Category Archives: Qatar

astroturfing for regime change: frontline in the (newest) war on the antiwar movement

A lot of good work for charity…

On Thursday [Feb 4th], David Cameron and Angela Merkel joined with lesser lights Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister, and the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah in London to host the “Supporting Syria & the Region 2016” conference.

Alongside many other luminaries including Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, European Council president, Donald Tusk, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, they were gathered – according to the “about” page of the official website – “to rise to the challenge of raising the money needed to help millions of people whose lives have been torn apart by the devastating civil war” by lending support to an “event built on 3 previous conferences that have been generously hosted in Kuwait.”

This hypertext link to “Kuwait” is intriguing to say the least. Following it you will read:

Kuwait is one of the world’s major international donors of humanitarian assistance and is both a pioneer and standard-bearer for the establishment of development funds in the Gulf region.

And:

Kuwait has increased its support for multilateral humanitarian action exponentially since the start of the crisis in Syria.

And how:

In September 2014, the United Nations, in recognition of Kuwait’s humanitarian efforts to bring together and galvanize the international community for the relief of the Syrian people, designated the State of Kuwait an “International Humanitarian Centre”.

Largesse that is indeed confirmed by an analysis paper published by the Brookings Institute back in December 2013. However, there is charity and there is charity…

Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups. These donors have taken advantage of Kuwait’s unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades now fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. […]

From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Kuwait-based donors—including one group currently under U.S.sanction for terrorist financing—began to pressure Syrians to take up arms. The new brigades often adopted the ideological outlook of their donors. As the war dragged on and the civilian death toll rose, the path toward extremism became self-reinforcing. Today, there is evidence that Kuwaiti donors have backed rebels who have committed atrocities and who are either directly linked to al-Qa’ida or cooperate with its affiliated brigades on the ground. 1 [bold emphasis added]

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Mission accomplished: the oil and the gold

Though the French-proposed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 claimed the no-fly zone implemented over Libya was to protect civilians, an April 2011 email sent to Hillary with the subject line “France’s client and Qaddafi’s gold” tells of less noble ambitions.

The email identifies French President Nicholas Sarkozy as leading the attack on Libya with five specific purposes in mind: to obtain Libyan oil, ensure French influence in the region, increase Sarkozy’s reputation domestically, assert French military power, and to prevent Gaddafi’s influence in what is considered “Francophone Africa.”

Most astounding is the lengthy section delineating the huge threat that Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves, estimated at “143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver,” posed to the French franc (CFA) circulating as a prime African currency. In place of the noble sounding “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine fed to the public, there is this “confidential” explanation of what was really driving the war [emphasis mine]:

This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).

(Source Comment: According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.)

Though this internal email aims to summarize the motivating factors driving France’s (and by implication NATO’s) intervention in Libya, it is interesting to note that saving civilian lives is conspicuously absent from the briefing.

Instead, the great fear reported is that Libya might lead North Africa into a high degree of economic independence with a new pan-African currency.

French intelligence “discovered” a Libyan initiative to freely compete with European currency through a local alternative, and this had to be subverted through military aggression. 2

The quoted document can be read in full at the U.S. Dept of State FOIA virtual reading room.

Click here to the full article “Hillary’s Dirty War in Libya” at Global Research.

Thus, to prevent Libya slipping outside the global financial stranglehold held by western financiers, the French led the way for Nato to unleash a barrage of “shock and awe” air strikes under cover of the dusted down UN “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine and a “no-fly zone”. This opened the way to the seizure and control of national resources including Libyan oil, and, if this recently declassified memo is accurate, Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves which were “intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency”.

The motive was always regime change and scare stories such as the one about Viagra-fuelled mass rape dutifully planted by our ever complaisant media, although quickly debunked, still served as an adequate pretext for “intervention”. Nato’s attack on Libya had nothing to do with saving lives:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said she was “deeply concerned” that Gaddafi’s troops were participating in widespread rape in Libya. “Rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and even so-called ‘virginity tests’ have taken place in countries throughout the region,” she said.

Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, says that “we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”. 3

Compare this with today’s callous indifference toward the plight of ordinary Libyans suffering the lawless mayhem of life in a failed state overrun with Salafist warlords. It isn’t hard to understand why. The west has “won” that war: the transnationals got what they wanted. “We came, we saw, he died”, as Hillary famously gloated. With Gaddafi dead, the real mission was indeed accomplished: the spoils were “ours”.

So ended one more episode in an already tedious and dreadful tale…

Read more about western motives for war on Iraq in this earlier post.

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Solidarity with refugees

By late Summer 2014, however, the exodus of refugees from war-torn Libya had become so great that the British government felt compelled to take action. And act it did, in accordance with its genuine concerns:

Britain will not support any future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, claiming they simply encourage more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing, Foreign Office ministers have quietly announced.

So Cameron and his government washed their hands of all responsibility. The “swarm of people” – Cameron’s own obscene description 4 – fleeing from a war in Libya that he had personally helped to ignite, needed to be held back whatever the human costs. Indeed, as the Guardian article of late 2014 continues:

Refugee and human rights organisations reacted with anger to the official British refusal to support a sustained European search and rescue operation to prevent further mass migrant drownings, saying it would contribute to more people dying needlessly on Europe’s doorstep. […]

The British Refugee Council chief executive, Maurice Wren, responding to the Foreign Office refusal to take part in future search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean said: “The British government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war.

“People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life-rings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.

“The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.” 5

However, these faceless boat-people were about to be given their humanity back, if only momentarily. It would take the horror of seeing the washed up body of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. An image of war that lodged in our minds and stirred feelings of sorrow and compassion more effectively than any amount of pictures of ruined buildings or grainy videos of air strikes. Almost at a stroke, the public perception of the “immigrant crisis” was altered. 6

Little more than a week later on Saturday 12th September, the Solidarity with Refugees event kicked off at Park Lane and headed to Downing Street “with speeches in Parliament Square from a number of politicians and public figures including Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the Labour party, and musician and activist Billy Bragg.”

In fact, Jeremy Corbyn had only been elected Labour leader a couple of hours earlier. Yet, almost immediately thereafter, and in characteristic fashion, he turned his back on the clamouring press hounds (who had done their best to ignore him up until then), barely acknowledging their presence at all, and made a short journey to speak instead to a mass rally in Parliament Square:

Parliament Square was packed with Corbyn supporters waving banners reading “refugees welcome” and other messages of support. They cheered and chanted “Jez we can, Jez we can” as he took to the stage hours after being voted Labour leader and demanded that the government recognise its “obligations in law”.

Corbyn said: “Recognise your obligations to help people which you’re required to do by law, that would be good. But above all, open your hearts and open your minds and open your attitude towards supporting people who are desperate, who need somewhere safe to live, want to contribute to our society, and are human beings just like all of us. Together in peace, together in justice, together in humanity, that surely must be our way forward.” 7

I wasn’t amongst the crowds, but I had lent a little support to the occasion by promoting the “Solidarity with Refugees” rally here on this blog in the preceding days. The announcement copied directly from a Stop the War Coalition email read (in part):

Stop the War has come together with many other organisations to call for a national demonstration in London. We are also urging our members, supporters and groups to take any action they can on that day where they live, alongside anti-racist and refugee groups.

Successive British governments have spent billions on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, plus on covert intervention in Syria. The outcome has been destruction of infrastructure across the Middle East, the growth of terrorism in the region, and the displacement of millions.

Their only solution is further war, even though it is increasingly obvious that this option is only creating yet more chaos. Just as we oppose wars, we try to show solidarity with its victims.

At the bottom of the page there was an accompanying list of those “other organisations” (also available on facebook):

National day of action called by Stand up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network War on Want, Peoples Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism and Black Out London.

However, if you follow the link from the Guardian instead (find it above), it takes you to a somewhat different list of key organisations posted on an alternative facebook page. This altered roll call reads in full as follows:

Supported by Syria Solidarity Movement, the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Amnesty International, Stand Up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network, War on Want, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism, Black Out London, Emergency UK, Student Action for Refugees, London2Calais, British Syrian Medical Society, Avaaz.

There are a number of variations between these lists, but I wish primarily to draw attention to two changes in particular (as highlighted). Firstly, at the head of this extended list there is a relatively unknown organisation called the “Syria Solidarity Movement”. Secondly, there is Avaaz.

Now, had I realised Avaaz were in any way connected to this action, I would not have promoted it, regardless of the endorsement of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and Jeremy Corbyn. Why? Because Avaaz is not, and never has been, any part of the antiwar movement – in fact, of all the prominent campaign groups, Avaaz was foremost in calling for military action against Libya. Having played a prominent role in bringing about the destruction of Libya, rather than offering up apologies, Avaaz then promptly demanded another Nato “no-fly zone” over Syria. (Read more here.)

So the presence of Avaaz at any event raises my suspicions. But then we also have the “Syria Solidarity Movement” at the top of the list – so who are they?

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Syrian solidarity and the lesser known “IS Network”

The [Solidarity with Refugees] protest was set up less than two weeks ago by Ros Ereira, 38, from north London. The former television producer, who currently spends much of her time looking after her toddler daughter, created a Facebook page on 1 September calling for today’s protest. Within a week tens of thousands of people had pledged they would come and she had the logistical support of major organisations including Amnesty, Stop the War, the Refugee Council and Syria Solidarity UK.

According to the same article in The Independent:

Ms Ereira said: “I was looking for a demonstration ahead of the European summit and when I couldn’t find anything my friends encouraged me to set up something of my own. I thought it would just be my friends and now unexpectedly 90,000 people have said they’re going to come.”

Abdulaziz Almashi, 30, co-founder of Syria Solidarity UK, will be among those leading the rally. Mr Almashi is a computer science PhD student who came to the UK from Syria in 2009 to study. He still has brothers in Syria working as a doctor and a dentist in field hospitals. “Syrians have been abandoned totally by the international community,” he said. “If the international community doesn’t want to stop the massacres in Syria, the least they can do is accept refugees.” 8

In fact, Abdulaziz Almashi, who shared the podium with Ros Ereira at the rally, was a co-organiser of the rally, as London’s Evening Standard makes clearer. 9  And this where the story starts to gets interesting…

For just who is Abdulaziz Almashi and the campaign group Syria Solidarity UK? Well, type “Syria Solidarity UK” into google and the top link brings up a site with domain name http://www.syriauk.org/.

Click on that link and you open the Syria Solidarity UK website which also calls itself the “Syria Solidarity Movement UK” or more simply “Syria Solidarity Movement”. The site also takes you to a facebook page for “Syria Solidarity Movement”. In short, “Syria Solidarity UK” (co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi) and the “Syria Solidarity Movement” (most prominent amongst the supporters of the “Solidarity for Refugees” rally) turn out to be the same organisation – or if there is any difference between them then I entirely fail to discern it.

As human rights groups go, this particular “Syria Solidarity Movement” is a relative newcomer, and certainly not to be confused with an entirely unconnected campaign group that shares an identical name – more on this later. The first sightings I could find appear in the articles of a similarly greenhorn Trotskyite website called “International Socialist Network”, which chose the ill-fated abbreviated acronym “IS”. 10

 

This lesser known “IS Network” formed from a splinter group of the Socialist Workers Party but then quickly became defunct, having “voted unanimously to dissolve itself in April 2015” less than two years after its formation in June 2013. “Sharing a rage and a desire for change is not enough to hold an organisation together in the long term,” they wrote in a solemn swansong.

But a year prior to their dissolution, IS Network posted this:

The Syria Solidarity Movement is a new organisation created by Syrian and socialist activists after the conference “Syria in the context of the Arab Uprisings”. Its [sic] an attempt to provide much belated solidarity for the Syrian revolution from the socialist and workers movement in Britain.

We’re currently trying to link up all the different student groups and activists who have been doing solidarity work on Syria in isolation, and build a cohesive movement which can begin to counter some of the slanders and lies which have dogged the Syrian revolution since it began.

And to be clear here: this initial call to recruit activists to establish a “Syria Solidarity Movement” contains a hypertext link to the same organisation later “co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi”.

The post then continues:

The main [lie] is that somehow what has happened in Syria isn’t a genuine revolution, or that its revolutionary potential has disappeared following the escalation of the military conflict. This is false. […]

We will do what we can to rectify this by promoting links between student organisations, trade unions and solidarity campaigns in Britain, and the civil opposition on the ground in Syria which still keeps alive the spirit of the revolution.

We have working groups for students, trade union activists, humanitarian aid and media. If you wish to volunteer for any, please contact us. 11

Later other “radical leftist” groups went on to promote this new offshoot called the “Syria Solidarity Movement”.

For instance, on September 10th (a few days prior to the rally in London), RS21 (short for revolutionary socialism in the 21st century, which is just a different splinter group made up of disaffected SWP members) wrote:

Suddenly, everyone is talking about Syria. Saturday’s demonstration will be in solidarity with all refugees, but a Syrian refugee is one of the key organisers. Campaigners from the Syria Solidarity Movement UK and Stop the War Coalition are among those involved in the planning, along with many other organisations. Everyone should welcome this commitment to unity against the government’s treatment of refugees and other migrants.

The article also adds a different piece of the jigsaw (since if Abdulaziz Almashi is one co-founder of the group, then who else works alongside him?):

As part of an ongoing discussion, Mark Boothroyd, who was a founding member of the Syria Solidarity Movement UK, argues that the mainstream anti-war movement has failed Syrian revolutionaries struggling against a brutal dictatorship. 12 [bold highlight as original]

Following the links (or my footnotes), it turns out that Mark Boothroyd was, in fact, the author of the previously quoted IS Network recruitment drive which had encouraged activists to join the new “Syria Solidarity Movement” (see above).

Later, in November 2015, the (supposedly) alternative magazine Left Foot Forward wrote:

“The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria.” 13

(With link retained – which connects, of course, back to the Syria Solidarity UK website.)

By December, Peter Tatchell, someone I once admired, was also linking arms with Syria Solidarity UK.

Then, on December 9th, a letter appeared in the Guardian. It was provocatively entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” and signed by (amongst others but in the order as published) Abdulaziz Almashi Syria Solidarity UK,  Peter Tatchell human rights campaigner, Darren Johnson Green party London assembly member (although not by Caroline Lucas), Muzna Al-Naib Syria Solidarity UK, and Mark Boothroyd Syria Solidarity UK.

It begins:

We write as previous strong supporters of the Stop the War Coalition and applaud its mobilisation against the disastrous UK and US attack on Iraq. Sadly, since then, on the issue of Syria, StWC has lost its moral compass and authority.

What the signatories to this letter share, it seems, is the opinion that war in Syria remains ‘revolutionary’ in character (in the Marxist sense); their condemnation of StWC continuing as follows:

As well as systematically ignoring war crimes committed by the Assad regime, StWC often misrepresents the opposition to Assad as being largely composed of jihadi extremists and agents of imperialism; marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny. 14 [bold emphasis added]

But this characterisation both of “the rebels” and the antiwar movement is demonstrably false. For the (armed) opposition to Assad is indeed “largely composed of jihadi extremists” having infiltrated as a fifth column during the very earliest stages of the conflict. That the opposition is comprised of mercenaries and terrorists is now well-documented (as I have previously shown). It is also easy to establish that these same jihadist groups have been bankrolled by our Gulf State allies and greatly assisted by Nato member Turkey. So they are indeed “agents of imperialism” (if, perhaps, unwitting ones) in a proxy war between, on the one hand, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and more broadly the US, Nato and Israel against Russia.

Moreover, the charge that StWC is “marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny” may provide a clever smokescreen, but it is also execrable nonsense. All it actually means is their own opinion has been marginalised, which is hardly surprising, since those leading the attack against StWC are neither “non-aligned” nor honest brokers for peace.

And this is why in the concluding sentences they talk only of the “Syrian people’s struggle against the war being inflicted on them by both Isis and Assad” 15 failing to include any mention whatsoever of the extraordinary array of jihadist factions fighting alongside the lesser forces of so-called Free Syrian Army (which is itself a dubious conglomeration of Islamist militia). There is no mention even of Jabhat al-Nusra – Syria’s main branch of al-Qaeda.

This is what Mark Boothroyd, co-founder of the “Syria Solidarity Movement” and signatory to the Guardian letter, concluded an extended piece he wrote in praise of “the rebels”:

For these reasons, whatever happens, the rebels will keep fighting. Spokesperson for Ahrar Al-Sham, Ahmad Qura Ali commented:

The regime continuing and Assad staying is a failure….It also demonstrates disrespect towards the sacrifices of the Syrian people and, even more importantly, irreverence towards the will of the Syrian people,” 16

Boothroyd’s tacit endorsement of Ahrar Al-Sham (amongst other ‘rebel factions’) tells us a great deal. For Ahrar Al-Sham (literally “Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant”) is indeed leading “the revolution” as one of the largest brigades in this so-called “moderate opposition”. And yet, Ahrar Al-Sham describes itself – on its own website – in the following manner [translation courtesy of Al Jazeera]:

“The Islamic Movement of Free Men of the Levant is an Islamist, reformist, innovative and comprehensive movement. It is integrated with the Islamic Front and is a comprehensive and Islamic military, political and social formation. It aims to completely overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and build an Islamic state whose only sovereign, reference, ruler, direction, and individual, societal and nationwide unifier is Allah Almighty’s Sharia (law)”. 17

This is the “revolution” Mark Boothroyd and comrades are backing today.

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Syrian Solidarity UK: leading the pro-war advocates

Earlier I outlined what you will find if you type “Syria Solidarity UK” into google. But what if instead you type “Syria Solidarity Movement” – that other name for the same organisation? The top link then turns out not to be the campaign group co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi and Mark Boothroyd, but a totally different and unrelated “Syria Solidarity Movement”. An organisation that adopted the domain name syriasolidaritymovement.org long before Almashi and Boothroyd decided to create their alternative.

So the immediate and most obvious question is this: why adopt the name of a pre-existing campaign organisation? An odd decision made odder since it automatically denies you ownership of a matching domain name. Indeed, can there be any rational explanation other than here is a case of deliberate identity theft? A new campaign group, with an outlook diametrically opposed to its rival, set up deliberately to overwrite it. Not conduct befitting a benign human rights organisation.

More surprising, maybe (please judge for yourself), is how factions of the erstwhile ‘radical left’ have fallen lockstep in line with establishment demands voiced by our corporate media who demand “intervention” in Syria. But then, once you delve into the articles above, a common theme emerges: the same one expounded in that front-running article published by IS Network (quoted above) “to counter some of the slanders and lies which have dogged the Syrian revolution since it began… that somehow what has happened in Syria isn’t a genuine revolution”. This stated goal of “keep[ing] alive the spirit of the revolution” is ostensibly the reason RS21, Left Foot Forward, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation are backing this new “Syrian Solidarity Movement”:

The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria. Our membership is made up of Syrians and friends of Syrians. Our positions are led by the needs and demands of Syrians suffering brutally at the hands of a criminal regime. 18

The above statement under the title “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians”, was penned by Syria Solidarity UK but published by Left Foot Forward. And what follows is another hit piece aimed squarely at the Stop the War Coalition in which the organisation accuses StWC of excluding “Syrians from discussion of their own country” and then lying about it. Yet in reality, this tiny group which has somehow managed to get tremendous media attention (more in a moment) has latched on to StWC in a deeply parasitical fashion. Here, for instance is Abdulaziz Almashi, co-founder of “Syria Solidarity Movement”, giving a soapbox speech outside the BBC before joining a Stop the War march on December 12th (a month to the day after his organisation published the statement above which lambasts StWC):

The problem is this: what is an organisation that openly calls “for action to protect civilians in Syria, including limited military action to enforce a no-bombing zone”19 doing at an antiwar rally in the first place? Worse, why is their co-founder provocatively waving the flag of “rebel armies” comprised of and affiliated to Islamist militia groups that were armed, trained and funded by western governments and their Gulf State allies? The answer Abdulaziz Almashi gives to all these questions is this one: “listen to Syrians”. A three word refrain that begins his speech, just as in sloganised form it lends legitimacy and moral authority to his whole Syria Solidarity UK campaign.

Moreover, as a slogan it is as fraudulent as it is deliberately dishonest. There is no singular Syrian voice. How could there be? Not that the gulf between pro- and anti-government sides is the razor sharp divide of Shia versus Sunni we are encouraged to believe. In fact, most of those who support the government including fighters in the Syrian Army are Sunni not Shia. 20 And if we are really to “listen to Syrians” then we will find a wide range of opinions (as you would from any other nation), although only a minority of those living in Syria who support these so-called “rebel groups”, which are indeed sectarian. What the majority desire instead, besides a rapid return to law and order, is the restoration of Syria as a secular society:

[T]he results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar’s royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad – the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene – so it was good that The Doha Debates published the poll on its website. The pity is that it was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.

That comes from an article by Jonathan Steele published by the Guardian more than four years ago in January 2012. He continues:

The key finding was that while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war – a spectre that is not theoretical as it is for those who live outside Syria’s borders. What is less good news for the Assad regime is that the poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future. 21

Click here to read Jonathan Steele’s full article entitled “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media”.

Reliable polls of the Syrian people are hard to find but a subsequent ones from May 2013 based on Nato data and published by the World Tribune also reported widespread support for Assad compared with almost none for the opposition. 22 Likewise, a more recent survey conducted last summer by ORB International, a U.K.-based market research firm, published in the Washington Post on September 15th, found only 21% of Syrians said they “prefer life now than under Assad”; 79% said “foreign fighters made the war worse” and; significantly, 49% “oppose US coalition air strikes”. 23 Once again, this is far from the ringing endorsement for “intervention” claimed by supporters of “Syria Solidarity Movement”.

So there are two points to highlight here. Firstly, the so-called “Syria Solidarity Movement” of Abdulaziz Almashi is not about “Syrian solidarity” at all. Indeed, rather than taking an impartial stance, it allies itself with the entire coalition of the anti-Assad forces (with the singular exception of ISIS from which it sensibly distances itself). Secondly, although it portrays itself as a human rights organisation, it is actually a pro-war movement – openly so once one delves into any of its literature – yet on occasions when it suits, it feigns an antiwar position.

In fact, once we consider the background and origins of “Syria Solidarity Movement” in any detail, it begins to look very much like a Trojan Horse set up to infiltrate and embarrass the antiwar movement. It is surely noteworthy, therefore, that both the BBC and Channel 4 have given this otherwise inconsequential and fledging organisation considerable airtime.

On November 5th, for instance, Muzna Al-Naib of Syria Solidarity UK was allowed ten minutes on BBC’s Daily Politics show to interrogate Labour MP Diane Abbott about StWC’s alleged “silencing of Syrians” when a few supporters of the group disrupted a public meeting. Throughout the studio debate, presenter Andrew Neil does his best to chaperone Muzna Al-Naib. Her political stance is never questioned and neither did he challenge the highly confrontational approach of the protesters (one of whom was the very non-Syrian Peter Tatchell):

(Incidentally, Diane Abbott comes across quite badly in this interview – not for the first time in her political career – but then so, in my opinion, does the unnervingly self-satisfied Muzna Al-Naib and insufferably smug host Andrew Neil.)

Here is Muzna Al-Naib again, now sat beside two likeminded compatriots answering softball questions on Channel 4 news on November 30th. The tone of the report is peremptorily favourable from the outset: “South London, where we’ve come to hear from Syrians, who know most about Syria, but whose voice is heard least… what do Syrian’s themselves actually think?” Direct echoes of the tendentious refrain of Syria Solidarity UK itself:

And here is Abdulaziz Almashi interviewed (a little more vigorously) by BBC news on December 23rd:

In little more than a year then, two representatives of the group (one a co-founder) have reached a television audience of millions and on at least three occasions. One has to marvel at such rapid success. What’s their secret…?

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Avaaz and Purpose Inc.

In one of the very first posts put up by the Syria Solidarity UK website, published in March 2015, there are two closely affiliated organisations that are hypertext linked. Here is the concluding section of the relevant article:

Following the 16 March [chlorine gas] attacks, Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, have called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria to stop further air attacks on civilians by the Assad regime. You can sign a petition in support on their website, www.whitehelmets.org.

Press release from The Syria Campaign.

See the syria2015.org.uk site for more on our 4th Anniversary March demand for a no-fly zone. 24

Each of the links above leads to a webpage that loudly calls for a “no-fly zone”. No great surprise given that at every turn of their own campaign this demand for western “intervention” is repeated. For example, this photo features prominently on the “about” page:

But what about those linked-in organisations: the “White Helmets” and “The Syria Campaign” – groups that also feature prominently as sidebar links beneath the heading ‘resources’? Cory Morningstar, an independent investigative journalist, has located the lynchpin. She writes:

The New York public relations firm Purpose has created at least four anti-Assad NGOs/campaigns: The White Helmets, Free Syrian Voices, The Syria Campaign and March Campaign #withSyria.

Adding that:

Purpose Inc. (with its co-founders) is a favourite of high-finance websites such as The Economist and Forbes and sells its consulting services and branding/marketing campaigns to Google, Audi, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many others that comprise the world’s most powerful corporations and institutions. In 2012, it raised $3m from investors. “Ford Foundation, which has given Purpose’s non-profit arm a grant, reckons it is shaping up to be “one of the blue-chip social organisations of the future.” 25

Click here to read the full article.

So is there evidence supporting Morningstar’s accusations of astroturfing? Well, this is where my own trail had also been inadvertently leading – but then it soon seems that all roads lead to Purpose Inc.

The Syria Campaign is a non-profit organisation registered as a company in the United Kingdom as The Voices Project—company number 8825761. (You can’t be a registered charity in the UK if most of your work is campaigning.)

We have a Governing Board who are legally responsible for the organisation and oversee strategy and finance for The Syria Campaign. The board members are Daniel Gorman, Ben Stewart, Sawsan Asfari, Tim Dixon and Lina de Sergie. [Bold highlights added]

That was taken from “about” on The Syria Campaign website. It continues:

The Syria Campaign is fiercely independent and accepts no money from governments, corporations or anyone directly involved in the Syrian conflict. This allows us full autonomy to advocate for whatever is needed to save lives.

Seed funding for The Syria Campaign was provided by The Asfari Foundation with supporting funds from other Syrian donors across the world who are frustrated by global inaction on Syria. [bold highlight added]

Following the trail a little further brings up who is behind “The Voices Project” (Avaaz also means “voice” by the way). It is a registered company and so comparatively easy enough to find some further answers:

The Voices Project 26 has a registered office address at c/o Paul A. Hill & Co, 3 Bull Lane, St Ives, Cambridgeshire [a firm of charter accountants who specialise in “tax services”] and eight current officers who are Sawsan Asfari (appointed 17 July 2015), Timothy Edwin Dixon (appointed 8 September 2014), Daniel Gorman (appointed 17 July 2015), John Jackson (appointed 8 September 2014), Salma Kahale (appointed 17 July 2015), Lina Sergie Attar (appointed 17 July 2015), Ben John Stewart (appointed 17 July 2015) and, last but not least, Jeremy Heimans (appointed 24 December 2013). 27

Most of those named tally with the board members declared by The Syria Campaign, but there are two exceptions – both highlighted above – Timothy Edwin Dixon 28 and Jeremy Heimans. Two names which alongside John Jackson (also highlighted) also form part of a different team:

Meet the team on a mission: when it comes to moving people towards action, we’re the experts.

A little of the blurb that greets you at the organisation called Purpose. And beneath the blurb are pictures of the shiny, happy people who work there including Jeremy Heimans, who is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer; Tim Dixon, listed as both Chief Political Strategist and Managing Director of Purpose Europe 29; and John Jackson, a Senior Advisor.

“Purpose moves people to remake the world” it says on a different webpage with rolling footage of an unnamed actor (Middle Eastern in appearance) being gently unblown up, a young child actress tinkering with a handgun in such a curious manner as to cause you to want to grab it off her, and a debonair couple, the black man eyeing an untouchable white companion. The message is this: we are cool, we are sophisticates, we are right on! It is a message determined to enter your mind like a maddening but seductive whisper.

On the “about” page, Purpose tells us more:

We create new organizations and ventures to tackle issues where mass participation and collective action can unlock big change.

