Charlottesville, Virginia- MWN
After more than two years of following the atrocities occurring in Syria, I am no closer to predicting what will happen next. It seems that one of the reasons for this is best put by Middle East Correspondent Robert Fisk. In a Democracy Now interview in May 2013, he described the Syrian civil war as “a propaganda war just as much as a savage one,” making it next to impossible to navigate through all the subterfuge and examine the acute realities of the conflict.
This war has been overwhelmed with domestic and international actors because of the context in which the uprising against Bashar al-Assad began, the so-called “Arab Spring” movements of 2011, coupled with the horrendous images of thousands of dead civilians and hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan.
This is the third year of the conflict, and the world is witnessing the internal displacement of 4 million Syrians and the exodus of another almost 2 million refugees. 120,000 of the Syrian refugees reside in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan alone. According to the UN, almost 100,000 Syrians have been killed since the conflict began in 2011.
The atrocious images coming from Syria, as well as the accusations of chemical weapons use multiple times this year, has understandably provoked angry and disgusted reactions about stopping this senseless violence. Many claim that the world is standing by while hundreds die every day in Syria. Calls for international intervention in various forms are coming from nearly every political circle. However I think it is important to address the various domestic and international components of this civil war in order to truly begin to discuss international reactions. This requires a discussion of the propaganda war that has paralleled the horrific images of death coming from this country in crisis.
An international affair
The conflict goes beyond the Assad regime and the diverse array of Syrian opposition forces, encompassing regional actors such as Israel, who engaged in airstrikes with Syria this year; Iran, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and Russia supplying weapons; China and Russia protecting Assad on the UN Security Council; Western powers and Saudi Arabia covertly arming some elements of the opposition; and UN weapons inspectors currently in Damascus investigating the allegations of chemical weapon use by the Assad regime. Within Syria, the brutal regime vs. opposition, or the Syrian government vs. the terrorists, or the human rights abusers vs. the heroic rebels dichotomies must also be challenged to include the various groups within Syria like the Kurds, Christians, and an Alawite community who believes that their fate hinges on Assad’s survival, in order to better fathom the multiple wars being fought on the ground and in the propaganda.
The Syrian National Coalition is currently presided over by Ahmed al-Jarba. The leadership of this opposition group has been one of the many stages for a regional battle of influence. In April 2013, Opposition National Coalition Chairman Moaz al-Khatib resigned and George Sabra became its interim leader. Then in July 2013 Saudi supported Ahmed Jarba became the new head of the main arm of Syria’s opposition, defeating Qatari backed opponents.
On August 12, 2003 Ahmed al-Jarba claimed that the “the rules of the game has changed” when Hezbollah entered the conflict with armed fighters supporting Assad, one of the Lebanese militant group’s regional backers. He consequently promoted the establishment of a unified rebel army, under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) chief of staff in an attempt to bring some order to the lack of organization that has been crippling the Syrian opposition—both militarily and politically.
A little over a year ago, Obama led the chorus of western powers claiming that “all options were on the table” in reference to Syria, but that the “game-changer” or the now notorious “red line” in the Syrian conflict would be the use of chemical weapons. Questions circulated over options for intervention, ranging from non-military aid to rebel groups to “boots on the ground,” in certain circles. The idea of “boots on the ground” has been largely dismissed by President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Yet now that accusations of chemical weapons use has become ubiquitous everyone is expecting a more substantial discussion of international reactions. The West’s role in this propaganda war has now forced its hand in an extremely difficult situation.
According to the Wall Street Journal the American, European, and Arab allies began to covertly supply weapons to “vetted Syrian rebels,” from a site in Jordan in June. At the present moment, western nations are demanding complete UN access to the sites in order to investigate possible gas attacks near Damascus. The question of evidence has also been prone to the propaganda wars with Secretary of State John Kerry and other US government officials claiming to be “fairly confident” of chemical weapon use. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu followed the chorus of statesmen demanding an “international response,” to the “red line” that had been crossed many times in Syria. French President Francois Hollande denounced the “likely use of chemical weapons,” while Russia hinted that chemical attacks were planned by rebels to frame the regime. Some chemical weapons experts have also casts doubt on the evidence used thus far. Stephen Johnson, an expert in weapons and chemical explosives at Canfield Forensic Institute stated that, “At this stage everyone wants a ‘yes-no’ answer to chemical attack. But it is too early to draw a conclusion just from these videos.”
Other groups such as Human Rights Watch found evidence for the “gas attacks” in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Fred Abrahams writes that:
“Reached by phone and Skype, local residents and doctors told Human Rights Watch about symptoms and delivery methods consistent with the use of chemical nerve agents during attacks by government forces. These symptoms included suffocation, muscle spasms and frothing at the mouth, which are consistent with nerve agent poisoning. Satellite imagery found no apparent chemical, electrical, or industrial facilities in the area which might have released toxins if struck by a conventional weapon.”
Additionally CBS news reported that US intelligence sources had evidence of chemical weapon activity at known sites before the purported Wednesday attacks that killed over 1,000 Syrians near Damascus.
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Anna Jacobs graduated from the University of Virginia with degrees in Government, Foreign Affairs, and French literature. She will be starting a Master of Philosophy program in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oxford this fall. She is Morocco World News’ assistant Editor.