The situation in Syria is deteriorating rapidly, following the campaign by Saudi Arabia and Turkey to send thousands of fighters into the North West back in March. Recently Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei has recognised this action as a specific act of war by Turkey against Syria, and is following through on Iran’s obligation to come to Syria’s aid. Although the Syrian Army, with the help of Hezbollah, is making some gains in some areas and pushing back both Al Nusra and Da’ish, there are also attacks coming from the ‘Southern Front’ around Dara’a, and on the southern Lebanese border/Golan heights, with assistance from Israel.
It was in this context that I found recent statements from Australia’s Foreign Minister about the possible possession of Chemical Weapons by Da’ish to be intolerable, and wrote the following letter. The Australian parliament is going through contortions at the moment arguing about whether it’s legitimate to take away the citizenship of Australians who have gone to fight with Da’ish in Syria or Iraq, should they return to Australia. That they may have murdered Syrians and would be subject to summary execution by the Syrian Army should they be caught is apparently of little concern – we just don’t want them back here. ( or so we say…)
My letter calls for a Parliamentary enquiry, but it’s possibly a hopeless call, as there is no-one currently speaking for Syria in Australia who could make such an enquiry meaningful – it would be like Israel investigating its own crimes in Gaza.
Dear Minister Bishop, 16th June 2015
While acknowledging your response to my letter of 10th October last year, which seriously challenged the accepted narrative on the situation in Syria and the Australian government’s position on it, I urge you now to reconsider the points I made in the light of recent developments, particularly in regard to the use of Chemical Weapons.
As I’m sure you are aware, a collaboration between Saudi and Turkish Intelligence agencies facilitated an invasion of NW Syria by thousands of ‘violent extremists’ in March, with the objective of overthrowing the Assad government. (#1) While the US may not have been directly party to this operation with the immediate supply of arms, the possession of new US-made TOW anti-tank missiles by the ‘Army of Conquest’ – Jaish al Fatah – was a critical factor in the violent recapture of towns and territory over which the Syrian Arab Army had control. The fall of Idlib to these mercenaries was well publicised in our media, though its illegal and aggressive nature was obscured by Opposition claims of fatalities from a ‘Chlorine’ attack on a nearby village by the Syrian army. (No credible evidence exists of the use of Chlorine or ‘barrel bombs’ by the army, just as no credible reason could be given for the government targeting Syrian civilians rather than the terrorists who are threatening the whole Syrian state.)
The failure of Australian mainstream media to acknowledge the nature of this renewed and extreme challenge to the Syrian state, and the failure to identify and condemn the countries responsible for financing and arming the ‘Army of Conquest’, was initially compounded by the concurrent focus on the ANZACs and the commemorations in Turkey. Far from this becoming an occasion to present the current resurgence of Erdogan’s ‘Ottoman empire’ in the light of history, the reality of Turkey’s active support for jihadist groups in Syria including Da’ish/IS passed unnoticed. Even though the army of conquest is dominated by Syria’s Al Qaeda – Jabhat an Nusra – which remains a proscribed terrorist organisation by Australia and her Western allies, both authorities and media seem unaware or unconcerned by its trail of death and destruction. Even An Nusra’s massive truck bomb attack on the National Hospital in Jisr al Shughour failed to interest our national broadcaster, no more the massacre of hundreds of soldiers and civilians as they later tried to escape the attackers.
Writing recently in the Independent, veteran journalist Robert Fisk related the accounts of soldiers recovering from the siege in the hospital in Lattakia, (#2) and confirmed that some of the mercenaries who invaded Jisr al Shughour were Turkish; from other reliable sources it appears that this army was composed mainly of Turks and Chechens.
The misreporting and failure to report on the nature of the threat facing Syrian society – by which I mean the majority of that society which supports the Syrian army and the Syrian president against the foreign-backed insurgency – has now assumed a far less benign role in the Syrian conflict; in the view of many the Western mainstream media have now become complicit with that insurgency, and in controlling the narrative that enables an illegal and criminal violation of Syrian sovereignty. As an example of this role – and one which could only be called ‘supportive propaganda’, both SBS and ABC recently aired programmes which presented the ‘violent extremists’ of Jabhat an Nusra in a relatively sympathetic light, and as fighters in a legitimate struggle against a despotic and violent regime. SBS Dateline screened an interview with a confessed local leader of Jabhat an Nusra in Idlib in which we heard his ‘spin’ on the Islamic state he hoped would soon replace the inclusive secular government of Bashar al Assad, and accompanied him into Aleppo to launch attacks on government-secured neighbourhoods.(#3) Meanwhile the ABC’s Background Briefing allowed us to hear the viewpoint of Australian jihadis going to fight in Syria, without any countervailing narrative from the Syrians they were going to fight. (#4) The ongoing unverified news reports claiming attacks ‘on markets and schools’ with ‘barrel bombs’ and Chlorine by the Syrian army, as well as opinion from some commentators that the Assad government was a greater threat than Islamic State, provided supportive commentary for the sectarian anti-Assad ravings of the ‘takfiris’.
Considering this background of misleading and false information about the nature of the Syrian conflict, I am frankly quite perplexed at the latest presentations from your government, and in particular the claims you made in Perth recently about the dangers of Da’ish obtaining Chemical Weapons. As reported by Seymour Hersh in his revealing report of December 2013 – ‘Whose Sarin?’- (#5) there was already detailed knowledge in the US intelligence community in May 2013 about the abilities of Jabhat an Nusra to use Sarin, as well as those of AQI, the forerunner of Da’ish. Hersh’s source – a ‘senior intelligence consultant’, reported on a top-secret cable forwarded to the Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, David R Shedd, which ‘confirmed previous reports that An Nusra had the ability to acquire and use Sarin’. These followed from investigations of the apparent use of Chemical Weapons in Khan al Assal in March 2013, which had already been verified on the ground by the Russians. Ironically perhaps, it was to investigate this crime committed by ‘rebel groups’ that the UN finally brought its inspectors to Damascus in August at the insistence of the Syrian government.
