Saturday, November 29, 2014

Yassin al-Haj Saleh: “The International left is suffering a major crisis”

Republished from Socialist Core, November 29, 2014

Interview with Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Syrian writer and activist. Bashar al-Assad’s political prisoner for 16 years between 1980 and 1996. He has been living in Istanbul this last year. Interview conducted by Lucha Internacionalista (Internationalist Fight – LI) from the Spanish State and İşçi Demokrasisi Partisi (Workers Democracy Party – IDP) from Turkey.

IDP/LI: Obama threatens to attack the ISIS in Syria … and the Assad regime greets him offering itself as an ally of the West against terror. Iran plays in the same way.

YH: I’ve always thought that the best way to act against the ISIS was helping Syrians against the Assad regime. Not only because the regime is tyrannical and sectarian, but because it actually is a terrorist regime, which uses the jihadists fascist groups and manipulated them in Iraq and Lebanon in the years before the Syrian revolution. I see the plans of Western attacks on ISIS — without helping the Syrians against Assad, without addressing the political and social roots of the struggle Syria — as another betrayal of our people, after three years asking for help against the criminal regime. We must not forget the shameful reaction of the West after the chemical slaughter a year ago. The ISIS, with their inhuman ways, has capitalized much on this way of treating such a heinous crime.

IDP/LI: How can you explain the rapid growth of ISIS? What role did it play in the 5th column of the Syrian revolution?

YH: There is no simple explanation for its growth. First, they have increased the nihilistic tendencies in the consciousness of many Syrians (and Iraqi). It’s the result of long injustices and lack of confidence in the global institution. Second, the ISIS has a project, a kind of “nation building”, applied with a ruthless determination.

Third, the Assad regime was glad of the rise of ISIS, an ultra-extremist entity that lends credibility to his discourse of fighting terrorism. It is a known fact that currently the regime avoidsthe ISIS, attacking only the resistance against the regime.

The ISIS, many of whose members were Iraqi Ba’athists, is beneficial to the regime because it is a killing machine, although less effective than the Assad regime, it matches and surpasses it in the brutality and in the spectacular nature of their crimes. It destroys the popular movements, abducts or murders activists against the regime, and this is the only thing in the world that one can justifiably say that it is worse than the regime itself.

IDP/LI: Three years after the start of the revolution, many political groups claim that the revolution turned into a sectarian civil war. Do you agree with this idea? How do you consider the current situation of the Syrian revolution?

YH: It is true that there isa large sectarian element in the Syrian struggle, which has increased its presence in the last two years. But the world of sects is not separate from world of classes. Sectarianism in my view is a class ideology, not an ideology of identity.

It is a tool to divide the popular movements and to protect the social and political system established on the basis of privilege and monopoly of power and wealth. This is true for the regime, but also for certain groups fighting against it. They use sectarianism as a method to mobilize people under their leadership.
The situation now is very difficult. The national structure of the fight collapsed in the past two years. We have Iranians, Lebanese, Iraqis and others fighting the regime, and jihadists of many countries fighting with ISIS. I think the role of the US is no less criminal than that of Russia in planning the destruction of our country, and the role of Israel is no less destructive than that of Iran. At the same time the traditional opposition failed miserably when it was time to convey our problems or at least to save the dignity of the people and the dignity of the revolution.

IDP/LI: It seems that resistance is concentrating in Aleppo. Is this true? What is the situation there?

YH: Aleppo is important because it is the place with the three factions of our struggle: the regime, ISIS, FSA and moderate Islamic groups.

It is also the country’s largest city. If the regime lost Aleppo completely it would lose the argument that represents the unity of Syria. It would seem that it would bring about a new era in Syria if ISIS or the regime dominate Aleppo definitely. There are other fronts of the fight in Deera, in the south. In eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, in the province of Idlib not far from Aleppo, but the latter is vital for the fate of the revolution and for any possible agreement in the future.

IDP/LI: Are still alive the self-organizations such as the committees of the Syrian people that emerged with the revolution?

YH: They suffered much in 2013 and 2014. Their golden age was in 2011 and 2012. There was room for creative activities in the levels of organization, protest, documentation, media coverage, logistics, medical services, comfort, etc. But the dynamics of the militarization led to a situation where these groups controlled military activities, limiting civilians to a minimum. This benefited the fight against the regime’s aggression, but they created power structures that are not revolutionary.

The fate of Razan Zeitoona, the famous and respected founder of the Local Coordination Committees is exemplary at this level. Razan was kidnapped by the Islamic Army in eastern Ghouta in December 2013. My wife Samira al Khalil, Wael Hammada, husband of Razan, and lawyer and activist Nazem Hammadi were abducted with Razan, without knowing anything of them for a long time.

IDP/LI: Comment on the role of the Syrian Kurds in the revolution.

YH: It’s a contradictory role. The Kurdish military power is worseenemy of Turkey than of the Syrian regime. They are related with the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] in Turkey, the country that myopically helped Islamic groups against the Kurds. Perhaps this policy of the AKP [Justice and Development Party] government in Turkey led to the arrival of thousands of jihadists to Syria.

I mean to say that the Kurdish struggle in Turkey, one of the biggest allies of the Syrian opposition, left a very bad image of the role of Syrian Kurds in the revolution. There was never any confrontation between the PYD [Democratic Union Party] and the regime. There are isolationist elements in the policy of the PYD during the revolution.

The right thing, in my opinion, is to make a broad alliance against the regime and ISIS, with Kurds, Arabs and all, oriented towards the liberation of Syria from both of them in order to build a new regime, in which Arabs and Kurds are equal, as individuals and as ethnic groups.

The greater the role of the Kurds in this struggle, the more they will share in the future Syria. The problem is that the Kurds have not sensitised themselveseitherto follow a pan-Kurd plan, that would keep them together with the Kurds of Turkey and Iraq, or their own plan for Syria, which could make common cause with other Syrians.

IDP/LI: During the three years of the revolution, the international left could not really build a solidarity network with the Syrian revolution. However, while the revolution continues this enormous task is pending. What are the tasks of the international left to advance the Syrian revolution, what kind of specific international campaigns can be built for the Syrian revolution?

YH: I think that the international political left suffers a great crisis that affects their vision of the world today, their role, their self-awareness, their organization… The general thinking of the left is conservative, outdated, if not reactionary. The majority are satisfied with the positions against the US, with monsters like Putin in Russia, Assad in Syria, the regime of the ayatollahs in Tehran.

They talk a lot against imperialism, but to my knowledge they practically do nothing to help or even understand the persecuted struggle against local oppressors or against imperialism and its clients. What I find most despicable of the international left is that they know nothing about Syria, about its history, about our struggle for justice and freedom in the past.

They always identified our country with the fascist regime of Assad, and know very little about the regime. Do they know, for example, that Bashar inherited his position as head of the ”Republic” from his brutal father who ruled the country for 30 years? If this seems good, why don’t they come to live under this cruel regime? In August 2013 they thought their duty dictated they should be against America’s intentions to punish the fascist regime that killed 1,466 people in one night. They reassured the Obama administration at this time, in coordination with “imperialist” Russia, agreeing that the criminal regime would be disarmed of its chemical weapons, but would have international license to kill Syrians with any other weapon. Their problem was not the war, because this served to contain the revolution from day one, their problem was with the punishment of the criminal.

