What really happenedMay 30, 2012
The following elaboration is lengthy and maybe confusing. This is unavoidable because the issue is complicated and not as clearcut as mainstream media reports suggest.
The issue is Syria and in particular the massacre in Houla.
109 people, including 49 children and 34 women, were massacred on May 25 in the area of Houla, which is a collection of Sunni villages 24 kilometers northwest of Homs and near the Lebanese-Syrian border. The inhabitants of Houla are mostly Sunni Muslim, while four neighboring villages are mostly Alawite, or Shiite Muslim.
The deaths, particularly those of the children, were almost entirely caused by knives and close range gunshots. Images broadcast by both the opposition and the government show slain families laying dead within intact structures.
All sides agree that there was heavy fighting around Houla between government forces and insurgents.
The Syrian government has formed a committee to investigate the massacre. The committee is required to report in three days (which should be on May 31). The government denies that security forces were responsible or that tanks or artillery entered Houla. The government says that law-enforcement members never left their positions.
Syria’s news agency SANA reported that the atrocity was committed by opposition death squads and al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups who also struck in the village al-Shoumarieh where crops, houses and the hospital were burnt down.
SANA further said that terrorist groups attacked law-enforcement personal and civilians in the nearby town of Teldo, which prompted security forces to intervene and engage the terrorists, and that the terrorists burned several houses in order to push the blame of the massacres onto the army.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said, that the army did not send any tanks into Houla and that security forces did not leave their post, but hundreds of gunmen armed with machine guns, mortars and antitank missiles attacked government positions in a battle that lasted from 2 PM till 11 PM. Three soldiers were killed and 16 wounded. Jihad Makdessi added: ‘‘The savage pattern of killing as shown by the images, children, elderly and women were killed in a way which is alien to the morals of the valiant Syrian Arab army.”
Makdissi pointed to the contradiction in Ban Ki-moon’s report which claims that some Syrian cities have become outside the control of the Syrian government while the report at the same time criticizes that tanks and heavy machines haven’t been removed.
Makdissi also said that armed terrorist groups committed more than 3,500 violations of Annan’s plan, adding that “non-stability is a good environment for terrorists… there are al-Qaeda and Takfiris, but we won’t allow them to make use of this environment no matter how long the confrontation takes.”
”There is no such thing as armed opposition as the report called them. There is either intellectual opposition that is welcomed to a dialogue that we’ve never shut the door on, or terrorists. Taking up arms against the state is unjustifiable, whatever the political excuse,”
Answering a question on the opposition’s benefit from committing such a crime, he said: ”This question should be put to the opposition…there is an intellectual opposition and terrorists to whom the opposition turns a blind eye…It is not condemning their acts after all. Hence, there is a tacit alliance between the two.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said that: “…the authorities do any action only in self-defense,” and that the Human Rights Commission and UN observer mission chief General Robert Mood admitted, that many of the government’s moves are indeed provoked by armed groups.
“This is a huge, misleading, well-planned campaign to distort the facts on the ground and mislead the people.”
Syrias Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari spoke of a “tsunami of lies,” and criticized Western members of the security council for misinterpreting the words of General Robert Mood.
While it was initially reported that the victims were shot with rifles and stabbed with knives, some Syrian opposition groups published that the village was attacked by grenades. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that the city was shelled by government forces during an anti-regime demonstration. Other opposition reports suggested that troops entered the city and butchered dozens of people.
One local activist, giving his name as Abu Yazan, said that 12 people died in shelling and 106 were killed when pro-regime thugs known as Shabiha stormed the area.
The SNC (Syrian opposition National Council) called on the UN Security Council to hold an urgent meeting over “the Syrian army’s massacre”. The SNC alleged, that the government escalates heavy bombardment and cleansing in the Syrian towns and cities, “the town of Houla was bombarded for around 12 hours followed by a heinous massacre committed by the thugs of the regime, which ended up in killing young children after tying their hands.”
Several amateur videos posted on YouTube showed dozens of bodies, including many children, crippled by shrapnel. The videos were widely distributed by Western media, though the source of the footage could not be verified.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN envoy Kofi Annan condemned the massacre in a joint statement as a brutal breach of international law.
In a letter to the UN Security Council Ban Ki-moon came very close to blaming Syrian government shelling for at least some of the deaths while carefully noting that the cause has not been completely determined. United Nations monitors “observed shotgun wounds and wounds consistent with artillery fire.” “The patrol also saw artillery and tank shells, as well as fresh tank tracks,” Mr. Ban told the Council. “Many buildings had been destroyed by heavy artillery.”
The letter included other hints that government forces were involved, including the fact that up to eight bodies of civilians were removed from a government checkpoint in Teldo village. “The bodies bore signs of severe physical abuse,” the letter said.
The team of UN observers that drove to Houla reported 90 death and 300 wounded. According to the observers an examination of ordinance suggests that artillery and tank shells were fired at a residential neighborhood.
