Archive for May, 2014

The ‘revolutionary’ face of the Syrian conflict

May 23, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Reports are abound by international organizations about the responsibility of the Syrian government for the human rights violations in the ongoing conflict in Syria, now in its fourth year, but the responsibility of the insurgents has been kept away from media spotlight for political reasons.

However, the horrible image of the “revolutionary” performance imposed itself on the media and public opinion to an extent that it has become impossible to black it out anymore.

Internationally last Thursday, for example, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said that Russia’s and China’s vetoes against a United Nations Security Council resolution to refer allegations of war crimes in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) “protect monstrous terrorist organizations operating in Syria … who are pursuing a fundamentalist assault on the Syrian people that knows no decency or humanity.”

Regionally on the same day, The Yemeni Coordination Committee for the Support of Syrian Revolution dissolved itself in protest against what it called in a statement “the diversion and transformation of the leaders of the revolution and opposition into terrorist gangs and groups.”

Since U.S. President Barak Obama imposed sanctions on April 29, 2011 on some Syrian officials reportedly accused of using violence against civilians, the U.S., European and regional sponsors of a “regime change” in the country have so far held the Syrian government as the only party accountable. The UN and western international human rights organizations followed suit.

Their blackout of the insurgents’ responsibility could not be avoided otherwise those sponsors would be held accountable as well and consequently could not continue their support to the insurgents with impunity, because without their support the insurgents would not have survived.

Their reluctance to arm the Syrian rebels with advanced weapons lest they fall into the hands of the terrorist organizations could not cover up their initial and ongoing arming and recruitment efforts, which empowered the militarization of the peaceful civilian protests with its most extreme Syrian and non-Syrian insurgents.

On last April 8, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was quoted as saying in a briefing to the UN Security Council that the actions of the forces of the Syrian government “far outweigh” the crimes by the “opposition” fighters.

Statistics Tell a Different Story

However, scrutiny of the statistics of the death toll and the facts of the humanitarian fallout of the conflict tell a different story. On this May 19, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it had documented more than 162,000 deaths in the conflict until this May 17, more than 61 thousand of them were government troops, 42,701 rebels and more than 1600 foreign fighters; SOHR believes that both sides of the combat strongly tend to be very conservative about their human casualties. The rest were civilians many of whom were victims of suicide bombing and mortar shells fired by the rebels.

The breakdown of these figures show the government a victim rather than a culprit and indicate that the actions of the rebels “far outweigh” those of the government, contrary to Navi Pillay’s conclusion.

“Questioning the Syrian ‘Casualty List’” in the Lebanese Alakhbar on February 28, 2012, Sharmine Narwani documented that, “The very first incident of casualties from the Syrian regular army that I could verify dates to 10 April 2011, when gunmen shot up a bus of soldiers travelling through Banyas, in Tartous, killing nine,” i.e. few weeks after the first peaceful protests broke out in Syria, a fact which questions the now wrongfully accepted public knowledge that the government was the party who initiated the “violence.”

The communiqué issued by the eleven western and Arab foreign ministers of the core group of the so-called “Friends of Syria” after their meeting in London on this May 15 was the latest example of the political motives behind the blackout, which they have imposed for too long on the insurgents’ responsibility.

They called the upcoming presidential elections on next June 3 “illegitimate” and a “parody of democracy,” ignoring the fact that any power vacuum in Syria would only create the right environment for the collapse of the central government.

The inevitable result would be an exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis in the country, rendering their humanitarian rhetoric a parody of humanity.

Worse still, the eleven “Friends of Syria” had “agreed unanimously” to boost their support to what they described as “the moderate opposition National Coalition (SNC), its Supreme Military Council and associated moderate armed groups.”

What “moderates” did they refer to? On last September 25 the BBC quoted a recent study published by IHS Jane’s analyst Charles Lister, which concluded that, “the core of the Syrian insurgency is composed of Islamist groups of one kind or another.” “The armed opposition is all too much a part of the conflict,” Red Maistre wrote in The Northern Star four days later.

