Crisis, what crisis? -The al-Qaeda takeover of Syria

Neil Clark
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
Members of jihadist group Al-Nusra Front (Reuters / Hamid Khatib)
This weekend it was reported that al-Qaeda affiliated rebels were “almost completely in control” of the last major government held city in the Idlib province in northern Syria.

This is really big news as it means that the Syrian government’s coastal heartlands including the important port of Latakia, a Baathist stronghold are under direct threat. It’s a major advance for the cause of al-Qaeda, yet what is most revealing is the lack of reaction or any concern from Western leaders.

You‘d think that Western leaders would be alarmed at the al-Qaeda advances given how much they warn us of the “threat” from radical Islamists and how many Western troops were lost in the “war on terror” in Afghanistan.

In fact, the lack of concern regarding the militants’ gains in Syria exposes the fundamental deceit at the heart of Western foreign policy. The elites claim to be fighting radical Islamists, yet in Syria they’re doing everything they possibly can to ensure that the side that’s fighting radical Islamists, the secular Syrian government, is weakened and eventually defeated.

Last month, Syria’s President Assad drew attention to the West’s phony war against ISIS. He noted that there were only about 10 raids a day from the coalition of “rich and advanced” countries against the Islamic State. “The Syrian air force, which is very small in comparison with this coalition, conducts in a single day, many times the number of air strikes conducted by a coalition which includes sixty countries. This doesn‘t make sense. This shows the lack of seriousness…there is no serious effort to defeat terrorism,” Assad said.

Far from trying to defeat terrorism - the West and its regional allies have been supporting it.

Israel, the country which we’re repeatedly told by its cheerleaders in the West, is in the “front line” of the “war on terror” has been acting as al-Qaeda’s de facto ally in Syria. It’s made at least ten bombing raids on the country since 2012- but tellingly, not a single one up to now has been directed at the radical Islamists fighting Assad‘s forces - all have been on Syrian government/army targets or on groups fighting with the Syrian army against the terrorists - such as January‘s attack, which killed a senior Iranian general and six Hezbollah fighters. (Today, news broke that another Israeli air strike had killed “four militants” on the Israel/Syria border - but we don’t know which groups the ‘militants‘ belong to.)

Members of jihadist group Al-Nusra Front (Reuters / Hamid Khatib)

In March, it was reported that Israel had opened its borders with Syria to provide medical treatment to wounded al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front soldiers and after treating them, released them straight back over the Syrian border to continue their fight against a secular government which protects Christians and other religious minorities.

The help that the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) has given to Syrian rebels at the Golan Heights has been documented in a series of UN reports.

Israel clearly doesn’t want its activities in Syria to be subject to too much scrutiny.

A Syrian Druze man who posted information online which detailed Israel’s co-operation with the Nusra Front was arrested in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights earlier this year.

Needless to say, no “Je Suis Sidqi al-Maqt” campaign has yet been launched by self-righteous “anti-censorship” free speech crusaders in the west. As the media monitoring organization Media Lens has observed: “There’s no Je Suis Charlie when it comes to scrutiny of Israel”.

“Now it seems that Israel is in direct alliance with al-Qaeda in Syria,”writes Asa Winstanley, in Middle East Monitor. “This is a tactical alliance, meant purely to bleed the country and prolong the civil war.”

The de facto Israeli/al-Qaeda alliance gets very little - if any publicity in the West - we've seen no real debate in our “open” and “democratic” societies on why our great “ally” is helping people we’re regularly told are our most deadly enemies . Instead pro-Israel neocons and faux-leftists, masquerading once again as concerned “humanitarians” who care passionately about the Syrian people, propagandize for the imposition of “no-fly zones” knowing that this will greatly weaken the ability of the Syrian government to defend their country - a Syrian government which they desperately want toppled not because of its human rights record- but because of its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah.

Of course, Israel is not the only major Middle Eastern power which is gunning for Assad. Saudi Arabia has long called for his overthrow and seems to have stepped up its support for anti-Assad forces since the beginning of the year and the accession of King Salman to the throne. Writing in the neocon Washington Post, Liz Sly puts the latest “rebel gains” in Syria down to the role played by the Saudis and its regional allies.

Weapons that the West supplied to the so-called “moderate rebels” have - surprise, surprise - fallen into the hands of the al-Qaeda affiliates. In March, Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper showed photographs of Nusra Front fighters posing with US missiles they had captured from “western-backed rebels.”

“Al Qaeda groups taking over Syria cities with advanced US weapons supplied to the ‘moderates’ If you think this wasn’t planned, think again,” tweets Syria-based analyst and activist Edward Dark.

Assad’s imminent demise has been wrongly called many times before-mainly by neocons that couldn’t wait to see the back of him. But the latest al-Qaeda advances are deeply worrying and unless the situation on the ground changes quite quickly, then the days of the secular government in Damascus could be numbered.

Members of jihadist group Al-Nusra Front (AFP Photo)

The extremists would have got there already, if the British Parliament had voted to bomb Syria in 2013, as the neocons wished. “If David Cameron had got his way, the jihadis could be in control of Damascus by now” the former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, wrote in a blistering attack on British government policy towards Syria in The Guardian. “To call for the overthrow of the secular Syrian government, to demonize it out of all proportion, to predict its imminent fall, as Cameron and (Foreign Secretary) Hague were doing in 2012 and 2013, - and then to wail that it was nothing to do with them when British Muslims set off to hasten said overthrow - is inconsistent and non-sensensical”, the Ambassador declared.

The approach is indeed “inconsistent”’ and “non-sensensical” if one takes at face value the Western elite’s claims to be implacably opposed to al-Qaeda. But of course, they are not implacably opposed. If the Western leaders like Cameron did genuinely want to check al-Qaeda's advances then clearly the logical step would be to work alongside the authorities in Damascus and not against them which is what they’re actually doing.

The fact that they don’t seem the least bit concerned about the recent gains made by al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria tells us once again, that it’s not Islamist radicals that the West is most concerned about defeating but secular, independently-minded governments which don’t kowtow to the endless war lobby.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.