This it admits with unflinching candour before adding how when it comes to their ‘philosophy’, Purpose deals in “Pragmatic Idealism”:

We take the world as it is in order to help make it what it ought to be. We challenge power when we need to—but that’s not all we do. We proudly collaborate with the public and private sectors, old and new power, allies and adversaries—all with eyes wide open.

And there is much more:

WE BUILD MOVEMENTS

Purpose creates new movements, brands and organizations from the ground up to address complex global challenges. We apply this experience as movement creators to our work with progressive companies, nonprofits and philanthropies, helping them to put purpose and participation at the heart of what they do.

BUILD

We deploy our award-winning creative campaigning and technology capabilities to launch new brands, technology products and social movements that stand out.

ACT

We rapidly prototype campaigns to scale and deepen engagement in our movements. We execute at all levels of ambition, directing some of the largest public engagement campaigns in the world today.

Then at the bottom of this page they provide a list of “Selected Partners” which includes Google, Audi, Ben & Jerry’s, alongside campaign groups including Walk Free, Oxfam, ACLU and – as you might expect – The Syria Campaign.

The business [Purpose.com] was co-founded by Jeremy Heimans, who calls himself a “movement entrepreneur”. Mr Heimans previously co-founded Avaaz, a campaigning group focused on poor countries, and GetUp!, a citizens’-rights group in his native Australia. Those were charities. Purpose aims to make profits, though not necessarily to maximise them. Like another big petitions business, Change.org, it is structured as a B Corporation, the American legal term for a for-profit company with a social mission. It has a non-profit arm, which incubates protests and accepts donations. This is cross-subsidised by its for-profit arm, which makes money in a variety of ways.

It sells consulting services to big companies such as Google and Audi, and to charities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. It helps them to build mass movements to support their favourite causes. Audi, for example, wants to design and promote machines to dispense clean water in India, a market where it hopes to burnish its car brand. Purpose also hopes to develop a business promoting “new economy” products such as solar energy. It will recommend to its members that they buy solar power from such-and-such a provider. In return, it will charge a referral fee. 30 [bold emphasis added]

From a puff piece published in The Economist entitled “Profit with Purpose”, under the caption “The business of campaigning”, which also lazily admits that “Grassroots movements have usually been built, as the name implies, from the bottom up.” To which the polite response is: codswallop! – there is absolutely no “usually” about it.

In short then, Purpose Inc is the PR firm behind Avaaz and all of its related campaign groups.

*

The White Helmets

You might think that after seeing the consequences of their campaign for “freedom and democracy” in Libya, journalists like Nicholas Kristof and “humanitarian campaigners” like Avaaz would have some qualms.

writes Rick Sterling (co-founder of the original Syria Solidarity Movement), as he attempts to disentangle the misinformation surrounding the White Helmets, Avaaz, war-advocate Nicholas Kristof and their joint calls for a Syria no-fly zone. He continues:

Unfortunately they have learned nothing. They have generally not been held to account, with a few nice exceptions such as this Greenwald/Hussain article. And now they are at it again. Many well-intentioned but naive members of the U.S. and international public are again being duped into signing an Avaaz petition based on fraud and misinformation. If the campaign succeeds in leading to a No Fly Zone in Syria, it will result in vastly increased war, mayhem and bloodshed.

The following illustration shows the sequence and trail of deceit leading to Avaaz’s call for a No Fly Zone in Syria.

Sterling then provides further background on the emergence of the so-called White Helmets:

White Helmets is the newly minted name for “Syrian Civil Defence”. Despite the name, Syria Civil Defence was not created by Syrians nor does it serve Syria.  Rather it was created by the UK and USA in 2013. Civilians from rebel controlled territory were paid to go to Turkey to receive some training in rescue operations. The program was managed by James Le Mesurier, a former British soldier and private contractor whose company is based in Dubai.

The trainees are said to be ‘nonpartisan’ but only work in rebel-controlled areas of Idlib (now controlled by Nusra/Al Queda) and Aleppo. There are widely divergent claims regarding the number of people trained by the White Helmets and the number of people rescued.  The numbers are probably highly exaggerated especially since rebel-controlled territories have few civilians. A doctor who recently served in a rebel-controlled area of Aleppo described it as a ghost town. The White Helmets work primarily with the rebel group Jabat al Nusra (Al Queda in Syria). Video of the recent alleged chlorine gas attacks starts with the White Helmet logo and continues with the logo of Nusra. In reality, White Helmets is a small rescue team for Nusra/Al Queda.

But White Helmets primary function is propaganda. White Helmets demonizes the Assad government and encourages direct foreign intervention. A White Helmet leader wrote a recent Washington Post editorial. White Helmets are also very active on social media with presence on Twitter, Facebook etc. According to their website, to contact White Helmets email The Syria Campaign which underscores the relationship. [bold emphasis added]

He also outlines the important role played by Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times:

The “White Helmets” campaign has been highly successful because of uncritical media promotion. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times was an advocate of the NATO/US attack on Libya. According to him, villagers who had been shot, injured and their homes destroyed were not bitter, they were thankful! “Hugs from Libyans” is how he viewed it.  It was, of course, nonsense, helping to pave the way in the invasion and destruction of the country.

Now Kristof is uncritically promoting the White Helmets, aiding and abetting their political and propaganda message seeking foreign intervention in Syria. 31

Click here to read Sterling’s full article entitled “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators”, published in Dissident Voice on April 9, 2015.

*

War on the antiwar movement

[But] Does the most hardened peacenik really believe that Iraqis currently enjoy more liberty and delight than they would if Saddam were brought down?

So wrote neo-con apologist Julie Burchill in her Guardian column as the Iraq War got underway. The same rant continues:

Surely this is the most self-obsessed anti-war protest ever. NOT IN MY NAME! That’s the giveaway. Who gives a stuff about their wet, white, western names? See how they write them so solemnly in a list on the bottom of the letters they send to the papers. And the ones that add their brats’ names are the worst – a grotesque spin on Baby On Board, except they think that this gives them extra humanity points not just on the motorway, but in the whole wide weeping, striving, yearning world. We don’t know the precious names of the countless numbers Saddam has killed. We’re talking about a people – lots of them parents – subjected to an endless vista of death and torture, a country in which freedom can never be won without help from outside.

Contrasting British servicemen and women with the appeasers, it is hard not to laugh. Are these two sides even the same species, let alone the same nationality? On one hand the selflessness and internationalism of the soldiers; on the other the Whites-First isolationism of the protesters. Excuse me, who are the idealists here?

Her antiwar invective then hisses to a climax in which she projects a picture of post-intervention Iraq that could hardly be more a variance with the horror of events as they unfolded and the chaos that remains:

What these supreme egotists achieve by putting themselves at the centre of every crisis is to make the Iraqi people effectively disappear. NOT IN MY NAME! is western imperialism of the sneakiest sort, putting our clean hands before the freedom of an enslaved people. But even those whose anti-war protests started in good faith now know that when Saddam’s regime comes tumbling down, thousands of Iraqis will dance and sing with joy before the TV cameras, and thank our armed forces for giving them back their lives. 32

It is Burchill, of course, who was most guilty of “western imperialism of the sneakiest sort”. Burchill, who through such naked propaganda supplied ammunition to snidely undercut the goodwill of the millions brandishing antiwar banners. The method is all in her slippery abuse of the English language: turning peacemakers into “peaceniks”, into “anti-war nuts” and, best of all, into “appeasers”.

So compare Burchill’s warmongering propaganda of a decade past to that more recent open letter written by Abdulaziz Almashi, Peter Tatchell and others published by the Guardian last December (and already quoted above):

Stop the War has failed to organise or support protests against the Assad dictatorship and the regime’s massacre of peaceful democracy protesters in 2011 – and since. Nor has it shown solidarity with the non-violent Syrian civil society movements for democracy and human rights and with the millions of innocent civilians killed, wounded and displaced by Assad’s barrel bombs and torture chambers. It portrays Isis as the main threat to Syrians, despite Assad killing at least six times more civilians. 33

The rhetoric is more crafted and less abrasive than in Burchill’s rant but the insinuation is entirely unaltered. That those attached to the cause of ending the war are merely the secret appeasers of a dictator. A still more uncanny similarity is how this recent onslaught against the antiwar opposition came so hot on the heels of another Commons vote for airstrikes. 34 And after David Cameron’s shameless characterisation of the peace movement — Jeremy Corbyn (such a prominent figure in StWC) very much included — as “terrorist sympathisers”.

As Tariq Ali (another founder member of StWC) wrote in response:

Since Corbyn is a founder member of Stop the War, the propaganda assault is essentially designed to weaken and destroy him.

The article entitled “The assault on Stop the War is really aimed at Jeremy Corbyn” published by The Independent, continues:

Stop the War was founded in different times [to previous peace movements]. It is and has been a coalition of individuals and organisations with differing views on many issues. This is as it should be and always has been with broad single-issue campaigns. It does NOT take positions on the demerits or otherwise of the Taliban, Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad. It is in favour of the withdrawal of ALL foreign troops (this includes the Russians) and bomber jets. The arguments against the war deployed by Stop the War are not all that different from some conservative columnists who cannot be bullied: Simon Jenkins, Peter Hitchens, Peter Oborne. None of the three are Corbynistas.  […]

The “moral compass” of the anti-war movement has not shifted. It is no better or worse since the day it was founded. Meanwhile the wars continue.

Click here to read Tariq Ali’s full article.

Following that Commons debate, the media were falling over themselves in rival bids to talk up what Tariq Ali rightly describes as “Hilary Benn’s pathetic pro-war speech (he voted for the Iraq war as well)”; relishing the chance to open up the fractures not so latent within the parliamentary Labour Party. Such swooning media focus on Benn’s opportunistic betrayal and forlorn attempt to appear Churchillian meant that Corbyn’s more measured speech was totally overshadowed:

[Notice: the video embedded above was taken down from youtube within 24 hours of posting this article — an alternative version can be found at the end of the article]

If the press had been more attentive, however, they may have drawn attention to a message received from a Syrian in Corbyn’s constituency by the name of Abdulaziz Almashi. He has asked me, said Corbyn, if the Prime Minister is able to guarantee the safety of his family when “your air force drops bombs on my city” [19.20 mins]. 35 And yes, this is Abdulaziz Almashi who leads the campaign demanding a “no-fly zone” over Syria, and whose organisation has been so scathing of StWC.

It would have been more honourable to deliver the message instead to the sympathetic ear of Cameron – a person who also wants “intervention” – even if in the eyes of the PM, Syrians living in exile, like Almashi, are just “a bunch of migrants” 36 – to quote his most recent outburst of casual bigotry. And Cameron does have more important matters on his mind too:

Instead, Almashi chose to spin Corbyn a line, hoping to be mistaken, as he was, for a fellow anti-war activist. It was a small propaganda coup that he instantly backed up by posting on the website of (please note) The Syria Campaign a message headed:

“Corbyn quoted me in Parliament today. Not bombing Raqqa [ISIS stronghold] isn’t enough. We must take positive action.”37

“Positive action” is code, of course, for regime change – just like “no-fly zone”.

It seems that Abdulaziz Almashi and the “Syria Solidarity Movement” he fronts will use any ploy to get attention. But then, given the intense media spotlight on his organisation’s earlier altercation with StWC, quoting from Almashi must be seen as a serious error of judgement on the part of Jeremy Corbyn too. And faced by so many adversaries in all quarters, he ought to take great care to avoid more serious stings in the future.

Click here to read an official ten-point response by the StWC to “the chorus of attacks” that was published on December 9th and entitled “It is the war party that has a reputation problem, not Stop the War”.

*

Concluding remarks

The war in Syria is hardly less inextricably wrapped up with the war in Libya than it is with the war in bordering Iraq. All three are products of western “intervention” and all three nations are now overrun with Salafist gangs. But there are important differences too.

The West’s role in the “shock and awe” annihilation of Iraq was an overt act of aggression and flagrantly illegal. Those most publicly responsible for orchestrating the fall of Baghdad have been justly disgraced. After the assault on Libya, however, an equivalently illegal act of western adventurism, that was likewise predicated upon a demonstrably false pretext, and set upon nothing short of regime change, the perpetrators suffered little to no opprobrium. A craftily negotiated UN resolution, quickly violated, provided useful cover. In general, the lies surrounding Libya have been much better concealed.

Meanwhile, this other grinding war in Syria, has been inflamed by terrorist militias closely affiliated to those now running rampant in Libya and Iraq, who are sponsored by Gulf State allies (including Kuwait) and often with the clandestine support of the Nato powers (Turkey in particular). In other words, in Syria the West has consistently led from behind, taking even greater care to cover its tracks. Otherwise, as I wrote at the top, this repeating tale is one as tedious as it is atrocious.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and not forgetting Yemen: this is really one war. A series of overlapping and interconnected battles for resources: oil, pipelines, finance, you name it. Wars to bring about regime change. Wars to capture and hold territory. And the one truly significant difference between old-fashioned imperialism and this swankier post-modern variant is in the branding. The public relations has stepped up a gear; it had too. So there is more guile to today’s propaganda, which is packaged and marketed using sophisticated strategies, then delivered into our homes via the new technologies and an increasingly complaisant media.

And the stated rationale for war is nowadays less haughty and considerably more liberal. Flag planting is out, as is any talk of “the white man’s burden”, and in their stead is ‘grassroots’ petitioning for “humanitarian intervention”. All the spin and the layers of gloss providing cover for the same old racket General Smedley Butler warned about more than seventy years ago. So here is a nice summary of how the same racket functions today:

Promoting the imperial social media fad of equivocating on US and NATO invasions that destroy entire societies, ostensibly because the current head of state is ruthless or corrupt, Avaaz apologists neglect the growing list of countries where these invasions have made things worse. Indeed, I am at a loss to find a country in my lifetime (1952-present) where US military aggression — either directly or through proxy mercenaries and US-financed and trained death squads — made things better.

Of course, if you look at militarism as a market-oriented strategy, then making war or creating armed mayhem is just part of doing business. With the crippling financial sanctions available to the US through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, invasion is just for show — part of the expected social spectacle — that routinely transfers wealth from the U.S. Treasury to Wall Street and the military industrial complex. 38

Click here to read the full article by Jay Taber published by wrongkindofgreen.org on Christmas Day.

The horrors of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya alone ought to be enough proof, if proof is actually needed, that western “intervention” is a failure (for the victims caught in the crossfire and trapped on the ground). Those calling for another “no fly zone”, as Abdulaziz Almashi and his friends on the radical left do, either have appalling amnesia, or else are acting in extremely bad faith.

*

Update:

Here is a different upload of Jeremy Corbyn’s Commons speech on December 2, 2015. In this version, Corbyn speaks about the letter from Abdulaziz Almashi at 18:30 mins in:

*

1 From an analysis paper entitled “Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home” written by Elizabeth Dickinson, published by the Brookings Institute in December 2013.

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2013/12/06%20private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson/private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson.pdf

2 From an article entitled “Hillary’s Dirty War in Libya: New Emails Reveal Propaganda, Executions, Coveting Libyan Oil and Gold” written by Brad Hoff, published by Global Research on January 4, 2015. http://www.globalresearch.ca/hillarys-dirty-war-in-libya-new-emails-reveal-propaganda-executions-coveting-libyan-oil-and-gold/5499358

3 From an article entitled “Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as a weapon of war” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent on June 23, 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/amnesty-questions-claim-that-gaddafi-ordered-rape-as-weapon-of-war-2302037.html

4

Speaking during a visit to Vietnam, Cameron told ITV News attempts to enter the UK had increased because “you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live”.

From an article entitled “Calais crisis: Cameron condemned for ‘dehumanising’ description of migrants” written by Jessica Elgot and Matthew Taylor, published in the Guardian on July 30, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/30/david-cameron-migrant-swarm-language-condemned

5 From an article entitled “UK axes support for Mediterranean migrant rescue operation” written by Alan Travis, published in the Guardian on October 27, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/27/uk-mediterranean-migrant-rescue-plan

6 Little Alan Kurdi’s limp body on that Turkish beach sparked many reactions. In response, some appealed for a humane European-wide policy towards refugees, while dreamers implored us all to imagine, John Lennon-like, “a world without borders”. Meanwhile, as the media lurched into one of its periodic feeding frenzies, the most callous opportunists used a personal tragedy to claim just cause for an intensified bombing campaign. Rupert Murdoch’s mouthpiece The Sun on Sunday ran with this deplorable headline:

For Aylan – Exclusive poll: 52% say bomb Syria now

On which side in the Syrian conflict this contrived 52% – of the staff inside the News Corp office, perhaps? – believed Britain ought to bomb was less clear. Two years earlier in the aftermath of the Ghouta massacre, it had been Assad in the crosshairs when he was declared guilty of the ordering the killing. The charge against him (and the Syria Army) was based upon reputation and has never been substantiated, but calls to bomb the Syrian regime became a matter of urgency. Had air strikes been sanctioned, then Syria, like Libya before, would now be overrun by jihadist “rebels”: a diabolical outcome, but no great surprise to the policymakers at the Pentagon or in the White House.

Instead, a miracle occurred. A (very nearly) unprecedented antiwar vote against any British government stopped this stampede to war in its tracks. It would be Ed Miliband’s finest moment as Labour leader (although largely forgotten) and briefly clipped the wings of the UK war party. In response, Russia then stepped forward to help broker a deal which led to the complete dismantlement of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Another little remembered act of peacemaking. But then, a year after America’s war against ISIS, Russia joined the military campaign (extending air strikes to other terrorist groups). This jolted Britain into joining the conflict. So three months after the death of Alan Kurdi and Murdoch’s sabre-rattling headline, new excuses were found. “Britain has got its mojo back!” These are the words of our Chancellor, George Osborne, when he visited the Council on Foreign Relations in the immediate days after the vote. And the CFR applauded.

7 From an article entitled “Thousands join Solidarity with Refugees rally in London” written by Nadia Khomani and Chris Johnston, published in the Guardian on September 12, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/12/london-rally-solidarity-with-refugees

8 From an article entitled “Refugee solidarity march in London set to attract some unlikely protesters” written by Emily Dugan, published in The Independent on September 11, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-solidary-march-in-london-set-to-attract-some-unlikely-protesters-10497351.html

9

In the event description on Facebook, organisers Ros Ereira and Abdulaziz Almashi wrote: “We have to ensure that refugees can reach Europe safely. There needs to be either official safe transport provided, or if people could apply for asylum from outside the EU they would be able to enter by official routes…”

From an article entitled “London refugee rally: Tens of thousands to join demonstration and call for action to tackle crisis” published by the London Evening Standard on September 3, 2015. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/london-refugee-rally-tens-of-thousands-plan-to-join-demonstration-and-call-for-action-to-tackle-a2926581.html

10

Within three months of the demise of the IS Network, Islamist fighters who were formerly called ISIL/ISIS had “declared the areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria as a new Islamic state” and “now simply refer[red] to itself as The Islamic State”.

Quotes from an article entitled “Iraq crisis: ISIS declares its territories a new Islamic state with ‘restoration of caliphate’ in Middle East” written by Adam Withnail, published in The Independent on June 30, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-declares-new-islamic-state-in-middle-east-with-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-as-emir-removing-iraq-and-9571374.html

11 From an article entitled “NOTE ON THE NEWLY FORMED SYRIA SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT” written by Mark Boothroyd, published by International Socialist Network on March 21, 2014. http://internationalsocialistnetwork.org/index.php/ideas-and-arguments/organisation/swp-crisis/international/375-note-on-the-newly-formed-syria-solidarity-movement

12 From an article entitled “The Syrian Revolution and the crisis of the anti-war movement” published by rs21 on September 10, 2015. http://rs21.org.uk/2015/09/10/the-syrian-revolution-and-the-crisis-of-the-anti-war-movement/

13 From an article entitled “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to the Syrians” published by Left Foot Forward on November 12, 2015. http://leftfootforward.org/2015/11/why-stop-the-war-dont-want-to-listen-to-syrians/

14 From an article entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” published by the Guardian on December 9, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/stop-the-war-faces-a-coalition-of-critics?CMP=share_btn_tw

15 Ibid.

16 From an article entitled “Can the revolution in Syria survive an imperial carve up?” written by Mark Boothroyd, published by Pulse magazine on October 7, 2015. http://pulsemedia.org/2015/10/07/can-the-revolution-in-syria-survive-an-imperial-carve-up/

17 From the Ahrar al-Sham official webpage: http://ahraralsham.net/?page_id=4195, translated from the original Arabic, which read:

حركة أحرار الشام الإسلامية حركة إسلامية إصلاحية تجديدية شاملة، أحد الفصائل المنضوية والمندمجة ضمن الجبهة الإسلامية وهي تكوين عسكري، سياسي، اجتماعي، إسلامي شامل، يهدف إلى إسقاط النظام الأسدي
في سورية إسقاطاً كاملاً، وبناء دولة إسلامية، تكون السيادة فيها لشرع الله -عز وجلَّ- وحده مرجعاً وحاكماً وموجهاً وناظماً لتصرفات الفرد والمجتمع والدولة

From an article entitled “Syrian Revolution’s Path after Attacks on Ahrar al-Sham” written by Malak Chabkoun, published by Al Jazeera on September 17, 2014. http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2014/09/20149147499306405.htm#a2

18 From an article entitled “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians” published by Left Foot Forward on November 12, 2015. http://leftfootforward.org/2015/11/why-stop-the-war-dont-want-to-listen-to-syrians/

19 Ibid.

20

Sunni Muslims make up 70% of Syria’s 25 million people and it is they who fill the ranks of the rebellion against Assad’s minority Alawite regime, considered apostates by Sunni clerics. Yet one reason why Assad remains in power despite being outnumbered by a rival sect is that many Sunnis are on his side, and their support is aiding his survival, say analysts and rebels.

“If Sunnis were united behind the rebels, trust me, Bashar would’ve fallen within days,” says Abu Qays, an anti-regime Syrian activist in the eastern city of Deir e-Zor who uses a nickname for security reasons.

From an article entitled “Sunnis fill rebel tanks, but also prop up Assad regime” written by Michael Pizzi and Nuha Shabaan, published in USA Today on August 1, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/01/syria-sunnis-assad/2599927/

21 From an article entitled “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media” written by Jonathan Steele published in the Guardian on January 17, 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jan/17/syrians-support-assad-western-propaganda

22

In May 2013, the US-based World Tribune reported, based on NATO data, that 70% of Syrians support Assad. The same piece suggested that 20% of Syrians surveyed felt neutral about the conflict, and only 10% supported the opposition. This figure has not been scrutinised, or even discussed, by most media sources.

From an article entitled “The Missing Question: Who Supports Assad?” written by Sophie Stewart-Bloch, published in the Huffington Post on December 30, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sophie-stewartbloch/syria-conflict-assad_b_4507894.html

23

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/15/one-in-five-syrians-say-islamic-state-is-a-good-thing-poll-says/

24 From an article entitled “Syria Civil Defence ‘White Helmets’ call for No-Fly Zone following chemical attack” published by Syria Solidarity UK on March 18, 2015. http://www.syriauk.org/2015/03/syria-civil-defence-white-helmets-call.html

25 From an article entitled “SYRIA: AVAAZ, PURPOSE & THE ART OF SELLING HATE FOR EMPIRE” written by Cory Morningstar, published on wrongkindofgreen.org on September 17, 2014. http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2014/09/17/syria-avaaz-purpose-the-art-of-selling-hate-for-empire/

26

The Voices Project was founded on 24 Dec 2013 and has its registered office in Cambridgeshire. The organisation’s status is listed as “Active” and it currently has 8 directors. The company’s first director was Mr Jeremy Heimans. The Voices Project does not have any subsidiaries.

Registered Address

C/o Paul A. Hill & Co
3 Bull Lane
St Ives
Cambridgeshire
PE27 5AX
United Kingdom

https://www.duedil.com/company/08825761/the-voices-project

27 https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/08825761/officers

28

The first position as a director we have on file for Mr Timothy Edwin Dixon was in 2014 at The Voices Project. His most recent directorship is with Purpose Europe Limited where he holds the position of “Managing director”. This company has been around since 21 Dec 2012. In total, Timothy has held 2 directorships, all of which are current. [bold highlight added]

https://www.duedil.com/director/919096216/timothy-edwin-dixon

29

Purpose Europe Limited was registered on 21 Dec 2012 with its registered office in Cambridgeshire. The business has a status listed as “Active” and it currently has 3 directors. The company’s first directors were Purpose Global Llc, Mr Simon Peter Willis. Purpose Europe Limited has no subsidiaries.

Registered Address

3 Bull Lane
St. Ives
Cambridgeshire
PE27 5AX
United Kingdom

https://www.duedil.com/company/08340026/purpose-europe-limited

30 From an article entitled “Profit with Purpose” published by The Economist on January 26, 2013. http://www.economist.com/news/business/21570763-how-profit-firm-fosters-protest-profit-purpose

31 From an article entitled “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators” written by Rick Sterling, published in Dissident Voice on April 9, 2015. http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/04/seven-steps-of-highly-effective-manipulators/

32 From an article entitled “Don’t take my name in vain” written by Julie Burchill, published in the Guardian on March 29, 2003. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/mar/29/antiwar.uk

33 From an article entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” published by the Guardian on December 9, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/stop-the-war-faces-a-coalition-of-critics?CMP=share_btn_tw

34 (Last time around) British Parliamentary approval for the invasion of Iraq had been granted in a series of two votes on 18 March 2003. Burchill’s attack on the antiwar protesters was published in the Guardian on March 19th. And the invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003. (This time) Parliamentary approval for airstrikes in Syria granted on December 2, 2015. Letter castigating StWC was published by the Guardian on December 9.

35 From an article entitled “Assad’s UK Syrian exiles demand a voice” written by Shaun Ley, published by BBC news on December 10, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35026975

36

David Cameron has been accused of using inflammatory language about refugees after referring to people in camps at Calais as a “bunch of migrants”.

The prime minister made the comments in the House of Commons on Wednesday as he criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s call for Britain to do more to help refugees in French camps.

Pointing at the Labour leader and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, Cameron said: “The idea that those two right honourable gentlemen would stand up to anyone in this regard is laughable. Look at their record over the last week.

“They met with the unions and gave them flying pickets. They met with the Argentinians, they gave them the Falkland Islands. They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais, they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hardworking taxpayers.”

From an article entitled “Cameron’s ‘bunch of migrants’ jibe is callous and dehumanising, say MPs” written by Rowena Mason and Frances Perraudin, published in the Guardian on January 27, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/27/david-cameron-bunch-of-migrants-jibe-pmqs-callous-dehumanising

37 https://diary.thesyriacampaign.org/corbyn-quoted-me-in-parliament-today/

38 From an article entitled “Imperial Social Media: Avaaz and the arms dealers” written by Jay Taber on December 25, 2015. http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2015/12/28/imperial-social-media-avaaz-and-the-arms-merchants/

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Syria

as RUSI welcomes a Nazi, should we be surprised?

In 1991 Andriy Parubiy founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine together with Oleh Tyahnybok. This is Oleh Tyahnybok:

The symbol chosen for their party was formerly used by a number of Nazi Waffen-SS divisions (2nd, 4th and 34th). It is based on a Norse rune and called a wolfsangel. It looks like this:

According to an article from Der Spiegel, “they called themselves the Social-National Party of Ukraine in an intentional reference to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist party.”1

In short, Andriy Parubiy, First Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council of Ukraine), former Head of the National Security and Defense Council, and the “Head of the Maidan Self-Defense Forces” (according to bio on RUSI website) is a Nazi.

So why is the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) hosting Andriy Parubiy as a guest speaker on the coming Friday 23rd at 11 a.m. in Whitehall, London?

Please note: the event is free of charge and “open to all” so if anyone is thinking about organising a protest then full details can be found here.

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The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) describes itself as “an independent think tank engaged in cutting edge defence and security research.” Its website goes on to say “RUSI is renowned for its specialist coverage of defence and security issues in the broadest sense. Our expertise has been utilised by governments, parliament and other key stakeholders.”

