The attempts by Washington and its NATO allies to encourage unrest against president Bashar al-Assad of Syria earlier this century was concerned with the strategic importance of the Syrian nation. Part of Syria’s western frontier rests along the Mediterranean Sea, a body of water which since Roman times has held significance as a link between East and West.
Up until World War II, the Mediterranean region was a vital cog in the machinery of the British empire, assisting in control over her possessions abroad. The Mediterranean allowed the English access to lucrative maritime and aerial routes. Its importance to London was primarily the reason they had announced in December 1914 complete command over Egypt as a protectorate, with that country sharing a long coastline with the Mediterranean.
Understanding the matter better
In more recent times, the United States expressed its intention to control the Mediterranean area, when on 5 October 2011 Washington signed an extensive naval agreement with its NATO ally Spain. This enabled the Americans to station warships equipped with missile defense systems, operated by hundreds of NATO troops, at the US–Spanish base (Naval Station Rota) at Cádiz, in the far south of Spain on the Mediterranean. The pretext that NATO used for the military expansion was to prevent ballistic missile attacks from Iran and North Korea.
Already in the spring of 2011, NATO had launched a military offensive against Libya, a large oil-rich Mediterranean state, in order to oust the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The West’s desire was to install someone in Libya who would be more obedient to their demands, and thereby strengthen Washington’s authority over the Mediterranean. The NATO powers – America, France, Britain and Germany – cited humanitarian concerns as a core reason for NATO’s intervention in Libya, where under Gaddafi the Libyan people enjoyed the best living conditions in Africa according to UN human development reports.
With the outbreak of unrest during early 2011 in another Mediterranean state, Syria, the protests were not initially directed against president Assad. A Middle East specialist Neil Quilliam revealed, “The rebellion [in Syria] as it started was very localized”. He noted the demonstrations were “much more to do with local grievances against local security chiefs” and related to “corruption at the local level”. This was being ignored by Western politicians who, as in the case of Libya, made incorrect claims about Syria and depicted the unrest as solely aimed at Assad’s government. On 18 August 2011 the American leader Barack Obama said, “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside”.
At the same time, a statement was issued together by Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, the then leaders respectively of Germany, France and Britain. They stated that Assad faced “the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people” and they wanted him “to step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people”. Yet a report published in mid-January 2012 in the Guardian, a liberal British newspaper which is hardly pro-Assad, outlined that a majority (55%) of Syrians wanted Assad to remain as the country’s leader.
Among the goals of the US and its NATO allies, in their desire to remove the Syrian president, was to increase control over the Mediterranean and to isolate Iran, an ally of Syria. By installing a US-friendly government in the capital city Damascus, the Americans hoped most of all it would help to contain Russian and Chinese influence in the Middle East and Mediterranean.
The Obama administration wanted to stifle the presence of Russian military facilities in Syria that rest on the Mediterranean, at Tartus and Latakia; while cutting supply routes for weapons to Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based militant organization which has hindered Israeli incursions into Lebanon. Furthermore, in the Mediterranean basin beside Syria there is estimated to be very large quantities of natural resources, amounting to 107 billion barrels of oil and 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The plans in Washington to undermine president Assad dated to the George W. Bush years. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks outlined that the US State Department had, since at least 2005, been providing millions of dollars to anti-Assad groups in Syria and based elsewhere such as in London. The State Department was sponsoring anti-government activities and courses in Damascus. According to a cable from the US embassy in Damascus, the Americans had furnished $12 million or more to the opposition in Syria alone between 2005 and 2010.
Another reason that the Western powers wanted to replace Assad, is because the Syrian president refused to sign (in 2009) an agreement allowing the construction through Syrian land of the Western-backed South Pars/North Dome pipeline. Assad made this decision in part because he was defending the interests of his ally Russia. The gas pipeline had been earmarked to pass through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. The gas was meant to be supplied to the NATO states in Europe.
