t is official. During a Thursday morning Senate hearing, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Obama administration is deliberating whether or not it should utilize the US military in Syria. This means that President Barack Obama is considering using military force in Syria, and the Pentagon has prepared various scenarios for possible United States intervention.
Gen. Dempsey said the administration was considering using “kinetic strikes ” in Syria and said “the issue is under deliberation inside of our agencies of government ,” the Associated Press reported from Washington.
According to RT TV, a Russian news service:
Dempsey, 61, is the highest ranking officer in the US military and has been nominated by President Obama to serve a second term in that role. The Senate Armed Services Committee questioned him Thursday morning as part of the nominating process when Dempsey briefly discussed the situation in Syria.
Last month, the Obama administration concluded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons during the ongoing battles. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said, “The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete.”
President Obama said previously that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and likely trigger American intervention. When the White House concluded Assad had relied on chemical warfare, Rhodes said, “both the political and the military opposition … is and will be receiving US assistance.”
This brings us to the question “Is this a setup where the reason given to start yet another war aimed at overthrowing yet another government of a foreign country that has been long planned in advance by the US?” Given our history, this is likely.
First of all, the evidence of chemical weapons use is itself sketchy. So far we only have a CIA report , which was described by an American official who declined to be identified, which states that the United States has acquired blood, urine and hair samples from two Syrian rebels–one dead and one wounded–who were in a firefight with Syrian government forces in mid-March northeast of Damascus. The samples showed that the rebels were exposed to sarin.
Secondly, although US intelligence reports are tentative, our media has been portraying them as definitive. The press is raring to go on this, just like they were on Feb. 5, 2003 when Colin Powell spoke before the United Nations, claiming there was absolute proof that Saddam Hussein’s regime was armed to the teeth with Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Syria’s WMDs came from Iraq
How did the Assad regime come by these chemical weapons? It was reported in the New York Sun on January 26, 2006 that Israel’s top general during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Moshe Yaalon, told the Sun that Saddam “transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria. The Iraqi Revolutionary Guard moved weapons of mass destruction into Syria in advance of the U.S.-led action to eliminate Hussein’s WMD threat.”
Two Iraqi Airways Boeings were converted to cargo planes by removing the seats, and special Republican Guard units loaded the planes with chemical weapons materials. There were, all told, 56 flights disguised as a relief effort after a June 4, 2002 collapse of the Zeyzoun Dam wiped out a village just below the impoundment, killing 20 people and washing away houses, cattle, hospitals, schools, water pumps and vehicles in five villages, stopping only when the water hit and joined the Orontes River more than 8 miles away.
There were also truck convoys into Syria. Both Israeli and U.S. intelligence observed large truck convoys leaving Iraq and entering Syria in the weeks and months before Operation Iraqi Freedom, John Shaw, former deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, told a private conference of former weapons inspectors and intelligence experts held in Arlington, Va., in 2006.
It was reported in the Fall 2005 Middle East Quarte rly that Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, stated: “Chemical and biological weapons which Saddam is endeavoring to conceal have been moved from Iraq to Syria.”
The U.S.A. provided Iraq with chem and bio capability
And here we come full circle. This report is from Common Dreams (Sept. 8, 2002):
The US and Britain sold Saddam Hussein the technology and materials Iraq needed to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. Reports by the US Senate’s committee on banking, housing and urban affairs — which oversees American exports policy — reveal that the US, under the successive administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr, sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992, as well as germs similar to tuberculosis and pneumonia. Other bacteria sold included brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene.
UN inspectors had identified many United States manufactured items that had been exported from the United States to Iraq under licenses issued by the Department of Commerce, and established that these items were used to further Iraq’s chemical and nuclear weapons development and its missile delivery system development programs.
It is clear that the US government knows about everything that goes on everywhere, all of the time. It has mastered this technique since before President Truman established the CIA following World War 2. Furthermore, it is undeniable that we have planned a complete takeover of the Middle East and its petroleum reserves since then.
