursue these (pretend-)strategies, the rest of the world is building an alternative to the AngloZionist Hegemony. Will the leaders of the Empire prefer a massive war to a quiet (and rather pathetic) self-destruction of the Empire? Looking at the faces of Trump, Pompeo or Bolton, I can’t say that I feel very reassured. Yet I remain hopeful that I will see the day come when the USA, Russia and Palestine are all liberated from their oppressors and recover their full sovereignty.

Buried In Broad Daylight: The “Free Press” And The Leaked OPCW Report On Douma

A defining feature of the propaganda system is that facts supporting the agenda of Western power are pushed to the forefront of the ‘mainstream’ media, while inconvenient facts are buried. A prime example is the shameful media silence in response to a devastating document leaked from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), discussed in a recent media alert. The document, an engineering assessment of two chlorine cylinders found at two separate locations after an attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma on April 7, 2018, casts serious doubt on the official narrative that Syrian government forces had dropped them from helicopters. The claim that Assad had used chemical weapons ‘against his own civilians’ was used by the US, UK and France to ‘justify’ missile strikes on ‘chemical weapons facilities’ on April 14, 2018.

One of the cylinders was found on top of a four-storey building with its front end lodged in a hole in the roof. The other cylinder was found lying on a bed in the top-floor room of an apartment with a crater-like opening in the roof. Engineering analysis – based on measurements, photographs and computer modelling – were conducted on the two cylinders and the scenes where they were found. The aim was to ‘evaluate the possible means by which these two cylinders arrived at their respective locations as observed.’ The leaked report, signed by Ian Henderson, a senior OPCW engineer with many years’ experience, concluded:

In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft. [Our emphasis.]

But this dissenting engineering analysis was excluded from the final OPCW Fact-Finding Mission report presented to the UN Security Council on March 1, 2019.

Theodore Postol, professor of science, technology, and international security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose main expertise is in ballistic missiles, gave an initial assessment of the leaked OPCW report on May 21, and agreed with its conclusion. He summarised:

Observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.

In short:

Two analyzed chlorine cylinder attacks were staged in April 2018 in Douma. [Our emphasis.]

On June 4, Postol released a more in-depth assessment which completely rejected the propaganda claim that the cylinders could only have been dropped from Syrian government helicopters. This strengthens the conclusion that the April 2018 Douma attacks were indeed staged, presumably by Syrian rebels attempting to provoke a Western military response against Assad (and perhaps even with Western connivance).

Postol noted the glaring discrepancies between the OPWC report that was submitted to the UN (minus the dissenting analysis of the leaked document) and the facts on the ground:

The calculations produced as proof for the conclusions bear no relationship to what was observed at the scene and both the observed data from the scene and the calculations bear no relationship to the reported findings.

Postol expanded:

An important characteristic of concrete is that it is brittle. By definition, such a material is not flexible but will develop cracks and fail catastrophically when subjected to stresses that are sufficiently large. Concrete can be substantially strengthened [as in this case] by embedding reinforcing steel rebar or other strong but flexible materials within it. The rebar performs the function of maintaining the strength of the material when it is flexed rather than failing catastrophically as is the case with the surrounding brittle material.

He added:

A very important additional phenomenon associated with the impact of an object can be the creation of a hole due to a process that is generally referred to as “tunneling.” Because the breach created by the penetrating object results in the crushing and pushing of brittle concrete as the object moves forward, the diameter of the hole produced by the impact of the object will be very close to that of the penetrating object. This means that a hole created by a 40 cm diameter chlorine cylinder should be close to 40 cm in diameter…

But this was not the case:

The diameter of the hole is nearly twice that of the cylinder and the steel rebar that was supposed to stop the cylinder from penetrating through the roof is instead completely shattered and bent away from the forward direction by more than 60°… This photograph shows that the crater was produced by an explosion on the roof which had nothing to do with the impact of a chlorine cylinder. These discrepancies simply mean that the cylinder was placed on the roof after the hole was produced by the explosion of a mortar shell or artillery rocket.

Postol provided much more detail, but this was his summary:

There is absolutely no doubt that the OPCW finding that the chlorine cylinder found at what it identifies as Location 2 did not produce the hole in the roof that allegedly led to the killing of more than 30 people that the OPCW claims were trapped and poisoned in the building. The OPCW’s own science-based technical analysis does not come close to matching what was observed at Location 2.

