Syria: the British ruling class steps up its offensive /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

The British state intends to reaffirm its influence in the central Middle East, as it did in the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. This agreement was secretly negotiated between British and French diplomats who drew a line across the region, roughly along Syria’s south-eastern border. North of the line was to be the French sphere of influence, and south was Britain’s. Today, with the same contemptuous disregard for human life, these two imperialist powers are at the forefront of the struggle to dismember Syria, motivated by the same fight for resources and strategic dominance. Working to get around the EU arms embargo through legal and illegal means, arming opposition forces, which it has nurtured, the British state is stepping up its offensive against Syria.

Frustrated at the lack of progress with regime change, British imperialism is increasing its military support for the Syrian opposition. Attacking the EU embargo prohibiting arming any forces in Syria, Prime Minister Cameron declared on 13 March that ‘the world has stood by and frankly not done enough’, suggesting that in supplying the opposition you ‘can have influence with your partners’. Britain’s Labour Party may disagree with the methods, but not the goal. Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander argued that the primary task was ‘not to arm the rebels but to unify them’ to achieve transition. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius echoed Cameron, declaring France and Britain would act together. German imperialism decisively blocked them and British and French militarism was isolated within the EU, 27-2 in favour of keeping the embargo. This has not stopped their imperialist manoeuvres in the past, as with their 2011 destruction of Libya – supported by Labour. Cameron stated his willingness to go against the EU again: ‘We are still an independent country. We can have an independent foreign policy.’

British imperialism will push the boundaries of the embargo until it overturns or bypasses it. On 6 March, British Foreign Secretary Hague announced an additional £9.4 million package of ‘non-lethal’ military aid to opposition militias. What support is given depends on what will ‘save most lives’. It will include armoured vehicles and body armour handed directly to the Syrian National Coalition, protecting those fighting against the Syrian state. In Hague’s simplistic narrative the innocent, democratic opposition needs protecting from the Syrian army, attempting to justify Britain’s alignment with one side. Britain’s intervention in Syria – or anywhere else – has never been about saving lives.

How does Hague’s narrative hold up? French President Hollande condensed it: ‘We can’t allow a people to be massacred by a regime.’ Death toll statistics are regularly used to show the brutality of the Syrian government. However, it is increasingly recognised that the Syrian army makes up a significant part of this death toll. Even the opposition-aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than two-thirds of casualties are armed men, undermining cries of indiscriminate massacre. Opposition militias have been accused by Amnesty International of war crimes and are heavily armed – particularly the jihadist group Jahbat Al Nusra. Their weaponry comes through Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with active support from major imperialist powers. Networks of special forces around Syria’s borders play a key role in transferring these arms. The Telegraph revealed Britain’s role in transferring 3,000 tons of heavy weaponry from Croatia. This shipment of 75 plane-loads was reportedly paid for by Saudi Arabia, overseen by the US, and included ‘weapons from other European countries including Britain’. Every avenue is being exploited by the British state in its race to overthrow the Syrian government.

British royal Prince Charles is also working to this end. His March trip to Jordan was a declaration of support for King Abdullah’s oppressive monarchy – particularly in its role as a base for British, French and US military personnel to train ‘rebel’ militias and ferry illicit arms into Syria. Reprising Cameron’s role of last November – coinciding with an increase in British support for the opposition – Charles visited Syrian refugees close to the border and shed a few crocodile tears. The Prince travelled with diplomats and businessmen such as Chris West, director of the Shell foundation (of Anglo-Dutch Shell). At a business forum in Amman he explained that Jordan ‘is an important market for Shell, which has successful investments in the country due to its high level of stability and security,’ (Jordan Times). The royal delegation next headed to Saudi Arabia to show its support.

The British ruling class’s determination to destroy the Assad government cannot be seen as merely a foreign policy choice. The deepening capitalist crisis is pitting the imperialist powers against one another in a desperate struggle for investment, resources, and control. They cannot tolerate the Syrian state’s defiance of the imperialist world order. No matter how they dress up their involvement in Syria, the underlying motives are base. Whether under the mantle of the Conservative Party or Labour, this struggle will be conducted ruthlessly until there is a movement with the power to challenge it. They must be exposed and opposed at every turn.

Toby Harbertson