Tearing Syria Apart by Jeremy Salt

A war is being waged in and on Syria. Protecting the people from the dictator is no more than the usual pretext for attacks on Middle Eastern countries. The real target is not Bashar but Syria itself. It is Israel’s visceral enemy; it has got in the way of the West virtually since its emergence as an independent state in the 1940s; and for more than two decades it has been the central pillar in the Iran–Syria–Hizbullah ‘axis of resistance’. Unrest following the arrival of the ‘Arab spring’ was an opportunity that outside governments and their regional allies moved quickly to exploit. The United States, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey pooled their resources in an attempt to bring down the government in Damascus. Inside Syria their tools have been armed groups increasingly dominated by local and foreign jihadists who want to turn Syria into an Islamic emirate. They are the very people the United States and its allies were supposed to be fighting in their ‘war on terror’ yet here they are in Syria supporting them.

Egypt’s President Nasser once described Syria as the ‘beating heart of Arabism’. This was not just a rhetorical flourish. The Arab national idea was largely born in Syria. Aware of its central place on the map and in Arab nationalist thought, the French and the British tore it apart in the 1920s, carving off the best part of its Mediterranean flank to create Lebanon, and allocating southern Syria (Palestine) to the Zionists. In 1938 France took the process of dismemberment further, giving autonomy to the eastern Syrian Mediterranean region of Iskanderun, then allowing Turkey to take it over.

Syrians fought the French from the beginning of the mandate until the last French troops withdrew under British pressure in 1946.When the country’s first elections were held in July 1947, Shukri al Quwatli’s mainstream National Party won the largest block of votes (twenty-four) in a parliament numerically dominated by independents (seventy). Quwatli could not have known it but a declaration made four months earlier had already sealed the fate of his government. On 12 March President Truman had declared before Congress that the United States would assist ‘free people resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure’. The immediate targets were Greece and Turkey but in time the provisions of the Truman Doctrine were extended to any country the United States could argue was under threat of international communist subversion.

In Syria the dominant question in the late 1940s was the future of TAPLINE (the Trans-Arabian Pipeline), which the Bechtel Corporation had been contracted to build for ARAMCO (the Arabian American Oil Company). As planned in 1945 it would run from Saudi Arabia across Jordan and Syria before ending at a terminal on the Mediterranean coast. The initial idea of a terminal at Haifa had to be abandoned in favour of the Lebanese port city of Sidon because of the outbreak of war in Palestine. Popular fury at the state of Israel and all of its backers put Syrian assent to TAPLINE out of the question. At this point CIA operatives began sounding out right-wing Syrian army officers on what could be done about getting rid of President Quwatli. A pliant colonel called Husni al Zaim was found and installed as dictator with the help of the CIA on 30 March 30 1949.Within a few months he had given permission for the construction of TAPLINE, banned the Syrian Communist Party and declared his intentions to take in a quarter of a million Palestinians and make peace with Israel.

This was the beginning of a long US entanglement in Syrian affairs. By the mid-1950s the Syrian government was developing a close relationship with the Soviet Union and in 1956 the CIA and the SIS (Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service) conspired to overthrow it. What the British did not tell the White House was that it was simultaneously planning to attack Egypt in concert with France and Israel. Eisenhower was furious, but the redoubtable Syrian intelligence chief, Abd al Hamid al Sarraj, had already got wind of the plot and either arrested or chased the key conspirators out of the country. Towards the end of 1956 Operation Straggle gave way to Operation Wappen. This also failed, after Syrian officers brought into the conspiracy told their superiors what was going on.

Syria’s union with Egypt (1958–61) was followed by the Baath seizure of power. Opposition to the Zionist ‘entity’ remained as strident as ever. Clashes along the Syrian truce lines ended in the Israeli attack on Syria and Egypt in June 1967. Within three years the shock of defeat had helped to propel into power Hafez al Assad, then commander of the air force, who was to outwit the United States and Israel for the next three decades.

The main arena of their confrontation during this period was Lebanon. In 1976 the Arab League authorised Syria to send a ‘deterrent force’ into Lebanon to put a cap on the civil war. The right-wing Maronite alliance was already on the point of being defeated by the Lebanese Left–Palestinian–Druze coalition. Determined to prevent Israel from being given any pretext for intervention, Assad imposed balance on the warring factions. In fact the new Israeli Prime Minister, Menahim Begin, was already making it clear he needed no pretext to intervene in Lebanon. Begin’s first invasion of 1978 was followed by a much more extensive operation in 1982. This would necessarily involve conflict with Syria. Israel launched its ground operation on 6 June and followed through days later with a large-scale air attack on Syrian SAM missiles batteries in the Bika’a Valley. Of the nineteen missile emplacements, seventeen were destroyed, along with radar installations and dozens of Syrian planes. Without air cover, Syria’s troops were neutralised.

