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Is there a 'US war on Syria'? The Syrian uprising, the Assad regime, the US and Israel

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  • Cort Greene
    *Opposing imperialism should obviously not mean being apologists for Assad’s butchery* http://links.org.au/node/3344 Is there a US war on Syria ? The Syrian
    Message 1 of 1 , May 11, 2013
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      *Opposing imperialism should obviously not mean being apologists for
      Assad�s butchery*

      http://links.org.au/node/3344

      Is there a 'US war on Syria'? The Syrian uprising, the Assad regime, the US
      and Israel

      By *Michael Karadjis*

      May 11, 2013 � *Links International Journal of Socialist
      Renewal*<http://links.org.au/node/3344> --
      In the wake of two Israeli airstrikes on targets in Syria on the June 4-5
      weekend, the second causing massive explosions close to Damascus and
      killing at least several dozen Syrian troops, discussion rages about the
      aims of this aggression and the relationship it has to the ongoing mass
      uprising and civil war in Syria.

      Israel claimed both attacks were aimed at Iranian long-range rockets, or
      the military depots where they were housed, that were in transit via Syria
      to Hezbollah in Lebanon. As the Zionist regime has continually indicated
      that its �red line� was the transfer of any significant �game-changing�
      weaponry to either Hezbollah in Lebanon (which is currently aligned to
      Syria�s besieged Assad regime) or to the Sunni Islamist rebels fighting to
      overthrow that regime, this explanation seems plausible.

      In fact, Israel also bombed a convoy of rockets in western Syria destined
      for Hezbollah at the end of January, and according to some reports, also a
      biological weapons research centre near Damascus, which �was reportedly
      flattened out of concern that it might fall into the hands of Islamist
      extremists fighting to topple the government of Syrian president Bashar
      Assad", according to Aaron Klein and Karl Vick writing in *Time*
      magazine<http://world.time.com/2013/02/01/the-fallout-from-the-air-raid-on-syria-why-israel-is-concerned>
      .

      Indeed, after the latest bombings, Israel�s leaders went on to stress that
      these attacks were not aimed at the Assad regime, still less to support the
      armed opposition, as will be discussed further below.

      But of course such aggression must also be seen in a wider context. Clearly
      the situation in Syria is falling apart and the war daily is getting more
      vicious and criminal (on both sides, but above all on the side of the
      regime), without any end in sight. Clearly at some point there may well be
      some form of more direct imperialist intervention than at present, even if
      only to try to stamp its mark, in whatever way possible, on an almost
      impossible situation. The myths about �recent gains by the Syrian regime�
      is just bravado to talk up the latest rounds of horrific massacres in the
      north coastal region, which promise no more stability than the last two
      years of brutal massacres.

      *Mass terror*

      Therefore, in such a context, with Israel everyday lamenting the �lost
      peace� on the northern border of occupied Golan (i.e., the peace it has
      enjoyed for 40 years as the Assad regime never challenged the Zionist
      occupation and annexation of its Golan territory), Israel is also
      announcing loud and clear to all sides in Syria, and to the Syrian masses,
      that �Israel is here, and this is what we can do�. The overall aim, in
      other words, is mass terror.

      Yet while the situation may inexorably drive towards some kind of
      imperialist intervention, the outstanding fact to date has been the
      reluctance of imperialist states � and above all Israel � to lend any
      concrete support (or in Israel�s case, even verbal support) to the
      opposition trying to overthrow Assad�s tyrannical capitalist dictatorship.

      And while a simple comparison with the extremely rapid intervention in
      Libya (within a few weeks of the beginning of the uprising in early 2011)
      might ignore practical differences for intervention in the two cases, any
      analysis of statements and actions of the US and especially Israel over
      these two years make clear that both have fundamental political objections
      to the nature of the opposition. These even extend to prospect of the
      overthrow of the regime itself, unless it can occur under a very strong
      degree of imperialist control, which is a very unlikely prospect.

      *No secular fighters?*

      Iit�s worth looking at a recent article in the *New York Times* which, like
      a great many articles, over-emphasise the significance of the radical
      Islamist element in the armed uprising. In this case, the*NYT* made the
      case more absolute<http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/world/middleeast/islamist-rebels-gains-in-syria-create-dilemma-for-us.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&>
      :

      �Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to
      speak of�.

      Curiously, for a number of those on the left convinced that the US is hell
      bent on backing the Syrian rebellion against the regime of Bashar Assad, or
      who even claim the US is explicitly backing these �Islamist� forces within
      it, or even that the whole Syrian rebellion is a �US war on Syria�, this
      statement was greeted as a sign that �even the US� is coming to understand
      how bad the rebels �that it supports� are.

