This Isn't A Civil War


UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous refers to the "civil war" in Syria, but the Assad government insists it’s "an armed conflict to uproot terrorism". I know from the "civil war" in my birthplace Lebanon that there was nothing civil about it. The conflict was militarised by a cocktail of foreign influences peddling their own agendas. Syria is less like Libya and becoming more like war-time Lebanon.

When Foreign Minister Bob Carr expelled Syria’s diplomats from Canberra on 29 May, he was singing his small solo in a well orchestrated international chorus demanding foreign intervention in Syria. The US squarely blamed the Syrian government for the al-Houla atrocity, even before it was revealed that fewer than 20 deaths resulted from shelling.

After the massacre at Mazraat al-Qubair, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton reiterated her alternative to the Annan peace plan in her call for a "post Assad transition strategy, including Assad’s full transfer of power … [to a]fully representative and inclusive interim government which leads to free and fair elections, a ceasefire to be observed by all". Contrast this with the UN Observer Mission heads who were cautious in criticising "everyone with a gun".

Despite the presence of al Qaeda terrorists, Libyan rebels and trained mercenaries in Syria, the US alliance was adamant that only the Syrian government would have been capable committing or commissioning the massacre. Regardless of serious claims that these atrocities were engineered to incriminate the Assad government, Clinton is insistent: The international community cannot sit idly by, and we won’t.

Noting the US position on the pro-democracy movements in other Arab states such as Yemen and occupied Palestine, cynicism towards US compassion for Arab human rights is understandable.

The US "transition strategy" is a euphemism for unauthorised military intervention. It abandons UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s six point peace plan, which calls for a "Syrian-led political process" and "cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties", not only by the Syrian government, but by "the opposition and all relevant elements".

These elements are not only Russia and Iran, who supply arms to Syria, but also the US, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Turkey, Libya, Israel and al Qaeda who aid and abet the armed opposition groups.

The US has provided "non lethal assistance" and "communications equipment" alongside its oil-rich sheikdom allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar who committed $100 million of weapons and cash after the Syrian National Council "repeatedly called for the arming of the Free Syrian Army".

Like the Syrian National Council who vowed "we will never sit and talk [with]Butcher Bashar", this fits neatly into the US "transition strategy" which opposes negotiation and supports militarisation. This effectively sabotages the doomed Annan plan, as US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice sings propagates the case for acting outside the UN Security Council’s authority once again.

Hence the recent 48 hour ultimatum to abandon the ceasefire by the Free Syrian Army’s Colonel Qassim Saadeddine was a cynical stunt. The rebels threaten civil war if the Syrian army dishonors the ceasefire they themselves have never kept.

Since the Annan ceasefire was declared on 10 April, overall casualties have decreased by 36 percent, but risen for Syrian government personnel and army troops with human rights groups estimating over 1000 Syrian soldiers killed since the theoretical ceasefire.

Clinton’s rhetoric about "free and fair elections" turns a blind eye to the 7 May Syrian elections which reformed the constitution to allow for political pluralism. 7200 candidates, including 710 women, competed for 250 seats across 15 electoral constituencies. She ignores the citizens threatened by armed opposition groups who demanded that the elections be boycotted.

The Free Syrian Army prefers a NATO-style intervention (UNSC resolution 1973) with "all necessary means" and a "no fly zone", but the US knows that the armed opposition groups are "weak and divided", with no territorial base, and prefers the Yemeni model; a stable and autocratic regime to control the diverse masses.

Replacing Assad with a puppet would suit the agenda of their their Saudi-Israeli sponsors, who both fear a nuclear Shi’te Iran. This wrongly assumes that Assad is the obstacle to peace, rather than the Baath party that preceded and propped him up.

The most plausible explanation for the US led call for military intervention on humanitarian grounds comes from former US Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin. In his analysis, the US led alliance is about targeting Iran to protect Israel.

Damascus is merely the bridge and missing link between Tehran and Tel Aviv. As Israel fears losing its nuclear monopoly, toppling Assad would mean that "Iran would no longer have a Mediterranean foothold from which to threaten Israel".

This was confirmed when Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak recently declared that toppling Assad "will be a major blow to the radical axis [Iran] … It’s the only kind of outpost of the Iranian influence in the Arab world … and it will weaken dramatically both Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza".

Hence threats of looming foreign military intervention are hollow. With or without the Security Council’s blessing, proxy wars hijacked the unarmed pro-democracy movement long ago.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.