NOVEMBER 10, 2017|
Last week, a bombshell was dropped by former Qatari politician Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabel al-Thani, who oversaw Qatari intervention in Syria until 2013. Simultaneously occupying the post of prime minister and foreign minister during the so-called “Arab Spring,” Hamad was at the forefront of his country’s role in the proxy war against Syria and thus has first-hand inside knowledge of the covert discussions that were being held between the various countries mutually hostile to the Syrian government at the time. Amidst outing his frustrations regarding the current Gulf crisis, he shared some of that knowledge with the outside world in an interview on Qatari television:
“When the events first started in Syria, I went to Saudi Arabia and met with King Abdullah. I did that on the instructions of his highness the prince, my father. He [King Abdullah] said we are behind you. You go ahead with this plan and we will coordinate but you should be in charge. I won’t get into details, but we took full charge and anything that was sent [to Syria]would go to Turkey and was in coordination with the US forces and everything was distributed via the Turks and the US forces. And us and everyone else were involved, the military people. There may have been mistakes and support was given to the wrong faction, but not Daesh - they are exaggerating if they say that.[sic] Maybe there was a relationship with Nusra [al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria], it’s possible but I myself don’t know about this. But I can tell you that even if that was the case, when it was decided that Nusra is not acceptable, the support for Nusra stopped and the concentration was on the liberation of Syria. We were fighting over the prey [i.e. Assad and his supporters], and now the prey is gone, and we are still fighting. And now Bashar [al-Assad] is still here. If you say ‘okay, Bashar can stay,’ we don’t mind. We have no feelings of vengeance against him, but you [the US and Saudi Arabia] were with us in the same trench.” (emphasis added)
In June, Hamad had already told American talk show host Charlie Rose practically the same thing, but in a less comprehensive fashion:
“Look, in Syria everybody did mistakes, including your country [the US]. When the war, or the revolution, happened in Syria, all of us worked through two operation rooms, one in Jordan and one in Turkey. The first one was in Jordan. And there was countries, some of the GCC countries, among them the Saudi’s, the Emirati’s, Qatar, the United States and other allies, and they was working from there. And all of us was supporting the same group [the armed opposition]. In Turkey we did the same.”
One could take these startling admissions in two directions. The first one could lead to a conclusion that once the rebellion was in full gear, the above-mentioned countries started to support the armed opposition in the form of funding, arms supply and propaganda. This, however, is increasingly becoming documented knowledge and part of the historical record. Moreover, this conclusion would still accept the notion that there was first a tangible and widespread revolution against Assad’s rule which evolved into a civil war, and that the countries in question only afterwards capitalised on these events to further their own geopolitical agendas. In contrast, a second direction could explore the possibility that the covert discussions of which Hamad revealed some were already taking place from the very onset, “when the events first started in Syria,” or even before that. If substantiated, this hypothesis would challenge the claim that the origins of the Syrian debacle lay at a massive uprising against the Syrian government, the latter which was accused of brutally cracking down on initially peaceful protests. The collusion of the geopolitical regime change agendas of the US and its NATO and Gulf allies, particularly Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel, then, might constitute the real first cause of the tremendous suffering of the Syrian people. This article chooses the more provocative second direction.
Syria, an eternal target
Since Syria became independent from France in 1946, Western countries and intelligence agencies regularly conspired to overthrow the ruling regimes of the day. In 1949, a CIA-backed coup succeeded, although very briefly, in ousting Syria’s democratically elected president, and in 1956 and 1957, American and British intelligence twice failed to overthrow the Syrian government, the latter plot which included assassination attempts of leading figures in the Syrian power structure. A recently declassified CIA document, too, revealed multiple agency plans to engineer the collapse of Hafez al-Assad’s government in 1986, including by way of exacerbating sectarian tensions, which is exactly what the US and its allies had done a couple of years earlier when they backed the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood insurrection in Hama.After bloody clashes between the army and Brotherhood Islamists had left thousands dead there, US military intelligence dryly observed that “the Syrians are pragmatic [and] do not want a Muslim Brotherhood government.”
