America’s real aims in Syria

Former US President Barack Obama

America denies having requested permission from the Syrian regime to strike Islamic State, al-Nusra and the Khorosan veterans’ group targets on its territory, writes Abdel Bari Atwan. But the Syrian regime says it was “informed” of the strikes slightly ahead of them. The point is it doesn’t really matter because the US is intent on proving its dominance over the region and does not, in reality, recognize the sovereignty of any Arab country, only its usefulness. And is the target only the jihadis or is Bashar al-Assad himself in the sights of this unholy alliance?

Without precedent in history, for the first time all Arab and Islamic countries are behind an American war on another Arab country. Whether Sunni or Shia, radical or moderate, not a single dissenting voice can be heard among the Middle East’s leaders. Washington did not go to the Security Council to seek a clear consensus and mandate for this attack on a sovereign nation and still no objection.

Why is international law abandoned here? What of the safeguards intended to be set in stone after the Second World War? Safeguards against exactly this kind of despotic presumption that the world is for the taking. Even those countries which certainly oppose attacks on Syrian territory – Iran and Hezbollah foremost among them – are sitting on their hands because they do not object to Islamic State being targeted inside Iraq where a Tehran-friendly regime prevails.

Four Gulf States, and Jordan too, are boasting about their involvement in the US-led air strikes. They not only opened their air bases and financial coffers to America, but also sent aircraft to actively participate in raids on the militant Islamist groups. The paradox is that these same countries have spent the past three years directly funding, arming and training these very same groups.

These nations say they wish to protect the people of Syria, and have been clamouring for the defeat of the regime… now they turn themselves to kill the citizens of Syria. Do they really think the jihadis are going to move out of the centre of the cities where they are ensconced and stand in the middle of the Syrian desert waving at the planes saying “here I am come and kill me?”

These groups do not have headquarters, or Presidential palaces or ministries or banks. Trying to find and then kill their leaders will be like looking for a needle in a mountain of hay.

Syrian victims

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The unhappy people of Syria no longer know whether they are going to be killed by the regime with their barrel bombs and shells, or by America’s Tomahawk missiles, costing $1 million each, and fighter planes. It seems the only thing the international community can agree on is the necessity to kill Syrian citizens.

Syria has become a testing ground for the most modern and sophisticated weapons at the Pentagon’s disposal. The F-22 Raptor stealth fighter plane had never been deployed before it struck Raqqa in the middle of the night. The Pentagon’s reasoning for using the Raptor is suggestive of a wider agenda: “the remnants of President Assad’s Russian-supplied advanced air defence systems could have threatened a lesser aircraft.”

We are well aware that the participation of war planes from Gulf countries was largely symbolic but they have provided legitimacy for this American war and now they will share its dangers and risks both now and later.

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

It is impossible to predict how long this war will last and who will be the losers and winners. One thing that is sure, it will be Arabs and Muslims who will suffer the biggest losses. The Americans will not send combat troops to fight on the ground; that dangerous intervention will be for regional soldiers.

These air raids have changed many equations in the region and we will not be surprised to see in the coming days or weeks the three main jihadist entities (Islamic State, al-Nusra and Khorasan) forgetting their differences and uniting against this new threat. Nor would we rule out acts of revenge by jihadists against the Arab Governments that are participating in this war.

All Western-led military interventions in the region this century have failed. States have imploded leading to chaos and the absence of any effective security apparatus – the circumstances that best suit extremist jihadi groups. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria offer the best examples.

Al Qaeda

Of course there are many who support this war for what appear to be logical reasons. Islamic State is highly dangerous and the superpowers offer military superiority, fighter planes, nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles. But what about the vast majority of young people frustrated by unemployment, poverty, deprivation, corruption and marginalization? And what if this war does not succeed in achieving its goals?

President Barack Obama said in a speech two weeks ago that he would defeat Islamic State just as the US defeated al-Qaeda. He is either delusional or disingenuous. If the US defeated al-Qaeda, why is it now fighting Khorosan? Why is it announcing that this previously unknown group, composed of al-Qaeda veterans and headed by a Kuwaiti, Abdel Rahman Al-Fadhli, was planning to attack the West?

If al-Qaeda was destroyed in Iraq, then why is America returning to that country with planes and missiles four years later to fight Islamic State and al-Nusra? Obama might as well claim that “liberated” Iraq has become a model of democracy and stability.

The greatest irony might be the huge welcome the Syrian regime has given the Americans, hoping that they will eliminate their terrorist problem. How long will it be before the Damascus regime realizes that it, too, is the target whether after or during the elimination project?

That would certainly be the desire of Assad’s Gulf enemies.

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