The Middle East & the Geo-political games being played in Syria

To be honest this is such a huge topic it is impossible to cover all of it here. I am concentrated on how Syria is at the center of international Geo-political strategy.

The Iran nuclear deal

It has to be said that anything that can reduce nuclear weapon development has to be a good thing. Why on earth we need them at all has to be the question, if ever they were used anywhere in the world, the consequences would enormous. So we come back to the Iran deal. Iran has been suffering under sanctions for a while now and the impact on its economy is heavy. Not only that, it is costing a lot of money to continue its military support of the Assad regime in Syria and also Hezbollah in Lebanon. Estimates put the cost of this support at somewhere in the region of $1 Billion per month. Iran is playing a clever game, they agreed to stop Uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of sanctions, which will allow them to sell their oil on the open market. What is interesting is how quickly they agreed to this. This suggests that they already have enough enriched Uranium to make a bomb, the hard part is building a deliverable weapon. So agreeing to this demand would not have been difficult for them. In any case, supporting Assad is a much greater priority for them now than the building of a nuclear weapon.  So why is Iran supporting Assad? Basically it comes down to the fact that Iran is trying to grow its sphere of dominance in the middle east. When Bashar al Assad became president he allowed Iran to have much more influence in the running of Syria than his father ever did. The Assad regime is the only one that will allow Iranian influence in Syria, in fact, now the Assad regime is so much in debt to the Iranians that it is little more than a vassal power that represents Iranian interests. If Assad were to go, Iran would lose this influence and its arm that reaches all the way to the Mediterranean sea  via Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. Hence it agreed to the nuclear deal as it needs the money to fight to keep Assad in power. I suggest you read this interview I made with Zaid Tlass, a senior air-force General and whose family was very close to the Assad family before they defected, to get more info about the regime and Iran.

Syria: Al Qaeda, the USA, Iran, Turkey etc

Syria is now at the center of Geo-political  games being played out by various countries. On the one hand you have Iran supporting Assad directly, and indirectly through Hezbollah as well as through various militias. There are also lots of Shia fighters from Iraq who are going to Syria in order to protect Shia holy shrines, it must be said though that they are not there to support Assad directly as his Baathist regime is very much like that of Saddam Hussein’s time in Iraq, which for obvious reasons doesn’t hold good memories for Iraqis. These Iraqi Shia fighters go because they get well paid and are able to support their families back in Iraq where economic conditions are terrible for many despite the vast oil wealth of the country. So Iran is paying poor Iraqis to go fight in Syria.

Al Qaeda is a rapidly strengthening force in Syria. When I was there back in the spring they really were not a problem, being very few in number. The last few months have changed all that. Now Syria is the number one place for them to go, they even call it a 5 star Jihad. Jihadii from all over the Muslim world are making their way to Syria to join Qaeda  Although still far fewer in number than the moderate FSA, Qaeda are much better equipped and funded and working hard to take control of the north of Syria away from the FSA. In fact now the FSA has 2 battles on its hands, against Assad and against Qaeda. It has been suggested to me by some FSA commanders that they would even consider working together with certain Shia militia to fight together against Qaeda as it is a mutual enemy before continuing to fight each other. I know many of you reading this will find it hard to understand but it this how the middle east has worked for a very long time. I would be very curious to see what might happen if the moderate Sunni and Shia joined forces to fight them. They might realize that they can actually get on together, who knows. They are really worried about Qaeda, if they were to take control it would not be enough to be a good Muslim, not smoking or drinking and praying five times a day. No, nor would it be enough to stay quiet and let Qaeda run the country. No,Qaeda would expect the people to join them, when I say join them I mean as fighters. If you refuse, you are seen as a traitor and they will kill you, as simple as that. If they get control of the country, the people will be forced to become fighters to be sent to other countries. If you are not with them 100% then you are the enemy. This is why the moderate Sunni rebels are prepared to consider making some unusual alliances.

What is interesting is that Qaeda are getting a lot of their heavy weapons from Libya. To get these weapons to Syria they have to be brought by sea and then landed in Turkey from where they make their way across the border. Smuggling large quantities of heavy weapons through a shipping port is no easy matter, particularly as the Turkish know what Qaeda are up to. But the fact is Qaeda are able to do this, which leads to the conclusion that Turkey is turning a blind eye to the situation and if Turkey know about it then you can be sure the USA knows about it too. So what is going on here, why would they allow this to happen?