      This is a very odd argument for a number of reasons. But before analysing
      the reasons for the*NYT*�s statement, it is worth looking at the evidence.
      It is certainly true that there is a strong �Islamist� element within the
      armed opposition, and that as Assad�s brutality grows, so does the
      �radical� nature of the ideology of many of the rebel groups, and also the
      reverse brutality of some of the armed rebels (whether secular or
      Islamist). It is also true that part of the Islamist opposition is backed
      by Saudi Arabia and Qatar as part of a reactionary-sectarian regional game
      (see below). And it is further true that some Islamist groups, such as
      Al-Nusra, are allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda.

      However, there are also a vast number of articles, interviews, documents,
      photos, videos and other evidence of opposition, both armed and unarmed,
      and opposition-controlled towns, that remain secular, or at least religious
      only in a formal sense without any �sharia law�, or that are opposed to the
      Islamicisation of the movement. While this article is not aimed at proving
      this, here are some useful links that demonstrate the point:

      �The Syrian revolution has changed me as a writer�,

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/may/03/samar-yazbek-syrian-revolution-writing?CMP=twt_gu
      .

      �Welcome to Free Syria Meeting the rebel government of an embattled
      country�,
      http://harpers.org/archive/2012/08/welcome-to-free-syria/.

      �How should Idlib's Islamists be handled?�,
      http://syriasurvey.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/what-to-do-with-idlibs-islamists.html
      .

      �Syrian rebels tackle local
      government�,<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/syrian-rebels-tackle-local-government/2013/04/30/3f2181d8-b1b9-11e2-baf7-5bc2a9dc6f44_story.html##>

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/syrian-rebels-tackle-local-government/2013/04/30/3f2181d8-b1b9-11e2-baf7-5bc2a9dc6f44_story.html
      .

      �Syria: the �no secular fighters� myth�,

      http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2013/4/30/syria-audio-analysis-the-no-secular-fighters-myth-scott-luca.html
      .

      �Jihadists and secular activists clash in Syria�,
      www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/world/.../syria-war-developments.html.

      �Some rebels worry about extremists but Assad comes first�,
      http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/some_rebels_worry_about_extremists_but_assad_comes_first_20120822/
      .

      �Syria rebels see future fight with foreign radicals�,

      http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2012/Aug-08/183858-syria-rebels-see-future-fight-with-foreign-radicals.ashx#axzz22zO6OH7J
      .

      �First Christian unit of FSA forms�,

      http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2528.

      �The battle to name Syria's Friday protests�,

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/04/201241314026709762.html.

      A similar list could of course be made of all kinds of brutal, reactionary
      and religious-sectarian actions by parts of the anti-Assad revolt. But that
      is not what is in question in such a variegated, bottom-up, mass uprising.
      The evidence above makes clear that the sectarian element can by no means
      be declared in complete control.

      *�US war on Syria� � means what exactly?*

      So, given the evidence, why did the *NYT* make this ridiculous, sweeping,
      clearly false statement? An obvious explanation might be precisely that the
      *NYT*, which tends to closely reflect US ruling-class thinking, is simply
      pushing this line precisely in order to justify US policy, consistently
      over the last two years, of *not* supporting the Syrian uprising.

      Overwhelmingly, the reason continually being stressed by the US government
      for its lack of support to the rebels is its hostility to the growing
      �Islamist� part of the rebellion, especially, but not only, the Al-Nusra
      organisation, which the US has officially listed as a �terrorist
      organisation�. The Islamist forces are generally hostile to US imperialism,
      and very hostile to Israel, which has even in stronger terms expressed its
      opposition to these forces coming anywhere near power in Syria (see below).
      The CIA has even made contingency plans for drone strikes on the radical
      Islamist rebels<http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/middleeast/la-fg-cia-syria-20130316,0,3989647.story>
      .

      The idea that the US wants to support these Islamists, and is just
      pretending not to, is a fantasy indulged in by parts of the left who have
      decided to throw their lot in with the reactionary dictatorship of Assad.
      Since the Islamists *are* doing a significant amount of the fighting, and
      the extreme fringe of Islamists (e.g. al-Nusra) have taken responsibility
      for the actions that can most correctly be called �war like� (e.g.,
      terrorist bombings in Damascus etc.), the best way to claim the uprising is
      a �US war on Syria� is to make the inherently unlikely claim that the US is
      supporting and arming these Islamists, despite the US and other imperialist
      governments stressing nearly every day that these Islamists are the primary
      reason they are not supporting and arming the uprising.