The only possible conclusion is that ‘chemical weapons attacks’ at the two sites where the cylinders were found must have been staged.

Postol praised the high-quality analysis presented in the leaked OPCW document. But he was damning about senior OPCW management who had disregarded the dissenting engineering assessment and instead presented a deeply biased and misleading final report to the UN:

The OPCW has been compromised in terms of the content they are providing. The deception of the OPCW is quite blatant. Perhaps they are not used to people who are knowledgeable on these issues scrutinizing their material.

On June 3, Labour MP Chris Williamson submitted a parliamentary question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, with reference to investigations suggesting that reports of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government in Douma in April 2018 were staged and with reference to reports that OPCW expert advice was redacted from its final report, whether he has made a reassessment of the decision to bomb targets in Syria in 2018.

In an interview with Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground, Williamson rightly pointed to the insidious part played by the ‘mainstream’ media:

The hysterical mainstream media at the time a year ago who seemed to be clamouring for military airstrikes have been incredibly silent about this [leaked OPCW report]. I remember having a very rough interview on Channel 4 about the whole issue. And yet they seem to, as far as I’m aware, have failed to follow up now with this quite damning revelation which has been brought to light by a whistle-blower.

He added:

What is very regrettable today is the tradition that we used to take for granted, that investigative journalists – serious journalists like John Pilger – seem to be sadly lacking these days.

Williamson also cited Robert Fisk – ‘a very unusual animal these days’ – who reported from Douma last April, after interviewing civilians in the vicinity of the alleged chemical weapon attacks. A senior Syrian doctor, Dr Assim Rahaibani, told him that the ‘gas’ video that had so horrified the world showed patients who had been overcome, not by gas, but by oxygen starvation:

I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.

BBC Syria producer Riam Dalati said earlier this year via Twitter that:

After almost six months of investigation, I can prove without a doubt that the Douma hospital scene was staged.

He subsequently set his Twitter status to ‘private’. Moreover, in a now deleted tweet, he stated two days after the Douma attack:

Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

As far as we know, BBC News has never given proper coverage to the serious doubts surrounding the alleged ‘chemical weapons’ attack on Douma, other than to ascribe such doubts to Syrian and Russian government claims of ‘fabrication’. As we saw with Iraq and Saddam’s ‘denials of WMD’, a powerful propaganda technique to dismiss facts, evidence and truth is to make them come out the mouths of Official Enemies.

The BBC Goes Quiet

That the OPCW may be so compromised as to present a misleading report to the UN Security Council that could be used as post-facto ‘justification’ for a Western military attack is, to say the least, an extremely grave matter. Indeed, it casts doubt on the whole integrity of an important international organisation. Ted Postol said in an interview with Sharmini Piries of The Real News Network that he believes the official OPCW report into an alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun on April 4, 2017 – almost exactly one year before the Douma attack – may also have been ‘severely compromised’.

As Tim Hayward, a member of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM), the group of independent scholars and researchers that originally published the leaked OPWC document, noted:

While Western politicians and news media echo tropes about obstructive Russia & outlaw Syria, States of Non-Aligned Movement and China share their concerns about politicisation and polarising of OPCW.

Hayward added:

Suppressed OPCW document undermines the claimed justification for Western missile strikes on Syria in April 2018, and it reveals an organisation in need of radical reform.

Regardless of the findings of the official and leaked OPCW reports, the leaders of the US, UK and France, including Prime Minister Theresa May, were guilty of launching an unprovoked military attack on another country in violation of the UN Charter; the ‘supreme international crime’, in the words of the post-WW2 Nuremberg judgment. These are issues that would, in a sane media system, be extensively reported and debated.

However, as we wrote over three weeks ago in our earlier media alert, other than the small-circulation, left-wing Morning Star, the damning leaked document has been mentioned in just two articles in the national press: one by Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday and one in the Independent by Robert Fisk. Remarkably, but unsurprisingly, this remains the case at the time of writing. Nor is there a single mention of it anywhere on the BBC News website. Hitchens has also submitted questions direct to the OPCW which appear to have been ignored by the body.

Our repeated challenges to senior BBC journalists, including Kamal Ahmed, the BBC’s head of news, have met with a stony silence, with one exception. Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, replied via Twitter on May 24:

Thanks for your message. I am in Geneva today, in Sarajevo and Riga last week, and heading to Gulf next week. It’s an important story. Will make sure programmes know about it. As you know, UK outlets focused on May & Brexit last few days. [Our emphasis.]