They didn’t see that the task was progressive and that the Americans were looking for any excuse not to do so. As Syrian I find this position as sordid and inhuman as the Obama administration position.
Nor are they different from this administration. The latter eliminated chemical weapons and allowed the regime to continue with its murderous work, these leftists protested against an imaginary war, against the criminal, and they never saw anything wrong with the murderous regime! There are however some individuals and groups who saved the dignity of the international left and represent the dignity of the left. As Syrian and actor in this terrible struggle, I wanted to express my deepest respect for them, in Turkey, Spain and other countries.

Interview by IDP and LI, Turkish and Spanish State sections of the IWU–FI

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The role of US Imperialism in Syria and the Left's Dilemma

US President Barack Obama's air war in Syria has been a long time in the making. I wrote about it more than 18 months ago in a blog post titled Obama planning drone strikes against Assad's opposition in Syria, 16 March 2013. I reported then:
From the LA Times today we have breaking news that the Obama Administration is presently in the planning stages for direct US armed intervention into the Syrian civil war. The plan will be to intervene on the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with a series of armed drone strikes against his opposition. ... While drone strikes against Islamist militants fighting Assad may be taken in the name of saving US lives in some hypothetical future, they won't save any Syrian lives now or hinder Assad's massive "Death from Above" campaign against Syrian civilians. Actually, since al-Nustra has been most effective in relieving Assad of bases for his air operations and is attempting to implement a "no-fly zone" over Syria, any Obama attack against al-Nusra would certainly be most welcomed by the embattled Assad regime.
Now those strikes have come, the danger to US lives has been declared "imminent," and not just drones are being used, but the whole range of the US air arsenal is being employed. I was banned from blogging at the Daily Kos for talk like that, but as I predicted, these strikes are against Assad's opposition, have not interfered with his own air campaign of bombing hospitals, schools and breadlines, and have been most heartily welcomed by the regime. The same day Obama killed 50 al Nusra militants and 27 civilians, including at least 6 children and 4 women, Assad continued his own devastating air campaign against those seeking to end his 42 year old dictatorship, and this US intervention was most welcomed by the Assad regime. The New York Times reported:
A Syrian diplomat crowed to a pro-government newspaper that “the U.S. military leadership is now fighting in the same trenches with the Syrian generals, in a war on terrorism inside Syria.” And in New York, the new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said in an interview that he had delivered a private message to Mr. Assad on behalf of Washington, reassuring him that the Syrian government was not the target of American-led air strikes. ... “Of course coordination exists,” said a pro-government Syrian journalist speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, who had criticized the prospect of the strikes but turned practically jubilant once they began. “How else do you explain the strikes on Nusra?”
Ali Haidar, Assad's minister for national reconciliation, told Reuters on Wednesday:
"As for the raids in Syria, I say that what has happened so far is proceeding in the right direction in terms of informing the Syrian government and by not targeting Syrian military installations and not targeting civilians," he said. "Notification of the Syrian government happened," he said. "Confirmation that they would not target Syrian military installations, and confirmation they would not target civilians happened."
Targeting civilians is what the Assad regime does best, and having been assured by Obama that US warplanes were not entering Syrian air space to interference with that, Assad has felt free to continue his own campaign of "Death from Above." Reuters reported on Friday
Assad steps up bombing as West strikes militants in Syria
U.S.-led forces hit Islamic State bases in eastern Syria on Friday and a monitoring group said the Syrian army had intensified its bombing campaign in the west. More...
From Syrian Observatory for Human Rights we get a more detailed look at what Assad's air force has been free to do as it shares its air space with the US allies. By the numbers: Tuesday 23 September 2014 On the day the US strikes started, this is what Assad's air force did: [1]: Aleppo Province: Helicopters dropped 2 barrel bombs onto areas near al Imam al Nawawi mosque in the neighborhood of Tariq al Bab leading to the injury of some people. Two other barrels were dropped onto the neighborhoods of Masaken Hanano and Jabal Badro in the east of Aleppo. [2]: Idleb Province: Some surface-to-surface missiles struck areas in the city of Khan Sheikhon followed by the dropping of barrel bombs onto the city killing a man, his daughter and a woman while others were injured. Helicopters dropped barrel bombs onto areas in the town of Saraqeb with no information about casualties. [3]: Helicopters dropped 5 barrel bombs onto areas in the west of Khan al Shih Camp and 5 barrels onto places in Bet Sayer in the Western Ghouta,  casualties were reported in Bet Sayer. [4]: Idleb Province: Warplanes carried out a raid on the town of Ma’er Zayta in the southern countryside of Idleb. [5]: Warplanes carried out a raid on al Dokhaneyyi area and 9 raids on the Wastelands of al Qalamun. [6]: Idleb Province: Warplanes carried out 3 raids on areas in the town of Khan al Sobol, 2 raids on the town of Madaya in the southern countryside, a raid on the outskirts of al Hbet town, a raid on the southern outskirts of Ma’arret al Nu’man, a raid on the town of al Rkaya and a raid on the town of Deir Sonbol leading to the killing of 2 children from the same family in Khan al Sobol. They also attacked areas in the town of al Taman’a. [7]: Daraa Province: Warplanes carried out a raid on an area in the town of Kafar Nasej. Wednesday 24 September 2014 [8]: Helicopters dropped barrel bombs onto areas in Handarat Camp. Two barrel bombs dropped near the Central Prison of Aleppo. A woman died while other were injured due to air raids launched on the town of Qbasin near the city of al Bab. Most telling about the unity that has developed between the US air force and Assad's is that in one case the SOHR had to report: "It is unknown till the moment whether the aircrafts that attacked the area are affiliated to the Syrian regime or to the International-Arab Coalition." [9]: Deir Ezzor Province: Warplanes attacked areas in the village of al Shola with no information about casualties. They also carried out a raid in the vicinity of Deir Ezzor airbase. [10]: Helicopters dropped 7 barrel bombs onto the city of al Rastan with no information about casualties. [11]: Helicopters dropped 2 barrel bombs onto areas in the town of Allatamneh. [12]: Helicopters dropped 4 explosive barrels on al-Zabdani, no reports of losses. Thursday 25 September 2014 [13]: 8 civilians ( 3 children and a woman ), killed by aerial bombardment on Duma, a man killed by regime's bombardment on Duma, a woman killed by air strikes on Arbin, and a man from al-Abada town. Apparently, in the first days of US air strikes, Assad didn't entirely trust the US promise that he could carry on with his usual routine. The SOHR reported: "The provinces of Deir Ezzor, al Raqqa, al Hasaka, Homs, Aleppo and Idleb have witnessed a significant reduction in the regime’s aerial bombardment, where the rate of strikes has declined since the beginning of the International- Arab Coalition aerial strikes 2 days ago. There have been only few sorties during the last two days while aerial bombardment stopped completely in some provinces." That changed as his confidence built that the US was not going to interfere with his carnage. Friday 26 September 2014 [14]: Homs Province: Helicopters dropped 4 barrel bombs onto the city of al Rastan causing the death of 7 people while others were injured. [15]: A man was killed by aerial bombardment on Ein Terma in eastern Ghouta. [16]: Homs Province: Helicopters dropped 4 barrel bombs onto the city of al Rastan causing the death of 5 men while 5 others at least were injured. [17]: Al Qunaytera Province: Warplanes carried out a raid on the town of Swisah in the southern countryside causing material damages to people’s properties. They also attacked areas in the villages and town of the countryside of al Qunaytera. [18]: Daraa Province: Helicopters dropped several barrel bombs onto areas in the town of Alma causing material damages to people’s properties, while 2 other barrels fell onto the town of Tafas and a barrel onto the town of Bosra al Harir killing a man and a woman in Tafas. Warplanes carried out a raid on Daraa al Balad in the city of Daraa and a raid on the town of Syada.