Expanding on these reports in his second article published by the London Review of Books – ‘Obama, Erdogan and the Syrian Rebels’, with the subtitle ‘The Red line and the Rat line’, (#6) Hersh described the details of the thinking and actions of Turkish intelligence and the Erdogan ‘cabinet’, leaving no doubt about the role Turkey was playing in actively supporting the armed insurgency, both in assisting the supply of fighters and weapons in entering Syria from Turkey, and apparently in working with An Nusra to ‘set up’ the Sarin attack on Ghouta with the express purpose of pushing Obama over his ‘red line’ for military intervention. Following a recent application by Judicial Watch for Defence Department documents significant evidence of the ‘rat line’ from Benghazi to Syria has now confirmed Hersh’s report. (#7)
It is now clear that Erdogan has tired of waiting for the US to commit forces to actively overthrow the Assad government, despite Obama repeating his desire for this to happen; the current joint operation with Saudi Arabia, and Qatar has now taken the ‘intervention’ out of US hands. Not only that – another development so far also apparently ignored by Australia’s government and media threatens to radically escalate the situation into full-scale war. Following the renewed attack on Syria by Turkish/Saudi mercenaries which Tehran quite correctly interprets as a deliberate act of war by Turkey, Ayatollah Khamenei has now formally committed forces to assist the Syrian Arab Army in fighting the insurgency, and killing the terrorist forces or driving them back into Turkey and Jordan. Along with the problems in Iraq, the potential of this war to spread further into Lebanon is most serious; the insurgency already has a strong base of support from Saudi-aligned groups in Tripoli which are opposed by both Hezbollah and the Lebanese army.(#8)
Australia’s involvement in the fight against IS/Da’ish in Iraq which is formally at the invitation of the Baghdad government, ironically puts us on the same side as Iran as Iranian forces are now actively supporting both the Iraqi army and the Iraqi Shi’ite militias who fight with it to drive back Da’ish and restore security to the civilian population. This comes in contrast to US forces, who sought their ‘authorisation’ from the Kurdish regional government. The apparent failure of those US forces to observe and destroy the Islamic State convoy on its long journey across the open desert to reach Ramadi before its recent capture poses some serious questions about US objectives, both in Iraq and Syria. (#9) While Western media have barely asked these questions, military commanders, leaders and public in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran have already answered them. For these countries and their defence forces, who have to fight and die at the hands of the modern barbarians, distinctions between ‘Da’ish’, Jabhat an Nusra, the ‘Islamic Front’, or ‘the Army of Conquest’ are increasingly irrelevant. The pipeline of support for all these insurgents is the same and contains the same fuel – weapons supplied and paid for by members of the Western coalition, whether formal or implicit. And while we talk endlessly of the unstoppable march of the ‘Islamic State’, and how it reaps billions from ‘selling oil’, we ignore its Achilles heel – the umbilical connection that enables it to survive and fight in the barren deserts of Syria and Iraq. (#10)
I need hardly explain why I am making this application to you, and to the other recipients of this letter; it is clear that there must be a radical re-assessment of Australia’s role in the Syrian conflict, along with a debate on the legitimacy of the parties to it that we are currently supporting. While the deaths of Syrian soldiers and civilians do not affect us directly, policies are being pursued by the government on the basis of the conflict which do. We should also take note of the recent case in the UK where the government sought to prosecute a man who had been fighting with a ‘rebel group’ in Syria. The case was dropped when the defence argued that the rebel group was effectively also being supported by the UK government. (#11)
It is also clear that current developments will surely drag Australia into direct involvement in the Syrian conflict, and an obligation to join the fight not just against Da’ish but against the ‘Army of Conquest’ being supported by our ‘proxy allies’, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
In my opinion a full parliamentary enquiry examining Australia’s commitment to and role in this conflict is necessary and urgent. This should include the role played by our public broadcasters.
I look forward to your response.
(#1) There were many reports, including in the NYT describing this Saudi-Turkish operation, which began with a visit by President Erdogan to Riyadh:
See also Conn Hallinan’s overview:
(#2) Robert Fisk reports on the Jisr al Shughour hospital siege:
(#3) SBS Dateline: Najieb Khaja meets former Australian preacher Abu Sulayman Muhajir, ‘leading figure in Jabhat an Nusra’, and provides a platform for his political viewpoint against Syria:
(#4) ABC Background Briefing; Sara Dingle speaks to Australian supporters of ISIS, but also provides a platform for their false portrayals of Bashar al Assad and his government:
(#5) Veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on questions over the Sarin attack in Ghouta of August 21st 2013:
(#6) The Red line and the Rat line: (please note also the response in Letters from Richard Postol and Theodore Lloyd of MIT following the article)
(#7) Defence department predictions for ISIS in 2012 obtained by Judicial Watch:
(#8) Alastair Crooke, former MI6 agent and specialist on ‘Political Islam’, on the coming war:
(#9) Sharmine Narwani with an Iraqi and ‘Resistance’ viewpoint on the US failure to combat ISIS:
(#10) Tony Cartalucci on IS ‘umbilical’:
(#11) Richard Norton Taylor on the collapse of the trial of Bherlin Gildo vs UK: (Gildo’s defence referred to evidence cited by Hersh in ‘the red line and rat line’, amongst other information showing Western collusion with terrorist groups including Jabhat an Nusra, which Gildo supported)