Let us set aside the implausible argument that ‘UK outlets focused on May & Brexit’ should preclude any coverage of a vital reappraisal of the West’s ‘justification’ of an attack on Syria; or the notion that senior editors at the BBC, with its vast monitoring resources, would have to be informed by Doucet of the leaked document. But, if we were to take Doucet’s words at face value, she would surely be happy to respond to our follow-up query, asking for an update. Seemingly not. She has now retreated behind the wider, blanketing BBC silence.

And yet, last week, evidence emerged that the BBC is well aware of the leaked document. In a live-streamed panel debate at the annual meeting of GLOBSEC, a global security thinktank, on June 6, the BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner asked OPCW director-general Fernando Arias about the Independent report ‘by someone called Robert Fisk’. Was this an example of fake news? In his evasive reply, Arias stated that:

All the information given by any inspectors is considered but sometimes it is not fit to the conclusion. [Our emphasis.]

This remarkable admission that serious evidence and analysis were disregarded because it does ‘not fit the conclusion’ went unchallenged by the BBC’s Gardner and everyone else in the room. It echoed the infamous statement in the 2002 Downing Street memo on plans to invade Iraq that ‘the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.’ The focus of Arias’s concern was to defend the OPCW and to identify the whistle-blower, stating that:

‘”actions had to be taken” following the leak…” I stand by the impartial and professional conclusions” of the full OPCW report.’

On June 12, Peter Hitchens, mentioned earlier for his excellent reporting on Syria, challenged Gardner on whether he had reported his exchange with the OPCW director-general. Later that day, Hitchens tweeted:

BBC this afternoon stated that @FrankRGardner has *not* reported on the exchange, indeed BBC as a whole, despite vast resources paid for by licence holders, has yet to report at all on this major development.

The only response to the leaked OPCW report by a Guardian journalist so far appears to have been this remarkable outburst from George Monbiot on Twitter:

The Assad apologists are out in force again, and baying for blood. It’s chilling to see how they latch onto one person’s contentious account of a single atrocity, while ignoring the vast weight of evidence for chemical weapons use and conventional massacres by the govt. #Syria

Monbiot added:

They seek to exonerate one of the bloodiest mass murderers on the planet, denying his crimes and whitewashing his record. In doing so, they share some of the blame for his ongoing mass killing of Syrian people.

As we, and many other people, pointed out, this was an inexplicably irrational response to an obviously important, indisputably authentic, highly credible, leaked document that was not at all ‘one person’s… account’. The leaked material simply has to be taken seriously and investigated, not dismissed out of hand. We are, after all, talking about possible war crimes under Trump, the famously dangerous, fascist US President every liberal journalist is supposed to be determined to excoriate at every possible turn. Why should we not, then, describe Monbiot as a ‘Trump apologist’?

Last year, during an exchange about Syria, Hitchens told Monbiot what we had already concluded about him:

This is important. I have until now regarded you as a fundamentally decent and honest person (and defended you against those who have argued otherwise). But your behaviour in this matter is causing me to reconsider this opinion. Please argue honestly.

The near-total ‘mainstream’ media blanking of the leaked OPCW document is a genuinely disturbing sign of growing corporate media conformity and totalitarian-style mendacity. In the age of social media – with netizens repeatedly challenging the likes of the BBC’s Lyse Doucet and the Guardian‘s George Monbiot – the stonewalling, and the denial of newsworthiness, is happening in plain sight. Corporate journalists know that it is important, they know that we know that it is important, they know that we are asking why they are ignoring it, and they are ignoring us anyway, with the whole act of censorship swathed in silence. As the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko once said:

When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.

Robert Stuart vs the BBC

It’s a David vs Goliath story. A former local newspaper reporter, Robert Stuart, is taking on the British Broadcasting Corporation. Stuart believes that a sensational video story about an alleged atrocity in Syria “was largely, if not entirely, staged.”  The BBC would like it all to just go away. But like David, Stuart will not back down or let it go.  It has been proposed that the BBC could settle the issue by releasing the raw footage from the event, but they refuse to do this. Why?

The Controversial Video

The video report in controversy is ‘Saving Syria’s Children‘. Scenes from it were first broadcast as a BBC news report on August 29, 2013 and again as a BBC Panorama special in September. ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was produced by BBC reporter Ian Pannell with Darren Conway as camera operator and director.