Following 9/11, Syria immediately ended up on the Pentagon’s drawing board. In a 2007 interview with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, retired four-star General and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark disclosed that in the aftermath of 11 September, 2001, a fellow general of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told him that the Ministry of Defense had decided “to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and finishing off [with] Iran.” Not long after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration put sanctions on Syria for its alleged ties to terrorism, and soon various American and Israeli officials were issuing threats against the Syrian government that hinted at it being next on Washington’s Middle East chopping block. Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, declared a month after the invasion of Iraq that “there has got to be regime change in Syria” as well, and American-born Israeli journalist Caroline Glick even called for a pre-emptive war against Damascus. At the same time, however, Syria was a primary partner in America’s secretive “extraordinary rendition” program in which terrorism suspects were extradited to foreign countries where they were to be interrogated and often tortured. Furthermore, since 9/11 the Syrian government was providing the US with important intelligence about al-Qaeda, and therefore, the CIA and State Department figured that finishing the job in Iraq first remained the top priority in American foreign policy for the time being.
Laying the groundwork
Still, declassified documents and admissions from government officials reveal that covert operations to destabilise the government of Bashar al-Assad, who ascended to the presidency after his father’s death in 2000, were ongoing during the Iraq war. In a cable released by Wikileaks, William Roebuck, then chargé d’affaires at the American embassy in Damascus, advised his superiors in 2006 to coordinate more closely with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to fan the flames of sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Syria. And indeed, in his widely circulated 2007 piece The redirection, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that the US was partaking “clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria” which bolstered Sunni extremist groups sympathetic to al-Qaeda. More concretely, Hersh wrote that the “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad,” just as Roebuck had suggested in the previous year. Furthermore, a former high-ranking CIA officer revealed to Hersh that the Americans and Saudi’s provided political as well as financial support to the Syrian National Salvation Front, a coalition of opposition groups centred around former Vice-President Adbul Halim Khaddam and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
In addition, the Washington Post reported in April 2011 that the State Department had secretly funnelled millions of dollars to Syrian political opposition groups since at least 2005, drawing on analysis from several Wikileaks cables. It also provided funds to Barada TV, a London-based opposition satellite channel which began broadcasting in April 2009 and conveniently ramped up operations in 2011 to cover the unfolding demonstrations. The role of such clandestine operations in laying the groundwork for regime change should not be underestimated. Also in April 2011, a couple of months into the Arab revolts, the New York Times reported that Congress- and State Department-funded NGOs such as Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy, both infamous for their roles in instigating colour revolutions around the world, “played a bigger role in fomenting protests [in the Arab world] than was previously known,” particularly in Yemen and Egypt.
In Syria, however, it went further than actions that could be disguised as “democracy building campaigns,” as the New York Times described the funding and training of activists and political opposition groups around the Arab world. In a bombshell statement, former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas gave a piece of insight into the pre-2011 underground plans to destabilise Syria in 2013. During a debate on French television in June of that year, he exposed plans of foreign-engineered armed rebellion as far back as 2009:
“I am going to tell you something. I was in England two years before the hostilities began in Syria. I was there by chance for other business, not at all for Syria. I met with British officials, some of whom are friends of mine, and they confessed while trying to persuade me that preparations for something were underway in Syria. This was in Britain, not America. Britain was preparing the invasion of rebels into Syria. […] I just need to say that this operation goes way back. It was prepared, conceived and planned. (emphasis added)
When Dumas spoke to a correspondent of Syrian state-sponsored news outlet SANA two weeks later, he added that he was approached by two people, an Englishman and a Frenchman, who asked him to participate in the preparations for a plan to topple the Syrian government. Dumas said that he refused, but that “events proved that they were serious about what they were saying.”
When zooming out, all of this clearly interlocks with the big agendas of Western deep states regarding the Middle East. In 2008, one of the think tanks closely aligned to the Pentagon, RAND corporation, published a paper that discussed several US government policy options in “the long war” against Washington’s various adversaries in the Middle East. Aside from continuing supporting “the conservative Sunni regimes” in the Gulf, the authors proposed a “divide and rule” strategy as well, as such a policy “focuses on exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts.” “This strategy,” RAND added, “relies heavily on covert actions, information operations (IO), unconventional warfare, and support to indigenous security forces.” And indeed, in retrospect this appears to have been the chosen strategy in Washington’s efforts to topple Assad as well as Gaddafi respectively in Syria and Libya, where supporting local insurgents has led to the enormous amount of loss of life, the displacement of millions and the enormous infrastructural destruction of both countries.
When mainstream publications narrate the Syrian war, they by default explain the root cause of it to be anti-government demonstrations that were violently suppressed by the Assad government. In the viral “explanation” videos of the Guardian, Vox and Kurzgesagt, the Syrian government, standardly characterised as an “authoritarian” or “quasi-dictatorial” regime, is depicted as the villain that brutally cracked down on massive peaceful pro-democracy protests across the country, after which those who wanted change eventually had no other alternative than to take up arms themselves. This narrative, however, is deeply flawed on every fundamental level.