[19]: Lattakia Province: Warplanes carried out 2 raids onto areas on the outskirts of Salma town and other areas in the villages of al Akrad Mountain. [20]: Rif Dimashq Province: Helicopters dropped 2 barrel bombs onto the city of al Zabadani yesterday night. [21]: Helicopters dropped yesterday night 2 barrel bombs onto the city of Ankhel and a barrel onto the town of Otman. Saturday 27 September 2014 [22]: Hama Province: Warplanes carried out raids onto the towns of Kafar Zayta and Allatamneh with no information about victims. [23]: Idleb Province: Warplanes carried out a raid on places near the town of Abo al Dohur and a raid on places on the road of al Debsheyyi- Abo al Dohur, amid bombardment on al Debsheyyi area by the regime forces. They also carried out a raid on the northern outskirts of the city of Khan Sheikhon. [24]: Helicopters dropped 2 barrel bombs onto areas in the town of Otman followed by launching shells on the town by the regime forces. [25]: Rif Dimashq Province: Warplanes carried out several raids on the Wasteland of the town of Qara. [26]: Deir Ezzor Province: Warplanes carried out 2 raids on the vicinity of the airbase of Deir Ezzor. [27]: Hama Province: Helicopters dropped barrel bombs onto areas in the village of al Masasnah in the northern countryside. [28]: Warplanes carried out a raid on an area in the city of al Bab in the east of Aleppo, initial information reported the injury of some people. [29]: Idleb Province: Aircrafts carried out 3 raids on the villages of al Taman’ah, al Hbet and Hafsarjeh as well as a raid on the northern neighborhood of the city of Ma’arret al N’man causing material damages to people’s properties. [30]: Deir Ezzor Province: Warplanes carried out 2 raids on the Granaries Area on the outskirts of al Husayneyyi as well as 2 raids on areas near the School and the Club in the city of Mo Hasan. They also strafed areas in the village of al Jnayneh. [31]: Hama Province: Warplanes carried out raids onto the towns of Kafar Zayta and Allatamneh with no information about victims. [32]: Daraa Province: Warplanes carried out a raid on an area on the town of Aqraba with no information about casualties. Helicopters dropped a barrel bomb onto the northern neighborhood of the city of Nawa, 2 barrels onto areas in the town of Deir al Adas, 2 barrel onto the northern neighborhood of the city of Bosra al Sham and 2 barrels onto the city of Ankel. [33]: Helicopters dropped 4 barrel bombs onto the city of Darayya and 2 barrels onto the eastern mountain of the city of al Zabadani causing material damages. A woman died of wounds due to the regime’s bombardment on the city of Doma. Sunday 28 September 2014 [34]: Helicopters dropped 2 barrel bombs yesterday night onto the eastern mountain of al Zabadani city.
This happened before the first US bombs fell on Syria. This is the daily slaughter that the US Media and the US Left have been ignoring for years.
Assad could be finding it increasingly difficult to get his pilots to bomb their own people. Last month, he executed three military pilots, two of them Alawites, for refusing orders. This may be another reason he welcomes the intervention of US pilots who historically have shown few qualms about bombing foreigners. The Obama may have intervened in Syria to fight "terrorism" but as we have seen from its assaults in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has never considered aerial bombardment of civilians terrorism.
ANSWER & Code Pink Protest Syria Bombing at the White House | 9/24/2014
Of course, these weren't the air strikes they were protesting. In more than three years, and two hundred thousand Syrian lives later, they have never seen the need to protest Assad's air strikes. In fact ANSWER Coalition has long been outspoken in its support for the Assad regime, and now Code Pink is standing with them. With their pro-Qaddafi, pro-Assad, pro-Putin interpretation of anti-imperialism in the 21st century, and their demonization of all those who disagree with them, they have succeeded in reducing the anti-war movement to a shadow if its former self.
Washington, DC March against the Iraq War - 15 September 2007
The Free Syrian Army and other opposition forces that have been under Assad's daily aerial bombardment for years have long pleaded with the NATO powers to provide them with modern air defense weapons so that they could put an end to Assad indiscriminate bombing campaigns. No such weapons have been forth coming. They were also terribly disappointed when Obama reneged on his promise to strike Assad if he used banned chemical weapons to increase his kill rate. Now that Obama has intervened in Syria on the side of the regime, they are speaking out against it. Zaman al Wasl, founder of the FSA sees in Obama's intervention an attempt to crush the Syrian opposition and Syrian Arab Army defector, Colonel Raid al-Asaad, was downright pessimistic about Obama's "War on Terror" in Syria, telling Zamam al-Wasl the "Syrian revolution will be eliminated under this pretext." He should learn from the Vietnamese experience; that is more easily said than done.   The fact that Assad's supporters back Obama's intervention while his opposition opposes it, gives you the real skinny. SYRIA:direct said 24 September 2014:
Harakat Hazm, a moderate-leaning rebel coalition that has received aid from the United States, called the strikes an act of “aggression towards national sovereignty” in a press release widely circulated Tuesday on social media websites. Foreign intervention “will harm the revolution, especially seeing as the international community continues to ignore revolutionary forces' calls for weapons,” the group said, adding that “the only side to benefit... is the Assad regime, without any real strategy to bring about its downfall.”
Even as the pro-government news network Damascus Now cheered on the US air strikes, calling this a historic moment, in which “happiness was etched on the faces of the majority of Syrians, because they found international support towards eradicating a cancer which has been rooted in the diseased Syrian body,” referring to the rebels. Michael Karadjis writes in his well researched and very informative:
Syrian rebels overwhelmingly condemn US bombing as an attack on revolution
25 September 2014 ... In particular, given the grave situation in Aleppo, where the revolutionary forces are being jointly besieged from the south and the north-east by Assad and ISIS, the fact that the first US attacks were on JaN inside Aleppo – where JaN is playing an important role in the epic defense of the rebel-held, working-class, half of that city, alongside the FSA and other Islamist groups – is perhaps the most blatant attack on the revolution possible. ... The Assad regime must be very pleased with having acquired for itself a new air force. More...
These developments pose a serious dilemma for the US "anti-imperialist" Left that has long maintained that the Syrian rebels were a "US backed" attempt to overthrow one of the essential partners in the "axis of resistance" to US imperialism. Is the US Left going the way of the 9/11 Truth movement - increasingly irrelevant to anyone? For years now it has largely ignored the growing conflict in Syria and when it has spoken out, it has been to oppose what it believed was US support of opposition to the Syrian government and military support for the rebels, but now, after three and a half years of conflict, when that military intervention comes in the familiar form of air strikes, and it is being welcomed by the regime and condemned by its opposition, there can be little doubt which side Obama is on. A year ago they took to the streets, wrote their congresspeople and made as much noise as they could to oppose air strikes threaten against the Assad government for killing more than 1400 Syrians with sarin. Really they were demanding that Obama do what he intended to do all along, which was nothing. They spread 9/11 like conspiracy theories, but this time about how the government didn't do it. And when Qbama sent the matter to congress for a vote he knew he was going to lose, they hailed it as a great victory and a testimony to their growing strength. 18 months ago when I was blogging at the Daily Kos and saying that in spite of his fine words, Obama supported the Assad regime and was working to undermine the Syrian revolutionaries, that he was playing "good cop" to Putin's "bad cop", I was roundly criticized. Now it must be becoming increasingly obvious, even to them, that by opposing the Syrian insurgency, the "anti-imperialists" have been supporting the imperialist game all along.
Like I've been saying for a couple of years now: Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad Exposed! Obama "green lights" Assad's slaughter in Syria How Obama helps Assad: US tried to start war between FSA & al Nusra Front How Obama has supported Assad's gas murder always Obama's Real Syria Policy: Endless War The Courtship Continues: Obama stopped French strike on Assad The Courtship Continues: Obama's New Gift to Assad How Obama Helped Assad Kill with Poison Gas in Syria Win-Win for Assad as Obama Response to CW Mass Murder Put on Hold Obama Denied Gas Masks to Assad's Victims Obama's Dilemma and Assad's Opportunity Assad's Redline and Obama's Greenlight! Chemical weapons use in Syria, Has Obama's red-line has been crossed? AP weighs in on Obama's Green Light for Assad's slaughter in Syria Syria: Obama's moves Assad's "red line" back as SOHR reports 42,000 dead! SecState John Kerry and his "dear friend" Bashar al-Assad How Obama's 'No MANPADS for you' policy in Syria is backfiring More thoughts on Obama's 'No MANPADS for you!' policy Obama: Did the CIA betray Assad's opposition in Syria? Obama planning drone strikes against Assad's opposition in Syria
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria
PS: The Lockheed Martin F-22 saw its first combat flights this week over Syria. It is a very expensive aircraft, costing $178 million each, but that pales in comparison to the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at $337 million a piece. The electronics design magazine ECN writes "according to one estimate, the money spent on the program could buy every homeless person in the U.S. a $600,00 mansion."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Phyllis Bennis twists reality to fit politics on DN