Assad was humiliated but did not have to bide his time for long. Global revulsion at the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps during the summer of 1982 marked the beginning of a sharp reversal for both the United States and Israel. They had driven out the PLO only for the vacuum to be filled by a Shia resistance movement far more dangerous than the Palestinians had ever been. In April 1983 a suicide bomber destroyed the US embassy in Beirut, leaving sixty-three dead. In October 1983 it was the turn of US marines sent to Lebanon as part of a multinational ‘peacekeeping’ force: 241 were killed in the bombing of their compound and fifty-eight French paratroops killed in a simultaneous bombing of the French barracks. On 17 May 1983 Israel imposed a ‘peace’ agreement on a puppet Lebanese government, only for it collapse less than a year later.

By this time Hizbullah had come into existence under the direction of Iranian cadres. The party issued its first manifesto on 16 February 1985. Just three weeks later, an attempt was made to kill a senior Shia cleric, Muhammad Hassan Fadlallah, widely regarded as Hizbullah’s spiritual mentor. Reportedly arranged by CIA chief William Casey, and funded by $3 million of Saudi money,[1] local operatives exploded a car bomb in the West Beirut suburb of Bir ‘Abid. It failed to kill Fadlallah but killed eighty others. In 1992 Israel assassinated Hizbullah’s Secretary-General, Abbas Musawi, in a helicopter missile attack that also killed his five-year-old son. Musawi was succeeded by Hassan Nasrallah, whose own elder son, Muhammad Hadi, was killed in fighting with Israeli soldiers in September 1997. Supported by Iran and Syria, Hizbullah continued to wage a successful war of attrition against Israel and its Lebanese collaborators. On 24 May 2000 Israel was forced to withdraw its forces from all occupied territory except the Shaba’a farms. On 10 June Hafez al Assad died, having lived long enough to savour this historic defeat of the Zionist enemy.

Towards the end of his life Assad engaged in backroom negotiations with the United States and Israel centring on the return of the Golan Heights. These approaches came to nothing but were no more than brief interludes in a continuing campaign to force Syria to its knees. It had been on the State Department list of states sponsoring terrorism since 1979 and, after the attack on Iraq in 2003, the pressure was cranked up. The neoconservatives had a long list of Middle Eastern countries they wanted attacked and Israel’s activists in the US Congress followed through with legislation aimed at crippling Iran and Syria. In December 2003 Congress passed the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act (SALSRA), placing bans on exports to Syria and dealings with Syrian banks and other financial institutions, and freezing US assets of Syrian government institutions and individuals. During the Obama administration such economic warfare, banned under the UN Charter, has been further reinforced, notably by the Syria Freedom Support Act and the Syria Sanctions Act.

At the same time the United States and Israel were still seeking means for getting Syria out of Lebanon. On 14 February 2005 a massive explosion on the corniche road killed former Sunni Muslim Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The killing was a masterstroke because of the way it united Sunni Muslims and Maronites in a wave of anti-Syrian fury. Syria had no choice but to pull its remaining troops out of Lebanon. Four ‘pro-Syrian’ military and intelligence officers accused of plotting the assassination were held for four years before being released for lack of evidence. Switching track without taking breath, the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon then claimed that members of Hizbullah had killed Hariri. In response, blaming Mossad, Hizbullah released intercepted aerial surveillance showing that an Israeli drone had tracked Hariri for three months, right up to the moment of his assassination.[2] Whoever was responsible, the success of this operation encouraged repeats. A wave of murders of ‘anti-Syrian’ journalists and academics followed the killing of Hariri, each blamed on Syria, each doing damage only to Syria, and not one ever solved.

