From “peaceful protesters” to “freedom fighters”
Ever since Syria’s first stirrings of unrest began in the spring, the imperialist media bust a gut trying to convince us all that what was at issue was a spontaneous popular democratic revolt on Cairo lines, pitting unarmed peaceful protestors against a homicidal response from the state’s armed forces. All the information to the contrary that leaked in round the edge via PressTV, Russia Today and elsewhere was studiously ignored. No matter what such sources revealed about the smuggling of weapons into rebel hands, the manipulation of protest marches by armed fundamentalist gangs or the sighting of terrorist snipers on the rooftops, none of this sufficed to shake the media hounds from their dogged allegiance to the imperialist mantra: the opposition was peaceful, the government alone employed force.
However, when in October the US and Europe tried to push through a UN Security Council resolution of the type so recently employed as a pretext for massacring Libya, China and Russia vetoed the proposal. Thus deprived of a diplomatic pretext for direct intervention, and with the fiction about universal peaceful protest versus armed tyranny wearing ever thinner, the propaganda line abruptly changed gear. Instead of persisting with denials about the violent character of the “democratic opposition”, a new spate of attacks on the security forces was now admitted, celebrated and given out as supposed evidence of imminent mass defections from the army.
So it was that we came to be told that on 16 November the Air Force Intelligence HQ in a suburb of Damascus had been bombed. The self-styled “Syrian National Council” (SNC), from its haven in Turkey, claimed this terror attack on behalf of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA). Then on 20 November the same terrorists were “credited” with having launched an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) attack on the Ba’ath Socialist Party’s offices in the centre of Damascus.
The day after this act of terror, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague met opposition leaders in London and declared that regime change would be “the best thing for the future of Syria”. Meanwhile the economic blackmail went up another notch, as on 27 November the reactionaries controlling the Arab League imposed a new swathe of sanctions intended to starve Syria of trade and investment and a few days later Turkey froze (i.e. stole) the financial assets held by the Damascus government and blocked all transactions with the country’s central bank.
On 2 December terrorist gangs attacked a military intelligence base in Idlib, in the north west of the country, reportedly slaughtering at least eight soldiers. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also claimed and that thirteen people had suffered injuries in the course of an attack on an air force intelligence centre in the port city of Latakia. Then, suitably geed up by talks between the opposition and Hillary Clinton in Geneva on 6 December, two days later armed gangs blew up a pipeline bearing oil from the east of the country to a Homs refinery in the west.
As this article is written, the rebels continue to feed the media with new tales of murderous derring-do, here gloating over the claimed slaughter of at least eight soldiers in the ambush of an army convoy on the outskirts of Hama, there exulting over another 7 soldiers slain by so-called “defectors”. Whatever the truth of these bloodcurdling assertions, it is true indeed that over 2,000 members of the security forces have already sacrificed their lives for the cause of Syria’s unity and independence. 13 December alone saw another 17 military funerals, and doubtless there will be more such victims of western backed terror by the time this goes to press.
Lacking support in Syria, the rebellion is weak and divided
However, the problem for the SNC quislings-in-waiting and their snipers and bombers in the supposed “Free Syria Army” is that, when they step out of the shadows, they cut a less than convincing figure. They clamour for the UN to impose a “no fly zone”, conspire with France and Turkey to establish “buffer zones” and “humanitarian corridors”, all transparently aimed at securing the kind of “humanitarian intervention” which resulted in Libya getting bombed for eight months and seeing her people delivered into the hands of western-backed lynch mobs and terror gangs. But the harder they clamour for assistance from the West (and from reactionaries in the Arab League, Turkey and Israel), the clearer it becomes just how minimal is the support which these RPG-toting “democrats” actually enjoy in the country to which they lay claim.
Contrary to the media pretence that the root of the troubles is sectarian antagonism between a minority Shi’ite Alawite government and a majority Sunni population, the Ba’athist-led National Progressive Front coalition governs the country on a secular basis. It is precisely this secular policy which broadens Assad’s appeal across confessional boundaries, in a country which includes Sunni, Alawite, Christian and Druze citizens. It is a telling feature of Syria’s progressive character that the majority of her people identify themselves first of all as Syrians, and only secondarily by considerations of religious background. Conversely, it is those who seek to undermine Syria’s anti-imperialist tradition, promoting the most obscurantist and reactionary religious forms as a cloak for imperialist meddling, who seek to undermine national unity and stir up sectarianism – just as in Iraq and Libya.
