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Proletarian issue 54 (June 2013)
Syria stands firm
Splits deepen within the imperialist camp as it the US hesitates to launch an all-out war.
As we go to press, the manufacture of provocations designed to justify open imperialist intervention against independent Syria is reaching fever pitch.

Foreign Secretary William Hague plumbed new depths of murderous hypocrisy when, after Britain and France had bullied and cajoled the other 25 members of the EU into lifting their arms embargo on Syria, so they could openly supply weapons to the counter-revolutionary terrorists, he declared that this escalation of imperialist aggression was necessary to force the Syrian government to accept a negotiated political settlement.

Hague’s statement that supplying yet more arms to the rebels was solely for the purpose of persuading Damascus to attend the proposed Geneva conference ignores the blindingly obvious – that Damascus has already accepted, indeed welcomed, this proposal, whilst the rebels, to date, are refusing to participate.

Direct and deadly zionist aggression has already violated both Syrian and Lebanese sovereignty, and the bomb blasts in a Turkish border town, engineered by unknown hands, are being worked up into an excuse for all-out war.

Yet so great are the dangers foreseen in Washington in committing openly and definitively to such a course that disabling splits are opening up within the imperialist camp over the next step.

The fact that the continuing efforts on the part both of Damascus and of Moscow to stay the hand of aggression and convene a peace conference without preconditions have not yet been dismissed out of hand by the West may be ascribed in part to a cynical calculation – just playing for time whilst the warmongers complete their preparations. However, a glance at the balance of forces on the ground makes it clear enough why some cannier imperialist opinion might urge a step backwards from the brink.

Rebel reverses

With every day that passes, it becomes clearer that the legitimate government of Syria, loyally defended not only by the armed forces but also by the overwhelming majority of Syrians, is not about to be toppled by the squabbling rebel factions to whom imperialism had entrusted the task.

Even some honest bourgeois journalists cannot but recognise this inconvenient reality. Alex Thomson, a foreign correspondent for Channel Four, blogged on 5 May that

[I]n the central areas of the country, President Assad’s forces have made some notable strategic gains against the various rebel forces. Alongside that, fighters from Hizbollah, coming in from Lebanon in the west to these central areas of fighting, have made a real impact on the ground ...

On 24 April, for instance, the Syrian Army seized Otaiba, which is just east of Damascus, after the usual sustained barrage. This punched a hole in the rebel supply lines via which they had been taking much of their fight to the northern, eastern and southern areas around the capital.

Across Damascus, other gains too: rebels more or less now pushed out to the far side of the city ring-road zone in most areas. This again is a significant reversal of fortunes on the ground. Just two days later the army took their fight to Jobar, a key northeastern suburb of Damascus and one of the few areas in rebel hands inside the ring-road zone.

If they can push the rebels from here then almost all of the gains the rebel forces have made around the Damascus suburbs will have been neutralised.

On the rebel side, everything is chaos and dismay. On the ground, rival bands of jihadis, bankrolled and armed by different wings of the Gulf sheikh mafia, alternately squabble over the war booty and alienate the population by displays of sectarian thuggery. In turn, they have nothing but contempt for the so-called ‘transitional government’ that Washington, Paris and London hope to parachute into power.

The New York Times told us some time ago how “Fahed al-Masri, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army’s unified command, questioned how a government could function when it controlled little territory or money yet would be held responsible for the fate of more than one million Syrian refugees and several times that number displaced inside the country.

‘Welcome, government,’ Mr Masri said sardonically.”(‘Syrian rebels pick US citizen to lead interim government’ by Anne Barnard, 18 March 2013)

The previous head of the so-called ‘Syrian National Coalition’, Moaz al-Khatib, got the elbow because he had the temerity to call for peace negotiations without preconditions. In his place now struts Ghassan Hitto, a Syrian Kurd whose previous 30 years living in Texas have apparently taught him all he needs to know in order to serve imperialism as a quisling ‘prime minister’.

