Following its meetings in Tunisia, Istanbul and Paris, the so-called ‘Friends of Syria’ group held its Fourth Ministerial Meeting in Marrakech on the 12th December 2012. In total 114 states sent delegates to the conference in Morocco including 60 ministers in addition to several international and regional organisations and NGOs. By the time the group met in Istanbul a mere 16 months later, its membership had dwindled down to less than a dozen countries.
So who are these ‘friends’ and what is their real interest in Syria? More to the point, where were they when the country was stricken by drought, the worst in half a millennium, during the 5 years leading up to the current war. According to the United Nations, the drought caused 75 percent of Syria’s farms to fail and 85 percent of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011 and yet these so called friends were nowhere to be seen.
While the recent cease-fire agreement co-sponsored by Russia, Iran and Turkey must be applauded and supported, let us not be fooled into thinking President Erdoğan has just undergone a conversion of the kind Paul the Apostle would have understood; Turkey is no friend of Syria and this becomes obvious when we study the actions of the Turkish government over the past 6 years.
As I wrote in 2012 the government in Ankara, eager to be seen serving western interests so as to grease the wheels of the EU membership bus, stepped in to fan the flames of war in Syria by allowing commandos from French intelligence and the British MI6 to set up military bases in Hatay in southern Turkey. These bases were used, ostensibly, to train the Free Syrian Army. In actual fact this was the beginning of a shadow state creation project. Seasoned terrorists were welcomed, financed and armed. Arab delinquents (sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood) were ‘vetted’ then trained in urban guerrilla warfare techniques, including bombing heavily built up areas and using random sniper fire to cause maximum confusion among the population. Western intelligence agencies were attempting to build the new Syrian civil society – the White Helmets, also trained in Turkey, were the apex of this project. Turkey has maintained a porous border with its southern neighbour since then, allowing the free flow of the world’s jihadists to answer the sickening call.
Terrorists within Syria have looted and destroyed many religious shrines, churches and mosques but the wholesale theft of Syrian natural resources and industrial plant are on a scale unimaginable. We’ve probably all read about Islamic State terrorists smuggling oil stolen from fields in northern Iraq and eastern Syria through Turkey and then on to Europe and Israel via the grubby hands of Bilal Erdoğan, the Turkish president’s son. Less well known is the fact that terrorists inside Syria have stolen entire factories, machine tools and even power stations – literally unscrewed from the factory floor, lifted onto flatbed trucks and driven north only to be re-erected in Turkish cities. According to independent journalist Thierry Meyssan, Erdoğan did not hesitate to use the war against Syria to make money for himself:
First of all by dismantling and pillaging the factories of Aleppo, then by trafficking the oil and antiques stolen by the jihadists. Progressively, his entire clan became linked with the jihadists. For example, his Prime Minister, mafia gangster Binali Yıldırım, organised factories for the confection of counterfeit goods in the territories administrated by Daesh.
“Some 1,000 factories in the city of Aleppo have been plundered, and their stolen goods transferred to Turkey with the full knowledge and facilitation of the Turkish government,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in letters to the United Nations. “It is an illegal act of aggression that amounts to piracy. It is an act of aggression against the Syrian people’s livelihood,” the ministry added.
As 2017 begins, US military planners are concerned about disruptions to ongoing air operations in the region after Turkish officials made a veiled threat to ground U.S. warplanes at Incirlik Air Base over the U.S. denial of air support for the Turkish military inside Syria. Does this spell the beginning of the end of this special, albeit, troubled relationship between the US and Turkey?
For many years the US has used Syria as a pawn in its so called ‘war on terror’. This relationship began to break down when Syria refused to assist in the Iraq war in 2003 and instead agreed to accept millions of refugees fleeing the US led invasion. Look back even further and we see a non-stop pattern of interference in the affairs of Syria by US governments from that of LBJ through to George W. and now Obama.
Author of the The Dirty War on Syria, Professor Tim Anderson, asserts that we can chart this hostility ‘back to Syria’s central role in the Arab-Israeli wars, especially those of 1967 and 1973, a common regional struggle against the expansionist Zionist state. After that, Syria’s support for the 1979 Iranian Revolution put it offside with Washington. As far back as 1980, under the Carter administration, Washington was searching for a ‘change of regime’ in Damascus. A cable from the National Security Council to Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski urged a coordinated study, including with their European and Arab monarchy partners, of ‘identifying possible alternative regimes’ to the Government led by Hafez al Assad. They were considering how to ‘reduce the problems of ill-considered reaction [by Syria’s ally, the Soviet Union] to a change of regime in Damascus’.