General Robert Mood, the head of the UN observer mission in Syria, told journalists: “Those who use violence for their own agenda will only create more instability, more unpredictability, and may lead this country one step closer to civil war.”
“We have observed that the impact in the area were from a range of weapons: small arms, rifles, machine guns, artillery shells, tank shells. The impact happened in a residential area but the circumstances that led to the tragic deaths are still unclear.”
It is worth noting that earlier on General Mood had lauded the Syrian government, saying that it was “a professional government […] it met us with hospitality and respect.” He emphasized “that foreign media is giving a different picture about what is really happening in Syria […] I am sending Mr. Ladsous back to New York with a different understanding of what Syria is about than what he reads in the headlines in the media.”
Ban Ki-moon stated in an earlier report to the Security Council, that there has been an increase in the number of bombings, most notably in Damascus, Hama, Aleppo, Idlib and Deir-Ez-Zor. “The sophistication and size of the bombs point to a high level of expertise which may indicate the involvement of established terrorist groups.”
“The (Syrian) government asserts that such groups are active in the country, as do some opposition groups. The al-Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for at least six of the recent bombings.”
Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, called for Syrian cooperation with an independent, international investigation. He later reported that according to the monitors fewer than 20 victims died from artillery fire.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UNHCR, also told journalists in Geneva, initial investigations suggest that fewer than 20 of the victims in the village of Taldou, near Houla, were killed by artillery or tank fire.
“Most of the rest of the victims in Taldou,were summarily executed in two separate incidents. […] Most of the victims were shot at close range. […] At this point it looks like entire families were shot in their houses.”
Colville also said that witnesses blamed pro-government militias for the attacks, but could not be certain over responsibility.
Western media reports
British BBC: Our correspondent says local people are angry that UN observers failed to intervene to stop the killing. Abu Emad, speaking from Houla, said their appeals to the monitors failed to produce action.”We told them at night, we called seven of them. We told them the massacre is being committed right now at Houla by the mercenaries of this regime and they just refused to come and stop the massacre.”
Italian photographer Marco Di Lauro exposed the BBC for illegally using one of his photographs taken in Iraq in 2003 for illustrating the massacre in Houla. Di Lauro complained: “Somebody is using illegally one of my images for anti-Syrian propaganda on the BBC web site front page.”
NY Times: Syrian tanks and artillery pounded Houla, a rebel-controlled village near the restive city of Homs, during the day, opposition groups said, then soldiers and pro-government fighters stormed the village and killed families in their homes late at night.
United Nations monitors visiting the village on Saturday counted at least 92 bodies and found spent tank shells, which they cited as evidence that the Syrian military had violated its part of a truce in firing heavy artillery at civilians.
The Atlantic: Houla Killings Could Be Syrian Tipping Point […] The massacre in Houla is starting to seem like it could be the final straw in Syria, as international pressures are mounting and everyone seems to be running out of patience with Bashar al-Assad’s regime. […] The U.N. is tired of putting up with the excuses from the Syrian government. […] UN monitors concluded that most of the deaths were from shelling and artillery fire.
Guardian: The breakdown of the already fragile Syrian peace process amid horrific scenes could push Moscow towards using its influence in the strife-torn country to assist a transition of power.
The Guardian later in a piece titled, Houla massacre survivor tells how his family were slaughtered, publishes an emotional story which is told by an unnamed boy introduced by “a town elder who is a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Council and is now caring for him.”
Reuter headlined a report on May 28: U.N. Security Council condemns Syria over massacre. The first paragraph of this article though was already contradicting the headline:
The U.N. Security Council on Sunday unanimously condemned the killing of at least 108 people, including many children, in the Syrian town of Houla, a sign of mounting outrage at the massacre that the government and rebels blamed on each other.
The German magazine Der Spiegel writes: My Lai. Sabra and Shatila. Srebrenica. And now Houla. […] last winter a unit of the Free Syrian Army took up residence in the town and it has been considered liberated since then. While the Syrian military still controlled roads into the town, residents felt safe in openly protesting the Damascus regime — as they did on Friday.
During the demonstrations, as had often happened in recent months, army snipers opened fire on the protesters, an eyewitness told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Several people were killed in the salvos and demonstrators dispersed. The FSA unit, under the leadership of a commander named Mahmud, decided to take revenge for the deaths. As night fell, the rebel fighters attacked all regime checkpoints in and around the village.
At roughly 11:30 p.m., the Syrian military then began its bombardment of the village, firing tank shells and mortars into town. One witness claimed that rockets were used as well.
Most of the casualties occurred during the bombardment, the eyewitness says. But the eyewitness, whose account could not be independently verified, says that 26 victims were killed by regime supporters who entered Houla during breaks in the bombardment. Many of the perpetrators, the witness claims, came from the surrounding villages.
Spiegel had later to correct and amend its reporting with this words: The United Nations on Tuesday revealed that the majority of those massacred on Friday in the Syrian town of Houla were executed by regime-allied forces.
Fides sources report, that the regular army hit Houla, because many Salafist militants and terrorists had sought refuge there, using civilians as human shields.