First of all, it turns out that there were no signs of revolutionary sentiment in early 2011. One would expect that if Syria was ruled over by a brutal and unpopular dictatorship, the Syrian government would have to face popular uprisings all across the country, just like in Tunisia and Egypt. As reported by Timemagazine’s correspondent in Damascus Rania Abouzeid, however, demonstrations in the wake of the Arab uprisings in February either “fizzled” because they failed to garner support, or they were mainly focused on the situation in other Arab countries and attracted less than 200 people. In a follow-up article in the beginning of March called “Sitting pretty in Syria: why few go bashing Bashar,” Abouzeid explained why “even critics concede that Assad is popular and considered close to the country’s huge youth cohort.” Despite the one-party rule and the widespread corruption and lack of political freedom resulting from it, high unemployment and poverty rates and the repressive and vigilant state-security apparatus the Syrian government shared with the pro-American ruling regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, “Assad has a hostile foreign policy toward Israel and stridently supports the Palestinians and the militant groups Hamas and Hizballah,” which are very much “in line with popular Syrian sentiment.” Furthermore, “Assad is viewed as a reformer even by some Syrians who may despise the regime, blaming its shortcomings on his father’s still present ‘old guard’.” Indeed, drawing from interviews with human rights activists, Abouzeid stressed that the majority of Syrians want reform to take place within the party, the government and the security agencies. As suggested by a poll conducted by a leading Turkish think tank, that sentiment had not changed by late 2011, as only 5% of the Syrian respondents said they supported violent protest, while 91% opposed it.
It is no surprise, then, that the events that triggered the war did not take place in the country’s largest cities such as was the case in the Tunisian and Egyptian capital cities of Tunis and Cairo, where mass protests forced Ben Ali and Mubarak to resign. Rather, the first incident happened in the southern regional town of Dara’a, close to the Syrian-Jordanian border. In mid-March, the arrest of a group of 15 kids who had sprayed a graffiti slogan containing the words “the people want the regime to fall” on a wall had sparked protests which resulted into casualties as well as the torching of the Baath Party headquarters and the courthouse of the town. According to Abouzeid, who was in the country contrary to most journalists who wrote about the incident, “Assad responded immediately, sending a high-ranking delegation to deliver his condolences to the families of the dead,” after which the governor was dismissed, and the kids were released. While most Western media publications quoted unnamed “witnesses” and “activists” as saying that security forces brutally cracked down on the demonstrations in Dara’a, Lebanese and Israeli media reported that seven police officers and at least four demonstrators had been killed in the clashes that had erupted. In addition, several reports observed rooftop snipers targeting both civilians and police, which is reminiscent of other highly questionable and obscure events, such as the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood insurgency in Hama, the 2014 Maiden square demonstrations in Kiev and the 2016 killings during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. In all these events, rooftop snipers who are by now either confirmed or suspected to be agent provocateurs killed both peaceful demonstrators and police officers.
Although it is unclear what exactly transpired in Dara’a, it has all the appearances of an at least partially staged event. When demonstrators as well as security forces die, this means that there must have been an armed insurrection which was either embedded with the protestors, or which drove the peaceful demonstrators off the streets. Taking in mind Roland Dumas’s revelation of European plans of the invasion of rebels into Syria and Dara’a’s close proximity to Jordan, where one of the two multinational operation rooms with the specific goal of regime change would soon be (or perhaps was already) set up, it is at least plausible that several foreign countries conspired to plan the events in Dara’a. And indeed, Reuters reported a couple of days before the eruption of violence that Syrian security forces had seized a large shipment of weapons, explosives and night-vision goggles from a truck at al-Tanaf, the Iraq-Syria border crossing that is the closest one to Dara’a; and Saudi official Anwar al-Eshki later confirmed to BBC television that his country had sent weapons to the al-Omari mosque in Dara’a prior to the moment all hell broke loose in the town.
