The familiar drumbeat of war

For legions of well networked field activists, think tank strategists, intelligence operatives and hands-on diplomats who have been plotting the termination of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s regime, Wednesday (July 18) was a day to remember. That fateful day, a powerful bomb — the jury is still out on whether it was triggered by a suicide bomber or planted by an insider — ripped through the interiors of the high-security National Security Bureau in Damascus, where a top secret meeting was under way. The blast decapitated the Syrian security establishment; Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha was killed as was Assef Shawkat, his deputy who was also President Assad’s brother-in-law. The deadly strike also claimed the life of Hassan Turkmani, a former Defence Minister and point man who was steering the fight against the anti-regime revolt. A couple of days later, the badly wounded Hisham Ikhtiyar, National Security Adviser to the President, also succumbed to his injuries.

For many working on the frontlines and behind the scenes, a decisive moment arrived in Syria’s anti-regime rebellion that had commenced nearly 17 months ago. The coup de grace had been delivered and the collapse of the regime was now imminent. Hopes of the end of an era that resonated with the rise of Arab socialism — which began in Syria with the arrival of strongman Hafez Al Assad, the incumbent President’s father — animated Cabinet meetings, briefing halls and television studios in far corners of the globe. In neighbouring Israel, the core group of Cabinet Ministers, sensing the arrival of a truly historic moment, met and President Shimon Peres envisioning a post-Assad scenario spoke, perhaps prematurely, about Tel Aviv’s intention to “maintain good relations with Syria.” Despite the heavy blow the Assad regime has suffered, prophesies of its imminent doom may still be far-fetched. But as revealed by some excellent investigative reportage in recent weeks, the government is under grave threat from powerful international forces that are bent on seeing a humiliating collapse of the regime.

Devastating exposé

A devastating exposé, “The Syrian Opposition: who’s doing the talking?” by Charlie Skelton in the Comment is free column of The Guardian is one such clear-eyed piece that refuses to buy the mushy media rhetoric that the regime has to go because it is killing babies in incubators, slaughtering children and raping women. Instead, its narrative suggests that Syria may be the victim of an intricate plot, which took root in 2005 during the Bush presidency to topple the Syrian regime — a strategic ally of Iran and core supporter of the Lebanese Hizbollah. Consequently, the ongoing conflict is likely to be the result of an intense geopolitical contest of one-upmanship and may have nothing to do with a “pro-democracy movement.”

The project was woven around a network of high-profile Euro-American think tanks, the State Department and American neocons who together marshalled copious reserves of soft power in their bid to achieve regime change in Syria, preferably through a well executed “humanitarian war.” At the front end of this exercise was the Syrian National Council, the well-funded anti-Assad coalition, whose telegenic luminaries are now the toast of the international media.

Mr. Skelton has dug deep into the background of some of the most quoted stars of the SNC, including Bassma Kodmani, Radwan Ziadeh, Ausama Monajed, Michael Weiss and Rami Abdulrahman, the primary source behind the high-sounding Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. What emerges from his findings is a fascinating tale of interlocking think tanks, media outfits, and government funded institutions that have been working feverishly to convince the world that the annihilation of the Syrian regime is necessary because it poses an existential threat to its own people.

One of the show-stoppers of the SNC behemoth is Ms Kodmani, research director at the Paris-based Academie Diplomatique Internationale. The Academie is headed by Jean-Claude Cousseran, former chief of the DGSE — the French foreign intelligence service. Ms Kodmani wears several hats. Since September 2005 — the year when relations between the U.S. under the Bush presidency and Syria plummeted — she has been made director of the Arab Reform Initiative, a research programme initiated by the Council on Foreign Relations, the heavyweight U.S. lobby group. Specifically, the ARI was part of the CFR’s “US/Middle East Project,” which was steered by pretty powerful people. Advising the “US/Middle East Project” is an international board chaired by Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Adviser to the U.S. President; Zbigniew Brzezinski, geo-strategist of patriarchal stature; and Peter Sutherland, chairman of Goldman Sachs International. Together, they form a formidable combination.

Opposition to dialogue

Backed by powerful friends, Ms Kodmani opposes any dialogue with the Syrian regime, and supports the country’s shift to a “different political system.” She actively advocates imposition of Chapter VII measures of the United Nations Charter that would allow “use of all legitimate means, coercive means, and embargo on arms, as well as use of force to oblige the [Syrian] regime to comply.” Ms Kodmani is not the only one repeating the regime change mantra. Radwan Ziadeh, director of foreign relations of the SNC, joined super hawks James Woolsey, former CIA chief; Karl Rove, top adviser of the former President George Bush; and Elizabeth Cheney, former head of the Pentagon’s Iran-Syria Operations Group, in signing a letter exhorting President Barack Obama to intervene in Syria.

Another top lieutenant of the SNC is Ausama Monajed, who specialises in slamming the Assad regime with allegations of compulsive bestiality during his frequent appearances on satellite television. Mr. Monajed is “the Founder and Director of Barada Television,” a pro-opposition satellite channel beamed out of Vauxhall, south London. His links with the U.S. State Department are well recorded. Back in 2008, it recognised Mr. Monajed as “the director of public relations for the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD), which leads the struggle for peaceful and democratic change in Syria.” A WikiLeaks cable picked up by The Washington Post last year makes a formidable case about financial flows from the State Department to Mr. Monajed’s MJD. According to The Washington Post story: “Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funnelled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities in Syria.”


Mr. Monajed is also connected with the Henry Jackson Society, an ultra-hawkish neoconservative think tank, which has on its board famous neocon honchos James Woolsey, William Kristol, Joshua Muravchick and Richard Perle. Mr. Monajed’s links with the neocons are well serviced by Michael Weiss, a committed member of the Syria war party, who also happens to be director of communications and public relations at the HJS.

News reports about the supposed atrocities, shelling and extensive human rights abuses by the Assad regime are incomplete without extensive quotations from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Its statistical record about the “massacres” perpetrated by the regime is central to the advocacy of a humanitarian war in Syria. However, Mr. Skelton’s investigations reveal that the Observatory, the so-called authoritative source documenting Mr. Assad’s depravity, is a one-man show, led by its director Rami Abdulrahman, who lives in Coventry and, apparently, runs a clothes store with his wife. His revelation, if confirmed, begs the question: Is the Observatory really an organisation of unimpeachable credentials as it is made out to be, or, instead, a fig leaf behind which hide powerful forces determined to make a false case for a military attack against Syria, under the questionable post-Cold War doctrine of Responsibility 2 Protect (R2P)?

While the pressure on Mr. Assad to quit, after the recent bombing, is bound to intensify, all is not yet lost for him. His army is not cracking up and the regime’s core allies — Iran, Russia, China and the Lebanese Hizbollah — are rallying behind him. Russia and China have effectively blocked the Security Council channel to mount a regime change attack on Syria. The firmness shown by Beijing and Moscow has forced the U.S. and its allies to explore the more difficult option of manoeuvring, outside the U.N. framework, the 100-odd countries that comprise the mostly pro-western Friends of Syria grouping.

The rhetoric in the U.S. and Israel has sharpened on the dangers posed by Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles — reminiscent of the dangerous drumbeat of war against Iraq, which was falsely accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction to justify an attack that toppled the Saddam Hussein regime.

While a lot of the verbiage emerging from Washington and Tel Aviv may amount little more than scaremongering, the Syrian government may well have to watch out for covert action, including fresh assassination attempts, in order to effectively survive the relentless clamour for regime change from the Americans and their allies.

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