A brief colorful history of the modern state of Syria (and its neighbors) 2

Until the end of World War I, the states of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan did not exist. The territory they now cover had been part of the Empire of the Ottoman Turks for some 400 years. The names Syria and Mesopotamia designated Middle Eastern regions of the Ottoman Empire, roughly where Syria and Iraq are now.

In World War I the Turks were allies of Germany. The Arabs were loyal to their Ottoman overlords, and were also on Germany’s side.

But the British incited sedition among some of them, bribing a man in high religious office to head a rebellion. The inducement they offered him was power and glory: rule of an Arab independency of undefined dimensions.

The man was Hussein Ibn Ali, of the clan of the Hashemites and the tribe of the Quraish, Sharif of the Holy City of Mecca, putatively a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

The British gave him arms, supplies, subsidies and advisers. When he asked also for a firm definition of his dream-kingdom, the British High Commissioner in Cairo, Sir Henry McMahon, sent him a “clarification” in a letter dated 24 October 1915, in which he made it clear that he could not make it clear. The British, he explained, could not promise territory to Hussein which the French might claim, and they did not know what the French might claim.

In 1916 the British and French agreed, in a secret document known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, on how they would divide up the territory between them once they had conquered it from the Turks. It was against the spirit of the times, when high principles were asserted against the old ideas of empire; principles which President Wilson of the United States set out in 14 points and became enshrined on the Covenant of the League of Nations. The new ideal was that never again would great powers impose their will on smaller nations.

In 1918, the British made another promise to the Arabs. It is known as The Declaration to the Seven. The “Seven” were from the Syrian region. They went to Cairo to ask the British what their intentions were in the Middle East. They were given a pledge that Britain would recognize “the complete and sovereign independence of any Arab area emancipated from Turkish control by the Arabs themselves”. It was an uncharacteristically precise promise.

It prompted the self-dramatizing Englishman, Colonel T.E.Lawrence, who had a highly romantic view of the Arabs (a view that has polluted the atmosphere of the  British Foreign Office ever since), to exert himself to lead Hussein’s forces to a decisive victory. He marched them to Damascus, but the Australian Light Horse Brigade got there first, and took the city from the Turks. Lawrence persuaded the British to pretend that his Arabs had conquered the city. So the British ordered the Australians to drift out and let the Arabs march in. This set a really bad precedent by which the Arabs expected always to have a fictional version of reality replace any facts on the ground which inconvenienced them. It also gave the Arabs as a whole a false understanding of their own military power and achievements. (If they had beaten the mighty Turks at Damascus, how could they not be victorious against the new little Jewish state of Israel in 1948?)

When the British, French, and Americans won the Second World War, the British set about fulfilling – more or less –  their promise to Hussein.

Hussein himself already ruled the Hejaz. His son Ali was his heir to that kingdom. (They were, however, to lose it in 1924,when Abdul Aziz al Saud conquered it. Saud was to join the Hejaz and the Nejd together and found a new state, Saudi Arabia, named after himself, in 1932.) But new kingdoms were created by the British for Hussein’s other sons, Abdullah and Faisal. They were to be called Syria and Iraq.

They made Faisal King of of the new state of Syria, and proposed to put Abdullah on the throne of a new state of Iraq. 

Faisal ruled Syria only from March to April, 1920. The French knocked him off his throne and threw him out of the country, whose destiny they claimed was rightfully in their hands. (The French were granted mandates over Syria and Lebanon.)

The British had to find another throne for Faisal, so they made him King of Iraq instead of his brother, and then considered what they could for Abdullah.

What remained in their power to give away – or so they made out – was an area of the Ottoman Empire to which the ancient Romans had given the name Palestine when it was still part of their empire. In July 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate (also agreed on at the San Remo peace conference in 1920) over the Palestine region. The British pleaded that they needed it in order to carry out a promise they had made, in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, to let the region become a National Home for the Jews. According to the terms of the Mandate they were  to “settle Jews closely on the land”. But when they were confronted by the problem of Abdullah being kingdom-less, they found that there was no need to let Jews settle closely on all the land. So they presented three-quarters of it, stretching eastward from the River Jordan to a chosen line in the desert, to Abdullah and called it the Emirate of Transjordan.

