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The West’s covert moves in Syria

Shane Quinn talks in detail about the activities of Western intelligence agencies in Syria as they trained insurgents and incited unrest against President Assad.

In October 2011 and February 2012 the US-NATO alliance, with the support of the Gulf autocracies, tried to obtain UN Security Council resolutions, which in all probability would have served as a pretext for military intervention in Syria.

These efforts replicated the underhand game that America, Britain, and France had played in securing a resolution regarding Libya, on 17 March 2011, which they immediately violated in a bombing of that country.

By the autumn of 2011, the Russians and Chinese knew that US-NATO was attempting the same trick again, in their desire to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow and Beijing, therefore, vetoed the resolutions.

Read more: US-led Syria strikes: China firmly opposes use of force in international relations

Not discouraged by these setbacks, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lobbied heavily in 2012 for a military intervention against Syria. Clinton said she had the backing of former CIA director Leon Panetta, and felt the Americans should have been “more willing to confront Assad.”

She further insisted “I still believe we should’ve done a no-fly zone”, the green light for a US-NATO invasion as was the case in Libya. Clinton said she wanted to “move aggressively” on Syria and drew up a plan to do so, but it was never implemented.

Read more: A decade ago: US-NATO intervention in Libya and its consequences

Assad’s prediction

On 27 July 2011, the new Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri outlined his solidarity with the jihadists. Zawahiri called for Assad to go, and expressed regret that he could not be in Syria himself.

“I would have been amongst you and with you,” he said, but continued that “there are enough and more Mujahideen and garrisoned ones” already in Syria. He described Assad as “America’s partner in the war on Islam”.

Read more: Jihadists advance against rebels in northern Syria

Zawahiri forgot that the Syrian president had opposed the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Assad was, in fact, the first Arab leader other than Saddam Hussein to condemn the attack. Less than 10 days into the invasion Assad predicted, “The United States and Britain will not be able to control all of Iraq. There will be much tougher resistance”.

He said of the Anglo-American forces “we hope they do not succeed” in Iraq “and we doubt that they will – there will be Arab popular resistance and this has begun”.

The revolts that started in Syria, during the spring of 2011, would have lasted only a couple of months but for outside intervention that radicalized it.

Read more: Western media’s propaganda war against Syria: Part of the “plan”?

Syria did not have to endure the ensuing years of warfare, yet the foreign powers – notably the trio of America, Britain, and France – had sustained it with the assistance of their allies from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, not to mention the jihadist groups.

The opening protests in March 2011 were not against Assad to begin with but had been directed towards inadequacies at the provincial level.

Neil Quilliam, a scholar who specializes in the Middle East, said of the unrest in Syria which began in the southern town of Daraa, “The rebellion as it started was very localized. It was much more to do with local grievances against local security chiefs – it was about corruption at the local level”.

The discontent was erroneously depicted in the West as directed at Assad’s administration. It was then exploited by the US-NATO powers to attempt regime change in Syria for geopolitical purposes.

Read more: Western powers walk legal tightrope with Syria strikes

US support for Anti-Assad revolts?

Israel’s military intelligence website, DEBKAfile, reported that since 2011 special forces from the British SAS and MI6 were training anti-government combatants in Syria itself. Other UK personnel from the Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG), units of the British Armed Forces, had also been training insurgents in Syria from 2011.

Moreover, that same year French foreign agents of the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), and the Special Operations Command, were encouraging unrest against Assad.

Read more: Syrian rebels surrender Bosra al-Sham in Deraa offensive

As 2011 advanced, the anti-Assad revolts were infiltrated by growing numbers of Al Qaeda members. On 12 February 2012, in an eight-minute video Zawahiri urged jihadists in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan to come to the aid of their “brothers in Syria” and to give them “money, opinion, as well as information”. Zawahiri said that the United States was insincere in demonstrating solidarity with them.

Also in February 2012, Hillary Clinton admitted that Zawahiri “is supporting the opposition in Syria” and she intimated that the US was on the same side as him. Clinton promised that the Americans would continue to provide logistical help to the insurgents, so as to coordinate military affairs on the ground.

Read more: Syria’s Al-Qaeda not on US’ terror watch-lists: Who is supporting terrorism?

Zawahiri’s demand for jihad against Syria was supported by Al Qaeda’s number two, Abu Yahya al-Libi. He was a terrorist from Libya who had participated in the recent conflict against Muammar Gaddafi, alongside numerous other extremists.

Al-Libi said in a video from 18 October 2011, “We call on our brothers in Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey to go to help their brothers [in Syria]”. By late 2011, there were links between the jihadists who overthrew Gaddafi, and those attempting to inflict a similar fate on Assad.

