September 24, 2014
By Stephen Gowans
Part of Washington’s legal defense of its violation of Syrian sovereignty in launching airstrikes against ISIS targets on Syrian soil is self-defense against the Khorasan Group, an organization whose name US officials hadn’t uttered until a few days ago and which Syrian rebels say they’ve never heard of and which appears to have no independent existence apart from al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, which cooperates militarily with CIA-directed rebels seeking to overthrow the secular nationalist government of Bashar al-Assad.
On September 20, US officials publicly expressed concern about the Khorasan Group, which they described as an offshoot of the Nusra Front. US officials told reporters that “Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack.” 
Yesterday, US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes announced that Khorasan “had very clear and concrete ambitions to launch external operations against the United States or Europe.” He added that there “was actual plotting that was ongoing from Syria.” The September 23 airstrikes, carried out by the United States and a coalition of Arab crowned dictatorships, were in part, Rhodes said, “aimed to disrupt that plotting.” 
To give its violation of Syrian sovereignty legal cover, the United States declared that it was acting at the request of the Iraqi government in connection with Iraq’s right of self-defense against aggression by ISIS, and that its actions were therefore consistent with the UN Charter. The airstrikes were also congruent with international law, insisted Washington, as a matter of self-defense against the Khorasan Group, which it said was plotting against the United States.  Neither defense is cogent since Washington rejected coordination with the Syrian government and refused to seek its assent to carry out air strikes on its territory.
Despite Washington pointing to Khorasan as a group with an independent existence apart from the Nusra Front, it appears to be indistinguishable from the latter. The alleged leader of the group, Muhsin al Fadhli, is a longtime al Qaeda operative. Since the Nusra Front is al-Qaeda’s official franchise in Syria, it follows that Fadhli is working with Jabhat al-Nusra. Moreover, US officials acknowledge that Khorasan and Nusra Front “are intertwined.” 
Both Jahbat al-Nusra and ISIS were censured by the UN Security Council this summer for gross, systematic and widespread abuse of human rights . Nevertheless, the United States hasn’t officially declared the Nusra Front to be a target of its mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. This shows that protection of human rights does not underpin the US anti-ISIS campaign, notwithstanding expressions of concern about the plight of the Yazidis, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Instead, Washington’s real motivations are linked to the divergent goals of the two al-Qaeda progeny. The Nusra Front’s ambitions are limited to Syria, and its immediate aim of toppling the country’s secular nationalist government meshes with US objectives. ISIS, in contrast, has larger territorial ambitions, which clash with US domination of the Middle East, particularly its informal control of Iraq’s oil. Hence, ISIS, which is against US foreign policy interests, falls within the crosshairs of the US military campaign, while the Nusra Front, which works (for the moment) in directions which compliment US goals in Syria, is ignored, despite a human rights record which is as deplorable and barbaric as that of ISIS (and the United States, if the matter is taken further. Watch the testimony of US soldiers about the conduct of US forces in Vietnam and Iraq to see that barbarity isn’t unique to ISIS and the Nusra Front.)
Still, there’s a loose string. US warplanes and drones struck several bases and an ammunition warehouse belonging to the Nusra Front, according to the New York Times. Almost five dozen Nusra fighters were killed. 
If the Khorasan Group is a part of the Nusra Front, and not a separate organization, the apparent contradiction in the United States excluding the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria as an official target of its war on ISIS, while at the same time attacking it, goes away. It also explains why rebels have never heard of the organization. 
What remains unclear, however, is why the United States attacked Nusra Front targets. Does Khorasan indeed exist as a wing of al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise? Was it plotting attacks on Western targets? Were US airstrikes directed specifically at this wing?
Whatever the case, one leader of a rebel group under US sway objected to the strike on Nusra targets on grounds that al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise is “a loyal partner in the battle against Mr. Assad.”  Numerous press reports have pointed to US-backed rebels cooperating with al-Qaeda in Syria. One veteran observer has argued that there is no dividing wall between “America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies” and ISIS and the Nusra Front.  It’s all one movement, no part of it secular, and all parts of it, including the misnamed “moderate” rebels, are overwhelmingly Islamist. 
That the Nusra Front is a loyal partner of US-backed rebels means that the alleged Khorasan leader Muhsin al Fadhli has been an important part of Washington’s war on Assad. Fadhli was close to Osama bin Laden. According to the Wall Street Journal, he “is a senior al Qaeda facilitator and financier” who “has an extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors who have sent money to Syria through Turkey.” 
While US warplanes were bombing Nusra Front targets and US-backed rebels were objecting to US attacks on their loyal al-Qaeda partner, Israel was intervening on behalf of the Nusra Front by shooting down a Syrian warplane that was attacking Nusra positions on the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights. Al-Qaeda fighters have captured most of this territory. 
The Syrian aircraft had strayed about a half mile into territory of the Golan Heights under Israeli control (legitimately belonging to Syria but occupied by Israel since 1967), and had turned back when Israeli forces shot it down. That the Syrian warplane had no aggressive intention against Israel was clear in its quickly retreating into Syrian airspace.
