In the wake of two Israeli airstrikes on targets in Syria on the May 4-5 weekend, the second causing massive explosions close to Damascus and killing at least several dozen Syrian troops, discussion rages about the aims of this aggression and the relationship it has to the ongoing mass uprising and civil war in Syria.
Israel claimed both attacks were aimed at Iranian long-range rockets, or the military depots where they were housed, that were in transit via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. As the Zionist regime has continually indicated that its “red line” was the transfer of any significant “game-changing” weaponry to either Hezbollah in Lebanon (which is currently aligned to Syria’s besieged Assad regime) or to the Sunni Islamist rebels fighting to overthrow that regime, this explanation seems plausible.
In fact, Israel also bombed a convoy of rockets in western Syria destined for Hezbollah at the end of January, and according to some reports, also a biological weapons research centre near Damascus, which “was reportedly flattened out of concern that it might fall into the hands of Islamist extremists fighting to topple the government of Syrian president Bashar Assad", according to Aaron Klein and Karl Vick writing in Time magazine.
Indeed, after the latest bombings, Israel’s leaders went on to stress that these attacks were not aimed at the Assad regime, still less to support the armed opposition, as will be discussed further below.
But of course such aggression must also be seen in a wider context. Clearly the situation in Syria is falling apart and the war daily is getting more vicious and criminal (on both sides, but above all on the side of the regime), without any end in sight. Clearly at some point there may well be some form of more direct imperialist intervention than at present, even if only to try to stamp its mark, in whatever way possible, on an almost impossible situation. The myths about “recent gains by the Syrian regime” is just bravado to talk up the latest rounds of horrific massacres in the north coastal region, which promise no more stability than the last two years of brutal massacres.
Therefore, in such a context, with Israel everyday lamenting the “lost peace” on the northern border of occupied Golan (i.e., the peace it has enjoyed for 40 years as the Assad regime never challenged the Zionist occupation and annexation of its Golan territory), Israel is also announcing loud and clear to all sides in Syria, and to the Syrian masses, that “Israel is here, and this is what we can do”. The overall aim, in other words, is mass terror.
Yet while the situation may inexorably drive towards some kind of imperialist intervention, the outstanding fact to date has been the reluctance of imperialist states – and above all Israel – to lend any concrete support (or in Israel’s case, even verbal support) to the opposition trying to overthrow Assad’s tyrannical capitalist dictatorship.
And while a simple comparison with the extremely rapid intervention in Libya (within a few weeks of the beginning of the uprising in early 2011) might ignore practical differences for intervention in the two cases, any analysis of statements and actions of the US and especially Israel over these two years make clear that both have fundamental political objections to the nature of the opposition. These even extend to prospect of the overthrow of the regime itself, unless it can occur under a very strong degree of imperialist control, which is a very unlikely prospect.
No secular fighters?
Iit’s worth looking at a recent article in the New York Times which, like a great many articles, over-emphasise the significance of the radical Islamist element in the armed uprising. In this case, the NYT made the case more absolute:
“Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of”.
Curiously, for a number of those on the left convinced that the US is hell bent on backing the Syrian rebellion against the regime of Bashar Assad, or who even claim the US is explicitly backing these “Islamist” forces within it, or even that the whole Syrian rebellion is a “US war on Syria”, this statement was greeted as a sign that “even the US” is coming to understand how bad the rebels “that it supports” are.
This is a very odd argument for a number of reasons. But before analysing the reasons for the NYT’s statement, it is worth looking at the evidence. It is certainly true that there is a strong “Islamist” element within the armed opposition, and that as Assad’s brutality grows, so does the “radical” nature of the ideology of many of the rebel groups, and also the reverse brutality of some of the armed rebels (whether secular or Islamist). It is also true that part of the Islamist opposition is backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar as part of a reactionary-sectarian regional game (see below). And it is further true that some Islamist groups, such as Al-Nusra, are allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda.
However, there are also a vast number of articles, interviews, documents, photos, videos and other evidence of opposition, both armed and unarmed, and opposition-controlled towns, that remain secular, or at least religious only in a formal sense without any “sharia law”, or that are opposed to the Islamicisation of the movement. While this article is not aimed at proving this, here are some useful links that demonstrate the point:
“The Syrian revolution has changed me as a writer”,
“Welcome to Free Syria Meeting the rebel government of an embattled country”,
“How should Idlib's Islamists be handled?”,
“Syrian rebels tackle local government”,
“Syria: the ‘no secular fighters’ myth”,
“Jihadists and secular activists clash in Syria”,
“Some rebels worry about extremists but Assad comes first”,
“Syria rebels see future fight with foreign radicals”,
“First Christian unit of FSA forms”,
“The battle to name Syria's Friday protests”,
A similar list could of course be made of all kinds of brutal, reactionary and religious-sectarian actions by parts of the anti-Assad revolt. But that is not what is in question in such a variegated, bottom-up, mass uprising. The evidence above makes clear that the sectarian element can by no means be declared in complete control.
‘US war on Syria’ … means what exactly?
So, given the evidence, why did the NYT make this ridiculous, sweeping, clearly false statement? An obvious explanation might be precisely that the NYT, which tends to closely reflect US ruling-class thinking, is simply pushing this line precisely in order to justify US policy, consistently over the last two years, of not supporting the Syrian uprising.
Overwhelmingly, the reason continually being stressed by the US government for its lack of support to the rebels is its hostility to the growing “Islamist” part of the rebellion, especially, but not only, the Al-Nusra organisation, which the US has officially listed as a “terrorist organisation”. The Islamist forces are generally hostile to US imperialism, and very hostile to Israel, which has even in stronger terms expressed its opposition to these forces coming anywhere near power in Syria (see below). The CIA has even made contingency plans for drone strikes on the radical Islamist rebels.
The idea that the US wants to support these Islamists, and is just pretending not to, is a fantasy indulged in by parts of