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A Very Good Reason NOT to Attack Syria: “Bandar Bush” at Epicenter of U.S. Syrian Operation

Dubya and Bandar Bush

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COMMENT: We are certainly not in possession of definitive information about the chemical weapons attack in Syria. The Syrian government has countered claims that they launched the attack with claims that it was the rebels or allied forces.

As grotesque as Assad is, he may well be the lesser of the evils in the Syrian imbroglio, which one might compare to a quicksand bog located downstream from a slaughterhouse draining to the waterway.

Life is not a Holywood movie, with positive endings to scripts inserted at will. Often, there are no good options, only bad ones. We feel that Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Egypt all fall into that category. Nonetheless, there are some options that are worse than others. 

For example, we support the Egyptian army in their takeover in Egypt, although we feel that it is unlikely that real democracy will stem from a military takeover. Generally speaking (pun intended), that does not take place. Nonetheless, the majority of Egyptians backed removal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s fascist regime, and the army alone had the power to implement that political will.

George H.W. Bush and Bandar Bush

We do not feel that this country should engage in military action in Syria. The Syrian rebels appear to be largely Al Qaeda/Taliban knock-offs, with direct, demonstrable ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and through the Brotherhood, to the Underground Reich.

Exactly who DID use the chemical weapons? We don’t know, however Muslim Brotherhood-related terrorists have been seeking chemical weapons for years. Who knows if they may have succeeded? Might they have gotten some of Saddam Hussein’s old CBW toys after the U.S. failed to secure those capabilities after the extremely ill-advised foray into Iraq?

It is also interesting that the tide of battle had begun to turn against the rebels, with the entry into the war by the well-armed and battle-tested Hezbollah cadre. Would Assad have been stupid enough to do the one thing that could reliably have been counted on to draw the U.S. into the conflict? We don’t know, but we are skeptical.

In short, is this a provocation? Might the rebels have actually used sarin?

Among the reasons why we view this affair with the most jaundiced of eyes concerns the fact that none other than Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia is the single most important coordinator of aid to the rebels.

  • He is nicknamed “Bandar Bush,” because he is so close to the Bush family. Bandar Bush was also deeply involved in the push for the invasion of Iraq, which is a damned poor recommendation for taking military action in Syria. (See text excerpts below.)
  • Bandar Bush been involved in some of the dirtiest operations of the last quarter century, including the Iran-Contra affair and 9/11. (See text excerpts below.)
  • Like the rest of the Saudi establishment, he hates Obama and the Democrats and would love to see the Saudi-friendly GOP and Bush family back in the saddle.

Obama would be playing into their hands and further alienating the liberal wing of the Democratic Party by getting involved in the Syrian horror show.

“Syria, the Saudi connection: The Prince with Close Ties to Washington at the Heart of the Push for War” by David Usburne; The Independent [UK]; 8/26/2013.

EXCERPT: He has been gone from the capital for eight years, but Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington wielded influence over no fewer than five different US presidents, has re-emerged as a pivotal figure in the struggle by America and its allies to tilt the battlefield balance against the regime in Syria.

Appointed by the Saudi king, his uncle, last year as the head of the Saudi General Intelligence Agency, Prince Bandar has reportedly for months been focused exclusively on garnering international support, including arms and training, for Syrian rebel factions in pursuit of the eventual toppling of President Bashar al-Assad.

It is a long-term Saudi goal, that in the past several days has been subsumed by the more immediate crisis over the purported use of chemical weapons by Damascus, which, according to Riyadh, must be met by a stern response. That message is being delivered to President Barack Obama by the current Saudi Ambassador in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, who is a Bandar protégé.

It was Prince Bandar’s intelligence agency that first alerted Western allies to the alleged use of sarin gas by the Syrian regime in February. . . .

. . . . As ambassador, Prince Bandar left an imprint that still has not quite faded. His voice was one of the loudest urging the United States to invade Iraq in 2003. In the 1980s, Prince Bandar became mired in the Iran-Contra scandal in Nicaragua. . . .

Bandar bin Sultan; Wikipedia

EXCERPT: . . . . Bandar has formed close relationships with several American presidents, notably George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the latter giving him the affectionate and controversial nickname “Bandar Bush”[10] His particularly close relationship with the Bush family was highlighted in Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. He was reportedly so close to George H. W. Bush that he was often described as a member of the former president’s family.[3][11] He advocated Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in Iraq in March 2003.[12] He encouraged military action against Iraq and supported Dick Cheney’s agenda for “The New Middle East”, which called for pro-democracy programs in both Syria and Iran. . . .

“Riggs Bank”; Wikipedia.

EXCERPT: . . .  A Saudi named Omar al-Bayoumi housed and opened bank accounts for two of the 9/11 hijackers. About two weeks after the assistance began, al-Bayoumi’s wife began receiving monthly payments totaling tens of thousands of dollars from Princess Haifa bint Faisal, the wife of Saudi ambassador and Bush family confidant, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, through a Riggs bank account. [1] (Jonathan Bush, uncle of President George W. Bush, was an executive at Riggs Bank during this period.) . . .