The absence of aggressive intent was also clear from the context: With its hands full fighting Islamist proxies of the United States, Turkey, Jordan and the US-backed Gulf oil tyrannies, Syria is in no position to undertake a war with Israel, and, indeed, is no position to do so even under the most favorable of circumstances. It should have been clear to Israeli commanders that the pilot had made an error, and likely was clear. All the same, it would appear that Israel couldn’t resist an opportunity to lend a hand to al-Qaeda—not to mention al-Qaeda’s Western and Arab allies of convenience—in their battle against a government they all deplore for their own reasons: Israel, because the Assad government is anti-Zionist; al-Qaeda and Turkey, because it is secular; and the United States and its Arab puppet dictators, because it is nationalist and refuses to be integrated into the US-dominated global economic order.
But for the support of Russia and China, Iran and Hezbollah, Syria stands alone against a US-led club of imperialists, their democracy-abominating Arab clients, a Zionist colonial settler regime, and Islamist fanatics, who brazenly dub themselves Friends of Syria, but parts of which are in reality enemies of secularism and the other part enemies of national independence and self-directed development.
Imperialists, royalist dictatorships, an apartheid settler regime, and jihadists who seek to make the Koran their constitution, are as far away from democrats as could possibly be, which makes the spectacle of their invoking democracy as grounds for their war on Syria’s secular nationalist government—topped off now by the violation of Syrian territory by the United States and its Arab janissaries—a matter of revulsion and egregious hypocrisy.
1. Mark Mazzetti, Michael S. Schmidt and Ben Hubbard, “U.S. suspects more direct threats beyond ISIS,“ The New York Times, September 20, 2014.
2. Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. feared al Qaeda group targeted in Syria was plotting terror,” The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2014.
3. Somini Sengupta and Charlie Savage, “U.S. invokes Iraq’s defense in legal justification of Syria strikes,” The New York Times, September 23, 2014.
4. Julian E. Barnes and Sam Dagher, “Syria strikes: U.S. reports significant damage in attacks on Islamic state, Khorasan,” The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2014.
5. UN Security Council Resolution 2170 (2014). http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2014/sc11520.doc.htm
6. Ben Hubbard, “Startling sight where blasts are the norm,” The New York Times, September 23, 2014.
7. Gorman and Barnes.
9. Patrick Cockburn, cited in Belen Fernandez, “Book review: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” The Middle East Eye, September 3, 2014.
10. Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. pins hope on Syrian rebels with loyalties all over the map”, The New York Times, September 11, 2014.
11. Gorman and Barnes.
12. Joshua Mitnick, “Israeli military shoots down Syrian aircraft,” The Wall Street journal, September 23, 2014.
By Stephen Gowans
Political Islam has a long history of cooperating with Western imperialism at certain times and in certain places, and of turning against it at other times and in other places. For example, Osama bin Laden cooperated with the United States to overthrow a progressive pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan, and then launched a jihad against the domination of the Middle East by the United States. Many Palestinians were sent to Afghanistan in the 1980s by the Muslim Brotherhood to struggle against the atheists in Kabul (much to the delight of Israel) only to return to join a Palestinian national liberation struggle against Israel in the ranks of Hamas.
What separates the rebels in Syria that the United States and its allies arm, train, fund and direct from those it seeks to degrade and ultimately destroy is not a secular vs. Islamist orientation. Even the so-called “moderate” rebels are under the sway of Islamist thinking. Instead the dividing line between the good “moderate” rebels and the bad “extremist” rebels is willingness to cooperate with the United States and the region’s former colonial powers. The “good” ones are under the control of the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies, or aren’t, but are working in directions that comport with Western foreign policy goals, while the “bad” ones are working in ways that frustrate the attainment of the foreign policy objectives of the West. In other words, one set of rebels is cooperating with Western imperialism while the other frustrates it.
The “moderate” Syrian rebels who US officials are counting on to battle the Islamic State as part of the Obama administration’s plan to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS comprise dozens of groups which report directly to the CIA  and are under the sway of Islamist thinking.  According to General Abdul-Ilah al Bashir, who led the Free Syrian Army before its collapse at the end of last year, the CIA has taken over direction of the rebel force and FSA groups now report directly to US intelligence. 
The groups are run from military command centers in Turkey and Jordan, staffed by intelligence agents of the United States and the Friends of Syria, a collection of former colonial powers and Sunni crowned dictatorships. The command centers furnish the rebels with arms, training, and salaries. The United States provides overall guidance, while Turkey manages the flow of rebels over its border into Syria, and Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states provide much of the funding. 
The centerpiece of the CIA-directed rebel grouping is the Hazm Movement, formerly known as Harakat Zaman Mohamed, or Movement of the Time of Muhammad. It is strongly backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, and by key Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Qatar and Turkey. 