The news report footage was taken in a town north of Aleppo city in a region controlled by the armed opposition. It purports to show the aftermath of a Syrian aerial attack using incendiary weapons, perhaps napalm, killing and burning dozens of youth.  The video shows the youth arriving and being treated at a nearby hospital where the BBC film team was coincidentally filming two British medical volunteers from a British medical relief organization.

The video had a strong impact. The incident was on August 26. The video was shown on the BBC three days later as the British Parliament was debating whether to support military action by the US against Syria.  As it turned out, British parliament voted against supporting military action. But the video was effective in demonizing the Syrian government. After all, what kind of government attacks school children with napalm-like bombs?

The Context

‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was produced at a critical moment in the Syrian conflict. Just days before, on August 21,  there had been an alleged sarin gas attack against an opposition held area on the outskirts of Damascus. Western media was inundated with videos showing dead Syrian children amidst accusations the Syrian government had attacked civilians, killing up to 1400.  The Syrian government was assumed to be responsible and the attack said to be a clear violation of President Obama’s “red line” against chemical weapons.

This incident had the effect of increasing pressure for Western states or NATO to attack Syria. It would be for humanitarian reasons, rationalized by the “responsibility to protect”.

The assumption that ‘the regime’ did it has been challenged. Highly regarded American  journalists including the late Robert Parry and Seymour Hersh investigated and contradicted the mainstream media. They pointed to the crimes being committed by the armed opposition for political goals.  A report by two experts including a UN weapons inspector and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity also came to the conclusion that the Syrian government was not responsible and the attack was actually by an armed opposition group with the goal of forcing NATO intervention.

Why the Controversial Video is Suspicious

After seeing skeptical comments about ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ on an online discussion board, Robert Stuart looked at the video for himself. Like others, he thought the hospital sequences looked artificial, almost like scenes from a badly acted horror movie.

But unlike others, he decided to find out. Thus began his quest to ascertain the truth. Was the video real or was it staged?  Was it authentic or contrived propaganda?

Over almost six years his research has revealed many curious elements about the video including:

* Youth in the hospital video appear to act on cue.

* There is a six hour discrepancy in reports about when the incident occurred.

* One of the supposed victims, shown writhing in pain on a stretcher, is seen earlier walking unaided into the ambulance.

* The incident happened in an area controlled by a terror group associated with ISIS.

* One of the British medics is a former UK soldier involved in simulated injury training.

* The other British medic is daughter of a prominent figure in the Syrian opposition.

* In 2016 a local rebel commander testified that the alleged attack never happened.

Support for Robert Stuart

Robert Stuart’s formal complaints to the BBC have been rebuffed. His challenges to those involved in the production have been ignored or stifled.  Yet his quest has won support from some major journalistic and political figures.

Former Guardian columnist Jonathan Cook has written several articles on the story. He says:

Stuart’s sustained research and questioning of the BBC, and the state broadcaster’s increasing evasions, have given rise to ever greater concerns about the footage. It looks suspiciously like one scene in particular, of people with horrific burns, was staged.

Former UK Ambassador Craig Murray has compared scenes in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ with his own harrowing experience with burn victims. He says:

The alleged footage of burn victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.

Film-maker Victor Lewis-Smith has done numerous projects for the BBC. When learning about Stuart’s research he asked for some explanations and suggested they could resolve the issue by releasing the raw video footage of the events. When they refused to do this, he publicly tore up his BBC contract.

Why it Matters

The BBC has a reputation for objectivity. If BBC management was deceived by the video, along with the public, they should have a strong interest in uncovering and correcting this.  If there was an error, they should want to clarify, correct and ensure it is not repeated.

The BBC could go a long way toward resolving this issue by releasing raw footage of the scenes in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.  Why have they refused to do this? In addition, they have actively removed YouTube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. If they are proud of that production, why are they removing public copies of it?

Has the BBC produced and broadcast contrived or fake video reports in support of British government foreign policy of aggression against Syria? It is important that this question be answered to either restore public trust (if the videos are authentic) or to expose and correct misdeeds (if the videos are largely or entirely staged).

The issue at stake is not only the BBC; it is the manipulation of media to deceive the public into supporting elite-driven foreign policy. ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ is an important case study.

The Future

Robert Stuart is not quitting.  He hopes the next step will be a documentary film dramatically showing what he has discovered and further investigating important yet unexplored angles.