What it neglects to mention is that some of these “other key stakeholders” are outlets of the western mainstream media – broadcasters and press. The BBC, in particular, turns to RUSI whenever it seeks “free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.” 2 But as David Wearing of the School of Oriental and African Studies writes:

RUSI is not a neutral organisation, it is politically located, and its perspectives and priorities are highly contestable. A question can be raised about the BBC granting it such a regular platform, where some of that space might instead be given to others. But an additional problem arises where its voice is raised above the fray of mere ‘viewpoints’ into the realm of expert explanation. In conferring this authority on the RUSI worldview, the BBC is further empowering the think-tank to shape the deeper frames within which political discussion takes place.

To say RUSI is not “a neutral organisation” is putting it rather mildly. Heading the membership list of their Council immediately below HM the Queen, the Patron of RUSI, and HRH the Duke of Kent, its President, the first name we come to is RUSI’s Senior Vice President, General (Ret’d) David Petraeus. But then one wonders if there is any self-respecting defence and security think-tank which fails to include the disgraced former Head of CIA as a preeminent member. On his appointment in August 2013, RUSI announced:

This honorary role was created by RUSI’s trustees and advisory council in recognition of General Petraeus’ long association with the Institute and his distinguished contribution to the study and development of defence and international security concepts, as well as his implementation of those concepts in operations in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Earlier this year, General Petraeus was conferred RUSI’s Chesney Gold Medal for his lifetime service to the field of security studies and operations. 3

In other words, RUSI is so keen to acknowledge Petraeus’ “distinguished contribution” and already “long association” that besides a medal (something he must be in short supply of) it also awards him with a bespoke ‘honorary’ position. This is the same Petraeus who was found guilty of leaking highly classified secrets. The same Petraeus who more recently publicly advocated the arming of members of the al-Nusra Front (aka al-Qaeda in Syria) [A report can be found from August 31st in The Daily Beast].

As Trevor Timm writing for the Guardian rhetorically asks, “Could there be a more dangerous and crazy idea?”

Let’s put aside for a second that there’s not much difference between arming al-Nusra and arming “some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra.” How the US can possibly “peel off” fighters from a terrorist group is a complete mystery. In Iraq – Petraeus is apparently using part of the largely failed Iraq “surge” as his blueprint here – he convinced some Sunni tribes to switch sides temporarily, but that was with over 100,000 US troops on the ground to do the convincing. Does Petraeus think we should invade Syria to accomplish the same feat? […]

Petraeus is likely not the only one who thinks this plan to work with and arm members of the al-Nusra front is a good idea. There are probably many faceless officials and spooks who are pushing the same agenda in Washington, but Petraeus is the only one with enough clout to go ahead and say it out loud (since we already know he is above the law). Now you can expect a bunch of fresh hot takes explaining how Petraeus is right and we should be arming al-Qaida. 4

Click here to read the full article in the Guardian.

But then this year it was Vice-President General (Retd) Petraeus’ turn to present the Chesney Gold Medal. The award went to fellow Bilderberg bigwig Henry Kissinger who RUSI describe as “a man who has had a profoundly positive influence on the United States, the United Kingdom and our world”. 5

Back at “independent think tank” RUSI, former Tory leader and Foreign Secretary, William Hague (now Baron Hague of Richmond) was made Chairman in late July – an appointment that puts him one notch below Petraeus, but one above Vice Admiral Rory McLean CB OBE, RUSI’s Vice Chairman and a close friend of Prince Andrew:

Prof Michael Clarke, director general of Rusi, said: “The Right Honourable William Hague is the most ideal choice of chairman to succeed Lord Hutton in this role. His experience at the very top of UK politics since 1997 is unrivalled and his status as a global figure is exactly right for the next phase of Rusi’s development.” 6

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RUSI is a part of the ever-expanding third sector. A Registered Charity no less (No. 210639), albeit without volunteers, but an organisation that “receives no core funding from government” even if “some government departments are corporate members of RUSI and may fund specific projects.” It is a charity with “membership packages [that] provide privileged networking opportunities and benefits tailored to meet the needs of both individuals and large organisations.” Membership which includes a plethora of major corporations, including some with familiar names:

(At Platinum level) Northrop Grumman, an American aerospace and defence technology company; Finmeccanica S.p.A, an Italian aerospace and defence firm; Boeing Defence UK; Qinetiq, a British defence technology company; BAE Systems and, perhaps more interestingly, Kuwait Military Office

(At Major level) DynCorp International (UK); Raytheon Systems Limited; Babcock International Group, the third largest UK defence contractor; Lockheed Martin UK; and the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE).

(At Standard Level) the Carlyle Group: one of the most powerful and influential and secretive firms in Washington with links to the Bush family and close ties with the House of Saud.

As an aside: since the attacks of 9/11, the Carlyle Group has risen to become the No. 1 private equity firm in the world:

ON the day Osama bin Laden’s men attacked America, Shafiq bin Laden, described as an estranged brother of the terrorist, was at an investment conference in Washington, DC, along with two people who are close to President George Bush: his father, the first President Bush, and James Baker, the former secretary of state who masterminded the legal campaign that secured Dubya’s move to the White House. The conference was hosted by the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm that manages billions of dollars, including, at the time, some bin Laden family wealth. It also employs Messrs Bush and Baker.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, when no one was being allowed in or out of the United States, many members of the bin Laden family in America were spirited home to Saudi Arabia. The revival of defence spending that followed greatly increased the value of the Carlyle Group’s investments in defence companies. 7

Click here to read more from The Economist article quoted above.

Embedded below is a short Dutch documentary [49 mins] entitled Iron Triangle: The Carlyle Group:

The documentary is also available here.

Click here to read a list of “Selected Corporate Members” published on page 31 of RUSI’s Annual Report 2014–15 (web compressed).

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One feels that only in the Twenty-First Century could such a talking shop for private equity firms, military contractors, related hi-tech industries and associated businesses designate itself a charity. Not that RUSI is simply another venue for corporate networking, because being a ‘think tank’ means that it provides (by its own account) a far more important service than that.

RUSI describes itself as a “thought-leader institute” as well as the “UK’s premier forum on defence and security”. An institution that, as I quoted above, proudly boasts “Our expertise has been utilised by governments, parliament and other key stakeholders.” Reading between the lines then, RUSI is there both to inform and to influence British foreign policy – in fact, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is actually listed amongst its ‘Major Corporate Members”, sandwiched unceremoniously between the data analysis firm Palantir Technologies and a manufacturer of hi-tech military and surveillance equipment, L-3 Communications.

Likewise, when it comes to boosting domestic security, RUSI is there on hand to offer its obliging nudge. Indeed, when Director General Michael Clarke welcomes William Hague as RUSI’s new Chairman and immediately talks about “the next phase of Rusi’s development”, I am ominously reminded of Hague’s less than reassuring entreaty:

“if you are a law abiding citizen of this country… you have nothing to fear. Nothing to fear about the British State or intelligence agencies listening to the contents of your phone calls or anything like that.”

Many of the military-industrial sponsors who pay their dues to RUSI clearly stand to gain from the tightening of the police state. Building a surveillance state is good for (big) business. Intelligence also carries a hefty price-tag. And of course all of the defence and security contractors continue to expand in more traditional ways, which doubtless is why RUSI too is beginning to expand its own operations globally. Most notably, in December 2007 it opened a new office – its first branch in the Middle East – in the oil rich Gulf State of Qatar:

Opening with the outstanding support of His Excellency Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the establishment of the RUSI office in Doha is part of the Institute’s strategy to expand its defence and security research activities to key regions of the world. 8

And we ought not be surprised to learn that in spite of the rarely mentioned fact that Qatar “remains one of the most repressive regimes in the world where, to give one example, a poet whose verse was deemed offensive to the state and the Emir is currently serving a fifteen year jail sentence in solitary confinement. Those, like RUSI, who are at liberty to speak in Qatar do so within state-approved parameters.”

So writes David Wearing of SOAS, also taken from the article quoted above, which continues:

Indeed, in written and oral evidence given to the House of Commons select committee’s recent review of Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, RUSI figures were amongst the most warmly supportive of Whitehall’s alliance with the Gulf regimes, their perspective contrasting sharply with that of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Bahraini human rights activists (evidence from Maryam Alkhawaja, of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, can be found halfway down this page).

On the subject of Bahrain’s violent crushing of an overwhelmingly peaceful pro-democracy movement in the spring of 2011, RUSI opined in its written evidence that “[s]uppressing dissent is not something most countries have problems with; it is doing so in an acceptable manner that poses the challenge, and that is where the UK’s efforts in Bahrain [in terms of advice and training] can help”. The question, for RUSI, is not whether a Gulf monarchy allied to the British state “suppresses dissent”, but whether it does so “in an acceptable manner”, a revealing insight into the priorities, interests and values of the organisation. 9

Click here to read David Wearing’s full article entitled “Why is the BBC presenting RUSI as objective analysts of the Middle East?”

So why is RUSI welcoming a Nazi to speak in London on Friday? Well, RUSI is first and foremost an arm of the British establishment but also, and arguably more importantly, a well-oiled tool of the Anglo-America corporate powers – a centre to what is referred to in America as the Iron Triangle, where special interests bisect with government. Something epitomised by RUSI member The Carlyle Group.

The role of RUSI is twofold: to pump out pro-western corporate propaganda and to help peddle influence across the world. So the short answer is that Parubiy, the “Head of the Maidan Self-Defense Forces” (according to his RUSI bio), is coming to London for the same reason that America and the EU were so eager to foment the uprising in Ukraine that he spearheaded (unless we accept his fascist brigades really were “Self-Defence Forces”). The still more abbreviated answer is: it’s about the geopolitics, stupid! The money too.

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One mainstream publication to have shone light on Parubiy’s visit is The Jewish Chronicle, which is hardly surprising is it? A spokesman for RUSI told them:

“Rusi is devoted to the promotion of an open, unhindered debate on all relevant international matters, as they affect the security and well-being of the United Kingdom and its allies. While the Institute will refuse a platform to people who openly advocate violence or any other actions which are deemed illegal under either domestic or international law, in the spirit of a free debate Rusi often hosts people and organisations whose views some may find objectionable.”

Whilst a Board of Deputies of British Jews spokesman said:

“Although Mr Parubiy will not be speaking on behalf of Svoboda [Ukrainian neo-Nazi party], we do hope that those present will hold him to account for his past involvement in some of the ugliest fascist movements in the Ukraine.” 10

In truth I had imagined that The Jewish Chronicle might have expressed greater outrage over the visit of a confirmed Nazi (and co-founder of an ultra-right political party) to this outwardly prestigious British institution with its royal patronage, but instead the article is remarkably soft on RUSI. Perhaps that’s because the recently appointed Chairman of RUSI, Lord Hague is also a longstanding member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, an organisation he apparently joined at the age of fifteen. After all, if allowing a self-declared Nazi the platform to speak is okay with the Conservative Friends of Israel, as it presumably is, then it’s probably okay with Israel too.

Indeed, listed amongst RUSI’s ‘Diplomatic Corporate Members’ (from their annual report 2014–15 also on p31), tucked in between the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain, is the Embassy of Israel. Have they nothing to say?

Anyone thinking they might like to protest Friday’s event in Whitehall may find it helpful to click here.

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1 From an article entitled “’Prepared to Die’: The Right Wing’s Role in Ukrainian Protests” written by Benjamin Bidder, Christian Neef, Vladimir Pylyov and Matthias Schepp, published by Der Spiegel on January 27, 2014. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/ukraine-sliding-towards-civil-war-in-wake-of-tough-new-laws-a-945742.html

2 All quotes taken from the “About Us” page on RUSI website. https://www.rusi.org/about/

3 From “General David H Petraeus named Senior Vice-President of RUSI” published in RUSI news on August 20, 2013. https://www.rusi.org/news/ref:N521363BA239C1/  

4 From an article entitled “David Petraeus’ bright idea: give terrorists weapons to beat terrorists” written by Trevor Timm, published in the Guardian on September 2, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/02/david-petraeus-bright-idea-give-terrorists-weapons-to-beat-isis

5 From “Dr Henry Kissinger Awarded RUSI Chesney Gold Medal” published in RUSI news on June 17, 2015. https://www.rusi.org/news/ref:N5581A14FC4183/  

6 From an article entitled “William Hague appointed chair of military thinktank” written by Ewen MacAskill, published in the Guardian on July 28, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/28/william-hague-appointed-chair-of-military-thinktank

7 From an article entitled “C for capitalism” published in The Economist on June 26, 2003. http://www.economist.com/node/1875084

8 https://www.rusi.org/news/ref:N475D053260828/#.VibB2m6KWUl

9 From an article entitled “Why is the BBC presenting RUSI as objective analysts of the Middle East?” written by David Wearing, published on openDemocracy on June 12, 2015. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/david-wearing/why-is-bbc-presenting-rusi-as-objective-analysts-of-middle-east

10 From an article entitled “Far-right party founder from Ukraine welcomed in the UK” written by Sandy Rashty, published in The Jewish Chronicle on October 20, 2015. http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/147693/far-right-party-founder-ukraine-welcomed-uk

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what’s the truth about the civil war in Syria? update: on the origins of ISIS

According to a recent survey conducted between June 10th  and July 2nd by ORB International, a U.K.-based  market research firm, that was published in the Washington Post on September 15th, 82% of Syrians questioned believe “IS is US and foreign made group”.*

So are four out of every five Syrians mistaken…?

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This will be the longest article I have ever published and also the most intensively documented. The main assertion is that the story of the Syrian “civil war” as it has been (and continues to be) presented – periodically reframed to conceal the most glaring discrepancies in the permitted narrative – is entirely phoney. That the Arab Spring was not so much the catalyst for an uprising which opened the door for Islamist terrorists, but served as a pretext to orchestrate regime change by means of a deliberate invasion of Salafist death squads. In short, that al-Qaeda factions (ISIS is merely an allied splinter group and a later brand) were always the unwitting agent and enabling force for western expansionism in the pursuit of corporatist geostrategic interests – most obviously for the capture and control of fossil fuel resources.

To argue that al-Qaeda/ISIS operate as our pawns does not mean, however, that we own them – only that (with the help of close allies) we have covertly backed them, and then manoeuvred and manipulated them to pursue our ends. This strategy is not as novel as it may sound, but tried and tested in the Cold War battle to defeat the Soviet Union when we armed and backed the Mujahideen (forerunners to al-Qaeda) during Operation Cyclone.

More than three years ago (August 7th, 2012), I published an article entitled “what’s the truth about the civil war in Syria?” in which I collated evidence of how the west and its allies were already knowingly supporting al-Qaeda fighters against Assad. Back then I wrote:

It seems then, that America are back in the business of supporting al-Qaeda. This is not as unusual as it may sound. If you wind back only as far as the Libyan intervention you’ll find that al-Qaeda was leading much of the opposition there too. Indeed, you may recall that back in November, the black flag of al-Qaeda was actually raised over the courthouse in Benghazi – the place where the Libyan revolution had first ignited

And including an appending quote taken from an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, Ed Husain, that reads:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.

What follows is a sequence of official admissions and mainstream articles that document the origins of ISIS in Iraq and subsequent expansion into Syria which prove beyond contradiction that the west backed the extremists since the earliest stages of the “civil war”, how the majority of the so-called “rebels” are and always have been foreign invaders and not domestic insurgents, and why the only viable long-term solution must be a political one that starts with the total isolation of all Islamist terrorist groups. For as Vice President Joe Biden confessed to us a year ago, when they were looking for opponents to fight the Assad government “there was no moderate middle”. Moreover, Biden, strangely eager to spill the beans, then went on to say:

[America’s allies] poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.

[Joe Biden’s speech from October 2014 is transcribed in its entirety in the timeline below.]

However, what Biden failed to add is how both the emergence and the survival of ISIS are not solely due to Gulf state support nor merely the maintenance of supply lines running via Turkey, but more directly thanks to the clandestine activities of the CIA under the leadership of General David Petraeus and then John Brennan who spent $1 billion a year ($1 out of every $15 of the CIA budget) to train and equip some 10,000 fighters. To a considerable extent, it has been the CIA that built up ISIS:

The CIA declined to comment on the program or its budget. But U.S. officials defended the scale of the expenditures, saying the money goes toward much more than salaries and weapons and is part of a broader, multibillion-dollar effort involving Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to bolster a coalition of militias known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army.

Much of the CIA’s money goes toward running secret training camps in Jordan, gathering intelligence to help guide the operations of agency-backed militias and managing a sprawling logistics network used to move fighters, ammunition and weapons into the country.

Click here to read the full Washington Post report entitled “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cut” published on June 12th.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the Nato war against ISIS which began August last year has been an inherently phoney one. A war committed to achieving two mutually incompatible outcomes: on the one hand, the restoration of order by the annihilation of Islamist terrorists in the region, and, on the other, the defeat of the Syrian army to bring about the toppling of the government. And given these contradictory goals, how can we be sure that the primary mission has ever been to weaken ISIS, rather than an opportunity to further damage and degrade Syrian infrastructure, which is, of course, another prerequisite for regime change?

Today’s “coalition of the willing” is in any case intrinsically conflicted. For instance, when the US supported Kurdish resistance fighters in the battle to liberate Kobane a year ago, we are told that they accidentally airdropped weapons and other supplies to Islamic State fighters – which happened because “Turkey would not allow Kurdish fighters to cross its borders into Kobane to bolster the town’s defenses.” So which side is Turkey, a Nato member, on?

More recently, once Turkey had joined the ostensibly anti-ISIS coalition this July, its first action involved the launch of airstrikes simultaneously against both IS and Kurdish forces. Little surprise then, that after well over a year and around $4 billion spent conducting this undeclared air offensive there remains no end in sight at all. Meanwhile, and as with previous wars against Iraq and Libya, the civilian death toll directly resulting from the western intervention is rarely reported upon and officially denied. Our bombs are “surgical” and our killings of civilians simply don’t get counted.

Finally, ISIS really is not the invincible force we are accustomed to believe. Rather, they are affiliated gangs of thugs and murderers, who have been successfully held off and then beaten back by committed and courageous though wholly under-resourced Kurdish resistance forces in the north of Syria. However, for those who desire either to see the butchering continue in order to undermine regional stability, or else to use this threat of murderous hoards in a bait and switch where the ultimate aim is always regime change (the neo-con agenda all along, and an outcome that is furthered by chaos and instability) we should not be surprised if the propaganda tends to magnify the strength of ISIS and to exaggerate the difficulty of eradicating them. In reality, they are surrounded by enemies on many sides and if supplies of armaments, other material support and finance were shut off – with Turkey controlling its own border and with serious pressure applied to their sponsors in the Gulf States – then ISIS, as sitting ducks, would rather quickly wither away.

The greater part of this article will be based around an adaptation and extension of a timeline of mainstream articles put together and published by Kevin Borge. His aim, in part, is to reveal how instead of joining the dots, the corporate media overlooks the evidence (evidence it has actually published), in order to preserve an overarching officially sanctioned narrative which justifies all ongoing western “interventions” on the grounds of spreading “freedom and democracy” and other “humanitarian” goals.

In the same spirit as Borge I have tried to limit my own commentary so far as possible and to let the endless misdirection and duplicity within the mainstream version of events speak for itself. In contrast to Borge, I have also decided to try to prise apart the interlocking roles played by i) the United States, Nato and the other western powers; ii) the Gulf States and most especially – though certainly not exclusively – Saudi Arabia and Qatar; iii) Turkey under President Recep Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu; and last but by no means least, iv) Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel.

But I will begin with what is arguably the single most extraordinary admission so far in this sorry tale…

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When Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was interviewed in late July by Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera’s show Head to Head, Hasan pointed to a DIA report presented in August 2012 but recently declassified through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which correctly predicts: “If the situation unravels, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria… and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

In other words, as Hasan points out, “the US saw ISIL caliphate coming and did nothing”

Flynn replies [from 9:35 mins]:

I think that where we missed the point – where we totally blew it – was in the very beginning. I mean we’re talking four years now into this effort in Syria. Most people won’t even remember – I mean it’s only been a couple of years – the Free Syrian Army, that movement, I mean where are they today? Al-Nusra, where are they today? And how much have they changed? When you don’t get in and help somebody they’re going to find other means to achieve their goals. And I think right now, we’ve allowed these extremist militants to come in…

Hasan cuts in: Why did you do that? You were the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency… Did you see this document in 2012? Did this come across your table…? So when you saw this, did you not pick up a phone and say “what on earth are we doing supporting these Syrian rebels? And what did you do about it? Did you say we shouldn’t be supporting these groups?

Flynn responds: I did. I mean we argued about these different groups that are there and we said, you know, who is that is involved here. And I will tell you that I do believe that the intelligence was very clear, and now it’s a matter of whether or not policy is going to be as clear and as defining and as precise as it needs to be. And I don’t believe it was…

Hasan: Just to clarify here, today my understanding is you’re saying we should have backed the rebels.

Flynn: We should have done more earlier on in this effort, you know, than we did…

Hasan: But three years ago, let’s just be clear – for the sake of our viewers – in 2012, your agency was saying quote: “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al- Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” In 2012, the US was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups. Why did you not stop that, if you’re worried about the rise of quote-unquote “Islamic extremists”?

Flynn: I hate to say it’s not my job, but… my job was to ensure that the accuracy of our intelligence that was being presented was as good as it could be. And I will tell you it goes before 2012. I mean when we were in Iraq and we still had decisions to be made before there was a decision to pull out of Iraq in 2011. I mean it was very clear what we were going to face.

Hasan: Well, I admire your frankness on this subject. Let me just clarify once more: you are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew those groups were around. You saw this analysis and you were arguing against it. But who wasn’t listening?

Flynn: I think the administration.

Hasan: The administration turned a blind eye to your analysis…

Flynn: I don’t think they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a wilful decision.

Hasan: A wilful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Flynn: Well, a wilful decision to do what they’re doing… you have to really ask the President, what is it that he actually is doing with the policy that is in place because it is very, very confusing. I’m sitting here today Mehdi and I can’t tell you exactly what that is, and I’ve been at this a long time.

[The transcript above is mine.]

Click here to watch the full interview first broadcast on Friday July 31st at the Al Jazeera website.

*

Before proceeding to the more closely documented timelines, some further background and additional insights are available in a Guardian article written by Nafeez Ahmed and published shortly after the Ghouta gas attack on August 30, 2013. Here are some extracts:

In May 2007, a presidential finding revealed that Bush had authorised CIA operations against Iran. Anti-Syria operations were also in full swing around this time as part of this covert programme, according to Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker. A range of US government and intelligence sources told him that the Bush administration had “cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations” intended to weaken the Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon. “The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria,” wrote Hersh, “a byproduct” of which is “the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups” hostile to the United States and “sympathetic to al-Qaeda.” He noted that “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria,” with a view to pressure him to be “more conciliatory and open to negotiations” with Israel. One faction receiving covert US “political and financial support” through the Saudis was the exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

According to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009: “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business”, he told French television:

“I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.”

After referring back to Wesley Clark’s notorious post-9/11 memo outlining US plans to “attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years”, Ahmed then continues:

Much of the strategy currently at play was candidly described in a 2008 US Army-funded RAND report, Unfolding the Future of the Long War (pdf). The report noted that “the economies of the industrialized states will continue to rely heavily on oil, thus making it a strategically important resource.” As most oil will be produced in the Middle East, the US has “motive for maintaining stability in and good relations with Middle Eastern states”:

“The geographic area of proven oil reserves coincides with the power base of much of the Salafi-jihadist network. This creates a linkage between oil supplies and the long war that is not easily broken or simply characterized… For the foreseeable future, world oil production growth and total output will be dominated by Persian Gulf resources… The region will therefore remain a strategic priority, and this priority will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war.”

Adding:

The report noted especially that Syria is among several “downstream countries that are becoming increasingly water scarce as their populations grow”, increasing a risk of conflict. Thus, although the RAND document fell far short of recognising the prospect of an ‘Arab Spring’, it illustrates that three years before the 2011 uprisings, US defence officials were alive to the region’s growing instabilities, and concerned by the potential consequences for stability of Gulf oil.

Click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article.

Incidentally, and contrary to some wilder claims, there is no convincing evidence that most instrumental to igniting hostilities that then plunged the country into “civil war” was the Syrian government’s failure to respond to a severe drought:

There is no doubt that the major drought witnessed in Syria between 2006 and 2011 had a catastrophic environmental and societal impact on the country, but it is not the over-arching cause of the war.

So writes Louis Allday who was working at the British Embassy in Damascus at the time.

Click here to read his full account published on September 11th by Counterpunch.

*

i) Timeline for US, Nato and other western powers from 2006

Please note that the bold emphasis is mine throughout unless otherwise stated.

Time Magazine, December 19, 2006:

http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1571751,00.html

The Bush Administration has been quietly nurturing individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashar Assad. Parts of the scheme are outlined in a classified, two-page document that says that the U.S. already is “supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists” in Europe. The document bluntly expresses the hope that “these meetings will facilitate a more coherent strategy and plan of actions for all anti-Assad activists. […]

The proposal says part of the effort would be run through a foundation operated by Amar Abdulhamid, a Washington-based member of a Syrian umbrella opposition group known as the National Salvation Front (NSF).

The Front includes the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that for decades supported the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, but now says it seeks peaceful, democratic reform […]

Money for the election-monitoring proposal would be channeled through a State Department program known as the Middle East Partnership Initiative, or MEPI. According to MEPI’s website, the program passes out funds ranging between $100,000 and $1 million to promote education and women’s empowerment, as well as economic and political reform, part of a total allocation of $5 million for Syria that Congress supported earlier this year.

Reuters, April 18. 2011:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/18/us-usa-syria-wikileaks-idUSTRE73H0E720110418

The State Department has secretly funded Syrian opposition groups, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, The Washington Post reported on Monday. The cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million since 2006 to a group of Syrian exiles to operate a London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, and finance activities inside Syria, the Post said. Barada TV began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria that began last month as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad the Post said. The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after political ties with Damascus were frozen in 2005, the newspaper said. The financial backing has continued under President Barack Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad, the Post said.

Reuters, July 20, 2012:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/01/us-usa-syria-obama-order-idUSBRE8701OK20120801

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

Sydney Morning Herald, September 11, 2012:

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/alqaeda-now-a-us-ally-in-syria-20120910-25oby.html

In Syria, there is mounting evidence that Al Qaeda and its allies are actively deploying terror tactics and suicide bombers to overthrow the Assad regime.

Syrian citizens who prefer the secular and stable state to the prospect of an Iraqi-style sectarian state may well be turning this same question around to the US government: are you with us, or with the terrorists?

This week, head of the Salafi jihad and close ally of al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, pledged “deadly attacks” against Syria as “our fighters are coming to get you” because “crimes” by the regime ”prompts us to jihad”.

If only the Syrian uprising was as simple as the Arab Spring narrative where citizens seek democracy and freedom. But those unarmed protests have long since been hijacked by a cocktail of agendas which have little to do with Syrian democracy, and more to do with a proxy war to create a sectarian Sunni state that weakens Shi’te Iran’s main partner in the region.

[In his “historic” State of the Union address on September 20th, 2001] Bush was correct in claiming that al Qaeda “want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan” – who were all US-Israel allies at that time.

But his list stopped short of mentioning Syria or Iraq, the real targets of al Qaeda. Why does overthrowing Syria, using the same terror tactics, fail to attract the same degree of outrage?

Bush continues: “We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.”

This pledge appears to have fallen on its own sword, given the funding of the jihadists in Syria. The terrorists have bred and spread across borders, which is the opposite of Bush’s prophecy.

The US administration must come clean about its financial aid. It cannot use one hand to sign a blank cheque to the rebels, and the other hand to cover its eyes to their immoral and illegal tactics. It cannot hide behind “the end justifies the means” as there are too many innocent lives at stake. […]

The US regime should be actively and publicly distancing itself from the foreign terrorists and Salafist jihadists that are proliferating within sovereign Syria.