The US-backed rebels cooperate with the Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria,  which the UN Security Council denounced this summer along with ISIS for their “gross, systematic and widespread abuse of human rights”  but which the United States has left out of its war on the Islamic State, even though its origins and methods are the same as those of ISIS, and its goals similar. Accordingly, the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria will continue to coordinate operations with CIA-directed rebels, unhindered by US strikes.
Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, deems the idea of the moderate secular rebel a myth. “You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights…because they don’t exist.” 
Andrew J. Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who follows Syrian events, points out that most of the rebels backed by the United States come from “rural, Sunni areas where Islamist thinking has long held sway and often colors their thinking.”  They are not moderate fighters for secular liberal democratic values.
Veteran foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn echoes these views. In his new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising (OR Books), Cockburn observes that there is “no dividing wall” between “America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies” and ISIS and the Nusra Front. 
While US officials and Western mass media promote a false narrative of two sets of rebels occupying opposite ends of two different axes—Islamist vs. secular and extremist vs. moderate—the most relevant axis may be one defining the groups’ orientation toward the West.
Reflecting the ideology of their al-Qaeda progenitor, the Nusra Front and ISIS seek to bring historically Islamic regions under Sunni Islamist political control, which means the ejection of the United States and its local marionettes, the destruction of secular regimes, and the elimination of local “heresies”, including Shia Islam and its heterodox Alawi offshoot, to which Syrian president Bashar al-Assad belongs.
The CIA-directed rebels, in contrast, appear to have a more moderate attitude to the United States, and are open to working with Washington and its Arab and NATO allies. Hassan al-Hamada, a leader of one of the CIA-directed rebel groups says, “We want to be hand in hand with the West, and for the future of Syria to be with the West.” 
The word “moderate,” then, appears to have but one meaning—a willingness to work with the United States, under the direction of the CIA, and in cooperation with Western imperialism…at least for now.
1. Patrick Cockburn, “Syria and Iraq: Why US policy is fraught with danger,” The Independent, September 9, 2014.
2. Ben Hubbard, “U.S. goal is to make Syrian rebels viable,” The New York times, September 18, 2014.
5. Suhaib Anjarini, “Harakat Hazm: America’s new favourite jihadist group”, Al Akhbar English, May 22, 2014.
7. UN Security Council Resolution 2170 (2014). http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2014/sc11520.doc.htm
8. Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. pins hope on Syrian rebels with loyalties all over the map”, The New York Times, September 11, 2014.
10. Belen Fernandez, “Book review: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” The Middle East Eye, September 3, 2014.
By Stephen Gowans
Indications of a new phase in Washington’s longstanding policy of regime change in Syria are emerging in US planning to expand its campaign against ISIS. The Pentagon envisions a multi-year campaign of air strikes inside Syria and assistance to anti-Assad fighters to destroy the Islamic State. But given US policy to topple the government in Damascus, it seems unlikely that the planned campaign will restrict itself to ISIS targets alone. What’s more, Washington has recently accused Syria of hiding chemical weapons, possibly signalling its intention to use concealed WMD—and the threat of chemical weapons falling into the hands of ISIS—as a pretext to expand its target list from ISIS to Syrian forces.
For weeks, Western leaders have delivered two messages about ISIS, one loudly, and the other, not so loudly. The louder message is that ISIS is an unprecedented threat. US defense secretary Chuck Hagel called the Islamist group “an imminent threat to every interest we have” and “beyond anything that we’ve seen.”  Quietly, however, US officials have said the very opposite. On August 22, the Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, admitted that ISIS does not have “the capability right now to conduct a major attack on the U.S. homeland.”  The same day, the FBI and Homeland Security Department announced that there are “no specific or credible terror threats to the U.S. homeland from the Islamic State militant group.”  Similar assurances were provided recently by US president Barack Obama, who acknowledged that “he hasn’t seen any ‘immediate intelligence’ to suggest Islamic State could carry out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.”  Still, the mass media have emphasized statements that draw attention to ISIS as a medieval menace (Obama) worse than al-Qaeda (Hagel) that must be destroyed (US secretary of state John Kerry). 
Washington insists that destroying the Islamic State means US air strikes against ISIS-strongholds in Syria—and violation of Syrian borders. Obama, and the United States’ top soldier, Martin Dempsey, have warned that ISIS cannot be defeated without military action against Islamic State targets in Syria.  For weeks, US surveillance aircraft have been searching for ISIS leaders inside Syria, “developing intelligence on the group’s strongholds” and “collecting intelligence on Islamic State operations inside Syria that could be potential targets.” 
Now, it appears that Washington is on the cusp of pressing ahead with its planned campaign of military action. The New York Times has reported that “Pentagon planners envision a military campaign” to destroy ISIS “in its sanctuary inside Syria” that could last “at least 36 months.”  According to The Wall Street Journal, airstrikes would support anti-Assad fighters unaligned with ISIS, who would be bankrolled by $500 million in US funding, and backed by a global coalition, including the UK and Australia, that would “provide a range of assistance, including humanitarian aid and weapons.” These countries could also join the United States in an air-war over Syria. 
