Syria: International proxy war

UN peace talks aimed at ending the war in Syria continue to be pushed back indefinitely. The major imperialist powers have instead focused on war. June’s ‘Operation Eager Lion 13’ demonstrated their intentions when the armies of Britain, the US, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and 12 others gathered for huge military exercises in Jordan, close to Syria’s border. Soon afterwards, Israel launched its fourth attack on Syria this year, targeting Russian missiles. The Syrian government’s recent major military gains, supported by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have forced the imperialists into further action in their campaign against the ‘resistance axis’ of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. These forces oppose the complete hegemony of imperialism over this region and its resources. In a time of desperate capitalist crisis, this resistance will not be accepted. The war in Syria has gigantic international stakes, and is accordingly being waged by numerous international powers. Toby Harbertson reports.

The Syrian military is steadily making gains against armed groups throughout Syria. The battle for Qusair, previously a major stronghold of armed opposition groups close to the Lebanese border, was finally won on 8 June. The support the Syrian army received from Hezbollah was seized upon internationally as a reason for further intervention. On 23 July the EU categorised the group’s military wing a ‘terrorist’ organisation. Syria’s military is now turning its attention towards Homs and Aleppo, previously strongholds of the jihadist groups Jahbat al Nusra (JN) and The Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) in the northeast.

For the Syrian military it has been a bloody war. Recent figures from the opposition-aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights list 100,000 dead, with 42,000 of these government fighters, 36,000 civilians, and 18,000 ‘rebels’. This didn’t stop The Guardian from reporting on 23 July that Bashar Al Assad had ‘slaughtered’ 90,000 people. This is far from a massacre by the government forces – they are fighting well-armed groups. Now the government is winning, and the imperialists and other interested powers have been unable to do anything to reverse this.

The coalition of powers clamouring to dismember Syria and redraw the borders of the Middle East has been pouring weapons into Syria for over two years. Much of this has come directly through Saudi Arabia and Qatar, relying upon the active assistance of US, British and French special forces. More than 3,000 US ‘advisers’ are reportedly in Jordan, where the CIA has been stockpiling Soviet-era weapons and training opposition fighters since long before their public decision in June to directly arm the rebels.

For the British government, the objective of overturning the EU embargo on supplying arms to Syrian opposition forces was achieved on 28 May. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, supported by his French equivalent, blocked suggested compromises. The final vote in favour of ending the embargo was 27-25. Many EU foreign ministers were angry at the manner of the Anglo-French victory.

This issue has also provoked divisions within the British ruling class. Many Conservative MPs strongly oppose sending arms to Syria, even those in favour of military action. A vote in the House of Commons demanded 114-1 that David Cameron gain the ‘explicit’ consent of Parliament, before providing lethal assistance.

Each new announcement of ‘non-lethal’ aid to Syrian opposition groups is a major statement of propaganda and policy. On 16 July, Hague announced a donation of £650,000 worth of equipment to protect against chemical weapons. This will be given to the ‘moderate forces’ of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Still pushing the long-discredited hysteria around chemical weapons use by the Syrian military, this ‘gift’ is calculated to define the media narrative – that these heroic rebels fighting for democracy are in urgent need of protection against imminent chemical weapons attack by the brutal Assad government. We heard a similar narrative spun about Libya in 2011. Hague declared this a ‘matter of special urgency’, allowing the decision to be made without going through the proper parliamentary procedures. This precedent should worry those MPs opposing ‘lethal’ assistance.

The spectre of strong Al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria continues to be an obstacle to sending more arms. JN and the ISIS are the two major organisations fighting for an Islamic emirate in Syria, and these control most of the rebel-held territory. The imperialists try to define the FSA in opposition to this – as ‘real’ rebels, fighting for a democratic, secular Syria. But the FSA means little inside Syria beyond three letters. Some of the diverse groups of militants may use this to refer to themselves but there is no central organisation, ideology or discipline.

On 6 July, with the world’s media watching events in Egypt, Israel attacked the Syrian port of Latakia. The target was reported as Russian Yakhont SS-N-26 anti-ship missiles, with some sources claiming that surface-to-air missiles were also destroyed. The Israeli government did not acknowledge or deny the attack. These weapons could have seriously hindered Israel’s ability to strike at will within Syria.

The alliance between Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran is the target to be destroyed. Syria was considered the weakest link. However, with determined support from Russia, and splits within the imperialist ruling classes, the alliance is gaining momentum. The imperialists are being forced to rethink their strategy. With Syria on the offensive, it will take more than weapons and phoney peace talks to re-divide the Middle East. August will see further imperialist war games in the region with ‘Exercise Cougar 13’ bringing British helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious along with 650 Royal Marines to Jordan. With each exercise, more military hardware and personnel are left in Jordan, raising the stakes. The Syrian and Iranian economies are in ruins due to imperialist aggression, and tens of thousands of Syrians have died. We must oppose all British military interventions in the Middle East and say Hands off Syria!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013


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