Three years and three months on, the “Friends of Syria” failed to bring the “regime” down. On the contrary, it has got the military upper hand, while the organizations which the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had listed as terrorists got the upper hand in the rebel-held areas.

Whatever military supplies the “moderate” rebels could get will only prolong the war, postpone any political settlement and perpetuate and exacerbate the worsening humanitarian crisis.

Civilian protesters, political opposition and “secular” armed rebels were hijacked, sidelined and finally dumped by the mainstream terrorists, whose backbone consists of “foreign fighters,” thus dooming any political solution for a long time to come and vindicating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s determination on last August 4 that, “No solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist.”

As early as March 2012 Sara Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, had warned that, ““The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups.”

Schools, universities, hospitals, health clinics, churches, mosques, religious monuments, power grids, railways, bridges, oil fields, historical sites, museum assets, police symbols of public safety and order and other infrastructure were targeted by the rebels with unprecedented level of destruction and civilian plight.

A survey, conducted by the Relief and Works Agency of UN’s Microfinance Programs and released early last April, said it would take 30 years for the Syrian economy to recover to its 2010 level.

According to the SOHR, the infighting among rebels has claimed more than five thousand casualties in 2014. The infighting over border crossings and oil fields displaced more than one hundred thousand civilians in north eastern Syria during the past month.

As a strategy, the rebels since the very beginning have been using Syrian civilians en masse as a bargaining chip and as human shields, a fact which the “Friends of Syria” have been keen to blackout.

On this May 12, rebels have agreed to free 1,500 families whom they had kidnapped and held hostages in Adra, a suburb of the capital Damascus, for the release of rebels jailed by the government. Two weeks ago they freed some one hundred infants, children and elderly men and women in exchange for evacuating the Old City of Homs unharmed.

On May 4, they cut off water supply to some three million civilians in Syria’s second largest city of Aleppo, a collective punishment reminiscent of a similar horrible practice by Israel in Beirut in 1982. Last month the rebels cut off the electricity supply. For less than two years now they have been bombarding the western side of the city, which is under government control, with mortar shells and turning the civilian life there into a nightmare of suicide and tunnel bombings from the eastern side, which they control.

Rule, Not Exception

These inhuman tactics are not the exception, but the norm and rule. Since the very beginning of their rebellion in March 2011, rebels stormed into Syrian city centers, where there was no official military presence, and used the civilian population as human shields against any retaliation by the government forces, thus unleashing what the United Nations described as the world’s largest refugee problem.

Civilians have paid the higher price. Syrians now hold the rebels responsible for their plight. Their sectarian public incubator has already turned against them in favour of restoring the missing safety, security and order by the government.

All factions of the rebels claim they are the representatives of the Muslim Sunni majority, but the overwhelming majority of some six million Syrians who are displaced internally are Sunnis, now hosted by non-Sunni compatriots in safe havens under government protection, let alone more than three million refugees who are also overwhelmingly Sunni Syrians and fled to neighbouring countries from the areas held by the rebels.

It’s a well-known fact now that creating a humanitarian crisis in Syria, whether real or fabricated, and holding the Syrian government responsible for it as a casus belli for foreign military intervention under the UN 2005 so-called “responsibility to protect” initiative was from the very beginning of the Syrian conflict the goal of the U.S.-led so-called “Friends of Syria’ coalition.

A second fact was the rush to militarize the Syrian civilian peaceful protests. When President al-Assad issued in 2011 the first of his six general amnesties, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on record with a public appeal to armed rebels not to lay down their arms in response.

In March 2014 a commission of inquiry mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council, chaired by Paulo Pinheiro, for the first time accused the insurgents in Syria of “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes.”

On this May 14, Syrian Rev. Michael Rabaheih, from the Greek Orthodox Church, was quoted by The Washington Post as saying: “If this is freedom, we don’t need it.”

