Yesterday, Michael Brull, writing in the ABC's Drum column, asked ‘What’s behind Australia’s support for the Syrian protests?’ But, while Michael does a good job of explaining the geo-political realities on the ground that relate to the different ways the West has dealt with the various ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, he has failed to provide an answer as to what really is behind Australia’s support for the Syrian protests.
The answer is blindingly simple; it is because Australia supports any cause that the US supports - especially when it comes to US foreign policy in matters relating to the Middle East. In doing so, the Australian mainstream media, dominated by the Murdoch Empire which has powerful connections to US neoconservative and Republican warhawks, will toe the government line that, in turn, follows the US foreign policy line. As a consequence, Australians get a rather distorted picture of what is actually going on.
Atrocities are being committed by both Bashir al-Assad supporters and rebel forces. While questions hang over who may have been responsible for the spate of massacres in various towns and villages across the west of Syria with the two sides blaming each other, suicide bombings that have resulted in many civilian deaths are clearly being committed by extremist anti-Assad forces.
The key, however, to understanding what’s going on is to be aware of, not just who are clearly friends with the US and those who clearly are not, but also to understand how any change in the status quo is likely to affect America’s closest friend, Israel.
Tunisia, the first of the Arab states to experience the Arab Spring, is far enough away from Israel to be of no concern to them. Tunisia’s a relatively small country, has little oil to be worth fighting over, was ruled by a dictator and was unlikely to be taken over by Islamic extremists. In the end, moderate Islamists were voted in to power within a democratic framework. As far as the neoconservatives were concerned, it was the kind of transition from dictatorship to democracy that they hoped would happen across the Arab world. This was the realisation not just of neoconservative policy, but neoconservative ideology. Their dream had always been to see Israel surrounded by democratic Arab nations that accepted Israel’s existence and enjoyed friendly relations. This, it was hoped, would lead to these newly democratised and Israeli-friendly Arab nations to influence Palestinians’ acceptance of a state with borders determined by Israel and including expanded settlements. This would be in conjunction with Israeli-controlled airspace, a Fatah-controlled Gaza Strip, and a completely demilitarised Palestinian state with the police armed only enough to maintain law and order.
As the Arab Spring revolutions spread, the neoconservatives and the Israeli right-wing became nervous. After pushing for years the ideology of democracy taking root in the Arab and Islamic world, they found it difficult not to support the Egyptian Arab Spring. Netanyahu became particularly nervous and pleaded with the West to support the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak when it seemed the Muslim Brotherhood were set to replace him – and, indeed, still might.
Meanwhile, the people of Libya rose against their leader, Muammar Gaddafi. The neoconservatives were keen to have boots on the ground in Libya – not just to help get rid of Gaddafi but, more importantly from their point of view, to keep the Islamist extremists well away from power once Gaddafi had gone. In the end, Obama resisted the temptation and instead supported NATO-led action against Gaddafi using airpower and, quite likely, a few covert ‘boots on the ground’. The results of the Libya venture have yet to be resolved.
So where is all this leading as far as the Syria uprising is concerned?
The main reason that the US and its allies, therefore including Australia, are keen to be rid of Bashir al-Assad of Syria is because of his alliance with Iran coupled with their joint support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and, to a lesser extent, Hamas in the Gaza Strip. With Syria out of the Middle East equation, Hezbollah and Hamas will have only Iran left to support them though Hamas is already relying less and less on Iran and more and more on Egypt for support.
The US and its allies need to be very careful about how they handle the Syria crisis. It could, in the end, be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire. The ousting of Assad doesn’t guarantee a quiet life for Israel. While the Syrian people don’t seem to have much time for Assad, they have even less for Israel which, some tend to forget, invaded and occupied the Syrian territory that is the Golan Heights. The Syrian people and particularly the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, membership of which had been banned under punishment of death by Assad, are keen to see their territories returned and may well be willing to let bygones be bygones and strike up a rapport with Hezbollah to help settle the matter, despite Hezbollah having supported Assad.
Then there’s the matter of Iran, mortal enemy of Israel and neoconservatives all over the world.
The ebb and flow of war propaganda against Iran from the West, particularly from the neoconservative-dominated mainstream commentariat in the Murdoch and associated media, has coincided with the rise and fall of chatter about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. And each time the chatter gets louder, so the likelihood of Iran being attacked seems ever more likely – even though the evidence pointing to Iran having such a program is actually no more apparent today than it was ten years ago when claims were being made that Iran was only a year or so away from having a weapon. (In the latest estimate, it’s reckoned it’s still two years away.) Because Iran does have a nuclear program, albeit to produce electrical energy and isotopes for use in treating cancer, Israel is claiming that the program’s existence is an existential threat to them though, considering Israel has at least a hundred, possibly many more, nuclear weapons at its disposal, the reality is more likely to be that Israel is actually an existential threat to Iran.
Propaganda about Iran’s so-called nuclear weapons program aside, both Israel and the US and their allies are well aware that, even if Iran did have a bomb, it would hardly be likely to use it. Apart from anything else, it would be the last thing it ever did.
So why all the fuss?
Again, it comes back to Israel and its relations with its immediate neighbours including the Palestinians in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
In 2006 Israel attacked Hezbollah in Lebanon ostensibly because Hezbollah had captured two Israeli soldiers who were part of a patrol close to the Lebanese-Israeli border and because Hezbollah were firing rockets into Israel. What didn’t get an airing in the Western mainstream press at the time was the reason Hezbollah were sending rockets to Israel; and that was because Israel was continually flying fighter jets at high speed and low-level often going supersonic and breaking windows over Beirut. The low-level flights were designed to provoke Hezbollah into a response that would create a casus belli for Israel to attack Hezbollah.
Israel’s stated war aim was to destroy Hezbollah. What wasn’t stated was Israel’s intention of occupying south Lebanon up to the Litani River. However, because of both Hezbollah’s resistance to the Israeli attacks and worldwide public opposition to Israel’s methods of war, which involved many civilian deaths in several well publicised Israeli attacks, the US withdrew its support of the war. This left Israel with no choice but to retreat.
But that doesn’t mean the Israelis have given up. An attack against Iran, either by the US or Israel or both, will provide an opportunity for Israel to have another crack at destroying Hezbollah once and for all. In the event of an attack against Iran, Israel, declaring that it is taking pre-emptive action against Iran’s ally, may choose to launch an all-out assault followed by a full-on invasion of south Lebanon. Israel may also see an opportunity to attack Hamas and occupy the Gaza Strip and possibly even fully occupy the West Bank.
All this may seem to most people as being rather extreme and unlikely. But before writing such likelihoods off, one should remember that in the event that these events come to fruition, as far as the West Bank, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip are concerned, it’s all happened before – several times.
The question is not ‘What’s behind Australia’s support for the Syrian protests’ but ‘What’s Australia’s role going to be in the destruction of the Middle East?’