Phyllis Bennis actually said this on Democracy Now Tuesday:
In Syria, both countries [Iran and the United States] have an interest in tamping down the violence, even though they have differences over what the real threat might be. Iran, in Syria, is still supporting the Syrian regime; the U.S., of course, opposes the Syrian regime. But both Iran and the United States say that they are against ISIS, I-S-I-S, the leading force in Syria that is opposed to the Syrian regime. So, the U.S. and Iran, in that context, are on the same side.
This is another good example of how those in the "anti-imperialist" camp twist reality to fit their twisted politics. Phyllis Bennis makes two, shall we say, dubious claims in the above statement 1) Iran is interested in tamping down the violence in Syria, and 2) ISIS is the leading force that is opposes the Syrian regime. These two statements represent a break from reality that is so serve that I really don't know where to begin except to say they illustrate why it is so hard to build unity or even carry on a rational conversation with these "anti-imperialist" neighbors, but let me at least try. If "tamping down the violence" means to Phyllis Bennis destroying any movement for democracy in Syria, slaughtering anyone who opposed the Assad regime so that there is no longer any armed resistance, and bringing the violence back to were it was for most of 40 years, through arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and murder in Assad's detention centers, then she may be able to make the argument that both the Assad regime and its Iranian backers are interested in "tamping down the violence," because after three years and 160,000 of his people's lives it should be clear to even a moron that Bashar al-Assad would rather take that road to "peace" than give up his "presidency." If on the other hand, one wishes for the Syrian people and the whole region, the peace that comes with justice, then we must acknowledge that Iran is one of the greatest purveyor of violence in this conflict. Second only to Russia, it has enabled Assad's carnage with political, economic and military support. It is first in putting foreign "boots on the ground" in Syria. It has its own Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps fighting for Assad in Syria, and it has, let us say, "encouraged" both Hezbullah and Iraqi Shiite militias to be Assad's shock troops. Those forces don't exactly have a reputation for "tamping down the violence." As a matter of fact, it has been widely reported for over a year now that Iranians are pretty much peopling and running the Syrian state. Phyllis Bennis suggests that Iran has an interest in "tamping down the violence" in Syria, but that's not what the Iranians say. They say their future is joined at the hip with the continuation of the Assad regime. In other words they say what the other regime supporters say "Bashar al-Assad or we burn the country." I'm sure Phyllis Bennis knows that. Why else the "tamping down" metaphor? So much for her not so veiled support for Bashar al-Assad and the Iranians. Shall we now turn to her attack on the Syrian Revolution? The view that all of Assad's armed opposition are Islamic jihadists is also an Assad regime talking point but ISIS is definitely not "the leading force" in Syria. I know there is a peculiar definition of "the leading force" among some on the Left that allows them to think a small group can be "the leading force" regardless of its size or disconnect from the mass struggle because they have the "right" ideology. If Phyllis Bennis thinks ISIS is leading this struggle ideologically, she must also see the struggle to overthrow the Assad dictatorship as a reactionary counterrevolution. But as a practical matter there is no way ISIS has been leading this revolution. First it is formally only about a year old, it has a relatively small number of fighters and they haven't been fighting the Assad regime. They have been fighting the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front, even Jabhat al Nusra, in fact every rebel group that the mind of Phyllis Bennis has them leading. Also the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces issued a memo on 10 February 2014 titled "ISIS & the Assad Regime: From Marriage of Convenience to Partnership" in which they said:
Since the FSA declared war on this group on 3rd January 2014 and took over many of their bases, significant evidence has been uncovered which has confirmed circulating testimony and rumors about the links between the regime and ISIS. This memo is just a small sample of testimony from FSA fighters that describe events on the ground where regime forces have been protecting and assisting this group. Accounts go further, saying that regime forces are intimately intertwined with this group, whose objectives are one and the same: to destroy moderate Opposition forces and establish control over as much of Syria as possible.
So there's that. As for her assertion that "the U.S., of course, opposes the Syrian regime," I have already dealt with that at length: How Obama has supported Assad's gas murder always Obama's Real Syria Policy: Endless War The Courtship Continues: Obama stopped French strike on Assad The Courtship Continues: Obama's New Gift to Assad How Obama Helped Assad Kill with Poison Gas in Syria Win-Win for Assad as Obama Response to CW Mass Murder Put on Hold Obama Denied Gas Masks to Assad's Victims Obama's Dilemma and Assad's Opportunity Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad Exposed! Obama "green lights" Assad's slaughter in Syria Assad's Redline and Obama's Greenlight! Chemical weapons use in Syria, Has Obama's red-line has been crossed? AP weighs in on Obama's Green Light for Assad's slaughter in Syria Syria: Obama's moves Assad's "red line" back as SOHR reports 42,000 dead! SecState John Kerry and his "dear friend" Bashar al-Assad How Obama's 'No MANPADS for you' policy in Syria is backfiring More thoughts on Obama's 'No MANPADS for you!' policy Obama: Did the CIA betray Assad's opposition in Syria? Obama planning drone strikes against Assad's opposition in Syria How Obama helps Assad: US tried to start war between FSA & al Nusra Front
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Benghazi minted its own coin in 480 BC even before it became a city of Rome. Mummar Qaddafi treated it as a back-water and it became the wellspring of the revolution that overthrew him. After Qaddafi's troops started shooting protesters in Benghazi, they started shooting back. When soldiers in the Katiba compound started shooting at the passing funeral procession of a protester shot earlier, the outraged people didn't stop until they had taken the compound, using bare hands, bulldozers and a car bomb to breach the walls. When Qaddafi sent General Abdul Fatah Younis to get Benghazi back, he defected and Qaddafi never regained control of the city. To most Americans, Benghazi means the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. It means the scandal around who said what when that has played out in the media and numerous congressional hearings over the years. The Republican Congress is just about to start another one. Friday, House Speaker John Boehner appointed seven Republicans to a brand new special committee to investigate "Benghazi." At the heart of all these hearings is the allegation that what Obama and Clinton were really doing in Benghazi was, in the words of Seymour Hersh, "responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria," and the most dangerous weapon from that arsenal is the man portable air defense system, or MANPADS. They are shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that are light enough to be used by one man and very deadly.
