Two stories emerged over the weekend which reveal – at least for those who have eyes to see – how crazy and misguided UK (and US) Middle East policy is. Both stories were fascinating. But while one made headlines, the other was largely ignored.
We’ll start with the one that got big media coverage. Under the headline “Syria conflict: White Helmets evacuated by Israel“, the BBC reported that
“Israel says it has carried out an evacuation of members of Syria’s White Helmets civil defence group from a war zone in south-western Syria. Some 422 volunteers and family members were taken to Jordan via the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights overnight. The UK, one of the nations requesting Israel’s help, hailed the operation and will assist with resettlement.“
Who are the White Helmets? That is the big question. Or perhaps I should say “the $64,000 question.” The BBC explains:
“The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria’s war zones. Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and his Russian allies, say the White Helmets support the rebels and also have links to jihadist groups.”
In short, the BBC doesn’t say. It gives us two answers, which suggests that we make up our own minds. Who do I believe? Do I believe them, or do I believe the supporters of President Assad and his Russian allies? Or is the truth somewhere in between? Or could they both be right?
Clearly, the British government seems to take a positive view of them, since the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt tweeted
“Fantastic news that we – UK and friends – have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families – thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request. The WH are the bravest of the brave and in a desperate situation this is at least one ray of hope.“
There is another clue in the BBC story, which in my opinion, is the big give-away. “The White Helmets operate only in rebel-held areas, although they say they are non-partisan.”
However, having covered the story, the BBC then gives more background information on the question of who the White Helmets are.
“Their official name is the Syrian Civil Defence and it began in early 2013 as an organisation of volunteers from all walks of life, including electricians and builders.
Its main task soon became to rescue civilians in war zones in the immediate aftermath of air strikes, and it says its volunteers have saved the lives of more than 100,000 people during the civil war. Numbering about 3,000 volunteers, they also carry out essential repair works. Some 200 members have been killed. The White Helmets have gained worldwide praise, were nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize and were the subject of a Netflix documentary . . . . But Syria’s government and its ally Russia have accused the group of links to jihadist groups. President Assad said it used “humanitarian masks and umbrellas just to implement a certain agenda”. The group has been financed by public donations, as well as funding from foreign governments.”
But the fact that they work only in rebel-held areas is deeply significant. And there are three important things that are very significant about that.
The first is that all of these rebel controlled areas are basically under the control of jihadist Islamic extremists.
The second is that these Islamic groups are pretty brutal, and tolerate no dissent. Hence western journalists don’t operate in them – and no news comes out of them except what the militias allow.
And the third is that when a rebel-held area falls to Syrian government forces and the rebels surrender (as has happened in several places over the last couple of years, e.g. Eastern Aleppo, Douma, and Daraa), some of the rebel fighters have received an amnesty and basically gone over to the government side, while others have been given safe transit to go to remaining rebel-held areas – generally Idlib. White Helmets have NEVER accepted the amnesty offered and resettled in government controlled parts of Syria. They have always chosen to remain with the rebels and go to Idlib. That speaks volumes.
It may be significant that in this latest evacuation that Israel helped with, it is being reported that the nationalities of those involved are said to largely be UAE, Qatar, Saudi – and that most were not Syrian. Indeed, this is typical of the war in Syria, as it has been said more than once that it is not really a civil war, since a large number of the rebel fighters are not Syrian, and the armed forces of several different nations (yes, including the US and UK) have been involved in the fighting.
There is another thing that the BBC report leaves out. It leaves out the fact that respected serious western reporters who have spent a lot of time on the ground (e.g. Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Reese Erlich), have never voiced any support for the White Helmets.
For example, Reese Erlich, speaking about reports coming from rebel-held areas of poison gas attacks, comments “All of the White Helmets’ reports and the videos were taken by pro-rebel groups of one kind or another.” When Robert Fisk visited the scene of reported poison gas attacks in Douma (in which the only evidence of the attack was a video by the White Helmets of people in a hospital being hosed down), all of the locals he spoke to said there had been no gas attack. And Patrick Cockburn has been scathing about the pro-rebel bias and inaccuracy of most mainstream western media reporting of the Syrian conflict – declaring it the most biased war reporting in the west since World War I.
And a lot of other western reporters and experts are pretty convinced – and have shown plenty of evidence – that the Syrian government are completely correct: the White Helmets are allied with the rebels, and they are basically nothing but a propaganda outfit. See for example Gareth Porter, Seymour Hersh, Max Blumenthal, Rick Sterling, as well as retired CIA analyst Philip Giraldi, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, and the former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford (here, here, and here). There are plenty of reports of members of the White Helmets being involved in atrocities – including the beheading of a 12 year old boy.
And having looked at the evidence I have seen, it seems to me that there is no doubt at all that the Syrian government are correct: the White Helmets are basically a propaganda front for extremist Islamic militias.
Which leaves me shaking my head when I read that the Foreign Secretary has tweeted “”Fantastic news that we – UK and friends – have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families – thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request. The WH are the bravest of the brave and in a desperate situation this is at least one ray of hope.”
This is so wrong that it is crazy. The total untruths that come from the UK government leave one feeling ill.
Oh, and by the way, my giving supports the White Helmets, because one of their main sources of finance is grants from the UK government. Which is why I described the matter of who the White Helmets were as the $64,000 dollar question.
Al-Qaeda, Bosnia, and NATO
Which brings me to the weekend’s other story, which was in the Independent, but received almost no coverage. It is by the veteran Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk. And it is absolutely astonishing.