There are reasons to suspect that a US-led military intervention in Syria would not stop at ISIS targets.
First, regime change in Damascus is a long-standing US policy, antedating the Arab Spring. Cables released by Wikileaks showed that US funding to the Syrian opposition began flowing under the Bush administration in 2005, if not before, long before uprisings erupted against the Assad government.  Largely forgotten is that the Bush administration dubbed Syria a member of a “junior varsity axis of evil,” and toyed with the idea of making Assad’s Syria the next target of a US military intervention after Iraq.  The idea that Washington seeks Assad’s ouster as part of a program of democracy-promotion cannot be seriously accepted, especially not in light of unwavering US support for crowned dictatorships in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia which brutally suppressed Arab Spring uprisings there. Washington’s steadfast support of Egypt’s military dictatorship, which crushed peaceful protests against a military coup that ousted the elected president, also reveals that Washington’s publicly stated reason for seeking regime change in Syria—that Assad is a dictator who violently suppressed peaceful protestors and who must therefore be removed in an act of solidarity with the plural-democracy-loving Syrian people—is a complete sham.
Second, the provision of $500 million in funding to “Syrian boots on the ground” would likely amount to increased support for one group of Islamists seeking the overthrow of secular society in Syria by another. Fighters strengthened by an infusion of US aid would not stop after destroying ISIS, if indeed, they didn’t simply ally with them, or more likely, if ISIS members simply transferred allegiance to the US-backed Islamist militant groups.
Third, in recent days, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has begun making noise about the Assad government allegedly “harboring undeclared chemical weapons.” Playing on ISIS-related fear-mongering, Power pointed to the risk that “there are chemical weapons left in Syria,” and that “we can only imagine what [ISIS] would do if in possession of such a weapon.”  Little may develop from this, but it is suspiciously close to the pretext used by Washington to invade Iraq in 2003.
The real danger posed by ISIS is to Arab states, not to the US, a point conceded by Obama. “The dangers that are posed by (ISIS) are more directed at them (the Arab states) right now than they are at us,” he said.  To be sure, ISIS has posed a threat to the Syrian Arab Republic, one Washington was prepared to overlook, if not nurture. But now that the Islamic State threatens Iraq and possibly Saudi Arabia, Washington, along with its British and French allies, are beating the drums of war—and quite possibly, using the opportunity presented by the Islamic State to escalate their campaign of aggression against Syria.
1. Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper, “U.S. isn’t sure just how much to fear ISIS,” The New York Times, August 22, 2014.
2. Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper, “US isn’t sure how much to fear ISIS,” The New York Times, August 22, 2014.
3. Eileen Sullivan, “FBI: No credible threats to US from Islamic State,” The Associated Press, August 22, 2014.
4. Patrick O’Conner, Dion Nissenbaum and Carol E. Lee, “Obama to spell out strategy to defeat Islamic state,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2014. Glen Greenwald (Americans now fear ISIS sleeper cells are living in the U.S., overwhelmingly support military action,” The Intercept, September 8, 2014) unpacks the reasoning of US officials to show that they cannot possibly regard ISIS as a threat to the vital interests of the United States. US officials say that ISIS cannot be destroyed by airstrikes alone, but at the same time, they say they’re not prepared to commit US ground forces to a military campaign to destroy the Islamist group. If they’re not prepared to undertake action that, by their own analysis, is necessary to eclipse the threat, then it must be that they understand the threat to be less compelling than they’ve led the public to believe it is. Indeed, Washington’s official pronouncements that ISIS does not constitute a threat to the US homeland corroborate the conclusion.
5. Dion Nissenbaum, “U.S. considers attacks on ISIS in Syria”, The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2014.
6. Felicia Schwartz and Dion Nissenbaum, “U.S. eyes wider action on Islamic state,” The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2014; Carol E. Lee, Dion Nissenbaum and Jay Solomon, “U.S. sets goal to ‘destroy’ Islamic militants,” The Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2014.
7. Dion Nissenbaum, “U.S. considers attacks on ISIS in Syria”, The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2014.
8. Eric Schimitt, Michael R. Gordon and Helene Cooper, “Destroying ISIS may take years, U.S. officials say,” The New York Times, September 7, 2014.
9. Patrick O’Conner, Dion Nissenbaum and Carol E. Lee, “Obama to spell out strategy to defeat Islamic state,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2014.
10. Craig Whitlock, “U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by Wikileaks show”, The Washington Post, April 17, 2011.
11. Moshe Ma’oz, “Damscus vs. Washington: Between the ‘Axis of Evil’ and ‘Pax Americana’”, in Bruce Cumings, Evarand Abrahamian and Moshi Ma’oz. Investing the Axis of Evil: The Truth about North Korea, Iran and Syria. The New Press. 2004.