Discussion

9 comments for “A Very Good Reason NOT to Attack Syria: “Bandar Bush” at Epicenter of U.S. Syrian Operation”

  1. So this would appear to be a deciding moment for Obama. Who decides American policies? Michael Moore had a few valid points after all.

    The information about Riggs Bank and the 9/11 finance trail makes one’s skin crawl. I was living in New York on 9/11 and read at the time that the Bush family did not care for New York much, in fact despised the city and I wondered why, how can anyone hate New York? Because New York bustles with life, brilliance and human possibility, is why. It is time America becomes America again.

    Posted by lecl_boy | August 30, 2013, 12:26 am
  2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/10266957/Saudis-offer-Russia-secret-oil-deal-if-it-drops-Syria.html

    Saudis offer Russia secret oil deal if it drops Syria

    Saudi Arabia has secretly offered Russia a sweeping deal to control the global oil market and safeguard Russia’s gas contracts, if the Kremlin backs away from the Assad regime in Syria.

    By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

    12:00PM BST 27 Aug 2013

    The revelations come amid high tension in the Middle East, with US, British, and French warship poised for missile strikes in Syria. Iran has threatened to retaliate.

    The strategic jitters pushed Brent crude prices to a five-month high of $112 a barrel. “We are only one incident away from a serious oil spike. The market is a lot tighter than people think,” said Chris Skrebowski, editor of Petroleum Review.

    Leaked transcripts of a closed-door meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan shed an extraordinary light on the hard-nosed Realpolitik of the two sides.

    Prince Bandar, head of Saudi intelligence, allegedly confronted the Kremlin with a mix of inducements and threats in a bid to break the deadlock over Syria. “Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets,” he said at the four-hour meeting with Mr Putin. They met at Mr Putin’s dacha outside Moscow three weeks ago.

    “We understand Russia’s great interest in the oil and gas in the Mediterranean from Israel to Cyprus. And we understand the importance of the Russian gas pipeline to Europe. We are not interested in competing with that. We can cooperate in this area,” he said, purporting to speak with the full backing of the US.

    The talks appear to offer an alliance between the OPEC cartel and Russia, which together produce over 40m barrels a day of oil, 45pc of global output. Such a move would alter the strategic landscape.

    The details of the talks were first leaked to the Russian press. A more detailed version has since appeared in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which has Hezbollah links and is hostile to the Saudis.

    As-Safir said Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” he allegedly said.

    Prince Bandar went on to say that Chechens operating in Syria were a pressure tool that could be switched on an off. “These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role in Syria’s political future.”

    President Putin has long been pushing for a global gas cartel, issuing the `Moscow Declaration’ last to month “defend suppliers and resist unfair pressure”. This would entail beefing up the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), a talking shop.

    Mr Skrebowski said it is unclear what the Saudis can really offer the Russians on gas, beyond using leverage over Qatar and others to cut output of liquefied natural gas (LGN). “The Qataris are not going to obey Saudi orders,” he said.

    Saudi Arabia could help boost oil prices by restricting its own supply. This would be a shot in the arm for Russia, which is near recession and relies on an oil price near $100 to fund the budget.

    But it would be a dangerous strategy for the Saudis if it pushed prices to levels that endangered the world’s fragile economic recovery. Crude oil stocks in the US have already fallen sharply this year. Goldman Sachs said the “surplus cushion” in global stocks built up since 2008 has been completely eliminated.

    Mr Skrebowski said trouble is brewing in a string of key supply states. “Libya is reverting to war lordism. Nigerian is drifting into a bandit state with steady loss of output. And Iraq is going back to the sort of Sunni-Shia civil war we saw in 2006-2007,” he said.

    The Putin-Bandar meeting was stormy, replete with warnings of a “dramatic turn” in Syria. Mr Putin was unmoved by the Saudi offer, though western pressure has escalated since then. “Our stance on Assad will never change. We believe that the Syrian regime is the best speaker on behalf of the Syrian people, and not those liver eaters,” he said, referring to footage showing a Jihadist rebel eating the heart and liver of a Syrian soldier.

    Prince Bandar in turn warned that there can be “no escape from the military option” if Russia declines the olive branch. Events are unfolding exactly as he foretold.

    Posted by Vanfield | August 31, 2013, 9:00 pm
  3. Facts from you. Bull shit from Obama.

    Posted by David | September 1, 2013, 7:13 pm
  4. One of the consequences one might have expected from the recent focus on NSA spying is that world leaders would stop using phones for sensitive calls:

    German spy agency sees Assad behind gas attack, cites phone call

    By Alexandra Hudson

    BERLIN | Wed Sep 4, 2013 11:43am EDT

    (Reuters) – A Hezbollah official said in a phone call intercepted by German intelligence that President Bashar al-Assad had made a mistake in ordering a poison gas attack last month, suggesting the Syrian leader’s culpability, participants at a security briefing for German lawmakers said.

    According to participants at a confidential meeting on Monday, attended by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the head of the BND foreign intelligence agency told the lawmakers its indications of Assad’s responsibility for the Aug 21 incident included an intercepted phone call believed to be between a high ranking member of the Hezbollah Lebanese Shi’ite militant group and the Iranian embassy in Damascus.

