After a relative calm between the Syrian army and the rebels, the recent chemical attack in the Idlib province has brought the conflict back into the limelight. In this article, I will discuss the Syrian conflict from a perspective that challenges the narrative propagated by Western mass media which toe the official government lines and have distorted the facts on the ground. First, the entire Syrian saga is about “regime change.” In fact, regime change has been the sole objective of CIA, international banking system, neo-liberals, and particularly energy corporations since 1955. It is not about revolution to bring democracy and human rights. It is not about Shia versus Sunni equation. It is about toppling Assad, who is an obstacle for European and American energy companies to dominate the entire Middle East which is abundant with oil reserves. The recent discovery of oil in Golan Heights in southern part of Syria, occupied by Israel but originally belongs to Syria, makes the destabilization of the country even more attractive for the U.S., its allies and energy companies.
According to WikiLeaks, the plan to weaken Assad was drafted as far back as 2006. The advent of “Arab Spring” in 2011 gave CIA and its proxies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to sell their regime change by co-opting the rhetoric of the Arab Spring, which was about democracy, human rights and better living conditions. The Arab Spring was a perfect tool to overthrow Assad, which, under Obama in 2011, became an official policy very quickly. Why would the U.S. want to get rid of him? Assad and his Baath party have never been very sympathetic to U.S. oil interests in Middle East in general. Both Assad and his father, Hafez, have been close to USSR/Russia. This close relationship has been a threat to U.S. national security and energy interests in the region as it gives Russia a foothold in the Middle East. This was perhaps the reason that isolating Syria was adopted as a policy by the Reagan Administration in 1980s. On the top of it, in 2000, Qatar proposed to construct a $10 billion, 1,500km gas pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Qatar and Iran have the world’s richest gas reserves. According to an EcoWatch report, the proposed pipeline would have given Qatar access to European market, and it would have brought considerable transit fees for Turkey. The project would have ensured the domination of Persian Gulf countries in global gas markets. Assad, having showed little interest in the project, was deemed a hurdle.
Besides Assad, there was another hurdle that Persian Gulf Kingdoms had to tackle – Russia. Based on a report by Energy Information Administration, Russia sells 70 percent of its gas to Europe. It naturally considered Qatar’s proposed pipeline through Turkey an economic threat. Through the Qatari project, the EU was happy to get alternative sources of energy, at a cheaper rate than Russian gas, while simultaneously distancing itself from Russia’s aggressive polices toward the EU. The EcoWatch report states that Turkey, which is the second largest importer of gas from Russia, would have been happy to reduce its reliance on Russian energy. The report further states that Saudi Arabia would have gained from the pipeline too – getting a foothold in Syria. Saudi Arabia, a regional power with enormous petrodollar investment, is a rival of Iran – another regional heavyweight. Getting rid of Assad would have been made a perfect sense for the Saudis since he is a close ally of Iran in Middle East. The removal of Saddam Hussain in 2003 by the Americans, greatly strengthened Iran’s relationship with Iraq, at the expense of U.S. geopolitical interests. Tehran now has an undeniable political and strategic influence in Iraq and in the region. The Saudis are determined to undermine that influence.
On the other hand, President Assad is also a close ally of Russia. Moscow conveyed its concerns about the Qatari proposed pipeline to Assad in 2009. According to energy experts, Qatari pipeline would have undermined the Russian economy, which is highly depended on the export of oil and gas. It would have weakened Russia’s strategic presence in Syria and finally would have dwindled its leverage in the European energy market. As a result, Assad said ‘no’ to the Qatari pipeline and gave a green signal to another pipeline proposal named the ‘Islamic pipeline.’ This project would have run from Iran through Syria and to Lebanon. The project was backed by the Russians. This proposal would have made Iran the main supplier to the European energy market and would have cemented Tehran’s energy position in the Middle East, making it an influential player in global energy market. This was unacceptable for Qatar and the Saudis.
Besides protecting its economic interests, Russia intervened in the Syrian conflict because the U.S. did not live up to its promise to target ISIS. Russia considers ISIS a security threat to its regional interests in the Middle East and to its ally, Assad. Russia had reached an agreement with the Americans that they would take care of it. With Russians convinced that the U.S. was more interested in toppling Assad than targeting ISIS, Russia decided to intervene.
In 2009, right after Assad’s refusal, Saudi Arabia, with the help of the CIA and other Persian Gulf States started working on a plan to fuel Sunni unrest in Syria to get rid of him. The plan would have achieved the mission of realizing the Qatari pipeline via Turkey, and would have deprived Iran of its strategic ally. So, in addition to pipeline project, there was a broader angle of geopolitical factors stimulating Saudi Arabia’s opposition to Assad, i.e. weakening Iran. Since Assad hails from Alawite sect – an offshoot of Shia Islam, portraying Sunni discontent against his pro-Alawite policies was an ideal propaganda strategy.