Rabaheih was one of some 80,000 Christians who returned to the Old City of Homs, which the opposition once proudly called “the capital of the revolution,” but which the rebels were forced to evacuate this month. He was seated next to the grave of the Dutch priest, Frans van der Lugt, who was assassinated by the rebels a few weeks earlier, not far from the gravely damaged historic Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque in the devastated neighbourhoods of Syria’s third largest city, where “little was left.”

Obviously, the “Friends of Syria” have failed to artificially create any credible alternative to the incumbent regime, which, however, did change indeed.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. An edited version of this article was first published by Middle East Eye.


Israeli ties compromise Asian support to Arabs

May 10, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Israel has carved economic inroads into Asia deep enough to compromise the traditional Asian political support for Arabs. If this trend continues, the growing economic Israeli-Asian relations could in no time translate into political ties that would neutralize Asia in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s official visit to Japan from May 11-15 is not an historic breakthrough per se in bilateral relations that date back to 1952.

Neither is the normalization of relations in “a matter of weeks” between Israel and Turkey, which was the first major Muslim country to recognize the State of Israel in 1949, as promised by the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan on last April 27.

However both events should highlight the historic breakthrough Israel has discreetly and quietly achieved in pivoting to Asia, once an Arab reservoir of support in their conflict with Israel over Palestine.

“For the first time, in 2014, Israeli exports with Asia will exceed trade with the US, pushing it from second to third place (behind the EU),” director of the Foreign Trade Administration at Israel’s Ministry of the Economy, Ohad Cohen, was quoted as saying by Israeli “Globes” on April 27.

While opening more trade attaché offices in Asia, the Israeli Ministry of the Economy has closed a number of European trade offices in Austria, Hungary, Finland and Sweden “in order to refocus on emerging markets,” Cohen explained.

“Today we have five offices in China, three in India, and we have added attaché in Vietnam and an office in Manila,” he added.

US President Barak Obama was in Asia last April trying to demonstrate that his promised Asian strategic shift was at last real. Meanwhile, the Israelis were already secured in their strategic shift to Asia.

While Obama was trying to forge a US-Asian counterbalance to China in what Chinese commentators described as “Cold War mentality,” Israel was courting the emerging Chinese economic superpower as well as India, which the World Bank on last April 29 reported it had overtaken Japan as the world’s third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity.

“‘Pivot to Asia’ is a term that might be applied to Israel,” Roger Cohen wrote in The New York Times on April 24, citing a boom in its trade with China to more than $8 billion in 2013. Israel’s military and technological cooperation with China had once created a crisis in the U.S. – Israeli relations.

Cohen noted that while the US and Europe continue to “huff and puff” about the illegal Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank “Asia does business. India has already bought sea-to-sea missiles, radar for a missile-intercept system and communications equipment from Israel.”

India a case study

India could be a case study of Israel’s historic breakthrough.

According to the web site of the embassy of India in Cairo, Egypt, “Much of our external trade passes along the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden,” all almost exclusively Arab sea routes, and “Our total bilateral trade with the Arab countries is over US$ 110 billion and the region is home to 4.5 million Indians and caters to 70% of our energy imports.”

Indian Defence Minister Shri A.K. Antony told the 15th Asian Security Conference in February last year that “West Asia is a critical region” for India and the “Gulf region is vital for India’s energy security.”

During 2011 to 2012, India’s trade with the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was more than U.S. $145 billion (with exports and imports from the region standing at 20 percent and 14 percent, respectively), Antony said.

The “links” with West Asia “have got deepened and further strengthened in the era of globalization.” Former Prime Minister of India’s Special Envoy to West Asia, Chinmaya R. Gharikhan, was on record to attribute the Indian economy growth at more than 8% to India’s “dependence” for 70% of its energy needs on West Asia.

Former Indian ambassador to Oman, UAE and Saudi Arabia, Talmiz Ahmad, on last December 29, wrote in Deccan Chronicle: “The security and stability of the Gulf and West Asia are crucial for the long-term interests of the Asian countries. This calls for a review of the Asian security role in the Gulf.”