      Just to clarify: this claim by the US and Israel that they are hostile to
      the Islamist element in the uprising, especially the more radical elements,
      is not simply rhetoric; it is clearly true. *However,*both the US and
      Israel are relentlessly hostile to *the democratic element* of the Syrian
      uprising *as well*. A genuine people�s revolution would challenge the
      reactionary US-backed dictatorships in the region, and would be much more
      likely than Assad�s pliant dictatorship to challenge Israel�s 46-year
      occupation of its Golan territory. But it is not smart politics to say the
      latter very loudly. So by pretending the entire anti-Assad movement is
      Islamic fundamentalist, the US has sought to justify not giving concrete
      support to any element of the uprising.

      Oh, but the US is sending arms to the Syrian rebellion, isn�t it? But
      simply making that statement for years does not prove that it�s true. A CBS
      report on May 1
      noted<http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505263_162-57582025/syrian-rebels-to-get-1st-direct-u.s-support-as-$8m-in-medical-supplies-rations-set-for-delivery/>,
      �The *first shipment of U.S. aid* to the armed Syrian rebels was being
      delivered Tuesday to the opposition Supreme Military Council (SMC). It
      includes $8 million in medical supplies and ready-to-eat military food
      rations�.

      You read it right. After nearly two and a half years of the Syrian
      uprising, about two thirds of that time in the form of armed rebellion, the
      *first US shipment* of aid to the rebels occurred in May 2013 in the form
      of �medical equipment and food rations�.

      In reality, what we see most of the time is the US expressing extreme
      reservations about any kind of intervention in the Syrian civil war, not
      just about the outlandish suggestions by Republican Party hawks like John
      McCain for air strikes, but even for arming the armed opposition. In
      February, the US did authorise a US$60 million package for �non-lethal aid�
      for the SMC, once it had decided that the SMC leadership could be
      controlled and could control the flow of whatever equipment it got. Of that
      $60 million, it is only this $8 million in food and medicines that has yet
      seen the light of day.

      More recently, hints were made that the package could include things like
      body armour and night-vision goggles. On May 1, the *Washington Post*
      reported<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-preparing-to-send-lethal-arms-to-syrian-opposition-officials-say/2013/04/30/3084d0d4-b1a6-11e2-bbf2-a6f9e9d79e19_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines>
      anonymous
      US officials saying, �they are moving toward the shipment of arms�
      beginning at some unspecified time in the next few months, �but emphasized
      that they are still pursuing political negotiation�, with US President
      Barack Obama pursuing further talks with Russia to try to find agreement.

      These talks with Russia have now begun, with US state secretary John Kerry
      visiting Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to try to hold an
      international conference, attended by both members of the Assad regime and
      the opposition, aiming to set up a �transition� government in Syria which
      would include both some Assad regime ministers and opposition figures,
      thus keeping
      the core of the regime
      intact<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/07/russia-us-syria-conference>.
      The role of Assad himself appears to be a key sticking point.

      Indeed, with all the hoo-ha about the Syrian military allegedly using
      chemical weapons, and leftist claims that this was the parallel of the
      �WMD� excuse to invade Iraq, one might have expected the US to take
      advantage of this to order some kind of aggressive action. In reality, Obama�s
      reaction was to re-define his �red
      line�<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/04/syria-red-line> he
      had made of any use of chemical weapons to mean any �systematic use�, which
      no one claims to have occurred.

      In sharp contrast to the emphatic lies about Iraqi WMD peddled in order to
      justify an invasion, in this case Obama has reacted to allegations of use
      of chemical weapons by stressing the evidence
      �<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-preparing-to-send-lethal-arms-to-syrian-opposition-officials-say/2013/04/30/3084d0d4-b1a6-11e2-bbf2-a6f9e9d79e19_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines>was
      still preliminary�<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-preparing-to-send-lethal-arms-to-syrian-opposition-officials-say/2013/04/30/3084d0d4-b1a6-11e2-bbf2-a6f9e9d79e19_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines>
      and
      thus he was in no rush to intervene, stressing he needs to �make sure I�ve
      got the facts... If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective
      evidence, we can find ourselves in a position where we can�t mobilize the
      international community to support�.