Ever since the US government started handing out MANPADS like party favors to Afghan mujaheddinin the 1980's so that they could shoot down Soviet helicopters, there has been tremendous fear that these one-man anti-aircraft missiles would fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down airliners. Since 2003, the US government has carried out programs, through a mix of agencies, in more than 30 countries that have overseen the destruction of more than 32,500 missiles. Even before Tripoli fell, the U.S. had an operation going in Libya designed to limit the spread of Qaddafi's sophisticated weapons arsenal. Highest on the list were any chemical or biological weapons Qaddafi may have held out on after he voluntarily ended his WMD programs a decade ago, there were none, and his large stock of MANPADS. Libya had around 20,000 of the infrared tracking Soviet designed SA-7 MANPADS. As the tide of battle turned in Libya and Qaddafi's weapon depots, including his store of MANPADS, started to fall into rebel hands, the Libyan situation began to receive greater attention from the US arms collection efforts. More than a month before Tripoli fell, the US was giving $1.5 million to two international organizations - the Mines Advisory Group from Britain and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action - to get their help in securing this stockpile of MANPADS. In June 2011, the US sent teams to four countries bordering Libya - Algeria, Chad, Mali, and Niger to talk to them about border security and missile identification. In late 2011, a bilateral agreement on weapons abatement was signed with the National Transitional Council [NTC] and a US government Quick Reaction Force of expert civilian personnel was embedded with Libyan military units. By January they had already inspected over 120 storage areas and 1,500 bunkers, accounting for over 5,000 MANPADS. Andrew J. Shapiro, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, became the White House point man on the Libyan MANPADS problem. A week before Qaddafi was killed, he told AP that the issue of securing the weapons was a priority for President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying “We know that terrorist groups have expressed interest in obtaining these weapons.” Already the State Department had sent 15 specialists to Libya to find and secure the weapons. Shapiro said that the US had allocated $30 million to the effort and soon he would be increasing the number of specialist working on it to 50. A year later, a source would tell CNN that 35 people, divided between CIA and State Department, were working the Benghazi mission, 21 out of the annex when it was attacked on 11 Sept. 2012. A 42-year-old former Navy SEAL named Glen Doherty was one of the four killed along with Ambassador Christopher Stevens that night. He was interviewed by ABC News two months before the attack about his work for the State Department which he said was going out into the field, tracking down MANPADS and destroying them. In an email, the State Department told CNN that the mission was to help the new Libyan government destroy weapons deemed "damaged, aged or too unsafe to retain." Long before the consulate attack that would reveal the existence of this annex and its purpose, on 12 Dec 2011, Shapiro announced that the Libyan-US EOD teams had collected and destroyed 5,000 MANPADS. It is rumored that many of them were collected through a US financed "buy-back" program and the amount dedicated to the overall program was increased to $40 million, but however they got them, they said the weapons were blown up at sea near the village of Sidi Bin Nur, east of Tripoli. Since the Benghazi 9/11 attack, another theory about the true purpose of the CIA mission in Benghazi and what happened to all those MANPADS has been embraced by a curious alliance of extremes on the Left and the Right. This theory is that what the CIA was really doing in Benghazi was running guns and insurgents to Syria and that's were the MANPADS ended up, sent to Syria by the CIA. As CNN reported in August:
Speculation on Capitol Hill has included the possibility the U.S. agencies operating in Benghazi were secretly helping to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels.
The Arab Spring's Two Violent Revolutions
May they meet again soon
While the Arab uprising taking place in the Spring of 2011 shook almost every country in North Africa and the Middle East, only two of them were run by governments that didn't hesitate before using military power against unarmed protesters. They were the mutually supportive regimes of Mummar Qaddafi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Qaddafi ordered his army to open fire as soon as peaceful protesters took their demands for democracy to the streets of Benghazi and other cities on 17 February 2011. Already, on that day, he was shooting protesters from helicopters. Within a week, Qaddafi's forces had gunned down more than two thousand people, including 700 protesters in one night in the now aptly named Martyr's Square in Tripoli. How easy it is for some to cackle now about what a "mess" Libya is today, post Qaddafi, which saw 643 people killed in 2013, and forget about the horror it was under Qaddafi, or the bloody course he was undertaking, and that is the right word, before the UN and NATO intervened to put an end to his air assaults and curtail his artillery bombardments. To see a full exposition of what Qaddafi had in mind for Libya we need look no further than Syria, where Assad and his friends have enjoyed a free hand to suppress the rebellion by any means available. Assad is reported to have used poison gas to kill some 30 times since the August sarin attack with no new international sanctions. Syrians haven't enjoyed the protection of an internationally imposed "no-fly" zone and they haven't been allowed access to modern anti-aircraft weapons, so Assad has been able to use his air force with impunity. The estimated 30,000 lives lost in the war to rid Libya of Qaddafi now recedes into the shadows of the rising toll of the murderous Assad's attempt to cling to power. The official "Day of Rage" for the Syrian protest movement was a month after Libya on 15 March 2011, but already protests had been breaking out in February in concert with those in Libya. From the very beginning, the two revolutionary movements enjoyed close ties and grew up as brothers-in-arms. There has been strong support for the Syrian Revolution from the Libyan people and official support from the Libyan government no sooner than they obtained their own victory. Thousands attacked the Russian Embassy in Tripoli when it vetoed the Arab League-sponsored Security Council resolution condemning Assad's brutal crackdown. They took over the embassy and replaced the Russian flag with the flag of the Syrian Revolution. The NTC apologized and helped Russian security men restore order. Four days later, they gave Assad's diplomats 72 hours to leave the country and became the first country to turn the Syrian Embassy over to the Syrian National Council. This was all before Libya celebrated the second anniversary of its revolution on 17 February 2012. The revolutionary Libyan government has voted hundreds of millions of dollars in support of the Syrian cause and hundreds of Libyan revolutionaries have gone there to join the fight. Ashour Bin Khayal, who was heading up Libyan foreign affairs around the time of that 2nd anniversary, told FT about the "problem" of Libyan fighters going to Syria:
“Actually, we cannot stop anyone from going to Syria. People want to go and fight with the Syrians; no one is going prevent them. Officially, we don’t have this stance; but we cannot control the desire of the people. “Libya took a very revolutionary step to recognise the Syrian National Council. Those who are fighting the regime in Syria, we are supporting them. “The Syrian regime is pushing the country toward a stage that no one wants. They are doing the same as Gaddafi did. The regime will fall sooner or later.”
While Assad supporters and the Western media paint Libyans going to Syria with the same jihadist brush they apply to all foreign Arab fighters, the truth is that many support their cousin's struggle for entirely secular reasons and the plain truth is that many, like Che Guevara, are more comfortable carrying on the armed struggle elsewhere than settling into the duller routine of building the revolution at home. Che has become a very popular figure in Libya. This support for the struggle in Syria meant that US government plans to collect and destroy Libya's post-Qaddafi stock of excess heavy weapons had some serious competition. Not only did Qaddafi's African mercenaries, the ones some "anti-imperialists" claimed never existed, take the weapons Qaddafi had given them, along with whatever they could loot, and go back to Mali and other places, there was popular support for sending weapons to Syria. As the New York Times reported a year ago:
Many of the same people who chased the colonel to his grave are busy shuttling his former arms stockpiles to rebels in Syria. The flow is an important source of weapons for the uprising and a case of bloody turnabout, as the inheritors of one strongman’s arsenal use them in the fight against another.