Using the pretext of the war on terror following the attacks in New York on September 11th, the US government saw a chance to achieve this long held ambition and set in motion a plan to redraw the map of the middle east – to ‘take out seven countries in five years’ according to former senior US General Wesley Clark.
President Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad leave office is the embodiment of an imperial arrogance once the sole preserve of British prime ministers. By allowing the CIA to foment the unrest, by working with the Gulf monarchies to arm and finance terrorist factions, by ordering US special forces into the country, without UN approval, in order to provide additional training to these groups, and then by cynically using his ‘red line‘ ultimatum in a foiled attempt to garner congressional and public support for his proxy war, all the while preaching a message of peace, Obama has proven himself to be the most dishonest of Middle East peace brokers.
The great investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that a secret agreement in 2012 was reached between the Obama Administration and the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, to set up a sarin gas attack and blame it on Assad so that the US could invade and overthrow Assad. “By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria”. Hersh didn’t say whether these arms included the precursor chemicals for making sarin which were stockpiled in Libya, but there have been multiple independent reports that Libya’s Gaddafi possessed such stockpiles, and also that the US Consulate in Benghazi was operating a ‘rat line’ for Gaddafi’s captured weapons into Syria through Turkey. Had this tsunami of weapons and series of false flag attacks been reported by the western media the war may have ended already.
Media Lens wrote an in-depth alert on the reaction to Hersh’s investigation into White House claims of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government:
After the nerve gas attack at Ghouta, Obama had unequivocally pinned the blame on Syrian President Assad, a propaganda claim that was fervently disseminated around the world by a compliant corporate news media. Following Obama’s earlier warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’, he then declared on US television on September 10, 2013:
‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people …We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’
Based on interviews with US intelligence and military insiders, Hersh now charges that Obama deceived the world in making a cynical case for war. The US president ‘did not tell the whole story’, says the journalist:
‘In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.’
Obama did not reveal that American intelligence agencies knew that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had the capability to manufacture considerable quantities of sarin. When the attack on Ghouta took place, ‘al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.’ Indeed, the ‘cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war.’
Hersh notes that when he interviewed intelligence and military personnel:
‘I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a “ruse”.’
‘A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening.’
The former official said that this ‘distortion’ of the facts by the Obama administration ‘reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam.’
The UK is incapable of fighting an honest war and has been for centuries. In the ‘Dirty War on Syria’ the UK has played a leading but mostly invisible role thanks largely to our news media’s abject failure to investigate and report the truth. Long before war broke out the British government was plotting behind the scenes to bring about the downfall of yet another sovereign state. France’s former Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas, stated in a televised program on LCP that UK government officials had told him about preparations for war in Syria two years prior to the start of the 2011 protests and conflict. In the interview Dumas said:
“I’m going to tell you something. I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria.”
Dumas even provided a reason for the regime change objective which has now claimed the lives of perhaps 400,000 people:
‘’This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned… in the region it is important to know that this Syrian regime has a very anti-Israeli stance. Consequently, everything that moves in the region- and I have this from the former Israeli prime minister who told me ‘we’ll try to get on with our neighbours but those who don’t agree with us will be destroyed. It’s a type of politics, a view of history, why not after all. But one should know about it.’’
Naturally this report never made it to TV screens here in the UK. The official mouthpiece of the British government, the BBC, occasionally covers illegal British military incursions into Syria but the reports are customarily buried in its online content, thinly dispersed, unanchored in a sea of propaganda and read only by a tiny fraction of the license fee paying audience.
For the first few years of the conflict the BBC’s senior Middle East correspondent, Jim Muir, relying almost exclusively on partisan sources, was reporting from the comfort of his Beirut hotel room, hundreds of miles from the danger the people of Syria faced daily. Sadly, this is the kind of government approved investigative journalism we’ve come to expect from the BBC. In December last year BBC news correspondent, James Longman, published on Facebook a slick piece of sophistry covering some of the reasons for the inadequate coverage of the war.
The picture in Syria is enormously complicated. It is made all the more complex because independent journalists are not allowed to operate in the country. But this doesn’t mean you should look for quick and easy answers by conspiracy theorists on the internet.