Going to war with Syria will complete our encirclement of Iran, the last bastion of Middle Eastern oil reserves that America covets.
That pesky “al Qaeda”
Once again, our excuse for an exercise in American use of real weapons of mass destruction will be laid at the feet of the terrorist boogeymen that we ourselves create. This is from USA Today of June 14:
A Syrian rebel group’s April pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda’s replacement for Osama bin Laden suggests that the terrorist group’s influence is not waning and that it may take a greater role in the Western-backed fight to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The pledge of allegiance by Syrian Jabhat al Nusra Front chief Abou Mohamad al-Joulani to al-Qaeda leader Sheik Ayman al-Zawahri was coupled with an announcement by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, that it would work with al Nusra as well.
The shadowy al Qaeda terrorist group that we attribute all of our woes to is a creature we devised to fight the Russians in Afghanistan back in the nether regions of public memory, when Osama bin Laden was our friend and hero. Why would we use them for our own ends to overthrow the Syrian government? For the same reason that we turned a blind eye when Israel attacked Lebanon a week ago, bombing southern Beiruit in the hopes of destroying the offices of Hezbollah.
It’s one more brick in the wall we’re building around Iran and its 150 billion barrels of oil, which make it second only to Saudi Arabia.
— 30 —
James R. Bailey is a 30 year veteran reporter, political activist, environmentalist, and homesteader in northern Wisconsin’s Chequamegon National Forest in the Town of Grand View. He was recently on the campaign staff of Wisconsin Secretary of State (more…)
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In her extraordinarily bold and direct speech addressed to the Irish Parliament, Clare Daly (TD, Dublin North) called Obama a “war criminal”and “hypocrite of the century”.
In describing the fawned reception of Obama in Ireland akin to pimping and prostituting of that nation, Ms. Daly hit the nail on the head. Sadly, America dwarfs Ireland and elsewhere in the undignified category of prostitution – the 29 standing ovations from Congress in May 2011 for war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu attests to this tragic fact.
While Daly was quite right in censuring Obama for his criminal policies, including aiding terrorists in Syria, it is worthwhile noting that Obama is merely a willing instrument; the faces and factors behind his handlers and the policies merit greater scrutiny and exposure.
Backing and arming the so-called Syrian opposition distracts from the threat posed by Israel and its expansionist agenda by internalizing the enemy in order to weak the State. As former Israeli Intelligence Chief, Amos Yaldin told the audience at the Israel Policy Forum in February 2013:
“And this military [Syrian], which is a huge threat to Israel , is now also weakening and, in a way, disintegrating. We still have risk from Syria– a risk of being an AlQaeda country, a Somalia-type country — but from military point of view, each one of these are less dangerous than the Syrian regular army.”
Perpetuating adversaries to kill each other is a time-tested tactic – one which was used during the bloody eight year Iran-Iraq war; a war which according to Leon Wieseltier[i]was a “distraction” when Israeli boots were on the ground in Southern Lebanon. In that war, the United States was providing arms and intelligence to both sides. When asked what the logic was in aiding both sides in the bloody war, a former official replied: “You had to have been there”[ii]. But why Syria ?
The Need for Water
The primary goal of the early Zionist leadership was to control and secure the region’s waters. At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Chaim Weizmann declared that ‘it was of vital importance not only to secure all water resources feeding the country, but to control them at the sources – and the development of these waters became the primary aim of the Yishuv as a whole[iii]. This policy remained in place. As Israel ’s third Prime Minister Levi Eshkol put it, water was “the blood flowing through the arteries of the nation”.
As previously stated (Here and Here), the chaos we witness in Syria today has been in the making for years with the aid and backing of Israel-firsters in order to accommodate Israel’s agenda – expansion and control of regional water supplies while weakening its adversary/ies.
