It’s always difficult - and unwise - to make precise predictions about the international situation, particularly as imperialist tensions and conflicts take on a more irrational and chaotic character. However, we can say with some certainty that, whatever the specifics of events in Syria, whether the regime falls or not, there will be more fighting, more bloodshed and the greater likelihood of the war worsening in Syria itself and extending beyond its borders. To a large extent outside forces are already involved in the dynamic towards greater bloodshed and instability: Russia, Iran, China and Hezbollah on one hand backing the regime, and on the other a whole basket case of interests, rivalries and potential conflicts: Turkey, the Gulf states, France, Britain, the USA, Germany, Jordan, Egypt, to name the major players, alongside, and often manipulating, the various rebel forces and factions, and then throw in al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Kurds and the Palestinian factions. The intervention of all these imperialist gangsters, big and small, augurs badly for the populations and stability of this region.
The regime fights on
Various countries and bodies have been predicting the fall of the Assad regime for many months now. We are not military experts and we cannot draw on first-hand information from within the country, but the fall of Assad still doesn’t look imminent. On 6 January, in a Damascus opera house, Assad put forward what was billed as a ‘peace plan’ that was really a call to his military, which his clique is totally identified with, to deepen the war. He looks set to stay on whatever, to the point of implementing a scorched-earth policy, which would only be an extension of what’s already really happening. While his regime has been increasingly threatened and undermined by the rebels’ offensives against its positions, so far this has led to a contradictory situation. On the one hand Assad is more and more under pressure; at the same time, the more his falls seems likely those forces and groups (the Alawite, Christian, Druze and Shia elements) who fear that a take-over by the rebels – among whom the Sunni fundamentalist element has gained considerably in strength - will result in pogroms against them have been driven into a desperate attempt to cohere behind Assad.
What remained of the protests of 18 months ago has been broken. His military seems to be generally in control of the densely populated south-west, the main north/south highway and the Mediterranean coast. Although the opposition have taken some, the Syrian military hold bases throughout the country from which its helicopters and jets can destabilise rebel-held areas at will, making territorial gains for the latter tenuous. Another aspect of Assad’s speech that wasn’t directed solely towards his army was the overtures made towards the Syrian Kurds in order to strengthen their position, if not their full allegiance, against his own enemies. But the major backer of the regime is Russia and despite some diplomatic noises against their man (played up by the west), the Russians remain fully behind the regime for the foreseeable future. They, like the Iranians, have to cling to him desperately, and do so with some very heavy ordnance. The Guardian, 24/12/12, reported that Russian military advisers and crews are manning a sophisticated missile defence system, making a western ‘no-fly zone’ and the general situation even more problematic. These defences have been strengthened since the Israeli strike on the nuclear site of al-Kibar in 2007 and again at the start of the genuinely popular Syrian uprising in March 2011: “... the air defence command comprises two divisions and an estimated 50,000 troops - twice the size of Gaddafi’s force - with thousands of anti-aircraft guns and more than 130 anti-aircraft missile batteries”. The placement of long-range S-300 Russian missiles is a possibility but not confirmed. For the Russians, Syria also holds their largest electronic eavesdropping base outside its territory in Latakia and it has a naval base on the Mediterranean at Tartus. The Russians will not give up easily on the present Syrian regime and the assets it provides .
Unlike Libya, Germany was quick to become involved here, placing Patriot missiles and its troops on the Turkish border. These were followed by the USA, Dutch and Norwegians under the NATO umbrella. NATO is is hiding behind the defence of its member Turkey which itself is becoming more aggressive. American and European forces are thus getting directly involved, with differences amongst themselves, in a confrontation with not just Syrian forces but Iranian and Russian interests which have formidable military force to back them up. Germany increasingly has its own imperialist ambitions to put forward, even though it may antagonise Russia, and Britain and France have been at the forefront of promoting the opposition forces, including, along with the CIA, the use of their special forces and intelligence services. Again there seem to be rivalries here, expressed in diplomatic circles, between France, Britain and the USA - with the latter getting a freer hand now that the ‘fiscal cliff’ problem has been temporarily shelved and new foreign and security bosses have been put in place by the Obama clique. The appointment of Chuck Hagel to head the Pentagon and ‘terrorism adviser’ John Brennan to lead the CIA not only reinforces clandestine operations, special forces work, drone attacks against army ‘boots on the ground’; it also seems to be more bad news for Israel. Hagel has been accused by Republicans of being soft on Iran and weak defending Israel. This comes on top of the destabilisation of Syria, which is the last thing that Israel wanted to see; and now the latter is planning a wall on its borders along the Golan Heights to keep out the jihadists who are swarming into Syria. The recent Egyptian/Iranian intelligence services rapprochement must also be a worry to Israel and the United States.
