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

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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.

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.) . . .


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.


    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.”


    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.”



    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
    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.


    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.


    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

    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.


    Relat­ed SPIEGEL ONLINE links:

    Iran­ian Nuclear Nego­tia­tor: ‘We Can’t Just Turn Back the Clock’ (11/10/2014)
    From the Archive: How Israel Destroyed Syr­i­a’s Kibar Nuclear Reac­tor (11/02/2009)
    From the Archive: SPIEGEL Inter­view with Bashar Assad (01/19/2009)

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

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