People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 23

June 09, 2013





Syria: Israeli Intervention Amid Chemical Weapons Bogey


Yohannan Chemarapally


WHEN the Syrian army was making steady military gains against the motley group of rebels supported by the West and its allies, the allegations resurfaced that Syria was using chemical weapons against its own civilian population. But when that allegation failed dismally to get international traction, Israel stepped in openly on the side of beleaguered rebel forces. It has been well established that most of the fighting and the gruesome acts of terror that have been occurring in Syria have been conducted under the auspices of the Al Nusra militia. The leadership of the militia had announced recently that it has formally merged with the Al Qaeda. Now the international community is witnessing the strange spectacle of a de facto alliance between the West and Al Qaeda affiliated forces in Syria while the Al Qaeda and its allies are being hunted down mercilessly by US drones in countries like Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.




In the recent round of attacks mounted by Israel against Syria in the first week of May, the country’s armed forces were specifically targeted. In a coordinated air and missile attack on May 5, army base outside Damascus was targeted. According to reports emerging from Damascus, the Israeli air strikes targeted the 104th and 105th Brigades of the Syrian Republican Guards. There were unconfirmed reports that up to 300 Syrian soldiers might have perished in those attacks. Israeli officials have been saying off the record that their target were Iranian missiles being dispatched to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. They say that the target they hit was near the Damascus airport but there was a huge explosion on the outskirts of the capital, near Mount Qasioun. Rebel groups tried to use the chaos and confusion caused by the Israeli attacks to regroup and attack the capital. Their attempts were, however, foiled.


With this act, Israel seemed to have decisively entered into the Syrian domestic political arena on the side of “jihadists” and “taqfiri” (Sunni extremists) groups in the ongoing efforts to effect a regime change in Syria. “The new Israeli attack is an attempt to raise the morale of the terrorist groups which have been reeling from the strikes by our noble army,” a Syrian government statement issued after the May 5 said. The statement said that the attacks were a “flagrant violation” of international law and have made the region a “more dangerous” place. But Israeli officials continue to claim that their increasing military involvement in the Syrian conflict is only aimed at curtailing the flow of weapons to Hezbollah. Egypt issued a strong statement condemning the Israeli aggression. The Arab League, which has suspended Syria, also had no other option but to strongly criticise the Israeli action.


The Syrian information minister, Omran al-Zoubie, speaking to the media after the Israeli attacks on the outskirts of Damascus, warned that the Israeli air raids on the outskirts of Damascus had “open(ed) the door to all possibilities.” He emphasised that it was the government’s bounden duty “to protect the state from any foreign or domestic attack through all available means.” The Syrian government, preoccupied by the internal conflict, did not militarily react to the acts of serious aggression from Israel that has escalated since the beginning of this year. If it does so, the entire region could plunge into a turmoil. Hezbollah and Iran would no doubt be drawn into the conflict.




Perhaps, this is the scenario which the policy makers in Israel and the US desire. The Israeli air attacks against Syria increased dramatically after the recent visits of President Barack Obama and his secretary of defence, Chuck Hagel, to Tel Aviv. Israel has a large stock of chemical weapons besides possessing the biggest undeclared nuclear arsenal in the region. But that has not been a concern to the West. In late April, Egypt walked out of nuclear disarmament talks in Geneva, claiming that the international community was not serious about its stated goal of creating a nuclear free West Asia. The Egyptian delegation specifically gave the instance of Israel and that country’s reluctance to sign the NPT.


In late April, the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, had said that the “externally funded groups” doing the fighting inside Syria, had received “several hard blows recently.” Syrian diplomats told newsmen that the rebels now control only a swathe of territory bordering Turkey and patches of land near the borders with Jordan and Lebanon. Parts of Homs and Deraa which had fallen into the hands of the rebels is now firmly in the hands of the government. President Assad told visiting journalists in Damascus that more than 15,000 people were able to return to their homes in Homs, Syria’s third biggest city which bore the brunt of the conflict since it began three years ago. The Syrian president also said that his government continues to be committed to the Geneva agreement reached last year that calls for an end to the fighting and talks to begin. Assad revealed that efforts were underway to seal the long borders the country shares with Turkey and Iraq, through which weapons are being smuggled. “Closing the Syrian borders to weapons and smugglers could resolve the issue in two weeks, since the sources of money and arms will be destroyed,” Assad had recently asserted.