Britain promotes its imperialist interests
Along with France, Britain has played a leading role in the anti-Assad front. In order to help reconstruct the discredited opposition forces of the Syrian National Council, and quickly following a conference in Doha, Qatar, meetings across several government departments were held in London in late November, including representatives from France, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and US military personnel, with the aim of forming a general strategy and helping to reorganise the Syrian ‘revolutionaries’. According to official accounts alone Britain has provided aid amounting to £57 million to the rebels up to October last year. This obviously doesn’t include the vast amounts spent on undercover activity, logistics and surreptitious provisions. The British army, under its chief of defence, General David Richards, is or has drawn up contingency plans to provide Syrian rebels with maritime and air support (Guardian, 12/1212), but given the obstacles outlined above this would be a major escalation of danger. One thing for sure though is that as British troops are being ‘drawn-down’ in Afghanistan, many are going to the Gulf, reinforcing British land and naval bases in Bahrain, strengthening forces in Qatar and the UAE and “forming close tactical-level relationships” in Jordan. And although there’s a great deal of state secrecy around the issue, there’s no doubting growing British support for the Muslim Brotherhood which is very active in the Syrian opposition and across the wider region (not least Egypt). Britain, along with the other western protagonists, has raised and kept the issue of Syrian chemical weapons alive in order to provide a possible motive for direct intervention. But even if intervention happens this can only lead to a further bloody fiasco.
The Syrian opposition
The old Syrian opposition of the Syrian National Council, with its long-term exiles and links to the CIA and the US State Department, was totally discredited. The new opposition, to give it its full title, the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, is now recognised as ‘the legitimate representative of the Syrian people’. This new bunch of gangsters, formed in late November in a conference at Doha and consolidated at a meeting in Morocco on 12 December, from which the Free Syrian Army network was sidelined, and which was recognised by more than a hundred countries, reflects many of the problems of the current situation, including faction fights between the major powers of France, Britain, the USA and Germany, and the fact that Syria is a prized strategic crossroads. The most controversial aspect of the new opposition is its fundamentalist leanings, which shows the west, once again, playing with the fire of ‘holy war’. The nature of the opposition more closely reflects its masters in Saudi, Qatar and the other Gulf states where these Sunni leaders promote radical, religious-based ideologies that have fuelled anti-western sentiments for some time now. These regimes, as autocratic and vicious as Assad’s, have no time for the ‘democratisation’ process that the USA is attempting to foist on them and this represents a further division among the so-called ‘Friends of Syria’.
Al-Qaeda’s dead, long-live al-Qaeda
In Syria, jihadists are pouring in from everywhere, different poisonous fractions representing the interests of different countries; some brought in by the intelligence services of the US and Britain, some from the Gulf states, and a multitude of ‘freelancers’ from countries including Libya, Tunisia, the Balkans, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq. The most ruthless, organised and efficient of these groups has been Jahbat al-Nusra. These fighters were declared a ‘foreign terrorist organisation’ by the US State Department on 10 December. Despite promises made to the US by the opposition to break with them, “...coordination continued on the ground. This is why the US deputy secretary of state found himself isolated in Marrakech when he classified al-Nusra a terrorist organisation. The British and French remained silent, as did the EU” (The Guardian, 18/12/12) . We’ve underlined this last bit because of the clear divisions it shows between these countries and the USA. The leader of the new Syrian opposition, Mouaz al-Khatib, has even lectured the US on the merits of al-Nusra and the virtues of martyrdom. The Muslim Brotherhood also condemned the US decision as “wrong and hasty”. Al-Nusra, which has led the fighting in Aleppo and in the suburbs of Damascus, the overrunning of the Sheik Suleiman base in the north while spearheading gains elsewhere, is an al-Qaeda front. It has indiscriminately targeted all non-Sunnis, military or not, and in Syria we see a sort of Sunni accord with them, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists for the time being. The Gulf states are supporting all three with the British and French their silent partners. It’s long been thought that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the expanding Sunni terrorist organisation, would get involved in Syria and now they have and are in the forefront of it. The leader of al-Nusra is Abu Du’a who is also the emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The perspectives are grim
We haven’t even begun to mention the Kurds who also play a major part on the imperialist chessboard in and around Syria. Just like al-Qaeda coming from Iraq to Syria, so too are Iraqi Kurds training Syrian Kurds to fight (New York Times, 7/12/12). This itself presents the prospects of a wider conflict with sectarian strife, pogroms and ethnic conflict among people who previously lived side by side. The working class exists in numbers in this region but it is weak and has been further weakened by this conflict which, far from being a ‘revolution’, is a bloody imperialist war. Tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands wounded and traumatised, possibly millions displaced and people in Syria starving to death or dying for lack of care. The more immediate successes that there are for the ‘rebels’, the more they are falling out amongst themselves: looting in Aleppo for example, assassinating and killing each other over the spoils. While the regime deals out its own form of death and destruction, the opposition have been engaged in their own atrocities, beheading and massacres. To call this inter-imperialist nightmare a ‘revolution’, as groups like the Socialist Workers Party have done, is obscene but this is not the first time that such groups have supported Islamic fundamentalism for their own sordid ends - just like the British government.
(This article was contributed by a close sympathiser of the ICC.)
. Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Socialist Workers Party are as one in supporting the imperialist butchery that they call the “Syrian Revolution”. See Socialist Worker 20/9/12 and the UK Mission to the United Nations statement, 11/11/12.