    In the phone call, the Hezbollah official says Assad’s order for the attack was a mistake and that he was losing his nerve, the participants reported the BND briefing as saying. Both Iran and Hezbollah support Assad.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 4, 2013, 8:09 am
  5. DISCLAIMER: Mintpress News is run by a Palestinian American. And like all news sources, they have an agenda.

    http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/

    EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack
    Rebels and local residents in Ghouta accuse Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan of providing chemical weapons to an al-Qaida linked rebel group.
    By Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh | August 29, 2013

    This image provided by by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show several bodies being buried in a suburb of Damascus, Syria during a funeral on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. Syrian government forces pressed their offensive in eastern Damascus on Thursday, bombing rebel-held suburbs where the opposition said the regime had killed more than 100 people the day before in a chemical weapons attack. The government has denied allegations it used chemical weapons in artillery barrages on the area known as eastern Ghouta on Wednesday as “absolutely baseless.” (AP Photo/Shaam News Network)

    This image provided by by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, purports to show several bodies being buried in a suburb of Damascus, Syria during a funeral on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, following allegations of a chemical weapons attack that reportedly killed 355 people. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network)

    Clarification: Dale Gavlak assisted in the research and writing process of this article, but was not on the ground in Syria. Reporter Yahya Ababneh, with whom the report was written in collaboration, was the correspondent on the ground in Ghouta who spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.

    Gavlak is a MintPress News Middle East correspondent who has been freelancing for the AP as a Amman, Jordan correspondent for nearly a decade. This report is not an Associated Press article; rather it is exclusive to MintPress News.

    Ghouta, Syria — As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit.

    Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate as much.

    The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was “a judgment … already clear to the world.”

    However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

    “My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.

    Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”

    Ghouta townspeople said the rebels were using mosques and private houses to sleep while storing their weapons in tunnels.

    Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.

    “They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”

    “When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.

    A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’ agreed. “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. They merely used some ordinary rebels to carry and operate this material,” he said.

    “We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” ‘J’ said.

    Doctors who treated the chemical weapons attack victims cautioned interviewers to be careful about asking questions regarding who, exactly, was responsible for the deadly assault.

    The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders added that health workers aiding 3,600 patients also reported experiencing similar symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, respiratory distress, convulsions and blurry vision. The group has not been able to independently verify the information.

    More than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government.

    Saudi involvement

    In a recent article for Business Insider, reporter Geoffrey Ingersoll highlighted Saudi Prince Bandar’s role in the two-and-a-half year Syrian civil war. Many observers believe Bandar, with his close ties to Washington, has been at the very heart of the push for war by the U.S. against Assad.

    Ingersoll referred to an article in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph about secret Russian-Saudi talks alleging that Bandar offered Russian President Vladimir Putin cheap oil in exchange for dumping Assad.

    “Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” Ingersoll wrote.

    “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” Bandar allegedly told the Russians.

    “Along with Saudi officials, the U.S. allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise,” Ingersoll wrote.

    “Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the CIA totally loves this guy,” he added.

    According to U.K.’s Independent newspaper, it was Prince Bandar’s intelligence agency that first brought allegations of the use of sarin gas by the regime to the attention of Western allies in February.

    The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the CIA realized Saudi Arabia was “serious” about toppling Assad when the Saudi king named Prince Bandar to lead the effort.

    “They believed that Prince Bandar, a veteran of the diplomatic intrigues of Washington and the Arab world, could deliver what the CIA couldn’t: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for under-the-table clout,” it said.

    Bandar has been advancing Saudi Arabia’s top foreign policy goal, WSJ reported, of defeating Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

    To that aim, Bandar worked Washington to back a program to arm and train rebels out of a planned military base in Jordan.

    The newspaper reports that he met with the “uneasy Jordanians about such a base”:

    His meetings in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah sometimes ran to eight hours in a single sitting. “The king would joke: ‘Oh, Bandar’s coming again? Let’s clear two days for the meeting,’ ” said a person familiar with the meetings.

    Jordan’s financial dependence on Saudi Arabia may have given the Saudis strong leverage. An operations center in Jordan started going online in the summer of 2012, including an airstrip and warehouses for arms. Saudi-procured AK-47s and ammunition arrived, WSJ reported, citing Arab officials.

    Although Saudi Arabia has officially maintained that it supported more moderate rebels, the newspaper reported that “funds and arms were being funneled to radicals on the side, simply to counter the influence of rival Islamists backed by Qatar.”

    But rebels interviewed said Prince Bandar is referred to as “al-Habib” or ‘the lover’ by al-Qaida militants fighting in Syria.

    Peter Oborne, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, has issued a word of caution about Washington’s rush to punish the Assad regime with so-called ‘limited’ strikes not meant to overthrow the Syrian leader but diminish his capacity to use chemical weapons:

    Consider this: the only beneficiaries from the atrocity were the rebels, previously losing the war, who now have Britain and America ready to intervene on their side. While there seems to be little doubt that chemical weapons were used, there is doubt about who deployed them.

    It is important to remember that Assad has been accused of using poison gas against civilians before. But on that occasion, Carla del Ponte, a U.N. commissioner on Syria, concluded that the rebels, not Assad, were probably responsible.

    Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates .

    Dale Gavlak is a Middle East correspondent for Mint Press News and has reported from Amman, Jordan, writing for the Associated Press, NPR and BBC. An expert in Middle Eastern affairs, Gavlak covers the Levant region, writing on topics including politics, social issues and economic trends. Dale holds a M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. Contact Dale at dgavlak@mintpressnews.com

    Yahya Ababneh is a Jordanian freelance journalist and is currently working on a master’s degree in journalism, He has covered events in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Libya. His stories have appeared on Amman Net, Saraya News, Gerasa News and elsewhere.

    Posted by Vanfield | September 4, 2013, 10:40 am
  6. So, presumably these aren’t the heart-eating variety of Islamist extremist?

    Insight: Saudi Arabia boosts Salafist rivals to al Qaeda in Syria

    By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

    AMMAN | Tue Oct 1, 2013 10:51am EDT

    (Reuters) – Alarmed by the rise of al Qaeda in Syria, Saudi Arabia is trying to strengthen rival Islamists with ties to Riyadh and this week helped engineer a consolidation of rebel groups around Damascus under a Saudi-backed leader.

    That might bolster the opposition militarily as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been pushing back, but it also underlines al Qaeda’s expansion in Syria – and the proliferation of splits among Assad’s enemies, just as world powers are trying to corral them into talks with his government.

    Rebel and diplomatic sources said it was Saudi Arabia which nudged rebel brigades operating in and around Damascus to announce this week that they have united under a single command comprising 50 groups and numbering some thousands of fighters.

    The formation of the Army of Islam in the capital’s eastern fringe under Zahran Alloush, leader of the group Liwa al-Islam, strengthens Salafist jihadis owing allegiance to Riyadh against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al Qaeda branch which has in recent weeks taken control of territory from other Islamist forces in parts of northern and eastern Syria.

    While fighting for religious rule in Syria, local Salafists do not generally share the international ambitions of al Qaeda’s jihadists, many of them foreign, who want to drive Westerners from the Middle East and unite Muslims in a single state.

    The establishment of the Army of Islam follows last week’s joint declaration by groups, mainly in the northeast but also including Liwa al-Islam, who agreed to fight for Islamic rule and also rejected the authority of the Western- and Saudi-backed opposition in exile, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).

    That accord was notably not signed by ISIL.

    Zahran Alloush, who founded Liwa al-Islam, or the Brigade of Islam, with his father Abdallah, a Salafist Syrian cleric based in Saudi Arabia, has avoided declaring personal opposition to al Qaeda or to the SNC. But he criticized failures to bring unity to rebel ranks in explaining the creation of the formation:

    “We have formed this army … to achieve unity among the units of the mujahideen and avoid the effects produced by the divisions within the National Coalition,” he told Al Jazeera television, referring obliquely to recent rebel in-fighting.

    “The Army of Islam is the result of accelerating efforts to unify the fighting units operating in the beloved homeland.”

    SAUDI CONNECTION

    Liwa al-Islam, several thousand strong, is among the biggest and best organized rebel groups, respected even among non-Islamist rebels for integrity and effectiveness. Alloush could not be reached for comment on the Saudi role in his new unit.

    Saudi officials do not comment on their operations in Syria, where the Sunni Muslim kingdom has backed the uprising among the Sunni majority against Assad and his minority Alawite elite who are allied to Shi’ite Iran, Riyadh’s rival for regional power.

    However, rebel and diplomatic sources told Reuters that Saudi Arabia, which furnishes arms and other supplies and funds to Assad’s opponents, was behind the Army of Islam.

    The commander of an Islamist rebel unit on the opposite side of Damascus from the Army’s base of operations in the east told Reuters that Saudi figures had been in touch with various Salafist groups in recent weeks, offering support in return for a common front to keep al Qaeda allies from expanding their presence around the capital – a presence already detected.

    “Saudi tribal figures have been making calls on behalf of Saudi intelligence,” the commander, who uses the name Abu Mussab, said. “Their strategy is to offer financial backing in return for loyalty and staying away from al Qaeda.”

    While hoping to avoid outright confrontation with fellow jihadists, the Saudis had been gauging the willingness of local Salafist fighters in joining Saudi-backed formations, including a proposed Syrian National Army. This, Abu Mussab said, might oppose al Qaeda in the way the U.S.-funded Sahwa, or Awakening, movement of Sunni tribesmen fought al Qaeda in Iraq from 2007.

    A Western diplomat following the conflict closely said: “Saudi Arabia is growing increasingly uncomfortable with more rebels joining al Qaeda ranks. The recent advances by the Islamic State have embarrassed the Saudis and the new alliance appears designed to stop al Qaeda from gaining influence.”

    He said Saudi strategy was two tiered: back less extreme Islamist figures in the exile SNC political organization and woo Salafist brigades on the ground with arms and money.

    “Lots of these Salafist groups detest the Syrian National Coalition,” he said. “But the Saudis do not see this as a contradiction as long as they stay away from al Qaeda.”

    CONFRONTATION

    The Salafist movement in Islam, founded on literal readings of early texts, is close to the Wahhabi school associated with the Saudi royal house. Its religious teaching influences al Qaeda but the militant network’s Saudi founder, Osama bin Laden, turned against Salafists he saw as allies of a Saudi monarchy that had been corrupted by its alliance with the United States.