Happily, the rebels themselves, just like the Libyan rebels before them, are disunited to a degree which severely embarrasses their benefactors in the West. Foreign Secretary Hague, meeting with SNC contras in November, begged his protégés to botch together at least an appearance of unity, piously intoning that, “At an extreme moment in their nation’s history, it is important for opposition groups to be able to put aside their own differences and come to a united view of the way forward.” To assist in this exercise in stitching together damp blotting paper, Hague has reportedly appointed an “ambassador-designate” to lead liaison efforts.
Claims that the FSA are composed primarily of Syrian army defectors (as opposed to mercenaries released by the US from jails in Iraq and armed by the West) seem dubious, even judging from some capitalist press reports. In a story published on the Guardian website on 11 December (‘Inside Syria: the rebel calls for arms and ammunition’), Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports on his encounters with rebel fighters in the mountainous north of the country. What they have to tell him is revealing. The people outside Syria (i.e. the Turkish-based SNC) “have no weight on the ground”, whilst those fighting inside Syria “don’t have a Benghazi” (i.e. a solid base of support for counterrevolution). The fighter gestures to his fellows, telling the journalist, “Look at all these men in this room. I didn’t know any of them before March and they didn’t know me. I don’t trust them and they don’t trust me.” As for defections, he tells Abdul-Ahad, “I don’t count on major defections in the army” – the only way you’d get that, he says, would be to have a no fly zone where people could hide from the security forces. Another fighter tells him that “There is no such thing as a Free Syria Army. It’s a joke. The real revolutionaries are here in Syria in the mountains.” However this “real revolutionary” confesses that his own morale is below zero, claiming “people are getting killed – yet still there are no defections in the army”. Interestingly, he ascribes this state of affairs to the “ideological” cohesion of the army, controlled by the political officers of the Ba’ath. He concludes despairingly that “Even if a general did defect, he wouldn’t defect with his tanks and soldiers, he would defect on his own.” The message is clear: these “patriots” would sell their country to the West in exchange for assistance in overthrowing Assad. Without such assistance, they would stand as little a chance of success as their toy soldier counterparts in Libya had stood – before NATO was transformed into their own private Luftwaffe.
Assad stands firm
Meanwhile, beyond all the media ballyhoo about the rebels, ordinary Syrians have been getting on with business as usual. The four-yearly local government elections kicked off in mid-December, with 42,000 candidates standing for 17,000 seats. The successful candidates will be responsible for implementing the reforms which the government has announced over recent months in response to legitimate public criticism. Just how little the West-backed opposition really cares about such reforms, other than as an arbitrary pretext for undermining the stability of the anti-imperialist state, is shown by the fact that they have chosen to boycott these elections. Damascus has long since committed to these reforms, and from the outset has welcomed even the Arab League proposal to send observers into Syria – so long as this is not accompanied by the enforcement of sanctions against the Syrian people. The League’s stubborn refusal to take yes for an answer shows how dishonestly intended was the original proposal.
No less an authority than the Jewish Chronicle gives a flavour of just how dismal would be the prospects of the much-vaunted rebellion were it obliged to rely upon support from the broad masses of Syrian society, rather than hiding behind the skirts of imperialist backers. In an article penned by John R. Bradley (‘Syrian revolt faces secular opposition’, 1 December 2011), the author notes that “when it comes to the Assad regime, greatly exaggerated reports of its imminent demise have been a steady staple of the Western media for nine months and counting”, whereas the “truth is that, in and of themselves, economic sanctions by the Arab League will make no difference to Assad’s chances of survival in the medium term, which are far higher than most Western commentators believe…”
Bradley continues, “If a popular uprising against Assad had ever been on the cards, it would have already happened. In fact, all the evidence suggests that he still enjoys massive support among the mostly secular Syrian population, who rightly fear that the only alternative to their long-faced president is an extraordinarily vicious and prolonged civil war… the West and its regional allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey appear determined to orchestrate an armed revolutionary uprising, with the Arab League sanctions aimed at deepening the divide between Assad and his people. If that comes to pass, Assad and his military backers will fight to the death, and the resulting civil war in religiously and ethnically complex Syria would make the Libyan revolution look like a high-school prom. But with the same eventual outcome: the triumph of Wahhabi-funded and controlled Islamist militias.”