Israel faced one of its worst droughts in 1990-91. A second more serious drought in 1998, forced it to turn to water rich Turkey . Turkey and Israel engaged in serious negotiations starting in May 2000 to import 50 billion cubic meters of fresh water from Turkey using tanker ships, but using tankers was not cost effective for the transport of water. Alternate plans were suggested.
In September 2000, the same year that young Bashar-al Assad succeeded his father as President of Syria, a strategy paper entitled “The Geopolitics of Water” by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS) opined that “Since extensive water planning proposals will necessitate the establishment of pipelines and energy grids stretching across borders, a political and military structure that can ensure the safety and security of the carriers will be the prerequisite to effective water sharing” ….. “But an effective regional system would require political-military cooperation against Syria ”.
How to achieve this?
Israeli-Firsters to the rescue
Media mogul Haim Saban became involved in politics in the mid 1990’s with a view to support Israel . Saban professes that his greatest concern is the“protection” of Israel . At a conference in Israel , Saban described his method of influencing American politics : ‘Make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets’. (Saban penned an opinion piece in The New York Times in support of President Obama in his 2012 re-election bid).
It was no surprised therefore that in 2002, Saban pledged $13 million to start a research organization at the Brookings Institution called the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Saban Center would play an important role in propping up Syrian opposition (as it did in fermenting unrest post-2009 Iran elections with their June 2009 publication titled: “Which Path to Persia ? Options for a New American Strategy Towards Iran “). In 2006, Time Magazine revealed that that the US had been agitating, funding, and supporting “opposition” in Syria . According to the Time, the U.S. was “supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists” in Europe . The document bluntly expresses the hope that “these meetings will facilitate a more coherent strategy and plan of actions for all anti-Assad activists.”
It is worthwhile mentioning here that America ’s support of the so-called “opposition” which includes criminals, terrorists, and foreign fighters to effect regime change underscores America ’s stark hypocrisy. According to 18 USC § 2385 -Advocating overthrow of Government (Cornell Law), advocating the overthrow of the government, ‘organizing or help or attempt to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of the government of the United States or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence’bears serious consequences including fines and prison sentence of up to 20 years.
What is most revealing about the abovementioned Time Magazine piece of 2006 is that America ’s efforts to aid the opposition and undermine Assad were run through a foundation operated by Amar Abdulhamid, a Washington-based member of a Syrian umbrella opposition group known as the National Salvation Front (NSF). Abdulhamid was a visiting Fellow at the Saban Center (2004-2006) before moving on to the Neocon-run National Defense of Democracies.
When in 2008, Israel-firster Dennis Ross met with the “opposition” to discuss “Syria in Transition”, Saban’s fellow – Amar Abdullhamid was present. In February 2009, Dennis Ross joined the Obama Administration team. In April 2009, the US funded, London-based Baraada TV started its anti-Assad propaganda into Syria (The epicenter of the uprisings’ was Baraada over water distribution). Baraada TV’s chief editor, Malik al-Abdeh, is a cofounder of the Syrian exile group Movement for Justice and Development headed by Anas al-Abdah who was in attendance at the 2008 meeting with Dennis Ross.
It came as no surprise that John McCain who was a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI) formed to rid Iraq of Saddam Hossein, and a cheerleader for the Libya intervention, the Egyptian opposition to Mubarak, for bombing Iran, and so on…..visited Syrian “opposition” (via Turkey) in order to encourage more bloodshed. And expectedly, he was de-briefed — not at the White House, but at the Saban Center!
Soon after McCain’s presentation at the Saban Center , the White House disputed UN’s account and claimed that that Syria had crossed the ‘red line’ and used chemical weapons.
It is not the intention of this article to exclude the plethora of other individuals, think tanks, forums, and media pundits who have institutionalized Israel’s policies and promoted them as ‘America’s interests’; these are too numerous to mention here. However, a notable other Israel supporter must be named.