    The Army of Islam seems to want to avoid fighting al Qaeda for now. After a man named Saeed Jumaa, described as a captain in the Army, told an opposition television station that there could be open conflict with ISIL if they “continue this chaos”, Zahran Alloush took to Twitter on Tuesday to disown him.

    Jumaa’s comments were “dangerous”, Alloush said, and were designed to create “strife among Muslims”.

    The Army of Islam has also avoided an outright break with the SNC: “We do not make enemies of those who are not enemies to us,” Army spokesman Islam Alloush told Reuters. However, the group did share the others’ criticism of the SNC that it should be directed by fighters inside Syria, not leaders in exile.

    If Riyadh’s aim is to thwart al Qaeda enemies by rallying local Syrian Islamists in the way Washington did with Iraq’s Sunni tribal Sahwa, it may be miscalculating, said commentator Hazem Amin. Unlike the Iraqi fighters, he said, Syrian Salafists were increasingly embracing radical views close to al Qaeda.

    “Syria is different,” Amin wrote in al-Hayat newspaper. “The social fabric is less cohesive … At its core, the new Syrian Salafism is jihadist in nature. It is moving towards extremism.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 1, 2013, 2:44 pm
  7. It will be interesting to learn what the Saudis’ plans are for a more peace-based UN Security Council:

    The New York Times
    Saudi Arabia Rejects Security Council Seat
    By ALAN COWELL and RICK GLADSTONE
    Published: October 18, 2013

    LONDON — Assailing what it called double standards at the United Nations, Saudi Arabia on Friday took the unprecedented step of rejecting a highly coveted seat on the United Nations Security Council it had won for the first time just a day earlier.

    The protest, made known in a statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, said, “The manner, the mechanisms of action and double standards existing in the Security Council prevent it from performing its duties and assuming its responsibilities toward preserving international peace and security as required.”

    The gesture appeared to reflect Saudi Arabia’s simmering annoyance at the Security Council’s record in Syria, where Russia and China — two of the five permanent members — have blocked Western efforts, broadly supported by Saudi Arabia, to pressure President Bashar al-Assad. The other permanent members are the United States, Britain and France.

    The announcement came a day after Chad, Chile, Lithuania, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia were elected to seats on the 15-member Security Council for a two-year term starting in January. They replace Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo. The seats are prized because they give officials access to high-level diplomacy and offer a rare opportunity to influence events.

    Diplomats at the United Nations said they were shocked by the Saudi gesture and could not recall a previous time when a member state elected to one of the nonpermanent seats had rejected it. “The actual rejection by an elected member seems unprecedented,” one diplomatic official said.

    It was unclear whether the Saudi decision was reversible. Efforts to reach Saudi officials for further elaboration were not immediately successful.

    Also unclear was whether the 193-member United Nations General Assembly would need to convene again for a special election to replace Saudi Arabia on the Security Council if the Saudis insist on refusing the seat.

    The council has met before without a full membership. Diplomats recalled that in 1950, Russia refused to sit at the council table, but the Russians did not repudiate their seat and the council still convened with 14 members.

    Saudi Arabia’s rejection of the seat was a sharp departure from its preference for quiet diplomacy to advance its aims, particularly at a time of great regional uncertainty, with the civil war in Syria affecting neighboring countries and the United States, Saudi Arabia’s biggest international backer, pursuing what seems to be a cautious and untested opening toward Iran, the Saudis’ main regional adversary.

    Saudi Arabia’s decision to turn down the seat, after trying for the first time to win it, seemed all the more surprising because its efforts to seek representation had been taken by experts as a reflection of the kingdom’s wish to be more assertive in resolving the Syrian civil war and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    The Saudi ambassador to the United Nations, Abdallah Y. al-Mouallimi, said after the General Assembly vote on Thursday that it was “a reflection of a longstanding policy in support of moderation and in support of resolving disputes by peaceful means,” The Associated Press reported.

    The statement on Friday struck a far less conciliatory tone, calling for changes to enhance the Security Council’s contribution to peace. It did not say what those should entail.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 18, 2013, 8:02 am
  8. A big question raised by this recent news is who is Saudi Arabia going to move towards while it’s shifting away from the US:

    Saudi Arabia warns of shift away from U.S. over Syria, Iran

    By Amena Bakr and Warren Strobel

    DOHA/WASHINGTON | Tue Oct 22, 2013 6:10pm EDT

    (Reuters) – Upset at President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years.

    Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief is vowing that the kingdom will make a “major shift” in relations with the United States to protest perceived American inaction over Syria’s civil war as well as recent U.S. overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday.

    Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the United States had failed to act effectively against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.

    “The shift away from the U.S. is a major one,” the source close to Saudi policy said. “Saudi doesn’t want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.”

    It was not immediately clear whether the reported statements by Prince Bandar, who was the Saudi ambassador to Washington for 22 years, had the full backing of King Abdullah.

    Saudi Arabia gave a clear sign of its displeasure over Obama’s foreign policy last week when it rejected a coveted two-year term on the U.N. Security Council in a display of anger over the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and act on other Middle East issues.

