Syria: Israel attacks

On 5 May Israeli fighter planes launched massive air strikes on targets near Syria’s capital Damascus. Accounts of the number of targets vary, but it was reported that at least 43 Syrian soldiers were killed at Jamraya Scientific Studies and Research Centre. This followed Israeli air strikes two days before, and came at the end of a week in which Israeli jets violated Lebanese airspace daily. Coming at a pivotal moment in the war for Syria, as government forces began to overturn gains of the ‘rebel’ militias, and in the midst of the orchestrated chemical weapons scare, the imperialists wanted decisive action. Competition for oil and gas and markets underline this recent escalation. The aim of the imperialist and Zionist agenda to destroy the ‘resistance-axis’ of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah has been openly revealed.

These strikes were the fifth time Israel has intervened militarily in Syria in ten years. Armed to the teeth with weapons donated by the US, Israel has again fulfilled its role as an extension of US and British imperialism in the region. Israel’s intervention has set a precedent for dismantling Syria’s military defences and raised the question of a ‘no-fly zone’. Israeli military officials declared that the targets were missiles being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Robert Fisk of The Independent raised the question: why would Syria get rid of its weapons when it needs them most?

By striking inside Syria and destroying Syrian army weapons, Israel has provided air support for the opposition forces. With reports of Al Qaeda-linked rebel groups, why would Israel do this? The jihadist group Jahbat Al Nusra (JN) has continued to gain weapons and militants whilst other groups have suffered from lack of discipline and support. On 10 April JN was incorporated into Al Qaeda in Iraq, forming the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. But Britain, the US, France, and Israel are willing to use JN as a disposable tool in their plans for Syria. JN is an unreliable ally but as Israeli Defence Ministry official, Amos Gilad, said about any threat from JN: ‘with all due respect to that threat, it is not the same threat as one posed by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah together, which is much more difficult.’ For the imperialist and Zionist agenda, JN can be dealt with later. With Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, their time has come.

The continued rise of JN begs the question: where are their weapons coming from? The answer is the Arab allies of US, British and French imperialism. Saudi Arabia and Qatar lead the field followed by Jordan. The Financial Times (17 May 2013) reports that Qatar has spent $3bn over the past two years supporting the revolt and that this is now exceeded by donations from Saudi Arabia. This transfer of weaponry has the imperialists’ active support.

What of the official Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), so beloved of Britain’s David Cameron and William Hague? The BBC’s Paul Danahar put it well: ‘the Syrian opposition’s political leadership – which wanders around international capitals attending conferences and making grand speeches – is not leading anyone. It barely has control of the delegates in the room with it, let alone the fighters in the field.’ Cameron and French President Hollande have a lot invested in this body; Britain and France are set to overturn the EU embargo on arming the opposition. With the absurd argument that arming the rebels will bring them to the negotiating table, Britain proposed exempting the SOC from the embargo or removing the phrase ‘non-lethal’; allowing an unchecked flow of arms. Cameron announced the doubling of Britain’s ‘non-lethal’ support to the SOC on 14 May.

For the imperialists’ agenda to progress, Russian opposition must be overcome. Russia has defended Syria’s sovereignty and supported the government with military equipment and training. Syria bought four S-300 missile batteries for $900 million, including six launchers and 144 missiles, with a 125-mile range. Most of Syria’s strong anti-aircraft defences have been bought from Russia. This strength complicates interventions such as Israel’s air strikes. US and British attempts to lever Russia from its position have met with little success although a diplomatic offensive is underway, with an international ‘peace’ conference, called by US President Barack Obama, supported by Britain, to discuss with Russia the shaping of a future ‘transitional government’. Russia will seek to protect its interests on the ground.

Oil and gas

What is on the ground in Syria are high stakes: plans for a natural gas pipeline from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, and potentially into Europe, are in place and in May Iraq agreed to the route, with the first section to be completed in June 2013. What this project could mean for Iran – blockaded into poverty despite holding the world’s second largest gas reserves – is unthinkable for the imperialists. A steady stream of Iranian gas into Syria and Iraq could yield Iran up to $2m per day. This gas pipeline has a rival – a proposed pipeline from Qatar, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and again to Europe. Russia wields power over Europe through dependence on Russian gas, and either pipeline would reduce this. Turkey would play a major role in either project, as the crossroads between Asia and Europe. A stable Syria is essential for either plan and its government’s stance is critical for those looking to profit. With the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline taking the lead, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and their western backers will redouble their efforts to destroy the Syrian government.

Syria has the world’s 33rd largest oil reserves – much of it high quality. Before the war most of this went to Italy and Germany – imperialist powers not currently active in the fight for Syria. The EU lifted its sanctions on Syrian oil exports on 22 April, but only for rebel-controlled territory. The hitch is that most of these are controlled by JN. However, General Selim Idriss, the head of the western-backed opposition Supreme Military Council, told the Financial Times that he wants to assemble a 30,000-strong force to secure these oilfields.

Despite the efforts of British, US, and French imperialism, the Syrian state remains largely intact and in control of most major cities and roads. This has come at huge human cost; with the UN claiming 80,000 killed on both sides. Hezbollah and Iran recognise the stakes for their own existence if Syria’s Ba’athist state falls and have committed to this proxy war. With Iraq moving towards the side of Iran, and huge gas and oil profits at stake, the struggle can only intensify.

Toby Harbertson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013


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