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 Syria Watch
Kier
Posted: Nov 2 2008, 05:28 PM





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QUOTE
Questions raised over Syrian complicity in US raid

Syria has denounced a US strike on its territory but sources say Damascus secretly backed the raid

Marie Colvin and Uzi Mahnaimi

November 2, 2008

The 38-year-old farmer was watering his maize in the scrubby vastness of eastern Syria when four Black Hawk helicopters swooped in low over the palm trees, heading from the border with Iraq formed by the Euphrates River.

It was late afternoon. The light was fading and the chill of the desert winter night was setting in. The helicopters, following their leader in a disciplined arc, hovered just above the one-storey concrete and mud homes of the village of Sukariyeh before the attack began.

Two of them landed next to a ramshackle building site and uniformed men hit the ground firing. Two other helicopters gave aerial cover.

“To begin with I thought they were Syrian helicopters, but then I saw eight or nine soldiers armed to the teeth. They carried big black M16s,” said Mohammad al-Ali, the farmer. His land lies closest to the site where an American commando squad last week staged an unprecedented strike in Syrian territory.

The guns were the clue to their identity – only Americans or their allies carry M16s; the Syrian army has Russian-made AK47s.

Ali said the troops raced to a compound of new homes, where men of the al-Hamad family were working. “Even before they ran from their helicopters they began to shoot at the workers,” Ali said. “The whole operation took 10 to 15 minutes and they left behind seven corpses.”

According to one eyewitness, the Americans took two men, alive or dead, back with them.

The Americans’ target was an Al-Qaeda commander identified as Badran Turki Hashim al-Mazidih, also known as Abu Ghadiya, an Iraqi-born terrorist in his late twenties. It is believed that he died in the firefight and his body was removed.

The Syrian regime immediately denounced the raid for violating its sovereignty, froze high-level diplomatic relations with Washington and protested at the United Nations in a ritualised show of anger.

However, sources in Washington last week revealed to The Sunday Times an intriguingly different background to the events in Sukariyeh.

According to one source, the special forces operation had taken place with the full cooperation of the Syrian intelligence services.

“Immediately after 9/11, Syrian intelligence cooperation was remarkable,” said the Washington source. “Then ties were broken off, but they have resumed recently.”


Abu Ghadiya was feared by the Syrians as an agent of Islamic fundamentalism who was hostile to the secular regime in Damascus. It would be expedient for Syria if America would eliminate him.

The threat to the Syrian government has made the regime of President Bashar al-Assad jittery. In September a car bomb exploded in Damascus near its intelligence headquarters. Many of the 17 victims were Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims at a nearby shrine.

The Washington source said the Americans regularly communicate with the Syrians through a back channel that runs through Syria’s air force intelligence, the Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya.

In the time-honoured tradition of covert US operations in the Middle East, this one seems to have gone spectacularly wrong. The Syrians, who had agreed to turn a blind eye to a supposedly quiet “snatch and grab” raid, could not keep the lid on a firefight in which so many people had died.


The operation should have been fast and bloodless. According to the sources, Syrian intelligence tipped off the Americans about Abu Ghadiya’s whereabouts. US electronic intelligence then tracked his exact location, possibly by tracing his satellite telephone, and the helicopters were directed to him. They were supposed to kidnap him and take him to Iraq for questioning.

According to defence sources, when the four US helicopters approached the Syrian border, they were detected by Syrian radar. Air force headquarters in Damascus was asked for permission to intercept.

After an Israeli airstrike against a suspected nuclear reactor in the same region last year, Syrian air defence has been on high alert. The request was turned down by senior officers because the American operation was expected.

It is not clear what went wrong, but it is believed that the helicopters were spotted by the militants on their final approach and a gun battle broke out. That is supported by an account from a local tribal leader, who said a rocket-propelled grenade had been launched from the compound at the helicopter. The firefight blew the cover on a supposedly covert operation.

Ninety minutes after the raid, according to a local tribal leader, agents of the feared Mukhabarat, the Syrian intelligence service, flooded into the village. “They threatened us that if anyone said anything about what happened in this area, their family members would die,” he said.

Local residents were happy to identify the seven dead villagers as Daoud al-Hamad, who owned the land, and his four sons, who were helping him to build the new houses, along with the site watchman and his cousin. The area is isolated and poor. Locals speak with Iraqi accents, as their tribe extends across the border, and smuggling is the most lucrative local profession.