UPDATE: 30 December:
When the Arab League finally sent its monitors, those who had clamoured hardest for the observer mission to be sent then promptly began to rubbish the mission’s findings – because the monitors took one look at Homs and reported that, contrary to the horror stories retailed by anonymous “activists”, the overall situation was “reassuring”, with a few armoured cars on the street but none of the myriad tanks alleged by the rebels! This was not at all what the rebels and their puppet-masters had expected. In an attempt at damage-limitation they claimed that (a) all the tanks must have been cunningly withdrawn, and that in any case (b) the leader of the mission was connected with the Sudanese government so was bound to be lying. As we go to press, the rebels are doing their best to turn the mission’s visits back into the pro-Western propaganda opportunity that was intended. It will take an awful lot of manufactured photo opportunities to undo the damage, however.
IAEA: from watchdog to lapdog
Meanwhile the same toxic mix of black propaganda, diplomatic arm-twisting, economic blackmail, covert war and threat of direct attack being brought to bear upon Syria is likewise being endured by Iran. A fresh round in the diplomatic harassment of Iran was signalled by the publication on 8 November of a new report from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), the UN body responsible for ensuring that countries signed up to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) comply with treaty requirements. Iran is a willing signatory; Israel has consistently refused to sign. Yet the Zionists have “proliferated” without let or hindrance from the “international community”, and have long since been in possession of the nuclear bomb – an estimated 200 fully operational bombs to be precise. When one of its own scientists, Mordecai Vanunu, had the courage to blow the whistle on Israel’s WMD, he was kidnapped abroad and slammed into solitary for years whilst that same “international community” sat on its hands. By contrast Iran, a willing signatory to the NPT, has been hounded for years by imperialist powers hell-bent on abusing the IAEA’s compliance procedures as a means of violating Iran’s sovereignty and impeding her work in the fields of nuclear energy and medical science.
For years, attempts to force the IAEA to lend its authority to Washington’s unproven allegations about Tehran’s supposed pursuit of a Persian nuclear bomb were frustrated by an IAEA which was not disposed to be so entirely under the US thumb as the White House desired. Whilst IAEA investigations on Iranian soil were no less intrusive than those to which Iraq was subjected in the farcical quest for non-existent WMD, that body’s former chief, Mohammed ElBaradei, steadfastly drew the line at lending credence to Washington’s baseless claims against Iran.
Over a lengthy period, Washington left no stone unturned in its single-minded quest for non-existent evidence. Veteran journalist Seymour Hersh details this frantic search in Democracy Now! “Cheney kept on having the Joint Special Operations Force Command, JSOC — they would send teams inside Iran. They would work with various dissident groups – the Azeris, the Kurds, even Jundallah, which is a very fanatic Sunni opposition group – and they would do everything they could to try and find evidence of an undeclared underground facility. We monitored everything. We have incredible surveillance. In those days, what we did then, we can even do better now. And some of the stuff is very technical, very classified, but I can tell you, there’s not much you can do in Iran right now without us finding out something about it. They found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization. In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities for building a bomb. This is simply a fact. We haven’t found it, if it does exist. It’s still a fantasy.” (cited by Media Lens, 24 November)
In the absence of evidence, Washington desperately needed the second-best outcome: a lying testimonial from the IAEA carrying the cachet of UN legitimacy. When ElBaradei ended his stint at the IAEA in 2009, Washington saw its chance. The US went into overdrive to get somebody more pliable into place, lobbying frantically to shoehorn a rank outsider, Yukiya Amano, into the top post. Amano’s chief qualification for the job is simple to spot: an overweening eagerness to please his masters in Washington. A secret cable from the US Embassy in Vienna, released by WikiLeaks, gloated that Amano accounted himself “solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.” Another US cable speaks of a revealing encounter with the new boy. “This meeting, Amano’s first bilateral review since his election, illustrates the very high degree of convergence between his priorities and our own agenda at the IAEA. The coming transition period provides a further window for us to shape Amano’s thinking before his agenda collides with the IAEA Secretariat bureaucracy.” (For “bureaucracy”, read, anyone at IAEA still possessed of a shred of integrity.)