The Evangelical Factor
While various groups in Washington perpetuate and support Israel ’s aggressive and expansionist policies — at a cost to America , non have the zeal and the zest of the Evangelicals who support Israel to death. According to the dispensational model, a time of turmoil lies ahead, but believers will be “raptured” away before it begins. This period of tribulation will culminate in the final battle at Armageddon, a valley northwest of Jerusalem .
The close association between American evangelicals and Israel has been a clear goal of Israeli politicians, especially those in the Likud party. According to Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum of AJC, “the evangelical community is the largest and fastest-growing bloc of pro-Jewish sentiment in this country”[iv]. Israel and Jewish organizations continue to rely on the support of Evangelicals to justify Israel ’s occupation of Arab land even as Christian Zionists zest for evangelizing Jews remains a point of tension.
For example, within days of the June 1982 invasion of Lebanon (with a green light from Reagan), full-page ads appeared in leading papers requesting Evangelical support for the invasion[v]. In 1998, when Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington , he met with Jerry Falwell and numerous fundamentalist Christians before meeting with President Clinton. Similarly, as recently as April 2013, Pat Robertson warned that brokering peace between Israel and Palestine would bring punishment on America.
It has been alleged that funds raised in America by right wing Christians is funneled to West Bank settlements. The mayor of Ariel on the West Bank had estimated that two thirds of all Jewish settlements were funded by Christian Zionists.[vi]
Building for Armageddon?
While Evangelicals (not all) are rupture-ready and encourage Israel ’s expansionist agenda, Israeli politicians are not yet Armageddon-ready; at least, not yet.
In March 2013, Business Insider revealed that the United States is spending hundreds of millions of dollars building bunkers in Israel due to be completed 900 days from February 13, 2013. The project called Site 911 “will have five levels buried underground and six additional outbuildings on the above grounds, within the perimeter. At about 127,000 square feet, the first three floors will house classrooms, an auditorium, and a laboratory — all wedged behind shock resistant doors — with radiation protection and massive security. Only one gate will allow workers entrance and exit during the project and that will be guarded by only Israelis”.
Each door of the facility will have a detailed description of the mezuzahs written in“in-erasable ink”.
This should be heartwarming news to Americans whose taxes are spent on such projects while the bridges at home are crumbling.
The political establishment and the media has pimped out the nation. The list of conflicts awaiting us is long and bloody.
Syria will not be the last conflict. This has been a brief and incomplete overview of what drives our nation, and where we are headed, the handlers and the willing instruments (in the words of Clare Daly, pimps and prostitutes).
We continue to sink our head in sand and hope for a hero – for ‘something to happen’. There is only one hope for the future, and the only one power that can alter this destructive path: “We, The People”.
Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich is an independent researcher and writer with a focus on U.S. foreign policy and the role of lobby groups in influencing US foreign policy.
[i] Wieseltier , Leon ,“ Israel meets Iran in Lebanon ; The Wrong War”, The New Republic, Apr 8, 1985
Chapter 6 reads: “The United States could play multiple roles in facilitating a revolution. By funding and helping organize domestic rivals of the regime, the United States could create an alternative leadership to seize power. As Raymond Tanter of the Iran Policy Committee argues, students and other groups “need covert backing for their demonstrations. They need fax machines. They need Internet access, funds to duplicate materials, and funds to keep vigilantes from beating them up.” Beyond this, US-backed media outlets could highlight regime shortcomings and make otherwise obscure critics more prominent. The United States already supports Persian language satellite television (Voice of America Persian) and radio (Radio Farda) that bring unfiltered news to Iranians (in recent years, these have taken the lion’s share of overt US funding for promoting democracy in Iran). US economic pressure (and perhaps military pressure as well) can discredit the regime, making the population hungry for a rival leadership……”
[ii]Stephen R. Shalom, The United States and Iran-Iraq War, citing Stephen Engelberg, “Iran and Iraq Got ‘Doctored Data, U.S. Officials Say,” New York Times, 12 Jan. 1987, pp. A1, A6.