The information center Vox Clamantis of the Catholic diocese of Homs paints a picture quite different from that of Western media and informs:
One of our eyewitness in Kfar Laha, Houla told us: “Armed gangs in large numbers attacked the police and army forces near the Al Watani hospital, destroying vehicles and one armored transporter. The following clashes lasted till late night, as the government forces unsuccessfully tried to repel the attack with artillery, while suffering heavy losses. 35 soldiers were killed or wounded, also nine militants died.”
“The militiamen entered the national hospital and massacred all those present. They took away the bodies in blankets and piled them up in a place of Houla that seems to be a mosque. Then they entered various houses in the southern district, killing civilians and piling them up to show to the observers, before burning down the houses. In 24 hours one hundred were massacred, including Sunnis in Tal Daw, Alawits in Shiphonyieh, Ismailis and Christians in Salamyeh Qusyar .“
Political analyst Ibrahim Alloush told Russian broadcaster RT that the way the attack was done and its timing make it obvious that Damascus is not responsible.
“It would not make sense for the Syrian army to commit these massacres and withdraw, and then just let the rebels come and take photos and make documentaries about them.”
The analyst insists that the massacre in Houla was carried out in the context of a broad attack throughout the area and emphasized that among those killed were people loyal to Assad. “They also attacked the national hospital in the region and they set fire to it. Then they turned to civilian houses in some of the neighboring villages and started killing indiscriminately.”
According to Alloush the timing of the attack makes it look suspicious. “These crimes have come at a point when a political solution has slated for the Syrian question, and these people do not want to see a political solution — instead they want to see an armed intervention, an international foreign intervention in Syria under pretext of massacres.”
Western official statements
German UN envoy Peter Wittig told reporters: “The evidence is clear — it is not murky. There is a clear government footprint in those killings.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle: ”It is shocking and horrifying that the Syrian regime refuses to cease using brutal violence against its own people.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius: “With these new crimes, this murderous regime pushes Syria further into horror and threatens regional stability.” He also urged the Friends of Syria working group to immediately arrange a meeting on the issue in Paris.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague: “There are credible and horrific reports that a large number of civilians have been massacred at the hands of Syrian forces in the town of Houla, including children.”
US National Security Council spokesperson Erin Pelton: “The attacks serve as a vile testament to an illegitimate regime.” The White House stated that the Syrian government responds to peaceful political protest “with unspeakable and inhuman brutality.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The United States will work with the international community to intensify our pressure on Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end.”
British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said, that it was time for the Security Council to discuss “next steps” — a code word for sanctions. ”It seems quite clear that the massacre in Houla was caused by heavy bombardment, by government artillery and tanks.The fact is, it is an atrocity and it was perpetrated by the Syrian government.”
Analysis, open questions, conclusions
What really happened, is anyone’s guess. The Western media outlets are not helpful, they just disseminate US-propaganda. Alternative media are either co-opted — parroting the official propaganda lines, or keeping a low profile because they have no clue what is really going on. The blogger scene is chaotic and fiercely partisan.
Some non Western media and bloggers collect useful information and present helpful analysis, but they are also biased. Everybody has a stake in this story.
In fact, everybody has a stake in everything, which means that the claim of objectivity, of “fair and balanced” reporting is an illusion, sometimes a self-deception, most times a blatant lie.
Three things are obvious and contradict the Western narrative:
1. All pictures that are available online show dead bodies indoors or caskets outdoors. There are no pictures of destroyed houses or wounds that clearly were caused by explosions.
2. Why didn’t the U.N. observer not document the destruction of houses by bombshells and make pictures of destroyed buildings? If there was indeed a bombing of the village for 12 hours, as the SNC claims, there must have been far reaching destruction, smoldering ruins, rubble and debris everywhere.
3. Why would the Syrian government, who wants to avoid war, do something so obvious and heavy-handed and provide the Western powers with the very excuse they need to invade?
There are several possible scenarios:
1. The FSA attacked army posts from inside Houla and after backup arrived, including heavy weapons, the army returned fire into the village at rebel positions. At the onset of darkness the rebels left their positions and committed the massacre in neighboring villages and a nearby hospital.
2. The army didn’t fire into Houla but the rebels used captured ammunition as IEDs.
3. There was no shelling or use of heavy weapons and the UN observers were duped by planted evidence (the mentioned “ordinance”) hailing from earlier clashes with army units.
4. An army unit staged a revenge attack after suffering heavy losses. This happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, it could as well happen in Syria (the inclination to perpetrate monstrous crimes is not an exclusive characteristic of US soldiers).
5. Government militias, called Shabiha, came to help the embattled army units and perpetrated the massacre.
The Shabiha militia, integrated in the fourth division of the army but largely independent, includes uneducated, unemployed youths, released criminals, and former members of Rifaat al Assads defunct Defense Companies. The Shabiha has a reputation of drug smuggling, racketeering, and other criminal activities, brutality and lack of discipline. It was reported, that even Iran is concerned about the Shabiha and has advised Syria to restrain and pull back Shabiha fighters.