Qatar, the Arab country that financed much of the arms purchased by those fighting Qaddafi, has been financing much of these arms transfers as well. According to the NY Times, the arms are put on ships or Qatar Emiri Air Force fights, then distributed through a network of intelligence agencies to Syrian opposition leaders in Turkey, which in turn issue them to their fighters on the ground. “It is just the enthusiasm of the Libyan people helping the Syrians,” Fawzi Bukatef, former Libyan brigade leader and ambassador to Uganda told the NY Times. One such ship was the Al Entisar, a Libyan ship that docked in the Turkish port of Iskenderun, 14 September 2012. It was reported by the Times of London that among "more than 400 tonnes of cargo the vessel was carrying were SAM-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs)." The delivery was organized by the Libyan National Council for Relief and Support formed to help free Syria. Abdul Basit Haroun, who says he is behind some of the biggest shipments of weapons from Libya to Syria, confirms that the first weapons shipment was smuggled aboard the Libyan ship delivering aid last year but says now arms are flown "above board" into border countries on chartered flights. Haroun said:
"We are doing two great things, the first is that we are taking guns off the street. The mission is so popular that we get 50 percent discounts on weapons."
While it was widely reported that this ship was loaded with MANPADS for the rebels, these alleged SA-7s never showed up in Syria. More of the collected weapons have come from the revolutionary brigades than from the Libyan government. For years now, people have been clamoring for the Libyan militias to give up their heavy weapons. This is how they are doing it. A year ago Fawzi Bukatef said Libyan militias had been shipping weapons to Syrian rebels for more than a year. “They collect the weapons, and when they have enough they send it,” he said. “The Libyan government is not involved, but it does not really matter.” One person that was involved was Abdelhakim Belhadj. He was head of the Tripoli Military Council and had been a founder and leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. He has been an anti-Qaddafi activist since the 1980's. After he escaped from Libya, the CIA, with an assist from MI6, special renditioned him back to Qaddafi's "detention." In September 2011, with Tripoli already liberated and Qaddafi on the run, Belhaj took time to write about the founding of the LIFG in the Guardian:
It was 20 years ago that I left my hometown, Tripoli, in search of refuge. Colonel Gaddafi's security apparatus had the country in an iron grip; the eyes of its agents were everywhere. No one was safe. I have lived in many countries since, dedicating all my efforts to one objective: the overthrow of the dictatorship in order to bring about real change in our country. A change that would guarantee a dignified life, freedom and justice. It was clear to me by the end of the 80s that it was impossible to bring about change in a country whose ruler does not believe in plurality of opinion, will not allow a peaceful transition of power, and forces his people to live on low incomes despite the country's wealth. Those in opposition faced all kinds of repression. Even the right to religious freedom was violated – saying prayers in the mosques could land one in prison. Faced with this reality, there was no option but to resort to arms, and I and others founded the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. More...
He didn't have long to reminisce. Qaddafi was killed in October and by November Belhadj was off on his newest adventure, meeting with Free Syrian Army leaders in Istanbul and on the Turkish-Syria border about how the new Libyan government could best provide weapons and other provisions to their brothers-in-arms in Syria. Ruth Sherlock, reporting from Tripoli for The Telegraph wrote:
Mr Belhaj also discussed sending Libyan fighters to train troops, the source said. Having ousted one dictator, triumphant young men, still filled with revolutionary fervour, are keen to topple the next. The commanders of armed gangs still roaming Tripoli's streets said yesterday that "hundreds" of fighters wanted to wage war against the Assad regime.
This is how Libyans came to be the majority of the foreign fighters against Assad in Syria. They had the revolutionary spirit, they had the real world combat experience and they had the weapons. They brought the weapons with them.
Was the US arming Syrian rebels?
While there is no evidence that the United States sold weapons to the Syrian opposition, bought weapons for the Syrian opposition, gave weapons to the Syrian opposition, or played any role in getting the weapons to Syria, there is plenty of evidence pointing to US President Barack Obama's use of the CIA and US influence in the crucial border countries of Turkey and Jordan to play a critical gatekeeper role in the weapons funneling process. The New York Times broke the news of this network on 21 June 2012 with the headline:
C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition
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 weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said. The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. More...
Perhaps the headline should have more accurately said the CIA was involved in steering arms away from the Syria opposition because that is what it was doing. The US was using its influence to stop the flow of any weapons to "unapproved" opposition groups and stop the flow of certain heavy weapons, such as MANPADS, to all opposition groups, without itself contributing a single weapon. Less than two months later, 13 Aug 2012, an article in the Australian echoed the same view and reported on the opposition response:
Despite mounting calls in Washington for a more aggressive US military role in Syria, the CIA has been quietly working along its northern border with Turkey to limit the supplies of weapons and ammunition reaching rebel forces, Syrian opposition officials say. "Not one bullet enters Syria without US approval," one official complained in Istanbul. "The Americans want the (rebellion) to continue, but they are not allowing enough supplies in to make the Damascus regime fall."
Apparently Obama's CIA and State Department were successful in keeping Libyan MANPADS out of Syria because to that point not a single aircraft had been shot down by Assad's opposition with a MANPADS. Another FSA officer, Ahmad al-Fajj, a brigadier-general in the Syrian Arab Army before his defection, was interviewed by AFP in Atmeh on the Turkish border, 25 Sept 2012. Faji said:
“The free peoples of the world – Europeans, Americans – must understand that their governments are indirectly responsible for the killings in our country.” “We asked all the arms dealers and traffickers in the region to sell us anti-aircraft missiles. They told us they needed the green light from the CIA and Mossad, and the light was red.” “They won’t sell us anti-tank weapons for the same reason. All we have to defeat [Assad’s] tanks are the RPGs we manage to retrieve from the enemy.”
In spite of these problems, MANPADS, specifically the older Soviet SA-7 models popular with both Qaddafi and Assad, did start to show up in Syrian rebel hands around the middle of 2012, although there aren't documented reports of a regime warplane being brought down with one until 27 November 2012 when a Syrian Air Force Mi-8 helicopter was brought down by a surface-to-air missile that most likely came from a SA-7. Business Insider attempted to use a sourced map created by journalist Damien Spleeter of MANPADS sightings in Syria to prove their theory that the Syrian opposition was receiving MANPADS from Libya. To make their point, in the version of Spleeter's map they published, they add a red tag noting the Turkish port of Iskenderun "where the massive SA-7 shipment docked," according to them, and they removed Spleeter's details of the MANPADS sightings. With those details we can see that of the 20 MANPADS sightings documented, only 6 involved complete MANPADS and only 2 document MANPADS being fired. So this map, rather than indicating a massive shipment of complete SA-7s arrived from Libya, indicates rather that some MANPADS in various conditions were being captured or purchased in Syria and a few had been pieced together good enough to be used.  
Is this Abdelhakim Belhadj?