A second critique of the mainstream narrative thus shatters the myth that the anti-government demonstrations were peaceful during the first phase of the so-called revolution, as already from the very onset the amount of dead security forces seemed to equal those of the demonstrators, at least some of the latter who must have been foreign-backed armed insurgents. This pattern continued throughout the first months of the conflict, as dozens of police officers and soldiers were massacred in March and April. By mid-December 2011, the UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillay estimated the death toll of the conflict to total around 5.000 casualties. Contrast that to the government’s count of 478 police officers and 2.091 soldiers and security forces killed among its ranks between 29 March 2011 and 20 March 2012, which was incorporated into a report from the UN’s Human Rights Office. Although absolutely nothing can justify or excuse state aggression against protestors, it is clear that a significant part of the violence should be attributed to armed insurgents. Furthermore, according to Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest in Homs who was killed by Jabhat al-Nusrah in 2014, “very often the violence of the security forces is a reaction to the cruel violence of the armed insurgency.”
Finally, although no one dismisses the fact that significant anti-government demonstrations with attendees totalling tens of thousands were held in the spring and summer of 2011, the mainstream narrative ignored the huge, ostensibly larger, pro-government rallies that were held in response to the violence that was happening across the country. Although both sides clearly inflated the number of attendees at their respective rallies, Camille Otrakji (in an article intentionally non-normative and critical of both sides) estimated that up to one million Syrians attended pro-government demonstrations, which is close to five percent of the population or 50 times the amount of the only pro-Mubarak rally in Egypt. These observations suggest that Assad is popular, which is backed up by several additional sources, some of whom from entities openly hostile to the Syrian government. In 2008, an American poll by the University of Maryland and Zogby International found that Arab respondents considered Assad the world leader that they admired the most aside from Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. A year later, the Syrian president was chosen as the person of the year by CNN’s Arabic readers, more than doubling the score of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who came in second. At the beginning of 2012, nine months into the conflict, Assad’s popularity among Syrians had not faltered. Analysis of 18 large polls on Facebook conducted in 2011 showed an average of 53% in favour or President Assad, while support for typical demands of the opposition, such as changing the colours of the Syrian flag, an Arab boycott of Syria, Turkish or NATO intervention and a UN vote targeting the Syrian government, were very weak. In January 2012, the Guardian reported that a poll linked to the Qatari government found that, to its surprise, some 55% of Syrians wanted Assad to stay while most Arabs outside Syria felt the president must resign. This indicates the growing bifurcation between Syrian and Arab public opinion, or between those undergoing the horror of war and those consuming news about it, which indicates the effectiveness of Gulf and Western propaganda in turning global public opinion against the Syrian government.
A source enormously biased against Assad, NATO, confirmed that this sentiment did not change over the course of the conflict. An internal study of the Atlantic military alliance conducted in June 2013 estimated that 70% of the Syrian population supported the president while 20% adopted a neutral position, in contrast to a mere 10% support for the rebels. Although Western media and officials were quick to denounce the 2014 presidential elections, the first real democratic and competitive ones in decades following a 2012 referendum that amended the constitution, the results actually pretty accurately reflected NATO’s assessment. Assad defeated his two opponents with 88.7% of the votes, with a massive participation rate of 73.7%. This means that a staggering 64% of the eligible voters chose for Assad to remain in power, which more than doubles the 26% that put Donald Trump into the White House. As to the credibility of the elections, over 100 international observers from both allied (e.g. Russia and Iran) and non-partisan (e.g. Brazil, Venezuela and Uganda) countries monitored the elections and issued a statement declaring that the elections were “free and fair” and were held “in a democratic environment, contrary to Western propaganda.” As Sunnis make up 75% of the Syrian populace and Alawites only 11%, this completely debunks the false representation of Assad’s rule as a sectarian Alawite dictatorship suppressing a Sunni majority.
The standard narrative employed to explain the origins of the Syrian “civil war” thus has the truth totally backwards. Not only did and does the Syrian government headed by President Assad enjoy a considerably large popularity and was there hardly any widespread revolutionary fervour against the Baath Party during the so-called Arab Spring, the insurgency, commonly described in Western and Gulf media as some sort of unified opposition, was violent and brutal from the very day the conflict started on 15 March 2011. This, of course, does not mean that Syrian security forces did not use excessive force to suppress dissent or did not commit human rights violations over the course of the conflict, nor does it mean that there was never meaningful opposition and agitation against the government. While Assad’s governance around 2011 was often praised for its foreign policy, its secularism and protection of women rights and minorities, the stability of the country and social inclusion in the sectors of education and health, Assad failed to better the dire economic situation, effectively fight corruption, lessen fears over the security-intelligence apparatus and abolish the one-party rule of the Baath Party. The Western mass media pointed to these failures in order to construct a simplified narrative of “the Syrian people” on the one hand against “the government” on the other, as if Arabs, in contrast to Westerners, are not capable of having complex political systems in which various pressure groups agree on some things and disagree on other issues.