We have had to rely on activists inside Syria for years. This is because Assad locked journalists out of the country when this war began. Do they get it wrong sometimes? Yes. Do we? Yes. Are we intentionally trying to deceive you? No.
The ‘Assad locked out journalists / visa denied’ meme was exposed by Sharmine Narwani in 2012 as a convenient excuse for lazy and sloppy reporting of western media in this Syria conflict:
It is a handy sound bite these days – one that quite deliberately ignores the Arab League Monitors’ January 2012 Report that 147 foreign and Arab media organizations were operating in Syria during their month-long observations.
“No Syrian Visa” tries hard to distract from the reality that most western journalists never actually go out to the front lines of conflict when filing their stories. Increasingly, reporters are sent out in organized pools by host governments – or in the case of recent US-initiated wars in the Middle East – by the invading armies [as embedded journalists]
“No Syrian Visa” selectively forgets that entering US-foe Syria as a journalist today is no more difficult than waltzing into US-ally Saudi Arabia – or US-ally Bahrain, when Formula One cars are not racing there.
Longman’s intention, albeit cleverly disguised, was to dissuade the public from seeking out independent voices reporting from on the ground in Syria. Longman and his colleagues would rather we rely on BBC News and trust its sources, like the impressively-named Syrian Observatory on Human Rights (one man, Rami Abdulrahman in Coventry, repeating uncorroborated allegations from opposition sources) and the White Helmets (long exposed as the armed, sectarian, western created and funded PR wing of al Qaeda).
As part of the Downing Street regime’s (see what I did there?) increasingly sophisticated war propaganda effort, BBC correspondents have blithely forgotten the key principles necessary when reading contentious evidence; we, as consumers of news, know only too well that partisan and self-serving claims from a belligerent party must be viewed with grave suspicion. We have learned this in our own lifetimes from watching the gruesome consequences of our own apathy following the digestion of a steady diet of indelible war propaganda. How can we forget the daughter of Kuwaiti ambassador to the US, Nayirah Al-Sabah in her moving speech to the US Congress “312 premature babies at Kuwait City’s maternity hospital who died after Iraqi soldiers stole their incubators and left the infants on the floor” or the Colin Powell “Iraqi WMD” Oscar worthy performance at the UN, or the “Benghazi massacre” lie repeated by dozens of human rights organisations? It’s not that western government officials and their stenographers in the corporate media can’t tell the truth in the run up to war its just that they never do.
Diplomatic relations between Syria and KSA have been turbulent since their establishment as modern nation states but it is the Saudi political and religious establishment that has provided the ideological call to arms for the worlds takfiri and salafist jihadists. Along with Qatar, Saudi Arabia has provided support to many of the radical groups fighting in Syria. Their assistance has been viewed as one of the factors contributing to the continuation of the nearly six-years-long war.
During the recent liberation of Aleppo, the Syrian Arab Army discovered many foreign intelligence operatives apparently coordinating terrorist actions from the eastern areas of the city. It should come as no surprise to learn that most of these terrorist handlers were from Saudi Arabia.
The Jordanian military intervention in the war on Syria officially began in September 2014 with reported air strikes on Islamic State targets but unofficially, Jordan has played a crucial role from the get go, allowing US and British special forces access into the country from the south. Jordan has also repeatedly closed its border to refugees fleeing the war.
Norway has over 60 special forces operatives deployed in Syria but we would not know this but for the reporting in the alternative news media. Voltairenet reported in June of last year that:
The Forsvarets Spesialkommando (FSK) are already in Jordan where they are participating in training “moderate” Jihadists. However, the Jordan border has just been declared a “military zone” and is henceforth impossible to cross.
These forces are reputed to be the only ones capable of projecting itself onto an oil platform in the sea. A member of Nato, Norway has sent its FSK to participate in wars against Serbia and in Afghanistan.
It is an international crime for Special Forces to be present in a foreign state without authorization.
Like Saudi Arabia, Qatar has been a leading financial sponsor of the war against Syria while crucially providing the warped ideological justification to tens of thousands of jihadists from around the world to travel to Syria and kill.
Just like its NATO partners the regime in Paris has been doggedly perusing the downfall of the Syrian state. As well as supporting armed opposition groups, François Hollande has also ordered airstrikes inside Syria – without UN approval and against international law. French warplanes attacked oil and gas installations in the Deir ez-Zor area in September 2015.