    Prince Turki indicated that Saudi Arabia will not reverse that decision, which he said was a result of the Security Council’s failure to stop Assad and implement its own decision on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    “There is nothing whimsical about the decision to forego membership of the Security Council. It is based on the ineffectual experience of that body,” he said in a speech to the Washington-based National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

    ‘FRIENDS AND ALLIES’

    In London, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he discussed Riyadh’s concerns when he met Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in Paris on Monday.

    Kerry said he told the Saudi minister no deal with Iran was better than a bad deal. “I have great confidence that the United States and Saudi Arabia will continue to be the close and important friends and allies that we have been,” Kerry told reporters.

    Prince Bandar is seen as a foreign policy hawk, especially on Iran. The Sunni Muslim kingdom’s rivalry with Shi’ite Iran, an ally of Syria, has amplified sectarian tensions across the Middle East.

    A son of the late defense minister and crown prince, Prince Sultan, and a protégé of the late King Fahd, he fell from favor with King Abdullah after clashing on foreign policy in 2005.

    But he was called in from the cold last year with a mandate to bring down Assad, diplomats in the Gulf say. Over the past year, he has led Saudi efforts to bring arms and other aid to Syrian rebels.

    “Prince Bandar told diplomats that he plans to limit interaction with the U.S.,” the source close to Saudi policy said.

    “This happens after the U.S. failed to take any effective action on Syria and Palestine. Relations with the U.S. have been deteriorating for a while, as Saudi feels that the U.S. is growing closer with Iran and the U.S. also failed to support Saudi during the Bahrain uprising,” the source said.

    The source declined to provide more details of Bandar’s talks with the diplomats, which took place in the past few days.

    But he suggested that the planned change in ties between the energy superpower and the United States would have wide-ranging consequences, including on arms purchases and oil sales.

    Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, ploughs much of its earnings back into U.S. assets. Most of the Saudi central bank’s net foreign assets of $690 billion are thought to be denominated in dollars, much of them in U.S. Treasury bonds.

    “All options are on the table now, and for sure there will be some impact,” the Saudi source said.

    He said there would be no further coordination with the United States over the war in Syria, where the Saudis have armed and financed rebel groups fighting Assad.

    The kingdom has informed the United States of its actions in Syria, and diplomats say it has respected U.S. requests not to supply the groups with advanced weaponry that the West fears could fall into the hands of al Qaeda-aligned groups.

    Saudi anger boiled over after Washington refrained from military strikes in response to a poison gas attack in Damascus in August when Assad agreed to give up his chemical weapons arsenal.

    ‘A BIG MISTAKE’

    Representative Chris Van Hollen, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Democratic leadership, told Reuters’ Washington Summit on Tuesday that the Saudi moves were intended to pressure Obama to take action in Syria.

    “We know their game. They’re trying to send a signal that we should all get involved militarily in Syria, and I think that would be a big mistake to get in the middle of the Syrian civil war,” Van Hollen said.

    “And the Saudis should start by stopping their funding of the al Qaeda-related groups in Syria. In addition to the fact that it’s a country that doesn’t allow women to drive,” said Van Hollen, who is close to Obama on domestic issues in Congress but is less influential on foreign policy.

    Saudi Arabia is concerned about signs of a tentative reconciliation between Washington and Tehran, something Riyadh fears may lead to a “grand bargain” on the Iranian nuclear program that would leave Riyadh at a disadvantage.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 22, 2013, 6:40 pm
  9. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/evidence-points-to-syria-still-working-on-a-nuclear-weapon-a-1012209.html

    SPIEGEL ONLINE
    01/09/2015 09:20 PM
    Assad’s Secret
    Evidence Points to Syrian Push for Nuclear Weapons

    By Erich Follath

    For years, it was thought that Israel had destroyed Syria’s nuclear weapons capability with its 2007 raid on the Kibar complex. Not so. New intelligence suggests that Bashar al-Assad is still trying to built the bomb. And he may be getting help from North Korea and Iran.

    At 11 p.m. on Sept. 5, 2007, 10 F-15 fighter bombers climbed into the sky from the Israeli military base Ramat David, just south of Haifa. They headed for the Mediterranean Sea, officially for a training mission. A half hour later, three of the planes were ordered to return to base while the others changed course, heading over Turkey toward the Syrian border. There, they eliminated a radar station with electronic jamming signals and, after 18 more minutes, reached the city of Deir al-Zor, located on the banks of the Euphrates River. Their target was a complex of structures known as Kibar, just east of the city. The Israelis fired away, completely destroying the factory using Maverick missiles and 500 kilogram bombs.

    The pilots returned to base without incident and Operation Orchard was brought to a successful conclusion. In Jerusalem, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his closest advisors were in a self-congratulatory mood, convinced as they were that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was seeking to build a nuclear weapon and that Kibar was the almost-completed facility where that construction was to take place. They believed that their dangerous operation had saved the world from immense harm.

    But they also wanted to prevent the situation from escalating, which is why they didn’t even inform the US of their plan prior to the bombing run. Olmert only called Washington once the operation had been completed. Orchard was also to remain secret in Israel so as to avoid anything that smacked of triumphalism. Nor did they want it to become known that North Korean nuclear experts had been spotted in Deir al-Zor helping out with the construction of the reactor. They hoped to provide Assad an opportunity to play down the incident and to abstain from revenge attacks.