Hersh cites the views of Robert Kelley, a retired IAEA director, on the supposed “credible” evidence referenced in the 8 November report. Kelley “noted that hundreds of pages of material appear to come from a single source: a laptop computer, allegedly supplied to the IAEA by a Western intelligence agency, whose provenance could not be established. Those materials, and others, ‘were old news,’ Kelley said, and known to many journalists. ‘I wonder why this same stuff is now considered ‘new information’ by the same reporters.’” No such obvious questions troubled the authors of the IAEA report, who claimed that it now had “credible” evidence that “indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
With the 8 November IAEA report, Washington won at best a Pyrrhic victory, having effectively destroyed the credibility of the very body whose endorsement it so relied upon. Pocketing the IAEA report, on 18 November Washington managed to steam-roller through the IAEA’s Board of Governors a resolution expressing “deep and increasing concern about the unresolved issues regarding the Iranian nuclear program, including those which need to be clarified to exclude the existence of possible military dimensions.”
However, Washington had failed to get Iran reported to the Security Council or to impose a deadline for Tehran to comply with the latest hectoring demands. Clearly the need was felt to ratchet up the campaign of intimidation another notch. To this end, on 21 November, the US, Britain and Canada announced unilateral sanctions against Iran’s banking and energy sectors. France put in a sly kick too, urging world powers to boycott Iranian oil and freeze (i.e. steal) her financial assets. China and Russia have joined Iran in denouncing these new sanctions.
The Dirty War
Meanwhile, behind all this fabrication of evidence and diplomatic bullying, imperialism has long been engaging in a brutal campaign of espionage, terrorism, assassination and sabotage against Iran, culminating most recently in mysterious explosions at a key defence installation and a uranium reprocessing facility.
Leading Iranian scientists have long been targeted for assassination. Recent examples include the car bombs that claimed the lives of two university professors, Majid Shahriari and Fereydoun Abbasi, and the booby-trapped motorcycle that slew another professor, Masoud Ali-Mohammadi. Now, with rival Republican contenders for the US presidency striving to outdo each other in fascist zeal, the “secret” war against Iran is the best advertised in history. According to AFP (8 December 2011), Newt Gingrich “proposed at a November 12 debate that Washington kill Iranian scientists and disrupt Tehran’s suspect nuclear program – ‘all of it covertly, all of it deniable’. In that same forum, Santorum said the United States must do ‘whatever it takes to make sure’ Iran does not develop a nuclear program — then wondered whether Washington may already be heavily involved in doing just that. ‘There have been scientists turning up dead in Russia and in Iran. There have been computer viruses. There have been problems at their facility. I hope that the United States has been involved with that,’ he said. ‘I hope that we have been doing everything we can, covertly, to make sure that that program doesn’t proceed.’”
There can be no doubt that Washington, London and Tel Aviv are already up to the neck in dirty tricks without the need for further prompting from the Tea Baggers. The “computer viruses” to which Santorum referred clearly has in mind the Stuxnet cyber assault on Iran’s nuclear programme launched last year. Nor are the attacks confined to cyberspace. In mid November a missile testing base near Tehran suffered a blast which reportedly killed over 30 members of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, including a leader of Iran’s missile programme, Major General Hassan Moqqadam. Time Magazine, on 13 November 2011, said this was the work of Mossad. Then at the end of November there was a further blast, this time at a uranium processing plant in Isfahan. Israel’s former director of national security, Major-General Giora Eiland, bragged that the explosion was no accident, adding that “There aren’t many coincidences, and when there are so many events there is probably some sort of guiding hand, though perhaps it’s the hand of God.” (cited in ‘Shadow War Heating Up. War with Iran: A Provocation Away?’ by Tom Burghardt, 7 December: www. projectworldawareness.com) Curiously, none of the dirty tricks practiced by Washington and Tel Aviv excites anything like the manufactured outrage which greeted the B-movie fiction spun around a non-existent Iranian government plot to bump off the Saudi ambassador to the US.
