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February 17, 2016

O Syria, your enemies "eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence"

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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The ongoing Syrian civil war has killed 250,000, wounded more than 1,000,000 and driven some 10,000,000 - half the population - out of the country as refugees, or left them homeless and displaced within its borders.

I visited Syria some 30 years ago, touring its major cities in the company of a member of the Syrian National Institute for Research. I found there a developing nation that provided good free education and health care to every citizen, a thriving Muslim society where the rights of women and minorities were upheld and respected. Political reform has long been needed, but until recently sincere efforts were being made to address it.

But this was Syria before the “intervention” leading to a bitter civil war that will mark its fifth miserable year in mid-March. The blame for all that death, destruction and human suffering lies squarely on the shoulders of those foreign powers who encouraged the initial violence and are still doing so.

Syria’s ancient cities are like living history books; in fact, the scarred capital of Damascus is still the oldest continuously populated city on earth.

During the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, some of Syria’s territory was occupied by Israel and illegally annexed, a political situation that prevails to this day. When Syria had a strong central government, it was more than Israel, even with all its Western support would dare to confront.

When Syria was asked by Saudi Arabia to send in liberation troops after Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, it complied. At the time, Syria was not recognized by either the Saudis or Americans as a dictatorship ruled by the Alawite, or Alawi sect of Islam.

Fast forward to the current era, when Saudi Arabia just days ago sent warplanes to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, a NATO member state. According to a Turkish official, the planes were contributed “for the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).”

The Saudi air force has been targeting ISIL in Syria since September 2014, but the Gulf kingdom is now also ready to provide ground forces to defeat the extremist movement, a military spokesman said late last week (Feb. 11).

“Today, the Saudi kingdom announced its readiness to participate with ground troops with the US-led coalition against ISIL, because we now have the experience in Yemen,” Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri told Al Jazeera reporters. “We know that air strikes cannot be enough and that a ground operation is needed,” he continued. “We need to combine both to achieve better results on the ground.”

Turkey has already deployed some 100 fighters into Syria while continuing to bomb rebel Kurdish forces in both Syria and Iraq.

Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has suggested that the stubborn regional conflict could snowball into a “world war” if Saudi Arabia and others send in more troops to shore up the opposition.

On this issue, newly-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – claiming “Canada is back” – appears to be singing from the same song sheet as US President Barack Obama.

At a recent seminar in Toronto, an American academic of Arab origin was defending the invasion of Syria as a means to force regime change and impose democracy there.

When asked to respond to UK and Australian press reports that Saudi Arabia and Wall Street bankers are funding ISIL and that an American and British plane have been shot down while delivering arms to ISIL, he admitted to the fact that an American plane was carrying arms shipments.

The speaker added, however, that he wouldn’t put much stock in media reports of Saudi Arabia and America colluding to fund ISIL; and that when munitions are dropped, it is because “mistakes” are made in war. Interestingly, he didn’t deny outright that Saudi Arabia and the US are funding ISIL.

The embarrassing and deadly difficulty with foreign collusion and “interventions” is that many foreign fighters trained in Turkey, and funded by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, for the purpose of strengthening Syria’s “moderate” (but armed) opposition to President Bashar Assad end up defecting to ISIL – and taking their arms and training with them.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on December 15, 2015 aimed at disrupting revenues that the Islamic State receives from black market oil, antiquities sales, ransom payments, and other criminal activities.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who chaired the UN meeting, stressed that the Islamic State needs access to the international financial system for its oil equipment, weapons, communications technology and other imported items. These transactions require them to move funds – and that can create opportunities for attacking them.

Considering that the war against ISIL has been going on for a number of years now, it’s puzzling that the US and its allies have waited until now to consider attacking the organization’s funding.

American military leaders and government officials now agree that the war in Syria has become a 10- to 20-year problem. It has become a central challenge of our generation and perhaps even of the one to follow. Many Americans and Westerners truly believe this. And why wouldn't they?

Five years of bloodshed, social upheaval and cultural destruction with no early end in sight have shown just how wrong the US, Canada, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and their cohorts have been in their collective delusion that supporting a violent revolt through more violence would somehow resolve the conflict in Syria. 

When the Syrian government still commanded significant support among some political factions, even the leading opposition forces did not want to use violence. But “we” in neighboring and Western nations thought we knew better and took the choice between peaceful or violent means out of the Syrian opposition’s hands.

The pictures I see of Syria today are unrecognizable … and will be for generations to come. 

Quotation in title is from the Book of Proverbs 4:17

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