    And that is in fact what happened. Assad complained about the violation of Syrian airspace and the bombing of a “warehouse,” but the official version also claimed that the Syrian air force chased away the attackers. The public at the time did not learn what had really taken place.

    Now, secret information obtained by SPIEGEL indicates that the world is once again being misled by Assad. Syria’s dictator has not given up his dream of an atomic weapon and has apparently built a new nuclear facility at a secret location. It is an extremely unsettling piece of news.

    Suspicious Uranium Particles

    Back in 2007, it proved impossible to completely quell rumors about the mysterious building complex in the desert and its possible military purpose. In contrast to Israel and Pakistan, Syria is a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and is thus committed to using nuclear power only for peaceful purposes. And the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna demanded access to the site. In June 2008, Assad finally gave in to the IAEA’s pressure and experts under the leadership of Olli Heinonen, a native of Finland, were allowed to inspect the destroyed Kibar facility.

    It quickly became apparent that Damascus had done everything it could to destroy all traces of what had been going on there. But the atomic detectives from the IAEA were nevertheless able to find suspicious uranium particles — a discovery that the Syrian government sought to explain away as a potential act of sabotage. Though the IAEA noted that its investigation did not turn up definitive proof, the organization requested access to three other facilities due to ongoing suspicions. The IAEA suspected that the trio of nuclear sites may be connected to Kibar, particularly the suspected enrichment facility Marj as-Sultan, located 15 kilometers north of Damascus. The Syrians refused, angered by what they called “unfounded defamation.”

    A clear picture of the background of the Israeli operation and the details of the commando raid was only made possible by a precise reconstruction by SPIEGEL in 2009, assembled following interviews with political leaders, nuclear experts and secret service experts. Assad, to be sure, denied having nuclear ambitions in a 2009 interview with SPIEGEL, saying: “We want a nuclear-free Middle East, Israel included.” But the IAEA investigation report in May 2011 and a story in the New Yorker in 2012 made it clear even to skeptics that Syria had been playing with fire. “The Agency concludes that the destroyed building was very likely a nuclear reactor,” the IAEA report notes with uncharacteristic clarity.

    Afterward, all activity ceased at the destroyed site, as shown by regularly analyzed satellite images of the area. But did that mean that the Israeli attack really brought an end to all Syrian plans for the development of a bomb?

    Continued Pursuit of the Bomb

    The factory had been on the verge of completion and many observers believed at the time that there could be a secret cache of fuel, at least enough for a year, standing by. According to IAEA research, Syria possesses up to 50 tons of natural uranium, enough material for three to five bombs once the enrichment procedure is completed.

    The Institute for Science and International Security in Washington D.C. likewise has strong indications for the existence of such stockpiles and expressed its concern in September 2013. “This large stock of natural uranium metal poses nuclear proliferation risks,” the institute wrote. “It could be obtained by organizations such as Hezbollah or al-Qaida or undeclared nuclear programs of states such as Iran.”

    According to findings of Western intelligence agencies, however, the situation is much more explosive than previously assumed. Based on documents that SPIEGEL has in its possession, the agencies are convinced that Assad is continuing in his efforts to build the bomb.

    Analysts say that the Syrian atomic weapon program has continued in a secret, underground location. According to information they have obtained, approximately 8,000 fuel rods are stored there. Furthermore, a new reactor or an enrichment facility has very likely been built at the site — a development of incalculable geopolitical consequences.

    Some of the uranium was apparently hidden for an extended period at Marj as-Sultan near Damascus, a site that the IAEA likewise views with suspicion. Satellite images from December 2012 and February 2013 show suspicious activity at Marj as-Sultan. The facility, located not far from a Syrian army base, had become the focal point of heavy fighting with rebels. Government troops had to quickly move everything of value. They did so, as intelligence officials have been able to reconstruct, with the help of Hezbollah, the radical Shiite “Party of God” based in Lebanon. The well-armed militia, which is largely financed by Iran, is fighting alongside Assad’s troops.

    Intercepted Conversations

    Intelligence agency findings indicate that the material was moved to a well-hidden underground location just west of the city of Qusayr, not even two kilometers from the border with Lebanon. They managed the move just in time. Marj as-Sultan ultimately did fall to the rebels, but has since been retaken by government troops.

    Since then, experts have been keeping a close eye on the site outside of Qusayr, one which they had largely ignored before, believing it to be a conventional Hezbollah weapons depot. Analysts compared earlier satellite images and carefully noted even the slightest of changes. Soon, it became clear to them that they had happened upon an extremely disconcerting discovery.

    According to intelligence agency analysis, construction of the facility began back in 2009. The work, their findings suggest, was disguised from the very beginning, with excavated sand being disposed of at various sites, apparently to make it more difficult for observers from above to tell how deeply they were digging. Furthermore, the entrances to the facility were guarded by the military, which turned out to be a necessary precaution. In the spring of 2013, the region around Qusayr saw heavy fighting. But the area surrounding the project in the mines was held, despite heavy losses suffered by elite Hezbollah units stationed there.