      Therefore, most analysis suggests the US is very unlikely to sharply change
      course. US defence secretary Chuck Hagel stressed that �no international or
      regional consensus on supporting armed intervention now exists�, while
      �NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has ruled out Western military
      intervention and U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied
      commander, cautioned last month that the alliance would need agreement in
      the region and among NATO members as well as a U.N. Security Council
      resolution� (ibid).

      Likewise, the until-now more hawkish British government is now �exercising
      more caution<http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/britain-less-eager-to-arm-syrian-rebels-following-intel-on-al-qaida-links.premium-1.518235>
      in
      its attempts to arm the rebels fighting the Bashar Assad regime in Syria,
      following intelligence reports and warnings by other governments that the
      major part of the rebel movement has been taken over by Jihadist groups
      with links to Al-Qaida�, and the recently hawkish French government has in
      the last week swung strongly towards advocating a political solution. Germany
      for its part has remained steadfastly
      opposed<http://www.timesofisrael.com/german-fm-stands-by-refusal-to-send-arms-to-syria/>
      to
      recent Anglo-French attempts to end the European Union arms embargo on the
      Syrian rebels.

      There are of course the much more hawkish calls from Republicans such as
      John McCain and Lindsay Graham for US air strikes on Syria�s chemical
      weapons sites. Notably, McCain was not concerned about whether Assad�s
      forces had used chemical weapons or not � even if they hadn�t, he said the
      US should still �use Patriot [missile] batteries and cruise missiles� and
      ready an �international force� to enter Syria to secure stocks of chemical
      weapons.

      Clearly enough, these are more aggressive imperialists even than Obama. Yet
      still not that useful for Assad fans as an argument � McCain�s reason for
      this is that �these chemical weapons �*cannot fall into the hands of the
      jihadists* <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/article11595592.ece>�.

      Others also pushing hard to arm a vetted section of the rebel leadership
      also do so mainly to counter the growing strength of the radical Islamist
      forces. For example, on May 7, top Republican on the Senate Foreign
      Relations Committee, Bob Corker,
      claimed<http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/u-shortly-arming-syrian-rebels-key-senator-132440647.html>
      the
      US will �shortly� start arming some �moderate� rebels to boost them over
      the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra front. He said the �moderate opposition
      groups that we support are not as good at fighting, they�re not as good as
      delivering humanitarian aid, and we need to change the balance� because �*a
      nightmare would be al-Nusra, if you will, gaining control of Syria*. *That�s
      worse than Assad being there*�.

      Notably, legislation introduced the previous day by Senate Foreign
      Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez to �greenlight the flow of arms�
      from the US to rebel groups �that have gone through a thorough vetting
      process� would not include the transfer of shoulder-fired surface-to-air
      missiles (ibid), i.e., the arms that rebels would need to even come close
      to dealing with Assad�s massive air power. In other words, the bill mainly
      deals with small weapons that the US can use for leverage over the rebels
      and with Assad, rather than being of any effective concrete assistance.

      Thus while two years of fighting the Assad regime did not qualify the Free
      Syrian Army to receive US or EU arms, now that radical Islamist forces
      appear to be getting an upper hand in the anti-Assad rebellion, they may
      qualify in order to fight the Islamists. The imperialist dilemma is that by
      the US refusing to send arms, and the EU imposing an arms embargo (which
      favours the massively armed Assad regime, which in any case gets loads of
      arms from Russia and Iran), more and more anti-Assad rebels will turn to
      the Islamists<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/08/free-syrian-army-rebels-defect-islamist-group>,
      as they receive arms from Saudi Arabia and Qatar and regional Islamist
      networks. The argument is that arms need to be sent to non-Islamist
      fighters to balance those received by the Islamists; the counter-arguments
      is that many of the arms may end up with the Islamists anyway.

      In any case, the US is only dealing with exile rebel leaderships in Jordan
      and Turkey, such as the unrepresentative Syrian National Council (SNC) and
      the Supreme Military Command, the high command of the Free Syrian Army
      (SFA), which liaises with the SNC. They have minimal control over what the
      locally organised FSA and the Local Coordinating Committees do all over
      Syria, and it is precisely this lack of control over the largely
      self-organised revolutionary ranks � not only for Islamists � that makes
      the imperialist powers so hesitant to arm anyone.

      While much was made of 200 US troops being sent to Jordan to help
      coordinate aid to the rebel leadership, it was astounding that the
      leadership was unable to get any arms to the FSA in southern Syria, near
      the Jordanian border, when it just lost the strategic town of
      <http://news.yahoo.com/assads-forces-capture-strategic-town-southern-syria-034605544.html>Khirbet
      Ghazaleh<http://news.yahoo.com/assads-forces-capture-strategic-town-southern-syria-034605544.html>.
      A very strange �US war on Syria�.