[iii]Jan Selby, “Water, Power & Politics in the Middle East ; The Other Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003
[iv]Donald Wagner, “Evangelicals and Israel : Theological roots of a political alliance”, The Christian Century, Nov. 4, 1998).
[v]Donald Wagner, “Evangelicals and Israel : Theological roots of a political alliance”, ibid
[vi]Colin Shindler, “Likud and the Christian Dispensationalists: A Symbiotic Relationship”, Israeli Studies, March 31, 2000
It seems that our corrupt, lying leaders in Washington are at it again. Just moments ago, the Administration said that Syria “Has crossed the Red Line” by using chemical weapons against the opposition. That isn’t what is driving this train.
According to international sources, the opposition is swiftly folding against the Army of Bashir al-Assad and this is unacceptable to the U.S. and its proxy Israel. You can read about the rebel fallback here on OEN.
This is also obfuscating the current news about the unwarranted NSA spying on all American citizens. Obama seems to be losing his credibility with his Progressive base over what they feel are their loss of privacy and 1st Amendment as well as 4th Amendment rights.
Americans are being railroaded into another lose/lose situation in the Middle-east to stop the political hemorrhaging here in America. This is unacceptable and Americans should see this as just what it is. War in order to keep dissent to a minimum is an old trick. People need to look at this for what it really is, something thrown into the mix to keep our eyes off the ball.
Senator John McCain was on CNN recently and was very satisfied that America was now going to send heavy weapons into Syria. We should not feel as pleased. Tensions will be getting even higher in the region and it could erupt into another World War. That would take the American peoples mind off of how badly their government has failed them.
Former Chairman of the Liberal Party of America, Tim is a retired Army Sergeant. He currently lives in South Carolina. A regular contributor to OpEdNews, he is the author of Kimchee Days or Stoned Cold Warriors. Tim’s political book, “From (
In the aftermath of the First World War, Britain and France famously created the modern Middle East by carving up what had been the Ottoman Empire. The borders of new states such as Iraq and Syria were determined in keeping with British and French needs and interests. The wishes of local inhabitants were largely ignored.
Now, for the first time in over 90 years, the whole postwar settlement in the region is coming unstuck. External frontiers are no longer the impassable barriers they were until recently, while internal dividing lines are becoming as complicated to cross as international frontiers.
In Syria, the government no longer controls many crossing points into Turkey and Iraq. Syrian rebels advance and retreat without hindrance across their country’s international borders, while Shia and Sunni fighters from Lebanon increasingly fight on opposing sides in Syria. The Israelis bomb Syria at will. Of course, the movements of guerrilla bands in the midst of a civil war do not necessarily mean that the state is finally disintegrating. But the permeability of its borders suggests that whoever comes out as the winner of the Syrian civil war will rule a weak state scarcely capable of defending itself.
The same process is at work in Iraq. The so-called trigger line dividing Kurdish-controlled territory in the north from the rest of Iraq is more and more like a frontier defended on both sides by armed force. Baghdad infuriated the Kurds last year by setting up the Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command, which threatened to enforce central military control over areas disputed between Kurds and Arabs.
Dividing lines got more complicated in Iraq after the Hawaijah massacre on 23 April left at least 44 Sunni Arab protesters dead. This came after four months of massive but peaceful Sunni protests against discrimination and persecution. The result of this ever-deeper rift between the Sunni and the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad is that Iraqi troops in Sunni-majority areas behave like an occupation army. At night, they abandon isolated outposts so they can concentrate forces in defensible positions. Iraqi government control in the northern half of the country is becoming ever more tenuous.
Does it really matter to the rest of the world who fights whom in the impoverished country towns of the Syrian interior or in the plains and mountains of Kurdistan? The lesson of the last few thousand years is that it matters a great deal. The region between Syria’s Mediterranean coast and the western frontier of Iran has traditionally been a zone where empires collide. Maps of the area are littered with the names of battlefields where Romans fought against Parthians, Ottomans against Safavids, and British against Turks.
