Despite the terrorist opposition’s attempted sabotage of diplomatic efforts to bring imperialism’s proxy war against Syria to an end (presumably in the hopes of prolonging the conflict and holding the door open for a fresh influx of mercenary jihadis across the Turkish border), Syria’s combination of steadfast resistance and diplomatic flexibility, backed up by Russia, remains the rock on which her enemies are foundering.
Geneva: ‘opposition’ wreckers walk out of talks
When in April the HNC (High Negotiations Committee, currently the main foreign-backed opposition grouping involved in the negotiations process) walked out of peace talks in Geneva, on the false pretext of ‘ceasefire violations’, it was clear that someone had had a word in their ear.
For 60 days, the general ceasefire, whilst peppered with relatively minor breaches, had more or less held. While welcomed by the UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura as “a small but very special miracle” achieved as a joint initiative from Washington and Moscow (in reality at Moscow’s prompting), others took a more jaundiced view, and wanted the ceasefire to fail.
In these quarters, the proliferation of small truces being hammered out at local level and coordinated largely through the national reconciliation centre at Russia’s airbase in Latakia, combined with the accelerating rout of the remaining IS and al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra fighters, spelt nothing less than disaster – hence the walk-out, intended to scupper the implementation of the Geneva communiqué and UN resolution 2254 and lay the blame at the door of the Syrian government.
Sensing the way the wind was blowing, however, de Mistura was not minded to take this ‘bombshell’ too seriously, saying that, as far as he was concerned, “the talks really never got interrupted. The proof is that we continued with the talks until the very day when I had indicated we were going to end them … the opposition HNC did decide publicly to walk out, but did leave some technical experts, and we were able to continue to talk. And we had very in-depth talks and discussions, also proximity talks with the government.”
Asked to comment on the ‘plan B’ military option Washington has warned of should the ceasefire fail, de Mistura was dismissive: “I don’t think a real plan B exists. There is only a plan A, and the plan A is a political transition based on the Geneva communiqué and on resolution 2254.” ( ‘Miracle ceasefire’ must be fostered as one and only plan for Syria, RT, 29 April 2016)
Zones of silence
In response to de Mistura’s plea for renewed efforts to maintain the general ceasefire, Moscow and Washington agreed on specific time-limited ‘zones of silence’ to help shore up the ceasefire overall. At Moscow’s initiative, these were extended from parts of Damascus and Latakia to include the city of Aleppo, parts of which remain in the grip of al-Nusra terrorists.
On 16 May, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, noting that more than a hundred organisations were already observing the ceasefire, remarked that the question of renewing the ceasefire in Aleppo depended on “how the Nusra Front and the organisations affiliated with it … behave”. ( New ceasefire in Syria depends on Nusra Front’s actions, Sputnik, 16 May 2016)
That, in turn, largely depends on how al-Nusra is steered – both by regional actors like Saudi Arabia and Turkey and by US imperialism itself. The Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov complained that in the negotiation over the temporary truce in Aleppo city, Washington sought to “define the boundaries of this zone of silence in such a way as to cover a significant part of the positions occupied by the Nusra Front”. (The truce in Aleppo: Moscow doubts Washington’s sincerity by Alexey Timofeychev, Russia Beyond The Headlines, 5 May 2016)
To put it plainly, Washington wanted to turn the ‘zone of silence’ into a sanctuary for terrorists who had been specifically excluded from the 27 February ceasefire, allowing them to regroup and consolidate their predatory grip on the population they hold captive.
Lavrov suggested that Ankara was trying to use Washington in order to “take the heat off the Nusra Front”, citing Ankara’s “improper relationships” with IS and the al-Nusra Front. How far Washington is being used by Turkey and how far it is using Turkey is a moot point, and it could be argued that the occupant of the White House is being let off lightly in being presented as some sort of a hapless tool of Ankara.