      Aside from arming the rebels, other �possible military choices range from
      limited one-off missile strikes from ships � to bolder operations like
      carving out no-fly safe
      zones<http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/27/us-usa-syria-military-options-idUSBRE93Q0C620130427>�,
      or the creation of �humanitarian safe areas that would also be no-fly zones
      off limits to the Syrian air force�. However, US officials have warned that
      "once you set up a military no-fly zone or safe zone, you're on a slippery
      slope, mission creep and before you know it, you have boots on the ground�,
      said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Middle East expert at the
      Brookings Institution (ibid).

      Of course, despite all this there may well come a time when the US decides
      that the level of ongoing instability is simply too great to be allowed to
      continue, or that its so-called �credibility� is at stake if it doesn�t do
      something, or that if it is all going to fall apart anyway, so the US needs
      to choose those who it wants to take over, despite the difficulties of
      enforcing such a choice. Imperialism cannot be trusted to act �rationally�,
      even from its own point of view, at all times, and a catastrophic � for all
      involved � US intervention cannot be ruled out.

      Nevertheless, if the kind of action that people like McCain are urging came
      to pass, that would be *a marked shift* � to claim it gave credence to the
      idea that the last two years of uprising and rebellion was all a �US war on
      Syria� would be too illogical to warrant comment.

      *Saudi-Qatari intervention: promoting sectarian counterrevolution*

      Many of the assertions about US aid to the Syrian uprising, when examined
      for evidence, are nothing but reiterations of the well-known fact that the
      reactionary Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been providing a
      moderate stream of arms for specific rebel groups. The fact that these two
      states are pro-US is twisted in discussion to mean they are mere puppets of
      the US, as if they cannot have their own policies.

      In fact, these two relatively powerful states are engaged in an aggressive
      regional �sub-imperialist� project, with the dual aims of countering
      Iranian influence in the region, and turning the democratic impulse of the
      Arab Spring, including its Syrian chapter, into a Sunni-Shia sectarian war.
      The democratic impulse was and is a mortal danger to the absolute
      monarchies just as much as to regimes like that of Assad, as Saudi Arabia�s
      suppression of the uprising in Bahrain shows. Saudi and Qatari intervention
      is thus a counterrevolution trying to hijack a revolution.
      However, while the US may also see some benefit in diverting a democratic
      movement in a sectarian direction up to a point, it is very wary of this
      strategy, principally because the only available "shock troops" for this
      Saudi strategy are hard-line Sunni Islamists and "jihadists" who are more
      anti-US and especially anti-Israel than Iran itself, and much more so than
      the Assad regime, which does not have an �anti-imperialist� history at all.

      Just to make things clear: just because these Saudi-backed forces are
      �anti-imperialist� and imperialism and Israel are hostile to them, does not
      make them �good�. To suggest that would be falling into the same trap as
      those who wrongly think Assad is �anti-imperialist� and that this makes his
      regime �good�. The Saudi-backed forces are *the most reactionary* in the
      Syrian context, especially given the sectarian dimension, and the
      reactionary strategy of the US (see below) would even be slightly better
      than an outright jihadist victory � except that such an outright jihadist
      victory is almost impossible, as there remains a real democratic anti-Assad
      movement on the ground that is hostile to the jihadists.

      *Israel: �Terrorists� the main enemy*

      The strangeness of the argument that the US �must� be behind the anti-Assad
      rebellion if some of its Arab allies are behind parts of it, is that the
      key US ally in the region, Israel, remains steadfastly opposed to this
      Saudi-led project, viewing a victory of a Syrian uprising with a strong
      Islamist component as a nightmare. While Israel wants to weaken the Assad
      regime in order to disrupt the passage of arms between Iran and Hezbollah
      via Syria, it is also aware that the Assad regime has both kept the border
      with the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan completely quiet for 40 years, and
      that the same regime has continually waged war on the Palestinians (for
      more detail, seelinks.org.au/node/2766)*.*

      Therefore, Israel�s stand has been the polar opposite of the Saudi-Qatari
      stand.