This is my opinion based on my observations and interviews during a month in Syria and another month visiting Jordan and Lebanon, including refugee camps. It appears that Qaeda are being allowed to build up their strength and resources in Syria. In fact, Syria is being made to look such an attractive Jihad that as many Qaeda and associates as possible will go there to fight. They are leaving Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as Europe and the USA in droves, all heading to Syria, well equipped, well funded, ready to fight and die. Obviously, in the face of this, Iran is going to have to increase the resources it puts into keeping Assad in power. As I said before, this war is costing Iran a fortune and it is going to get much more expensive for them as Qaeda get stronger. This is why Iran agreed to the nuclear deal and the USA knows it. The strategy of the USA is to get Qaeda and Iran to fight each other to exhaustion in Syria. Let Qaeda and Iran build themselves up so they can have a proper war inside Syria and really try to wipe each other out.Not that the USA or others are looking to see Iran as a country destroyed but rather that its expansionist ambitions are severely curtailed. As a result, this war is going to continue for some time and Syria as a country will be reduced to rubble even more than it is now. Of course, no thought is given to the ordinary Syrian people who continue to suffer terribly as a result of this Geo-political strategy.

Then we have Turkey. They are playing the long game. Like Iran they also have expansionist ambitions that hark back to the days of the Ottoman empire. At the moment they are biding their time, allowing Qaeda to build up its strength in Syria for its fight against the Iranian owned Assad regime. The plan is that when Iran and Qaeda eventually exhaust themselves and the land is left in ruins, the few Syrians who are left will not be able to put up any resistance as Turkey annexes the northern territory of Syria. Syria as a country will cease to exist in the form we know it today. However, Turkey isn’t the only country with ambitions to have a slice of Syria.

The role of Jordan in the Syrian conflict

Jordan is also playing its own games. The supply of weapons that are sent to the FSA in the south of Syria from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar all come through Jordan. However Jordan doesn’t pass on all the weapons that are destined for the FSA. It feeds through just a little, enough to keep the FSA fighting but no more. Also sometimes they play games such as mixing tracer rounds with standard ammunition. Tracer rounds give away your location when used and makes it easier to target you at night when fighting takes place. I was given this information directly by an FSA General.

Jordan is also trying to get the different rebel fighting brigades under their control. Let me explain how. There are many defected Syrian regime military officers now in Jordan. Some defected because they are against the regime but other simply because they were able to get their family and money out of the country and be able to protect their personal interests. Jordan has been trying, not very successfully at the moment, to insert these defected Syrian officers into the various rebel brigades, the largest of which in the south of Syria is the Liwa al Yarmouk brigade led by Bashar al Zoubi who I have met a couple of times in his home and also met Yasser al-Abboud who was the General before he was recently killed.

Anyway, the Jordanian idea is to dilute the authority of the FSA rebel commanders and bring them under their control. I know this as this is what many told me including Bashar al Zoubi and quite often the Jordanians will only give them supplies if they accept certain demands. This includes being told where they can and cannot attack. Obviously Jordan is working closely with the USA and the rebels being told where they can and cannot attack is a strategic decision that has as its ultimate aim the division of Syria also in the south. Let me explain why the ultimate objective is a divided Syria. So done, Syria will be a shadow of its former self and an Iranian controlled Assad regime can never be a threat to Israel. Jordan will never invade Syria to take control of the land in the south. What will happen is that as the Sunni, Shia and Regime forces fight each other to destruction in the north and center of the country, Jordan will offer nationality to those Syrians in the south and with it protection. In return Jordan will get access to the vast ground water resources that it so desperately needs. Before this can happen Jordan will eventually have to get rid of the various brigades leadership and replace them with their own selected people from among the the defected Syrian officers who are part of the  Syrian military council in Amman run by Colonel Achmed al Namah. One final point, at the moment there isn’t a big problem with Qaeda and other extremist factions in the south but if there were then Jordan would give direct help to the FSA to help defeat them. After, Jordan would continue with its original plans.

Will Israel and Saudi Arabia attack Iran or not

In a word no. Short of a nuclear strike, Iranian facilities are so well buried under mountains that attacking is impractical and fraught with risk. Iran has very good Russian made air defense systems, which means that there is no guarantee a strike would work. Saudi Arabia simply doesn’t have the military capability to make such a strike. Only Israel could conceive of such an action but they wont. In the end it will not be necessary if all goes according to the plan of getting Qaeda and Iran to fight each other to exhaustion in Syria.  And there are always cyber attacks to be used as a way of damaging Iranian infrastructure.

Syria talks in Geneva: Should Iran be involved

Any talks in Geneva will be fruitless. The rebels refuse to negotiate with the regime and also the moderate rebel commanders who have the power on the ground in Syria have not been included to take part. Those Syrians who claim to be the opposition are hardly recognized by the people on the ground. It makes no sense for there to be talks if Iran isn’t there because it is they who control Assad. Seeing as Iran is prepared to throw everything it has into keeping Assad in power any talks will be pointless.