But when Erdogan exposes himself, and by extension his imperialist masters, to ridicule or worse by threatening to put Ottoman boots onto Syrian soil, inviting the obvious response from Lavrov (“I do not think that anyone will decide to play dangerous games and carry out any provocations due to the fact that there are Russian aerospace forces stationed [in Syria]”), he can hardly be said to be advancing the best interests of US imperialism, which is after all the first duty of a satellite state. ( Turkish ground op in Syria unlikely due to presence of Russian air force, RT, 5 May 2016)
Recriminations fly as proxy war bogs down
As the tides of both war and diplomacy continue to turn against the west, mutual recriminations are starting to be heard within the imperialist camp as everyone blames everybody else for the failure of the five-year war of subversion against Syria.
In an article in Foreign Policy magazine, under the screaming headline ‘America is silent as Aleppo is massacred’, the Obama government was lambasted for daring to suggest (correctly) that the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front is the dominant force in the part of Aleppo city occupied by opposition gunmen and under siege from the Syrian Arab Army. It is, of course, essential to downplay the role of al-Nusra in order to present the situation according to the preferred narrative of ‘moderate oppositionists’ under fire from ‘regime forces’.
Singled out for special opprobrium by the article was one Colonel Steve Warren, who in a moment of candour pointed out that “it’s primarily al-Nusra who holds Aleppo, and of course, al-Nusra is not part of the cessation of hostilities. So it’s complicated.”
It surely is complicated: as Russian defence spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov has put it: “Aleppo resembles a kind of a layered cake, with the largest part controlled by government forces, part of the area held by Nusra Front militants, while another part is controlled by the so-called opposition.”
Given that ‘moderate’ forces are frequently in cahoots with, or themselves living in fear of, al-Nusra forces, allowing safe passage to ‘extremists’ whilst themselves claiming immunity as ‘moderates’, it will easily be seen just how challenging is the task of the Syrian Arab Army, both militarily and diplomatically.
But to admit such things publicly threatens to put Russia’s involvement in a good light, and risks undermining the basic fiction on which the proxy war is built: ‘good’ terrorists with whom one can do business versus ‘bad’ terrorists who must be beaten – along, of course, with the legitimate government of President Assad.
After Foreign Policy challenged Colonel Warren on his widely publicised admission that the al-Nusra Front was running occupied Aleppo, somebody clearly leaned on him to finesse his earlier reply, leading him to tell the magazine: “I was incorrect when I said Nusra holds Aleppo. Turns out that our current read is that Nusra controls the northwest suburbs.”
However, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who of all people should know ‘our current read’, was himself reported by the New York Times as suggesting (again correctly) “that the Russians might be moving on Aleppo because members of the al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, were mixed throughout parts of the region, and that they were terrorists not party to the ceasefire.
“At the same time, he said, the region is home to insurgent groups that oppose Mr Assad and have agreed to the ceasefire. ‘That has proven harder to separate them than we thought,’ Mr Kerry said. ‘And there’s a Russian impatience and a regime impatience with the terrorists who are behaving like terrorists [sic] and laying siege to places on their side and killing people.’” (Cited in America is silent as Aleppo is massacred by Roy Gutman, Foreign Policy, 6 May 2016)
Propaganda train derailed
Through all this, the west naturally continues to point the finger of blame for every casualty of war at either the Syrian Arab Army or the Russian airforce or both. But here too, as the west gets overtaken by events, the propaganda lines become tangled.
When the Maaret al-Numan hospital in northwest Syria was attacked in February, the medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) at once accused the Syrian Arab Army, yet in the same breath acknowledged that it had no evidence on which to base that inflammatory assertion. Colonel Warren was again having problems getting the propaganda line straight, muttering that it was “unclear to us whether it was the Russian aircraft, Syrian aircraft or a Russian missile or a Syrian missile. That part at this point is a little bit unclear to us.”
Whilst he floundered around trying to work out which lie was flavour of the day (sorry, ‘what our current read is’), Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov put the record straight: “We vehemently reject such allegations, particularly because those making those statements have always proven to be unable to deliver any proof of their unfounded accusations.” Meanwhile, Syria revealed it had intelligence information that in fact it was US warplanes that had struck the hospital.
In the aftermath of a number of similar strikes on hospitals, the operations director of MSF, Isabelle Defourny, came out with an extraordinary admission: “We gave to the Russian ambassadors in Paris [and] in Geneva coordinates for three hospitals located in very intense conflict zones, but not for all of them, and it was a decision taken together with the medical staff of the health facilities that we support,” suggesting that the “staff of the hospital [and] the director of the hospital didn’t know if they would be better protected if they give the GPS or not”.