It was at this juncture that the West came up with the “chemical weapons” ploy. In a dramatic statement in late April, President Barack Obama stated that the use of chemical weapons by Syria, if proven, would be a “red line” that could be a “game changer” and could lead to open American military intervention. In fact, it was the Syrian government that had approached the United Nations to enquire into the charges that the rebels had used chemical weapons against civilians in the Khan al Assad area of Aleppo, the country’s biggest city. The attack in March in an area under Syrian government control had claimed many lives. The Syrian government had said that it had bodies and other evidence to prove that the populace was subjected to a chemical attack.


The Syrian government has been repeatedly insisting that it will never use chemical weapons, “The use of chemical weapons in Syria and elsewhere in the world is not only a red line, it is a purple line, a blood line, and nobody is tolerated, or will be tolerated to use such horrific weapons of mass destruction,” said Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, after the American president made his latest threat of military action against Syria. Obama had said that if it was proven that Syria had used chemical weapons then “we would rethink the range of options that are available to us.” President Obama, however, admitted that there was no clinching evidence to prove that chemical weapons were used in the Syrian conflict.


Ja’afari pointed out that Syria’s enemies led by West and its regional allies like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are arming and bankrolling the armed opposition groups, most of them “takfiri,” had been since late last year making unsubstantiated charges against the Syrian government. France and the UK had urged the UN in December last year to investigate claims that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in Homs. Qatar had sent another letter to the UN, claiming that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons in many parts of Syria without bothering to provide details about the dates or locations.




The accusations have given an excuse for the Obama administration to further increase its involvement in the Syrian conflict. The American president, during his latest round of saber-rattling against Damascus, revealed that he had asked the Pentagon in early 2012 to prepare a blueprint for all the military options that are available to him. In late April, President Obama, according to the spokeswoman of the US National Security Council, directed his national security team “to identify additional measures” to increase the already substantial assistance to the Syrian rebel groups. The American defence secretary said recently that Washington was considering to directly supplying arms to the Syrian rebel groups it wants to prop up.


The bulk of the funding and the arms are ending up in the coffers of the Al Nusra that is in control of most of the diminishing territory the rebels continue to hold inside Syria. A recent article in the NYT noted that “fighting brigades led by extremists” are in charge in all of the rebel held territories. “Nowhere in rebel controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of,” the article concluded.  Though the Obama administration has belatedly labelled the Al Nusra as a “terrorist” group, it is looking the other way when funds and sophisticated weaponry are flowing into the coffers of the Al Qaeda affiliated group. There are reports that the US is preparing to dispatch anti-tank and surface to air missiles to the rebels. A Russian civilian aircraft was recently fired on while overflying Syria.


At the same time, the US is encouraging its ally, Israel, to use its military power against Syria, and to further assist the “takfiris,” who had fought against the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq but are currently focusing their ire on the secular regime in Syria. It is part of the American game plan to accentuate the growing sectarian divide in the Muslim world, hoping in the process to retain its military stranglehold on the region. On the day President Obama made his accusations about Syria using chemical weapons, a bomb had exploded in central Damascus killing 14 civilians. In the same week, there was an attempt to assassinate the Syrian prime minister, as he was driving to his office. Among those killed in that attempt were innocent bystanders and security personnel. 


But the Syrian government remains defiant and as even the American media has reported, it still has the support of the majority. The people, especially in Damascus and Aleppo, are fed up by unremitting cycle of suicide bombings and targeting of civilian areas by the rebels. The Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, in an important speech in late April warned the West against overplaying its hand. He said that the West should realise that Syria continues to have friends in the region. “Syria has real friends in the region and in the world who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of America, Israel and the takfiris. What would you imagine would happen in the future if things deteriorate in a way that requires the intervention of the forces of resistance in this battle?” said Nasrallah. Russia and China are continuing with their strong diplomatic support to Syria. The Indian president sent a warmly worded congratulatory letter to his Syrian counterpart on the anniversary of Syrian independence on April 17 this year.