This ludicrous audition over who to pick to play the pirate king was embarrassing in the extreme, coming as it did at the moment when the Arab League was waiting to see who would fill the seat left vacant when the real Syrian state was suspended last year. Still clinging to the hope that Khatib might change his mind, Arab League spokesman al-Thani expressed the pious wish that “things will get corrected ... it’s important for him not to lose this moment”!

Fat chance: Kerry had already waved him goodbye: “The notion he might resign has been expressed on many an occasion and is not a surprise. The opposition is more than one person.”

New pretender Hitto instantly distanced himself from al-Khatib’s brief flirtation with the idea of talks without preconditions. Yet the Guardian lamented that the latest aspirant to the throne “has made little progress” in “unifiying civilian and military wings of the revolution”, noting that“Rebel groups inside Syria take few instructions from the political body and have little direct contact with its leaders.”(‘Moaz al-Khatib’s resignation plunges Syrian opposition into chaos’ by Martin Chulov, 24 March 2013)

Indeed, some of the leaders of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ terrorists have in turn refused to recognise Hitto’s appointment!

Teetering on the brink

Though imperialism has been driven ever closer to the brink of outright hostilities, every new provocation designed to bounce public opinion into supporting yet another criminal war seems to have another purpose as well: to nerve up doubting elements actually within imperialist ruling circles to cast caution to the wind and wade into the swamp. The ballyhoo around chemical weapons is a case in point.

The unsubstantiated claims that the Syrian army was ‘using chemical weapons against its own people’ were manufactured with the obvious intention of justifying in advance another instalment of imperialist aggression. Yet as well as hoping to pile pressure on Syria, this scaremongering appeared also to be piling pressure on the White House itself, whose occupant had just a few months earlier waxed so eloquent about the “red line” that would be crossed were President Assad to resort to the use of chemical weapons.

Now though, with Syria’s national defences holding up so well, the rebels in disarray and the US’s other pressing business in the Pacific claiming the president’s attention (while the resistance forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have given a strong lesson about what Uncle Sam can expect if US boots touch the ground in serious numbers), the ‘red line’ bravado appears to be somewhat subdued.

In a White House press briefing on 6 May, Jay Carney tied himself up in knots trying to cover Obama’s retreat, waffling that “What the president made clear is that it was a red line, and that it was unacceptable, and that it would change his calculus ... What he never did – and it is simplistic to do so – is to say that ‘If X happens, Y will happen’. He has never said what reaction he would take.”

So that’s clear then.

When the human rights investigating team at the UN, led by Carla Del Ponte, produced a dossier that not only failed to substantiate the allegations against President Assad but even included evidence that dared to suggest that the rebels had slaughtered dozens of people with sarin nerve gas attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere, there might almost have been audible from the White House a sigh of relief.

Whilst John Kerry still kept trying to milk the lie that there existed “strong evidence” of President Assad having used chemical weapons, this was flatly contradicted not alone by UN officials but also by US administration sources. British prime minister David Cameron’s pathetic insistence on flogging the same dead horse long after its death certificate had been signed may have been intended as just another brown-nosing token of fealty to the Special Relationship. Instead, it just underscored the warmongers’ embarrassing inability to agree on a line and stick to it.

Zionist attack burns Obama’s bridges?

With or without a green light from the White House, the Israeli jets that twice violated Lebanese airspace to attack Syria’s defences and inflict death and destruction on her capital city were indeed an “act of war” which “opened the door to all possibilities”, as the Syrian government correctly noted.

In the raids that took place between 2 and 4 May, Damascus International Airport was hit, as were a number of other locations in and near the capital. A doctor at the city’s Tishreen Military Hospital reported the death of at least 100 soldiers, with dozens more wounded. Residential areas were also bombed, driving citizens to take refuge in their basements.

A government statement carried on Syrian TV correctly identified the attack as “an attempt to raise the morale of the terrorist groups, which have been reeling from strikes by our noble army”.We might add that it was also an attempt to force the hand of those within the imperialist camp itself who might be having second or third thoughts about stepping over the brink.

By such a flagrant attack on the sovereignty of both Syria and her Lebanese neighbour, Tel Aviv perhaps hopes to end all thoughts of retreat by pre-emptively burning the bridges.