In 2006 Israel launched a large-scale invasion of Lebanon aimed at the destruction of Hizbullah, only for it to be blocked a few miles from the armistice line and forced into a humiliating retreat three weeks later. By 2007 the failure to shake the Iran–Syria–Hizbullah strategic alliance was strengthening the Saudi view that the best way to fight Shia ideological fervour was with Sunni ideological fervour. In Iraq the United States had already been training a Shia death and torture squad inside the interior ministry to hunt down Sunni jihadis killing US soldiers. Now the Saudis would try to persuade the Americans that the sectarian weapon should be used to contain Iran and rising Shia influence across the region. In fact a full-scale military attack on Iran was the first choice of the Saudi king but such an attack would set off a chain reaction of regional and global consequences the United States and its allies might not be able to control. The option could be picked up eventually but in the meantime a range of effective secondary weapons lay close at hand: economic warfare, targeted assassinations (of Iranian nuclear scientists),cyber warfare(directed against Iran’s nuclear program) and support for militant Sunni groups, including those whose hatred of the United States was scarcely less than that of the Shia. The chief proponent of the last of these threads was Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the United States for more than twenty years (1983–2005), now Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, who assured the United States he could keep these groups in line. The United States came on board, with consequences that have already included some of the blowback many had feared. The well-planned attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last September, culminating in the death of the US ambassador and three other Americans, was the work of the same Islamic militants who had fought to bring down the government of Muammar al Qadhafi under the protection of NATO air power.[3]

The United States was well aware of the ambiguities in its relationship with Saudi Arabia. In 2008 Hillary Clinton claimed that Saudi donors were the ‘most significant source of funding for Sunni terrorist groups worldwide’, including Al Qaida, the Taliban and Lashkari-Taiba in Pakistan. Other sources of funding included the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait, with Qatar’s level of cooperation on counterterrorism issues ‘considered the worst in the region’. [4]

A ‘strategic embrace’ between Saudi Arabia and Israel and the destabilisation of Syria, with the Saudi government providing ‘funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashar [al] Assad’ and thus the Iran–Syria–Hizbullah strategic alliance were specific aspects of the new US–Saudi regional strategy.[5] In 2008 the Saudis put forward a plan for intervention in Lebanon by an Arab force drawn from ‘periphery states’. Representing a ‘security response’ to Hizbullah’s ‘military challenge’ to the government in Beirut, the force would be provided with US and NATO aerial and naval cover.[6] Around the time this scheme was proposed, Bandar bin Sultan and Jeffrey Feltman (US ambassador to Lebanon 2004–08) were reported to have devised a detailed plan for the destabilisation of Syria.[7] Feltman had previously coordinated the delivery of billions of dollars in aid to the pro-US Lebanese government. Some of it was channelled in the direction of Sunni jihadis already being cultivated by Saad Hariri, Rafiq’s son and point man for the United States and Saudi Arabia inside Lebanon. Iraq was then in the process of being partitioned between the Kurdish governorate in the north and the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad; in the view of Hassan Nasrallah, chaos and partition was the formula the anti-Shia alliance had in mind for Lebanon and Syria as well.[8] Coincidentally or not, the breakdown of the central Middle Eastern lands into bite-sized ethno-religious statelets has been an Israeli strategic goal for decades.[9]

The sectarian war taking shape encompassed Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the ‘Shia crescent’ in the Middle East. In Iraq a long-running campaign of suicide bombings directed against the Shia population led to charges being laid against the Sunni Muslim Vice President Tariq al Hashimi in 2011 for running death squads. Hashimi fled to the Kurdish north before moving on to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, all three Sunni Muslim countries refusing Iraqi requests to hand him over. Sunni militants who once fought the Americans are now fighting in Syria as well as planning to bring down the Shia-dominant government in Baghdad with the help of the Gulf States. ‘We have coordinated with countries like Qatar and Saudi and Jordan. We are organising, training and equipping ourselves but we will start peacefully until the right moment arrives. We won’t be making the same mistakes. Baghdad will be destroyed this time’.[10] In Bahrain Saudi Arabia intervened militarily to prop up the Sunni Muslim minority government against the Shia majority, while putting down demonstrations by the Shia majority in its own eastern province. In Pakistan, Gulf donors and charities have poured millions of dollars into the funding of salafist madrasas and jihadi groups such as Lashkari-Janghvi, which has unleashed a rolling wave of suicide bombings against Shia targets. Such attacks were virtually unknown until a few years ago.