The clear implication was that Russian pilots, if they knew where hospitals were located, might deliberately target them. That MSF was prepared to expose hospitals in its care to the possibility of accidental attack, with the sole purpose of spreading this gross calumny against Russia, shows the cynical propaganda uses to which such NGOs are suborned, however altruistic the intentions of some of the staff in their employ might be.
Mme Defourny, announcing that henceforth the NGO would share hospital coordinates with Damascus, lamely tried to excuse the earlier policy by referencing October’s deadly US airstrike on another of the NGO’s hospitals in Kunduz, Afghanistan – a strike which happened ‘despite’ the US air force possessing the coordinates. But this proves nothing about the wisdom of withholding coordinates from Moscow and Damascus, and everything about the stupidity of trusting US imperialism and allowing oneself to be used as a vehicle for its propaganda. (See Syria: MSF admits withholding Syria hospital coordinates from Damascus and Moscow by Vanessa Beeley, RT, 30 April 2016)
Islamic State on its uppers
Islamic State (IS), coming under intensifying pressure from the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian air force, is reportedly showing signs of disintegration, if a report from the Foreign Affairs magazine is to be believed.
Hundreds of IS fighters are said to have defected from Raqqa and Aleppo in March, some sidestepping into so-called ‘moderate’ groups, others just running away to Turkey or Jordan. Whilst the majority of jihadis are foreigners, the role of the minority of Syrian turncoats has been important “for intelligence, building rapport with civilians, brokering alliances with tribes, and administrating vital institutions, including taxation, which requires insider knowledge of the local population and geography”. (See Quitting ISIS by Maria Revkin and Ahmad Mhidi, 1 May 2016)
And it is these quislings who are quitting, thereby depriving IS of whatever shallow roots in the community it may have had.
Defecting Syrians are now whining that foreign fighters get better pay and quicker promotion, whilst they get sent to the most dangerous places and are distrusted by their commanders – ever the fate of renegades. However, in another sign that all is not well in the caliphate, it is reported that all fighters’ salaries have been slashed by up to 50 percent.
The article suggests: “With reports of infighting, power struggles, and rising casualties, IS is taking extreme measures to deter defections and desertions. In recent months, the group has executed hundreds of its own fighters for trying to flee,” thus further thinning the ranks. It is also reported that IS is resorting to the recruitment of child soldiers to fill the gaps.
Another telling index of just how demoralised IS has become under the hammer blows of the patriotic forces is the drastic reduction in its training programmes. “In another sign of desperation, IS has dramatically abbreviated the training both physical and ideological – that its fighters must undergo.
“IS used to require that all new recruits first enrol in islamic educational courses known as dawraat sharia, which last from 30 to 45 days, followed by military boot camp for another 30 days. But after losing Sinjar … IS dramatically shortened the recruitment pipeline by eliminating military training altogether and requiring only a few days of islamic education before sending new recruits into battle.”
Islamic State’s rivals in the al-Nusra Front, the gangsters who are currently still holding a large population hostage in Aleppo city, may dream of hanging on until thousands more jihadis have syphoned through from Turkey to resupply the terror network, but the net is closing in and the fight is on now to break the enemies’ supply lines.
Whatever histrionics the High Negotiating Council cares to indulge in, the only path to peace and justice in Syria is the one being carved out by the steadfast resistance of the Syrian nation against the war of subversion waged by the flunkeys of US imperialism.
On 23 May, carbombers struck civilian targets on the eastern side of Syria, in Jableh and Tartus, slaying at least 78 people and wounding many more. In Jableh, the targets included the bus station, the A&E department of a hospital and an electricity administration building. In Tartus, where Russia has its naval base, the bus station was also targeted.
These horrific attacks suggest that Islamic State, having seen its dreams of establishing a caliphate on Syrian soil evaporate as it loses ever wider swathes of territory to the patriotic forces, is now reduced to futile outrages of this type, serving no useful military purpose and merely charting the depths of nihilist degeneracy now being plumbed by this idiot child of US imperialism as it stares defeat in the face.
Victory to the Syrian government, the Syrian Arab Army and the Syrian people!