6. Death squads used the chaos and confusion of the fighting between FSA and Syrian troops to perpetrate the massacre. Al Qaeda terrorists are renowned for such tactics and known to be operating in this area alongside the FSA.
We don’t know and maybe never will know if this was a “false flag” attack committed by death squads, a crime perpetrated by rogue soldiers (bad apples are they called in the USA), “collateral damage” as the FSA was using the population as human shields, or over boiling sectarian hatred.
The fact that most killers wear ski masks over their faces makes it impossible for witnesses and survivors to give correct testimonials on exactly who these people were or to which group they belonged.
The witness accounts which are cited in Western media are provided by FSA supporters and not credible. As long as there is no serious forensic investigation the identity of the perpetrators will not be known.
What we know for sure is that the western propaganda machine was working in overdrive to bury the Annan peace plan and pave the way for another “humanitarian intervention” of NATO and the Arab monarchies. The media reaction proved again that Western media outlets are completely synchronized (gleichgeschaltet) and in lockstep with US policy.
The media in its hurry to condemn the Syrian government had to recast the narrative extensively in the course of a few days and it took quite creative wording to make the story still sound plausible. Some readers and viewers may become suspicious but for most medium consumers, quantity trumps quality (as it is in all other areas of Western consumerism).
One more note: The timing is more than suspicious as the massacre in Houla took place just before the arrival of Kofi Annan for crucial talks in Damascus.
Recent developments and assorted details
The outrage about the murdered civilians, especially the women and children, is justified, but one has to take into account, that the FSA evidently used child soldiers in Homs and other Syrian regions and that armed insurgent groups are responsible for extortion, robberies, arson, kidnappings, rapes, torture, and murders.
The tragic incident in Houla is not the first massacre in Syria. During the last months there were several other massacres in Homs province where whole families of known government supporters were slaughtered by local rebels:
On Februar 8, eight men from a family who was known to support the government were murdered in the village Jabornin. The assailants were armed with automatic rifles, they surrounded the house, took out the men and executed them on the spot, leaving the women and children unharmed. The family had been threatened before and pressed to pay money to the insurgents.
Between March 11 and March 13, 45 men, women and children were killed by rebels in the neighborhood Karm al-Zaytoun in Homs City’.
On March 20. 13 men, women and children from the Al-Amory family were killed in cold blood in the village Hasiba near Quseir. The killed were all civilians and supporters of the government.
There were also bloody terror attacks which indiscriminately killed people, including many women and children:
On April 27 bomb attacks in Idlib and Damascus killed nine people and wounded 100.
On May 10 in Damascus two suicide bombers exploded their cars, each one containing 1,000 kilogram explosives. This terror attack killed 56 and injuring 300.
A bomb attack on May 21 against a restaurant in Qaboun/Damascus killed 5. A bomb blast on May 27 hit a government vehicle in the Damascus suburb of Mazzeh, injuring 5, another bomb detonated on the main southern highway.
These massacres and terror attacks are not alone foreign inspired destabilization efforts but also caused by religious hatred. The Sunni community chat rooms on the internet are filled with harsh, angry comments suggesting that the only solution to the crisis is to rid the country of the minority Alawite sect.
On Facebook many rebel groups, some associated with al-Qaida, use their accounts to post the names, phone numbers and residential addresses of pro-Assad government supporters. At the end of these posts, the forums then leave a note of encouragement for local opposition members to “go and kill them”.
Needless to say that Facebook, who is normally eager to shut down any accounts that criticize Israel (Third Palestinian Intifada, Free Palestine), has not taken action against these groups.
The rebels not only never adhered to the peace plan, they even intensify their fighting by regularly attacking government checkpoints and logistics. Each day they are killing about 10 to 20 government security personal and thereby are undermining the Annan peace plan. Policemen in Syria are in general unarmed, which explains the high losses of the police force. On May 30 for example (the day where this post hopefully will be published), the bodies of 25 army and law-enforcement personal were laid to rest. http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/05/30/422375.htm
It is obvious that the insurgents have used the ceasefire to rearm with the help of the USA and NATO allies, the Gulf monarchies, and Turkey. Their main logistic line seems to run through Tripoli, Lebanon, where the Saudi financed Hariri Salafists have their base. The insurgents get anything what they demand, most noticeable is the proliferation of “state of the art” anti-armor weapons.
Israel’s Debka news agency reports that the US administration works together with other intelligence services tot equip the FSA with modern anti-tank missiles and recent destructions of army T-72 and T-62 tanks can indeed be credited to sophisticated new anti-tank weapons, specifically 9K115-2 Metis-M and Kornet E, which are used by US forces.
Stratford Global intelligence Center also confirmed that the US has been arming the Syrian opposition with advanced military equipments.
The Washington Post reported that US officials agreed that weapons, funded by the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and the USA are delivered to rebels in Syria. According to this report, armaments including anti-tank weapons are making their way to the Syrian rebels and materiel is being stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border (the claims about stockpiles in certain locations are probably bogus and are planted misinformation to distract and mislead the Syrian authorities).