The existence of the Bandar bin Sultan–Feltman plan cannot be confirmed but given the ‘redirection’ of US policy in accordance with Saudi thinking,[11]and taking into account the strenuous efforts already being made to destabilise Syria through economic sanctions and financing the opposition, the development of such a plan seems no more than a logical extension of a process already underway. Key elements in this blueprint for sectarian warfare included the exploitation of legitimate opposition to the ‘regime’; the mobilisation of young people; the formation of a network of thugs and criminals (preferably non-Syrians); the training of ‘activists’ in the use of videos and social media for propaganda purposes; the provision of all necessary communications equipment, including mobile phones with a virtual country code (the Thurayya phones produced in the UAE fitted the bill); the infiltration of peaceful demonstrations by agents provocateur; the killing of demonstrators by snipers using the same guns and ammunition as the police or army so the state could be blamed; the incitement of sectarian massacres; the burning of Baath Party offices and other public buildings and the smashing of images of Bashar and his father. The entire project would be underwritten with $2 billion of seed money by Saudi Arabia.[12]

On 12 January 2011 Hizbullah and its allies withdrew from the Lebanese government, bringing about its collapse and demonstrating yet again the political ineffectiveness of Saad Hariri and his allies. Something more forceful had to be done to stem a fast-running Shia tide: a plan was on the drawing board, and as the ‘Arab spring’ metastasised across the region, an opportunity arose for it to be activated. The flight of Zine al Abidine ben Ali from Tunis (11 January 2011) and the resignation of Husni Mubarak (11 February) were losses to the United States but, adapting quickly, it sought to turn the ‘Arab spring’ to its advantage. Negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt played out well, with elections bringing to power a president openly committed to maintaining the 1979 peace treaty with Israel despite his movement’s rhetorical opposition to both Israel and Zionism. Protests in Libya created an opening to get rid of an eccentric ruler who had been a thorn in the side of the West for decades. In Syria serious protests broke out in the southern city of Dara’a on 15 Marchafter the arrest of students for scrawling anti-government graffiti on walls, but only when Qadhafi had been dealt with could the same coalition that had been assembled against Libya turn its full attention to the government in Damascus.

If there was no Bandar bin Sultan–Feltman plan, the coincidence with how the situation in Syria has developed is certainly striking. The narrative of a peace-loving people rising up against the dictator was a fabrication in both Libya and Syria. There was no popular revolt against Qadhafi. There was a protest movement in Benghazi which Britain, France and the United States quickly exploited in their own interests. This was their war and the ‘rebels’ advancing westward under a blanket of NATO missiles were their tools on the ground. In Syria a distinction has to be made between a system most Syrians don’t like and a president even his enemies concede many Syrians do like.[13] Support for the armed groups is hard to gauge because when heavily armed men whose reputations for brutality have preceded them turn up in a city, town or village, people are going to ‘support’ them out of fear of the consequences if they don’t. The armed groups are not wanted in many of the cities they have infiltrated: in Aleppo even the FSA admitted that 70 per cent of the people support the government, and food shortages along with the brutality of the armed groups has caused further alienation and anger.[14]

This all points to a carefully orchestrated plan to drag the Syrian government into a maelstrom of violence intended to suck it downwards to its eventual destruction. Arms were being shipped into Syria from Lebanon and Turkey at a very early stage of the protest movement and jihadis were crossing borders from Iraq and Lebanon to take part in the fighting. Dominating the narrative was all important and on this front the Syrian government was not in the race. Truth was indeed the first casualty but whatever the truth was of accusations made by ‘activists’ against the Syrian army and the civilian paramilitaries called the shabiha, the armed groups, even on the evidence of their own videos and mobile phone footage, were guilty of committing atrocities against civilians as well as captured soldiers. Journalists smuggled into the country and moving around under the protection of the armed groups were never going to see what these groups did not want them to see. Such was the situation in Homs, where the siege of the infiltrated suburb of Baba Amr commanded global media attention for weeks, reaching a peak of intensity with the murders of the journalist Marie Colvin, a French journalist who was with her and a third man who remains unidentified. Only when the media had lost interest was it revealed that the rebel battalion at the heart of the action, the Free Syrian Army’s Faruq Brigade, had maintained a special squad whose job it was to take captives to a burial ground and cut their throats.[15]