The tribal leader revealed that everyone in the village knew that “jihadis” – extremist Islamic fighters – were operating in the area.

“You could often hear shooting from close to the border, which was not clashes but fighters training,” he said.

“There are areas along the border where the Mukhabarat doesn’t let people go and that’s where I think the jihadis are. The areas are some of the best ways into Iraq.”

Despite the furore over the raid, there can be little doubt that the Americans will celebrate the death of Abu Ghadiya, whom they described as the “most prominent” smuggler for Al-Qaeda in Iraq. He allegedly ran guns, money and foreign fighters along the “rat lines” that lead across the desert into northern Iraq and sometimes led raids himself.

In February the US Treasury Department identified Abu Ghadiya as a “high value” Al-Qaeda commander in charge of smuggling “money, weapons, terrorists and other resources . . . to Al-Qaeda in Iraq”.

It described him as a Sunni Muslim born in the late 1970s in Mosul and said he had been an aide to the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006.

Damascus may have other motives for its cooperation with Washington. Some diplomats in the capital think the regime would like to stage its own cross-border strikes against terror groups in Lebanon, which it sees as a threat.

“Syrian cross-border incursions into northern Lebanon in pursuit of Fatah al–Islam [a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda] are plausible,” said one source. They may be relying on the United States to turn a blind eye to do so.

American officials refused to apologise for the botched raid on Syria. They said the administration was determined to operate under a definition of self-defence that provided for strikes on terrorist targets in any sovereign state.

For Al-Qaeda militants, the safe haven of Syria will be looking decidedly cooler as winter sets in.

Additional reporting: Hugh MacLeod in Beirut

The Times
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Bridget
Posted: Apr 3 2011, 04:36 PM





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Interview with James Corbett at link:
QUOTE
After Libya, “Syria next piece on geopolitical chessboard”

Published: 03 April, 2011, 19:13

Syrian anti-government protesters, some holding signs reading "We only love freedom", march in the northeastern town of Qamishli on April 1, 2011 (AFP Photo / STR)

The Libyan crisis may repeat itself in Syria, believes independent journalist James Corbett, who joined RT to discuss the latest developments in the Middle Eastern country.

On Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appointed a new prime minister after dismissing the cabinet in an attempt to ease the unrest in the country.

Dozens have been killed in two weeks of fighting. The government blames outside influences for the unrest.

The extraordinary wave of protests has proved the most serious challenge yet to Assad's 11-year rule. He earlier pledged he would form committees to look into civilian deaths and the possibility of replacing the decades-old emergency laws.

The situation has raised fears that further foreign military intervention could be on the cards.

“Syria is going to become the next piece on the geopolitical chessboard for those who are manipulating the current intervention in Libya. We’ve seen a lot of covert intervention going on behind the scenes before and during the so-called ‘humanitarian intervention’. And that’s exactly what’s going to be taking place in Syria as a very geo-strategic location starts to become destabilized,” James Corbett told RT.

After Libya, “Syria next piece on geopolitical chessboard” — RT
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Bridget
Posted: Jun 13 2011, 09:23 AM





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QUOTE
Syrian lesbian blogger is revealed conclusively to be a married man

Tom MacMaster's wife has confirmed in an email to the Guardian that he is the real identity behind the Gay Girl in Damascus blog

    Esther Addley
  The Guardian, Monday 13 June 2011

user posted image
Syrian lesbian blogger has been revealed to be Tom MacMaster, an American based in Scotland. Public domain

The mysterious identity of a young Arab lesbian blogger who was apparently kidnapped last week in Syria has been revealed conclusively to be a hoax. The blogs were written not by a gay girl in Damascus, but a middle-aged American man based in Scotland.

Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old Middle East activist studying for a masters at Edinburgh University, posted an update declaring that, rather than a 35-year-old feminist and lesbian called Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, he was "the sole author of all posts on this blog".

"I never expected this level of attention," he wrote in a posting allegedly emanating from "Istanbul, Turkey".

"The events [in the Middle East] are being shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience."

The admission – confirmed in an email to the Guardian from MacMaster's wife – apparently ends a mystery that has convulsed parts of the internet for almost a week. But it provoked a furious response from those who had supported the blogger's campaign, with some in the Syrian gay community saying he had risked their safety and seriously harmed their cause.

The blog A Gay Girl in Damascus was launched in February, purportedly to explain "what it's like to be a lesbian here", and gathered a growing following as Syria's popular uprising gained momentum in recent months. Amina described participating in street protests, carrying out furtive lesbian romances and eventually being forced into hiding after security forces came to her home to arrest her.