It should be condemning al Qaeda for its militant intervention. It should be condemning the Saudi sheikhs who issue fatwas for an Alawite holocaust. […]

Perhaps the US is applying another principle that they may have learned from their pragmatic Arab allies – the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Business Insider, October 9, 2012:

http://www.businessinsider.com/us-syria-heavy-weapons-jihadists-2012-10

The official position is that the U.S. has refused to allow heavy weapons into Syria. But there’s growing evidence that U.S. agents — particularly murdered ambassador Chris Stevens — were at least aware of heavy weapons moving from Libya to jihadist Syrian rebels. […]

In November 2011 The Telegraph reported that Belhadj, acting as head of the Tripoli Military Council, “met with Free Syrian Army [FSA] leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey” in an effort by the new Libyan government to provide money and weapons to the growing insurgency in Syria. Last month The Times of London reported that a Libyan ship “carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria … has docked in Turkey.” The shipment reportedly weighed 400 tons and included SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Those heavy weapons are most likely from Muammar Gaddafi’s stock of about 20,000 portable heat-seeking missiles—the bulk of them SA-7s—that the Libyan leader obtained from the former Eastern bloc. Reuters reports that Syrian rebels have been using those heavy weapons to shoot down Syrian helicopters and fighter jets.

Vice Presidential Debate, October 11, 2012:

http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=october-11-2012-the-biden-romney-vice-presidential-debate

US Vice President Joe Biden:

We are working hand and glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis, and with all the people in the region attempting to identify the people who deserve the help so that when Assad goes – and he will go – there will be a legitimate government that follows on, not an al-Qaida-sponsored government that follows on.

[almost precisely two years later, October 2014, Biden entirely contradicts this statement – see below]

New York Times, October 14, 2012:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/world/middleeast/jihadists-receiving-most-arms-sent-to-syrian-rebels.html?_r=0

Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats. […]

The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry.

McClatchy, December 2, 2012:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article24741022.html

Nearly a year later, however, Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad. […]

The group’s prominence makes clear the dilemma of Syria’s revolutionaries, as well as those who might provide support to them. Though members of Nusra operate independently of the other rebel groups that have taken up arms and particularly those that are calling for elections if Assad is deposed it is increasingly clear that their operations are closely coordinated with more secular rebels.

The Guardian, March 8, 2013:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/08/west-training-syrian-rebels-jordan

Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad’s fall. […]

According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected. […]

For western and Saudi backers of the opposition, Jordan has become a preferable option through which to channel aid than Turkey. Ankara has been criticised for allowing extremist groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, become dominant on the northern front while it focused on what it sees as the growing threat of Kurdish secessionism. “The Americans now trust us more than the Turks, because with the Turks everything is about gaining leverage for action against the Kurds,” said a Jordanian source familiar with official thinking in Amman. The US has announced an extra $60m (£40.2m) in direct aid to the rebels, including military rations and medical kits.

Reuters, March 10, 2013:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/10/us-syria-crisis-rebels-usa-idUSBRE9290FI20130310

Americans are training Syrian anti-government fighters in Jordan, the German weekly Der Spiegel said on Sunday

New York Times, April 20, 2013:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/world/middleeast/kerry-says-us-to-double-aid-to-the-opposition-in-syria.html

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Sunday morning that the United States would double its aid to the Syrian opposition, providing $123 million in fresh assistance.

New York Times, April 27, 2013:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/world/middleeast/islamist-rebels-gains-in-syria-create-dilemma-for-us.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1

In Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, rebels aligned with Al Qaeda control the power plant, run the bakeries and head a court that applies Islamic law. Elsewhere, they have seized government oil fields, put employees back to work and now profit from the crude they produce. Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government. Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.

BBC News, May 6, 2013:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22424188

Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said.

Washington Times, May 6, 2013:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/may/6/syrian-rebels-used-sarin-nerve-gas-not-assads-regi/

Testimony from victims strongly suggests it was the rebels, not the Syrian government, that used Sarin nerve gas during a recent incident in the revolution-wracked nation, a senior U.N. diplomat said Monday.

The Guardian, May 8, 2013:                                             

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/08/free-syrian-army-rebels-defect-islamist-group

Syria’s main armed opposition group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is losing fighters and capabilities to Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist organisation with links to al-Qaida that is emerging as the best-equipped, financed and motivated force fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime. […]

Illustrating their plight, FSA commanders say that entire units have gone over to al-Nusra while others have lost a quarter or more of their strength to them recently. “Fighters feel proud to join al-Nusra because that means power and influence,” said Abu Ahmed, a former teacher from Deir Hafer who now commands an FSA brigade in the countryside near Aleppo. “Al-Nusra fighters rarely withdraw for shortage of ammunition or fighters and they leave their target only after liberating it,” he added. “They compete to carry out martyrdom [suicide] operations.” Abu Ahmed and others say the FSA has lost fighters to al-Nusra in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Deir al-Zor and the Damascus region. Ala’a al-Basha, commander of the Sayyida Aisha brigade, warned the FSA chief of staff, General Salim Idriss, about the issue last month. Basha said 3,000 FSA men have joined al-Nusra in the last few months, mainly because of a lack of weapons and ammunition. […]

Al-Nusra has members serving undercover with FSA units so they can spot potential recruits, according to Abu Hassan of the FSA’s al-Tawhid Lions brigade. […]

Western governments say they are aware of the al-Nusra problem, which is being monitored by intelligence agencies, but they are uncertain about its extent.

Reuters, June 19, 2013:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/19/us-syria-rebels-islamists-specialreport-idUSBRE95I0BC20130619

It’s a pattern repeated elsewhere in the country. During a 10-day journey through rebel-held territory in Syria, Reuters journalists found that radical Islamist units are sidelining more moderate groups that do not share the Islamists’ goal of establishing a supreme religious leadership in the country. […]

Many pledge allegiance to the notion of a unified Free Syrian Army (FSA). But on the ground there is little evidence to suggest the FSA actually exists as a body at all. […]

So far the Islamist groups have been the ones to attract outside support, mostly from private Sunni Muslim backers in Saudi Arabia, according to fighters in Syria. […]

The moderates are losing ground. In many parts of rebel-held Aleppo, the red, black and green revolutionary flag which represents more moderate elements has been replaced with the black Islamic flag. Small shops selling black headbands, conservative clothing and black balaclavas have popped up around the city and their business is booming. Reuters met several Islamist fighters who had left more moderate rebel brigades for hardline groups. One member of Ahrar al-Sham, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, said: “I used to be with the Free Syrian Army but they were always thinking about what they wanted to do in future. I wanted to fight oppression now.”

Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2013:

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jun/21/world/la-fg-cia-syria-20130622

CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming them, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders. The covert U.S. training at bases in Jordan and Turkey, along with Obama’s decision this month to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels, has raised hope among the beleaguered Syrian opposition that Washington ultimately will provide heavier weapons as well. […]

The training began in November at a new American base in the desert in southwestern Jordan, he said. So far, about 100 rebels from Dara have attended four courses, and rebels from Damascus, the Syrian capital, have attended three, he said. […]

But arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, provided with assent from the Americans, took months to arrive and included less than the rebels had expected.

The Telegraph, August 2, 2013:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/10218288/CIA-running-arms-smuggling-team-in-Benghazi-when-consulate-was-attacked.html

Up to 35 CIA operatives were working in the city during the attack last September on the US consulate that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, according to CNN.” […]

The television network said that a CIA team was working in an annex near the consulate on a project to supply missiles from Libyan armouries to Syrian rebels. Sources said that more Americans were hurt in the assault spearheaded by suspected Islamic radicals than had been previously reported. CIA chiefs were actively working to ensure the real nature of its operations in the city did not get out. So only the losses suffered by the State Department in the city had been reported to Congress.

The Independent, August 27, 2013:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/does-obama-know-hes-fighting-on-alqaidas-side-8786680.html

If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida. […]

Maybe the Americans should ask al-Qa’ida for intelligence help – after all, this is the group with “boots on the ground”, something the Americans have no interest in doing. And maybe al-Qa’ida could offer some target information facilities to the country which usually claims that the supporters of al-Qa’ida, rather than the Syrians, are the most wanted men in the world.

Washington Post, September 11, 2013:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-begins-weapons-delivery-to-syrian-rebels/2013/09/11/9fcf2ed8-1b0c-11e3-a628-7e6dde8f889d_story.html 

The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war. […]

The CIA shipments are to flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year as the agency sought to help Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, direct weapons to moderate Syrian rebel forces.

Foreign Affairs (CFR), January 23, 2014:

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2014-01-23/good-and-bad-ahrar-al-sham

“The Good and Bad of Ahrar al-Sham, An al Qaeda–Linked Group Worth Befriending”

New York Times, January 28, 2014:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/world/middleeast/rebels-in-syria-claim-control-of-resources.html

Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources, a rare generator of cash in the country’s war-battered economy, and are now using the proceeds to underwrite their fights against one another as well as President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say. While the oil and gas fields are in serious decline, control of them has bolstered the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of Al Qaeda.

The Independent, April 2, 2014:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/i-am-not-fighting-againstalqaida-itsnot-our-problem-says-wests-last-hope-in-syria-9233424.html

The rebel leader touted as the West’s last hope to stem the tide of extreme jihadist groups in Syria has said he will not fight against al-Qa’ida, and openly admits to battling alongside them. Speaking from a safe house on the outskirts of the Turkish town of Antakya, Jamal Maarouf, the leader of the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) told The Independent that the fight against al-Qa’ida was “not our problem” and admitted his fighters conduct joint operations with Jabhat al-Nusra – the official al-Qa’ida branch in Syria.

The Telegraph, June 25, 2014:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/al-qaeda/10925602/Al-Qaeda-merges-with-Isis-at-Syria-Iraq-border-town.html

Al-Qaeda’s Syrian offshoot has issued a loyalty pledge to Isis at a remote town on the Iraqi border, a monitor said.[…]

After months of clashes between the two sides, al-Qaeda’s official Syrian arm the al-Nusra Front “pledged loyalty to Isis” in Albu Kamal, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Washington Post, June 26, 2014:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-backs-us-military-training-for-syrian-rebels/2014/06/26/ead59104-fd62-11e3-932c-0a55b81f48ce_story.html?wpisrc=al_comboPN

The Obama administration asked Congress on Thursday to authorize $500 million in direct U.S. military training and equipment for Syrian opposition fighters, a move that could significantly escalate U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war. Money for the assistance, which would expand a CIA covert training program, is included in a $65.8 billion request for the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO.

Brookings Institute, September/October 2014 Issue:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2014/09/02-army-defeat-assad-syria-pollack

The cons begin with the simple fact that the United States has no interests in Syria itself. Syria is not an oil producer, a major U.S. trade partner, or even a democracy. […]

But there is, in fact, a way that the United States could get what it wants in Syria — and, ultimately, in Iraq as well — without sending in U.S. forces: by building a new Syrian opposition army capable of defeating both President Bashar al-Assad and the more militant Islamists. The United States has pulled off similar operations before and could probably do so again, and at far lower cost than what it has spent in Afghanistan and Iraq. […]

Second, any proposal must provide for the defeat of both the Assad regime and the most radical Islamist militants, since both threaten U.S. interests. […]

Recruiting Syrian army personnel would be the first task.

Bloomberg, September 25, 2014:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-09-25/syria-to-ukraine-wars-send-u-s-defense-stocks-to-records

Led by Lockheed Martin Corp., the biggest U.S. defense companies are trading at record prices as shareholders reap rewards from escalating military conflicts around the world. Investors see rising sales for makers of missiles, drones and other weapons as the U.S. hits Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Chicago-based BMO Private Bank. President Barack Obama approved open-ended airstrikes this month while ruling out ground combat. […]

Lockheed, the world’s biggest defense company, reached an all-time high of $180.74 on Sept. 19, when Northrop, Raytheon Co. and General Dynamics Corp. also set records. That quartet and Chicago-based Boeing accounted for about $105 billion in federal contract orders last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government.

Washington Post, October 6, 2014:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/10/06/behind-bidens-gaffe-some-legitimate-concerns-about-americas-middle-east-allies/

During a question and answer session at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government last week, Vice President Biden somehow managed to anger some of the U.S.’s most vital allies in the fight against Islamic State.

Biden has now apologized to both the United Arab Emirates and Turkey for the comments, but to anyone who has been following the conventional wisdom in foreign policy circles, it’s not surprising that he would think this privately (even if it is surprising that he would say so publicly). […]

The vice president’s comments may be a “gaffe” in diplomacy – and, yes, his comments do reveal a worrying habit of lumping al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front in with Islamic State and not noting the difference between private and public funding at play here. But there are genuine, though complicated, concerns at the heart of this gaffe.

Here is a FULL transcription of Joe Biden’s now infamous “gaffe”:

The idea of identifying a moderate middle has been a chase America has been engaged in for a long time. We Americans think in every country in transition there’s a Thomas Jefferson hiding behind some rock or a James Madison beyond one sand dune.

The fact of the matter is the ability to identify a moderate middle in Syria was… [hesitation] there was no moderate middle because the moderate middle is made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers, made up of people who in fact have ordinary elements of the middle class of that country.

And what happened was, and history will record this because I’m finding that former administration officials as soon as they leave, write books, which I think is inappropriate. But any rate. [audience laughter] No I’m serious, I do think it’s in appropriate. At least give the guy a chance to get out of office. And what my constant cry was… was that our biggest problem was our allies.

Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends, and I have a great relationship with Erdogan, [who] I just spent a lot of time with, [and] the Saudis, the Emirates, etcetera.

What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad, and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.

Now, you think I’m exaggerating? Take a look. Where did all of this go? So now that’s happening, all of a sudden, everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL, which was al-Qaeda in Iraq, when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space and territory in eastern Syria, [and they] work with al-Nusra, who we declared a terrorist group early on. And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.

So what happened? Now, all of a sudden – I don’t want to be too facetious – but they have seen the lord. Now we have … been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbours, because America can’t once again go into a Muslim nation and be the aggressor. It has to be led by Sunnis. To go and attack a Sunni organization. And so what do we have for the first time?

Now Saudi Arabia stops funding. Saudi Arabia’s allowing training on its soil. American forces under Title 10 training. The Qataris have cut-off their support for the most extremist elements of the terrorist organisations. And the Turks, President Erdogan told me – he’s an old friend – said “you’re right, we let too many people through.” Now they’re trying to seal their border.

The same Washington Post article includes an oddly bowdlerised transcription of Biden’s speech which is cut short and missing the final highlighted paragraph, which it claims was lost because “the White House recording cuts out”. The article then adds:

Other accounts, however, suggest he went further. According to Hurriyet Daily News, Biden also said:

President Erdoğan told me, he is an old friend, said you were right, we let too many people through, now we are trying to seal the border.

But as you see from the video above, in actual fact Biden’s remarks are significantly different to those reported by Hurriyet Daily News (a Turkish news source). His true statement also contains embarrassing admissions that would certainly have strained US relations with its two closest Gulf allies – hence the rapid apologies and retractions.

Brookings Institute, November 7, 2014:

http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2014/11/07-big-questions-islamic-state-threat-hein

Rather than defeat, containing their activities within failed or near-failing states is the best option for the foreseeable future. […]

There is a parallel here between the war on Islamic extremists and the war on drugs: the absolute end-states for both may be unachievable, but that in no way diminishes the need to execute counter operations. Some wars cannot be won but still must be fought. There are other hard questions for even bigger threats in the Middle East, such as how to ensure a nuclear free Iran and how to deal with the Assad regime in Syria. For ISIS, though, we may have it right.

The Telegraph, February 17, 2015:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/11419243/Moderate-Syrian-rebels-to-be-given-power-to-call-in-US-air-strikes.html

The US and Turkey have reached a tentative deal to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels, according to officials from both countries, amid reports that commanders will be given authority to call in air strikes. […]

At the same time The Wall Street Journal reported that some rebels will be equipped with pick-up trucks modified with mounted machine guns as well as radios for calling in US airstrikes – an approach modelled on that used to successful effect by Kurdish forces in Kobane last month.

The Independent, February 17, 2015:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/sudans-president-claims-cia-and-mossad-stand-behind-isis-and-boko-haram-10051024.html

Sudan’s President has claimed the CIA, America’s intelligence agency, and Israel’s Mossad are behind the Islamist militant groups Boko Haram and Isis.

Foreign Affairs (CFR), March 9, 2015:

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2015-03-09/accepting-al-qaeda

Since 9/11, Washington has considered al Qaeda the greatest threat to the United States, one that must be eliminated regardless of cost or time. After Washington killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, it made Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s new leader, its next number one target. But the instability in the Middle East following the Arab revolutions and the meteoric rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) require that Washington rethink its policy toward al Qaeda, particularly its targeting of Zawahiri. Destabilizing al Qaeda at this time may in fact work against U.S. efforts to defeat ISIS. […]

It is certainly ironic that at this point, when the United States is the closest it has ever been to destroying al Qaeda, its interests would be better served by keeping the terrorist organization afloat and Zawahiri alive.

The Guardian, June 1 2015:

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jun/01/trial-swedish-man-accused-terrorism-offences-collapse-bherlin-gildo

The prosecution of a Swedish national [Bherlin Gildo, 37] accused of terrorist activities in Syria has collapsed at the Old Bailey after it became clear Britain’s security and intelligence agencies would have been deeply embarrassed had a trial gone ahead, the Guardian can reveal.

His lawyers argued that British intelligence agencies were supporting the same Syrian opposition groups as he was, and were party to a secret operation providing weapons and non-lethal help to the groups, including the Free Syrian Army. […]

Gildo’s defence lawyers quoted a number of press articles referring to the supply of arms to Syrian rebels, including one from the Guardian on 8 March 2013, on the west’s training of Syrian rebels in Jordan. Articles on the New York Times from 24 March and 21 June 2013, gave further details and an article in the London Review of Books from 14 April 12014, implicated MI6 in a “rat line” for the transfer of arms from Libya. […]

The attorney general was consulted about Monday’s decision. Karmy-Jones [for the crown] told the court in pre-trial hearings that Gildo had worked with Jabhat al-Nusra, a “proscribed group considered to be al-Qaida in Syria”. He was photographed standing over dead bodies with his finger pointing to the sky.

The Guardian, June 3, 2015:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/03/us-isis-syria-iraq

Reports were cited that MI6 had cooperated with the CIA on a “rat line” of arms transfers from Libyan stockpiles to the Syrian rebels in 2012 after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. […]

A revealing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recently declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which uncannily predicts – and effectively welcomes – the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq.

In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency document identifies al-Qaida in Iraq (which became Isis) and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” – and states that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria. Raising the “possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality”, the Pentagon report goes on, “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)”. […]

That doesn’t mean the US created Isis, of course, though some of its Gulf allies certainly played a role in it – as the US vice-president, Joe Biden, acknowledged last year. But there was no al-Qaida in Iraq until the US and Britain invaded. And the US has certainly exploited the existence of Isis against other forces in the region as part of a wider drive to maintain western control.

Reuters, June 22, 2015:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/22/us-mideast-crisis-syria-usa-idUSKBN0P22BX20150622

Syrian rebels receiving U.S. military training to battle Islamic State militants are being paid $250 to $400 per month, depending on their skills, performance and leadership position, the Pentagon said on Monday.

Brookings Institute, June 23, 2015:

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2015/06/23-syria-strategy-ohanlon/23syriastrategyohanlon.pdf

Training opposition fighters in the safety of Turkey, Jordan, and other friendly countries would still be the first step. But it  would not over time be sufficient, either, since many opposition fighters are reluctant to leave their home territories and thereby leave their families  and  communities  unprotected in  order  to  go  abroad  for  training. The idea would be to help moderate elements establish reliable safe zones within Syria once they were able. American, as well as Saudi and Turkish and British and Jordanian and other Arab forces would act in support, not only from the air but eventually on the ground via the presence of special forces as well. […]

This type of plan may be the only realistic path forward… Moreover, while it is not without risks for the United States, the scale of military involvement envisioned is not substantially greater than what we have been doing the last year or so in Afghanistan. President Obama…. should not view Syria as a problem to hand to his successor, but rather a crisis that demands his attention and a new strategy now.

Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2015:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/to-many-iraqis-u-s-is-not-really-seeking-to-defeat-islamic-state-1435224647

“We all know that America is providing ISIS with weapons and food, and that it is because of American backing that they have become so strong,” added Abbas Hashem, a 50-year-old who also escaped from Ramadi and now lives in the makeshift Baghdad camp that is only occasionally supplied with water. Such conspiracy theories about America’s support for Islamic State are outlandish, no doubt. But they are so widespread that they now represent a political reality with real-world consequences—making it harder for the U.S. and allies to cobble together Iraqi forces that could regain the country’s Sunni heartland from Islamic State’s murderous rule one day. […]

This spreading perception that the U.S. isn’t really interested in defeating Islamic State has undermined local resistance to the militant group in Anbar in recent months. It represents a major obstacle to recruiting local Sunni tribes—one of the U.S. strategies in the war—provincial leaders say. […]

“We don’t have any trust in Americans anymore,” said Alia Nusseif, a prominent Shiite lawmaker from Baghdad. “We now think ISIS is being used as a tool by America to divide and weaken Iraq.”

New York Times, August 25, 2015:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/world/middleeast/pentagon-investigates-allegations-of-skewed-intelligence-reports-on-isis.html?_r=1

The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

*

ii) Timeline for the Gulf States from 2012

Saudi Gazette, February 11, 2012:

http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentID=20120207117076

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will soon recognize the Free Syrian Army as the sole and legitimate representative of the Syrian people, a high-ranking official in Bahrain told the Saudi Gazette.

The Independent, February 23, 2012:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/rebel-forces-armed-by-wealthy-exiles-7320510.html

As Syria slides towards a civil war, a wealthy Syrian exile is racing to provide additional arms and ammunition to the loosely organised bands of rebels fighting under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Abu Qotaiba, a nom de guerre, has lived for the past 19 years in a wealthy Gulf country. He told The Independent he was buying weapons from arms dealers in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan and sending them into Syria, despite the cost of an AK-47 rising from about $300 to about $1,500. “Now is a chance for [dealers] to sell them at a high price,” Abu Qotaiba said. Earlier this week, US Senator John McCain told reporters that there were ways to get weapons to the Syrian opposition without direct US involvement.

“People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves,” he said. […]

The FSA has proved successful at getting hold of arms, he said. Syrian security forces can no longer go wherever they wanted in the country, especially inside cities such as Homs and Idlib because some streets were controlled by the FSA. Abu Qotaiba refused to say where the Libyan weapons came from, only denying that the arms were provided by Libya’s National Transitional Council. They came “through some revolutionaries,” he said. “There are many Libyan people trying to help. They want to return the slap to Bashar because he supported Gaddafi. They have lived our situation.”

CNN, February 23, 2012:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/23/world/meast/syria-unrest/index.html?_s=PM:MIDDLEEAST

Diplomatic sources told CNN that a number of Arab nations are supplying arms to the Syrian opposition. The sources wouldn’t identify which countries.

Al-Arabiya News, February 27, 2012:

http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/02/27/197380.html

In other news, Qatar’s prime minister said Monday he was in favor of delivering arms to the Syrian opposition that is battling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “We should do whatever necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani said during an official visit to Norway.

Washington Post, May 15, 2012:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/syrian-rebels-get-influx-of-arms-with-gulf-neighbors-money-us-coordination/2012/05/15/gIQAds2TSU_story.html

Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials. […]

Material is being stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border. Opposition activists who two months ago said the rebels were running out of ammunition said this week that the flow of weapons — most still bought on the black market in neighboring countries or from elements of the Syrian military — has significantly increased after a decision by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states to provide millions of dollars in funding each month. Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood also said it has opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said Mulham al-Drobi, a member of the Brotherhood’s executive committee.

Time Magazine, September 18, 2012:

http://world.time.com/2012/09/18/syrias-secular-and-islamist-rebels-who-are-the-saudis-and-the-qataris-arming/

As TIME reports here, disorder and distrust plague two of the rebels’ international patrons: Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The two Gulf powerhouses are no longer on the same page when it comes to determining who among the plethora of mushrooming Syrian rebel groups should be armed. The rift surfaced in August, with the alleged Saudi and Qatari representatives in charge of funneling free weaponry to the rebels clearly backing different factions among the groups — including various shades of secular and Islamist militias — under the broad umbrella that is the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Huffington Post, September 21, 2012:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/21/switzerland-hand-grenades-syria_n_1904516.html

An investigation has concluded that Swiss hand grenades exported to the United Arab Emirates several years ago found their way to Syria after being given to Jordan, the Swiss government said Friday.

Switzerland set up a joint commission in July with the UAE to investigate whether grenades exported to the Gulf nation were sent on to Syria. The move came after a newspaper published a photograph indicating a Swiss-made grenade was found with Syrian rebels.

Washington Post, June 15, 2013:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/private-money-pours-into-syrian-conflict-as-rich-donors-pick-sides/2013/06/15/67841656-cf8a-11e2-8845-d970ccb04497_story.html

The private funding of individual militias — some with extremist views — further complicates the task facing the Obama administration as it ventures into arming Syria’s rebels. With its decision to increase support for the Syrian opposition, Washington is seeking to influence a patchwork of militia groups with wildly different abilities and views about how Syria should be run after the war.

From Persian Gulf cities hundreds of miles from the battlefield, wealthy patrons help decide which of Syria’s hundreds of rebel groups will receive money to pay salaries and buy weapons and supplies for the fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

In practice, these donors overwhelmingly back Islamist groups whose ultraconservative views reflect their own, intelligence officials and analysts say.

The Telegraph, June 19, 2013:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10131063/Syrian-rebels-get-first-heavy-weapons-on-the-front-line-of-Aleppo.html

Rebel sources said Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles had been supplied by America’s key Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia. They have already been used to destructive effect and may have held up a promised regime assault on Aleppo. A handful of the missiles were already in use and in high demand after opposition forces looted them from captured regime bases. More have now arrived, confirming reports that the White House has lifted an unofficial embargo on its Gulf allies sending heavy weapons to the rebels […]

“We now have supplies from Saudi Arabia,” a rebel source said. “We have been told more weapons are on their way, even higher-end missiles.”

Brookings Institute, December 2013:

From an analysis paper entitled Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home by Elizabeth Dickinson.

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2013/12/06%20private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson/private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson.pdf

Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups. These donors have taken advantage of Kuwait’s unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades now fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. […]

From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Kuwait-based donors—including one group currently under U.S.sanction for terrorist financing—began to pressure Syrians to take up arms. The new brigades often adopted the ideological outlook of their donors. As the war dragged on and the civilian death toll rose, the path toward extremism became self-reinforcing. Today, there is evidence that Kuwaiti donors have backed rebels who have committed atrocities and who are either directly linked to al-Qa’ida or cooperate with its affiliated brigades on the ground.

Haaretz, February 24, 2014:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/.premium-1.576083

U.S., Saudi Arabia and Jordan are reportedly helping rebels plan attack starting in south and spreading to Damascus. […]

According to reports in the Syrian media and on websites run by the opposition, Jordan is replacing – or perhaps has already replaced – Turkey as the rebels’ new base of operations. […]

Meanwhile, the United States is constructing runways for reconnaissance aircraft near the border between Jordan and Syria, and in recent weeks Saudi Arabia has flown weaponry and ammunition purchased in Ukraine to bases in Jordan.

Reuters, March 9. 2014:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/09/us-iraq-saudi-qatar-idUSBREA2806S20140309

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of openly funding the Sunni Muslim insurgents his troops are battling in western Anbar province, in his strongest such statement since fighting started there early this year. […]

“I accuse them of leading an open war against the Iraqi government. I accuse them of openly hosting leaders of al Qaeda and Takfirists (extremists),” he said in the interview when asked about possible Saudi and Qatari links to the violence.

Maliki has long had chilly relations with the Gulf states, who view him as too close to Iran, and has long suspected them of funding al Qaeda-linked groups in order to bring down his Shi’ite-led government.

He accused the Saudi government of allowing “commissions” there “to attract Jihadists, to lure them, to get them fighting in Iraq”.

He also blamed both countries for launching Syria’s three-year civil war through al Qaeda-linked groups that now operate on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border, next to Anbar.