      That is not to say Israel won�t launch aggression � as it has clearly just
      done � but that such aggression, for its own reasons, is not aimed at
      helping the Syrian opposition overthrow Assad. Straight after the bombing
      of military facilities near Damascus on May 5, Israel sought to persuade
      Assad that the air strikes �did not aim to weaken him in the face of a more
      than two-year-old rebellion... Officials say Israel is reluctant to take
      sides in Syria's civil war for fear its actions would boost Islamists who
      are even more hostile to
      Israel than the Assad family, which has maintained a stable stand off with
      the Jewish state for decades�. According to veteran Israeli politician
      Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin
      Netanyahu<http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/May-06/216124-israel-to-assad-air-strikes-did-not-aim-to-help-syria-rebels.ashx#axzz2SV4D8Zkd>,
      the government �aimed to avoid an increase in tension with Syria by making
      clear that if there is activity, it is only against Hezbollah, not against
      the Syrian regime".
      In a similar vein, defence ministry strategist Amos Gilad
      stressed<http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/04/us-syria-crisis-chemical-israel-idUSBRE94309720130504>
      that
      while �Israel has long made clear it is prepared to resort to force to
      prevent advanced Syrian weapons reaching Hezbollah or jihadi rebels�,
      Israel was not interested in attacking Syria�s chemical weapons because �*the
      good news* is that this is under full control (of the
      Syrian government)�.

      Israel�s overall stance was explained recently by Yuval Steinitz, Israel�s
      minister of intelligence and strategic
      affairs<http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505263_162-57582025/syrian-rebels-to-get-1st-direct-u.s-support-as-$8m-in-medical-supplies-rations-set-for-delivery/>,
      who stressed the �*only scenario*� for Israeli military action in Syria
      would be to �prevent the delivering of arms, chemical weapons and other
      kinds of weapons into the hands of terrorists�. He noted that Netanyahu had
      made clear that �if there will be no threat to Israel, we won't interfere�.
      Steinitz emphasised that Israel was not urging the US to take *any* military
      action �*whatsoever*� in Syria at this stage�.

      In an interview with BBC TV, Netanyahu called the Syrian rebel
      groups<http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-wary-quiet-on-syrian-front-may-soon-end>
      among
      �*the worst Islamist radicals in the world* � So obviously we are concerned
      that weapons that are ground-breaking, that can change the balance of power
      in the Middle East, would fall into the hands of these terrorists�, he
      said. In a recent meeting with British Prime Minster David
      Cameron<http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/britain-less-eager-to-arm-syrian-rebels-following-intel-on-al-qaida-links.premium-1.518235>,
      Netanyahu, who was visiting London for Margaret Thatcher's funeral, again
      warned of the danger of Western arms reaching jihadist rebels that could be
      used later against Israel and Western targets.

      In particular, Israel �worries that whoever comes out on top in the civil
      war will be a much more dangerous
      adversary<http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-wary-quiet-on-syrian-front-may-soon-end>�
      than Assad has ever been, specifically in relation to the Golan Heights.
      �The military predicts all that (the 40-year peaceful border) will soon
      change as it prepares for the worst�.

      According to Israel�s Lieutenant-General Benny
      Gantz<http://www.smh.com.au/world/syria-rebels-a-threat-to-golan-20130312-2fylt.html?skin=text-only>
      in
      March, �we see terror organisations that are increasingly gaining footholds
      in the territory and they are fighting against Assad. Guess what? We'll be
      next in line�, while Major General Aviv
      Kochavi<http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2012/Jul-17/180917-assad-moving-troops-from-golan-to-damascus-israel.ashx#axzz20t8QAeyJ>,
      warning that �radical Islam� was gaining ground in Syria, compared the
      region near the Golan with �the situation in Sinai, as a result of growing
      jihad movement in Syria�.

      Clarifying that it is the fall of Assad that worries Israel, Aluf Benn
      wrote in *Haaretz*<http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/despite-netanyahu-s-weekly-warnings-on-iran-syria-is-more-imminent-danger.premium-1.515547>
      that
      �the worrisome scenario in the north is that *after Assad is gone Israel
      will be attacked*, and the Syrian Golan will turn into a new version of the
      Gaza Strip, with southern Lebanon serving as a base for launching rockets
      and missiles. This is what is concerning the IDF�s top brass. Assad�s
      control of the Golan is disintegrating as his forces are being drawn into
      the decisive battles around Damascus and the fight for the city�s
      international airport�.

      Thus while Hezbollah is seen as a mortal enemy, the anti-Assad Islamist
      fighters are seen as in some ways even less predictable. According to Aaron
      Klein and Karl Vick writing in
      *Time*<http://world.time.com/2013/02/01/the-fallout-from-the-air-raid-on-syria-why-israel-is-concerned>
      in
      February, �Hizballah is not Israel�s only concern � or perhaps even the
      most worrying. Details of the Israeli strikes make clear the risk posed by
      fundamentalist militants sprinkled among the variegated rebel forces
      fighting to depose Assad � jihadist groups are less vulnerable to the same
      levers that have proved effective against Syria and other states � such as
      threats to its territory � or even the frank interests of an organization
      like Hizballah, which as a political party plays a major role in Lebanon�s
      government�.