12. Rick Gladstone, “Syria may have hidden chemical arms, U.S. says”, The New York Times, September 4, 2014.
13. Jay Solomon, “Arab states skeptical of U.S. plan to combat Islamic state militants,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2014.
By Stephen Gowans
One of the roles of leading politicians and top officials of the state is to enlist public support for policies which serve the goals of the upper stratum of the population from whose ranks they sometimes come and whose interests they almost invariably promote. When these policies are at odds with the interests of the majority, as they often are, the mobilization of public consent is possible only through deception. The deception is carried out through prevarication, equivocation, and fear-mongering, crystallized into misleading narratives which the mass media can be reliably counted on to amplify. So it is that Western officials have ramped up a campaign of deception to provide a pretext for military intervention in Syria to combat ISIS but which may very well serve as a Trojan horse to escalate the war on the Syrian government.
The foundations of the campaign were laid in March, when US officials began warning that Islamists bent on launching strikes against Europe and the United States were massing in Syria.  The campaign kicked into high gear with ISIS’s territorial gains in Iraq and the organization’s beheading of US journalist James Foley. Now US officials say they are contemplating air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria.
To justify the possibility of an air-war in Syria, US officials employ nebulous language about safeguarding US “security interests,” but neglect to spell out what those interests are or how they’re threatened. US defense secretary Chuck Hagel calls ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding that ISIS “is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”  Hagel doesn’t say how ISIS is a threat to even one US interest, let alone all of them, while his elevation of ISIS to a threat “beyond anything that we’ve seen” is transparent fear-mongering. Clearly, ISIS’s brutality in Iraq, its beheading of Foley, and its ability to seize and control territory, have been no more shocking than what has transpired in Syria, where ISIS and its fellow Islamists have carried out equally bloody displays of depraved cruelty, while seizing and controlling sizeable swaths of Syrian territory, amply assisted by members of the US-led Friends of Syria.
Hagel also invokes 9/11, suggesting that ISIS “is more of a threat than al Qaeda was before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.”  Invoking 9/11 invites the conclusion that without airstrikes on Syria to eliminate ISIS, that an attack on the United States on an order greater than 9/11 is a serious possibility, if not inevitable. France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, also points to 9/11 to buttress the case for airstrikes, noting that “The attacks in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, cost $1 million. Today, we estimate the Islamic State has several billions.” The obvious conclusion Fabius wants us to draw is that ISIS will launch thousands of 9/11s.  The implied conclusion, however, is no more credible than the implied conclusion that the United States is on the brink of vaporizing the planet because it now has a nuclear arsenal that is vastly greater than the tiny one it had when it atom-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Capability does not necessarily equate to motivation or action. What’s more, the “FBI and Homeland Security Department say there are no specific or credible terror threats to the U.S. homeland from the Islamic State militant group.” 
General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered his own contribution to the emerging campaign of fear-mongering. Dempsey observed that ISIS aspires to absorb “Israel, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria into its caliphate.”  This is manifestly beyond ISIS’s capabilities, and merits no serious discussion. Dempsey nevertheless adds that if ISIS “were to achieve that vision, it would fundamentally alter the face of the Middle East and create a security environment that would certainly threaten us in many ways.”  This is tantamount to saying “If Haiti had an arsenal of 200 thermonuclear weapons and an effective anti-ballistic missile defense system it would certainly threaten us in many ways.” What’s important here is the word “if.” If Barack Obama was a woman he would be the first female US president. If ISIS has the capability of absorbing a large part of the Middle East into a caliphate, it would be a threat to US control of the Middle East. But ISIS does not have this capability. Still, even if it did, it would not be a threat to US security, but to the security of Western oil industry profits.
For its part, The Wall Street Journal suggested that James Foley’s beheading was reason enough to warrant US airstrikes on Syria.  Yet beheadings, carried out by ISIS and other Islamists in Syria, and those carried out by US-ally Saudi Arabia against its own citizens, have hardly galvanized Washington to action. Washington’s Saudi ally “beheaded at least 19 convicted criminals since Aug. 4, nearly half of them for nonviolent offenses, including one for sorcery.”  These beheadings have been passed over by Western leaders in silence. They certainly haven’t been invoked as a reason to launch air strikes on the Saudi tyranny.
Also passed over in silence by the same Western states is the brutal, misogynist, medieval character of the anti-democratic Saudi regime, one of the principal “Friends of Syria.” In contrast, The New York Times reported that “The president and his top cabinet officials have all denounced the Islamic State as a medieval menace,” adding that US “Secretary of State John Kerry said the group should be destroyed.”  What the newspaper didn’t point out was that Saudi Arabia is just as much a “medieval menace” yet no US president or secretary of state would ever use this language to describe their ally, nor, more importantly, undertake a campaign to eliminate the medieval regime. This underscores the reality that Washington bears no animus toward medieval menaces—not when, as in the case of Syria, they operate against the government of a country targeted for regime change, not when they govern a source of immense petrochemical profits on terms favourable to Western oil companies, and not when, as in Afghanistan in the 1980s, they fight against a progressive, pro-Soviet government.