Again, if there was no plan, the coincidence between with the ‘redirection’ and the Bandar bin Sultan–Feltman plan and what was happening in Syria was striking. Financed and armed by the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and mobilised in southeastern Turkey, salafist jihadis streamed into Syria from the four corners of the Muslim world: Libyans (the first large batch), Tunisians, Saudis, Egyptians, Turks, Chechens, Pakistanis, Lebanese, Jordanians and Saudis (even criminals sentenced to death for murder or drug dealing were released from Saudi prisons if they agreed to fight in Syria[16]).The crimes committed by these Muslim contras include summary executions, massacres, bombing targeting civilians, murder of workers at state institutions, rape, kidnapping, attacks on Alawi and Christian villages, plunder of businesses and private dwellings and an enormous level of infrastructural sabotage. Recent attacks on civilians include a car bombing in central Damascus that killed fifty-five, including many school children (21 February); the suicide bombing inside the Iman mosque that killed an elderly Islamic scholar, Muhammad Said Ramadan al Bouti, and forty-eight others (21 March); and the mortar attack on Damascus University that killed ten students (28 March). Commenting on the killing of civilians in Damascus, British reporter Alex Thomson concluded that ‘it is hard to build any other case than that the rebel tactic here is pure terror and demoralisation’.[17]

Syria was never going to be broken as Libya was. The fact the army has not disintegrated is proof it is an army and not the media’s ‘Assad loyalists’. Similarly, while there have been some defections, the government has also held up to the intense pressures of the past two years, showing that it is a government, not a ‘regime’. It still has strong public support. Syrians want change but not at the expense of the destruction of the country, a sentiment that is probably stronger now in light of the devastation of the past two years. While the exiles call for even more armed intervention, the domestic peaceful opposition opposes it. The National Coordination Body for Democratic Change is a coalition of thirteen leftist political parties and a number of independents and can therefore be said to represent a significant body of public opinion. It opposes both the militarisation of the conflict and foreign intervention; it is just as strongly opposed to the system as the exiles but regards dialogue as the way out.

In early 2013 the United States, Britain and France deepened their involvement in Syria by deciding to supply the ‘rebels’ with ‘non-lethal’ battlefield equipment such as body armour and armoured vehicles. Their official refusal to go so far as supplying weapons is meaningless in light of their approval of weapons being shipped into Syria by their Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya, including arms supplied to Saudi Arabia and diverted to Syria in breach of US arms export control regulations. Earlier reports that the United States and Britain were directly involved in the arms traffic have now been pulled together in an account of a plan aimed at another attempt to capture Damascus, five previous attempts having failed. This covert operation involves the supply of at least 3500 tons of weapons, many of them more powerful than the armed groups were previously receiving. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are paying for these weapons while Turkey and Jordan are said to be providing ‘the land channels for the shipments to reach the rebels’ once the weapons have been airlifted to airports in both countries. Many of the arms are coming from Croatia and Eastern Europe.[18] The scale of the airlift ‘simply dwarfs the massive weapons airlift mounted for the Afghan resistance in the 1980s’.[19]

Obama has said he will support only ‘moderates’ inside Syria but how he could make sure no arms end up with the ‘extremists’ is far from clear and is probably impossible. If by ‘moderates’ he means groups that have not committed all or some of the crimes listed in this article, there are no ‘moderates’ in the armed opposition. The United States plans to channel weapons supplies through the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA). As this is no more than a name given to fragmented groups acting on their own initiative it is hard to see what its ‘military command’ actually commands.

The Syrian National Coalition, of which the FSA is the military wing, has its own command problems. On 19 March the coalition elected as its ‘prime minister’ Ghassan Hitto, a computer scientist from Texas who has not seen the country of his birth for several decades. The election followed a struggle behind the scenes by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Hitto is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is supported by Qatar and opposed by Saudi Arabia. Thus the outcome was a victory for Qatar. The election was also seen as an attempt by Qatar to railroad an attempt by Russia to set up negotiations with the government in Damascus involving Muadh al Khatib, the coalition’s president. Khatib and twelve other members of the coalition resigned in protest at Hitto’s election, with the commander of the FSA, Salim Idris, also rejecting his authority. The quarreling continued at the Arab League summit in Doha a few days later, with the Saudi and Qatari delegates ‘shouting abuse at each other down the corridor and exchanging blows in private rooms’.[20] This time the outcome appears to have been a victory for Saudi Arabia despite the prominent role played by Qatar: it was Khatib and not Hitto who was awarded Syria’s seat at the summit meeting before clamouring to have it at the United Nations as well.