How the middle east effects us: The Institutionalization of security and intelligence agencies and why they need the threat of terror and instability to justify their existence

I often hear people say that what happens in the middle east is nothing to do with them. Why should they care about a war far away between people who have different language, culture and religion be of any concern to us in the West. The fact is there is an indirect effect and it is a powerful one that effects us every day. The threat of terror and terrorist organizations and individuals are used as a reason for ever more surveillance of society. It has arrived at the point where all electronic communication is monitored. This mass monitoring of individuals has less to do with terrorism but rather with these organizations finding ways to justify their existence and growth. Allow me to explain.

It is interesting that when we look at different types of organizations, from charities and political parties to Intelligence services, they all have some vital things in common. They all start out with an objective and all the organizational effort is put into reaching the objective for which it was created. So a charity that looks after animal welfare or an intelligence organization that is tasked with protecting the country. As the organization becomes more successful it finds that its political and financial power increases as it grows in size and influence. What invariably happens next is a result of some interesting psychology. The organization develops an institutional mentality. What this means is that the continued growth and recognition of the organization becomes more important than the job it originally set out to do. This is also the time when those who are a part of the organization have to be much more conformist if they wish to continue working there. Internal rules and regulations become more important than the actual job. Creativity of thought and action is suppressed. Along with this you also have empire building within the organization as it moves from internal collaboration to protecting and developing internal power.

So we come back to the intelligence services. We see how they have become institutionalized. The report into the 9/11 attack shows that there was a lot of evidence beforehand of a planned attack and the report criticized the security services because of their internal conflicts of interest. The existence of the organization has become more important than its stated job. Internal empire building will mean that different elements will look for ever increased funding as they consolidate their positions. They are in competition with each other rather than genuinely collaborating. In order to justify increased funding they need to show two things; their successes, terrorist attacks they have stopped and their failures, it is the failures that will be used in combination with the success to ask for more money. If only we had more money for more resources then we could have stopped that particular attack.

So actually it serves the purpose of the intelligence services for there to be a high profile attack from time to time. I would say that the point has been reached where no matter how much money and new technology is pumped into security services the returns, stopping terrorist attacks, will be very much reduced due to ossifying institutionalization.

In the meantime, in combination with Geo-political strategy we see how the lives of ordinary people are counted as nothing, where governments consider their own citizens to be the enemy to be watched at all cost in case they try to change things.

Finally a look at government in general and why it is all subject to failure

Throughout human history we have tried pretty much every form of government that can be conceived. The track record isn’t good. What we are seeing now though is an ever greater disconnect between governments and the people they claim to govern. Governments are getting ever harder, iron-like and also more distant while the population is seen as something clay-like, to be molded and squeezed. The problem is that iron and clay really don’t mix and it wouldn’t take much to break that fragile bond. There is a lot more I can say about this but it will wait for another time.

A question about the terrorist attack in Nairobi Kenya

What I don’t understand is how it is possible, with all the mass surveillance of the internet and telecom systems around the world, security services were caught with their pants down. Think about it, the group Al-Shabaab used a lot of foreigners to carry out this attack so it is obvious that where would have been a lot of communications via the internet and phone. Obviously there are different ways you can try and secure your communications but nothing is 100% secure. This leads me to two possibilities.

The first is that despite the ability of intelligence services to hoover up pretty much everything that happens on the internet they were unable to get the real intelligence out of the raw data. It is possible but that would assume intelligence services had no idea that Al-Shabaab would attack in Kenya. Considering the fact that Al-Shabaab had made it clear they would attack Kenya if it attacked Somalia then we can assume that intelligence services were watching for specific threats.

Which leads me to my second possibility. Intelligence services were aware of the impending attack and chose to do nothing about it. I know this is a deeply cynical opinion but at the end of the day there needs to be an occasional high profile terrorist attack so that intelligence organization can justify their existence and ask for ever increased funding. If they can stop attacks with their current resources there is no justification to increase their budgets.

It is interesting that when we look at different types of organizations, from charities and political parties to Intelligence services, they all have some vital things in common. They all start out with an objective and all the organizational effort is put into reaching the objective for which it was created. So a charity that looks after animal welfare or an intelligence organization that is tasked with protecting the country. As the organization becomes more successful it finds that its political and financial power increases as it grows in size and influence. What invariably happens next is a result of some interesting psychology. The organization develops an institutional mentality. What this means is that the continued growth and recognition of the organization becomes more important than the job it originally set out to do. This is also the time when those who are a part of the organization have to be much more conformist if they wish to continue working there. Internal rules and regulations become more important than the actual job. Creativity of thought and action is suppressed. Along with this you also have empire building within the organization as it moves from internal collaboration to protecting and developing internal power.