The CIA Director in the early 1990s, Robert Gates, wrote that Syria had been a problem for Washington over the course of many years, and that Syria was “a high-priority intelligence target for the United States”. Shortly after the ousting of Saddam Hussein in Iraq during April 2003, the US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, developed contingency plans to extend the war to nearby Syria; but the Americans had yet to subdue Iraq and could not intervene militarily in Syria until then. As it turned out, the US Army and other occupation forces were unable to overcome Iraqi resistance.
On 4 October 2011 the US, France and Britain, with the backing of NATO allies Germany and Portugal, tried to repeat the same subterfuge they had used 7 months before regarding Libya – as the Western powers proposed to the UN Security Council a resolution on Syria, based on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle, which if passed would most probably be used by NATO to bomb Syria, and increase support to the opposition with the aim of overthrowing Assad’s government.
Russia and China were aware of NATO’s intentions and vetoed the resolution
The Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said the situation in Syria was similar to that in Libya, and he warned about how NATO would proceed should the resolution be passed. Irritated by the Russian and Chinese vetoes, Obama’s government, supported by Paris and London, instead went about pursuing covert operations in Syria. The CIA, in collaboration with the Persian Gulf autocracies, was dropping military aid from the air to insurgents in Syria. Washington knew that most Western weaponry, sent through the Persian Gulf, ended up in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who had infiltrated Syria.
The jihadists wanted to restore the Great Caliphate in Greater Syria, Bilad al-Sham, between the Euphrates river and the Mediterranean. In November 2011, it was reported in French and Turkish media that present in Syria were personnel from France’s foreign intelligence agency (DGSE) and the French Special Operations Command (COS). They were training deserters from the Syrian Army in urban guerrilla tactics, and creating the Free Syrian Army. This military force consisted moreover of Sunni fighters and mercenaries recruited from Libya, many of whom had just partaken in the toppling of Gaddafi.
Present in Syria too in 2011, as noted by Israel’s military intelligence website Debkafile, were British special operatives from organizations like MI6, the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS). These British units were training anti-Assad militants, and were supplying them with arms and intelligence details. British special forces were operating from early 2012 in Syria’s third largest city, Homs, less than 100 miles from Damascus.
Sources in the Pentagon revealed that the CIA was operating drones over Syrian territory. The CIA was monitoring the movements of Syrian Army soldiers and their battles with the insurgents. Among the latter were growing numbers of extremists from organizations such as Al Qaeda. The new Al Qaeda boss, Ayman al-Zawahiri, publicly stated on 27 July 2011 his aim to assist in eliminating Assad’s government, and he said there “are enough and more mujahideen and garrisoned ones” already in Syria. The CIA and France’s DGSE privately estimated there to be thousands of Al Qaeda fighters in Syria.
American journalist Rod Nordland wrote on 25 July 2012, “The evidence is mounting that Syria has become a magnet for Sunni extremists, including those operating under the banner of Al Qaeda”. Without material aid from outside, the insurgents did not possess enough firepower to defeat the Syrian Army. Assad said that “a new style of war” was being waged against his country, which he described as “terrorism through proxies” and that Syria is “the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region”. At the start of 2012, president Obama ordered the establishment of what the CIA called a “rat line”. It was a channel enabling the dispatching of weapons from post-Gaddafi Libya eastwards to Syria, and it was to run across the edge of southern Turkey, in order to supply the anti-Assad forces with arms.
The US State Department, since 2012 or even earlier, was formulating a program to provide military training to Islamic fighters in Jordan, a country which shares a northern border with Syria. Historian Moniz Bandeira wrote, “A large part of the jihadists from Da’ish [Islamic State], perhaps even most of them, received combat and terrorism instructions there”. The cost of this program was $60 million. US assistance to the insurgents involved training them with high-tech military hardware, such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. Providing the training were American personnel including from the CIA, the Special Operations Forces (SOF) and Navy SEALs.
Shane Quinn has contributed on a regular basis to Global Research for almost two years and has had articles published with American news outlets People’s World and MintPress News, Morning Star in Britain, and Venezuela’s Orinoco Tribune. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.