Enough is not yet enough. The United States, France, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are determined to destroy the central pillar in the Middle East axis of resistance even at the risk of destroying Syria. Not since the end of the First World War has a Middle Eastern country been targeted for destruction in such a remorseless fashion. The means are justified by the end: as a geo-strategic triumph, the destruction of the Syrian government would eclipse the sidelining of Egypt through the 1979 treaty with Israel and perhaps surpass even the destruction of Iraq as a unitary state. The stakes could not be higher: nothing is beyond contemplation, including the assassination of Bashar if his enemies think they can get away with it. The outcome of this latest phase of the long-running struggle for Syria will determine the future of the Middle East for many decades to come.

March, 2013

[1] The plot to kill Fadlallah was dealt with in a book on covert US actions by former Washington Postinvestigative reporter Bob Woodward, The Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 981-87. For a summary see Mary McGrory, ‘Woodward Sheds Light on Covert Actions’, Orlando Sentinel, September 30, 1987.

[2] The disclosure and showing of the intercepted film came at the end of a long speech made by Nasrallah in 2010 dealing with the arrests of Israeli spies in Lebanon and the interception of Israeli aerial surveillance going back to 1997. See Martin Dick, ‘Nasrallah Unveils ‘Israeli Footage’ of Hariri route, Daily Star ,Beirut, August 10, and a Reuter’s news service report, Mariam Karouny,’Hizbullah Says Israel Staked Out Hariri’s Route’, Beirut, August 10,2010. For those who would prefer unmediated accounts to Reuter or a newspaper which is not friendly to Hizbullah, Nasrallah’s speech (all 2 hours 36 minutes of it) is available on You Tube with an English translation (‘SayyedNasrallah – Hariri Assassination Evidence Expose). The English transcript can be found on the Hizbullah website Moqawama (‘Full Text of Hizbullah SG press conference on of former PM Hariri assassination).Nasrallah also disclosed that intercepted video transmissions had been used in 1997 to set up an ambush in which 12 Israeli commandos of an elite brigade were killed.References:

[3] For US involvement in the training and funding of the special force inside the Iraqi Interior Ministry, especially the role of CIA agent Colonel James Steele, see the Guardian special report and accompanying 51-minute video, ‘From El Salvador to Iraq: Washington’s man behind brutal police squads, March 6, 2013. See also Gareth Porter, ‘How Petraeus Quietly Stoked the Fires of Sectarian War Without Getting Burned’, Truthout, December 4,2012. For an older but detailed account with references to leaked documents see Kevin Gosztola on Firedoglake blogsite, ‘Iraq War Logs Reveal US Chose ‘El Salvador Option’ to Secure Iraq,’ October 26, 2010. On US-Saudi relations and how the US became involved in ‘a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims’ see Seymour Hersh, ‘The Redirection’, New Yorker, March 5, 2007. The conflict pitted what Condoleezza Rice called Sunni ‘moderates’ against Shia ‘extremists’ although it should be noted that Saudi Arabia was also concerned about Sunni Muslim groups that did not embrace its own interpretation of Islam. Outside the Middle East Saudi and other gulf money flowed into Pakistan for the funding of salafist madrasas and militant groups carrying out frequent bombing attacks on the Shia minority. For further insights see Alistair Crooke, ‘Towards a new Arab cultural revolution, Asiatimes Online, June 13, 2012; ‘Wikileaks: Saudi Arabia, UAE funded extremist networks in Pakistan’, Tribune Express [International Herald Tribune], May 22, 2011; and Murtaza Husain, Pakistan’s Shia Genocide’, Al Jazeera, November 26, 2012. On the murder of Chris Stevens, see Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, ‘Pro al Qaeda group seen behind deadly Benghazi attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stephens’, CNN, September 12, 2012. Although the group that killed him was of recent formation, eastern Libya had been a source of Al Qaida-connected recruitment and mobilization for years.References:

[4] See ‘Wikileaks: Saudis ‘chief funders of Sunni militants’, BBC News, December 5, 2010. http://www.bbc.news.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11923176

[5] Seymour Hersh, ‘The Redirection’.

[6] See ‘Saudi Plan for Anti-Hizbullah Force’, Al Jazeera, December 8, 2010. www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2010/12/20101281561243814.html

[7] The alleged plan of destabilisation was published on the Champress website. Not untypically, your correspondent has misplaced his printed copy. It is no longer on the site but the full text can be found on the Adib S. Kawar blogspot, ‘Conspiracy by Bandar bin Sultan and Feltman to destroy Syria’, July 30, 2011. For an Israeli interpretation see ZviBar’el, ‘Why did website linked to Syrian regime publish US-Saudi plan to oust Assad?’, Haaretz, March 30, 2011. This article notes the striking resemblance between the plan and what was happening in Syria by early 2011. Refrerences:

[8] See ‘The Redirection.’