The highly experienced film producer Victor Lewis-Smith, who tore up his BBC contract, has stepped forward to help make this happen.

But to produce a high quality documentary including some travel takes funding. After devoting almost six years to this effort, Robert Stuart’s resources are exhausted. The project needs support from concerned members of the public.

If you support Robert Stuart’s efforts, go to this crowdfunding website.  There you can learn more and contribute to this important effort to reveal whether the BBC video ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ showed true or staged events. Was the alleged “napalm” attack real or was it staged propaganda?  The project needs a large number of small donors and a few substantial ones to meet the June 7 deadline.

As actor and producer Keith Allen says,” Please help us to reach the target so that we can discover the facts, examine the evidence, and present the truth about ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. I think it’s really important.”

The Western Media is Key to Syria Deception

By any reckoning, the claim made this week by al-Qaeda-linked fighters that they were targeted with chemical weapons by the Syrian government in Idlib province – their final holdout in Syria – should have been treated by the western media with a high degree of scepticism.

That the US and other western governments enthusiastically picked up those claims should not have made them any more credible.

Scepticism was all the more warranted from the media given that no physical evidence has yet been produced to corroborate the jihadists’ claims. And the media should have been warier still given that the Syrian government was already poised to defeat these al-Qaeda groups without resort to chemical weapons – and without provoking the predictable ire (yet again) of the west.

But most of all scepticism was required because these latest claims arrive just as we have learnt that the last supposed major chemical attack – which took place in April 2018 and was, as ever, blamed by all western sources on Syria’s president, Bashar Assad – was very possibly staged, a false-flag operation by those very al-Qaeda groups now claiming the Syrian government has attacked them once again.

Addicted to incompetence

Most astounding in this week’s coverage of the claims made by al-Qaeda groups is the fact that the western media continues to refuse to learn any lessons, develop any critical distance from the sources it relies on, even as those sources are shown to have repeatedly deceived it.

This was true after the failure to find WMD in Iraq, and it is now even more true after the the international community’s monitoring body on chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was exposed this month as deeply dishonest.

It is bad enough that our governments and our expert institutions deceive and lie to us. But it is even worse that we have a corporate media addicted – at the most charitable interpretation – to its own incompetence. The evidence demonstrating that grows stronger by the day.

Unprovoked attack

In March the OPCW produced a report into a chemical weapons attack the Syrian government allegedly carried out in Douma in April last year. Several dozen civilians, many of them children, died apparently as a result of that attack.

The OPCW report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” for believing a toxic form of chlorine had been used as a chemical weapon in Douma, and that the most likely method of delivery were two cylinders dropped from the air.

This as good as confirmed claims made by al-Qaeda groups, backed by western states, that the cylinders had been dropped by the Syrian military. Using dry technical language, the OPCW joined the US and Europe in pointing the finger squarely at Assad.

It was vitally important that the OPCW reached that conclusion not only because of the west’s overarching regime-change ambitions in Syria.

In response to the alleged Douma attack a year ago, the US fired a volley of Cruise missiles at Syrian army and government positions before there had been any investigation of who was responsible.

Those missiles were already a war crime – an unprovoked attack on another sovereign country. But without the OPCW’s implicit blessing, the US would have been deprived of even its flimsy, humanitarian pretext for launching the missiles.

Leaked document

Undoubtedly the OPCW was under huge political pressure to arrive at the “right” conclusion. But as a scientific body carrying out a forensic investigation surely it would not simply doctor the data.

Nonetheless, it seems that may well be precisely what it did. This month the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media – a group of academics who have grown increasingly sceptical of the western narratives told about Syria – published an internal, leaked OPCW document.

A few days later the OPCW reluctantly confirmed that the document was genuine, and that it would identify and deal with those responsible for the leak.

The document was an assessment overseen by Ian Henderson, a senior OPCW expert, of the engineering data gathered by the OPCW’s fact-finding mission that attended the scene of the Douma attack. Its findings fly in the face of the OPCW’s published report.

Erased from the record

The leaked document is deeply troubling for two reasons.

First, the assessment, based on the available technical data, contradicts the conclusion of the final OPCW report that the two chemical cylinders were dropped from the air and crashed through building roofs. It argues instead that the cylinders were more likely placed at the locations they were found.