29 November demonstration against British Embassy
The self-appointed guardians of democratic western values send saboteurs and death squads into other people’s countries at will, safe in the knowledge that the “international community” will not raise a finger to stop them. But just let some enraged Iranian students lob a few bricks at the British Embassy and pitch a portrait of the Queen out of the window and the UN Security Council cannot restrain its righteous indignation, condemning the demo “in the strongest terms”. William Hague whinged that Iran had “committed a grave breach” of the Vienna convention.
Obama declared himself “deeply disturbed” by what had happened, the German foreign minister fulminated against this “violation of international law”, whilst his French counterpart agreed that “the Iranian regime has shown what little consideration it has for international law”.
When we consider the continuous and flagrant breaches of international law being committed by imperialism in relation to Iran, with or without the cloak of UN “legitimacy”, it is not hard to comprehend the rage which this arouses in the patriotic youth. So far from acting as the simple agents of the government, as the western media pretend, the demonstrators in the end could only be restrained by the government’s own security forces using teargas to clear the embassy compound, such is the depth of popular revulsion at what is being attempted against the country’s sovereignty. (Need we add that, had the demonstrators instead got themselves tear-gassed protesting against Ahmadi-Nejad, they would at once have been hailed by the bourgeois media as peaceful democrats cruelly repressed by a tyrannical regime.)
Iran stands firm
Imperialist aggression against both Syria and Iran is driven not only by the desire to humble an anti-imperialist force and strengthen and extend the stranglehold on resources and markets in the middle east, but also by the strategic goal of containing Russia and China. China in particular, whose socialist foundations have permitted a rapid return to steady growth after an initial blip occasioned by a degree of exposure to the crisis-ridden world market, is well placed to engage in mutually beneficial trade relations with third world countries anxious to escape domination by crisis-stricken imperialism. China champions Iran’s right to develop its civil nuclear industry, and neither China nor Russia has any interest in collaborating with the West’s sanctions campaign. These realities constitute an unwelcome stumbling block for the warmongers.
Such considerations, taken together with the courageous anti-colonial resistance being mounted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Somalia, all add to the perils awaiting the warmongers should they persist. Nor would it be wise for imperialism to dismiss lightly Iran’s own ability to defend herself, even without the bomb she is accused of coveting. The recent successful downing of an advanced US RQ-170 drone over the eastern part of the country, one of many drones in routine violation of Iranian airspace, not only exposes US covert operations and demonstrates Tehran’s vigilance but also delivers sensitive military intelligence into anti-imperialist hands. Already back in the summer the Iranians not only showed visiting Russian experts a number of other drones which had previously been shot down, but also displayed some model drones which they had contrived to design through reverse engineering! Obama’s risible plea for the return of his spy plane deserves, and has been accorded, nothing but contempt.
The struggle of the Syrian and the Iranian people to defend themselves, by contrast, deserves the warmest support from all those in the anti-imperialist movement, not least those resisting imperialism within the belly of the beast itself. After all, who better upholds the anti-capitalist aims of the Occupy Movement than those brave students who dared to occupy the British Embassy in Tehran? Their own letter to the press, relayed by the Fars news agency, makes the case admirably.
“‘We have occupied the British embassy to voice support for the 99 percenters of the world and in opposition to the policies of the world arrogance,’ the letter said on Saturday. ‘We as the students who have occupied the British embassy in Tehran announce explicitly that we are standing for our historical decision and will humiliate Britain and make it regret,’ it added. The Iranian students called on … people across the world to attack the interests of Britain in their region and stop London from looting their countries and nations any further.” (Fars, 3 December, ‘British Embassy Occupation Meant to Voice Support for World 99 Percenters’)
By giving active solidarity to those who stand in defence of Iran, Syria and other anti-imperialist countries under attack, we will strengthen our hand against the same imperialist enemy which is currently demolishing welfare, looting jobs and driving us into poverty and war. The national democratic struggle against imperialist oppression that is being waged by these nations enormously strengthens the world struggle for proletarian revolution.
Victory to anti-imperialist Syria!
Victory to anti-imperialist Iran!
Death to imperialism!