Then, on 6 June, a post appeared in the name of Amina's cousin "Rania O Ismail", who said the blogger had been snatched by armed men on a Damascus street. The news sparked internet campaigns to release her, until activists in Syria and beyond began voicing doubts.

It emerged that no one, even a woman in Canada who believed she was having a relationship with Amina, had ever spoken to her, and other key details could not be corroborated.

In recent days an army of bloggers, journalists and others uncovered snippets of evidence that pointed increasingly to MacMaster and his wife, Britta Froelicher, who is studying at the University of St Andrews for a PhD in Syrian economic development.

IP addresses of emails sent by Amina to the lesbian blog LezGetReal.com and others were traced to servers at Edinburgh University. A now-defunct Yahoo discussion group supposedly jointly run by "Amina Arraf" was listed under an address in Stone Mountain, Georgia, that public records show is a home owned by MacMaster and Froelicher.

Many private emails sent by the blog's author contained photographs identical to pictures taken by Froelicher and posted on her page on the Picasa photo-sharing website. Included on the site are many images from a trip to Syria in 2008. The pictures had been removed from public view by Sunday night.

With the evidence increasingly compelling, MacMaster, who apparently moved to Edinburgh with his wife late last year, decided to come clean. "While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground," the update read. "This experience has, sadly, only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism. However, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers."

Despite MacMaster's assertion "I do not believe that I have harmed anyone", activists were furious. Sami Hamwi, the pseudonym for the Damascus editor of GayMiddleEast.com, wrote: "To Mr MacMaster, I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country. We have to deal with too many difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us.

"Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina's arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Really … Shame on you!!!"

"What a waste of time when we are trying so hard to get news out of Syria," another Damascus activist told the Guardian.

Twitter supporters and bloggers also reacted furiously. There was no immediate reaction from Sandra Bagaria, the French Canadian woman who exchanged around 1,000 emails with Amina and believed herself to be in a romantic relationship with her. Jelena Lecic, the London woman whose pictures were appropriated by the blogger and passed off as Amina, including in direct email correspondence with the Guardian, was not immediately available for comment.

Katherine Marsh, the pseudonym of a journalist who until recently was reporting for the Guardian from Syria, interviewed Amina by email in May after being put in touch with her by a trusted Syrian contact who also believed the blogger to be real.

Marsh said that many steps had been taken to try to verify Amina's identity, including repeated requests to meet, at some personal risk to the journalist, and to talk on Skype.

Amina agreed to meet but later emailed to say she had seen security forces and had therefore not come to the meeting. She then emailed details of her supposed hiding place, lending credence to her story.

Despite the explanations offered in the blogpost, the question many were asking last night was why. In response to an email from the Guardian, Froelicher said she and her husband "would be giving the first interview to a journalist of [their] choice in 12-24 hours". In a message to another journalist, she said: "We are on vacation in Turkey and just really want to have a nice time and not deal with all this craziness at the moment."


This post has been edited by Bridget on Jun 13 2011, 09:25 AM
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justthefacts
Posted: Jan 6 2012, 03:01 PM





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QUOTE
Syrian TV says at least 11 killed in Damascus blast; death toll expected to rise

[6/1/12]

In a sign of just how polarized Syria has become, the opposition has questioned the government’s allegations that terrorists are behind the attacks — suggesting the regime itself could have been behind the violence to try to erode support for the uprising and show the observer team that it is a victim in the country’s upheaval.

The government has long contended that the turmoil in Syria this year is not an uprising but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs.

...

Air force Col. Riad al-Asaad, leader of the main armed group fighting the regime, denied responsibility for Friday’s bus bombing in an interview with pan-Arab Al-Jazeera TV.

He said his organization, the Free Syrian Army, “doesn’t have the experience to carry out such explosions” and said the regime “is the plotter for this attack.” He spoke from Turkey, where the group is based.

Source


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Bridget
Posted: Jan 7 2012, 09:54 AM





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Interesting how the 'enemies' of the West can easily be blamed for false flag ops (radio and TV news also stating this yesterday). I suspect the pro-Imperialist FSA will get plenty of training in car bombs.
QUOTE ("justthefacts")
Air force Col. Riad al-Asaad, leader of the main armed group fighting the regime, denied responsibility for Friday’s bus bombing in an interview with pan-Arab Al-Jazeera TV.

