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Who's in the Syria driving seat as the US and NATO prepare for military intervention?
By Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition
Unverified photo of Syrian rebel with surface-to-air missile.
The feeling that events in Syria are coming to a head is inescapable as another bloody year draws to its close.
Opposition forces claim successive victories, and the Assad government appears ever more beleaguered.
The opposition now has access to more sophisticated weapons, some taken from Assad’s bases that they have captured.
They are being given help, encouragement, money and training by assorted regional and western powers, who hope that they can tip the balance in order to install a new pro western government which in turn will help reshape the Middle East.
The diplomatic communiqués and government statements coming out of the Marrakech meeting this week of ‘Friends of Syria’ said it all: the western powers and their autocratic allies in the Middle East were delighted with the recent establishment of the Syrian National Coalition, which they saw as unifying the country’s opposition in one force all the better for the west to do business with.
Governments have rushed to recognise the new Coalition as ‘the legitimate representative of the Syrian people’, designating it as a government in waiting to replace the Assad regime. Around 100 countries have now recognised it and it has been showered with help and gifts, including $100 million from a beaming Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister.
The political unification of the opposition is being matched by increased military cohesion. The different forces fighting the Syrian government are forming a unified national command structure based in Antalya, Turkey.
William Hague’s claim last week that he had intelligence that the Syrian government possessed and was likely to use chemical weapons has been met with bemusement and derision in many quarters. A dictator who not only possesses chemical weapons but who is prepared to use them on his own people? It beggars belief that a British government dares to use this excuse for war again. Even the BBC’s Frank Gardiner had to report widespread scepticism over the claim.
Hague will not and probably cannot produce the evidence over chemical weapons. Much of it however is Israeli intelligence, which wants to knock out Syria as a close ally of its main enemy Iran.
But the intention of the British, US and French governments is clear: to use the fears about chemical weapons to increase not just the secret intervention which already exists, but overt intervention in the form of no fly zones, air strikes and possible incursions.
The western powers want regime change, but fear that a vacuum will open up which will be filled by Islamism groups hostile to their aims. The fears about chemical weapons, which Assad and his government denies any intention of using, are not just about what Assad might do, but about whether they can fall into the ‘wrong hands’ either within Syria itself, or for example Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Hence the stepping up of intervention and threats to Assad. The increasing tempo of events in Syria is especially marked since the US elections, which clearly gave the green light to various projects which had been put on hold.
Already the US is amassing naval power off the coast of Syria, its ships having been moved from the Persian Gulf to the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has asked for Patriot missiles to be stationed at the Syrian border, to protect it from a supposed Syrian invasion which no one believes is remotely possible. These missiles are being provided by Dutch, German and US forces under Nato auspices, meaning that various Nato troops will now be stationed right on the border with Syria, looking for the regime change the western governments have long canvassed.
In neighbouring Jordan, the authorities there, along with Britain and the US, are organising training for the Syrian opposition on anti aircraft weapons.
Hague’s threat of intervention over chemical weapons, backed up by Obama, demonstrates the increased likelihood of direct western attacks on Syria.
We will face a likely rerun of previous Middle East wars with some important differences. Syria’s geographical location, its alliances with countries such as Iran and Russia, and the many existing tensions and conflicts already in the region, all point to a significant regional war with much greater impact than that in Libya last year, and with less geographical containment than that in Iraq ten years ago.
Some of those fighting Assad are calling for outside intervention. Others are not, but claim that it is still an unlikely scenario. Both groups are wrong. Every day that passes makes direct military intervention more likely. It may be already that the military build up in the region means it has passed a point of no return.
We should know enough from previous wars that when the imperialist powers intervene bloodshed, death and human rights abuses don’t diminish but increase. Which is why anyone who cares about human rights in the region should see their main aim as stopping western imperialism on its march again.