It is worth noting In this context, that Robert Ford, US ambassador to Syria, is a destabilization and death squad expert, a skill he learned from his mentor John Negroponte, who in the 80s directed the Nicaraguan Contras and Honduran death squads. As ambassador in Iraq from 2005 on Negroponte again oversaw the formation of death squads, comprised of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen (Badr Organization and Mehdi Army), who targeted both the civilian population and the Sunni insurgency.
Robert Ford was political counselor to the US embassy in Baghdad from 2004 to 2006 and worked closely with Negroponte. He was heavily involved in the organization of the death squads and helped to make contacts, in this capacity he developed and maintained relations with main players.
General David Petraeus, John Negroponte, and Robert Ford were the main organizers of CIA/Pentagon death squads in Iraq, but as far back as 2005 there were also admittedly plans to create, fund, and operate death squads in Syria. The operations in Syria at this time were aimed at Iraqi insurgents who had sought refuge across the border.
Ambassador Robert Ford’s activities in Syria by far exceeded the usual diplomatic routines and focussed on destabilization and instigating dissent. He traveled tirelessly across the country to meet with opposition activists and dissenters of any denomination and stripe to help with advice, funding, and contacts.
The private military company SCG International, founded 1996 by ex-Blackwater Jamie Smith, is helping the Syrian opposition to overthrow the government, leaked Stratfor emails indicate.
SCG International has been contracted to help the opposition in what is called a “fact finding mission”, but “the true mission is how they can help in regime change,” an email addressed to Stratfor VP for counter-terrorism Fred Burton says.
SCG’s mission in Syria is said to have support and cover from US Congresswoman Sue Myrick, a Republican, who is a member of the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The US has been increasingly dependent on private contractors like SCG, outsourcing functions to them that were previously fulfilled by regular troops. The companies provide services like personal and area security, intelligence gathering, and recruit training in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.
SCG International operated extensively in Libya.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry on May 24 indirectly denied persistent rumors that the military deputy chief of staff Asef Shawkat and other senior figures have been poisoned by the opposition.
An opposition video had claimed that the group Al Sahaba (referring to the original companions of the Prophet Muhammad) had recruited a bodyguard of one of the senior officials two months ago.
According to the statement read on the video the bodyguard struck on May 19. Using a tasteless, colorless, and odorless poison, he put 15 drops into a meat stew that had been ordered for dinner, instead of the mere five needed to cause death, the statement said. Eight senior officials were hospitalized at the elite Al Shami hospital and the hospital staff was secluded, its cellphones taken away and other patients transferred.
Later opposition reports claimed that Asef Shawkat and another official had succumbed to the poison.
Assassination attempts on mid-level officers until now have been ineffective or even counter-productive and it seems to be therefore only logical to move up the chain of command and murder high ranking regime officials in an effort to create uncertainty and chaos. Such plans would only be possible with the involvement of foreign agents, because the FSA fighters don’t have the connections, the big sums of money to bribe insiders, and the sophisticated knowledge about poisons.
Mossad, CIA, MI6 would all be more than able to help.
The Syrian insurgency is a disparate coalition of groups with often widely differing views and goals. This is clearly shown in the case of 13 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims who were kidnapped by the FSA on May 22. Burhan Ghalioun from the SNC accused the pilgrims to have participated in military training and an unnamed rebel leader said that there are 4 Hezbollah militants among the pilgrims.
Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zoabi, a Salafi cleric, claimed that his group had nothing to do with the abduction although it is close to the abductors. The sheikh said that the pilgrims had already been moved to Turkey when they on May 25 heard Sayyid Nasrallah’s address, thanking Bashar al-Assad for his help in getting the pilgrims released. This angered the kidnappers so much that they brought the pilgrims back to Syria.
Riad al-Assaad, head of the FSA, replied that Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zoabi’s explanation was false and the pilgrims never left Syria for Turkey because the Aleppo area had been under heavy bombardment by the Syrian army for 30 hours. The pilgrims were all in good health and in a safe place, they would be moved to Turkey as soon as the shelling stopped. Al-Assaad said the kidnappers were not asking for anything in return for the release of the pilgrims.
Until now the pilgrims are still in captivity.
A complex computer virus with unprecedented sophistication has been collecting confidential information from computers in the Middle East for at least two years, it has also erased programs and databases, causing disruption and economical damage.
The virus, called Flame, has infected 189 computers in Iran, 98 in the Palestinian territories and Israel, 32 in Sudan, 30 in Syria, and 18 in Lebanon. Flame infected machines through a known security hole in the Windows operating software and was able to overcome 43 different anti-virus programs.
The program is reportedly written in the computer language LUA (http://www.lua.org/), which game programmers like because it’s simple, stable, and easy to embed. Flame, which is also named Wiper, Skywiper, Flamer, has enabled cyber-attacks and erased programs and data in Iranian computers, forcing Iran to temporarily cut off its Oil Ministry rigs at the Kharg island oil terminal from the Internet.