He said his organization, the Free Syrian Army, “doesn’t have the experience to carry out such explosions” and said the regime “is the plotter for this attack.” He spoke from Turkey, where the group is based.

QUOTE
Report: France Training Free Syrian Army Rebels in Turkey, Lebanon
by Naharnet Newsdesk 28 November 2011, 08:06

French military forces are training armed Syrian rebels in Turkey and Lebanon to fight the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Turkish newspaper has reported.


According to Milliyet, as cited by The Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, the French forces are training the so-called Free Syrian Army to wage war against Syria's military.

The report said the French, British, and Turkish authorities “have reached an agreement to send arms into Syria.”

The three countries have also informed the U.S. about the training and arming the Syrian opposition, it said.

The rebel army has stepped up attacks on regime targets in recent weeks in a bid to topple Assad’s government which has waged a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters since mid-March.

The Free Syrian Army claims to have some 20,000 deserters in its ranks. The group's chief, Riad al-Assaad, is based in Turkey.

The report came after the media also revealed that the British and French intelligence agencies have tasked their agents with contacting Syrian dissidents based in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli to help fuel the unrest in Syria.

Reports also said that French agents have been sent to northern Lebanon and Turkey to build the first contingents of the Free Syrian Army out of the deserters who have fled Syria.


Report: France Training Free Syrian Army Rebels in Turkey, Lebanon — Naharnet


This post has been edited by Bridget on Jan 7 2012, 09:55 AM
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Bridget
Posted: Jan 11 2012, 01:54 PM





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QUOTE
U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show
By Craig Whitlock,

The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.

The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad’s security forces since the demonstrations began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on “armed gangs.”

Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad. In January, the White House posted an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years.

The cables, provided by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks, show that U.S. Embassy officials in Damascus became worried in 2009 when they learned that Syrian intelligence agents were raising questions about U.S. programs. Some embassy officials suggested that the State Department reconsider its involvement, arguing that it could put the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Damascus at risk.

Syrian authorities “would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,” read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time. “A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive,” the cable said.

It is unclear whether the State Department is still funding Syrian opposition groups, but the cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010. While some of that money has also supported programs and dissidents inside Syria, The Washington Post is withholding certain names and program details at the request of the State Department, which said disclosure could endanger the recipients’ personal safety.

Syria, a police state, has been ruled by Assad since 2000, when he took power after his father’s death. Although the White House has condemned the killing of protesters in Syria, it has not explicitly called for his ouster.

The State Department declined to comment on the authenticity of the cables or answer questions about its funding of Barada TV.

Tamara Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees the democracy and human rights portfolio in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said the State Department does not endorse political parties or movements.

“We back a set of principles,” she said. “There are a lot of organizations in Syria and other countries that are seeking changes from their government. That’s an agenda that we believe in and we’re going to support.”

The State Department often funds programs around the world that promote democratic ideals and human rights, but it usually draws the line at giving money to political opposition groups.

In February 2006, when relations with Damascus were at a nadir, the Bush administration announced that it would award $5 million in grants to “accelerate the work of reformers in Syria.”

But no dissidents inside Syria were willing to take the money, for fear it would lead to their arrest or execution for treason, according to a 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy, which reported that “no bona fide opposition member will be courageous enough to accept funding.”

Around the same time, Syrian exiles in Europe founded the Movement for Justice and Development. The group, which is banned in Syria, openly advocates for Assad’s removal. U.S. cables describe its leaders as “liberal, moderate Islamists” who are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Barada TV

It is unclear when the group began to receive U.S. funds, but cables show U.S. officials in 2007 raised the idea of helping to start an anti-Assad satellite channel.

People involved with the group and with Barada TV, however, would not acknowledge taking money from the U.S. government.

“I’m not aware of anything like that,” Malik al-Abdeh, Barada TV’s news director, said in a brief telephone interview from London.

Abdeh said the channel receives money from “independent Syrian businessmen” whom he declined to name. He also said there was no connection between Barada TV and the Movement for Justice and Development, although he confirmed that he serves on the political group’s board. The board is chaired by his brother, Anas.

“If your purpose is to smear Barada TV, I don’t want to continue this conversation,” Malik al-Abdeh said. “That’s all I’m going to give you.”

Other dissidents said that Barada TV has a growing audience in Syria but that its viewer share is tiny compared with other independent satellite news channels such as al-Jazeera and BBC Arabic. Although Barada TV broadcasts 24 hours a day, many of its programs are reruns. Some of the mainstay shows are “Towards Change,” a panel discussion about current events, and “First Step,” a program produced by a Syrian dissident group based in the United States.