While I suggest that you read it for yourself, these are the main points, as reported by Fisk:
In the basement of a bombed-out al-Qaeda arms storage building in eastern Aleppo last year, I found a weapons log book from a mortar factory in Bosnia – with the handwritten name of one of their senior officials, Ifet Krnjic, on each page. It was dispatched from the Balkans with a cargo of 500 120mm mortars in January 2016.
(Al-Qaeda, you remember, are the Islamic terrorist group that carried out the 9/11 attacks in America in 2001.)
. . . . in the forested heart of central Bosnia, I . . . found Mr Krnjic, who says his company sent the arms to Saudi Arabia. Sitting on the lawn of his home south of the weapons-manufacturing town of Novi Travnik, he brings his finger down onto the first page of the log book which I showed him. “This is my signature! Yes, that’s me!” Krnjic exclaims loudly. “It’s a warranty for the 120mm mortar launcher – this is Nato standard. It [the shipment] went to Saudi Arabia. It was part of a supply of 500 mortars. I remember the Saudi shipment well. They [the Saudis] came to our factory to inspect the weapons at the beginning of 2016.”
Five-hundred mortars is a massive shipment of weapons – most European armies don’t have that many in their individual inventories – and some of them at least appear to have ended up in the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s Islamist Nusrah Front/al-Qaeda enemies in northern Syria within six months of their dispatch from Bosnia 1,200 miles away. . . .
And Fisk goes on to tell about his experiences in East Aleppo after it’s capture by the Syrian government at the end of 2016:
I entered three former military barracks of the Islamist groups in February 2017, rubble sometimes blocking my path; stones, bricks, sheet metal and bomb fragments strewn across the roads and inside still standing, though badly damaged, buildings. Inside one of these, lying half-concealed amid iron fragments and field dressings, I found piles of discarded documents containing firing instructions for machine guns and mortars, all of them in English.
They also included weapons shipment papers and arms instruction booklets from Bosnia and Serbia, the pages still damp from winter rains and some stained by footprints. I stuffed as many as I could in the satchel I always carry in wars, later finding – in another building – a Bulgarian weapons shipment paper for artillery shells. In a deep basement of a third building in the Ansari district, with the words Jaish al-Mujaheddin (Army of the Holy Fighters) crudely painted but still visible on the front, its upper floors clearly bombed by Syrian or Russian jets, lay dozens of empty boxes for anti-armour weapons, all marked with their maker’s name – the Hughes Aircraft Company, of California. The boxes were labelled “Guided Missile Surface Attack” with stock numbers starting with the computer code “1410-01-300-0254”.
These papers, some of them lying amid smashed guns and pieces of shrapnel, provide the most intriguing paper trail yet discovered of just who is producing the weapons that have armed the Assad regime’s most ferocious Islamist opponents – and how they apparently reach the fighters of Syria via countries ‘friendly’ to the west.
Ifet Krnjic’s account of the mortar shipment from BNT-TMiH in Bosnia is both precise and detailed. “When the Saudis came to our factory to inspect at the beginning of 2016, there was a Saudi ‘minister’… and some Saudi officers who also came to inspect the weapons before receiving them. The officers wore civilian clothes. The minister was in a robe. All our production after the [Bosnian] war is under the control of the Americans and Nato who are always coming here… and they know each and every piece of our weapons which go outside our factory.”
. . . I know I should not say all of this, but Nato and the EU have given us the green light to do this.
So there you have it. 15 years after al-Qaeda attacked the twin towers, they were using weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia, with NATO’s permission, to seek to turn Syria into an Islamic state.
You couldn’t make it up. The British and American governments have been helping al-Qaeda. Who would have guessed, that when Bush and Blair launched the attack on Afghanistan just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, that the “war on terror” would lead to the US and UK supporting the very terrorist group that brought terror to New York – helping them bring terror to Syria. And that the mainstream western media would do its best to cover it up.
Oh, and there is a delightful footnote. As I say, Fisk’s report has not received much coverage or comment in the US or UK. But it was reported in Bosnia. And guess what. A former government minister in Bosnia, asked to comment, said
“I think that these articles were written in very bad faith. I think that this is coming from propagandists of Assad’s (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) regime,” he said, accusing the journalist behind the story of being “part of the machinery of Bashar al-Assad”. “
Yes, you have to laugh. But remember the way the BBC said “Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and his Russian allies, say the White Helmets support the rebels and also have links to jihadist groups”, but didn’t mention that a lot of well-informed people in the west say exactly the same thing? Well – what often happens when they do is that someone immediately calls them supporters of Assad.
It all reminds me of a passage from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Pilgrim’s Regress. The book was written shortly after Lewis, who had for many years been an atheist, had finally, after a few years of wrestling, come to the conclusion that the Christian faith was true, and become a Christian. In it, he satirises some of the philosophical trends of was seeing around him. One of these is the tendency to answer logical arguments with ad hominem remarks.
And so, in the book, an instructor is testing his pupil on such things as “What do you say to an argument that proves the existence of God?” and various other philosophical and moral questions. And after the pupils gives the correct answer, the instructor comes to the final question: “What is the answer to an argument turning on the belief that two and two make four?” And the pupils comes back “The answer is “You say that because you are a mathematician.”
However, in the book, it isn’t exactly a pupil and instructor. It is a prisoner and a jailer. Because some people are prisoners of a world-view that is not easy to escape from.
And that, it seems to me, describes a lot of people in the west today. And in particular, it describes them in terms of the way they view the conflict in Syria, and of the way they view the foreign policies pursued by the the government of their country.