West against the Syrian President

With the Russian and Chinese vetoes on the UN resolutions, Washington was unable to launch a large-scale invasion of Syria, but the goal of the Barack Obama administration and its allies remained that of regime change.

Through 2011 and beyond, the leaders of America (Obama), Britain (David Cameron), France (Nicolas Sarkozy), and Germany (Angela Merkel) separately called for Assad to leave, raising apparent concerns over the Syrian people’s plight.

Chancellor Merkel stated on 18 August 2011 that Assad should “face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people”. This allegation was repeated by other Western leaders, and likewise the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.

Read more: Escalation of the Syrian conflict: Is the US hurting Syria more than ever?

Less than six months later the English correspondent Jonathan Steele, citing a reliable poll, noted that 55% of Syrians wanted Assad to remain as president. Steele observed how this inconvenient reality “was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go”.

A great game was being played out on Syrian soil. As envisaged, Assad’s fall would enhance US power in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, while delivering a blow to Russian, Iranian and Chinese influence.

The Kremlin would have to abandon its old naval base in Tartus, western Syria, pushing Russia out of the Mediterranean. Supply routes through which weaponry was delivered to Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon would also be cut off.

Read more: Any War on Iran will cause entire region to Erupt: Hezbollah

With a Western-friendly outfit in Syria, the ring could only have been closed tighter around Iran. There are vast quantities of oil and gas astride the Syrian coastline in the Levantine Basin, as the major powers are aware.

However, Syria was a more difficult and complex problem for the US-NATO partnership than the likes of Libya. In Syria, the West was challenging the core interests of Russia, China, and Iran, three countries with ample resources and powerful militaries.

Terror in Syria

Meanwhile, the jihadists were starting to wreak havoc. Germany’s intelligence agency BND informed the Bundestag (parliament) that, from late December 2011 until early July 2012, there were 90 terrorist attacks carried out in Syria by organizations tied to Al Qaeda and other extremist groups.

The “moderates” were executing suicide and car bombings against Syrian government forces and civilians. One suicide raid on 18 July 2012 killed Assad’s brother-in-law, General Assef Shawkat, and the Syrian defense minister, General Dawoud Rajiha. The Free Syrian Army, supported by US-NATO and the Gulf countries, claimed culpability for this terrorist attack.

Read more: IS launches a major attack in eastern Syria

The jihad served only to harm and delegitimize the insurgents’ aims. The Syrian public could see, just a year into the conflict, that considerable numbers of those trying to eliminate the Syrian Arab Republic were extremists. In a double whammy blow, the terrorism ensured that defections to the opposition almost came to a halt.

From now on, the majority of military personnel remained loyal to Assad. More terrorist assaults in early October 2012 killed 40 people, consisting of four car bombings that damaged the government district in Aleppo.

This further undermined the insurgents. Al-Nusra Front, linked to Al Qaeda, took responsibility for these insane acts which served no purpose but to inflict bloodshed on innocent people. Suicide bombings grew in frequency.

Read more: IS led bus attack in Syria claims 37 lives

Israel’s concerns

When Japan’s generals unleashed kamikaze squadrons on the Allies from the autumn of 1944, they could at least claim desperation; Imperial Japan was fighting for its life. They never dreamed of using kamikaze pilots two years before, in 1942. By 1944, however, Tokyo’s forces were set firmly in retreat. The terrorists invading Syria had no such excuses.

The atrocities shocked Syria’s populace and bolstered sympathy for Assad. The Syrian president undoubtedly reacted to these rampages with an iron fist; his severe response may have been influenced too by the ongoing threat of a US-NATO invasion, as Western politicians continued to call for his resignation.

Read more: Bashar al-Assad has won the Syrian war

Israel’s head of military intelligence, Major General Aviv Kochavi, told the Israeli parliament in mid-July 2012 that “radical Islam” was establishing a foothold in Syria. Kochavi said, “We can see an ongoing flow of Al Qaeda and global jihad activists into Syria”.

He was worried that “the Golan Heights could become an arena of activity against Israel” which was “as a result of growing jihad movement in Syria”.

The Golan Heights, 40 miles south of Damascus, is Syrian territory under Israeli occupation since 1967. Kochavi believed that Assad “won’t survive the upheaval”.

Read more: Israel attacks Syria: Defence system responds to air strikes

The Free Syrian Army

The Western-supported Free Syrian Army in part consisted of mercenaries recruited from Libya, along with Al Qaeda, Wahhabi, and Salafist extremists. As the Al Qaeda boss Zawahiri had demanded, the radicals poured into Syria from neighboring Lebanon and NATO state Turkey.