“They are attacking Iraq through Syria indirectly. They absolutely started the war in Iraq, they started the war in Syria,” Maliki said. ISIL has been one of the biggest fighting forces in Syria’s civil war.

“Saudi Arabia supports terrorism against the world, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya.”

Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have played an activist role in the Syria war, supporting armed groups fighting President Bashar Assad. They both deny supporting al Qaeda.

New York Times, March 24, 2014:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/25/world/middleeast/arms-airlift-to-syrian-rebels-expands-with-cia-aid.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. […]

Although rebel commanders and the data indicate that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been shipping military materials via Turkey to the opposition since early and late 2012… Simultaneously, arms and equipment were being purchased by Saudi Arabia in Croatia and flown to Jordan on Jordanian cargo planes for rebels working in southern Syria and for retransfer to Turkey for rebels groups operating from there, several officials said.

Raw Story, August 20, 2014:

http://www.rawstory.com/2014/08/german-minister-accuses-qatar-of-funding-islamic-state-fighters/

German Development Minister Gerd Mueller accused Qatar on Wednesday of financing Islamic State militants […]

In March, David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, cited reports of Qatari backing for Islamist fighters in Syria and described this as a “permissive jurisdiction” for donors funding militants.

BBC news, September 1, 2014:

CAUTION!!! Before reading further, please note that the author of this article is Michael Stephens, director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-29004253

It is true that some wealthy individuals from the Gulf have funded extremist groups in Syria, many taking bags of cash to Turkey and simply handing over millions of dollars at a time.

This was an extremely common practice in 2012 and 2013 but has since diminished and is at most only a tiny percentage of the total income that flows into Islamic State coffers in 2014.

It is also true that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, believing that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would soon fall and that Sunni political Islam was a true vehicle for their political goals, funded groups that had strongly Islamist credentials.

Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam were just such groups, all holding tenuous links to the “bad guy” of the time – the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria. […]

So has Qatar funded Islamic State? Directly, the answer is no. Indirectly, a combination of shoddy policy and naivety has led to Qatar-funded weapons and money making their way into the hands of IS.

Saudi Arabia likewise is innocent of a direct state policy to fund the group, but as with Qatar its determination to remove Mr Assad has led to serious mistakes in its choice of allies.

Both countries must undertake some soul searching at this point, although it is doubtful that any such introspection will be admitted in public.

BBC news, October 7, 2014:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-29528482

“Our biggest problem was our allies,” [US Vice President] Mr Biden told students at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“The Turks… the Saudis, the Emirates, etc, what were they doing? They were so determined to take down (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tonnes of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad.”

These policies ended up helping militants linked to al-Qaeda and ultimately IS, he said.

Reuters, March 4, 2015:

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/04/uk-mideast-crisis-nusra-insight-idUKKBN0M00G620150304

Leaders of Syria’s Nusra Front are considering cutting their links with al Qaeda to form a new entity backed by some Gulf states trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad, sources said. Sources within and close to Nusra said that Qatar, which enjoys good relations with the group, is encouraging the group to go ahead with the move, which would give Nusra a boost in funding. […]

The Nusra Front is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and has been sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. But for Qatar at least, rebranding Nusra would remove legal obstacles to supporting it. […]

But if Nusra is dissolved and it abandons al Qaeda, the ideology of the new entity is not expected to change. [The leader of Nusra, Abu Mohamad al-] Golani fought with al Qaeda in Iraq. Some other leaders fought in Afghanistan and are close al Qaeda chief Ayman Zawahri.

BBC News, March 6, 2015:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-31764114

Being a directly affiliated al-Qaeda group, the Nusra Front is nearer the IS end of the spectrum. Yet, while the Qatari relationship with the Nusra Front appears to be far from straightforward with some of the state’s initiatives failing, indicating some distance between the two, according to recent reports, Qatar appears to want to reform this relationship. This begs the question of why Qatar would want even loosely to associate itself with a group like the Nusra Front. […]

Secondly, the Nusra Front has pledged to concentrate its efforts on removing the Bashar al-Assad government, as opposed to attacking the “far enemy” (ie Western states)… This is why Qatar is hoping to bring the Nusra Front in from the cold.

If the state can get the group to eschew its al-Qaeda affiliation and adhere to a broadly moderate Islamist platform, Qatar can officially commence, with Western blessing, the supply of one of the most effective fighting forces in Syria. […]

But the fact remains that Qatar is a key Western ally. It hosts a critical US military base, it grafted US and UK higher-education institutions and ideas onto its education system, and has long promoted the Middle East’s most visible and powerful woman, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, the Emir’s mother. These are transparently not the policies of a state with sympathies for the likes of IS or al-Qaeda. Indeed, there is no chance that Qatar is doing this alone: the US and UK governments will certainly be involved in or at least apprised of Qatar’s plans.

*

iii) Timeline for Turkey from 2011

The Telegraph, November 27, 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8919057/Leading-Libyan-Islamist-met-Free-Syrian-Army-opposition-group.html

Abdulhakim Belhadj, head of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, “met with Free Syrian Army leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey,” said a military official working with Mr Belhadj. “Mustafa Abdul Jalil (the interim Libyan president) sent him there. […]

The meetings came as a sign of a growing ties between Libya’s fledgling government and the Syrian opposition. The Daily Telegraph on Saturday revealed that the new Libyan authorities had offered money and weapons to the growing insurgency against Bashar al-Assad.

[bold emphasis as original]

New York Times, June 21, 2012:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/middleeast/cia-said-to-aid-in-steering-arms-to-syrian-rebels.html?pagewanted=all

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

The Telegraph, July 12, 2012:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9396256/Al-Qaeda-tries-to-carve-out-a-war-for-itself-in-Syria.html

The Daily Telegraph has seen al-Qaeda’s flag flying openly in some areas of Idlib and Aleppo provinces that straddle the borders with Turkey and Iraq and fighters in the rebel Free Syrian Army have told how representatives of the militant group have tried in past months to win control of towns and villages.

Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2012:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390443343704577551281530782466

Al Qaeda in Syria (often operating as the “Al Nusra Front for the People of the Levant”) is using traffickers—some ideologically aligned, some motivated by money—to secure routes through Turkey and Iraq for foreign fighters, most of whom are from the Middle East and North Africa. A growing number of donors from the Persian Gulf and Levant appear to be sending financial support, according to U.S. Treasury Department officials I interviewed.

The Globe and Mail, August 2, 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/obama-authorizes-secret-cia-support-for-syrian-rebels/article4457317/

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said. […]

A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies. […]

Turkey’s moderate Islamist government has been demanding Assad’s departure with growing vehemence. Turkish authorities are said by current and former U.S. government officials to be increasingly involved in providing Syrian rebels with training and possibly equipment. European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels. Senior officials of the Saudi and Qatari governments have publicly called for Assad’s departure.

The Times, September 14, 2012:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/article3537770.ece

A Libyan ship carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria since the uprising began has docked in Turkey and most of its cargo is making its way to rebels on the front lines, The Times has learnt. Among more than 400 tons of cargo the vessel was carrying were SAM-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which Syrian sources said could be a game-changer for the rebels.

Time Magazine, September 18, 2012:

http://world.time.com/2012/09/18/syrias-secular-and-islamist-rebels-who-are-the-saudis-and-the-qataris-arming/

The middlemen of the two countries [Saudi Arabia and Qatar] operate out of Turkey, the regional military power. Ankara has been quite public with its denunciation of Assad even as it denies any involvement in shuffling weapons across the border to Syrian rebels. […]

According to sources who have dealt with him, Saudi Arabia’s man in the Istanbul control center is a Lebanese politician named Okab Sakr. He belongs to the Future Movement, the organization of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which has a history of enmity with Damascus. […]

The bulk of Ahrar al-Sham’s substantial funding reportedly comes from Kuwait.

Reuters, December 7, 2012:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/07/us-syria-crisis-rebels-idUSBRE8B60QX20121207

Syrian rebel groups meeting in Turkey elected a 30-member unified command on Friday at talks attended by security officials from international powers, delegates said. The 30 included many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, and excluded the most senior officers who had defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s military, they said. […]

Another delegate said that two-thirds of the leadership had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or were politically allied with the group, a composition which resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month.

Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2014:

http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Islamic-State-fighter-Turkey-paved-the-way-for-us-369443

Prime Minister’s [sic] Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “AKP government has helped us a lot” since the war in Syria began, an Islamic State fighter told a Turkish journalist. […]

Turkey paved the way for us. Had Turkey not shown such understanding for us, the Islamic State would not be in its current place. It [Turkey] showed us affection. Large number of our mujahedeen [jihadis] received medical treatment in Turkey,” he said.

Washington Post, August 12, 2014:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/how-turkey-became-the-shopping-mall-for-the-islamic-state/2014/08/12/5eff70bf-a38a-4334-9aa9-ae3fc1714c4b_story.html

Before their blitz into Iraq earned them the title of the Middle East’s most feared insurgency, the jihadists of the Islamic State treated this Turkish town near the Syrian border as their own personal shopping mall.

And eager to aid any and all enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey rolled out the red carpet.

In dusty market stalls, among the baklava shops and kebab stands, locals talk of Islamist fighters openly stocking up on uniforms and the latest Samsung smartphones. Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front — an al-Qaeda offshoot also fighting the Syrian government — were treated at Turkish hospitals. Most important, the Turks winked as Reyhanli and other Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.

“Turkey welcomed anyone against Assad, and now they are killing, spreading their disease, and we are all paying the price,” said Tamer Apis, a politician in Reyhanli, where two massive car bombs killed 52 people last year. In a nearby city, Turkish authorities seized another car packed with explosives in June, raising fears of an Islamic State-inspired campaign to export sectarian strife to Turkey.

The Guardian, October 4, 2014:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/04/us-jets-attack-isis-syrian-town-turkish-leader-rebukes-biden

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded and received an apology from the US vice-president, Joe Biden, over comments in which Biden said the Turkish leader had admitted Turkey had made mistakes by allowing foreign fighters to cross into Syria.

Erdogan denied ever saying that and told reporters in Istanbul that Biden “will be history for me if he has indeed used such expressions”.

The White House said Biden spoke to Erdogan on Saturday “to clarify comments”, and said Biden apologised “for any implication” that Turkey or other allies had intentionally supplied or helped in the growth of the Isis group or other extremists in Syria.

Responding to questions following his speech at the Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday, Biden described Erdogan as “an old friend” and added: “He [Erdogan] said: ‘You were right. We let too many people through.’ Now they’re trying to seal their border.”

BBC news, October 7, 2014:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-29528482

Mr Biden also claimed [speaking to students at Harvard Kennedy School] that Turkey admitted it had let too many foreign fighters cross its border into Syria.

The incandescent response from Ankara and expressions of “astonishment” from the United Arab Emirates led Mr Biden to “clarify” that he didn’t mean the allies had intentionally facilitated the growth of IS or other violent extremists.

But there is little doubt about the flow of weapons, money and fighters from these countries into Syria. […]

Unlike the other rebel groups, Islamic State has its own sources of revenue, including until recently a booming business in oil smuggling into Turkey. US officials have accused Ankara of, at best, turning a blind eye to the black market trade. Pressing the government to clamp down on it was a key focus of a recent visit by the Secretary of State John Kerry.

And despite denials by the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the steady flow of fighters, including foreign extremists, across Turkey’s long and porous border with Syria is well-documented.

Huffington Post, August 19, 2015:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harut-sassounian/turkeys-pays-former-cia-d_b_8002534.html

The Wall Street Journal reported on August 12 that a senior US military official accused Turkey of deceiving the American government by allowing its use of Incirlik airbase to attack ISIS, as a cover for President Erdogan’s war on Kurdish fighters (PKK) in northern Iraq. So far, Turkey has carried out 300 air strikes against the PKK, and only three against ISIS! […]

To conceal its deception and mislead the American public, within days of starting its war on the Kurds, Ankara hired Squire Patton Boggs for $32,000 a month, as a subcontractor to the powerful lobbying firm, the Gephardt Group. Squire Patton Boggs includes former Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux, and retired White House official Robert Kapla.

The Gephardt lobbying team for Turkey consists of subcontractors Greenberg Traurig, Brian Forni, Lydia Borland, and Dickstein Shapiro LLP; the latter recently added to its lobbying staff former CIA Director Porter Goss. Other lobbying firms hired by Turkey are: Goldin Solutions, Alpaytac, Finn Partners, Ferah Ozbek, and Golin/Harris International. According to U.S. Justice Department records, Turkey pays these lobbying/public relations firms around $5 million a year. Furthermore, several U.S. non-profit organizations serve as fronts for the Turkish government to promote its interests in the United States and take Members of Congress and journalists on all-expense paid junkets to Turkey. Among the U.S. lobbyists for Turkey, perhaps the most questionable is Porter Goss, CIA Director from 2004 to 2006, who has agreed to sell his soul and possibly U.S. national secrets for a fistful of Turkish Liras.”

*

Timeline for Israel from 2007

McClatchy, October 7, 2007:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/article24470350.html

Nearly a month after a mysterious Israeli military airstrike in Syria generated political aftershocks from Washington to North Korea, the Israeli government lifted its official veil of secrecy Tuesday. […]

Israel lifted its ban on reporting that the attack took place after Syrian President Bashar Assad told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Israeli jets had hit an “unused military building.” But Israeli officials refused to say anything about the attack, and almost no one who’d be expected to know — from government officials to former intelligence officers — is talking.

BBC news, April 23, 2008:

The Golan Heights had been captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in June 1967 and occupied ever since – in 1981, this became a de facto annexation under the illegal Golan Heights Law. Then, in April 2008, following secret peace negotiations with Syria, reports were leaked that Israel was prepared to withdraw from occupied Syrian Golan.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7362937.stm

Israel has passed a message to Syria that it would withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for peace, according to a Syrian government minister.

The expatriates minister, Buthaina Shaaban, said the message had been passed on by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

She said Mr Erdogan had informed the Syrian President Bashar Assad of the offer by telephone on Tuesday morning.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declined to comment.

Israel and Syria remain technically at war although both sides have recently spoken of their desire for peace.

The Syrian government has insisted that peace talks can be resumed only on the basis of Israel returning the Golan Heights, which it seized in 1967. […]

In an interview with Al-Jazeera television, Ms Shaaban said the offer had come from the Israeli prime minister.

“Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of international conditions, on the grounds of the return of the Golan Heights in full to Syria,” she said. The Syrian newspaper, al-Watan, carried similar news on its website on Wednesday. […]

Mr Olmert’s office did not deny the Syrian reports, choosing only to state that they “refuse to comment on the matter”. […]

The former US President, Jimmy Carter, who held talks with the Syrian leader recently has said he believes “about 85%” of the differences between Israel and Syria have already been resolved, including borders, water rights, the establishment of a security zone and on the presence of international forces.

“[Mr Assad said] the only major difference in starting good-faith talks was that Israel insisted that there will be no public acknowledgment that the talks were going on when Syria insisted that the talks would not be a secret,” Mr Carter said earlier this week.

Mr Carter said it was now “just a matter of reconvening the talks and concluding an agreement” between the neighbouring countries.

[bold emphasis as original]

BBC news, May 21, 2008:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7412247.stm

Israel and Syria have said they are holding indirect talks to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said both sides were talking “in good faith and openly”.

The Syrian foreign ministry also confirmed the Turkish-mediated talks, the first since 2000. […]

The Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, said Israel had agreed to withdraw from the Golan up to the armistice line of 1967.

Israel has refused to comment on the claim, although a spokesman for Mr Olmert said the current talks were being carried out with the failure of the previous ones in mind, and that the talks had recently gathered momentum.

The US and the EU have welcomed news of the talks, and both have praised Turkey’s role as facilitator.

[bold emphasis as original]

Haaretz, May 9, 2010:

But then we had the three-week long air offensive Operation Cast Lead (Dec 27, 2008 – Jan 18, 2009) ostensibly to stop Palestinian rocket attacks and to disable Hamas (with their leadership ties in Syria). This so-called “Gazan War” would cost the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of who were unarmed civilians including many hundreds of children. The massacre also signalled the ending of peace talks with Syria. The following extracts are drawn from a thoughtful article written by Zvi Bar’el.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/the-missiles-are-coming-1.289149

No doubt, Israel is threatened, but so are Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It’s enough to listen to Israel’s threats to “take Syria back to the Stone Age,” “destroy Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure” or smash Hamas to understand that the style of the Israeli threat approaches that of Iran. If anyone should be waking up in the morning in a cold sweat, it’s the Lebanese, Syrians and Gazans, not the Israelis.

Nevertheless, even though Syria has suffered military blows from Israel, it continues to act “impudently,” and Lebanon, which was pounded in war, has stepped up its threats. Operation Cast Lead in Gaza did not stop Hamas from arming itself. And in the West Bank, the occupation forces have not completely neutralized the threat. […]

“[Syrian President Bashar] Assad wants peace but doesn’t believe [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Baidatz told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. But his words were lost in the alarming description of the number of missiles in Hezbollah’s hands. Because even though we understand weapons, and we consider Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah a household name, and we assemble and dismantle centrifuges every day, we lose our way when it comes to the peace process.

Baidatz didn’t explain how it’s possible to gain Assad’s confidence, and he wasn’t asked, just as he wasn’t asked whether returning the Golan Heights to Syria under agreed conditions could neutralize the Syrian-Lebanese-Hezbollah threat. These questions are too dangerous to ask to someone from the army – he just might propose a diplomatic solution.

The Times of Israel, July 1, 2013:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/we-have-no-beef-with-israel-syrian-islamist-rebel-group-says/

A Syrian rebel group operating along the Israeli border in the Golan Heights said it has no quarrel with Israel, and that its fight is with President Bashar Assad, not the Jewish state — and it will remain that way.

The Jewish Press, February 24, 2014:

http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/report-commander-of-syrian-rebels-trained-in-israel/2014/02/24/

Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir, the new commander of the Free Syrian Army, secretly trained in Israel last year after being admitted into to the country for medical treatment, according to the Arabic language Al-Ahd website. He was transferred to a hospital in Israel after he was wounded in a military operation. Rumors spread that he died and was buried in Syria, allegedly to distract attention from his training in Israel.

Haaretz, March 16, 2014:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.580169

The Syrian opposition is willing to give up claims to the Golan Heights in return for cash and Israeli military aid against President Bashar Assad, a top opposition official told Al Arab newspaper, according to a report in Al Alam.

The Times of Israel, August 13, 2014:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/syrian-rebel-commander-says-he-collaborated-with-israel/

A Free Syrian Army commander, arrested last month by the Islamist militia Al-Nusra Front, told his captors he collaborated with Israel in return for medical and military support, in a video released this week.

Haaretz, December 7, 2014:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.630359

Reports by UN observers in the Golan Heights over the past 18 months reveal the type and extent of cooperation between Israel and Syrian opposition figures. The reports, submitted to the 15 members of the UN Security Council and available on the UN’s website, detail regular contacts held on the border between IDF officers and soldiers and Syrian rebels.

The Guardian, December 7, 2014:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/07/israeli-jets-bomb-syria-says-damascus 

Syria accused Israeli jets of bombing two installations inside the country on Sunday, one near the capital, Damascus, and the second in a town near the Lebanese border. […]

Israel has carried out several air strikes in Syria since the revolt against Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to take military action to prevent Syria from transferring sophisticated weapons to its ally Hezbollah. In June, Israel struck targets inside Syria, including a military installation, following a cross-border attack that killed an Israeli teenager. Israel said at the time that it had struck nine military targets inside its northern neighbour and had confirmed “direct hits”.

The Times of Israel, June 29, 2015:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/yaalon-syrian-rebels-keeping-druze-safe-in-exchange-for-israeli-aid/

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that Israel has been providing aid to Syrian rebels, thus keeping the Druze in Syria out of immediate danger. […]

“We’ve assisted them under two conditions,” Ya’alon said of the Israeli medical aid to the Syrian rebels, some of whom are presumably fighting with al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

*

Update:

On the day Russia launched air strikes [Wed Sept 30th] the WSJ published the following:

Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2015:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/putin-seeks-parliaments-approval-for-use-of-force-outside-russia-1443600142

Russia launched airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, catching U.S. and Western officials off guard and drawing new condemnation as evidence suggested Moscow wasn’t targeting extremist group Islamic State, but rather other opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. […]

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and said he raised U.S. concerns about attacks that target regime opponents other than Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. In Syria’s multi-sided war, Mr. Assad’s military—aided by Iran and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah—is fighting both Islamic State and opposition rebel groups, some of which are supported by the U.S. and its allies.

Mr. Kerry said the U.S. and Russia need to hold military talks as soon as possible and Mr. Lavrov said he agreed. […]

Among seven areas that Syrian state media listed as targets of Russian strikes, only one—an area east of the town of Salamiyah in Hama province—has a known presence of Islamic State fighters. The other areas listed are largely dominated by moderate rebel factions or Islamist groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham and the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.

In other words, “rebel” factions or “Islamic groups” now deemed “moderate” include al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front).

*

The timelines above are abridged and rearranged versions of the single line produced by Kevin Borge. The ones above also include a number of additions and extensions to Borge’s original.

Click here to read the original timeline for the Syrian War published by Global Research on August 29th.

 

* Here is a graphic showing polling figures for a range of ten questions taken from the same Washington Post article:

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, UAE, USA

FIFA is patently corrupt, but what’s this FBI sting really been about…?

A precursory note to the disinterested:

I did not originally intend to post an article (certainly nothing so extended) about the ongoing investigations into football’s world governing body, FIFA. However, once I began to scratch just a little beneath the surface of this developing scandal, I found that it immediately led into areas completely unanticipated. Behind the cartoon kleptocracy running the show at FIFA HQ up popped more familiar faces: the gone, but not so easily forgotten Nicolas Sarkozy, the ubiquitous Benjamin Netanyahu, and — never far from any scandal — the unwanted opinion of John McCain. Added to which, there are political entanglements that ought to have a bearing on the current US Presidential election campaign – what is the role the Clintons have played?

*

World Cup fever

When, in 2010, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter announced that Russia would host the 2018 World Cup a few eyebrows were raised… Moments later, however, as Blatter slipped his hand into a second envelope before revealing to the assembly of hopeful delegates that Qatar were to host in 2022, you could barely hear the feigned applause above the sound of jaws collectively dropping around the world.

Russia is a country very much riddled with corruption as we know (after the fall of communism, the so-called “liberalisation of markets” left the way wide open for the rise of the gangster oligarchs), but Russia is also a proud footballing nation. Supporters of the game recognised that Russia had at least earned its right to host football’s greatest tournament. The Qatar decision, on the other hand, instantly turned FIFA into a laughing stock.

Qatar has zero footballing tradition, effectively zero facilities, and due to its arid climate, close to zero blades of grass. What it had instead, and in prodigious abundance, was oil and money, and the political clout that goes with both. In other words, graft had again won the day – and just look who is smiling broadly beside the delegation of Qatari sheikhs as they jump for joy – bottom left of the screen [16 mins in], the sleek, silvery head of former President and (very likely, heaven forfend) soon-to-be (first) First Husband of the United States, Bill Clinton (a lot more on this Clinton connection later):

Whatever lingering hopes we’d had that FIFA may recover a little of its horribly sullied reputation were gone forever (though most supporters knew the score long before 2010), and all that was left was to marvel at the temerity of football’s world governing body, so casually throwing off any last pretence to probity and respectability.

With the rigged voting in 2010, it may be argued that the writing was on the wall for both FIFA and its seamy president Sepp Blatter, but with friends like Qatar around to watch your back, neither FIFA nor Blatter were about to be quite so unceremoniously deposed. Certainly the stage had been set, but the future remained secure for the heads of FIFA, or so it seemed until last week…

*

It wasn’t exactly extraordinary rendition. But when Swiss police arrested seven officials of FIFA, the international football federation, for extradition to the United States, there were some echoes of the secret terrorism arrests. Soccer is a global game, and it matters more to almost everyone than to Americans. So why is the US acting as the international sheriff and grabbing up non-US citizens to try them domestically for corrupting the sport worldwide? And, more to the point, why is this legal?

So writes Noah Feldman, who is a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard.

Feldman’s questions are germane. But before we come to addressing them, it is worthwhile considering more closely the person in charge of so aggressively pursuing the case, Obama’s newly appointed US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. Lynch has a point to prove, as an article published by the Guardian in February explains:

Opposition to Barack Obama’s nominee for US attorney general over her handling of the HSBC scandal is growing in Congress after she admitted deciding not to prosecute the bank for money laundering offences without hearing from key regulators or a separate investigation into tax secrecy. […]

“These decisions by the [Department of Justice] and Ms Lynch’s office raise troubling questions about whether pertinent information of public concern regarding HSBC was ‘swept under the rug’, if justice was served, and why HSBC was given special treatment that allowed it to walk away from such serious offences unscathed,” [Senator David] Vitter writes in a letter to current attorney general Eric Holder. “This case is increasingly relevant and pressing now that Ms Lynch has been nominated as the next attorney general.”

Lynch has confirmed she was not aware of the damning tax allegations against the bank when negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) over it facilitating money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and helping clients evade US sanctions.

This was despite a separate investigation into documents from whistleblower Hervé Falciani showing HSBC’s role in colluding with Swiss bank clients to hide their assets from tax authorities, which were passed to the US government by French authorities.

“To my knowledge, my office did not have access to the Falciani documents prior to execution of the DPA [Deferred Prosecution Agreement],” said Lynch in responses published on Thursday. “I am not aware of whether or how the information was conveyed to the department, nor do I have information about why my office did not have access to it.”

The admission has angered campaigners who say the crucial Facliona [sic] documents were “lost in the haystack of information” at the DoJ but their public existence could have been easily verified.

“She could have looked it up on Wikipedia,” said Bart Naylor, an expert at Public Citizen1

Click here to read the full article.

Thanks to Lynch’s oversight (in both senses of the word), HSBC escaped prosecution despite proven charges of laundering money for drug cartels and for terrorists – setting an extremely dangerous “too big to jail” precedent. After this remarkably softly, softly approach to Wall Street, however, Lynch is now taking an altogether more muscular stance in the case of FIFA.

An approach which potentially sets a differently dangerous precedent as she risks accusations of judicial overreach, especially given the comparatively speaking, minor felonies – bribery and kickbacks of around £100 million over 24 years is the charge against the accused FIFA officials (close to the price Real Madrid paid Spurs for Gareth Bale), and not the multiple billions of the never-ending banking “scandals”, or, to offer a very different example, the child trafficking allegations for which both DynCorp and Halliburton have been implicated (but no prosecutions brought). Furthermore, these alleged offences were committed by officials not at the head of a multinational corporation, but of a sports body that the average American cares very little about. So, why is the FBI so bothered? Why now? And on what grounds did the FBI make last week’s arrests outside America? Back to Noah Feldman:

It turns out the legal basis for the FIFA prosecutions isn’t all that simple or straightforward – and therein lies a tale of politics and sport. The prosecutions are being brought under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act of 1970, which was designed to prosecute crime syndicates that had taken over otherwise lawful organisations. […]

Generally, as the US Supreme Court has recently emphasised, laws passed by Congress don’t apply outside the US unless Congress affirmatively says so. RICO on its face says nothing about applying beyond US borders. So you’d think it can’t reach conduct that occurred abroad, and much of the alleged FIFA criminal conduct appears to have done so.