      Of course, outside the actual contest between Assad and opposition,
      Israel�s bigger project is to build up for an attack on Iran. In this
      sense, the bombings can also be seen as a warning to Iran, and even a test
      run. As Assad has been both asset and thorn for Israel, it prefers his
      regime to remain, if weakened, and to try to either attack Iran, or
      decimate Hezbollah, as its way of breaking the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah Shia
      nexus. In contrast, the governments doing the most to intervene against
      Assad�s regime � Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey � are all horrified at the
      prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran, as it would tend to swing their own
      populations into �Islamic solidarity� with Iran (some evidence of this at
      links.org.au/node/2991). They prefer to try to break the nexus via
      destroying Assad and bringing to power a Sunni Islamist regime in Damascus
      � Israel�s nightmare.

      The only reason Syria is in the �nexus� in the first place is due to
      Israel�s illegal annexation of the Golan. Syria uses Hezbollah as a form of
      indirect pressure via Lebanon, while keeping its own Israeli Golan border
      quiet. With its bombing and Israel�s frank words afterwards, Israel is also
      sending a message to Assad that if he wants Israel�s help, he has to break
      the nexus with Hezbollah. Naturally, Assad has no reason to trust the
      Zionist regime, and still less as Israel is not offering the return of the
      Golan in exchange. With Syria weakened, Israel has the bargaining power.

      A final thought on Israel�s intentions is that, given the fears expressed
      about south Syria becoming a �new Gaza� if Assad falls, some Israeli
      strategists may even be considering invading to set up a new �buffer zone�
      between its occupied Golan and victorious Islamists and/or Hezbollah
      infiltration into the region. Thus current aggression may be a prelude to a
      larger operation, if the Zionist regime sees it as necessary and feasible,
      but this would be a very high-risk move.

      *Let �terrorists� kill each other?*

      One interesting angle to all this, however, is that as both the US and
      Israel view both Hezbollah and the anti-Assad Sunni jihadis as enemies,
      would it not be in their interests for them to kill each other in Syria?
      While Israel opposes weapons getting to Hezbollah in Lebanon, it may look
      differently at Hezbollah foolishly wasting its resources, energies and
      cadres in Syria fighting other Islamists, and focused away from Israel.
      This strategy was advocated by neo-con extremist Daniel
      Pipes<http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/apr/11/pipes-argument-assad/>,
      who asserted that �continued fighting does less damage to Western interests
      than their taking power. There are worse prospects than Sunni and Shiite
      Islamists mixing it up, than Hamas jihadis killing Hezbollah jihadis, and
      vice versa� This keeps them focused locally, and it prevents either one
      from emerging victorious and thereby posing a greater danger. Western
      powers should guide enemies to a stalemate by helping whichever side is
      losing, so as to prolong their conflict�. As he believes Assad is currently
      losing, the US should support Assad.
      The snag in that would be, of course, if Assad falls, Hezbollah would be in
      a similar position inside Syria to the Sunni Islamists in being able to
      grab access to Assad's weaponry. All the more reason, from Israel's point
      of view, for the regime to survive as the �least worst scenario�. They also
      cannot necessarily be relied on to keep fighting once Assad is gone;
      jointly turning their attention to liberating Golan is not out of the
      question. And the strategy also means the continuation of massive
      instability in Syria for the foreseeable future, precisely what most
      imperialist interests see as the problem.

      *Heading where?*

      The Assad regime, in its current form at least, is finished, if not now,
      then soon; it has at least a majority of its population fighting it, and
      even if it can hang on, it can never defeat the opposition. As long as the
      regime hangs on, the region will be in a state of permanent instability,
      wracked by massive war and terrible bloodshed. The figure of 70,000 killed
      to date may end up being dwarfed. Those interpreting the US verbal support
      for the regime�s replacement as some fundamental hostility are simply
      refusing to see that the US now wants Assad out because he cannot win and
      his presence guarantees continued instability, as well as the further rise
      of the radical Islamist element. But what does it want to replace the
      regime with?