All the newly created Arab states fell short of Arab dreams. One was to flourish fairly well as a monarchy: the Emirate of Transjordan renamed itself the Kingdom of Jordan in 1949, when the Arab armies had failed to crush the new state of Israel, but the Transjordanian forces – known as the Arab Legion, under the able command of a British officer, John Bagot Glubb, better known as Glubb Pasha – had advanced across the River Jordan and taken control of what has ever since been called the “West Bank”. (Israel conquered it in its defensive war of 1968.)

The French held a mandate over Syria until July 1941. In September 1936,  a treaty of independence was  negotiated, but the French Legislature would not ratify it. Only when the British and Free French beat the forces of Vichy France in Syria and Lebanon in the Second World War, did Syria become an independent republic. But coups and attempted coups followed hot on each other, and the state was extremely unstable.

The Kingdom of Iraq also had a history of instability with numerous uprisings, massacres and assassinations. In 1958 the monarchy came to an end. The king, Faisal II, was eleven years old. His uncle, Abd al-Ilah, was  regent. He was an ambitious man. He had plans to dominate an Arab unity embracing Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait. In February 1958 he achieved a union between Iraq and Jordan, the two remaining Hashemite kingdoms. This was intolerable to the president of Egypt, Jamal Abd al-Nasser, who had just created a union of Egypt and Syria in the same  month. The union of Egypt and Syria under Nasser’s domination was intolerable to Abd al-Ilah.

Nasser had nationalized the Suez canal. Britain and France, who were joint shareholders in the Canal, lost their ownership of it. Nasser closed it to Israeli shipping. Israel saw this as a cause for war. Britain and France arranged with Israel that Israeli forces would strike into the Sinai on 29 October 1956, and they would invade Egypt on the pretext of restoring peace between the belligerents. President Eisenhower – unwisely – put a stop to the invasion when it had only just begun. America’s intervention allowed Nasser to pretend that he had won a victory, and felt encouraged to pursue his pan-Arab dream.

On February 1 1958, the union of Egypt and Syria as the United Arab Republic (UAR) came into being, with Cairo as its capital and Nasser as its president. Yemen was added a month later to form a confederation called the United Arab States.

Nasser’s agents and sympathizers went to work throughout the Middle East to spread his national socialist ideology. In Baghdad officers sympathetic to “Nasserism”  plotted the destruction of the Iraqi monarchy. In 1958, under pro-Nasserite leadership, a contingent of Iraqi troops despatched by the Regent  to quell a pro-Nasser uprising and civil war in Lebanon (actually put down by US forces) turned instead on their own ruling house. At dawn on 14 July 1958, the boy-king Faisal was murdered, along with his grandmother, his aunt, and others in the palace, including a helpless harmless orphan boy who lived with them.

Abd al-Ilah was dragged through the streets of Baghdad tied with ropes to the back of a truck, then – whether still alive or not when the tuck stopped – his body was dismembered with axes and his limbs and head tossed about by the hysterical mob. His trunk was hung from a balcony and chunks of its flesh were sliced off and thrown to the crowd below. The Prime Minister, Nuri al-Said, disguised himself as a woman and tried to escape, but he was caught and killed, and his body flung down on a busy street to be driven over, squashed and broken by the cars full of exulting motorists. His successor too was murdered after five years in power, and his body was fed to dogs.

In 1961, Syria revolted against Egypt’s domination and reasserted its independence. So the UAE was dissolved, and Yemen released. Hafez Assad became president of Syria in 1971. Under his dictatorship, and after him the dictatorship of his son Bashar Assad, rebellion has been put down with ruthless massacres.

Or not put down, as is the case now that civil war rages; or war waged by numerous militias and terrorist groups against the forces of the state. There is no reason to expect a peaceful or stable Syria to emerge out of the chaos, whether Great Powers intervene or not. The Syrians have no precedent for peace and stability in their young unhappy country. 