    The most recent satellite images show six structures: a guard house and five sheds, three of which conceal entrances to the facility below. The site also has special access to the power grid, connected to the nearby city of Blosah. A particularly suspicious detail is the deep well which connects the facility with Zaita Lake, four kilometers away. Such a connection is unnecessary for a conventional weapons cache, but it is essential for a nuclear facility.

    But the clearest proof that it is a nuclear facility comes from radio traffic recently intercepted by a network of spies. A voice identified as belonging to a high-ranking Hezbollah functionary can be heard referring to the “atomic factory” and mentions Qusayr. The Hezbollah man is clearly familiar with the site. And he frequently provides telephone updates to a particularly important man: Ibrahim Othman, the head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission.

    The Hezbollah functionary mostly uses a codename for the facility: “Zamzam,” a word that almost all Muslims know. According to tradition, Zamzam is the well God created in the desert for Abraham’s wife and their son Ishmael. The well can be found in Mecca and is one of the sites visited by pilgrims making the Hajj. Those who don’t revere Zamzam are not considered to be true Muslims.

    North Korean Expert in Syria?

    Work performed at the site by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is also mentioned in the intercepted conversations. The Revolutionary Guard is a paramilitary organization under the direct control of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. It controls a large part of the Iranian economy and also plays a significant role in Iran’s own nuclear activities. Not all of its missions abroad are cleared with the government of moderate President Hassan Rohani. The Revolutionary Guard is a state within a state.

    Experts are also convinced that North Korea is involved in Zamzam as well. Already during the construction of the Kibar facility, Ibrahim Othman worked closely together with Chou Ji Bu, an engineer who built the nuclear reactor Yongbyon in North Korea.

    Chou was long thought to have disappeared. Some thought that he had fallen victim to a purge back home. Now, though, Western intelligence experts believe that he went underground in Damascus. According to the theory, Othman never lost contact with his shady acquaintance. And experts believe that the new nuclear facility could never have been built without North Korean know-how. The workmanship exhibited by the fuel rods likewise hints at North Korean involvement.

    What approach will now be taken to Zamzam? How will the West, Assad and Syria’s neighbors react to the revelations?

    The discovery of the presumed nuclear facility will not likely be welcomed by any of the political actors. It is an embarrassment for everybody. For Syria and North Korea, both of which have periodically sought to shed their images as international pariahs. For Hezbollah, which hopes to emerge as Lebanon’s strongest political power.

    A New Assessment

    But the new development also comes at an uncomfortable time for the US government. Despite all official denials, Washington is currently operating in the region more-or-less in concert with Assad in the fight against the Islamist terrorist militia Islamic State. Furthermore, following the well-monitored and largely efficient destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, the US, Britain and France all believed that Assad’s ability to wage unconventional warfare had been eliminated. The possible development of a Syrian atomic weapon, should it be confirmed, would necessarily lead to a new assessment of the situation.

    The discovery presents a particularly difficult dilemma to Israel. The country has, to be sure, continued to bomb Hezbollah supply lines, but it apparently knew nothing of a possible new nuclear facility. Israeli leaders would be faced with the impossible decision between ignoring Zamzam or undertaking an extremely risky attack against a facility built deep underground. In contrast to 2007, bunker buster bombs would be required, with unforeseeable consequences for the environment. It would be an irresponsible decision, but one which Israeli hardliners could ultimately make.

    The international monitors in Vienna also don’t look good, with IAEA boss Yukiya Amano having been deceived by Assad. In September 2014, the Japanese national urged “Syria to cooperate fully with the agency in connection with all unresolved issues.” He hasn’t yet received a reply. A sanction of last resort would be that of expelling Syria from the IAEA, an unlikely step given that Moscow continues to protect Assad, in the IAEA as in the United Nations.

    Islamic State recently invited IAEA inspectors to investigate in areas under their control. The terror organization conquered the area around Deir al-Zor several months ago and offered the IAEA the opportunity to have another look around the Kibar facility. But the Vienna-based organization declined, not wanting to provide Islamic State with any kind of legitimacy.

    Plus, Deir al-Zor is no longer the focal point. The international experts in Vienna now find themselves confronted with new challenges across the country on the border with Lebanon.
    URL:

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/evidence-points-to-syria-still-working-on-a-nuclear-weapon-a-1012209.html

    Related SPIEGEL ONLINE links:

    Iranian Nuclear Negotiator: ‘We Can’t Just Turn Back the Clock’ (11/10/2014)
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/interview-with-iranian-nuclear-negotiator-takht-ravanchi-a-1002020.html
    From the Archive: How Israel Destroyed Syria’s Kibar Nuclear Reactor (11/02/2009)
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-story-of-operation-orchard-how-israel-destroyed-syria-s-al-kibar-nuclear-reactor-a-658663.html
    From the Archive: SPIEGEL Interview with Bashar Assad (01/19/2009)
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/spiegel-interview-with-syrian-president-bashar-assad-peace-without-syria-is-unthinkable-a-602110.html

    © SPIEGEL ONLINE 2015
    All Rights Reserved
    Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH

    Posted by Vanfield | January 15, 2015, 10:26 am

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