Otrakji offers a clear explanation of why most Syrians allow the continuation of the authoritarian nature of the Syrian government:
“While the coalition opposed to Assad successfully promoted its role as a champion of individual political freedom, Assad’s supporter’s reaction was: ‘great, but never at the expense of our national freedom and dignity.’ This is a key element that western media fail to understand about the psychology of the Syrian people. Many Syrians are more preoccupied with protecting their country’s national interests rather than their own right to challenge President Assad at the 2014 Presidential elections. You will not convince them to sacrifice their national dignity in favor of promises by a highly energetic coalition of all the Gulf Arabs, Turkey, and western countries that often attempted to control Syria’s decisions, suppress Syria’s aspirations, or simply weaken Syria’s role in the region so that they can enjoy more influence. To many Syrians, including but not limited to Assad’s supporters, ‘the international community’ + the GCC are seen as vultures and sharks. The two Assads, unlike the Qatar financed Syrian opposition, have always been willing to suffer constant pressure, punishment and isolation, to protect Syria’s dignity and independence.”
Indeed, most Syrians perceive the war in a totally different fashion as the propagandised masses in the West and in much of the rest of the Arab world. Many Syrians abhor fellow countrymen who cry for Western intervention, because they see the conflict not as a civil war but as a proxy war waged by the US, Israel, Turkey, the GCC and NATO against their freedom and security. Syrians know their history, as well as the broader history of neo-colonialism in the Middle East and elsewhere, and know that the “humanitarian” concerns of foreign officials are nothing but a disguise for what they perceive as just the latest iteration of Western imperialism. As a result, they turn for help to their own government, the supposed unpopularity and brutality of which paradoxically constituted the backbone of selling the war on Syria in the first place.
The real reason for instigating the proxy war on Syria, as this article has demonstrated, has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with “saving” the Syrian people. When are we going to learn that, time and time again, mainstream media coverage is little more than propaganda to justify foreign intervention, which, time and time again, strengthens – not lessens – the grip of hostile governments over their populations? In a 2016 interview with Swedish media, at a time the mass media was crying crocodile tears over Aleppo, a Syrian doctor who actually lives in Aleppo was asked what the outside world should do to help Syria and its people from the hell of war. His answer? “Leave us alone, forget us.”
Bas Spliet, Newsbud Contributing Analyst, is a bachelor’s student History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time in getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. His analyses can be found atwww.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
 According to a leaked mail to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and an admission of Vice-President Joe Biden, both senior officials under the second Obama administration, Qatar was among the countries that provided support to ISIS: Patrick Cockburn, “We finally know what Hillary Clinton knew all along – US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Isis,” Independent, 14.10.2016, http://independent.co.uk/voices/hillary-clinton-wikileaks-email-isis-saudi-arabia-qatar-us-allies-funding-barack-obama-knew-all-a7362071.html; Barbara Plett Usher, “Joe Biden apologised over IS remarks, but was he right?”, BBC, 07.10.2014, http://bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-29528482.
 Quoted from translation provided by Zero Hedge: Tyler Durden, “In shocking, viral interview, Qatar confesses secrets behind Syrian war,” Zero Hedge, 29.10.2017, http://zerohedge.com/news/2017-10-28/shocking-viral-interview-qatar-confesses-secrets-behind-syrian-war.
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 Camille Otrakji, “Analyzing the largest Syria Facebook polls,” Syria Page, 24.01.2012, http://creativesyria.com/syriapage/?p=129.
 Jonathan Steel, “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media,” Guardian, 17.01.2012, http://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jan/17/syrians-support-assad-western-propaganda.
 “Poll: 70% of Syrian support Assad, says NATO,” Before It’s News, 13.06.2013, http://beforeitsnews.com/middle-east/2013/06/poll-70-of-syrians-support-assad-says-nato-2452134.html.
 Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 33-5;
 Anahita Mukherji, “Foreign delegation in Syria slams West, endorses elections,” Times of India, 05.06.2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Foreign-delegation-in-Syria-slams-West-endorses-elections/articleshow/36069541.cms.
 Otrakji, “The real Bashar al-Assad.”
 Otrakji, “The real Bashar al-Assad.”
 Patrik Paulov, “’Aleppo has been under fire by terrorists for four years’. Interview with Aleppo doctor about life in Syria’s largest city,” Proletarën, 25.05.2016, http://proletaren.se/utrikes-mellanostern/aleppo-has-been-under-fire-terrorists-four-years.