 

Jillian Becker  September 9, 2013

Letting Arabs lie 2

In 1918 Australian troops liberated Damascus from Ottoman rule. An Arab contingent, led and misled by the romanticizing Englishman T.E.Lawrence, wanted to claim that they had achieved the victory. So the British ordered the Australians to withdraw and let the Arabs march in as if they were the conquerors.

The lie fostered the notion among the Arabs that they really were great warriors. This meant that when, thirty years later, a small ill-equipped ad hoc Israeli defense force beat the five Arab armies that attacked the new state, the Arabs felt not only humiliated but incredulous. The lie, as is the way with lies, did them no good.

The Europeans – the British at least – should have learnt their lesson then, that allowing the Arabs their false pretenses is a stupid and counter-productive policy.

But it seems they did not. It’s pretty obvious that something similar is happening now with the “capture of Tripoli by the rebels”.

In our recent post Sudden victory in Libya, we quoted this question asked by DebkaFile:

How did the ragtag, squabbling Libyan rebels who were unable to build a coherent army in six months suddenly turn up in Tripoli Sunday looking like an organized military force and using weapons for which they were not known to have received proper training? Did they secretly harbor a non-Libyan hard core of professional soldiers?

Now here’s the story that is supposed to answer such a question, cooked up (so we suspect) by AP and some wily Arabs, and swallowed whole by the Washington Post:

They called it Operation Mermaid Dawn, a stealth plan coordinated by sleeper cells, Libyan rebels, and NATO to snatch the capital from the Moammar Gadhafi’s regime’s hands.

Ah, so NATO did play a part. Well, everyone knows that NATO was assisting the rebels – with air-strikes, weaponry, intelligence. So what? Nothing new there.

It proceeds in the manner of pulp fiction:

It began three months ago when groups of young men left their homes in Tripoli and traveled to train in Benghazi with ex-military soldiers.

Ex-military, eh? But – soldiers of what nationality? Is care being taken here to hide the fact that NATO soldiers put their boots on Libyan ground and took charge of the rebel forces for an advance on Tripoli? After NATO had said they wouldn’t do such a thing? Perish the thought!

After training in Benghazi, the men would return to Tripoli either through the sea disguised as fishermen or through the western mountains.

A script ready for the big screen.

“They went back to Tripoli and waited; they became sleeper cells,” said military spokesman Fadlallah Haroun, who helped organize the operation.

He said that many of the trained fighters also stayed in the cities west of Tripoli, including Zintan and Zawiya, and waited for the day to come to push into the capital.

Operation Mermaid Dawn began on the night of August 21 and took the world by surprise as the rebels sped into the capital and celebrated in Green Square with almost no resistance from pro-Gadhafi forces.

Haroun said about 150 men rose up from inside Tripoli, blocking streets, engaging in armed street fights with Gadhafi brigades, and taking over their streets with check points.

See what tacticians these rebels are? What long-sighted and meticulous planners?

He said another 200 men [came] from Misrata.

But why did the armed Gadhafi troops melt away when the rebels drove through?

Would they fear a raggle-taggle rebel army?

Fathi Baja, head of the rebel leadership’s political committee, said it was all thanks to a deal cut with the head of the batallion in charge of protecting Tripoli’s gates, the Mohammed Megrayef Brigade.

His name was Mohammed Eshkal and he was very close to Gadhafi and his family.

Close to Gadhafi? Then why – ?

Ah, there was a reason. A secret grudge nursed for many and many a long year. So the plot thickens.

Baja said Gadhafi had ordered the death of his cousin twenty years ago.

“Eshkal carried a grudge in his heart against Gadhafi for 20 years, and he made a deal with the NTC — when the zero hour approached he would hand the city over to the rebels,” said Haroun.

“Eshkal didn’t care much about the revolution,” said Haroun. “He wanted to take a personal revenge from Gadhafi and when he saw a chance that he will fall, he just let it happen.”

But Haroun said he still didn’t trust Eshkal or the men who defected so late in the game.

Haroun said that he didn’t trust any of the defectors who left Gadhafi’s side so close to August 20.

“They knew his days were numbered so they defected, but in their hearts they will always fear Gadhafi and give him a regard,” he said.