Washington’s campaign to mobilize public opinion for air strikes on Syria, then, has nothing whatever to do with eradicating medieval menaces. Nor has it anything to do with preventing the rise of a caliphate in the greater part of the Middle East, since ISIS hasn’t the capability to accomplish this aim. Even if it did, the rise of a caliphate is a matter for the people of the Middle East to decide, not Western powers. Lastly, until ISIS achieved startling territorial gains in Iraq, Washington was perfectly willing to allow, indeed, even to foster (what it now calls) “the cancer” of ISIS to “metastasize” throughout Syria. It expressed no apprehensions then about ISIS launching 9/11-style attacks on the United States, and did nothing to stop the flow of money to the anti-Assad group from supporters based in countries that make up its Friends of Syria (read Friends of US Imperialism) coalition. Warnings of an ISIS-engineered 9/11-style attack are, therefore, pure fear-mongering.
In light of the above, we ought to ask whether, once launched, a US air-war in Syria will expand its target list from ISIS to Syrian government forces? Is the campaign to mobilize public support for an air war against ISIS in Syria a Trojan horse to escalate the war on the Assad government, and on a broader level, against the interlocked Hezbollah-Syria-Iran resistance against US domination of Western Asia?
1. Eric Schmitt, “Qaeda militants seek Syria base, U.S. official say”, The New York Times, March 25, 2014.
2. Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper, “U.S. isn’t sure just how much to fear ISIS,” The New York Times, August 22, 2014.
3. Dion Nissenbaum, “U.S. considers attacks on ISIS in Syria”, The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2014.
4. David Dauthier-Villars, “France calls for action to cut off ISIS money supply”, The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2014.
5. Eileen Sullivan, “FBI: No credible threats to US from Islamic State,” The Associated Press, August 22, 2014.
6. Mazzetti and Cooper.
7. Mazzetti and Cooper.
9. Rick Gladstone, “Saudi Arabia: Executions draw rebukes”, The New York Times, August 21, 2014.
By Stephen Gowans
After 26 days of Israeli aggression against the 1.8 million people of the Gaza Strip, the right-to-protect (R2P) advocates are conspicuously silent. Israeli occupation forces have slaughtered 1,669 Palestinians, possibly as many as 1,405 of them civilians, according to the United Nations, and 363 of them children.  The aggressor state has destroyed civilian infrastructure including Gaza’s lone power plant, disrupting power needed to run machinery to desalinate drinking water and pump human waste. Sewage, along with blood, runs in the streets.
There are no plans for the ‘international community’ to intervene in Gaza to protect civilians. R2P has always been a cover for imperialist conquest, a way to organize regime change—almost invariably to foster a free-trade, free-market, free enterprise economy friendly to investor interests–behind lofty humanitarian goals. It’s not needed for use against Israel. Israel is already a member in good standing of the US imperium. Indeed, it is one of its principal props.
Accordingly, intervention on behalf of Palestinians won’t be happening. Humanitarian intervention is carried out selectively, never against brutish regimes in Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or Kiev (whose army, assisted by neo-fascist paramilitaries, is shelling Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the country’s east.) These are all US allies, and US allies get R2P exemptions.
The doctrine of humanitarian intervention is a cover for assaults on states that Washington designates it enemies. Intervention doesn’t depend on whether a country’s government tramples human rights, or threatens its own citizens, or practices terrorism, or eschews liberal democracy, or violates international law. It depends on whether rulers are willing to allow their country to become fully integrated into the US-led global economy and bow to the international dictatorship of the United States.
If US foreign policy was really inspired by lofty principles, Washington could hardly count Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, South Korea and Egypt as key allies. All of these countries’ governments exhibit severe shortcomings in the protection of civil and political liberties. Egypt is effectively a military dictatorship and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are absolutist states. If Washington cared one whit about international law and states that practice terrorism, it could hardly continue to send Israel $3 billion every year in military and economic aid. Indeed, it would have to address its own foreign policy shortcomings, from regularly trampling on international law to protecting anti-Cuban terrorists to carrying out terrorist bombing and missile strikes around the globe.
The West could intervene to stop the Israeli massacre in Palestine. To begin, Washington could cancel military and economic aid to Tel Aviv. Western governments could stop providing Israel with diplomatic cover. But none of this is happening.
Instead, Washington has done the opposite, intervening on Israel’s side, not against it, by replenishing the store of munitions Israel forces have used to destroy homes, mosques, hospitals and people in Gaza. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Pentagon is allowing Israel to tap an ammunition stockpile to replace the 120 mm tanks rounds and 40 mm illumination rounds it has used to carry out a massacre in Gaza.  Behind the slaughter in Gaza stands a complicit Washington.