If that is right, the most probable explanation is that the cylinders were put there by al-Qaeda groups – presumably in a last desperate effort to persuade the west to intervene and to prevent the jihadists being driven out of Douma.

But even more shocking is the fact that the expert assessment based on the data collected by the OPCW team is entirely unaddressed in the OPCW’s final report.

It is not that the final report discounts or rebuts the findings of its own experts. It simply ignores those findings; it pretends they don’t exist. The report blacks them out, erases them from the official record. In short, it perpetrates a massive deception.

Experts ignored

All of this would be headline news if we had a responsible media that cared about the truth and about keeping its readers informed.

We now know both that the US attacked Syria on entirely bogus grounds, and that the OPCW – one of the international community’s most respected and authoritative bodies – has been caught redhanded in an outrageous deception with grave geopolitical implications. (In fact, it is not the first time the OPCW has been caught doing this, as I have previously explained here.)

The fact that the OPCW ignored its own expert and its own team’s technical findings when they proved politically indigestible casts a dark shadow over all the OPCW’s work in Syria, and beyond. If it was prepared to perpetrate a deception on this occasion, why should we assume it did not do so on other occasions when it proved politically expedient?

Active combatants

The OPCW’s reports into other possible chemical attacks – assisting western efforts to implicate Assad – are now equally tainted. That is especially so given that in those other cases the OPCW violated its own procedures by drawing prejudicial conclusions without its experts being on the ground, at the site of the alleged attacks. Instead it received samples and photos via al-Qaeda groups, who could easily have tampered with the evidence.

And yet there has been not a peep from the corporate media about this exposure of the OPCW’s dishonesty, apart from commentary pieces from the only two maverick mainstream journalists in the UK – Peter Hitchens, a conservative but independent-minded columnist for the Mail on Sunday, and veteran war correspondent Robert Fisk, of the little-read Independent newspaper (more on his special involvement in Douma in a moment).

Just as the OPCW blanked the findings of its technical experts to avoid political discomfort, the media have chosen to stay silent on this new, politically sensitive information.

They have preferred to prop up the discredited narrative that our governments have been acting to protect the human rights of ordinary Syrians rather than the reality that they have been active combatants in the war, helping to destabilise a country in ways that have caused huge suffering and death in Syria.

Systematic failure

This isn’t a one-off failure. It’s part of a series of failures by the corporate media in its coverage of Douma.

They ignored very obvious grounds for caution at the time of the alleged attack. Award-winning reporter Robert Fisk was among the first journalists to enter Douma shortly after those events. He and a few independent reporters communicated eye-witness testimony that flatly contradicted the joint narrative promoted by al-Qaeda groups and western governments that Assad had bombed Douma with chemical weapons.

The corporate media also mocked a subsequent press conference at which many of the supposed victims of that alleged chemical attack made appearances to show that they were unharmed and spoke of how they had been coerced into play-acting their roles.

And now the western media has compounded that failure – revealing its systematic nature – by ignoring the leaked OPCW document too.

But it gets worse, far worse.

Al-Qaeda propaganda

This week the same al-Qaeda groups that were present in Douma – and may have staged that lethal attack – claimed that the Syrian government had again launched chemical weapons against them, this time on their final holdout in Idlib.

A responsible media, a media interested in the facts, in evidence, in truth-telling, in holding the powerful to account, would be duty bound to frame this latest, unsubstantiated claim in the context of the new doubts raised about the OPCW report into last year’s chemical attack blamed on Assad.

Given that the technical data suggest that al-Qaeda groups, and the White Helmets who work closely with them, were responsible for staging the attack – even possibly of murdering civilians to make the attack look more persuasive – the corporate media had a professional and moral obligation to raise the matter of the leaked document.

It is vital context as anyone tries to weigh up whether the latest al-Qaeda claims are likely to be true. To deprive readers of this information, this essential context would be to take a side, to propagandise on behalf not only of western governments but of al-Qaeda too.

And that is exactly what the corporate media have just done. All of them.

Media worthy of Stalin

It is clear how grave their dereliction of the most basic journalistic duty is if we consider the Guardian’s uncritical coverage of jihadist claims about the latest alleged chemical attack.

Like most other media, the Guardian article included two strange allusions – one by France, the other by the US – to the deception perpetrated by the OPCW in its recent Douma report. The Guardian reported these allusions even though it has never before uttered a word anywhere in its pages about that deception.