Haroun said NATO was in contact with the rebel leadership in Benghazi and were aware of the date of Operation Mermaid Dawn.

Only “aware of it”. Did NATO have no active part in it?

Oh, yes, it did.  Haroun would not deny NATO had played a role.

“Honestly …

Savor that “Honestly”!

“Honestly, NATO played a very big role in liberating Tripoli — they bombed all the main locations that we couldn’t handle with our light weapons,” said Haroun.

And AP hastens to bear out the honest confession of Haroun by adding details anyone can check out:

Analysts have noted that as time went on, NATO airstrikes became more and more precise and there was less and less collateral damage, indicating the presence of air controllers on the battlefields.

Targeted bombings launched methodical strikes on Gadhafi’s crucial communications facilities and weapons caches. An increasing number of American hunter-killer drones provided round-the-clock surveillance as the rebels advanced.

Okay, that’s accepted. But that was all?  Any suspicion that European soldiers were on the ground would be wholly unfounded?

What if European foreign offices were to give out a different tale?

Diplomats acknowledge that covert teams from France, Britain and some East European states provided critical assistance.

Oh? Of what sort?

Well, quite a variety when we get down to it:

The assistance included logisticians, security advisers and forward air controllers for the rebel army, as well as intelligence operatives, damage assessment analysts and other experts, according to a diplomat based at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Only advisers, not trainers, mark you. But what if European military personnel were actually spotted among the rebels? Well,

Foreign military advisers on the ground provided key real-time intelligence to the rebels, enabling them to maximize their limited firepower against the enemy. One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the Qatari military led the way, augmented later by French, Italian and British military advisers.

So a foreign but Arab army was “augmented” by European advisers.

But only “later’. How much later? We’re not told, but they couldn’t have been too far behind considering the speed of the advance.

This effort had a multiple purpose, not only assisting the rebels but monitoring their ranks …

There’s a good word – “monitoring”. It implies “merely observing, merely taking note”.

… and watching for any al-Qaida elements trying to infiltrate or influence the rebellion.

Ah, watching for al-Qaida elements. That’s old policy, perfectly legitimate.

And besides, most of the observing was still being done from the air. Assistance given without the use of any actual Europeans at all:

Bolstering the intelligence on the ground was an escalating surveillance and targeting campaign in the skies above. Armed U.S. Predator drones helped to clear a path for the rebels to advance.

Baja said as the time for Operation Mermaid Dawn came close to execution, NATO began to intensify their bombing campaign at Bab al-Azizya and near jails where weapons were stored and political prisoners were held.

And then the people rose up.

The dramatization is brought to a climax with the last line.

We cannot prove – yet – that the story is a lie. But we are fairly persuaded that it is: a false account seasoned with little hints of the truth to allow the fibbers to say later if challenged, ‘But we said that NATO did this, and the British and French did that, and okay we may have left out details of what they actually did…” in a red-faced effort to minimize their deception.

The AP account serves only to confirm to us – contrary to what it wants readers to believe – that NATO troops were the commanders and effective fighters in the attack on Tripoli.

But it suits the US, Britain and France politically to pretend that it was a victory for the rebels, both in order to seem to be adhering to their declared limits of engagement, and also, most importantly, to make it seem that the Libyan people fought and won their own battle.

So yet again, Arab pride is boosted – truth be damned.

*

And here’s the latest DebkaFile report which, if it turns out to be accurate, would confirm our suspicions:

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that British, French, Jordanian and Qatari Special Operations forces Tuesday, Aug. 23, spearheaded the rebel “killer strike” on Muammar Qaddafi’s regime and Tripoli fortress at Bab al-Azaziya, Tripoli. This was the first time Western and Arab ground troops had fought together on the same battlefield in any of the Arab revolts of the last nine months and the first time Arab soldiers took part in a NATO operation.

Our military sources report that the British deployed SAS commandos and France, 2REP (Groupe des commando parachutiste), which is similar to the US Navy DELTA unit

The main body of the rebels to the rear of the combined foreign force was nowhere near being a unified military force.

*

And one lie has already been exposed.

