The downing of a Russian aircraft has all but sent the new and shaky coalition against the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) crashing down. It is perhaps the clearest evidence of the United States’ and its allies’ dislike of Russia’s intervention in the Syrian crisis.
When President Vladimir Putin in September this year ordered Russian fighter jets to attack ISIS positions, describing the terror group as an existential threat to Russia’s security, the US and its Middle Eastern allies welcomed Russia’s military intervention, albeit cautiously.
But it now appears the welcome was largely a public relations exercise to mislead the panic-stricken into believing that the war against ISIS was a global one. In reality, since Russia entered the Syrian war, the US and its partners have been working overtime to make Syria a hell for Russia. First, they said Russia was attacking the so-called moderate rebels. Then they said Putin was trying to protect the Bashar al-Assad government and civilians were being killed in indiscriminate Russian bombing. Then came a series of protests from Turkey over alleged violations of its airspace by Russian military jets. To cap it all, on Tuesday, a Turkish fighter jet shot down the Russian bomber.
This did not happen on the spur of the moment. For Turkey to risk war with nuclear power Russia requires courage and assurances of support from a bigger power. It is sheer brinkmanship to warn Russia that the script of the Syrian war is not Moscow’s. The script belongs to the US and its regional allies – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. According to this script, Assad should go. It does not matter how he is toppled or who does it.
Protesters hold a placard and shout slogans in front of the Turkish embassy in Moscow after Ankara downed a Russian warplane on the Syrian border on Tuesday. AFP
But Putin’s counter script says Assad should stay and be allowed to contest the elections after a transition period. With neither side willing to compromise, Syria has become the theatre of a new cold war between Russia and the US.
The latest development has taken the world’s attention away from a global outcry for the elimination of the ISIS after the November 13 Paris attacks. It also lends credence to Putin’s claim that Turkey is an “accomplice of the terrorists”.
He would have been spot on, had he directed the jibe also at the United States and some of its Western and Middle Eastern allies. Prudence may have prevented him from naming names. But the truth is there are many accomplices. ISIS did not appear all of a sudden. ISIS has its handlers. To achieve their strategic purposes, the very countries that are seen to be at war with ISIS, help this barbaric group directly or indirectly.
Take Turkey. Since the beginning of the Syrian war, it has opened its borders and airports for tens of thousands of fighters – and hundreds of Jihadi brides -- to go into Syria while its military bases have been used to distribute weapons and train rebel fighters. Turkey is supporting the Turkmen rebels in Syria. It is said that the Turks shot down the Russian aircraft because Russia was bombing Turkmen rebel positions to cut off a key arms supply route to all kinds of Syrian rebels and a key smuggling route for ISIS’ oil trade with operators in Turkey.
Then take European countries such as Britain and France. They pretended not to see when their Muslim citizens -- men and women -- left for Syria to join the ISIS and other rebel groups. Isn’t it naïve to assume that the intelligence outfits of these European countries did not know where these people were going? It is also worthwhile to ask why immigration control at Western airports did not detain thousands of Jihadi veterans when they flew back via Turkey after months and years of absence from home.
For obvious reasons, such questions are missing in the narrations we hear in the ‘embedded’ media. Also missing in the narrative is pipeline politics -- a taboo topic. No mainstream media will dare to say that the root of the Syrian war is not Assad but the gas pipelines. Pity the citizens of the United States where, despite the constitutionally guaranteed right to information, truth has become a rare luxury in the new information order linked to the war on terror.
CNN won’t tell the pipeline story. Neither will al-Jazeera. In their narratives, only Assad is seen as the problem. The Americans are told Assad is a tyrant, a dictator, a violator of human rights and, therefore, he should go. If the Syrian war is all about human rights, what about the rulers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states? They are no less dictators than Assad.
The war in Syria is not about human rights. It is about pipelines. Assad rejected a Saudi-Qatari-Turkish proposal to build a pipeline across Syria to carry gas from Qatar’s North Field in the Gulf to Europe via Turkey. This was because Syria’s powerful ally Russia opposed it on the basis that the project would undermine its dominance in the European energy markets. Snubbed by Assad, Qatar and Saudi Arabia engineered a war to oust him, giving it an Arab Spring twist. They thought that it would be as easy as their war in Libya. The US joined the party as it saw an opportunity in this war to keep Russia under check. Little did they realise that they were about to create with devastating consequences the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Incidentally, ISIS came to prominence at the same time as the Arab Spring. Qatar backed Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt not because Qatar wanted to promote Islamic democracy, but because it believed that with the help of the Egyptian Brotherhood, it could launch and sustain a Syrian Brotherhood rebellion against Assad. But Saudi Arabia played a key role in overthrowing the Morsi government. This was not because the Saudis were opposed to Qatar’s objectives in Syria, but because it feared the rise of the Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia. This led to a spat between the two Gulf nations, with Qatar supporting Brotherhood-backed rebels in Syria while the Saudis placed their trust in other rebel groups. Eventually, it was with ISIS that most of the men, money and military materiel ended up.
An opinion article in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper of November 18 had a disturbing paragraph. The writer, Zahid Hussain, an author and journalist, quoting a top police officer from Pakistan’s Balochistan province says the Saudis were recruiting men from the province to fight along with the Sunni groups in Syria. Pakistanis reportedly form a sizeable contingent of the foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria.
The more one analyses ISIS and its actions, the more one realises that the war against ISIS is a case of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.