They were focused on prosecuting a sectarian war – through massacring Syria’s ethnic groups such as the Alawites, Christians, Shia, and Druze; that is, those generally supportive of Assad whom the jihadists considered to be heretics.

Read more: Syrian rebels surrender Bosra al-Sham in Deraa offensive

The Syrian National Council (SNC), an anti-Assad coalition based in Istanbul, Turkey, was founded in August 2011. It had been organized by the secret services of the Western powers and was supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued to substitute secularism with Islamism in Turkey, and he became centrally involved in fanning the flames of war in Syria.

Erdogan allowed the Free Syrian Army to use Turkish bases in Antakya and Iskenderun, located in the far south of Turkey and beside the Syrian border. With Turkey’s assistance, NATO armaments were smuggled to the terrorists waging holy war on the Syrians. US intelligence agents were active in and around the southern Turkish city of Adana.

Read more: Turkey warns Syria of heavy price amid growing tension

Jihadists in Syria

Islamic jihadists arrived in Syria from distant European countries, such as Norway and Ireland; 100 of them alone entered Syria originating from Norway. Radical Muslims of Uyghur ethnicity from Xinjiang province, north-western China, were fighting in Syria at the side of Al Qaeda from May 2012.

The Uyghur militants belonged to the terrorist organization, the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), and also the East Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association, the latter group centered in Istanbul. Al-Libi, Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, publicly championed the TIP’s terrorist campaign against China’s authorities in Xinjiang.

Read more: Terrorist Activities in Damascus: a Hindrance to the Peace Process

Altogether, jihadists from 14 African, Asian and European countries were estimated to be present in Syria from early in the conflict. They came from such states as Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc.

This was partly a consequence and spillover of the March 2011 US-NATO military intervention in Libya. In early 2012, more than 10,000 Libyan mercenaries were trained in Jordan, bordering Syria to the south.

The militants were each paid $1,000 a month courtesy of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in order to compel them to participate in the war on Syria. The Saudis were shipping weapons to the most extreme elements in Syria.

Read more: Astana talks: Will Saudi Arabia really allow peace in Syria?

Cooperating with the insurgents

In the first week of August 2012, Assadist special forces captured 200 insurgents in an Aleppo suburb in north-western Syria. Government soldiers subsequently found Saudi and Turkish officers commanding the mercenaries.

In early October 2012, in another district of Aleppo (Bustan al-Qasr), Assad’s divisions repelled an attack and killed dozens of armed militia. They had entered Syria through Turkey and among them were four Turkish officers.

Besides the American airbase at Incirlik in southern Turkey, the jihadists received special training in modern weapons of war: anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, grenade launchers, and US-made stinger missiles.

Read more: Op-ed: Terrorism used by Western powers to justify interventions in energy-rich Islamic countries

NATO aircraft, flying without insignia or coat of arms, were landing in Turkish military bases close to Iskenderun, near Syria’s border. They carried armaments from Gaddafi’s former arsenals, as well as taking Libyan mercenaries to join the Free Syrian Army.

Instructors from the British special forces continued to co-operate with the insurgents. The CIA, and contingents from the US Special Operations Command, were dispensing with and operating telecommunications equipment, allowing the “rebels” to evade Syrian Army units. The CIA was furthermore flying drones over Syrian air space to gather intelligence.

Read more: What next in Syria’s Idlib?

The German intelligence operation

In September 2012, almost 50 high-ranking agents from the US, Britain, France, and Germany were active along the Syrian-Turkish frontier. The Germans, at the behest of their intelligence service BND, were operating a spy service boat ‘Oker (A 53)’ in the Mediterranean, not far from Syria’s western coastline.

On board this vessel were 40 commandos specializing in intelligence operations, using electromagnetic and hydro-acoustic equipment.

The Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) stationed two other intelligence ships in the Mediterranean, ‘Alster (A 50)’ and ‘Oste (A 52)’, collecting information on Syrian Army positions. The BND president Gerhard Schindler confirmed of Syria that Berlin wanted “a solid insight into the state of the country”.

Read more: Germany’s Syria Strategy

The German ships’ point of support was Incirlik Air Base, which contains 50 US nuclear bombs and hosts the Anglo-American air forces.

The German vessels’ mission was to decipher Syria’s telecommunications signals, intercept messages from the Syrian government and chiefs of staff, and uncover Assadist troop locations up to a radius of 370 miles off the coast, through satellite images.

Germany had a permanent listening post in Adana, southern Turkey, whereby they could intercept all calls made in Syria’s capital Damascus. Merkel’s government inevitably denied accusations that the German Navy was spying in the Mediterranean.

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 this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.