It is interesting but chilling to see the carelessness with which the British and French divided up this area under the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. The British were to control the provinces of Baghdad and Basra and have influence further north. The French were to hold south-east Turkey and northern Syria and the province of Mosul, believed to contain oil. It turned out, however, that British generosity over Mosul was due to Britain having promised eastern Turkey to Tsarist Russia and thinking it would be useful to have a French cordon sanitaire between themselves and the Russian army.
Sykes-Picot reflected wartime priorities and was never implemented as such. The British promise to give Mosul to France became void with the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and the Bolsheviks’ unsporting publication of Russia’s secret agreements with its former French and British allies. But in negotiations in 1918-19 leading up to the Treaty of Versailles, only the most perfunctory attention was given to the long-term effect of the distribution of the spoils.
Discussing Mesopotamia and Palestine with David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, who was not very interested in the Middle East, said: “Tell me what you want.” Lloyd George: “I want Mosul.” Clemenceau: “You shall have it. Anything else?” Lloyd George: “Yes, I want Jerusalem too.” Clemenceau agreed with alacrity to this as well, though he warned there might be trouble over Mosul, which even then was suspected to contain oil.
Those negotiations have a fascination because so many of the issues supposedly settled then are still in dispute. Worse, agreements reached then laid the basis for so many future disputes and wars that still continue, or are yet to come. Arguments made at that time are still being made.
Not surprisingly, the leaders of the 30 million Kurds are the most jubilant at the discrediting of agreements of which they, along with the Palestinians, were to be the greatest victims. After being divided between Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria, they sense their moment has finally come. In Iraq, they enjoy autonomy close to independence, and in Syria they have seized control of their own towns and villages. In Turkey, as the PKK Turkish Kurd guerrillas begin to trek back to the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq under a peace deal, the Kurds have shown that, in 30 years of war, the Turkish state has failed to crush them.
But as the 20th century settlement of the Middle East collapses, the outcome is unlikely to be peace and prosperity. It is easy to see what is wrong with the governments in present-day Iraq and Syria, but not what would replace them. Look at the almost unanimous applause among foreign politicians and media at the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011, then look at Libya now, its government permanently besieged or on the run from militia gunmen.
If President Bashar al-Assad did fall in Syria, who would replace him? Does anybody really think that peace would automatically follow? Is it not far more likely that there would be continued and even intensified war, as happened in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003? The Syrian rebels and their supporters downplay the similarities between the crises in Iraq and Syria, but they have ominous similarities. Saddam may have been unpopular in Iraq, but those who supported him or worked for him could not be excluded from power and turned into second-class citizens without a fight.
US, British and French recipes for Syria’s future seem as fraught with potential for disaster as their plans in 1916 or 2003. In saying that Assad can play no role in a future Syrian government, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaks of the leader of a government that has still only lost one provincial capital to the rebels. Such terms can only be imposed on the defeated or those near defeat. This will only happen in Syria if Western powers intervene militarily on behalf of the insurgents,
Tomorrow once upon a time in Baghdad
Israel‘s recent attacks against Syria are the latest, dramatic development in a conflict that is already spiraling out of control. In the past few days, Israeli aircraft reportedly targeted Iranian surface-to-surface missiles headed for Hezbollah, as well as Syrian missiles in a military base in the outskirts of Damascus. Israel’s strikes show, once again, its intelligence services’ ability to penetrate the Iran‘s arms shipment route to Lebanon and its military’s skill in striking adversaries with seeming impunity. But Israel is also risking retaliation and further destabilization of its own neighborhood — in ways that may come back to haunt it.