Iran’s MAHER Center reports that the Flame virus “has caused substantial damage” and that “massive amounts of data have been lost.” The center, which is part of Iran’s Communication’s Ministry, said that the virus’ level of complexity, accuracy and high-functionality indicates that there is a relation to the Stuxnet virus.
The virus was detected by Kaspersky Lab, which reported, that Flame can record audio conversations and messaging chats, monitor keystrokes and network traffic, and take screenshots. The virus can be remotely controlled and operators can conduct analysis of the data of victim systems and uninstall Flame from systems that aren’t interesting. Researchers are still unsure about its overall abilities, with 20 megabyte it contains 40 times more code than Stuxnet and at least 100 times more code than a typical computer virus.
Given its complexity and the geography of its targets, experts agree that the Flame virus most probably has been developed and launched by a state agency and developed by the same programmers that were responsible for Stuxnet and Duqu.
US officials just recently acknowledged the existence of a secret cyber-ware effort codenamed Olympic Games, which included Stuxnet, a joint operation of US and Israeli programmers. Stuxnet was tested in the Dimona nuclear complex in southern Israel.
The Syrian economy is in crisis thanks to the cumulative effect of various sanctions by EU, USA, and the Arab monarchies. The foreign currency reserves are depleted and the Syrian pound has lost nearly half its value.
The most serious economic problem is a shortage of grain, which is needed by bakeries and by farmers raising poultry, sheep, meat and dairy cattle.
Syria once was a net exporter of grain. But intensive industrial agriculture since the 90s has drained the water table in areas like the Hauran plain (where demonstrations began last year in the southern city Deraa). A severe and persistent drought, heavy losses from crop blight, and disruptions by the armed conflict between FSA and government troops have further reduced agricultural production.
Official estimated harvest figures for this year are 3.7 million tons of wheat and 843,000 tons of barley compared to targets of 4.6 and 1.6 million respectively. The US Department of Agriculture estimated last year’s wheat harvest at 3.85 million tons and barley at 700,000 tons. French forecaster Strategie Grains reduced its harvest estimate for Syria’s 2012 crop for soft and durum wheat by 900,000 tons to 2.5 million tons compared with 3.3 million tons in 2011.
Annual grains consumption in Syria is between 7 and 8 million tons and the nation therefore has to import between 3 and 5 million tons. Yet imports are hindered due to the imposed sanctions.
Food itself is not subject to sanctions, but grain traders don’t get loans or insurance and ship owners refuse cargo to Syria. The government tries to organize small deals, many arranged by shadowy middlemen which charge high fees. Most of the grain comes from Ukraine and Russia and is shipped to ports in Lebanon from where it is trucked to Syria.
International agencies believe that at least a million Syrians need help with food and that there is a risk of bread shortages which could diminish public support for the government. There are already signs of patchy but spreading food shortages and sharply rising prices. Grain traders are telling that stocks, concentrated in the restive countryside, are being depleted or looted.
The big picture
The USA, the Arab monarchies (spearheaded by Qatar and Saudi Arabia), NATO (especially Turkey, Britain, and France) and Israel never stopped supporting criminal gangs, religious fanatics, and seasoned al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria with weapons, ammunition and funds. These nations have constantly violated the six-point peace plan by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
The ceasefire, which started on April 12 was immediately violated by the armed groups, which are not interested in a truth, because it would put them out of business.
Their business is war.
This conflict has become a race against time. The longer unsafe conditions and economic hardship remain and the more people are killed (whether government supporters or opponents of the government), the greater will be the frustration of the Syrian population.
Economic destabilization, terror attacks, and false-flag operations are used to diminish popular support for the government, undermine the moral of the Syrian army, and make other countries (BRICS) reluctant to support Syria.
“A humanitarian disaster would further erode Bashar’s claim that the current regime is legitimate,” said Anthony Skinner with risk analysts Maplecroft in London. “High inflation and shortages in food supplies will also likely place the families of underpaid rank-and-file soldiers under increasing duress and may provide them with yet another incentive to jump ship.”
And a few ideas
The newly elected People’s Assembly has to become active and the activities have to be broadly publicized. 209 of the 250 members were elected for the first time, they hopefully will contribute new ideas to ease the tensions in Syrian society and address grievances. 30 members of the People’s Assembly are women, that is 12 percent. This is less than the 16.8 percent of female US Congress members but more than in any other Arab country and more than in some European countries.
All opposition groups, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or class, have to be engaged in a broad debate and their demands seriously discussed. Unarmed protest gatherings and demonstrations of the opposition must be allowed.
The UN received a number of reports that many non-violent dissidents have been arrested and are still detained. UN observers have to get full access to all detention facilities to find out if there is any truth to these reports.
The allegations of corruption and cronyism have to be answered by a commission, which could for instance investigate alleged improprieties of Fawwaz Assad and Munzir Assad.