Although Israel has not formally declared itself an official member of the friends of Syria group it has nevertheless played its customary role in the war against its northern neighbour. Not only has Israel assisted and profited in the theft of Syria’s natural resources it has repeatedly fired missiles into Syria, destroying civilian and military infrastructure. The most recent airstrike this past weekend saw Israeli jets targeting an ammunition storage facility on the outskirts of Damascus. Three US-made F-35 stealth fighter jets were involved in the attack, one for the bombing and two for air support. The aircraft took off from Ben Gurion airport at 12.17 am on Friday 13th January. They approached Syria via Lebanese airspace, before launching three missiles at Mazzeh military airbase. They then headed to the North West of Syria, & carried out further attacks, before re-entering Israeli airspace.
According to many reports and as witnessed by Tom Duggan when he was on the front line in the occupied Golan, Israel allows terrorists from al Nusra group to cross the border into Israel and receive medical treatment often returning to battle resupplied with weapons and ammunition.
There are many non governmental organisations (NGOs) who also falsely claim to be friends of the people of Syria. Top of this list must be the White Helmets – the supposed peaceful, neutral, independent civil defense rescuers. Contrary to their own claims, the white helmets were exposed in 2016 as armed, partisan, funded by western governments hell-bent on regime change, belligerent, and unknown to the ordinary people of Aleppo who they claimed to be rescuing from the rubble.
Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has also been exposed for relying on uncorroborated witness statements coming from potentially compromised sources while giving the impression MSF staff are on the ground. The reports, according to analyst Tim Hayward, including allegations of government and Russian air force attacks on hospitals and civilians – “come from people working with the permission and protection of such groups as Al Nusra, Isis and other foreign jihadis and mercenaries. These anti-government forces are known to exercise a rule of terror and to be not overly concerned about ordinary citizens’ access to medical attention. That is precisely why the MSF doctors withdrew from the areas under their control.”
The REAL Friends of Syria
In stark contrast to the warmongers, criminals and their sycophants in the corporate media and NGO complex listed above, the true friends of Syria are seldom seen on the nightly news. True friends are those who, in these times of fake news and war propaganda embroidered to a degree Edward Bernays could barely imagine, give voice to the voiceless. True friends are those who risk all to travel the war ravaged land, often at their own expense and report on the plight of the people, document the atrocities and expose the lies. These friends are not journalists working for giant corporations like BBC or CNN. No, these friends are seasoned anti-war activists, truth-tellers and historians of the people. I have no doubt they’ll be given the keys to Damascus when the Syrian Arab Army is finally victorious and rids the country of the last of the terrorists or as they’re known in western media circles, armed opposition.
In no particular order, these true friends are:
Eva has traveled extensively across Syria during the past years and has provided crucial on-the-ground reports recently from Aleppo, Homs, Maaloula and Damascus.
In a recent Facebook post, Eva addressed the question of her own independence:
Who ‘funds’ me? I live on a shoestring, don’t own a car, home or other normal possessions, travel the cheapest, longest means (usually involving sleeping on airport floors or benches if lucky) to get places, stay in cheapest accommodations, and put out financially and otherwise far more than I have or will earn from what I do.
Vanassa writes for 21st Century Wire and has done sterling work especially exposing the White Helmets. Vanessa is highly regarded by the fixers, translators and guides I spoke with in Syria. Here she is discussing a recent trip to Syria with US Congressman Ron Paul:
Ken wrote the book ‘Defiant Syria’ which inspired me to make my first trip to the country in September 2016. He has been doing talks and presentations across Canada, relaying his experiences from when he was in the country during the 2016 elections. Ken is especially keen on informing his countrymen of Canada’s secretive role in the war on Syria.
Tom is a British photojournalist living in Damascus who has been working with, and training, the next generation of journalists in Syria as well as providing first aid equipment and skills to schools and community centers across the country. Some of Tom’s footage is harrowing but seldom seen anywhere in the corporate media.
Mark is a retired schoolteacher from Canada who was with our group in Syria last year and has been touring Canada giving talks about the situation on the ground. He writes for Global Research
Tim Anderson is a senior lecturer at Sydney University. Tim wrote the definitive book on the Syrian conflict, The Dirty War on Syria, which is the most well researched and carefully referenced history of the war written thus far. It has been translated into Arabic and German and doubtless other translations will follow.
