By Pepe Escobar
Target Syria – the strategic prize that outstrips Libya. The stage is set. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Libya 2.0 equals Syria? It’s more like Libya 2.0 remix. With the same R2P (”responsibility to protect”) rationale – starring civilians bombed into ”democracy”. But with no UN Security Council resolution (Russia and China will veto it). Instead, Turkey shines, fanning the flames of civil war.
US Secretary of State Hillary ”we came, we saw, he died” Clinton set the scene on Indonesian TV a few weeks ago, when she prophesied there would be ”a civil war” in Syria, with a well financed and ”well-armed opposition” crammed with army deserters.
Now it’s up to NATOGCC to make it happen. NATOGCC is of course the now fully accomplished symbiosis between selected North Atlantic Treaty Organization members such as Britain and France and selected petromonarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council, aka the Gulf Counter-revolution Club, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
So feel free to bask in the glow of yet another mercenary paradise.
The NATOGCC war
The Libyans formerly known as rebels, with explicit consent from Transitional National Council (TNC) chairman Mustafa Abdul NATO, aka Jalil, have already shipped to Syria – via Turkey – 600 highly motivated troops fresh from toppling the Gaddafi regime, to fight alongside the Free Syria Army (FSA). This followed a secret meeting in Istanbul between the TNC and the Syrian ”rebels”, rebranded as Syrian National Council.
The trigger-happy Libyans have access to a wealth of weapons plundered from the Gaddafi’s regimes military depots or gently ”donated” by NATO and Qatar. A delicious parallel may already be traced with the House of Saud in the 1980s – which gave the green light for hardcore Islamists to go fight in Afghanistan, instead of raising hell at home.
For the TNC, better keep those testosterone-heavy, unemployed warriors away in the Middle East rather than raising hell in Northern Africa. And for NATO member Turkey, in the absence of war (blame those pesky Russians and Chinese), the next best option is to rely on mercenaries to do the job.
The pressure is relentless. Diplomats in Brussels confirmed to Asia Times Online that NATOGCC operatives have set up a command center in Iskenderun, in Hatay province in Turkey. Crucial Aleppo, in northwest Syria, is very close to the Turkish-Syrian border. The cover story for this command center is to engineer ”humanitarian corridors” to Syria.
Although these ”humanitarians” come from NATO members US, Canada and France, and GCC members Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, their cover is that they’re only innocent ”monitors”, and not part of NATO. Needless to say these humanitarians consist of ground, naval, air force and engineering specialists. Their mission: infiltrate northern Syria, especially Idlib, Rastan, Homs but most of all the big prize, Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, with at least 2.5 million people, the majority of which are Sunni and Kurdish.
Even before this news from Brussels, the French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine – as well as the Turkish daily Milliyet – had already revealed that commandos from French intelligence and the British MI6 are training the FSA in urban guerrilla techniques, in Hatay in southern Turkey and in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon. Weapons – from shotguns to Israeli machine guns and RPGs – have been smuggled en masse.
It’s no secret in Syria that armed gangs – from Salafis to petty criminals – have been attacking regular soldiers, the police and even civilians since the early stages of the protest movement. Of roughly 3,500 people killed during the past seven months, a large number of civilians and more than 1,100 soldiers were killed by these gangs.
And then there are the deserters. So when the Assad regime insists the current Syrian tragedy is to a great extent incited by well-paid and well-armed elements – not to mention mercenaries – at the service of foreign powers, it is essentially correct.
In Homs, a local source tells Asia Times online that as far as the FSA is concerned, ”it’s clear that they are just a nice media cover for criminals. They had a video of themselves in Baba Amr in which they appeared like complete idiots (here it is, with captions conveniently!). But whoever these kids or guys are, they have lots of support amongst the Sunni population. Also, they are connected within the community, whether rich or poor. A Christian woman who teaches at a private school just outside Homs which has largely Sunni students had her car stopped and stolen by some gang. When she came to Homs she made some phone calls and her car was returned. So whoever stole her car outside city limits had connections to middle to high class people in the city and they were able to return the car. This tells me of the infiltration of the dogma of the revolution in Homs. The ‘concept’ of FSA is probably supported enough, and just the people of poor areas like Baba Amr, Bayada and Khalidiyya can self-sustain the FSA.”