But in 2014 the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that RICO could apply extraterritorially – if, and only if, the separate criminal acts required by the law, known as “predicate acts”, violated statutes that themselves apply outside US borders. […]

But what’s most remarkable, and even incendiary, about the indictment comes in the fine print. RICO requires the existence of a criminal enterprise. As part of its case, the US Department of Justice is alleging that FIFA, the organiser of the World Cup, became a criminal enterprise as a result of its use of systematic corruption. In effect, the US government is saying that FIFA became the Mafia. 2 [Emphasis added]

*

Sepp Blatter has not (yet) been indicted, but for most of last week he was decidedly the man most in the (media) frame. In spite of this, delegates at the 65th Congress re-elected him as FIFA president and then for days afterwards, Blatter brazenly refused to step down. During this period of prolonged ignominy, it had been Michel Platini, chief of European football’s ruling body, UEFA, who was most vociferous in calling for Blatter’s resignation:

[Blatter’s] speech came just hours after Frenchman Platini said the latest crisis had left him “absolutely sickened”, adding: “People have had enough, they don’t want this president any more.” 3

That was on Thursday 28th, the day before FIFA’s election for president, and after Platini had personally requested that Blatter step down. The same day, Platini also called for delegates to join him in voting for Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, saying:

“Sepp, I like to speak to you man to man, face to face. Listen we started together, now I am asking you to leave FIFA because we give a terrible image and this can’t go on.” 4

Now, it is here worth briefly reflecting upon Michel Platini’s reputation as a player. For Platini wasn’t just any old player, but acclaimed by many as the greatest player of his generation. Creative, imaginative, tremendously skilful, Platini had been lauded not only for his prodigious talents, but also for his clean approach to the game. That said, after becoming head of FIFA’s European affiliate UEFA, Platini, like Blatter (who was always a bureaucrat), moved into politics. The politics of sport is politics nevertheless.

Since Platini took the helm at UEFA, he too became deeply embroiled in scandals seemingly of his own making – scandals I will return to in a moment. Yet at the present time, the media have collectively latched onto Platini and adopted him as football’s knight in shining armour. So whatever Platini is reported to have said is often presented as though Platini himself has no political ambitions. But this is nonsensical. And in actual fact, Platini’s own decisions as a footballing chief also played a significant part in FIFA’s downfall too – if, that is, we accept that FIFA’s real troubles began with the absurd 2010 vote and Qatar’s moment in the sun.

*

Qatar

In a 20-page investigation headlined “Qatargate”, the respected magazine France Football said that “acts of collusion and corruption” shaped the much-criticised FIFA decision to award the 2022 competition to the tiny, oil-rich Gulf state.

Among the alleged “acts of collusion”, the magazine listed a secret meeting called by President Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace on 23 November 2010. Ten days later – to worldwide astonishment – Qatar was chosen by a FIFA executive committee meeting in Zurich to host the World Cup in June-July 2022, despite summer temperatures in the Gulf of up to 50C.

This is taken from an article published by The Independent in January 2013. It continues:

Mr Sarkozy’s lunch guests included the crown prince of Qatar, Tamin bin Haman al-Thani, Michel Platini, president of the European Football Association (EUFA), and a representative of the investment fund which owned the then struggling French football club, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

France Football said that Mr Platini – a star of the France team of the 1980s – came under pressure at the lunch to switch his vote from the United States to Qatar.

The article ends with a quote from Nicolas Sarkozy:

One of the few international figures to have consistently supported the choice of Qatar is Mr Sarkozy. Just after the FIFA vote in 2010, he said: “Sport does not belong to a few countries. It belongs to the world… I don’t understand those who say that events should always be held in the same countries and the same continents.” 5

Click here to read the full article.

Eighteen months later, as the scandal rumbled on, we learned that Platini not only voted for Qatar in the ballot, but that he had been involved in another private meeting linked to the Qatar bid:

The Telegraph has unearthed evidence that Mr Platini, a former leading French international and the president of Uefa, European football’s governing body, had a private discussion with Mohamed Bin Hammam, the controversial Qatari [a former Fifa executive committee member and ex-president of the Asian Football Confederation] who paid millions of pounds to football officials around the world. […]

It is understood that the meeting took place shortly before Fifa awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and that Mr Bin Hammam personally lobbied Mr Platini to support the Emirate’s bid.

Fifa executive committee members vote in secret, but Mr Platini has disclosed that he voted for Qatar in the ballot, which was held in 2010. 6

Platini, whose son Laurent happened to be the chief executive of Qatar owned sports company Burrda, quickly denied the allegations, writing in response to The Telegraph article:

“I find it astonishing that conversations with a fellow member of the FIFA Executive Committee could suddenly be transformed into a matter of state.

I have obviously met with Mr. Mohamed Bin Hammam on many occasions in 2010 as we were both members of the same FIFA Executive Committee since 2002.

During those conversations with Mr. Bin Hammam, the topic of the discussions was my potential candidature for the FIFA Presidency. Mr. Bin Hammam was indeed trying to convince me to become a candidate for the 2011 FIFA Presidential elections.

Additionally, I wish to reiterate that I am the only member of the FIFA Executive Committee who publicly stated for which bid I have voted – proof of my full transparency – and that no one ever dictates terms or conditions to me.

Unfortunately, I am no longer surprised by the circulation of unfounded rumours which aim at tarnishing my image, especially in such an important time for the future of football.”

*

Ukraine and Russia

[Nonetheless,] the bid was still considered the outsider of the three.

Poland is still recovering from a match-fixing scandal and its government has been warned by Uefa and Fifa about political interference in the country’s football governing body.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has been hit by a political crisis, with the president trying to dissolve parliament. 7

This was how the BBC reported on the surprise victory by the joint Poland-Ukraine bid to host the Euro 2012 tournament. At the time, Italy had been favourites to win, even though their own bid was similarly overshadowed with issues relating to crowd violence as well as to a match-fixing scandal. The Italian authorities have always accepted the result, however, one person, and not an Italian but a Cypriot, would later publicly claim that he held evidence of backroom deals. UEFA’s response was swift:

European football’s governing body, Uefa, says it is taking legal action in response to allegations of corruption in the bidding race for Euro 2012.

Spyros Marangos, a former treasurer of the Cyprus Football Association [CFA], claimed this week that money had changed hands before the championship was handed to Poland and Ukraine.

He was told to provide evidence within two days to back up his claims.

But, according to Uefa, Mr Marangos had complained that was too short notice.

His lawyers told the BBC on Monday that Mr Marangos had tried for the past two years to draw the football body’s attention to the allegations for which he had witnesses. 8

Spyros Marangos, who had left the CFA in 2007, “made the allegations in German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung before telling Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that he had proof to back up his claims.” In response, UEFA filed for damages in the Swiss courts and lodged a complaint with the Cypriot Attorney General. They also released an official statement:

‘UEFA has been obliged to take legal action firstly in order to establish whether any of the claims made by Mr Marangos have any substance to them, and therefore to make available any tangible elements in order to substantiate these claims. And secondly, to protect the integrity and the good name of UEFA and European football in general, which have been seriously damaged by these allegations.’ 9

Not that scandal surrounding the Euro 2012 tournament ended with Spyros Marangos’ unsubstantiated allegations. There have since been claims that once construction for the tournament started, as much as £2.5 billion (compare this with the £100 million in alleged bribes currently being investigated by the FBI) went missing in Ukraine alone:

Uefa, the governing body of football in Europe, is under pressure to investigate claims of massive corruption during Ukraine’s preparations for Euro 2012, amid allegations that as much as $4bn (£2.5bn) in state funds allocated for the tournament was stolen by officials.

Rebecca Harms, the leader of the Green faction in the European parliament, said Uefa had to investigate why Ukraine cancelled competitive tenders for all Euro 2012 projects in 2010. Instead, contracts for building stadiums, roads and other infrastructure projects were awarded to a handful of shadowy companies, including one based offshore in Belize. […]

Harms, a German MEP who visited Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, last week, told the Guardian: “I will confront Uefa with these questions. I will also raise them in parliament. In whose private pocket did the money go? Uefa [under Platini’s watch – my note] must take responsibility.” 10

This comes from a Guardian article published in 2012, a time when former Prime Minister “the gas princess” Yulia Tymoshenko had been jailed for her own part in a corruption scandal soon after her fierce opponent Viktor Yanukovych was re-elected into office. With pro-western Tymoshenko behind bars and more Russophilic Yanukovych back in power, the corporate media was much keener to switch its spotlight on to Ukrainian criminality.

But for reasons of political expedience, Ukraine and its oligarchs now get a more or less free pass. The media turns a blind eye, not merely to its corruption scandals, but to Kiev’s deliberate bombing campaign against civilians (a million people forced to flee to Russia), to its complicity in a massacre, and to the overt rise of fascism both within government spheres and military brigades. When searching out stories of corruption, attention has instead shifted solely to the misdemeanours of Russian oligarchs and to crimes committed (“allegedly” is a word reserved for western misdemeanours and indiscretions) by the Kremlin. Which brings us back to FIFA…

Given the sordid history of FIFA, the allegations will likely have a solid foundation. Four other people and two companies have already pleaded guilty to charges in the case. Allegations of bribery have long dogged FIFA. Vast fortunes are at stake when it comes to hosting prestigious sporting events, such as the World Cup and Olympics. Bribery has become endemic in the allocation of these events.

Mass sporting events, which are backed and sponsored by gigantic corporate interests, are fundamentally managed no differently than anything else organised by big business and the imperialist powers.

The decision by the Obama administration to pursue and file the charges, however, is both hypocritical and politically motivated. Indeed, the sums cited in the criminality within FIFA are dwarfed by the corrupt practices associated with the US and global financial system.

Following the arrests, FBI Director James Comey said, “If you corrupt our shores with your corrupt enterprise, whether that is through meetings or using our world-class financial system, you will be held accountable for that corruption. Nobody is above or beyond the law.”

Loretta Lynch, the Obama administration’s attorney general, spoke of a culture of “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption. In the attempt to justify action against individuals residing in and largely operating outside of the US, Lynch said, “In many instances, the defendants and their co-conspirators planned aspects of this long-running scheme during meetings held here in the United States.”

Comey and Lynch speak as representatives of a US elite that is guilty of criminality on a much larger scale. Their “world-class financial system” is one that allowed a parasitic elite to indulge in financial skulduggery that collapsed the world’s banking system in 2008, leading to a global recession. And they rewarded these same people for their criminal behaviour with trillions of dollars of public money.

“Rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption is an apt description of the daily operations of US banks, yet no executive of a major bank has been arrested or prosecuted.

The well-documented financial corruption within football’s ruling body is being utilised by the US primarily as a propaganda weapon against Russia.

That comes from an article published on the World Socialist Web Site. I reprint such an extended passage simply because it so cogently summed up my own thoughts upon hearing that FIFA had been busted by the FBI. Can anyone honestly fail to make the same connection? Especially since, as the same article goes on to point out:

Moscow’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup has been turned by figures with the US ruling elite and their allies internationally into a question of paramount importance.

Senator Robert Menendez, who in April was indicted on federal corruption charges, said he was “especially pleased that Swiss and US authorities are investigating FIFA’s granting of the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022”, as he had “long been concerned about FIFA’s selection of Russia.”

He was supported by Senator John McCain, who jointly authored a letter to FIFA declaring, “In light of President Blatter’s continued support for Russia hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup—despite Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and other challenges to the post-WWII security architecture—we ask that you reconsider your support for President Blatter’s fifth term as FIFA President.

This follows a letter to FIFA last month from 13 US senators requesting that Blatter step in to take the World Cup away from Russia. 11 [Emphasis added]

As the new Cold War sets in, this action is rather blatantly about Russia – an Anglo-American desire to embarrass Putin – although there are more reasons besides why this meeting taking place in Zurich about the immediate future of “global soccer” might have been troubling some on Capitol Hill…

*

Israel

In 2007, FIFA suspended Kuwait from all international matches because of “governmental interference in the national game”. In 2013, Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) was suspended, and then last year, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) was also suspended “on account of government interference.” This year, both FIFA and UEFA were threatening to sanction Greece, who had previously been suspended briefly in 2006 when they were then-reigning European champions, before the threat was dropped.

This time around, however, it was the Israeli FA that were facing possible suspension, and not because of “governmental interference in the national game” (as is usually the case), but on the more aggravated grounds that Israel had violated rules relating to free movement of players and of racism. In fact, Israel was about to be called to account for its abuses against Palestinian footballers that have included harassment, assaults, arrests, deliberately targeted shootings 12 and actual killings 13. One of the most high profile cases involved Mahmoud Sarsak, who at 14 years old was the youngest-ever player in the Palestine League:

Its abuse of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak undermined a promising career. In 2009, Israeli security thugs arrested him for trying to cross from Gaza to the West Bank to participate in a match – his legitimate right.

He was horrifically abused, lawlessly kept in administrative detention for three years uncharged. His lawyers were denied access to fabricated evidence against him.

He was guilty of the crime of football – freed in summer 2012 after a 92 day hunger strike. Israel ruthlessly targets other Palestinian footballers like Sarsak. 14

A more detailed list of Israel’s violations are available at the Stop the War Coalition website.

The Palestinian Football Association (which has been recognised by FIFA since 1998 and is led by president Jibril Rajoub) had been granted a vote on Israel’s suspension at last week’s FIFA Congress, and Palestine supporters were also gathered outside to lend vocal support to the call for Israel’s expulsion. Although delayed because of a bomb scare, the Palestinians  remained optimistic that the ballot would return a decision in their favour:

The Palestinian Football Association will push ahead Friday for a vote calling for the suspension of Israel from the world football organisation at Fifa’s scandal-riven congress in Zurich.

Despite last-ditch attempts at mediation by world football officials, the Palestinian delegation insisted it would push for a vote unless Israel expels five teams based in illegal Israeli settlements from its football league. […]

Both Palestinian and Israeli delegations in Zurich have been working around the clock since arriving in the midst of the biggest scandal to hit the world football organisation.

Twin Swiss and US investigations focussing on a far-reaching culture of kickbacks in Fifa have thrown the congress in Zurich into chaos, including both the re-election bid of Fifa president Sepp Blatter and other business on the agenda including the Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended.

Israel has sought the support of the European regional grouping UEFA of which it is a member to vote against the proposed suspension. [I will come back to this]

Its efforts to avoid a vote – which some see as damaging in itself as a vote for suspension – have seen it enlist Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs as well as the lobbying of key Fifa officials.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, weighed in on Thursday, telling reporters that if Israel is suspended “it would be a blatant politicisation of sport and the result will be Fifa’s collapse”15

[Emphasis added]

That was taken from a Guardian article published on the morning of Friday 29th, the day of the vote, but by the evening everything had changed:

The Palestinian Football Association has withdrawn its call to have Israel suspended from Fifa in a chaotic last minute climbdown at the congress of football’s governing body in Zurich. Following days of negotiations, and the mediation of Fifa president Sepp Blatter, the Palestinian moves at the scandal-ridden congress appeared comprehensively outmanoeuvred by feverish Israeli lobbying and the opposition of senior Fifa officials, including Blatter.

As details of an impending deal emerged, the Palestinian delegation came out of the last round of talks expecting the congress to vote on an amendment to refer the main sticking point, the status of five Israeli clubs based in illegal settlements on the West Bank, to the United Nations.

But the Palestinian move was overruled by Blatter, to the clear dismay of the Palestinian delegation, whose lawyer tried to appeal from the floor. Instead, the issue will be referred to a new Fifa committee. […]

Palestinian sources confirmed that Rajoub had been under huge pressure to withdraw the suspension motion from delegates. “It is true everyone was putting pressure on him to withdraw,” said one. Blatter has always made clear he opposed a vote on suspension.

Following the withdrawal of the request to suspend Israel over claims of its racist and discriminatory policies towards Palestinian football, 90% of delegates voted to set up a new monitoring inspections committee to oversee a mechanism to ensure movement of players and equipment.

The size of the vote in favour of the motion – 165-18 – is likely to be the only consolation for the Palestinian side, which has been pushing a long-term campaign over what it says are Israeli abuses of Palestinian football.

The outcome seemed certain to be a cause for celebration for Israel. […]

Commenting on the outcome, Netanyahu said: “Our international effort has proven itself and led to the failure of the Palestinian Authority attempt to oust us from Fifa.” 16

Click here to read more of this follow-up Guardian article

Afterwards, Israeli minister, Yisrael Katz, posted this on Facebook:

Rajoub failed in his mission of throwing Israel out of FIFA.  Now’s the time to imprison him in the Muqata [like Israel did to Arafat] and let him play Stanga [hackysack] with his pals 17

Newly re-elected president Sepp Blatter, who had stated his opposition to the suspension of Israel, tried to be conciliatory, but what he said was all the more risible for his attempt:

“This has been an issue for the past two FIFA Congresses and I’m so happy that we’re coming to a solution. I’m sure both sides will apply the basic principle of FIFA which is solidarity, it is up to Israel to help and share a little bit more with Palestine.”

But Blatter was not alone in defending the indefensible. Back in April, Platini too had given his backing to Israeli Football Association (IFA) officials. The IFA later releasing a statement saying:

“Platini stressed that Israel is an inseparable part of UEFA and is an equal member that is welcome in the UEFA family.”

Then, at a press conference on the eve of the FIFA congress, Platini reiterated that:

[The] football’s world governing body ‘wouldn’t accept’ the Palestinian FA’s bid to ban Israel from FIFA, should the motion be put to a vote tomorrow. 18

So punishment that was thought good for Cameroon, Nigeria, Greece and many others, including even oil-rich Kuwait (should anyone suppose this is simply about money), was withheld from Israel. All the turmoil going on at FIFA can hardly have helped the Palestinian cause.

*

Back to Qatar (and the Clintons)

Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.

This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.

According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents. 19

This is the opening to one of the earliest mainstream reports on the use of slave labour in constructing the World Cup infrastructure ready for Qatar 2022.

As this whole corruption fiasco has played out, and when not conducting the growing chorus of disapproval towards the disgraced but shameless Blatter, the media has also occasionally drawn a little more attention to the unseen costs of FIFA’s shock decision in 2010. For this is apparently what it takes to get our western media to fully investigate and to seriously challenge conditions within the despotic regimes of our Gulf State partners. And, on a similar note, we may now also return to consider the role of the Clintons in this whole debacle:

Bill Clinton looked anything but happy as he strode into the Savoy Baur en Ville hotel in Zurich in December 2010. The receptionists could tell he was irritated, but had no idea just how angry he was.

After closing the door to his suite, he reached for an ornament on a table and threw it at a wall mirror in a fit of rage, shattering the glass.

The former US president, who had spent two years travelling the world glad-handing members of football’s governing body, Fifa, could not believe America’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup had been beaten by, of all places, Qatar. 20

Hmmm, well he certainly doesn’t look like a man about to throw an ornament into a mirror in a fit of pique in that footage (embedded above), but then Bill is a renown diplomat, so presumably he was just putting a brave face on it. But hold up, what’s this…?

Former President Bill Clinton served as the honorary chairman of the U.S. committee that worked unsuccessfully to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup. The surprise winner that year was Qatar–and it turns out that the Qatari committee now planning the massive event has been a major donor to Clinton’s charitable foundation. […]

The foundation’s donor records, posted on its Web site, show that FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, has donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton foundation. The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, which was formed in 2011 to build stadiums and other infrastructure after Qatar was named the 2022 host, has given between $250,000 and $500,000 to the foundation.

Naturally therefore, top of Loretta Lynch’s list will now be inquiries regarding these donations into the Clinton funds… Well, no:

U.S. officials Wednesday unsealed indictments against 14 top officials involved with soccer, accusing the group of bribery, money laundering and fraud.

While the [Clinton] foundation has no involvement with the investigations, it’s a reminder that the global philanthropy has accepted donations from many of the world’s richest and most powerful players. Its donor list runs to 200,000 names, and includes foreign governments, Wall Street and foreign financial institutions, energy conglomerates and others. The government of Qatar, for instance, which aggressively sought the World Cup, has given the foundation between $1 million and $5 million. 21

[Emphasis added]

Other “philanthropic” donations to the Clinton Foundation have come from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Electric and another less well-known aerospace manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft, who were part owned by Goldman Sachs. Coincidentally, many of these state and corporate donors had trade deals approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department:

The monarchy in Qatar had similarly been chastised by the State Department for a raft of human rights abuses. But that country donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was running the State Department. During the three full budgetary years of her tenure, Qatar saw a 14-fold increase in State Department authorizations for direct commercial sales of military equipment and services, as compared to the same time period in Bush’s second term. The department also approved the Pentagon’s separate $750 million sale of multi-mission helicopters to Qatar. That deal would additionally employ as contractors three companies that have all supported the Clinton Foundation over the years: United Technologies, Lockheed Martin and General Electric. 22

To read more about how these Clinton Foundation donors received contracts from Hillary Clinton’s State Department click here.

So let me pose this: is the bigger story here the one about a few (so far numbering fourteen) corrupt FIFA officials, or is it one about the financial irregularities of a former US President and his warmongering Presidential candidate wife?

[There are a great many other “scandals” surrounding and involving the Clintons, but I prefer to hold back from writing more about the misadventures of Bill and Hillary until a later date.]

*

Beyond Blatter

Now that Blatter is gone, what about the future of world football itself? The consensus amongst supporters – in Europe at least – appears to be that FIFA as a whole ought to be reformed, or even abolished. But here (as always) I believe it is wise to be very careful what we wish for.

During my time as a football fan (a period that encompasses nearly my whole life) there have been enormous changes in the sport. In England, surely the most significant of these was the establishment of the Premier League.

Prior to the Premier League, the wealthiest clubs in England were already in the habit of pestering for a bigger share of the television revenues. Breakaway threats would come and go, but nothing very much altered. It happens, however, that there have always been two ruling bodies in English football – The Football League and the Football Association (FA) – and eventually all this talk of divorce was formalised by the oldest and grandest of two, the FA, who foisted a deal against The League’s broader interests and on behalf of the richest “big five” clubs. In consequence, the top division became effectively a league of its own, administered under the auspices not of The League, but the FA. Extra money from the new TV rights could then be divvied up amongst the clubs in the new Premier League. Thus greed won out over democracy, as was the fashion in the early 1990s (and as now).

There have been many consequences to the formation of the FA Premier League. Increased revenues have enabled its clubs to attract star players from across the world, and the standard of top level English football has certainly improved. But the new money mostly went into players’ wages, and as salaries and bonuses rapidly inflated, ticket prices also escalated, squeezing out many of the game’s long-standing supporters. As clubs’ loyalty to their supporters waned, so too did the players’ loyalty to their clubs. Loyalty in football has all but disappeared.

In short, the establishment of the Premier League has helped to accelerate the corporatisation of English football. Thirty years ago there were arguments about whether players’ shirts should be allowed to carry advertisements (the BBC allowed ads on Formula One cars but baulked at letting football go the same way), and debate over whether football matches could be played on Sundays (a day of rest, for those who remember). Who could have envisaged a future when TV executives (primarily at Sky) would demand football matches are played literally every day of the week and three times on Sundays! Meantime, the supporters, who often travel great distances to watch their teams, and who cling to the belief that the game belongs to them (I remain one of the millions of likewise deluded fools), have in truth become little more than an advertising backdrop. Colourful scenery for corporate giants to hang their logos on.

As this latest FIFA scandal unfolded, it was the corporate sponsors, we have repeatedly been informed, who pushed hardest for Blatter’s resignation, deeply concerned that their own brand may become tarnished with ties to FIFA’s corruption. Hurrah for enlightened self-interest; this is what we’re supposed to think. Forgetting how those very same offshore (for tax purposes) multinational entities, exploit their distant workers in third world sweatshops, twisting every health and safety and environmental regulation in unremitting efforts to maximise profit. We ought really to laugh out loud, if only it didn’t hurt so much.

Likewise, the news is that UEFA may soon be split from FIFA altogether. A move which the corporations would doubtless prefer – two tiers in world football, very much along the lines of the two-tiered English league. So is UEFA about to usurp FIFA just as the FA usurped the Football League in the early ’90s? I sincerely hope not.

One thing I have learned about FIFA during the last week or so that surprised me in a good way, is how its voting systems are actually more democratic than those for most other global institutions. Each affiliated football association, irrespective of its size or importance, gets just one vote. It is this equality amongst nations that has helped to preserve the World Cup as a genuinely international competition. The diversity surviving by virtue of one simple but surprising fact: that it is very much easier for teams from Oceania, Asia, Africa and even North America to qualify than for those from the footballing superpowers in Europe and South America. Such handicapping makes the World Cup what it is – and FIFA deserve credit for keeping the playing field unlevel.

FIFA’s “one association one vote” system is arguably the very epitome of what footballing democracy ought to be, and not as the media has repeatedly presented it, another measure of corruption within the organisation itself. Of course, FIFA’s system does make the buying-off of local officials in smaller and poorer nations worthwhile, whereas if the major nations were prioritised (as is usually the case), corruption of a different but more familiar form would likely proliferate instead. Meanwhile, the insinuation that only officials of the “lesser nations” are prone to corruption is one that smacks very much of racism.

In any case, once the pressure has built to overhaul the existing system, the great tendency will be to make changes to benefit the superpowers of the game. And with more control in the hands of those in Europe (assuming UEFA prevails), western domination of the world’s favourite sport will also mean football imperialism.

I would like to finish on a related issue presented again by Noah Feldman, professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard, as he concluded his piece for Bloomberg View:

How will the rest of the world react to the claim that soccer’s international governing body is a criminal enterprise under U.S. law? One possibility is that international observers will be grateful that someone finally stepped in to do something about endemic corruption within FIFA. It’s been a more or less open secret over the years that FIFA was corrupt in the ordinary, nontechnical meaning of the word. Perhaps – just perhaps – fans will be pleased or relieved that someone has taken on the task of cleaning up the mess.

That interpretation is optimistic, given America’s reputation for extraterritorial imperialism. The relative unimportance of soccer in the U.S. compared with every place else on earth makes concerns about imperialism still more pressing. Through creative and aggressive use of a highly unusual American law, the U.S. may well be seen as attempting a takeover of international soccer. 23

*

Additional: The 3 Horse Race at FIFA

“This guy, if he gets in, will make Blatter and co seem like saints.” So wrote a very good friend of mine after hearing rumours (months ago) that another ex-footballer Luis Figo might be standing for the FIFA presidency.

Well, I have just looked at the odds for the various candidates and it appears to be roughly a three horse race. Prince Ali Al-Hussein is favourite – the bookies not the people’s. Platini is a close second, and next is indeed Luis Figo. So might it be that Platini was only the stalking horse — perhaps, Prince Ali too? Although if you are looking for a really long shot, then the bookies are offering 500-1 on Vladimir Putin (in the same spirit, I’m offering 1000-1 on both Bill or Hillary Clinton — take your pick!)

*

Update: Where were the auditors?

Auditors are fond of telling anyone prepared to listen that they cannot be expected to spot every fraud or impending disaster when they comb through a company’s books.

But the Fifa affair, which has finally claimed the scalp of president Sepp Blatter, raises questions about long-term auditor KPMG, which did not raise an alarm despite the openly lavish lifestyles of some officials.

It is just the latest embarrassment for KPMG – the firm audited a string of scandal-hit clients including HSBC, HBOS, the Co-op Bank and US mortgage lender Fannie Mae, apparently without noticing anything amiss.

It is not alone. Its peers, EY, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte also stand accused of not spotting impending disasters on their client lists.

The latest furore inevitably raises questions not only over the conduct of KPMG, but the wider issue of how accountable are the accountants.

‘The Fifa affair begs a question of exactly what are audits good for,’ says Professor Prem Sikka of Essex University Business School.

‘If the auditors can’t spot millions of pounds going astray over many years, what can they do?

Click here to read the full article at thisismoney, which questions the ‘revolving door syndrome’ between accountancy firms, corporate boardrooms and our financial regulators.