Yet, despite these vital Indian – Arab relations, India is now the largest customer of the military equipment, the largest military partner and the largest Asian economic partner of Arabs’ arch enemy, Israel.

Such Indian and Chinese exchanges with Israel have neutralized Asian pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian influence or at least created a contradiction between Asia’s economic dealings and its verbal political speech.

These Asian-Israeli exchanges deprived Israel of an influential incentive for making peace. They should have been at least postponed as an Asian prize for ending the Israeli military occupation of Arab lands in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.

Until peace is made with Arabs and Palestinians in particular, Israel will continue to be the main destabilizing factor in the region.

Even then, it will continue to consider itself an integral part of western culture and strategy and to be a western influence doing its best to make the region a free market for western interests and a strategic monopoly of western powers.

Adding to the US empowerment of the Hebrew state by bolstering its strategic power will only bolster a formidable obstacle to peace in the region.

Controversial explanation

Writing in Forbes on May 14 last year, professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, Jonathan Adelman, and the acting executive director for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), Asaf Romirowsky, had a controversial explanation of Israel’s breakthrough in Asia:

Historically, “Asia largely lacks the anti-Semitism that was so prominent in Europe” and “Israel was like most Asian states … a new state born after World War II after a struggle with a Western colonial power, in this case Great Britain,” they said.

“Geographically, Israel is in West Asia, only four hours by air from India and 11 hours by air from China.

“Economically, Israel’s rapid transition from Third World power to First World ‘start-up nation’ echoes the great transformation underway in such Asian countries as India, China and the Four Tigers.

“Scientifically, Israel has emerged as a high-tech superpower, thereby very attractive to Asian high tech powers.

“Militarily, the Israeli military, a world leader in anti-missile technology (Iron Dome) … is attractive to Asian countries developing their own militaries.

“Politically, the growing threat of Islamism draws many of Asian countries towards a country that is in the forefront of fighting this threat.”

In intelligence matters, Israeli “Mossad, with its strong human intelligence capabilities, is attractive for helping these countries overcome foreign threats.”

Adelman and Romirowsky sound like labouring to produce an academic commercial to “sell” Israel to Asia.

Ironically both of them had nothing to say about Israel being promoted mainly by its US strategic sponsor as “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Historically Israel was not born after a struggle with the colonial power of Great Britain but was imposed by this colonial power by force on the region and born after military ongoing ethnic cleansing of the native Arab Palestinians of the land.

Militarily, the anti-missile Iron Dome technology has not proved a success in three Israeli wars on Gaza Strip and Lebanon since 2006.

Politically, the Israeli logistical support of the most extreme among the Islamist insurgents who are fighting against the government of Syria doesn’t vindicate that Israel is “in the forefront of fighting” their threat.

Taking the wrong side

The argument that Mossad is attractive for helping Asian countries overcome their threat deserves more elaboration.

The fact that the Muslim population in Asia is almost double that of the Arab countries combined is a factor that could potentially create a cultural bridge for more interaction between the overwhelmingly Arab West Asia and its mother continent, but nonetheless there is a worrying negative side.

The rise of Islamist extremism could make use of this cultural bridge as well, but the Israeli occupying power is making the best use of it by exploiting this threat to cement its intelligence ties with Asia.

But these extremists are at war with the Arabs and not with Israel, which was so far safe from their threat not because of its defence capabilities against them, but because it was not and is still not targeted by them.

Of course Asia could not idly watch the rise of Islamist extremism and could not avoid taking sides and embark on a defensive battle against it outside its borders otherwise it will be risking fighting this evil within its own borders sooner or later.

However, Asia seems to take the wrong side. The Israeli occupying power is not Asia’s best ally to preempt this threat, but the Arabs who have gained enough intelligence about them and enough experience in fighting them from Morocco in the far west of the Arab world to Iraq in the far east.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. An edited version of this article was first published by Middle East Eye. (