So we come back to the intelligence services. We see how they have become institutionalized. The attack in Nairobi was quite probably a combination of the two possibilities that I mentioned above. The report into the 9/11 attack shows that there was a lot of evidence beforehand of a planned attack and the report criticized the security services because of their internal conflicts of interest. So quite probably there was a lot of evidence in the system regarding Nairobi but for whatever reasons it wasn’t acted on. Secondly the existence of the organization has become more important than its stated job. Internal empire building will mean that different elements will look for ever increased funding as they consolidate their positions. They are in competition with each other rather than genuinely collaborating. In order to justify increased funding they need to show two things; their successes, terrorist attacks they have stopped and their failures, it is the failures that will be used in combination with the success to ask for more money. If only we had more money for more resources then we could have stopped that particular attack.

So actually it serves the purpose of the intelligence services for there to be a high profile attack from time to time. Also, and this is my cynical thinking, the attack in Nairobi was against civilians in an African country where the number of dead Europeans and Americans would be reduced and the intelligence services knew and used this to their benefit. Another point is that the more institutionalized an organization becomes, the less efficient it also becomes. I would say that the point has been reached where no matter how much money and new technology is pumped into security services the returns will be very much reduced due to ossifying institutionalization.

What do you think?

Assad just announced he will hand over chemical weapons. What does it mean?

There are 2 ways of looking at this announcement. The first is that he really is going to hand everything over. The second is that he only hand part of his CW stockpile over and save the rest for use another time.

You have to look at the logistics of what he has said he will do. Is he saying that he will allow the CW to be taken out of the country or is he saying that he will allow inspectors to make sure that nobody can take them out of the storage facilities?

Before answering these questions I should tell you what I know about the different factions of the opposition to Assad in Syria, moderate and extremist. When I was in Syria I met everybody from FSA to extreme Islamist group Jabhat al Nusra. I didn’t meet anybody from Al Qaeda because when I was there earlier this year there were so few they were virtually invisible. Of all my conversations with the different factions we always got into conversations about chemical weapons. When I was there back in the spring, everyone told me, from moderate to extreme Islamist that even if they got their hands on these weapons they would never use them. The moderate FSA is no fan of the extremists but they know them well enough to believe them, that they will not use these weapons. If they did the population would destroy them, the extreme Islamists are too small in number to risk provoking the wrath of 25 million Syrians. For now they are only tolerated because they fight against the Syrian regime. The FSA would never consider doing anything that would kill the people it is fighting for.

If Assad is saying he will get the chemical weapons out of Syria it will be a logistical nightmare, moving an enormous stockpile through the middle of a war zone will be difficult to say the least. I’m also suggesting that the announcement made today is simply a game of smoke and mirrors. He has already used CW on Syrian civilians. It is quite possible to imagine he will do it again. Assad has no qualms about killing even those relatively close to him if it will give a propaganda or political gain.

If inspectors are allowed into the country they will only be shown and given control of a part of the stockpile. Then at a time that suits him he will attack an Alawite town with CW, they are the same tribe as him, he will kill thousands more than in the chemical attack in Damascus. Claiming that all his CW is under the control of international inspectors he will try to make it look as if it was the rebels who made the attack. What will probably happen is that Syria, Russian and Iran will say that the USA is supporting terrorists in the use of chemical weapons in Syria. As a result Syria will ask for international intervention, specifically Russia to help it get rid of the ‘terrorists’. Russia would be complicit in this, they have no qualms about using chemical weapons on their own people. When Chechens took hundreds of Russians hostage in a Moscow theater a few years ago the Russian authorities had no problem using gas in the knowledge that many innocent people would die. The Russian government has a very dim view of its subjects, for them it was more important to kill Chechens than save lives of ordinary Russians. So they have no problem with Assad using chemical weapons.

Another possibility is that Assad will make a show of getting the CW out of the country but it will only be a part. International inspectors will have no way of proving otherwise and then any subsequent chemical attack can be blamed on ‘terrorists’ with the same results.

The final question has to be, if Assad doesn’t use chemical weapons again then what else is he planning with Russia and Iran? If that is their strategy then we are moving into a very dangerous yet predictable area. Don’t forget either that the USA want to keep this war going for as long as possible, they see it as the best way to weaken Iran as it will have to keep on committing more resources to this war if it wants to win.