Round up the usual votes
Just as in Libya, the Arab League also duly fulfilled its doormat function for NATOGCC, voting for harsh sanctions that include a freeze of Syrian government assets, no more trade deals with the central bank and no more Arab investment. In short: economic war. The Lebanese paper L’Orient Le Jour politely called it ”a political euphemism”. Of the 22 League members, 19 voted – Syria was already suspended. Iraq – where the government is majority Shi’ite – and Lebanon – where Hezbollah is part of the government – were the only ones that ”dissociated” themselves from the vote.
Meanwhile, the nasty opportunist game of musical chairs – the Syrian version – is also in effect. The Syrian National Council and its Islamist cohorts totally rejected any dialogue with the Bashar al-Assad regime. The secretary-general of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Riad Chakfi, pulled a ”Libyan rebel” and implored the Turkish army to invade northern Syria and establish a buffer zone. Dodgy exiles such as former vice-president Abdelhalim Khaddam – exiled in Paris – and another vice-president, Rifaat al-Assad – exiled in Spain – are under the illusion that the Muslim Brotherhood (which will be the top power in a ”new” Syria) would allow them to sit on the throne.
This is downright silly – because the name of the game in a ”new” Syria will be the House of Saud. The House of Saud is the crucial link between the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (which is getting closer and closer to taking power); the AKP party in Turkey (which is essentially a Muslim Brotherhood lite); and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. The Saudis are crucial investors in Turkey. They are positioning themselves as major investors in Egypt. And they’re dying to become a major investor in ”new” Syria.
Then there’s the key question of Turkey’s game. In the Syrian dossier, Turkey is not a mediator anymore; it has become a brash advocate of regime change. Forget about the Tehran-Damascus-Ankara entente, which was a reality not along ago, in 2010. Forget about soft power and the much-advertised foreign policy of ”zero problems with our neighbors”, coined by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Davutoglu himself announced Turkey’s own sanctions on Syria – a replay of the Arab League’s, with freezing of the government’s financial assets and no transactions with the central bank. Davutoglu insists a military buffer zone inside Syria, along the border with Turkey, is ”not on the agenda” – but that’s exactly what those shady NATOGCC ”humanitarian monitors” are up to. Since mid-November Turkish media has been ablaze detailing plans for a no-fly zone in northern Syria and the aforementioned buffer zone stretching as far as Aleppo.
The motive? Ask ”prophet” Hillary Clinton – to foment civil war.
Showdown, Club Med style
In its mad rush to sell the Turkish political model to the majority-Sunni parts of the Arab world (yet the GCC is not buying), Turkey may be severely miscalculating its crucial relations with both Russia and Iran. Around 70% of Turkey’s energy is imported from Russia and Iran. Not to mention that both Russia and Iran are fuming with Turkey bowing to NATO pressure to host a radar station as part of missile defense.
Russia has very clear ideas about the Syrian scenario. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been more than explicit for weeks now; ”We absolutely do not accept a scenario of military intervention in Syria.”
Last week’s meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of the emergent BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), in Moscow, was unmistakable.
The BRICS essentially drew the red lines. No excuse whatsoever for a foreign intervention in Syria, as in ”any external interference in Syria’s affairs, not in accordance with the UN Charter, should be excluded.” No ”bomb bomb Iran”; instead, dialogue and negotiations. And no additional sanctions, deemed ”counterproductive”. The BRICS clearly see how the Libya scenario is slowly morphing into the modified NATOGCC war.
To add extra sauce, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov – equipped with nuclear missiles – has already left Murmansk towards the Eastern Mediterranean, alongside the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and the frigate Ladny. They will arrive at the Tartus naval base, in Syria, in mid-January, and will be met by other ships from the Russian fleet in the Black Sea.
Tartus, hosting around 600 military and technicians from the Russian Defense Ministry, is a center of maintenance and refueling for the Russian Black Sea fleet. It will be a thrill to watch whether the Russians will invite members of the George H W Bush Carrier Strike Group – now also in the Eastern Mediterranean – for a volleyball match.
It’s fair to argue that masses of Syrians want something other than the Assad regime – but certainly not some variant of humanitarian bombing, not to mention civil war. They saw NATO’s legacy in Libya – virtually the whole infrastructure of the country destroyed, cities bombed to dust, tens of thousands of dead and wounded, al-Qaeda-linked fanatics wielding power in Tripoli, widespread ethnic hatred. They don’t want a brand new massacre. But NATOGCC does.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
He may be reached at email@example.com.