*

1 From an article entitled “Loretta Lynch confirmation as attorney general dogged by HSBC scandal” written by Dan Roberts, published in the Guardian on February 20, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/feb/20/loretta-lynch-confirmation-attorney-general-hsbc-scandal

2 From an article entitled “U.S. Treats FIFA Like the Mafia” written by Noah Feldman, published by Bloomberg View on May 27, 2015. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-05-27/u-s-treats-fifa-like-the-mafia

3 From an article entitled “Fifa: Blatter refuses to quit as president & vows ‘to restore trust’” published by BBC news on May 28, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/32914907

4 Quoted here: http://www.morningstar.co.uk/uk/news/AN_1432819609175844000/platini-calls-on-blatter-to-step-down-uefa-to-attend-fifa-congress.aspx

5 From an article entitled “Nicolas Sarkozy ‘colluded’ to get Qatar 2022 World Cup” written by John Lichfield, published in The Independent on January 29, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/nicolas-sarkozy-colluded-to-get-qatar-2022-world-cup-8471758.html

6 From an article entitled “Qatar World Cup 2022: France embroiled in corruption scandal” written by Claire Newell, Holly Watt & Ben Bryant, published in The Telegraph on June 2, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/10871065/Qatar-World-Cup-2022-France-embroiled-in-corruption-scandal.html

7 From an article entitled “Poland and Ukraine host Euro 2012” published by BBC news on April 18, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/6562527.stm

8 Uefa to sue Cypriot over Euro 2012 corruption claim” published by BBC news on October 28, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11645694

9 The quote and details above are taken from an article entitled “UEFA launch legal action over corruption allegations surrounding Poland and Ukraine” published in the Daily Mail on October 30, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1325142/UEFA-launch-legal-action-corruption-allegations-surrounding-Poland-Ukraine.html

10 From an article entitled “Euro 2012: Uefa urged to investigate $4bn corruption allegations in Ukraine” written by Luke Harding and David Leigh, published in the Guardian on June 20, 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/football/2012/jun/20/euro-2012-corruption-allegations-ukraine

11 From an article entitled US seizes on FIFA corruption to pursue campaign against Russia” written by Robert Stevens and Chris Marsden, published on the World Socialist Web Site on May 29, 2015. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/29/fifa-m29.html

12

Outrage has surfaced over the case  of two Palestinian teenage football players [two teenagers, Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17] who were reportedly shot in the feet at an Israeli checkpoint on their way home from practise on January 31. Israeli security forces said  the two were trying to throw bombs at police officers.

Doctors reportedly said  the two teens will never be able to play sports again due to their injuries, and will need months of treatment before assessing whether they can walk.

From an article entitled “Shooting renews calls for FIFA to kick out Israel” published by Al Jazeera on March 5, 2014. http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201403052234-0023531

You can also read more on the same story here: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/palestinian-teenagers-shot-feet-by-israeli-soldiers-after-playing-football-calls-fifa-israel-ban-1439183

13

Ahed Zaqout, a former Palestinian national team player, has been killed by an Israeli bomb that hit his apartment in Gaza, Palestinian medical officials said on Thursday.

“Palestine has lost one of its best players, he may have been the best midfielder we ever had,” Gaza sports journalist Khaled Zaher told Reuters.

From an article entitled “Former midfielder on Palestinian national team killed in Gaza air strike” written by Nidal Al-Mughrabi, published by Haaretz on July 31, 2014. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.608224

14 From an article entitled “Soccer Politics: Palestinian Bid to Expel Israel from FIFA Dropped” written by Stephen Lendman, published by Global Research on May 30, 2015. http://www.globalresearch.ca/soccer-politics-palestinian-bid-to-expel-israel-from-fifa-dropped/5452598

15 From an article entitled “Palestinian Football Association to push ahead for Israel’s suspension from Fifa” written by Peter Beaumont, published in the Guardian on May 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/29/palestinian-football-association-to-push-ahead-for-israels-suspension-from-fifa

16 From an article entitled “Palestine withdraw call to suspend Israel from Fifa” written by Peter Beaumont, published in the Guardian on May 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/29/palestinians-withdraw-call-to-suspend-israel-from-fifa-west-bank

17 Read more and find translation here: http://www.globalresearch.ca/did-israel-buy-its-way-out-of-fifa-suspension/5452609 

18 From an article entitled “Platini: FIFA ‘won’t accept’ Palestinian bid to suspend Israel” published by Jewish News on May 28, 2015. http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/platini-fifa-wont-accept-palestinian-bid-to-suspend-israel/

19 From an article entitled “Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’” written by Pete Pattisson, published in the Guardian on September 25, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/25/revealed-qatars-world-cup-slaves

20 From an article entitled “Qatar World Cup 2022 scandal: Bill Clinton’s fury at vote triggered global search for truth” written by Holly Watt, Claire Newell & Ben Bryant, published by The Telegraph on June 3, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/10871114/Qatar-World-Cup-2022-scandal-Bill-Clintons-fury-at-vote-triggered-global-search-for-truth.html

21 From an article entitled “Clinton Foundation donors included FIFA, Qatar host committee” written by Rosalind S. Helderman, published in the Washington Post on May 27, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/05/27/clinton-foundation-donors-included-fifa-qatar-host-committee/ 

22 From an article entitled “Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton’s State Department” written by David Sirota and Andrew Perez, published in the International Business Times on May 26, 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/clinton-foundation-donors-got-weapons-deals-hillary-clintons-state-department-1934187

23 From an article entitled “U.S. Treats FIFA Like the Mafia” written by Noah Feldman, published by Bloomberg View on May 27, 2015. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-05-27/u-s-treats-fifa-like-the-mafia

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Seymour Hersh on last August’s sarin attack on Ghouta and possible Turkish connections

Back in December, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh wrote an article questioning the Obama administration’s claims that Assad had crossed a “red line” after launching a chemical attack on Ghouta, an eastern suburb of Damascus. In his report, Hersh explained how:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

The article entitled “Whose sarin?” was published by the London Review of Books on December 19th.

Hersh has more recently produced a follow up article that provides additional evidence supporting the view that Ghouta attack was most probably launched by al-Qaeda factions in Syria:

Obama’s change of mind [decision not to attack Syria] had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

Seymour Hersh also talked about his latest report on Monday’s [April 7th] Democracy Now!:

Click here to watch the interview and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

In his recent article [also published April 7th] entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line”, Hersh implicates Turkey as possible collaborators in this and other chemical attacks in Syria:

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’ […]

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’ […]

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI [Director of National Intelligence] spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

And “the rat line”? Well, that brings Hersh back to the Benghazi attack of September 2012 which led to the death of US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. He draws attention [halfway down the following paragraph] to “a highly classified annex” to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the incident – distribution of which was apparently “limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress”:

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.) […]

The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’

Click here to read the full version of Seymour Hersh’s latest article [April 6th] also published in the London Review of Books.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Turkey, USA

The New Great Game: “Pax Americana” from Syria to Uzbekistan to the Ukraine

*

Recent historical background

Embedded above is one of the most frequently cited (at least by alternative news outlets) political interviews of the past decade. Broadcast by Democracy Now! on March 2nd, 2007, it features Gen. Wesley Clark discussing US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. The reason for its notoriety being the statement Clark makes during the opening three minutes, when he informs the world of how he learned about Pentagon plans to “take out seven countries in five years”:

About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs and just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me and he said, “Sir, you’ve gotta come in and talk to me a second.”

I said, “Well, you’re too busy.”

He said “No, we’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September.

I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq – why?”

He said, “I don’t know…” [audience laughs] He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.”

So I said, “Well did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?”

He said, “No, no, there’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan, and I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?”

He said, “Oh, it’s worse than that. He reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper, and he said, “I just got this down from upstairs from the Secretary of Defense’s office today” and he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years. Starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off, Iran.”

Wesley Clark’s testimony is important because it is revealing, at the same time though, I find his professed surprise at the revelations coming from “upstairs” more than a little hard to believe. After all, both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, men who Clark says he had only just seen on the day in question (and ones he presumably met with on a quite regular basis), are both Signatories to Statement of Principles of the now notorious Project for the New American Century (PNAC) neo-con think tank. A statement of intent had been signed by them and other notables, including Dick Cheney, more than four years prior to the 9/11 attacks on June 3rd 1997. It begins:

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

Unfortunately, the complete founding PNAC statement is hard to track down, but then we can no doubt judge the group’s geostrategic ambitions better from a few of its less public documents. For instance, a PNAC letter to President George W. Bush advocating “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” It was received on September 20th, 2001 – so again at precisely the time when Clark was being privately briefed by that unnamed general at the Pentagon. This letter from PNAC co-founder William Kristol “& others” read:

We agree with Secretary of State Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Click here to find the complete letter to Bush.

But most damning of all the PNAC documents is its notorious ninety-page report entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century. Released almost precisely one year prior to the 9/11 attacks, it calls for “a global Pax Americana” – which might be translated as ‘America uber alles’; for the betterment of all obviously – and looks forward to “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” In part five of this report, entitled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”, we discover their blueprint for “full spectrum dominance”. The details of “Transforming U.S. Conventional Forces” requiring (amongst other things):

The proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will make it much easier to project military power around the globe. Munitions themselves will become increasingly accurate, while new methods of attack – electronic, “nonlethal,” biological – will be more widely available. […]

Although it may take several decades for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and “combat” likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, “cyber-space,” and perhaps the world of microbes. Air warfare may no longer be fought by pilots manning tactical fighter aircraft sweeping the skies of opposing fighters, but a regime dominated by long-range, stealthy unmanned craft. On land, the clash of massive, combined-arms armored forces may be replaced by the dashes of much lighter, stealthier and information-intensive forces, augmented by fleets of robots, some small enough to fit in soldiers’ pockets. Control of the sea could be largely determined not by fleets of surface combatants and aircraft carriers, but from land- and space-based systems, forcing navies to maneuver and fight underwater. Space itself will become a theater of war, as nations gain access to space capabilities and come to rely on them; further, the distinction between military and commercial space systems – combatants and noncombatants – will become blurred. Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

Click here to read the full PNAC document Rebuilding America’s Defenses.

The document reads like the wet dream of Dr Strangelove, but then the PNAC crowd (now officially disbanded) were all lunatics, of course. Like Strangelove, they were fascist madmen who suddenly had the ear of the US President. As a consequence, much of this brave new world of warfare was quickly established under Bush; the Obama administration then adhering to a similar doctrine. Expansionist wars by means of such high tech armaments as the “long-range, stealthy unmanned craft” as described by PNAC back in 2000, becoming so unexceptional that the public got into the habit of forgetting all about them.

Likewise, Obama has continued to press ahead with the same neo-con agenda of destabilisation which Wesley Clark warned about in 2007. The only really significant difference has been the rhetoric. Regime change in Libya justified as humanitarian from the get-go, as has been the ongoing campaign for the overthrow of Assad in Syria. But then, the White House can hardly be expected to publicly announce that it is covertly supporting al-Qaeda factions to those ends.

Almost six months has now passed since just such an unlikely shift in policy was on the verge of actually taking shape – it would take the crossing of Obama’s “red line”, but the US was very much poised to take up arms on the side of al-Qaeda (not that the White House were about to explain matters in such honest terms – the air strikes would only be aiding the good rebels). By then, US warships had been moved to the Eastern Mediterranean and were already on heightened alert. With the atrocity at Ghouta, John Kerry especially, was keen to seize on the opportunity, saying “We know a senior Syrian official discussed the attack and was afraid they’d be discovered”, before announcing to the world:

“This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this matters to us. It matter[s] to us and who we are. It matters to leadership and our credibility in the world. It matters if nothing is done – if the world speaks out in condemnation, and nothing happens.”1

But Kerry was lying about the intelligence, and, as Seymour Hersh has since explained at length, the US couldn’t possibly have known that either Assad had given the go-ahead, or even that those within the Syrian army had launched any attack, with or without his express permission. And more recent evidence further challenges those US allegations that had brought us so close to a major international conflagration:

[But] The authors of a report released Wednesday said that their study of the rocket’s design, its likely payload and its possible trajectories show that it would have been impossible for the rocket to have been fired from inside areas controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.2

This was the verdict of a report entitled “Possible Implications of Faulty U.S. Technical Intelligence” produced by a team of security and arms experts who met last month in Washington, as reported by McClatchy in mid January.

Click here to read the full article.

Refusing to be sidetracked by a few inconvenient details, like Kerry, Obama was eager to respond. Responding, that is, in the only way US administrations appear able to respond these days – with every problem jutting up like a nail that is in need of a good hammering down. The aerial bombing of Damascus would doubtless have started within days except that something completely unexpected then occurred – British MPs voting down the government. Following which, we saw another extraordinarily rapid change of circumstances as Russia persuaded the Syrian regime to entirely surrender its chemical weapons arsenal. A deal brokered by Sergei Lavrov meant that Kerry and Obama could at least save face. Thus the tensions between Russia and the West, which had been on the verge of snapping, eased a little. There was one less arsenal of WMDs in the world, and though a horrible civil war continued, at least the people of Syrian wouldn’t be subjected to the kinds of “shock and awe” we saw first over Baghdad and more latterly Tripoli and at Sirte.

With the removal of Syria’s WMDs, Obama salvaged a little dignity, but his veil of being the peacemaker, already wearing thin, had suddenly been ripped off altogether. Here is what John Pilger wrote last September, less than a month after the gas attack on Ghouta:

Under the “weak” Obama, militarism has risen perhaps as never before. With not a single tank on the White House lawn, a military coup has taken place in Washington. In 2008, while his liberal devotees dried their eyes, Obama accepted the entire Pentagon of his predecessor, George Bush: its wars and war crimes. As the constitution is replaced by an emerging police state, those who destroyed Iraq with shock and awe, piled up the rubble in Afghanistan and reduced Libya to a Hobbesian nightmare, are ascendant across the US administration. Behind their beribboned facade, more former US soldiers are killing themselves than are dying on battlefields. Last year 6,500 veterans took their own lives. Put out more flags.

The historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism”: “For goose-steppers substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.” Every Tuesday the “humanitarian” Obama personally oversees a worldwide terror network of drones that “bugsplat” people, their rescuers and mourners. In the west’s comfort zones, the first black leader of the land of slavery still feels good, as if his very existence represents a social advance, regardless of his trail of blood. This obeisance to a symbol has all but destroyed the US anti-war movement – Obama’s singular achievement.3

Click here to read the full article at John Pilger’s own website.

 *

Syria

The civil war in Syria is three years old. Millions have been displaced, thousands are dying each week, and there appears little end in sight to the bloody stalemate. It is, as we are frequently reminded, a humanitarian crisis. During the first round of the Geneva II summit, John Kerry said:

Now, lost in the daily reports of violence is the fact that this revolution did not begin as an armed resistance. This started peacefully. It was started by schoolboys in Daraa who are armed only with graffiti cans, citizens who were peacefully and legitimately calling for change. And they were met almost immediately with violence. When their parents came out to protest the arrest of the children, 120 people died. That was the beginning.

And tragically, the Assad regime answered peaceful demonstration after peaceful demonstration with ever-increasing force. In the three years since then, this conflict has now left more than 130,000 dead, and it’s hard to count accurately. We all know that. The fact is that these people have been killed by guns, by tanks, by artillery, by gas, by barrel bombs, by Scud missiles.

They’ve been killed by weapons almost exclusively of the magnitude not possessed by the opposition. Starvation has been used as a weapon of war. And most recently, we have seen horrific reports of systematic torture and execution of thousands of prisoners. This is an appalling assault, not only on human lives, but on human dignity and on every standard by which the international community tries to organize itself, recognizing the horrors of the humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded, the destabilization of neighboring countries, and the endless exile of refugees.4

In short, Bashar Assad and the incumbent Syrian regime are solely responsible, Kerry says, whether directly or indirectly, for every death and all of the horror of the past three years. But how can this be true when a civil war is raging that involves at least three opposing sides? So Kerry’s version of events plays down the many atrocities carried out by a plethora ‘al-Qaeda affiliated’ factions. War crimes such as forced ‘suicide bombings’, throwing people from buildings, and very possibly including gas attacks like the one at Ras al-Ayn in the northern province of al-Hasakah that appear to have been launched by “rebel forces”.5 This is what Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote last December in the opening paragraph of an article entitled “Whose sarin?”:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.6

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s full report.

Roaming across Syria there are gangs of fundamentalists who proudly upload footage of their own bloodlust including public beheadings and acts of cannibalism. But Kerry has nothing of note to say about this either. Not even when those same factions are known to be fighting against and murdering one another. Is the Syrian government also responsible when one arm of al-Qaeda is killing the other?

Nor does Kerry make any comment about al-Qaeda’s immediate backers at home in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, nor level some of the blame at Turkey who have been providing assistance by allowing many of these Jihadists to slip across into Syria in the first place. Instead, he blames Assad and the Syrian government for the very acts of terrorism they are fighting against, saying:

So just as there could be no place for the perpetrator of this violence, there could also be no place for the thousands of violent extremists who spread their hateful ideology and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people. And as we hear talk about terrorism today, make no mistake: It is the presence of the current intransigence within the existing government that makes this problem worse. That is creating a magnet for terrorists. And until a transition takes place, there is no prayer of reducing the increase of terrorism.

Kerry’s concern is entirely one-dimensional. He wants regime change. And he stresses this demand without any evident concern for what will very likely fill the power vacuum left behind. A catastrophe of the kind that followed in the wake of other instances of regime change, such as in Iraq (after the fall of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein) and Libya (with dictator Gaddafi ousted). Like Bush and the rest of the neo-con ramble, he also shows a casual disregard for international law which was set up, in part, to protect the sovereign right of nations. Immediate decapitation, Kerry says, is the only permissible solution:

Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transition government means that that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way – no way possible in the imagination – that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.

Mark Twain famously remarked that “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes” and the recent history of US-backed regime change shows just how regular and tight the pattern of rhyming has now become. The governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were all dictatorships, of course, and all had extremely poor human rights records, but regime change did not bring salvation in the form of freedom and democracy, it instead unleashed perpetual war.

Syria is yet another dictatorship with its own extremely poor human rights record. Not that this comes as news to Washington. Back when Assad had been in favour, his government, just like Gaddafi’s, had usefully provided facilities for the torture of America’s own prisoners under the secret programme of “extraordinary rendition”:

Iran’s proxy Syria did torture on behalf of the United States. The most famous case involves Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen snatched in 2002 by the U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport before the CIA sent him to Syria under the mistaken impression he was a terrorist. In Syrian custody, Arar was “imprisoned for more than ten months in a tiny grave-like cell, beaten with cables, and threatened with electric shocks by the Syrian government,” [chief Open Society Foundation investigator, Amrit] Singh writes.

But it wasn’t just Arar. At least seven others were rendered to Syria. Among their destinations: a prison in west Damascus called the Palestine Branch, which features an area called “the Grave,” comprised of “individual cells that were roughly the size of coffins.” Syrian intelligence reportedly uses something called a “German Chair” to “stretch the spine.”7

America’s “black sites” are still open and the “extraordinary rendition” flights continued under Obama and, so far as we know, continue today. As for appeals to human rights, these reassurances are only for a public increasingly unwilling to go to war. In the ranks of the policymakers the discussion has been more strictly along these lines:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.8

Taken from an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations back in August 2012.

*

Uzbekistan

To put all of this into a bigger perspective, I think it is helpful to go back again to the story of Craig Murray. Today, Craig Murray is recognised as one of the foremost political bloggers and is a well-known human rights activist in Britain. A decade ago, however, he was battling against serious illness and also on the verge of being sacked as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. The story of how he came to finally lose his job in October 2004 is long on details but can be summed up in just a few paragraphs.

Murray was, by his own account “a reluctant whistleblower”. At first he tried to alert his superiors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) by sending confidential diplomatic telegrams (Americans call these ‘cables’) advising them that the Uzbek regime was involved in the widespread use of (what he later described as) “the most horrible forms of torture imaginable” against its opponents and including the torture of children in front of their parents.9

In the first telegram sent on 16th September 2002, Murray had written:

President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Murray was also keen to bring to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the dangers of trusting Uzbek “intelligence”, which he knew to be wholly unreliable. But, a month later, to his surprise, there was still no reply or even any acknowledgment from the FCO. Murray then decided to deliver a speech to a human rights conference hosted by US-based NGO Freedom House in Tashkent (the capital of Uzbekistan) in which he asserted that “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy”. To support this claim, he drew attention to the boiling to death of Muzafar Avazov, which he said was “not an isolated incident” (The horrific method of Avazov’s murder had been independently verified by a leading pathologist who examined the photographic evidence).

He then sent a second telegram on March 18th 2003, in which he repeated his earlier concerns:

Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov’s vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

Again, Murray says that he received no written reply. In the third and most damning of these telegrams which is dated July 4th, Murray wrote:

In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture. […]

The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

“The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.” While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

Click here to read full versions of Craig Murray’s leaked diplomatic telegrams to FCO.

Murray says he was worried by the reliance of both the CIA and MI6 on Uzbek “intelligence”. He would later argue that both agencies were not only complicit in receiving confessions based on torture, but, in consequence, had been willingly misled when it came to assessing real levels of al-Qaeda terrorism in the country. He says that it came as a tremendous shock when he slowly realised that neither the civil service nor senior British politicians such as then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had any interest in these documented allegations against the Karimov regime, and so it was only in the last resort that he had decided to publicly release the cables onto the internet.

On the basis of largely cooked-up accusations of inappropriate personal behaviour, Murray was then summarily dismissed. But, a little less than five years later, on April 28th 2009, Murray was at last allowed to present evidence of UK complicity in torture before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. He wrote on his blog:

As I prepare for my evidence session before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on 28 April, I was looking back for the evidence I gave to the European Parliament on extraordinary rendition. Unfortunately it seems that no transcript was made of the committee questioning me (unless anyone who knows the system there better than I can come up with one) but rather a kind of precis made of my evidence as a “working document”.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/comparl/tempcom/tdip/working_docs/pe374341_en.pdf

It also helpfully published the supporting documentation I gave.

What still surprises me is that, after I gave my evidence, I was mobbed by media, gave numerous television interviews, and was headline news all over Europe. Except in the UK where there was no mention of it at all. I was pondering this over the weekend as I read a very large number of commentary pieces, in every serious newspaper, on the apparent complicity in torture and what enquiries into it may find.

I have been answering the question of the moment – was there a policy of torture – for the last five years, with eye-witness testimony backed up with documentary proof. Yet I appear not to exist to the media. Will my testimony to the JCHR also be simply ignored?

Click here to read Murray’s full post from March 31st 2009.

Now, fast-forward to just two years ago when on March 12th 2012, Murray posted another short article with embedded videos showing a speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” given to the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. Murray writing that:

It proved useful in forcing me to pull together an overview of my current thoughts on events of the last year or so.

Intrigued, I tried to play the videos, but instead this notice popped up: “this video has been removed by the user”. Naturally, my intrigue was piqued a little more.

Two days on, and Craig Murray has posted yet another short article entitled “Beyond Irony”. It reads as follows:

The videos of both my speech and my interview at the Berlin Freedom of Expression Forum have been taken down. This is not an accident. All the other speeches and all the other interviews are still there. Both series have been renumbered to hide the fact that something has been removed.

Given that my talk was about censorship and exclusion of whistleblowers, and the lack of genuine freedom in western societies to explain an alternative policy narrative, it is hard for words adequately to describe the apparent behaviour here. The full title of the event was “Censorship and Freedom in Traditional and New Media: The Revolution of Media as a Tool of Freedom of Expression”.

I have written to the organisers to ask what is happening. It is conceivable there is an innocent explanation, though the removal from different places of both the speech and the interview seems hard to explain. Once I hear back from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I will let you know. I do not intend to let this lie.

The video then reappeared and it is available here (and also embedded below). If you’re looking for an inside perspective on how diplomacy actually works in ‘the real world’ then you’d be hard pressed to find much better. I can’t help noticing, however, that one part of the presentation has been snipped. Has Murray’s full statement been censored? Here is the video as it now appears:

There are a number of statements in Murray’s presentation that remain very pertinent to the situation we find almost two years later, and so in efforts to highlight these points, I have made my own transcript of the relevant parts. Clarification of his own reasons for becoming a whistleblower are available in a footnote10 and below you can read selected passages that convey his frustration at the abysmal cynicism of western realpolitik:

Western governments actually don’t really care about this human rights stuff. They pretend they care about the human rights stuff because there’s a constituency at home that cares about the human rights stuff. If you have somebody like me who tries to take them at their word in promoting human rights in a country of which they have other interests, that person becomes a threat to the state and has to be removed, as a threat in any way.

Bahrain: we have this extraordinary situation where western support for the Arab Spring evaporates when it comes to Bahrain and the Saudi invasion of Bahrain. I had a friend in a diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York. You may recall that the Americans were pretending in public to be against the bombing of Libya right up until the last moment – a lot of propaganda was put out saying the American military were against it that they were not prepared – all the time that propaganda was put out they were moving military assets into place to do it. I had a friend in New York who phoned me before either the UNSCR 19791973, while those resolutions were under discussion at the United Nations, and before the invasion of [Libya]… This friend of mine at the United Nations phoned me and he said that the Americans are cutting a deal whereby they will okay the Saudis to invade Bahrain in exchange for an Arab League call for Nato to go into Libya. That’s how cynical realpolitik is. [from 25:30 mins]

Western policy is driven by very hard financial interests. The interests of a very elite bunch of people, who control a great deal, and indirectly control the media narrative that surrounds the explanation the public is given as to why these wars [and] these attacks on human rights happen. To go back to that intelligence in Uzbekistan, there has to be a reason why you’re supporting the Uzbek dictatorship with a lot of money and training for their armed forces. This is one of the worst dictatorships in the world. How do you justify giving that dictatorship support? Well, you justify it as part of a war on terror and that you are backing them against al-Qaeda. Except that there is no al-Qaeda in Uzbekistan. There’s virtually no al-Qaeda presence in Central Asia – there’s certainly none in Uzbekistan. [from 31:55 mins]

I’m afraid to say that in both the United States and the United Kingdom, the analysis of intelligence – which is something that I have spent quite a lot of my career doing (and which I feel I was very good) – had ceased to be a genuine intellectual exercise in determining the facts, and had become instead, a process of providing lies to government. That government wanted to publish. Making the world as it was. The government wanted to support Karimov for reasons of oil and gas and the war in Afghanistan. There needed to be a reason for supporting him, therefore, there needed to be al-Qaeda activity in Central Asia, where it did not in fact exist. And the media is complicit in this building of lies. [from 38:30 mins]

A decade has passed since Murray blew the whistle on Karimov, yet he remains both President of Uzbekistan and an American ally. His record in office during the intervening period speaks volumes. In May 2005, his authorities blocked all the exits from Babur Square, kettling the crowd before snipers and police opened fire on thousands of protesters. It is estimated that between 400–500 people were killed in cold blood. Ikrom Yakubov, a former major in the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB), said that Karimov had personally ordered massacres. He also accused the Karimov regime of “pursuing a policy of ‘false flag’ terrorism by orchestrating attacks and then blaming them on Islamist militants in an effort to demonize the opposition and win foreign support”, as well as “engineering a plane crash in 2004 that killed United Nations official Richard Conroy.”11

Nevertheless, in September 2011 Obama phoned Karimov to congratulate him on Uzbekistan’s twenty years of independence (Karimov is the nation’s first and only president) “and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.”12

Click here to read the full article about Ikrom Yakubov on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website.

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Back to Syria

On the eve of the Geneva II talks, a report (which Kerry alluded to) was released establishing “compelling evidence of the systematic murder of some 11,000 detainees through starvation, beatings and torture, including the gouging of eyes and electrocution – and all that in just one part of Syria, with the strong suspicion that more such killing will have taken place elsewhere.” Here is part of Jonathan Freedland’s assessment of the evidence published writing for the Guardian on the same day [Jan 21st]:

The source of this evidence is hard to fault: a former photographer for the Syrian regime who has since defected [a source known only by the codename Caesar]. The report’s authors, who interviewed the source for three days, have no obvious axe to grind and are eminently credible: they served as prosecutors at the criminal tribunals on Sierra Leone [&] the former Yugoslavia. Those facts will surely offset any misgivings over the report’s origins: it was commissioned and funded by the government of Qatar, a player in the Syrian conflict on the anti-government side. The evidence is too overwhelming, and the reputations of those who have assessed it too strong, for this report to be dismissed as Qatari propaganda (though some will try).13

Others, however, were more questioning. Here, for instance, is veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk writing in The Independent also on Jan 21st:

The pictures are horrific, the torture details revolting, the numbers terrifying. And the integrity of the three former prosecutors who have effectively accused the Syrian government of war crimes, are without blemish. Shrivelled, blood-spattered corpses provide unstoppable evidence of regime cruelty – just as the videotapes of Syrian rebel executions tell us what kind of Syria may soon exist if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds. […]

But we should be asking a lot more questions than we have been asking about this portrait gallery of pain, unleashed only hours before an international conference in Switzerland in which we in the West – but perhaps not Qatar – hope to end the civil war in Syria.