Of course, Washington might perversely argue that this is an R2P project of another sort—protecting Israeli civilians. But Israeli civilians don’t appear to be in much danger. Not a single Israeli civilian died from rocket or mortar fire from Gaza from the November 2012 ceasefire until Israel renewed its assault on Gaza last month. Three Israeli civilians have died from rocket fire since—one-fifth of one percent of the total civilian casualties of Operation Protective Edge. For every Israeli civilian killed, 467 Palestinian non-combatants have been effaced by Israeli forces.
As to the tunnels that have been invoked, along with rocket fire, to justify the slaughter, not one Israeli civilian has been killed by Palestinian resistance fighters using subterranean pathways into Israel. Indeed, it’s unlikely the tunnels are aimed at civilians at all. According to a senior Israeli intelligence official cited by The Times of Israel, Palestinian resistance fighters “aim primarily to abduct soldiers and not to penetrate into civilian communities along the border with Gaza. “
“The central objective is to kidnap a soldier,” the intelligence official said, “to replicate the success of Gilad Shalit,” the Israeli solider abducted by Palestinian resistance fighters to bargain for the release of Palestinian political prisoners incarcerated in Israeli dungeons.
In fact, “of the nine cross-border tunnels detected, none actually stretches into the grounds of a civilian community.” Referring to one of these tunnels, the intelligence source said: “They could have gone 500 meters more, into the kibbutz. Why didn’t they do that?” 
If Israel had a genuine interest in protecting its citizens from Palestinian rocket fire, it would never have broken its ceasefire with Hamas, blockaded Gaza to collectively punish Palestinians for electing Hamas in 2006 elections, continued its illegal occupation of the West Bank and effective occupation of Gaza, or continued to illegally expand Jewish settlements on the tiny fraction of historic Palestine Zionists forces haven’t already gobbled up.
Former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren said: “It’s very difficult to feel compassion for the other when you have rockets aimed at your family.”  It’s also very difficult to feel compassion for the other when he has stolen your land, made you a refugee, and is in his seventh decade of waging a colonial war of aggression against yourself, your family, your neighbors, and your people.
1. Nicholas Casey and Joshua Mitnick, “Gaza truce in tatters, Obama blames Hamas”, The Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2014; “90 Palestinians killed, dozens injured on 26th day of Israeli Aggression on Gaza”, WAFA, August 2, 2014; ”Ban ‘shocked’ at collapse of Gaza ceasefire, urges maximum restraint by all parties,” UN News Centre. August 1, 2014.
2. Jay Solomon, Joshua Mitnick, and William Mauldin, “Israel-Hamas, agree to 3-day cease-fire”, The Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2014.
3. Aaron J. Klien and Mitch Ginsburg, “Could Israeli soldiers, not civilians, be the target of the attack tunnels?” The Times of Israel, July 29, 2014.
4. Jodi Rudoren, “In Gaza, epithets are fired and euphemisms give shelter,” The New York Times, July 20, 2014.
By Stephen Gowans
Pro-Israeli propagandists on the front lines of Israel’s flagging public relations war label the Palestinian resistance as a terrorist movement that threatens Israeli civilians. But the labels “terrorist” and “war criminal” are more aptly applied to Israel.
Prior to Israel launching Operation Protective Edge, not a single Israeli citizen had been killed by rocket or mortar fire out of Gaza since November 2012, when Israel had launched an earlier assault on the territory. Only a small fraction (one-twentieth) of Israelis killed by the Palestinian resistance in the current Gaza conflict have been civilians. By contrast, Israel has killed three Palestinian civilians for every militant it has killed.
Over 99 percent of civilian deaths in the conflict have come at the hands of Israeli forces.
Yesterday, Israel bombed Gaza’s lone power plant. Gazans rely on the plant to power machinery to desalinate their drinking water. Israeli forces also bombed government offices, a radio and TV broadcast building, and the prime minister’s residence. Deliberately destroying civilian infrastructure is a war crime. Israel’s aim in disrupting Gaza’s power supply and disturbing its supplies of drinking water is to exacerbate the already intolerable conditions in the Gaza Strip to turn the population against Hamas. This is terrorism—violence used against a civilian population to achieve political goals.
Israel says it’s pummelling Gaza, killing civilians, and destroying civilian infrastructure to destroy tunnels the Palestinian resistance could use to kill or kidnap civilians. But how many times has the Palestinian resistance emerged from tunnels to kidnap or kill civilians? None. And how many Israeli civilians were killed by rocket fire in the year and half before Operation Protective Edge? Zero.
The use of violence by the Palestinian resistance against Israel is legitimate. Over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes by Jewish settlers in a massive ethnic cleansing operation over six decades ago. None were permitted to return. Today, the exile and diaspora community stands at five million. Palestinians who remained in the 80 percent of their country seized by Zionist settlers are second class citizens—non-Jews in a Jewish state. The remaining 20 percent of historic Palestine remains under the heel of a brutal Israeli military occupation.
To sum up: The violence of the Palestinian resistance is legitimate. The harm it has caused Israeli civilians is minimal. The violence of Israel against Palestinians is illegitimate. It is the violence of the oppressor enforcing its domination. The harm it has caused Palestinian civilians is immense.