A story was put out by the rebels that Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, had been captured  – and then he appeared at a Tripoli hotel before foreign correspondents.

Even the Guardian was embarrassed by the apparent exposure of this lie. Its report is here:

There was no doubt about it: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s second son and heir presumptive, had been captured. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC), declared on Monday that he was “being kept in a secure place under close guard”.

News of the supposed arrest, which came without a date or a location, was a huge boost for the rebel movement. …

Yet just hours later, journalists at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli were woken during the night by a knock at the door and told to go downstairs. There, inside a white armoured vehicle, with a mobile phone next to him and a smile playing around his lips, was Saif himself. …

The revelation that the man they had declared to be in captivity was in fact touring parts of regime-held Tripoli and doing the V-for-victory sign for a crowd of apparent supporters seemed to stun many rebels as much as it did the rest of the world. …

A spokesman for the NTC leadership, had no explanation of Saif’s sudden reappearance, and could say only: “This could all be lies.” …

The image it projects of the rebels is hardly flattering – and while Saif’s dramatic reappearance is far from the only occasion on which the international community has had reason to question the credibility of the fighters, this particular misstep could prove damning. …

A British spokesman hastened to excuse the liars.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, was keen to avoid chastising the NTC leadership. “I think it’s inevitable in this situation, with the warfare going on … that there will be some confusion.” …

We have a vision of the ghost of T.E. Lawrence hovering over Mr Mitchell in the BBC studio.

Middle East delusions 0

The Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, is to address a joint session of Congress next week. Congress is sympathetic to Israel. President Obama is not. He is to address the Arab world before the world hears what Netanyahu has to say.

Caroline Glick anticipates what will be said and done:

Obama will praise the populist movements that have risen up against Arab tyrannies and embrace them as the model for the future. As for Israel, the report claimed that the Obama administration is still trying to decide whether the time is right to put the screws on Israel once more. …

The Netanyahu government and Congress are calling for a US aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority. With Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization, now partnering with Fatah in governing the PA, it is illegal for the US government to continue to have anything to do with the PA. Both the Netanyahu government and senior members of the House and Senate are arguing forcefully that there is no way for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians now, and that the US must abandon its efforts to force the sides to sign an agreement.

The Israeli and congressional arguments are certainly compelling. But the signals emanating from the White House and its allied media indicate that Obama is ready to plough forward in spite of them. With the new international security credibility he earned by overseeing the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden, Obama apparently believes that he can withstand congressional pressure and make the case for demanding that Israel surrender Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to Hamas and its partners in Fatah.

Obama seems to be still in pursuit of a “two-state solution” negotiated between Israel and — some Palestinian representatives. Up until recently Israel’s negotiating opposite was supposed to be Abu Abbas, powerless head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) which sort of governs the West Bank. Hamas, governing Gaza, was ostensibly not supported by the US or any Western Power because it was designated a terrorist organization. Abu Abbas also represents a terrorist organization – Fatah – but that is politely overlooked. In fact, Hamas’s terrorism is overlooked in practice: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directs lots of lovely lolly its way – to use for “humanitarian” purposes of course, not terrorism! (Did no one ever tell her that money is fungible?)

Now the PA and Hamas – which have a record of killing each other’s personnel – have cozied up together in a partnership to declare a Palestinian state later this year. Will Obama and his people – such as Hillary Clinton, and Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice – pretend that Hamas is suddenly respectable enough to deal with?

Sarah Honig, a Jerusalem Post writer always worth reading, sees as self-deluding those Israelis who still think a negotiated “two-state solution” to the Palestinian-Israel conflict is possible.

Unflaggingly they peddle tattered, intrinsically disorienting delirium. Incredibly they never seem to tire of pulling the wool over their own and our eyes. They present themselves as possessors of singular insight, as harbingers of a greater truth and as wise beyond our plebeian grasp.

They won’t let go of the grand delusion that underlies their self-professed wisdom and purported truth. Their two-state delusion was certainly sweet – simplistically and seductively so. It claimed that all conflicts can be amicably and fairly settled by just dividing up whatever is contested. It touted idealistic goodwill and seemed compellingly rational. But it was from the start delusionary.