Ausama Monajed, another Syrian exile in London, said he used to work as a producer for Barada TV and as media relations director for the Movement for Justice and Development but has not been “active” in either job for about a year. He said he now devotes all his energy to the Syrian revolutionary movement, distributing videos and protest updates to journalists.

He said he “could not confirm” any U.S. government support for the satellite channel, because he was not involved with its finances. “I didn’t receive a penny myself,” he said.

Several U.S. diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called the Middle East Partnership Initiative. According to the cables, the State Department funneled money to the exile group via the Democracy Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit. According to its Web site, the council sponsors projects in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America to promote the “fundamental elements of stable societies.”

The council’s founder and president, James Prince, is a former congressional staff member and investment adviser for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Reached by telephone, Prince acknowledged that the council administers a grant from the Middle East Partnership Initiative but said that it was not “Syria-specific.”

Prince said he was “familiar with” Barada TV and the Syrian exile group in London, but he declined to comment further, saying he did not have approval from his board of directors. “We don’t really talk about anything like that,” he said.

The April 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Damascus states that the Democracy Council received $6.3 million from the State Department to run a Syria-related program called the “Civil Society Strengthening Initiative.”
That program is described as “a discrete collaborative effort between the Democracy Council and local partners” to produce, among other things, “various broadcast concepts.” Other cables make clear that one of those concepts was Barada TV.

U.S. allocations

Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, said the Middle East Partnership Initiative has allocated $7.5 million for Syrian programs since 2005. A cable from the embassy in Damascus, however, pegged a much higher total — about $12 million — between 2005 and 2010.

The cables report persistent fears among U.S. diplomats that Syrian state security agents had uncovered the money trail from Washington.

A September 2009 cable reported that Syrian agents had interrogated a number of people about “MEPI operations in particular,” a reference to the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

“It is unclear to what extent [Syrian] intelligence services understand how USG money enters Syria and through which proxy organizations,” the cable stated, referring to funding from the U.S. government. “What is clear, however, is that security agents are increasingly focused on this issue.”

U.S. diplomats also warned that Syrian agents may have “penetrated” the Movement for Justice and Development by intercepting its communications.

A June 2009 cable listed the concerns under the heading “MJD: A Leaky Boat?” It reported that the group was “seeking to expand its base in Syria” but had been “initially lax in its security, often speaking about highly sensitive material on open lines.”

The cable cited evidence that the Syrian intelligence service was aware of the connection between the London exile group and the Democracy Council in Los Angeles. As a result, embassy officials fretted that the entire Syria assistance program had been compromised.

“Reporting in other channels suggest the Syrian [Mukhabarat] may already have penetrated the MJD and is using the MJD contacts to track U.S. democracy programming,” the cable stated. “If the [Syrian government] does know, but has chosen not to intervene openly, it raises the possibility that the [government] may be mounting a campaign to entrap democracy activists.”

U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show - The Washington Post
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numeral
Posted: Feb 19 2012, 09:15 PM





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QUOTE
Syria's crisis is leading us to unlikely bedfellows

David Cameron and William Hague are at risk of over-simplifying a dangerous and complex situation.

By Peter Oborne

9:00PM GMT 18 Feb 2012

When two car bombings killed nearly 50 people in the heart of the Syrian capital of Damascus just before Christmas, we in the West were quick to challenge claims made on state TV that the atrocities had been carried out by al-Qaeda. We were inclined to award more credibility to the Syrian rebels, who denied that the terror group was involved at all, and insisted that the attacks had been cynically staged by the government, perhaps as a bid for international sympathy.

However, all doubt ended last week when James Clapper, director of US national intelligence, informed the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Damascus bombings “had all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda attack”. Mr Clapper added that “we believe al-Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria”. So, it’s official. Al-Qaeda is acknowledged as an ally of Britain and America in our desire to overturn the Syrian government.

Think about it. Ten years ago, in the wake of the destruction of the Twin Towers, we invaded Afghanistan to eliminate al-Qaeda. Now the world’s most notorious terror organisation wants to join a new “coalition of the willing” in Syria (not just al-Qaeda: yesterday the Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir staged a march through west London in support of their Syrian brothers and the establishment of the Khilafah state).

This may be the most profound turnaround in global politics since the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 converted Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany from bitter enemies into allies – and it is important to understand that the affinity of interests between al-Qaeda and the West extends far beyond Syria. Britain, the United States and al-Qaeda also have a deep, structural hostility to President Assad’s biggest sponsor, Iran.