This video, posted to YouTube on 26 Apr 2012 shows a brigade that has defected to the FSA near Rastan with what appears to be a complete SA-7 in what may be the earliest show of a MANPADS in the hands of the opposition. There are a number of videos that surfaced during the Summer of 2012 in which militias are posing with their weapons and a SA-7 appears. One wonders if there was only one SA-7 and a list going around "sign up to reserve SA-7 for group photo with your unit." Such videos can be seen with the Rastan al-Hamza brigade 27 Jun 2012, Sahaabi Dujana Battalion 8 Aug 2012, and most interesting is the 2 minute video of the Abu Bakr Brigade, 15 Aug 2012, because someone who looks like Abdelhakim Belhadj is first seen posing with the brigade and its one SA-7, and then he is seen showing off a storehouse of weapons in crates and on shipping platforms. Curiously, there are anti-aircraft guns and weapons of all sort in the display of what appears to be a new shipment, but there are no MANPADS in the storehouse, just the one in the brigade photo op. This supports the idea that someone was stopping MANPADS from getting through. However, what the Syrian rebels couldn't get from Qaddafi's horde, via the Benghazi pipeline, they were starting to get from Assad's horde through base and weapons depot seizures. In this video, 06 Oct 2012, Abu Bakr brigade is showing off the weapons they captured from the Syrian Battalion 591 Air Defense, Brigade 55 in East Ghouta, and here, for the first time, we see a number of SA-7s. The important thing to understand about these MANPADS is that they typically come in four parts and unless you have all four parts, you don't have a working weapons system. Those four parts are the launch tube,  the grip, the battery and the missile. There is also the question of battery life and many of the older SA-7s were thought to be past their useful life. In addition, where are dummy units and training units. You have got to know exactly what you are dealing with. It was clear that the rebels were getting a few MANPADS, but many of the early sightings were missing important parts and so probably not usable while others looked to be complete systems. On 14 Oct 2012 a video was posted of a missile being fired at and missing a jet over Aleppo. The poster says this is the first use of a thermal imaging rocket by the rebels. The next day C. J. Chivers wrote in his New York Times blog:
This blog had documented the part-by-part appearance in rebel hands of one old heat-seeking system, known as the SA-7. Since midsummer there have been occasional sightings of full systems but none, as far as we know, showing the system in actual use. Two videos recently posted on YouTube suggest that what had been expected is now occurring.
The second video, 15 Oct 2012, Chivers referred to shows two guys on a motor bike with a SA-7. There are at least 20 other YouTube postings that show MANPADS in opposition hands, Brown Moses maintains a list, before a plane is finally brought down with one, including videos of the same man with the more advanced SA-16 and SA-24 and a SA-7 being fired on 20 Nov 2012. A week later a Syrian Mi-8 helicopter was brought down by a missile and it looked like the rebels had scored their first MANPADS kill of the conflict, 27 Nov 2012. The day after that first MANPADS kill, 28 Nov 2014, the Guardian reported:
Just as the clamour for supplying the Syrian opposition with sophisticated new weapons looked to be reaching a tipping point in the Gulf and the west, the rebels have clearly got hold of some arms of their own. ... the rebels' principal backers, in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been chafing ever more loudly against the US veto on supplies of sophisticated, potentially decisive weapons such as shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles (widely known as Manpads – an acronym for man-portable air-defence systems) to the rebels.
With a rising death toll from Assad's aerial bombardment, they were growing impatient with "the US veto" against the modern air defense weapons. The Guardian continues:
"We did this as a favour to Obama," a Gulf source said. "But now Obama has been re-elected, there is a question of whether we should still be bound by such an undertaking." Shoulder-launched missiles could be bought in Pakistan or in Africa, the source added. So far, there is no evidence that any of the ground-to-air missiles used to date have come from outside Syria, according to Peter Bouckaert. Emergencies director for Human Rights Watch. "Everything we have seen so far has been captured from Syrian army bases. We have kept a close watch on what has been coming out of Libya but we have seen no surface-to-air missiles from there used in Syria," Bouckaert said.
The Guardian said the shoot-down "could mark a turning point in the conflict" but by-and-large, Obama's prohibition on MANPADS for the rebels held. While YouTube would record many other sightings, both of the SA-7 and more advanced SA-24 [Damien Spleeters work] in the hands of the opposition, it would be more than eleven weeks before another of Assad's warplanes was brought down by one, 14  February 2013, when the Free Syrian Army shot down a Syrian fighter jet over Homs, Idlib. A few days later, a Hip transport helicopter was also shot down over Menagh Airbase and on 5 March 2013 FSA shot down an aircraft over Aleppo airport. They did this with a new type of MANPADS and from a new source. They were Chinese made FH-6 MANPADS and we know they weren't captured because Assad didn't have any. Brown Moses reported on these Chinese MANPADS sightings. An opposition source told the Guardian:
"These were not weapons that had been captured from Syrian army bases as before. These were released from the Turkish warehouses. These are weapons the opposition had purchased previously but had not been allowed to take across the border." "Before, 23mm was the maximum calibre for anti-aircraft guns permitted and we were allowed to bring in RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] but not armour-piercing shells."
This statement completely characterizes the US role in "funneling arms to the rebels" in a nutshell. They weren't helping them obtain arms at all. While thousands of Syrian civilians were being murdered by Assad warplanes, the US has put itself in a position where it could deny the Syrian opposition air defense weapons which it had already purchased! 25 March 2013 the New York Times described the CIA arms control program and the rebel complaints:
From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. Still, rebel commanders have criticized the shipments as insufficient, saying the quantities of weapons they receive are too small and the types too light to fight Mr. Assad’s military effectively. They also accused those distributing the weapons of being parsimonious or corrupt. “The outside countries give us weapons and bullets little by little,” said Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a commander in Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist fighting group in northern Syria. He made a gesture as if switching on and off a tap. “They open and they close the way to the bullets like water,” he said.
The newspaper also explained that the US got involved so that it could control a process that was going to happen anyway. “These countries were going to do it one way or another,” the former official said. “They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’”
The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft.
Apparently possible attacks on civilians targets wasn't a reason for withholding MANPADS from Washington's proxies in Afghanistan, but now, while Assad is killing thousands of civilians from the air, they are used as an excuse to allow him to continue. Never mind that MANPADS are already available on the black market. Three months later, 29 June 2013, The New York Times reported that Qatar was defying the banned, or at least making a show at defying the ban:
As an intermittent supply of arms to the Syrian opposition gathered momentum last year, the Obama administration repeatedly implored its Arab allies to keep one type of powerful weapon out of the rebels’ hands: heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles. But one country ignored this admonition: Qatar, Since the beginning of the year, according to four American and Middle Eastern officials with knowledge of intelligence reports on the weapons, Qatar has used a shadowy arms network to move at least two shipments of shoulder-fired missiles, one of them a batch of Chinese-made FN-6s, to Syrian rebels who have used them against Mr. Assad’s air force. ... The shipments were small, the Western officials and rebels said, amounting to no more than a few dozen missiles.
Other sources reported that these missiles didn't work too good:
Normally effective anti-aircraft missiles, the arms supplied by Qatar have been reportedly plagued with technical problems, including the batteries running out of power, the targeting systems not working, and the missiles failing to reach their targets.