Turkish provocation backfires

Washington’s recent efforts to reconcile Israel and Turkey, even persuading Netanyahu to apologise to Erdogan for the IDF’s murder of nine Turkish peace activists on board the Marmi Marvara, were driven by an urgent need to get Tel Aviv and Ankara into a warmongering alliance against Syria.

Turkey has long played a major role in facilitating the subversion of its neighbour: opening up safe havens on the border for terrorist forces from which cross-border attacks can be mounted, and assisting with the arming and protection of those forces. Ankara’s shallow ‘anti-zionist’ posture, adopted solely to placate public opinion at home, has, to a great extent, been quietly shelved, enabling Israel and Turkey to work together once again against their common enemy.

Sure enough, a week after the Israeli attacks, a new provocation was launched by Turkey. On 11 May, twin car bombs exploded in Reyhanli, a Turkish border town in the province of Hatay, killing 51, injuring dozens more and inflicting widespread damage on buildings in the vicinity. The victims included both Turks and Syrians.

Almost before the smoke had cleared, and well before any serious investigation could even have begun, Ankara was pointing the finger at Damascus and saying it would take “all retaliatory measures necessary”. Yet the allegation flies in the face of the most basic common sense. With the rebels on the run and peace talks in the offing, what conceivable advantage could Damascus hope to secure by such an attack?

The only possible beneficiaries would be those who want to see the talks fail; those who would like to bounce the world into another war. The chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s Duma got it right: “In the terrorist attack in Turkey, Syria was accused again – as it is always blamed for everything. Someone wants to disrupt the peace conference and to push ahead with the use of military force.”

It is well known that the car bomb is a favourite weapon of the jihadists, and their feelings about the prospect of talks going ahead with Damascus are also no secret.

Ankara’s complicity with terror

Western press reports convey the impression that the Turkish border neatly separates the ‘civil war’ of Syria from the peaceable ‘refugee camps’ in Turkey which provide simple humanitarian relief for Syrians uprooted by the conflict. This simplistic fairy tale fits in nicely with the idea of fratricidal strife in Syria threatening to ‘spill over’ into peaceful Turkey!

In reality, it is not Syria that destabilises Turkey but Turkey which, by offering a safe haven and free passage to terrorists, is actively destabilising Syria. The West-backed rebellion has long since transformed the whole border area between the two countries into a war zone, making life hell for Turks and Syrians alike.

Whilst doubtless many of the 200,000 Syrians on the Turkish side are helpless civilian victims caught up in the conflict, others are, with full encouragement from Ankara and the West, using this region as a base area from which to launch attacks against Syria. They certainly do not draw the line at using refugee populations as human shields for their subversion.

None of this does much to win the hearts and minds of the local Turkish inhabitants.

Some reports talk of Syrians being beaten up and Syrian businesses attacked by vengeful Turks in the aftermath of the bombing. However, when about a hundred Reyhanli residents responded to the outrage by coming out on the street, it was to the Turkish foreign ministry that they marched and Erdogan’s head for which they called, blaming him for a policy towards Syria which had brought such horrors in its train. Another spontaneous march in Ankara similarly attacked Erdogan for dragging Turkey into war.

Between the world wars, the region of Hatay in which Reyhanli is situated was part of Syria, and many Syrians were living there long before the present crisis – including a substantial minority of alawites. Whilst there are fewer alawites in Reyhanli itself, the region as a whole has distinguished itself by its opposition to Ankara’s support for the rebellion.

Perhaps another motive for the outrage could have been to bounce local opinion into supporting open war against Syria. If so, it has miserably failed. Staff at a media office for a Syrian rebel group located down the street from the site of the first explosion were to be observed hurriedly drawing and locking their shutters, fearful of being correctly identified as enemies of peace in the region.

As for Erdogan, stripped of his phony anti-zionist demagogy and caught red-handed trying to pitch his country into a counter-revolutionary war at the bidding of Uncle Sam and his loathsome brethren in Britain and France, the future does not look rosy.