In other words, the corporate media are so committed to propagandising on behalf of the western powers that they have reported the denials of official wrongdoing even though they have never reported the actual wrongdoing. It is hard to imagine the Soviet media under Stalin behaving in such a craven and dishonest fashion.

The corporate media have given France and the US a platform to reject accusations against the OPCW that the media themselves have never publicly raised.

Doubts about OPCW

The following is a brief statement (unintelligible without the forgoing context) from France, reported by the Guardian in relation to the latest claim that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons this week: “We have full confidence in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

But no one, except bloggers and academics ignored by the media and state authorities, has ever raised doubts about the OPCW. Why would the Guardian think these French comments worthy of reporting unless there were reasons to doubt the OPCW? And if there are such reasons for doubt, why has the Guardian not thought to make them public, to report them to its readers?

The US state department similarly came to the aid of the OPCW. In the same Guardian report, a US official was quoted saying that the OPCW was facing “a continuing disinformation campaign” from Syria and Russia, and that the campaign was designed “to create the false narrative that others [rather than Assad] are to blame for chemical weapons attacks”.

So Washington too was rejecting accusations against the OPCW that have never been reported by the state-corporate media.

Interestingly, in the case of US officials, they claim that Syria and Russia are behind the “disinformation campaign” against the OPCW, even though the OPCW has admitted that the leaked document discrediting its work is genuine and written by one of its experts.

The OPCW is discredited, of course, only because it sought to conceal evidence contained in the leaked document that might have exonerated Assad of last year’s chemical attack. It is hard to see how Syria or Russia can be blamed for this.

Colluding in deception

But more astounding still, while US and French officials have at least acknowledged that there are doubts about the OPCW’s role in Syria, even if they unjustifiably reject such doubts, the corporate media have simply ignored those doubts as though they don’t exist.

The continuing media blackout on the leaked OPCW document cannot be viewed as accidental. It has been systematic across the media.

That blackout has remained resolutely in place even after the OPCW admitted the leaked document discrediting it was genuine and even after western countries began alluding to the leaked document themselves.

The corporate media is actively colluding both in the original deception perpetrated by al-Qaeda groups and the western powers, and in the subsequent dishonesty of the OPCW. They have worked together to deceive western publics.

The question is, why are the media so obviously incompetent? Why are they so eager to keep themselves and their readers in the dark? Why are they so willing to advance credulous narratives on behalf of western governments that have been repeatedly shown to have lied to them?

Iran the real target

The reason is that the corporate media are not what they claim. They are not a watchdog on power, or a fourth estate.

The media are actually the public relations wing of a handful of giant corporations – and states – that are pursuing two key goals in the Middle East.

First, they want to control its oil. Helping al-Qaeda in Syria – including in its propaganda war – against the Assad government serves a broader western agenda. The US and NATO bloc are ultimately gunning for the leadership of Iran, the one major oil producer in the region not under the US imperial thumb.

Powerful Shia groups in the region – Assad in Syria, Hezbullah in Lebanon, and Iraqi leaders elevated by our invasion of that country in 2003 – are allies or potential allies of Iran. If they are in play, the US empire’s room for manoeuvre in taking on Iran is limited. Remove these smaller players and Iran stands isolated and vulnerable.

That is why Russia stepped in several years ago to save Assad, in a bid to stop the dominoes falling and the US engineering a third world war centred on the Middle East.

Second, with the Middle East awash with oil money, western corporations have a chance to sell more of the lucrative weapons that get used in overt and covert wars like the one raging in Syria for the past eight years.

What better profit-generator for these corporations than wasteful and pointless wars against manufactured bogeymen like Assad?

Like a death cult

From the outside, this looks and sounds like a conspiracy. But actually it is something worse – and far more difficult to overcome.

The corporations that run our media and our governments have simply conflated in their own minds – and ours – the idea that their narrow corporate interests are synonymous with “western interests”.

The false narratives they generate are there to serve a system of power, as I have explained in previous blogs. That system’s worldview and values are enforced by a charmed circle that includes politicians, military generals, scientists, journalists and others operating as if brainwashed by some kind of death cult. They see the world through a single prism: the system’s need to hold on to power. Everything else – truth, evidence, justice, human rights, love, compassion – must take a back seat.

It is this same system that paradoxically is determined to preserve itself even if it means destroying the planet, ravaging our economies, and starting and maintaining endlessly destructive wars. It is a system that will drag us all into the abyss, unless we stop it.