With much of Syria outside the control of Bashar al-Assad‘s forces, Israel is particularly wary of chemical weapons or advanced conventional weaponry falling into the wrong hands, whether it’s extremist Sunni opposition groups like Jabhat al-Nusra or, more immediately, Assad’s and Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. The missiles Israel sought to hit in the first attack on Friday have a significantly larger payload, greater accuracy, and longer range than the bulk of the Lebanese Shiite group’s current arsenal. Contrary to the allegations of the Assad regime that claims Israel’s strikes prove it is backing the opposition, Israel is not throwing its weight against Assad. Indeed, Israel’s latest strikes represent the latest in a long-standing policy of denying the transfer of arms that could alter the balance of power between Israel and Hezbollah — weapons systems such as advanced Russian surface-to-air missiles; the Iranian-made Fateh 110 surface-to-surface missiles (reportedly targeted this weekend) that would significantly increase Hezbollah’s threat to northern Israeli cities; or additional surface-to-sea weaponry, such as the kind successfully used against an Israeli ship in July 2006.
More broadly, the Israeli strike is meant to disrupt the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah nexus. Iran has long provided Hezbollah with hundreds of millions of dollars (the exact amount is unknown and probably fluctuates considerably) and a wide range of weaponry, including anti-tank missiles and long-range rockets. Since Hezbollah’s birth in the early 1980s, Syria has served as intermediary, allowing Iranian forces to deploy within Lebanon and serving as a transit point for Iranian weapons — something Hezbollah’s Lebanese opponents have complained about, as well as Israel.
The strikes are a gamble, however, for three main reasons. The first bet is that Syria will not respond. Israel has long been a whipping boy for Arab regimes short on domestic credibility: it’s not hard in this part of the world to paint any opponents as Zionist stooges. Bashar, like his father Hafez before him, backed Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups in the name of the “resistance,” hoping to win points at home and throughout the Arab world — while distracting attention from his tyranny and economic failures. Indeed, early in the Syrian uprising, the Assad regime tried to create a crisis by pushing Palestinian refugees living in Syria to return to Israel to divert attention from the crackdown. This failed, but the Israeli strike offers a chance to try again.
Israeli leaders, however, believe that this playbook is dated. When Israel hit the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, Assad and his cronies remained mum and did not retaliate. Today, Israeli strategists are gambling that Assad is too embattled to risk escalation. His military forces are weak and overstretched already, facing fierce domestic opposition with no effective airpower. Further losses to Israel and its air force would deprive the regime of desperately needed elite forces. Indeed, Israel seems rather sure of itself: as the smoke was still clearing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu projected business as usual, departing on a state visit to China.
Perhaps even more important, if Assad tries to use Israel as a foil he risks further losses, which would be politically humiliating and potentially extremely damaging for a regime that is already on a knife’s edge. The Israeli strikes show that it can violate Syrian sovereignty with impunity, and the Syrian opposition is now charging that Assad has repeatedly failed to protect Syrian soil from Israel. The Syrian Opposition Council, a leading opposition political grouping, is trying to play the Israel card itself, noting that it “holds the Assad regime fully responsible for weakening the Syrian army by exhausting its forces in a losing battle against the Syrian people.” Meanwhile, the remaining nationalists in the Syrian military resent this embarrassment, risking Assad further defections and desertions.
Orla Cox in the secure room of Symantec’s office in Dublin. Photograph: Kim Haughton for the Guardian
Inside the tightly controlled security area of Symantec‘s Dublin headquarters, a screen on the wall flashes up hacking hotspots as they are detected around the world. Last year the company estimated it blocked nearly 250,000 cyber-attacks. One out of every 532 websites was infected with viruses, it said, and 1.6 million instances of malware were detected.
Overall, cyber-attacks were up 42% in 2012. They range from “hacktivist” targeting of industries such as defence to the fast-growing area of “ransomware” blackmail attempts, but more than a third of attacks focused on small- to medium-size businesses employing fewer than 500 people.
Orla Cox, the senior manager of security response at Symantec’s office in north-west Dublin, said hackers – including criminal gangs, individuals and even states – regarded smaller enterprises as “stepping stones” to enable them to attack larger corporations.