Syria stands firm

By spreading lies about chemical weapons, launching air strikes against Damascus and engineering provocations on the Syria/Turkey border, imperialism perhaps hopes to bounce Syria into confronting all its enemies at the same time; into reacting to aggression in a fashion and on a timescale convenient to the West.

The New York Times wept crocodile tears recently over what it supposed to be the Syrian president’s dilemma. “He could retaliate against Israel and risk conflict with the region’s strongest military — an option analysts called unlikely. Or he could refrain, in which case he risks appearing further weakened and hypocritical to supporters and opponents alike, many of whom are united in their antipathy for Israel.

To back up this dubious speculation, the paper quotes one ‘Basil’ (no second name), a resident living near a military research centre that was attacked, as asking “Why does the regime attack the rebels with Scuds and warplanes while it takes no action on the Israeli raids?” (‘Syria blames Israel for fiery attack in Damascus’, 5 May 2013)

However much it may frustrate the West to see Syria choose which of her enemies to fight and in which order (meanwhile refusing to be deflected from her support for the peace conference proposed by Russia), it is going to have to live with the fact that the vast majority of Syrians continue to support their president, their constitution and their country – the more so, the more open the aggression with which she is threatened.

The Syrian masses are well able to distinguish between patriots and rebels; between those who resist zionism and those who collaborate with it; between those who fight for the independence and sovereignty of Syria and those who act as the paid flunkeys of imperialism.

The sly assertion slipped in by the New York Times that “supporters and opponents alike ... are united in their antipathy for Israel”was given the lie even within the same article, when we were told that within hours of Israel’s blitz of the nation’s capital city, “the rebel Damascus Military Council declared that it would try to capitalise. The council issued a statement calling on all fighters in the area to work together, put aside rivalries and mount focused attacks on government forces.

Further, we were informed that Some rebels and activists say they consider Mr Assad a far higher-priority target than Israel, though they still oppose it. The main exile Syrian opposition coalition walked that line carefully in a statement issued after the bombings, blaming the government for allowing attacks by ‘external occupying forces’.

The reader must judge for himself what credence should be given to this kind of ‘opposition’ to zionism.

Peace conference in the balance

As this is being written, the fate of the proposed peace conference hangs in the balance. The lack of seriousness betrayed by the West is underlined by the refusal to include in the peace process not only the expatriate imperialist stooges of the Syrian National Coalition but also the National Coordinating Body, whose presence at talks Russia has proposed.

Unlike the SNC, the NCB represents those forces within the country which, whilst opposed to the current government, are also opposed to the armed uprising and to foreign intervention, and would be prepared to enter talks. Again, Washington’s insistence on excluding Iran – or even Saudi Arabia – from talks erects a further stumbling block to genuine negotiations.

And if the West is in earnest about making a peace conference, why did it choose this moment to gee up Qatar into drafting a UN resolution slandering the Syrian government and condemning its legitimate military efforts in defence of Syrian independence? As Syria’s UN ambasador, Bashar Ja’afari, told the General Assembly, Qatar’s resolution of 14 May “is running against the current, especially in the light of the latest Russian-American rapprochement, which the Syrian government welcomed”.

Russia and China opposed this mischief-making resolution, as did Iran, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the DPRK and Belarus – as well, of course, as Syria itself. Many other countries that had gone along with a similar resolution last August abstained, including South Africa and Indonesia.

Whilst a combination of threats and promises served to secure 107 votes in favour of the resolution, this had shrunk significantly from last summer’s 133 votes. Meanwhile, the abstentions had climbed from 31 to 59, whilst others simply absented themselves from the vote altogether. None of this is calculated to bring cheer to imperialist hearts.

Whichever way imperialism decides to jump, the Syrian people and leadership have, over two long and hard years of battling subversion exported from the West, served as an inspiration to all those engaged in the growing axis of resistance against imperialism. They have many times over earned the right to call upon the working masses of the world to show their solidarity.

Support for Syria in her hour of need is not a private affair, but a duty that concerns all those oppressed and exploited by imperialism.

Victory to the Syrian nation and its leader President Assad!

No co-operation with imperialist war crimes!
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