How long, for example, have the Qatari authorities been in possession of this terrible eye-witness material? A couple of weeks, just enough time to rustle up the lawyers for the prosecution? Or a couple of months? Or six months? And, more to the point, why now? For it would be difficult to imagine a better way for Qatar – whose royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad – to destroy his hopes of a future role in Syria, even in a ‘transitional’ Syrian government, than by releasing these snapshots of terror just before the Swiss talks.

Fisk’s article is subtitled “One is reminded of Nazi Germany”, but not for reasons that are immediately apparent. He continues:

Indeed, one is reminded – in terms of political purpose rather than historical parallel, of course — of Nazi Germany’s disclosure of the mass graves of 22,000 Polish officers and civilians murdered by the Soviet secret police in 1940 at Katyn, in that part of Russia newly occupied by German troops. The Nazis claimed the Soviets were responsible – in the hope that this would divide Stalin’s alliance with America and Britain. The Allies denounced the Nazis for the massacre – although it was indeed committed by the Soviets. Does Qatar now hope to divide Syria’s alliance with Russia and Iran with similar evidence of Syrian government mass murder?14

Such a strategy is unlikely to work, of course, since Iran and Russia have their own interests to defend – I will touch on this later. But Fisk is concerned not only by the involvement of Qatar as backers of the report, he is also worried about the role of solicitors Carter Ruck “– may their name be praised”. He was not alone. Here is Craig Murray writing again on his own blog:

I do not doubt at all that atrocities have been committed and are being committed by the Assad regime. It is a very unpleasant regime indeed. The fact that atrocities are also being committed by various rebel groups does not make Syrian government atrocities any better.

But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure. What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today’s report has been a disgrace. The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it. Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech. What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case. It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.

The BBC are showing enormous deference to Sir Desmond De Silva, who is introduced as a former UN war crimes prosecutor. He is indeed that, but it is not the capacity in which he is now acting. He is acting as a barrister in private practice. Before he was a UN prosecutor, he was for decades a criminal defence lawyer and has defended many murderers. He has since acted to suppress the truth being published about many celebrities, including John Terry.

If the Assad regime and not the government of Qatar had instructed him and paid him, he would now be on our screens arguing the opposite case to that he is putting. That is his job. He probably regards that as not reprehensible. What is reprehensible is that the BBC do not make it plain, but introduce him as a UN war crimes prosecutor as though he were acting in that capacity or out of concern for human rights. I can find no evidence of his having an especial love for human rights in the abstract, when he is not being paid for it. He produced an official UK government report into the murder of Pat Finucane, a murder organised by British authorities, which Pat Finucane’s widow described as a “sham”. He was also put in charge of quietly sweeping the Israeli murders on the Gaza flotilla under the carpet at the UN.

The question any decent journalist should be asking him is “Sir Desmond De Silva, how much did the government of Qatar pay you for your part in preparing this report? How much did it pay the other experts? Does your fee from the Government of Qatar include this TV interview, or are you charging separately for your time in giving this interview? In short how much are you being paid to say this?”

Click here to read Craig Murray’s complete article.

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George Soros and the “colour revolutions”

Little more than a decade ago there were a series of “colour revolutions” within the former Soviet Union and across its former Eastern Bloc satellites. The ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ in 2000 had already led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia, and soon afterwards the Rose Revolution of Georgia (Nov 2003), would force the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze, whilst the less remembered Tulip Revolution (also sometimes called the “Pink Revolution” of Spring 2005) led to the downfall of President Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. Then, in Belarus, the following Spring (March 2006), President Alexander Lukashenko clung on to power after the failed Jeans Revolution – denim jeans having been adopted as a symbol of freedom (the reason for this, if not already apparent, will become so after the next paragraph).

During the same period we also witnessed what became perhaps the best-known of all these post-Soviet era uprisings, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which started with allegations of vote rigging in the second round of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. A peaceful campaign of strikes and civil disobedience followed helping to force a reelection.

At the time of the Orange Revolution, Ian Traynor reported in the Guardian as follows:

With their websites and stickers, their pranks and slogans aimed at banishing widespread fear of a corrupt regime, the democracy guerrillas of the Ukrainian Pora youth movement have already notched up a famous victory – whatever the outcome of the dangerous stand-off in Kiev.

Ukraine, traditionally passive in its politics, has been mobilised by the young democracy activists and will never be the same again.

The outcome in fact was that leader of the opposition Viktor Yushchenko was declared President, defeating the man who now holds the office Viktor Yanukovych. But what is striking about the Guardian article is not only how candid Traynor is when it comes who was really backing the Ukrainian protests but his discovery that all of the “colour revolutions” had been similarly orchestrated:

But while the gains of the orange-bedecked “chestnut revolution” are Ukraine’s, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

And who more precisely was behind it all? Ian Traynor’s article even provides a list of credits:

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute.15

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev”.

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Ukraine

On January 30th, Democracy Now! featured a debate about the latest “Euromaidan” uprising in Ukraine, posing the question: “Is Ukraine’s Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism?” To answer this question they invited two guests: Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; and Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian citizen and University College London researcher. Here is a sample of what Cohen and Shekhovtsov had to say to each other:

Anton Shekhovtsov: I wrote the piece to highlight a very dangerous trend, in my opinion, is that many people in the West buy into Russian propaganda which is saying that Euromaidan is infiltrated by the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. And this is completely untrue. There is a far-right element in the Euromaidan protests, but it is a minor element. And Euromaidan protest is basically a multicultural, democratic movement which is trying to build a new Ukraine, a democratic Ukraine. And sometimes, by the name “far right,” there goes Ukrainian nationalism, and Ukrainian nationalism has—its main thrust is building of a truly independent Ukraine, a Ukraine which would be a national democratic state and not a colony of Russia, as Ukrainian nationalists think Ukraine is.

Stephen Cohen: Well, it’s not what Anton said. Where to begin? Can we begin at the beginning? What’s happening in Ukraine, what’s been unfolding since November in the streets, is probably the single most important international story underway today. It may impact for a very long time the geopolitics of Europe, Russia, American-Russian relations, and a lot more. At the same time, media coverage of this story, particularly in the United States, has been exceedingly misleading, very close to what Anton just told you. I would characterize Anton’s characterization, to be as polite as I can, as half-true. But a half-truth is an untruth.

The realities are, there is no “the Ukraine.” All this talk about Ukraine is on the front line of democracy—there are at least two Ukraines. One tilts toward Poland and Lithuania, the West, the European Union; the other toward Russia. This is not my notion. This is what every public opinion poll has told us since this crisis unfolded, that about 40 percent of Ukrainians want to go west, 40 percent want to stay with Russia, and, as usually true in these polls, 20 percent just don’t know or they’re not sure.

Who precipitated this crisis? It was the European Union, in this sense. It gave the Ukrainian government, which, by the way, is a democratically elected government—if you overthrow this government, just like they overthrew Morsi in Egypt, you’re dealing a serious blow to democracy. So if the crowd manages to essentially carry out a coup d’état from the streets, that’s what democracy is not about. But here’s what the European Union did back in November. It told the government of Ukraine, “If you want to sign an economic relationship with us, you cannot sign one with Russia.” Why not? Putin has said, “Why don’t the three of us have an arrangement? We’ll help Ukraine. The West will help Ukraine.” The chancellor of Germany, Merkel, at first thought that was a good idea, but she backed down for various political reasons. So, essentially, Ukraine was given an ultimatum: sign the EU economic agreement or else.

Now, what was that agreement? It would have been an economic catastrophe for Ukraine. I’m not talking about the intellectuals or the people who are well placed, about ordinary Ukrainians. The Ukrainian economy is on the brink of a meltdown. It needed billions of dollars. What did the European Union offer them? The same austerity policies that are ravaging Europe, and nothing more—$600 million. It needed billions and billions.

There’s one other thing. If you read the protocols of the European offer to Ukraine, which has been interpreted in the West as just about civilizational change, escaping Russia, economics, democracy, there is a big clause on military cooperation. In effect, by signing this, Ukraine would have had to abide by NATO’s military policies. What would that mean? That would mean drawing a new Cold War line, which used to be in Berlin, right through the heart of Slavic civilization, on Russia’s borders. So that’s where we’re at to now.

One other point: These right-wing people, whom Anton thinks are not significant, all reports—and I don’t know when he was in Ukraine, maybe it was long ago and things have gone—but the reports that are coming out of Ukraine are the following. One, the moderates—that’s the former heavyweight champion boxer, Vitali Klitschko, and others—have lost control of the street. They’ve asked the people who have been attacking the police with Molotov cocktails, and to vacate the buildings they’ve occupied, to stop. And the street will not stop, partly because—I’d say largely because—the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war underway.

What is the face of these people, this right wing? A, they hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine. A priest who represents part of the political movement in western Ukraine—Putin quoted this, but it doesn’t make it false. It doesn’t make it false; it’s been verified. A western Ukrainian priest said, “We, Ukraine, will not be governed by Negroes, Jews or Russians.” So, these people have now come to the fore.

Anton Shekhovtsov: Yes. So, this is basically what I said, as I called as a distortion in the Western media. I don’t know if Professor Cohen have been in Ukraine. I’ve been to Ukraine just a few days ago. I haven’t seen that the right-wingers have taken control of the streets. The streets are controlled by Euromaidan, which is ideologically very different. There is a right-wing element, but this is the element which is only a minor component of Euromaidan. And if you remember the Solidarity movement in the ’80s in Poland, it also comprised some right-wing elements, but in the end they built a democratic national—national democratic Poland.

As for the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites in western Ukraine, there are some, but at the same time, if you talk to them, if you interview them, and if you read their demands, you will not find any discrimination laws among their demands. What they demand is the national democratic state, independent from Russia. Even if they say that they are against the European Union, they at the same time support the pro-European protests. And this is partly what Euromaidan is about.

And then, again, there are many false reports about the beatings of representatives of national minorities in Ukraine. And mostly these reports are all false. They are being spread by Russian-backed propagandists, like Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the pro-Eurasian, pro-Russian party, Ukrainski Vybir, Ukrainian Choice. So, these people, they’re trying to distort the image of Euromaidan and picture it as something very violent, as something very right-wing, although the right-wing element, as I said, is a minor element at Euromaidan.

Stephen Cohen: Well, that’s Anton’s position. I mean, Anton represents—at least his description of the situation—the mainstream American media political view of what’s going on in Ukraine. And when I say “mainstream,” I mean it extends from the right wing in America to MSNBC, to the so-called liberals and progressives, to Bill Maher, who did this on his show the other night. There’s no alternative voice in America, except what I’m trying to say to you today. It’s wrong—it’s wrong factually, it’s wrong in terms of policy—for [John] McCain to go, as he’s done in other countries. He once said, “We’re all Georgians.” Now he’s saying, “We’re all Ukrainians.” If he understands the situation in Ukraine—and he may not—then he’s being reckless.

But a true understanding of Ukraine begins with the fact that there are at least two Ukraines, two legitimate Ukraines, culturally, politically, ethnically, economically, culturally. This isn’t Putin’s fault. This isn’t Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine’s fault. It’s either God’s fault, or it’s history’s fault. This is what came down through the centuries. The situation has been explosive since the end of the Soviet Union 22 years ago. When Western politicians go there, they’re playing with fire, metaphorically, and now they have real fire. […]

I think that the vilification of Putin in this country, demonization, is the worst press coverage by the American media of Russia that I’ve seen in my 40 years of studying Russia and contributing to the media. It’s simply almost insane. This idea that he’s a thug and that explains everything, passes for analysis in America today.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”

Ukraine is, as Stephen Cohen says, a very divided nation. The western half, which is Ukrainian speaking, looks towards Europe; the Eastern half speaks Russian and prefers to keep its distance from the West. The opposition has been mostly portrayed as pro-EU (even when much of the sentiment is actually anti-Russia) and thus pro-democracy, which is a deliberate and calculated over-simplification.

Unfortunately for the people of Ukraine, the location of their homeland is key to winning what Arthur Conolly, an intelligence officer and captain of the British East India Company’s Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry, once called “The Great Game”, and what Zbigniew Brzezinski nearly two centuries later alluded to as “The Grand Chessboard”. Brzezinski helpfully subtitling his 1998 book of the same name, “American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives”. In other words, the very same neo-con “Pax Americana” but by another name, with Brzezinski’s preferred approach more cloak-and-dagger than the full frontal assault of the PNAC crazies.

The major strategy of this updated quest for global hegemony (“The New Great Game” as some have called it), is again little different than during the days of Arthur Conolly: to seize control of Eurasia. And just as ‘the game’ itself hasn’t significantly altered in two centuries nor have the main competitors changed much either. Back in Conolly’s time, it was Britain in one corner against Russia in the other; nowadays America sits in for the UK.

In this pursuit of global dominion, the Ukraine is a vital stronghold. Firstly, it is located approximately at the hub of the Eurasian landmass. But additionally, Ukraine currently provides Russia with access to the Black Sea; the principal base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet being at Sevastopol – likewise, in Syria, the Russian fleet has its naval base at Tartus ensuring access to the Eastern Mediterranean. So capturing Ukraine weakens Russia militarily too, and would help in another way, therefore, to edge the world closer to Brzezinski’s stated goal of “American primacy”.

It is not by chance that Sevastopol, the second largest port in Ukraine, is located on one of the most well-known peninsulas in the world; that of the Crimea. A tongue of land jutting into the Black Sea and, like the rock of Gibraltar, of huge strategic importance. And no accident that the Crimea shares its name with an even more famous war. A war against the Russians between the years 1853–56 that is remembered, in part, for the real humanitarian courage of nurses like Florence Nightingale, but mostly because of gung-ho military campaigns such as the Battle of Balaclava (October 25th 1854) which featured that suicidally reckless charge of the Light Brigade. Old-time military madmen commanding the six hundred to ride “into the valley of Death.”16

Conolly didn’t live to hear about the shambolic pawn sacrifice at Balaklava; part of a failed attempt to capture the port and fortress of Sevastopol, which was already Russia’s principal naval base on the Black Sea. Identified as a British agent, he had been executed a decade before – beheaded in a square in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. So Conolly was himself a victim of the Great Game, just as were more innocent and forgotten thousands, losing their lives in campaign after campaign, of which the Crimean War was one brief episode. And the scars of this centuries long face-off between empires have never healed, instead the wounds are routinely reopened. Indeed, that earlier age of imperialism never ended but has skilfully reinvented itself: the significant difference between old imperialism and more swanky neo-imperialism being one of image. In the modern world running up your flag above a defeated territory is no way to win respect or curry favour whether at home or abroad.

Incidentally, Brzezinski was one of the attendees at the recent 50th Munich Security Conference (January 31st –February 2nd). Other guests included John McCain, James Clapper, Henry Kissinger, the godfather of the neo-cons, and Tony Blair (what rogues gallery would be complete without him). One of the newcomers to this annual meeting was Vitali Klitschko, another was Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Here is a report about what they were discussing:

The government has gone against what Ukrainians want, Klitschko said before the Munich Security Conference, adding: “There is no victory without a fight [and] we are going to fight.”

The former world boxing champion turned opposition politician also said government threats would not intimidate his side, which has Western backing. “Democratic powers won’t let themselves be frightened,” he said.

Klitschko called for a return to the country’s 2004 constitution, which would sharply curtail the president’s power, while also demanding the government release critics and hold elections as soon as possible.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk also addressed the conference on Saturday, accusing the Ukraine government of preparing for a state of emergency by readying its military. “A military intervention is an option for this government,” Yatsenyuk said.

Also at the gathering was John Kerry. This is what Kerry had to say about the Ukrainian protests:

Earlier on Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed Western backing for the Ukrainian opposition.

“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine,” he said. “The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine.”

So does this mean that the US are banking on Klitschko becoming President of the Ukraine? Or would they prefer Yatsenyuk? Well, they say that a week is a long time in geopolitics…

In a leaked conversation posted on YouTube, the state department official Victoria Nuland revealed the White House’s frustrations at Europe‘s hesitant policy towards pro-democracy protests in Ukraine, which erupted late last year. Nuland was talking to the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

So begins an article in Friday’s [Feb 7th] Guardian, which continues:

In the tapes, Nuland and Pyatt discuss the upheavals in Ukraine, and Yanukovych’s offer last month to make the opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new prime minister and Vitali Klitschko deputy prime minister. Both men turned the offer down.

Nuland, who in December went to Independence Square in Kiev in a sign of support for the demonstrators, adds that she has also been told that the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, is about to appoint a former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, Robert Serry, as his representative to Ukraine.

“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, fuck the EU,” she says, in an apparent reference to differences over their policies.

“We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

In the phone call, Nuland suggests that Klitschko, the former world champion boxer, is not yet suited to take a major government role, in contrast to Yatsenyuk.

“I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government,” she apparently said.

“I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, he’s got the governing experience,” she adds.17 [bold emphasis added]

Which is how it really works (behind closed doors). Those in Washington busily trying to reorder the world into their own version of what they will then sell to us as a “Pax Americana”. Under the new imperialism, the duty falling on state department officials like Victoria Nuland to carry the white man’s burden. Making the big decisions on who should be appointed to govern the overseas dependencies.

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And back once more to Syria

All of the post-9/11 wars have brought chaos and greater despair, but sadly this repeated failure provides little disincentive to the movers and shakers: those like Brzezinski and Kissinger (with Soros generally somewhere in the background), and a little lower in the pecking order, those like McCain and Kerry. Because their constant objective is really only to expand the American empire, or if that cannot be achieved, then to undermine the position of their main rivals – historically, Russia has always been the major opposing power, and remains so today, so Russian interests are a primary target.

The wars in any case satisfy two more immediate objectives, which are racketeering and piracy. Racketeering, since there are huge profits from insider deals on armaments and military accessories – again, nothing new in this, as Gen. Smedley Butler eloquently detailed in his 1935 pamphlet “War is a Racket”; and piracy, since the goal of each new adventure is to seize resources – first and foremost the energy resources, but happy to grab whatever other valuable assets and resources are available too.

In Syria, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and in Libya already, the gravest danger is that another war without end between sects and gangs has been unleashed. Warlords stealing territories and then battling against neighbouring warlords. The country torn to shreds by factional infighting. And the unspeakable truth is that the neo-imperialist agenda is more often helped by such schisms. Divide and conquer always the preferred way to rule, and failed states are the end product of our ongoing wars, in part, because failed states are so much riper for plundering.

In his last Geneva II speech, Kerry went straight for the emotional jugular. The civil war is terrible, Assad is to blame, he must go and then everything will be better again. But if and when Assad is run to ground and the fanatics of al-Qaeda are victorious, they will never sit down peacefully with the pro-democracy moderates. These “rebels” didn’t join the fight just for a share in Syria’s democratic future. They came on a holy mission of transforming Syria into one emirate of a greater caliphate ruled under hardline Sharia law. And Syria is now overrun by Jihadists, which means, unless Kerry is truly a fool, that he perfectly well understands the probable outcome of what he unflinchingly demands. Instead, real diplomacy with concessions made by all sides (al-Qaeda excluded) is the only hope left for Syria. As Geneva II begins a second round of talks, this hope rests with Kerry consenting to a more flexible and conciliatory way ahead.

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Additional: Back to Ukraine

Flanked by street-sized poster adverts for Exxon Mobil and Chevron, Victoria Nuland spoke late last year [Dec 13th] to the “US-Ukraine Foundation” calling on the Ukraine to accept what she described as the “necessary” IMF reforms:

“The reforms that the IMF insists on are necessary for the long term economic health of the country. A new deal with the IMF would also send a positive signal to private markets, and would increase foreign direct investment that is so urgently needed in Ukraine. Signing the Association Agreement with the EU would also put the Ukraine on a path to strengthening the sort of stable and predictable business environment that investors require. There is no other path that would bring Ukraine back to long term political stability and economic growth.” [from 5 mins]

In other words, welcome to the EU club – and get in line behind Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy for a strong dose of IMF shock therapy.

Nuland also proudly announced that the United States had spent “over five billion dollars to assist” the country:

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as the promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over five billion dollars to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine. [from 7:30 mins]

Not that the US have been alone in lavishing their money on Ukraine. The Chinese have also been investing heavily since the financial crisis began, buying into everything from agriculture to railways, and of course, back in mid-December, the Russians were busy brokering their own bailout deal:

Russia lavished Ukraine with a bailout package worth at least $20 billion Tuesday [Dec 17th], trumping the West in a Cold War-tinged struggle that keeps the former Soviet republic in Moscow’s orbit.

Announced after talks in the Kremlin between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday, the deal gives Ukraine loans and cheaper natural-gas supplies.

It appears to be substantially larger and the terms less restrictive than the aid the West had been offering to entice Ukraine to sign the EU’s trade-and-political accord. Russian officials said the first $3 billion in credits could be released within days.

“Ukraine’s trade with Russia makes it impossible for us to act in any other way,” Mr. Yanukovych said, referring to the deep economic links between the two countries. “There is no alternative to this.”

Hardly surprisingly, the pro-EU (and anti-Russia) protesters disagreed. The same Wall Street Journal article reminding us:

Those demonstrators—and Ukraine’s opposition—were livid at the news of the deal with Moscow on Tuesday.

“He has given up Ukraine’s national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian,” an opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, told crowds on Kiev’s Independence Square.

Possibly true, however, the alternative is to give up independence to the IMF and the EU (which along with close associates the ECB make up the rightly hated Troika). Giving up sovereignty to “the Troika” will mean the imposition of savage “austerity measures”.

Here’s what John McCain said in a speech at the Atlantic Council just a week after Nuland on December 19th:

“Fifth, if Ukraine’s political crisis persists or deepens, which is a real possibility, we must support creative Ukrainian efforts to resolve it. Senator Murphy and I heard a few such ideas last weekend – from holding early elections, as the opposition is now demanding, to the institution of a technocratic government with a mandate to make the difficult reforms required for Ukraine’s long-term economic health and sustainable development.” [my bold highlight added]

The people of Italy and Greece are already rather familiar with “the institution of a technocratic government”, both nations having suffered under the appointments of Goldman Sachs usurpers Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos respectively. McCain is recommending that the opposition in Ukraine should be prepared to opt for similar conditions of economic dictatorship and their own hefty dose of shock therapy. Is this what revolution in Ukraine might bring?

Click here to read McCain’s full statement.

Returning Victoria Nuland’s presentation at the “US-Ukraine Foundation”, and how do those apparent sponsors Chevron and Exxon Mobil fit into the bigger picture?

This is from Reuters on November 5th:

Ukraine signed a $10 billion shale gas production-sharing agreement with U.S. Chevron (CVX.N) on Tuesday [Nov 5th], another step in a drive for more energy independence from Russia. [my bold highlight]

Ukraine Energy Minister Eduart Stavytsky, who signed the deal with Chevron executive Derek Magness, set it in the context of a high price Ukraine pays Russia for its gas.

“This is one more step towards achieving full energy independence for the state. This will bring cheaper gas prices and the sort of just prices which exist (elsewhere) in the world,” he said.

Yes, Chevron are in it for the frack… and as for Exxon Mobil, they get ample rewards too. Another article from Bloomberg on the same day reporting that:

Ukraine announced natural gas deals with Chevron Corp (CVX) and Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM) in a push to cut costs by two-thirds and reduce its dependence on Russia.

The Ukrainian government signed a production-sharing agreement with Chevron for extraction of shale gas in the Oleske field, Energy Minister Eduard Stavytskyi said today at a press conference in Kiev. Another production-sharing agreement with an Exxon-led group for exploring the Skifska field in the Black Sea may follow by the end of the month, he said.

Victoria Nuland speaks of building “democratic skills and institutions” and promoting “civic participation and good governance”, but this contest over Ukraine really has nothing at all to do with freedom and democracy – and those large corporate adverts say it all. This is actually about money and fossil fuels. It’s the geostrategic interests, stupid!

*

1 From an article entitled “Syria Ghouta Gas Attack: Assad a Thug and Murderer, Says US Secretary of State John Kerry” written by Gianluca Mezzofiore, published by International Business Times on August 30, 2013. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-assad-thug-murderer-john-kerry-502675

2 From an article entitled “New analysis of rocket used in Syria chemical attack undercuts U.S. claims” written by Matthew Schofield, published by McClatchy on January 15, 2014. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/15/214656/new-analysis-of-rocket-used-in.html

3 From an article entitled “The silent military coup that took over Washington: This time it’s Syria, last time it was Iraq. Obama chose to accept the entire Pentagon of the Bush era: its wars and its war crimes” written by John Pilger, published in the Guardian on September 10, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/10/silent-military-coup-took-over-washington

4 From a transcript of John Kerry’s statement at Geneva II conference on January 22, 2014. Published by the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-john-kerrys-remarks-at-geneva-ii-conference-on-syria-on-jan-22/2014/01/22/f2ec3a56-83b8-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html

6 From an article entitled “Whose Sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published by the London Review of Books on December 19, 2013. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

7 From an article entitled “More Than 50 Countries Helped the CIA Outsource Torture” written by Spencer Ackerman, published by Wired magazine on February 5, 2013. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/54-countries-rendition/

8 From an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Ed Husain, published by the Council on Foreign Relations on August 6, 2012. http://www.cfr.org/syria/al-qaedas-specter-syria/p28782

9 The quote taken from Craig Murray’s testimony given to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on April 28, 2009. His remarks are made 6:15 mins into the video embedded below:

Murray has also provided more detailed accounts of the kinds of torture involved, including the torture of children in front of their parents, on other occasions. For instance, you can hear his account from in the speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” on freedom of expression given at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin in March 2012 and already embedded above [from approx 34–36 mins].

10

“I am a reluctant whistleblower, as you’ll see from those telegrams going around [copies had been passed out to the audience]. I was attempting internally, using classification in secret, to stop the policy of obtaining intelligence from torture. And I did think that I would be able to stop it. I had no idea that government ministers throughout the civilised so-called world had decided that we should use torture as an instrument of policy. I thought that this must be something the security services were doing without the knowledge of politicians and that I would be able to stop it. That’s why I sent those telegrams. In fact, sadly, the West had moved to a policy of advocating torture.” [from 23:50 mins]

11 From an article entitled “Former Uzbek Spy Accuses Government Of Massacres, Seeks Asylum” written by Jeffrey Donovan, published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on September 1, 2008. http://www.rferl.org/content/Former_Uzbek_Spy_Seeks_Asylum/1195372.html

12 According to a White House press release dated September 28, 2011 which reads:

“President Obama spoke with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan earlier today by phone. President Obama congratulated President Karimov on Uzbekistan’s 20 years of independence, and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.  The President and President Karimov discussed their shared desire to develop a multi-dimensional relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan, including by strengthening the contacts between American and Uzbek civil societies and private sector.  President Obama expressed our view that a more prosperous and secure Uzbekistan benefits both countries, and that advancing democracy supports that goal.  The two presidents also discussed their shared interests in supporting a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan and discussed the efforts we are undertaking together to further that goal.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/09/28/readout-president-s-call-president-karimov-uzbekistan

13 From an article entitled “Can evidence of mass killings in Syria end the inertia? Only with Putin’s help” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on January 21, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/21/evidence-mass-murder-syria-end-inertia-putin?CMP=twt_gu&commentpage=1

14 From an article entitled “Syria report: One is reminded of Nazi Germany” written by Robert Fisk, published by The Independent on January 21, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-report-one-is-reminded-of-nazi-germany-9075743.html?origin=internalSearch

15 From an article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

16 As then- poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously commemorated the incident in a narrative poem of the same title.

17 From an article entitled “Angela Merkel: Victoria Nuland’s remarks on EU are unacceptable” written by Ed Pilkington, Luke Harding “and agencies”, published in the Guardian on February 7, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/07/angela-merkel-victoria-nuland-eu-unacceptable

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, austerity measures, Bahrain, Craig Murray, drones, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Iran, John Pilger, Qatar, Russia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Ukraine, USA, Uzbekistan