President Dr. Bashar al-Assad is an intelligent man and he for sure understands that violence only breeds more violence. He will have to use unconventional and inventive tactics to prevent a civil war and ease the ethnic and sectarian tensions. Dialogue, negotiations, taking the demands and allegations seriously, and presenting solutions and visions that are appealing to all parties will be his preferred tools.
The Syrian government will nevertheless have to deal with the armed gangs and root them out from their strongholds in Rastan, Atareb, Khan Sheikon, and Hama neighborhoods as it did in Homs neighborhood Bab Amr. But this has to be done in a more sophisticates way than now, using negotiations, involving the local population, and avoiding bloodshed.
The Syrian army will have to ask the civilians from some rebel infested areas along rural parts of the Lebanese and Turkish borders to evacuate, sheltering them temporarily in safe and controlled areas. It could then use its full military might to attack and defeat the insurgents in their current operational and retreat areas.
Commanders and foreign advisors of the insurgent groups need to be captured and presented to the public. The government has to build a popular resistance to the insurgents by meeting specific local demands, by an inclusive dialogue, and in some situations by strategic bribes to influential people in troubled areas.
The government militias, called Shabiha, have to be more closely controlled and partly disarmed. They must not be used against local populations.
Syria is entitled to allow Kurdish rebels of the PKK more operational freedom as long as Turkey houses the Syrian National Council and the command and training centers of the Free Syrian Army.
The Lebanon army has to reign in the Salafist terrorists in Northern Lebanon, reconquer the areas and interrupt the rebels weapons pipeline from Lebanon to Syria. Michel Aouns Change and Reform Bloc and Hezbollah have to take up the fight now, otherwise Lebanon will again descend into sectarian violence.
Iran and Russia have to support Syria not only with advisors and weapons but also with any other possible means. Iran will do that because it knows, that it is next in line in the strategic plans of the USA/Israel axis.
Russia has to support Syria because the same methods used now in Syria will be applied later in the Caucasus and Central Asia, destabilizing its southern neighbors Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and its southern republics Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria.
The Russians should not shy back from sending a peacekeeping and stabilization force into Syria to create puffer zones and to police the 822 kilometer long border to Turkey.
Syria would also need drones for survaillance — which China could provide.
The bigger picture
This is not a democratic uprising, this is popular unrest because of economic hardship.
This is a war about resources, mainly water and oil.
This is a culture war, a war of religious extremists against a secular government which wants to modernize a traditional patriarchal society.
This is a war of aggressive, violent, narrow minded men against women, children, and their compassionate male supporters.
The blog is not about Syria but the issue has become prominent here because the outcome in this conflict will decisively shape our future. Related blog posts in chronological order:
The truth is hard to find
The truth is hard to face
The truth is currently unavailable
News from the alternative media universe
More news from the alternative media universe
Update to “More news…”
About the Syrian “Casualty List”
The Bloody Road to Damascus
News from Doha
Hollywood in Homs and Idlib?
How to prepare a lynching
Interview with Sukant Chandan
The growing fear of peace in Syria
Eye witness report from Hama
Homs Opposition: Al Farouq Battalion is Killing Us
NATO is prepared for everything
The following text was embedded in the blog post Priority list and is republished as appendix to make it easier accessible.
Preventing a war against Syria
One month ago there were some optimistic comments and analysis that the Western allies were looking for a negotiated settlement because the Syrian government has proved to be too strong and too stable for an easy victory. It seems appropriate to remain skeptical and the overall picture shows, that the USA is set for war.
US President Obama has requested, that the Pentagon begins preparing military options in Syria. While previous requests focused on intelligence gathering, a testimony before the Senate revealed, that the US administration is now planning the opening stages of a military strike.
The war will most likely start with an aerial blockade for an extended period of time, executed by a massive number of airplanes. Syria has much greater air defense capabilities as Libya had, and has five times the number of missiles and advanced equipment, therefore the air blockade is requiring the most modern US electronic warfare capabilities.
Strategic plans aside, for now the West is just following the Libyan model of arming and training jihadists and other idle young men from around the Arab region. The pressure will increase as the continuing organizing and training of militias in Jordan (Mafraq, al-Houshah) and Turkey (Incirlik, Hakkari) and the weapons shipments from Saudi Arabia and Qatar yield more and more operational units of insurgents.
There is also the possibility that Turkey is fabricating cross border incidents to request help from NATO allies (invoking Article 5/6 of the treaty), resulting in a NATO imposed “No Fly Zone” and “Safe Havens” for the insurgency.
If this scenario doesn’t play out, there will be a continuous war of attrition, aiming to wreck the Syrian economy and diminish popular support for the Assad government to a point, where its legitimacy can be disputed and an open invasion launched.
The US global strategy of destabilization, assassinations, and sabotage
The US-military planners have changed their strategies from direct attacks and occupations to Special Forces Unconventional Warfare. Libya and Syria are the first implementations of the new strategy.