By all empirical yardsticks, that delusion has finally and undeniably crumbled into grimy dust. The illusion of a reasonable accommodation with genocidal foes – which without fail anyhow failed the test of coolheaded analysis – ignobly disintegrated when Ramallah’s Fatah and Gaza’s Hamas banded back together, at least pro forma, for the sake of expediency.

Whatever their motives and whatever the long-range plans of the old-new partners, their joint venture should persuade even the most diehard of our peaceniks that the time has come to finally wise up and lose the illusion.

The prevalent illusion thus far was that we face two dissimilar Palestinian entities – negotiation- espousing Ramallah and Gaza, whose unaltered goal is Israel’s annihilation. Now that the pair has retied the knot, their deception has been exposed. That should mean that the illusion has been shattered irrefutably once and for all.

In reality the only distinction between the two always was tactical. Ramallah excels at propaganda warfare, while Gaza fires rockets. Ramallah is funded by the Quartet, while Gaza is underpinned by Damascus and Tehran. Both wish to obliterate Israel, but Ramallah is more cunning and Gaza more candidly confrontational.

Neither Ramallah nor Gaza was ever a reliable or viable peace partner. Only our indomitable wishful thinking and obsessive illusion kept conjuring up interlocutors on whom we could unload slices of homeland, directly atop the soft underbelly of our densest population centers.

Gaza’s Hamas thumbs its nose at us and glorifies the IslamoNazism of infamous Second World War-criminal Haj Amin al-Husseini, who from his Berlin residence avidly abetted Hitler’s Final Solution, recruited Muslims to the SS and actively foiled the rescue even of several thousand Jewish children.

Conversely, in his Moscow Friendship University PhD treatise, Fatah figurehead Mahmoud Abbas attempted to dwarf the Holocaust’s proportions drastically, while simultaneously accusing Zionists of colluding in Holocaust perpetration – i.e., it didn’t happen, but Israel is guilty. This history-warping dissertation is compulsory study material in his fiefdom’s schools.

Abbas’s Fatahland is nothing but a more outwardly decorous version of Hamastan. All the rest is desperate illusion. …

Most members of the dysfunctional family of nations indeed advocate the two-state solution, but we alone are delusional. All the others are stimulated by cynical vested interests, which impair our self-preservation prospects. In other words, other states don’t push us into the two-state abyss for our own good. Quite the contrary.

In our post, Now is the time for Israel to define its borders, March 10, 2011, we did not say where we think the borders should be drawn, only that Israel should define them before the Hamas-Fatah terrorists who dictate Palestinian policy try declaring a Palestinian state as they say they will.

We see plainly enough, however, that no negotiated two-state solution is possible, because Palestinian leaders do not and never have wanted it. They rejected every offer of a Palestinian state in the past because it would mean co-existing with Israel, and the present leaders have no intention of establishing a Palestinian state that would co-exist with Israel in the future.

Their solution is one state: Palestine.

The Israeli solution ought to be one state: Israel – from the Golan to the Red, from the Jordan to the Med.

Israel would continue to have Arab Israeli citizens. The Palestinians who do not want to live in Israel should be welcomed into the Palestinian state that already exists, and has existed longer than Israel: Jordan.

Jordan was given illegally to the Arabs (as the Emirate of Transjordan); cut out of mandated territory reserved, by legally binding instruments, for the Jews. But since it exists, it should be recognized as the Palestinian state that it is. The British foisted Hashemite rulers on to its mostly Palestinian Arab population, to “reward” the Hashemites for feebly supporting Britain in the First World War, having been prodded every inch of the short way by that notorious charlatan – and abiding hero to the British Foreign Office –  T.E. Lawrence. There are Palestinian voices calling for the Palestinian majority in Jordan to overthrow the dictatorial monarchy and establish a democratic republic. A Republic of Palestine in Jordan would be home to all Palestinian refugees. It might have normal diplomatic and trade relations with Israel, and even allow some Jews to live in it.

But we must not delude ourselves that the Western powers are likely to support the idea. Their policy is to propitiate the Arab states and Islam, and the Arabs states and Islam want the obliteration of Israel.