Red lines and other double standards
By Stephen Gowans
According to the White House, Israel has the right to defend itself (1). I would argue that it doesn’t. Based on the theft of another people’s land and denial of their right to return to the homes from which they fled or were driven, Israel no more than any other thief has the right to defend itself.
Judging by its indulgent attitude to Israeli aggressions, Washington claims that Israel has the right to defend itself in any way it pleases: by unprovoked airstrikes across international borders; by meting out collective punishment; by carrying out extrajudicial assassinations; by invasions and occupations; and through other outrages against international law, sovereignty and humanity. In fact, by doing what the United States, itself, regularly does.
The White House says that the most recent Israeli aggression, airstrikes carried out over the last few days against Syrian military facilities, were intended to stop a shipment of advanced surface-to-surface missiles from Iran to the Lebanese resistance organization, Hezbollah. Striking a dissenting note, The New York Times reported that, “Some American officials are unsure whether the new shipment was intended for use by Hezbollah or by the Assad government.” (2) Which means the airstrikes may have nothing to do with Israel “defending itself” and everything to do with Tel Aviv helping Syria’s Sunni rebels in what is, in large measure, a sectarian war, inflamed by outside interference, against an Alawi-dominated state that has (from Washington’s perspective) the wrong attitude to US free enterprise and (from Israel’s) the wrong attitude to the dispossession of the Palestinians. Or it may be that the missiles were intended for the Syrian military, but the Israelis struck as a precaution, in case the missiles were indeed destined for Hezbollah.
While indulging Israel for its aggressions, Washington denies North Korea the right to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for self-defense, for the obvious reason that North Korea’s self-defense is self-defense against the United States. Likewise, the threat posed to Israel of Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles in Hezbollah’s hands is that they bolster the resistance organization’s ability to defend both itself, and its benefactor, Iran, from Israeli attack. It’s no secret that Israel has been threatening war on Iran for some time on grounds that Iran’s civilian nuclear energy industry may, at some point, provide Tehran with the capability of developing what Israel already has in abundance: nuclear weapons.
What’s more, if Israel has the right to defend itself, why not Syria? It’s not as if the Assad government’s actions, in defense of secular pan-Arabism, have come anywhere close to matching the level of barbarity regularly visited by the Zionist regime on its opponents in defense of its settler ideology, or in helping to promote the imperial interests of its American benefactor and sponsor.
Earlier, the White House declared that Syria’s use of chemical weapons against terrorist insurgents would be a red line whose crossing would trigger a strong US response, presumably direct US military intervention in Syria’s civil war. Recent claims by Israel, Britain and one US intelligence agency of evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against rebel forces—evidence the White House says is inconclusive—touched off a controversy over whether the Obama administration had blundered in setting a red line, and whether failure to act on even weak evidence undermines US credibility.
Lost in the polemic is the telling reality that Washington has set no red line for the insurgents’ use of the same weapons.
And that can’t be because there are no grounds to believe rebel forces would use deadly gas against Syrian loyalists. The UN independent commission of inquiry on Syria says there are strong, concrete suspicions that the rebels have used sarin gas (but has no evidence the Syrian government has deployed chemical weapons against the rebels.) (3)
Okay, let’s assume that the UN’s strong and concrete suspicions do reflect the rebels’ actual use of sarin gas against loyalist forces.
The obvious question (unasked as far as I can tell by the mass media) is where did the rebels’ chemical weapons come from? Were they captured from the Syrian military, or procured through a supplier of the rebels’ other weapons—Saudi Arabia, Qatar or a NATO state?
And does the United States plan to act on the UN’s strong and concrete suspicions?
The answer to the first question is uncertain. As to the second, the US might intervene to secure the rebels’ chemical weapons if the weapons have been captured from the Syrian army by jihadists acting independently of US control, but it would likely be done quietly, to avoid raising embarrassing questions about the rebellion putting dangerous weapons into the hands of Islamists who might use them later against US targets (including, if the Assad government falls, a US-client regime in Damascus.)
On the other hand, if the weapons have been used by US-controlled opposition factions, an intervention won’t occur, unless the weapons were used without US approval. If so, measures—again quiet ones—will likely to be taken to curb their use, or to use them only at Washington’s direction.
Another possibility is that Washington colluded in the weapons’ use.
Clearly, Washington’s chemical weapons standards are contigent and not absolute. The red line against the Syrian defense forces provides Washington with a pretext for direct and open military intervention against Damascus when and if intervention is feasible. Since no intervention against the rebel forces is desired—on the contrary, only intervention on their behalf is on the agenda—a rebel red line is unnecessary, and restrictive. It’s not the use of chemical weapons that Washington opposes, but their use by a government fighting for survival against US predations. Anyone else can use chemical weapons with impunity so long as it’s done in the service of US foreign policy goals.
Finally, we might ask whether the country that has the greatest store of weapons of mass destruction, is the world’s largest manufacturer of them, and has been the most ardent user of them, would act to stop their use by rebel forces it has backed against a pan-Arab nationalist regime it has for decades sought to overthrow? Again, subject to the condition the rebels were under US control, not likely.
The United States professed opposition to weapons of mass destruction is entirely one-sided. It is applied selectively to governments and organizations that it, itself, or its proxies, are opposed to, typically because they have the wrong attitude to US free enterprise, or the wrong attitude to their proxies’ plunder of the land, natural resources and markets of other people.
1. Sam Dagher, Nour Malas and Joshua Mitnick, “Strikes in Syria raise alarm”, The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2013.
2. Anne Barnard, Michael R. Gordon and Jodi Rudoren, “Israel targeted Iranian missiles in Syria attack”, The New York Times, May 4, 2013.
3. “Syrian rebels may have used Sarin” Reuters, May 5, 2013: “UN: ‘Strong suspicions’ that Syrian rebels have used sarin nerve gas,” Euronews, May 6, 2013.