      The US interest is to balance between the mutually hostile Israeli and
      Saudi projects for the region, while at all cost trying to preserve some
      sense of �order� in the (inevitable) Syrian transition. The US therefore
      prefers a deal that would include significant parts of Assad�s regime, to
      preserve a �stable� core, joined with some defector generals from the
      regime, �liberal� oppositionists in the foreign-based Syrian National
      Council (which is unrepresentative of the Syrian movement on the ground)
      and more moderate members of the Muslim Brotherhood. This strategy is at
      variance with the Saudi strategy, and aimed at both stemming the
      reactionary Islamist tide, but also ensuring no genuine �people�s power�
      can arise from below.

      The current US attempt to find a �negotiated solution� together with Moscow
      fits this strategy; Kerry was not wrong when he said that the US and Russia
      have similar interests in Syria.

      While the Syrian opposition has not rejected this course, it has reacted
      coolly. Moaz al-Khatib, the recently resigned head of the opposition
      umbrella National Opposition Coalition (NOC), warned Syrians to �be careful
      of squandering your revolution in international conference halls�. Its �red
      line� would be any role for Assad himself in any �transitional government�,
      which would inevitably involve some members of his regime.

      This is an understandable and valid reaction to any attempt by powerful
      outside states to derail the people�s will.

      *Cease-fire*

      However, the growing role of a reactionary-Sunni sectarian element among
      the armed opposition, backed by the tyrannies of the Gulf, and the fact
      that this sectarianism frightens the bulk of the minority populations, at
      least Alawis and Christians and probably some Druze and even secular Sunni,
      into grudgingly backing the regime or remaining neutral, and the fact that
      endless war with no victory of either side in sight is simply catastrophic
      to all, means that a �military victory� over Assad is highly unlikely.
      Also, any �military solution� in the current sectarian circumstances may be
      anything but the most democratic outcome.

      Military struggle is by no means synonymous with Islamist or sectarian
      politics as is often thought; at the outset, the masses picked up arms to
      defend themselves from Assad�s slaughter, and a good part of the Free
      Syrian Army is still simply the armed people. But armed struggle, due to
      the very nature of bloodshed, in particular without a left-wing and
      consciously anti-sectarian leadership, can help bolster an existing
      sectarian potential. A ceasefire would arguably create the best conditions
      for the democratic element of the mass movement to gain some breathing
      space and revive the mass struggle.

      Whether or not the current US-Russia talks can bring a ceasefire about is
      uncertain, but even if they can, whether or not such a cease-fire and
      transitional government can really give any breathing space to the masses
      also depends a great deal on whether such an unbroken �Assad state without
      Assad� allows such a breathing space, or simply continues its repression
      and terror with a new face.

      *Arms*

      In the meantime, it is important to stress that it is the regime that is
      imposing a �military solution� on a massive scale; in such circumstances
      the FSA has the right to get arms for self-defence from whoever it wants.
      Blaming whatever tiny trickle of arms the FSA gets for continuing military
      conflict is simply stating that the FSA should commit suicide in order to
      achieve the peace of the graveyard. To begin to ever-so-slightly equalising
      the fire power of the two sides � with the regime still absolutely dominant
      [1] <http://links.org.au/node/3344#_ftn1> � does not mean advocating a
      military solution. It just means people have the right to protect
      themselves against getting blasted to bits. It may even strengthen the
      possibilities for a negotiated solution, which at present Assad has no
      reason to consider.

      If on the other hand the current talks break down, and the US and other
      imperialist powers, or even Israel, decide to desperately throw themselves
      in, and the McCain strategy comes to pass, the current situation would
      become even more catastrophic. While it is clearly not the Israeli strategy
      � yet another case where extremely pro-Zionist US neo-conservatives are not
      aligned with Israel�s strategy � Israel would likely move to take advantage
      of such a conflagration to carry out its own aggression against Iran, or
      even to forcibly expel a new wave of Palestinians.

      *Opposing imperialism should obviously not mean being apologists for
      Assad�s butchery. But it is important to remember that opposing this
      butchery should in no circumstances mean losing our critical faculties and
      forgetting the kind of armageddon a real imperialist war would entail.*
      Notes

      [1] <http://links.org.au/node/3344#_ftnref1> To discuss this would require
      another article, however, a good look at Syria�s massive military equipment
      is at
      http://www.revolutionobserver.com/2012/11/syrias-military-capability.html#!/2012/11/syrias-military-capability.html.
      It is beyond ridiculous to talk about a few small arms getting to the FSA
      coming anywhere near this massive array of tanks, APCs, attack helicopters,
      combat planes, scud and other missiles etc.


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