In a briefing last week, Cox also said Twitter was perceived as a weak link. Last month Syrian hackers claimed responsibility for a bogus tweet from an Associated Press account that sent stock markets into temporary freefall. “The security of Twitter is not strong and Twitter is going to have to do something about that,” Cox said.
Symantec’s Dublin hub, with 800 workers including 60 in its security division, plays a key part in global computer security because in terms of timezones it lies between the company’s two other main operations, in California and Tokyo.
The Irish office was the first to detect the Stuxnet virus, which has caused severe damage to the Iranian nuclear programme in Natanz. The virus, which entered the country’s nuclear industry system via computers sold to Iran from Europe, caused centrifuges used in uranium enrichment to spin out of control. Symantec is reluctant to state its view on the origin of the highly sophisticated virus but most security analysts believe Israel was behind it.
Cox said Stuxnet was probably not the end of it. She predicted those behind the virus were probably developing a new “son of Stuxnet” in the campaign to sabotage Iranian nuclear efforts.
Ransomware has become a bigger challenge in the last 12 months, according to Symantec. The company has identified 16 cybercrime gangs using ransomware, which in the space of 18 days in 2012 alone infected 500,000 computers.
“It works by shutting down your computer with a virus and then sending out a bogus warning that a user has been looking at something illegal,” Cox said. “They tell the user they can only get the computer back running if they pay a ransom, in some cases of $100, usually by buying a moneypack voucher and then sending the code transferring the amount to the gang. If the user for instance has been browsing a porn site they are going to believe the warning and pay up.
Such scams netted the 16 gangs about $5m in 2012, she said. In many cases paying through an anonymous money transfer system did not necessarily ensure an infected computer was unlocked, the company pointed out. In some cases ransomware can capture images of the targeted user via webcam, which is displayed when a computer screen is frozen to intimidate the victim.
Cox said there were now online toolkits hackers could buy on the internet to enable them to break into bank accounts. She said hacking into the financial system and online banking theft was mainly the work of gangs from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet states.
Symantec also expressed concern about teenagers and young adults being targeted on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks because they were less guarded about their personal data and in particular their usernames and passwords. The company said the intersection of smartphones and social media would become an important security battleground.
Cox said Symantec believed Apple products were less prone to attack, with iPhones for instance being safer because they are “completely locked down”. However, she said Apple Macs are “not impervious” to hacking.
In the last weekend of April the Guardian also came under a cyber-attack from Syrian hackers who have targeted a series of western media organisations in an apparent effort to cause disruption and spread support for Bashar al-Assad‘s dictatorship. The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) claimed responsibility for the Twitter-based attack, having previously also targeted the BBC, France 24 TV, and National Public Radio in the United States.
Cyber-attacks believed to emanate from North Korea have recently caused disruption to media organisations in South Korea.
Are you getting ready to cast your vote?
Consider the following.
No candidate appears to be addressing the real issues namely the Financial Institutions and Jobs.
At the end of the day health care, immigration, and storms are only side issues.
The two real topics that should be screaming forth from the headline news should be unemployment and control over the financial Institutions.
Have the media failed the people concerning these issues. If so, is this due to the malignant lure of campaign funds to fill the publishers coffers.
Do you know the wise guys of banking have received more money in bailouts than has been spent on the wars in Iraq and Iran? All presidents are complicit in doling money your money into these wealth-sucking leeches.
Your next president will be no different he will feed the parasites.
The lesson learned from all of this is the President no longer represents the people. His sole duty appears to be to protect the wealth vampires and the military/industrial complex, the soldiers of destruction. Poor old Johnny Taxpayer must put his hand in the pocket for all the fraud committed by these smart-ass thugs. It seems to me not just in America, but everywhere the dissonant echoes of this story connect with the corridors of authority worldwide.
The most depressing think about this election is you cannot even pick the lesser of two evils