Andrew has been visiting Syria since 2003 and returned this month to Aleppo to see the liberation of the eastern part of the city. He has risked the wrath of his church, the condemnation of his congregation and vilification by the political and media establishment for his pastoral visits to Syria which have included a face to face meeting with President Bashar al-Assad as well as with religious leaders of all faiths. The London Telegraph screamed its disgust with the headline ‘British peers and priests accused of ‘chatting with mass murderer’ after meeting Assad in Syria’.
Lizzie is RT’s international correspondent based in Berlin. Her work for RT has focused on the war in Syria where she has made several extended trips to cover both the human tragedy caused by the conflict and significant battlefield developments against ISIS.
David Macilwain | Blog
David lives in Australia, but grew up and graduated in the UK. He writes for Russia Insider and many other publications. His interest in, and understanding of, the Syrian conflict means he’s able to convey the geopolitical stakes in this proxy war. Here David describes the aftermath of the liberation of Aleppo:
Hospitals and schools had become military bases and weapons factories, and basements were used to torture prisoners and hostages and to store weapons and ammunition. Most extraordinarily, the ‘rebels’ had been forced to leave behind an arsenal of weapons that filled seven warehouses, as well as betraying the sponsors of the ‘democratic revolution’. Truckloads of missiles and ammunition, and even tanks, all shipped in from the West via Turkey were brought out for display to the World’s media…
And the ‘World’s’ media? They lost interest a few days before the siege was ended. In a collective act of diversion, reminiscent of ‘displacement activity’, all those Western media organisations who had been so recently hysterical about ‘saving Aleppo’s children’ suddenly found other urgent or trivial events to focus on. Having been prepared to support a full-scale military attack on Syrian Defence forces and their allies, if only leaders could be persuaded to launch one, the many foreign false ‘Friends of Syria’ could barely even admit to themselves what had just happened.
Robert has been tirelessly engaged in investigating some of the propaganda emanating from the western corporate media in particular the BBC flagship current affairs programme, Panorama. Here’s Robert presenting evidence he’s uncovered to Frome Stop War group.
Eva is a Norwegian activist who runs a campaign calling for the end to the cruel economic sanctions on Syria, Opphev Sanksjonene Mot Syria. She has visited the country numerous times, twice in 2016 and has a very sincere and heartfelt, almost motherly affection towards the Syrian people. Eva has been published in newspapers in Norway and is calling on Norwegian ministers to take responsibility for the policies against Syria and to hold then to account for their illegal actions.
Jan is a peace researcher, international mediator, and director of the Transnational Foundation in Sweden. He combines peace work, mission experiences and photography.
Of course we cannot forget the crucial part played by Syria’s allies – Russia, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran’s Republic Guard and China and the many other independent states with progressive governments around the world. Whether answering the call for military assistance or the sensible and mature use of UN Security Council veto, or just the messages of support these states have proven to be true friends of Syria. Russian sappers have been crucial in the demining of liberated areas such as Palmyra and more recently eastern Aleppo. Needless to say this meticulous and most dangerous of jobs goes mostly unreported in the western media. When it is reported in the west, the risks are often downplayed in favour of the usual Russophobic hyperbole. “The demining mission was personally ordered by President Vladimir Putin” the Daily Mail informed its readers in April “and the Kremlin is keen for the world to see it as it basks in its latest victory.”
Many other groups and individuals have helped in my understanding of the war on Syria and their tireless efforts deserve recognition. I mention Edward Clarke, Rita Roberta, Mehmaz Shahabi from the Palestinian Museum and Cultural Centre in Bristol and express my gratitude for arranging the talk with Vanessa Beeley and Andrew Ashdown – its grass roots community groups that are so effective at disseminating real news from true friends of Syria.
I met some truly amazing people on my last trip to Syria, not least Serena and Reem, two incredible young women embarking on a career in journalism. Their staunch determination to bring truth to the world and steely ambition to report from the front lines was made all the more poignant when I visited the studio where they work and saw the inward facing perimeter wall covered with photos of their colleagues, tragically killed while reporting the war.
My fellow travelers on the September 2016 international peace tour to Syria deserve a special mention – not least because they provided a level of assurance I was desperately searching for when I embarked on the trip. All traveled with the same noble intention – to witness the lives of ordinary Syrians, to hear their stories first hand and to show solidarity.
What I witnessed in September 2016 told me all I needed to know about the brave and defiant people of Syria – in the epic struggle for their very survival they are living with a dignity and defiance incomprehensible to most in the west. They are united in their fight against the scourge of terrorism and the concealed resurgence of western colonialism. Syria is independent and her people will ensure she stays that way.