[9] For details see Oded Yinon, ‘A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties’, Kivunim (Directions), issue 14, winter, 5742, February, 1982. Translated and edited by Israel Shahak, with an introduction, by the Association of Arab-American Graduates. See www.members.tripod.com/alabasters_archive/Zionist_plan.html It should be pointed out that Israel was well aware of the strategic gains to be made by exploiting sectarian divisions long before the publication of this plan.

[10] Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, ‘Iraq Sunnis await a Baghdad spring’, Guardian, Ramadi, March 13, 2013. The ‘mistakes’ refer to infighting and the mistreatment of civilians during the resistance to the Americans. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/13/Iraq-sunnis-unite-oust-shia-government

[11] See previous reference to ‘The Redirection.’

[12] For details of the plan, see the previous reference to the Adib S. Kawar blogspot.

[13] See Camille Otrakji, ‘The real Bashar al Assad’, The Syria Page, April 2, 2012. This excellent analysis goes into what Syrians like about Bashar and what they don’t like. Foreign policy and women’s rights are high on the list of his perceived achievements and his failure to curb corruption and introduce political reforms high on the list of his perceived failures. These failures would also have to include the adoption of free market policies which enriched the merchant class and further impoverished the rural peasantry, from whose ranks are said to come many of the foot soldiers of the armed groups. Being seen to have preserved ‘national dignity’ in the face of pressure from the US and the gulf states is a strong positive for Bashar. This article might help readers to understand why, if the mainstream media is right about ‘the dictator’, Bashar and his government remain in power despite more than two years of an insurgency fomented from the outside. www.creativesyria.com/syriapage/?P=150

[14] Yaria Bayoumy, ‘Insight: Aleppo misery eats at Syrian rebel support’, Aleppo, January 8,2013. These admissions are especially important given the uniform reporting of the conflict in the mainstream media from the perspective of the armed groups. www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/08/us-syria-crisis-rebels-idUSBRE_9070VV20130108

[15] Ulrike Putz, ‘The Burial Brigade of Homs: An Executioner for Syria’s Rebels Tells His Story’, Der Spiegel Online International, March 29, 2012. The claims he made were furiously denied by the commander of the Faruq Brigade, for which see ‘Don’t Drag Our Revolution Through the Mud’ on the Joshua Landis blogspot, but independently corroborated by another FSA commander. See Ziad al Zaatari, ‘Lebanon and the Free Syrian Army: A State of Denial’, Al Akhbar English, Beirut, April 6, 2012. The behavior of the Faruq Brigade in Homs was causing serious problems for other groups. See Sharmine Narwani, ‘Homs opposition: Al Farouq Battalion is Killing Us’, Al Akhbar English, May 13, 2012.References: www.derspiegel.de/international/world/profile_of_rebels_in_homs_and_their_executioners_a_824603.html

[16] The government document was originally leaked through a source in Yemen. For details see Christof Lehman, ‘Saudi Arabia Commits War Crimes by Forced Use of Prisoners in Syrian Insurgency’, nsnbc international, December 10, 2012. See also ‘Saudi Arabia Sent Death Row Inmates to Fight in Syria in Lieu of Execution’, Global Research News, January 21, 2013. The document refers to hundreds of men of various nationalities sentenced to death for such crimes as murder, rape and drug use.References:

[17] Conflicts Forum Weekly Comment, March 22-29, 2013. http://conflictsforum.org/2013/cfs/weekly-comment/

[18] See ‘AP: ‘master plan’ underway to help Syria rebels take Damascus with US-approved airlifts of heavy weapons’, CBS News, March 28, 2013, and ‘Esenboga hub for ‘weapon transfer’’, Hurriyet Daily News, Washington, March 26, 2013. References:

[19]‘CF’s Weekly Comment’, Conflicts Forum, March 22–29 2013, http://www.conflictsforum.org/2013/cfs-weekly-comment/.

[20]‘CF’s Weekly Comment’, Conflicts Forum, March 22–29 2013.


About the author

Jeremy Salt

Jeremy Salt is associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University, Ankara.

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