Still the rebels continued to work with what they had. On 13 May 2013 FSA's Ahfad al-Rasul Battalions shot down an aircraft over Abu al-Dhuhur airbase with an older SA-7 and on 10 June 2013, a sixth Assad warplane, another helicopter, was brought down with a MANPADS, this time a SA-24, near the town of Nubl, northwest of Aleppo. On 20 July 2013 FSA 9th Division shot down a jet with a SA-7 and on 18 August 2013 Ahrar al-Sham shot down a jet with a FN-6. It would be more than two months before a ninth warplane was brought down by a rebel MANPADS on 26 Oct 2013. That last one used a rigged battery pack strapped to the shooters leg, indicating that the problem of dead battery packs had been overcome. Most recently a helicopter was shot down with a rocket on 1 April 2014. I may have missed a downed aircraft or two in my survey of the open source intelligence, but the point is, it is a very small number given the thousands of sorties Assad has flown against civilian targets. Beyond a few dozen funky MANPADS supplied by Qatar, there is little indication that they have received these weapons from other outside sources. The Wall St. Journal reported 14 Feb 2013:
Earlier in the conflict, rebels managed to seize a limited number of Manpads from regime forces. But they quickly ran out of the missiles to arm them, the Western diplomat said.
This is how effective Obama's sanction against MANPADS for the Syria opposition has been, in a war in which the Assad regime has made unlimited use of its air supremacy to indiscriminately slaughter civilians, especially children, in liberated areas, they have managed to bring down only ten of Assad's aerial death delivery systems with the sort of advanced technology that would be available to them without US interference. This is how the Obama administration has been "helping" the Syrian opposition overthrow the dictator he keeps saying should step down. This has been the result:
One of the oldest cities on Earth | Aleppo. Syria | 6 May 2014
Seymour Hersh and the Right-Left Alliance
The legend that Obama's CIA was secretly running and provisioning the Syrian insurgency out of a back office in Benghazi owes its success to a trifecta of support. First we have Obama's often made remarks that Assad should resign and his vocal support for Assad's opposition. Second, there is Assad and his followers, that have always maintained that he was the  victim of a proxy war in which terrorists were being ramrodded by the US, NATO, and the Gulf states. This line is also followed by many on the Left. Finally there are those on the Right who hate Barack Hussein Obama and would like use Benghazi to label him as the president that gave weapons to al-Qaeda. Since Hilary Clinton is likely the next Democratic presidential candidate, they would like to tar her with the same brush. The key to a good lie is to use the truth as much as possible and then add little twists as necessary to pervert the meaning. In the case of the Benghazi lie agreed upon, it was only necessary to belittle or ignore the weapons destruction function of the Benghazi operation, take the Libyans and other Arabs out of the driver's seat of the Syrian arms train, convert the CIA role in Turkey and Jordan from that of switch operator to engineer and ignore the real lack of MANPADS in rebel hands. All the other stuff works for them. The CIA was carrying out a secret program at a secret location in Benghazi and it did have to do with Libyan weapons. Benghazi was the center of both Libyan government and private support logistics for the Syrian Revolution, and the CIA did have agents in Turkey and Jordan that were involved with these arms transfers. Eventually, a few MANPADS did show up in Syria. One of the most prominent examples of this theory comes from Seymour Hersh's "The Red Line and the Rat Line", 6 April 2014. Hersh's version goes like this:
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 spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’) 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...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. ... 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.’ Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter.
So in the Sy Hersh version there is no mention of the weapons destruction program that predated the Libyan situation, the US and Turkey have the power to make agreements binding Qatar and Saudi Arabia to fund projects, and the Obama administration is the main force behind regime change in Syria. He makes that clear when he discusses the "rat-line" with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now:
In effect, you could almost say that, in his own way, Obama—you can call it shrewd or brilliant. He was almost channeling Saudi Arabia and Qatari and the Turks to get something done we wanted done, which was to have the opposition defeat Bashar al-Assad. And that’s what it was.
No need to involve the Syrians in this equation. If Obama wants to see the opposition defeat Bashar al Assad, he certainly has a funny way of showing it. When the US imperialists were going for regime change in Afghanistan in the 1980's, they had no problem giving their proxies the latest MANPADS. If they really wanted to see Assad defeated, Syrian planes would be swatted from the skies with them now. After more than three years of struggle against the fascist Assad regime, the tragic facts on the ground expose the lie that the US and NATO really do want to see and end to the Assad Regime or that they are secretly funding and supplying the opposition. So Sy Hersh thinks the Obama administration has provided the Syrian rebels with boat loads of MANPADS. Well, where are they?
In Conclusion
In February, the Saudis again proposed providing the Syrian opposition with MANPADS. The WSJ reported "The Saudis have held off supplying them in the past because of U.S. opposition," and the US still objected. Late last month, Foreign Policy said:
Saudi Arabia has stockpiles of the weapons but is waiting for U.S. permission to send them into Syria, a step the White House has so far refused to authorize.
Now the White House is saying that they may allow the opposition to have MANPADS if they can be outfitted with fingerprint scanners and GPS systems to keep them from being misused, but this will take time to design and implement. Given that such solutions have been proposed for many years now, to talk about having to create them now before the weapons can be given to the Syrian rebels is just another delaying tactic. Meanwhile Assad keeps bombing and the people keep dying. FP concludes:
If the administration ultimately signs off, only small numbers of MANPADS would be sent Syria at one time, raising doubts about whether such a modest amount of arms would help turn the tide of the war. The technical challenges with the GPS locks may provide a convenient excuse for the administration to avoid having to answer that question and sending the missiles at all.
So far America's legacy in Syria is Obama's policy and that shameful legacy is that when a fire was consuming the Syrian house, we held back the fire hose. The Syrian National Council estimates that at least 20,000 people have been killed by Assad's barrel bomb attacks since March 2011. Allepo has been so heavily bombed this year that on 22 February 2014, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution demanding an end to the barrel-bombing. Even the Russians supported it. Using satellite photos, Human Rights Watch was able to identify at least 340 distinct damage sites in the 113-day period before 20 February 2014. The resolution made no difference, it had no teeth, the bombing continued. In the 40 days between 22 February and 2 April HRW identified an additional 85 impact sites in liberated neighborhoods. The Violations Document Center reported that aerial attacks killed 651 civilians in Aleppo province between the pasting of the UNSC resolution and 22 April. And while Assad continues to slaughter civilians from the air in violation of the UN resolution, he faces little in the way of threat from MANPADS on the ground. Only one of his warplanes was brought down by a MANPADS in this whole period. In a Washington Post opinion piece titled "America can stop the ‘barrel bombs’ in Syria", 8 May 2014, Mohammed Alaa Ghanem argues:
It would not take much for the United States to make a difference. A man whose neighborhood has endured numerous bombings reports that, after one regime helicopter was shot down by opposition forces, all attacks from the air ceased for 15 days. So a slight increase in the opposition’s capacity to target helicopters could have an enormous payoff in lives saved.
On Tuesday the US upgraded the Washington offices of the Syrian National Coalition to "foreign mission" status. While that is well short of diplomatic recognition, it is progress. Now SNC President Ahmad Jarba is in Washington, DC for high level talks. Better and heavier weapons for those fighting Bashar al-Assad are sure to be on his shopping list. MANPADS would be the single most game changing and life saving thing the opposition needs. In this age of smart guns, there are many ways to make sure they aren't misused. Barack Obama should lift his ban against MANPADS for the people Assad is bombing.
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