The incentive for the U.S. to remove Assad is Israel’s longstanding conflict with Syria. U.S. and Israel are long-term allies; some political commentators even consider Israel as 51st state of America. Israel’s regional strategic interests are of paramount importance to the U.S. Any country that is hostile to Israel in the region will be targeted by the US – militarily, diplomatically and economically. Since Syria does not officially recognize Israel, the weakening of Assad absolutely makes sense from the point of view of Israeli leaders. It is strategically advantageous. On the top of it, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are regional allies of the U.S. Helping them is a natural proposition. Militarily it is vital for the Americans too, as Qatar – the mastermind behind the gas pipeline – hosts two massive American military bases and the U.S. Central Command’s Middle East headquarters.
A Revolution That Was Not
Early protests of 2011 were peaceful, no doubt. But very soon the Muslim Brotherhood (a terrorist group, supported by CIA and MI6) elements with extremist ideas infiltrated the ranks of protestors and started shooting at Syrian police. This was orchestrated according to Saudi and Qatar plan of fomenting unrest. There are reports that MB elements were sent into Homs well in advance of the protests to take advantage of its peaceful nature. The objective of the protests was freedom of expression and democratic rights. Contrary to Western media narrative, it was not Syrian police who fired at the protestors first. It was the terrorist elements who had disguised as protestors opened fire first. In relation to use of chemical weapons by Assad, Seymour Hersh has written a detailed report about it. According to his report, it was the rebels who used chemical weapons not the Syrian forces. The rebels reportedly used them to frame the Syrian forces in order to force U.S. to send its forces and bomb Syrian government. The same tactic has been used in Idlib too. Unlike Obama, Trump took the bait in terms of targeting the Assad regime.
Freedom Fighters or Terrorists
The U.S. media is notorious for over-emphasizing human rights violations in countries deemed “enemies” of state, while under-emphasizing, or even ignoring human rights violations in U.S.-allied regimes. In American and Western mass media, Assad forces killcivilians. As a matter of fact, Assad is targeting terrorists. The rebels who chant the slogans of revolution and democracy are not freedom fighters. The majority of them are Al-Qaeda or associated to Al-Qaeda and ISIS, or other radical fundamentalist groups. Moreover, some of the rebel groups recruit foreigner extremist groups from as far as Chechnya to destroy Syria and kill its people. These so called moderate rebels have intentionally targeted civilians. Both the UN and the U.S. have serious reservation about Al-Nusra, the main rebel group. The UN has even designated it as a terrorist outfit. And it should come as no surprise that Qatar is funding Al-Nusra as this outfit is paving the path for its pipeline project. Having said that, I do not reject that Syrian forces have killed civilians. They have done it. But thewarwas also imposed on them by outside forces like the U.S., in addition to extremist groups. Rebels hide among the civilians and use them as human shields. In the process, innocent civilians are killed. It iswar, after all.
I personally feel pity for Syria and the Syrian people. Prior to the terrorist onslaught, the country was stable, culturally and religiously diverse, and economically in a better position than other Arab countries. It had a functioning welfare state. Syrians had access to healthcare and education. Unlike other Arab leaders, Assad was popular among much of the public. Christians, Muslims, Sunni, Shia and other sects were living peacefully under Assad regime. Before thewar, Syria had made economic and educational headways. Literacy levels had improved significantly. I do not deny that there was no political discontent. People wanted more political freedom and participation. Assad had announced a political package to address these issues. But the Syrian people did not want the reforms to come from outside and get imposed through war. The fact that Syrian army which is predominately Sunni – contrary to Assad’s faith, has not deserted Assad, and shows its loyalty to Syria. The army fought till the end and liberated Aleppo. This shows sectarian lens has not worked in Syria. This shows the mantra of Shia versus Sunni has failed.
I do not blame the American public for their myopic point of view when it comes to the Syrian crisis. The American corporate media, which does not have anything called ‘objectivity’ in its lexicon, has been feeding lies, one-sided perspectives, and distortion to American public since the outburst of crisis. If the conflictis analyzed in an objective and truthful manner, Assad and his forces are doing the right thing by defending Syria. I blame the entire American corporate media apparatus for the bloodshed in Syria,not Assad. The U.S. media could have easily prevented this war by reporting the facts, by covering what was actually happening on the ground without bias. Instead, it toed the Pentagon and State Department lines, vilified and demonized Assad and mobilized a bitter bias against his regime in its circle. This is what happens when the fourth estate does not do its job.
Let’s suppose Assad is overthrown. What is the alternative when he is gone? Do Americans really want Al-Qaeda and its affiliates sit in Damascus? Or do they want Syria to become another failed state, just like Libya? Western Europe and the U.S. intervened in Libya to liberate it. Now the country ironically has become a slave market. I think the choice is clear. It is not even a moral hazard. Assad is good for all sides. His culturally diverse government is much better option than the presumptive Salafi/Wahhabi dispensation that preach hatred and violence.
*(Highlights from the end of the four year battle over the control of Aleppo, Syria. 2016. Image credit: Josh Blaine/ flickr).