Charts based on “Israel destroys home of top political leader for Hamas,” The New York Times, July 29, 2014 and “Dozens die as fighting intensifies in Gaza”, CNN, July 29, 2014 cited by Glen Greenwald, “Terrorism in the Israeli attack on Gaza”, The Intercept, July 29, 2014.
By Stephen Gowans
At least, that was the implication of words spoken by White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Friday.
Earnest was doing his best to mobilize public opinion against what he called “the Putin regime.” That included holding Russian president Vladimir Putin responsible for downing Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. The White House spin doctor explained: “Whether it is the Russians themselves that pulled the trigger or Russian separatists trained by Russians, it’s all the same. It all goes back, ultimately, to Vladimir Putin.”
By the same reasoning, “Whether it is the Americans themselves that pulled the trigger in Gaza, so far killing over 1,000, most non-combatants, or Israeli soldiers equipped with US-supplied weapons, it’s all the same. It all goes back, ultimately, to Barack Obama.”
The difference, however, is that we know the US supplied the Israelis with the weapons that are killing Palestinians, flattening their homes, destroying their mosques, terrorizing their children, and damaging their hospitals, but we don’t know whether the Russians actually provided rebels in Ukraine with missiles capable of bringing down an airliner flying at 33,000 feet. Washington says they did, but has presented no evidence. We don’t even know for sure what brought the airliner down.
We don’t know either whether Russian forces are firing artillery into Ukraine, though the Pentagon says they are. But, again, no evidence is presented.
A Pentagon spokesman says civilian casualties in Ukraine are “of great concern” because artillery fire is imprecise. But the Pentagon doesn’t seem to be concerned about a Human Rights Watch report that says that Ukrainian forces fired unguided missiles into Donetsk, killing 16 civilians. Nor do they appear to be concerned about the casualties in Gaza—that is, concerned enough to pressure the Israelis to stop the slaughter. After all, if the Obama regime can demand that Putin press the Ukrainian rebels to lay down their weapons, surely it can press its Israeli client to do the same.
Comfortable in its accustomed role as the unofficial propaganda arm of US foreign policy, The New York Times reported today that the destruction of Flight 17 “stunned the world.” Nearly 300 were killed. But the newspaper has yet to place the Israeli assault on Gaza in the world-stunning category, even though the Gaza death toll is over three times greater.
That’s not to diminish the airline tragedy, but one does wonder why deaths over Ukraine are said to have “stunned the world” while the higher death toll in Gaza is of an entirely different order…regrettable, but ultimately justifiable.
That, anyway, is how Western leaders spin it. Obama say he mourns the civilian casualties in Gaza but adds that “no nation should be subjected to a hail of rockets or underground incursions.” So, the carnage in Gaza is justified, to protect Israeli civilians.
But as researcher David Morrison points out in a recent report on his website, while all three Israeli assaults on Gaza carried out after Hamas was elected by Palestinians in 2006 have been justified as necessary to protect Israeli civilians, not one resident of Israel was killed by Palestinian rocket attacks or mortar fire in the months leading up to these assaults.
It was only in the midst of the three Israeli military operations that Israelis died. If Operations Cast Lead, Pillar of Cloud, and Protective Edge, were designed to protect Israelis, they failed miserably.
Morrison reminds us that:
o When (the December 2008 to January 2009) Operation Cast Lead was launched, no resident of Israel had been killed by rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza for over six months. Four were killed during it.
o When (the November 2012) Operation Pillar of Cloud was launched, no resident of Israel had been killed by rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza for over a year. Six were killed during it.
o When Operation Protective Edge was launched, no resident of Israel had been killed by rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza since the last major offensive in November 2012. As of this writing, 43 Israelis have been killed during it.
Morrison makes the point that if the Israeli government were genuinely concerned about the safety of its citizens it would abide by the terms of the cease-fires it agrees to with Hamas. The trouble is, it always violates them.
Why, then, does Tel Aviv fail to honor its commitments, repeatedly setting off cycles of violence that slaughter Palestinians, and inevitably produce some Israeli deaths? The answer to that question is the same as the answer to this one: Why did Israel immediately blockade Gaza when Hamas emerged triumphant in the 2006 Palestinian elections? To destroy Hamas. Why? Because Hamas refuses to recognize the Zionist dispossession of the Arabs in Palestine as legitimate.
So here’s the pattern. Israel regularly wheels out its lawn mower (its war machine, paid for by US taxpayers) to weaken resistance to Israel—to do what it calls “mowing the grass.” The result is periodic carnage, misery, and destruction, in which many Palestinians suffer, and a handful of Israelis are killed.
It all goes back to Israel’s arms-supplier Washington. On top of furnishing Israel with a formidable military machine to crush the resistance of Palestinians who legitimately seek self-determination, it vetoes Security Council Resolutions that call Israel to account. Obama and other US presidents may not pull the trigger, but they make the trigger-pulling possible. And that makes Obama culpable in another Gaza slaughter.