Syria – NATO steps in

© 2011 Robin Stevens
Patriot missile launcher


By Paul Roberts

In a further escalation of Western intervention in the conflict in Syria, NATO is currently deploying advanced surface to air guided missiles that can intercept and destroy aircraft, along Turkey’s border with Syria.

US, German and Dutch troops are arriving to operate these Patriot systems, while Czech, Slovak and Polish units are also reported to be on their way to the border.

There is nothing remotely defensive in this deployment as Turkey is under no threat. Syria has no reason or intention to attack Turkey, which anyway has one of the biggest armies in the region so needs no protection by NATO.

The NATO forces will be in direct military confrontation with Syria. The likely aim is to establish a ‘no-fly zone’ within Syria which, by excluding Syria’s air force, would allow opposition fighters to take control of a strip of Syrian territory – a so-called ‘safe haven’.


This new NATO intervention is an attempt to break the current military deadlock.

This past year the Western sponsored opposition has only made limited progress. Its assaults on Aleppo and Damascus faltered leaving Syrian government forces still holding, wholly or in large part, all the main cities and towns.

Opposition fighters only hold enclaves in the countryside, mostly in the north around Hama, Idlib and Aleppo.

Whilst much Western media commentary exaggerates opposition progress, the more serious capitalist press are really quiet sober. Recently the Wall Street Journal reported that:

‘The rebels haven’t secured any significant territory since the summer, and Mr. Assad’s regime has remained strong.

‘The military is intact, no full army unit having joined the rebels, despite thousands of individual defections.

‘The rebels’ last military offensive, on Aleppo in July, is one many rebels consider a failure even though regime forces have been expelled from much of the city.

‘Like other cities where rebels have taken their fight, much of Aleppo, including its historic souks and citadels, has been crushed by aerial bombardment. Residents question why the rebels started a fight they can’t seem to finish.’

Similarly an FT assessment concluded the Syrian government is a long way from defeat.

Imperialism increases its offensive

NATO will be hoping these new deployments will be sufficient to assist the opposition forces to make a decisive breakthrough.

As referred to in a previous article on this website, following the Presidential election, the US stepped up its activity aimed at overthrowing Syria’s government. However with continuing problems of weak economic growth combined with its priority on shifting its emphasis militarily to its project of encircling China – the foreign policy ‘pivot’ to Asia – it wants to limit the military resources it has to deploy in the Middle East.

The US military is discussing with its allies what stepped up engagement might be needed from them, in a campaign of airstrikes to destroy Syria’s air force, for example. But a commitment of US troops is unlikely.

Unlike the more or less unilateral approach it took when invading Afghanistan and Iraq, the attacks on Syria are closely co-ordinated between the US, its European allies, Gulf client states (mainly Saudi Arabia and Qatar) and with the opposition fighting forces.

To replace the current Syrian government with a stable, pliant pro-Western regime not only requires the removal of Assad, but also to significantly destroy Syria’s state apparatus – in particular its military.

Western strategy aims at grinding down the Syrian state institutions, through the ongoing military assault. This is why it rejects all proposals for a political compromise, even if lip-service has occasionally to be given to the idea of peace talks.

International efforts to find a political solution, as promoted by Russia and others, are intentionally derailed. The imperialist side blocks progress by placing pre-conditions on any negotiations, such as the demand that Assad should not participate.

Western government’s rhetoric about civilian casualties, terrorism and the plight of refugees is all pure cant. The immense toll of death and suffering could be halted by calling off this proxy war.

Like the paramilitaries the US sent into Nicaragua in the 1980’s – the Contras – today’s counterrevolutionary fighters in Syria are reliant on external patrons, the latter provide the arms, intelligence and training, as well as participate in directing operations.

The US has recently asserted greater control over opposition military operations, having assembled the latest rebel ‘Supreme Military Council’. The US wants its external allies and the Al Qaida linked fighters to subordinate all combat activities to this new command.

The US was also central to the assembling of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (SNCORF). This latest construct has superseded the Syrian National Council as the opposition body recognised by the countries working to overthrow the Syrian regime.

SNCORF calls for increased military intervention are used to claim legitimacy for the intensifying offensive. Qatar is raising again the proposal for an Arab intervention force. France and Britain are increasing their assistance to opposition fighters and seeking to amend the EU’s embargo on arms to Syria.

Imperialism is attempting to concentrate maximum force on crushing Syria so temporarily encouraging its allies to reduce as many other conflicts in the region as possible.

So Turkey is pursuing a peace initiative towards the PKK, in the hope that this might also reduce the conflict between Syrian Kurds and the pro-imperialist opposition.

Turkey has also dropped its two-year boycott of military cooperation with Israel, ties that it cut in 2010 after Israel’s lethal assault on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, which was transporting aid to Gaza.

Whilst Israel continues to expand its colonial project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it has been persuaded to make some minimal concessions on Gaza. The negotiated conclusion to November Israeli attack on the Palestinians included some minor loosening of the siege conditions.

Anti-war movement

Should imperialism’s heightened intervention bring down the Syrian government, the imperialists will have made a major advance. The region’s national liberation movements, Hezbollah and Hamas, would be cut off from military supplies from Iran, and Iran itself would be under greater threat. The main country in the region that stands to gain is Israel.

Progressive forces internationally should support all calls for a peace settlement and end to the imperialist intervention. In Britain the initiatives of the Stop the War Coalition should be publicised and supported.