Like al-Qaeda, we are interested in undermining Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in the Lebanon. In Libya, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy threw their weight behind the destruction of Gaddafi’s government and its replacement by a new regime which reportedly embraces al-Qaeda-connected figures. We and the terror group have come to share the same hostility to the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and for very much the same reason: we both agree that he takes his orders from Tehran.

Of course, it remains the case that we have different methods and contrasting ideals. But we share unnervingly similar short-term objectives. Although it is unlikely that Britain and America have significant direct dealings with al-Qaeda, it may be that some of our allies do.

Let’s consider for a moment one of the most glaring hypocrisies of American foreign policy: the differential treatment between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Washington never ceases to complain about the connection between the Pakistani intelligence services and the Taliban. But we never hear a whisper of concerns about the connection between Saudi intelligence and Salafi movements across the Middle East, of which al-Qaeda is the best known offshoot.

For months, the region has been alive with rumours that al-Qaeda and other Sunni fighters have been sneaking into Syria through Lebanon and Turkey. Many of these extremist Sunni infiltrators fought with al-Qaeda in Iraq before being driven out and taking refuge in the Lebanon. It is likely that they are backed with money and arms by Saudi interests, and inconceivable that they could act without the knowledge, and perhaps the assistance, of Saudi intelligence.

So what has brought al-Qaeda in from the cold? The answer lies in the Arab Spring. Certainly the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere started out as popular uprisings; many of the rebels in Syria continue to fight, and often die, for human rights and democracy. But, as time has gone by, other agendas are coming into play, and other interests have sought to assert themselves. The statecraft of Saudi Arabia demonstrates how complex the situation has become. The gerontocracy which governs that desert kingdom will never countenance internal opposition. Indeed, Saudi troops marched into Bahrain to suppress the democracy movement there. On the other hand, the Saudis backed the Libyan rebels and are reportedly active in the destabilisation of President Assad.

This deeply reactionary monarchy remains Britain and America’s closest ally in the Middle East. As the Arab Spring has unfolded, we have encouraged the Saudis to develop a makeshift alliance that embraces Qatar, Jordan, the Israelis, al-Qaeda and, it would seem, elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have very strong historical reasons for wishing to dislodge the Assad regime, in the light of its brutal crushing of the Brotherhood-inspired revolt in Hama 30 years ago. All members of this alliance would agree that they want the Shiite-Allawi regime in Syria to be replaced by some form of majority Sunni rule. Britain and America hope this would be democratic; doubtless al-Qaeda and its Saudi allies have something else in mind. Ranged on the other side are Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraq’s al-Maliki government. In Iraq, many of the Awakening Councils (the militia set up by the US six years ago to defeat al-Qaeda) now feel betrayed and are said to have joined forces again with their Sunni brethren.

The situation could hardly be more dangerous or more complex. Yet, in recent public pronouncements David Cameron has repeatedly spoken of the conflict in Syria as a struggle between an illegal and autocratic regime at war with what he likes to call “the people”. Either he is poorly briefed, or he is coming dangerously close to a calculated deception of the British public. For the situation is far more complicated than he has admitted. It is far from obvious, for example, even that a majority of Syrians are opposed to the Assad regime. Russia calculates that perhaps two thirds of Syrians are still broadly supportive, and it is worth recalling that Russia was a more accurate source of information in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq than either Britain or the US.

Foreign policy is perhaps the area where David Cameron’s Government has copied New Labour most closely. Mr Cameron shares much of Tony Blair’s slavish adherence to American foreign policy aims, especially in the Middle East. Like Mr Blair, he wilfully simplifies intractable foreign policy decisions and has shown a fondness for overseas adventures. In Syria, British rhetoric may raise expectations among the opposition which we can never satisfy.

Meanwhile, in Libya there are menacing signs that last year’s Anglo-French intervention is starting to go wrong. The toppling of the Gaddafi regime has not brought an end to the killing. If anything, the fighting appears to be getting worse, as the country breaks into hostile armed fractions – a fertile hunting ground for al-Qaeda, our latest collaborator in the war on terror. I hope that the Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary, William Hague, know what they are doing as they allow Britain to be dragged closer towards further intervention in the Middle East. But judging from their public remarks they may be playing a game whose rules they do not fully understand.


This post has been edited by numeral on Feb 19 2012, 09:20 PM
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