US soldiers will also called back from Afghanistan soon, because arming and financing the various competing fractions there is sufficient to ensure, that Afghanistan remains a failed state where Navy seals can roam freely and drones can exterminate everybody who is suspected to be or has the potential to become a terrorist.
Syria, the present focus of US unconventional warfare, is only one stop in the global campaign for gaining control about the dwindling resources of the planet. Iran is another stop, but maybe not even the next one. The Caucasus region and Central Asia are rich in oil and natural gas and it is only logical that these areas are also in the crosshairs of US strategists.
After the demise of the Soviet Union thousands of missionaries from Arab countries converged on the newly founded republics on the southern edge of Russia to help the by the Soviet system estranged Muslims “better understand their religion.”
Azerbaijan has the second highest Shia population percentage after Iran, but 15 percent of Azerbaijanis are Sunni Muslims and Salafis have gained much influence in the last years. The rapid polarization and impoverishment of Azeri society has led to a pervasive disillusionment with traditional institutions and modern Western democratic ideas. Salafis have cleverly tapped into this pool of profound discontent.
The Russian Republics Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, have a muslim population, Kabardino-Balkaria has a mixed population of Muslims and Christians.
In March Russia moved 20,000 ministry troops from Chechnya to Dagestan to stabilize the situation there.
There are also the Central Asian former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan (70 percent Muslims), Kyrgyzstan (86 percent Muslims), Tajikistan (98 percent Muslim, Sunni Islam of the Hanafi school is official religion), Turkmenistan (92 percent Muslims), Uzbekistan (94 percent Muslim).
Terrorist actions in Central Asia have increased in recent years, especially in the two most volatile states, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Ethnic tensions and endemic poverty yet make all five states vulnerable and have led to a growing influence of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a secretive transnational islamic movement, which calls for the unification of all the Muslim countries into a single Khalifat.
In all these countries there is a pool of unemployed and untrained young men, who know not much more than the 114 Qur’an Surahs they learned in the madrassas. They are unable to contribute anything positive to the economies of their homelands and are unable to find work. This pool of frustrated young men can be easily tapped by radical islamist groups and the forces behind them.
The young men may be unable to fix the plumbing or rewire a fusebox or mend appliances, but they will be able to pull the trigger of an AK47, or behead an infidel, or put on a suicide belt.
In the twilight of the Cold War, the USA supplied Afghan schoolchildren with millions of textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance against the Soviet occupation.
Though legal experts questioned, whether the books violated a constitutional ban on using tax money to promote religion, the US administration defended the religious content, saying that Islamic principles permeate Afghan culture and that the books “are fully in compliance with US law and policy.”
Published in the dominant Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu, the textbooks were developed in the early 1980s under an AID grant to the University of Nebraska-Omaha and its Center for Afghanistan Studies. The agency spent 51 million US$ on the university’s education programs in Afghanistan from 1984 to 1994 and regional military leaders in Afghanistan helped the USA smuggle these books into the country.
The primers, which are filled with talk of jihad and feature drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.
A propaganda piece in The Telegraph denounces Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad for “callously mocking the religious beliefs held by a majority of his population,” and cites leaked emails allegedly sent among his inner circle of female aides and family members, who poke fun at conservative Muslims. From the Telegraph article:
Most of the messages ridicule the burqa, the full body cloak worn by some Muslim women.
One e-mail from a female adviser depicts an image of a crying child in a shopping mall who has lost his mother. Trying to reunite them the shop assistant asks the boy for a description of his mother. The little boy replies “I don’t know sir I have never seen her.”
On January 22 the President’s father-in-law Fawaz Akhras allegedly forwarded a ‘British wedding photograph’ showing 24 newly wed Muslim couples, the women all wearing white burkas, their faces covered. “I just hope, for their sake, that each husband goes home with the right table cloth” the joke reads. Another email entitled ‘Why God sends rain to Mexico and not to the Middle East’ lists photographs of scantily clad weather women, and ends with an image of a covered Muslim woman standing by a weather map holding an umbrella.
Well, whats about the ban of burqa and niqab in France?
It is interesting that, while conservative Muslims are stigmatized and vilified in most Western societies and regarded as a threat to Western culture, a secular government that is under attack by radical Islamists is criticized in Western newspapers for not paying due respect to religious fundamentalists.
Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist, who in fact is a “war activist”, advocating military intervention in Iran and Syria, wrote a widely discussed piece “Shukran, Israel,” where he laments the fact that Israeli politics, instead of curbing radical Islam, has strengthen it.
His analysis that Israel aided the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism is accurate, he only omits the fact, that this resurgence is cementing the patriarchal social structures, is strengthening or reinstalling a feudal system, is perpetuating sectarian and ethnic divisions in Arabic nations.
The resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism and the toppling of secular regimes (Iraq, Libya, Syria) which tried to modernize their countries based on socialist principles is in the best interest of the neocolonial powers because it will allow them to exploit the resources of Arab nations for a pittance as long as there is any drop of oil or water left in the ground.
Blood diamonds, blood rare earth minerals, blood oil, blood water.