Israeli-backed insurgency suffers setbacks in Syria

By Paul Roberts

Syrian government forces are currently fighting in an important battle to retake control of Qusair, a town between Homs and the Lebanese border.

The government has over recent weeks broken the stalemate and developed impetus behind a series of military and political advances. If this momentum persists imperialism’s offensive will be significantly weakened. Hence it is determined to halt Syria’s current progress, so Israel has increased its direct attacks on Syria and there is a renewed drive for stepped up support to the opposition guerrilla forces.


A victory for Syrian government forces in Qusair would be significant because the town is a strategic link between the capital Damascus and the Mediterranean coast and till now had been the opposition’s main stronghold in central Syria.

It would follow on other recent examples of where the government has re-taken territory from the opposition; a week ago it took back Deraa – a similarly strategic town between Damascus and the Jordanian border – and it has also driven the opposition out of some previously captured Damascus suburbs.

UN General Assembly

International support for the insurgency also appears to be weakening. A number of semi-colonial states are no longer prepared to back the imperialist offensive. At last week’s United Nations General Assembly vote on Syria, support for the US/Qatar position was significantly down on a similar vote last August.

Whilst the motion, to condemn the Syrian government and recognise the Syrian National Coalition as ‘effective representative interlocutors needed for a political transition’ in Syria, was adopted, it was only by 107 votes for to 12 against compared to the 133 to 12 vote eight months previously. Official abstentions increased from 31 to 59, including most of Africa, much of Latin America, as well as South and Southeast Asia and the remaining 15 nations just absented themselves from the vote.

Protracted conflict

Amongst the imperialists it is clearly anticipated that it is likely to require a protracted conflict to subjugate Syria. Breaking the capacity of its army, demoralising the population that supports its government and creating an alternative pro-Western regime in waiting are all some way off.

Prolonged stalemates are also anticipated, but the aim is that when the situation breaks out of such impasses it should signal an advance by the opposition. The government’s recent series of gains are not in line with this plan. The opposition and its allies are agitating for stepped up imperialist support as they are desperate that this does not become a decisive breakthrough for the government.

Israel increases its role on the battlefield

The US does not want to take the major military responsibility for resolving the conflict in Syria. Its strategic priority is to shift its forces to the Pacific in its ‘pivot’ to Asia. Its target is China, with its prime objective to ramp up the military pressure against the country whose economy will become the world’s largest during this decade.

Syria and Iran are not the US’s main global challenges and given the tight economic situation it cannot afford to fritter away US resources on second rank issues.

This is why it pressed its European allies to take the military lead in a full scale bombardment that overthrew Gaddafi in Libya. Currently, in Syria the Israeli military is being deployed against a number of targets with the Pentagon accordingly supplying Israel with a host of new high-end weapons systems.

Israeli intervention in Syria has stopped being primarily covert. It has conducted at least three airstrikes already this year, is reported to have used depleted uranium shells against targets in Damascus and it is threatening more attacks to follow.

The Israeli army is actively assisting opposition forces fighting in the south of Syria. The pro-intervention Fox News has reported Israeli ‘special forces’ crossing into Syria from the Golan Heights to fight alongside the ‘rebels’. Also across that border Israeli artillery is regularly fired at Syrian Army positions, with increasing frequency this past week.

The US justifies this heightened aggression with claims that Israel is not taking sides in the Syrian conflict but defending its own border or attacking the Iranian and Hezbollah presence in Syria to stops weapons transfers.

Opposition insurgents

At the same time, ‘rebel’ militias continue to be fed into Syria from Turkey in the north and Jordan in the south. The US in particular is sending more troops to trains fighters in the guerrilla camps, where the Gulf states are stockpiling increasingly sophisticated – anti-tank and anti-aircraft – weapons.

The current focus of the government’s fight back is the south and centre of Syria. This is where the armed groups are suffering setbacks. They continue to hold some ground in the far north and east, where they have created separate fiefdoms.

Opposition ‘psychological warfare’ centres on instilling terror amongst the population supporting the government. Hence the frequent terrorist bombings in the cities, posting videos of opposition atrocities on the internet and blood curdling threats of the opposition.

That is why videos of executions, torture, beatings and even an executed captive being cannibalised are all publicised by opposition forces, similarly why the ‘Free Syrian Army’ spokesperson has threatened that if Qusair returns to government control then Shiite and Alawite communities will be ‘wiped off the map’.

Britain and France are the key European states demanding greater support for the insurgents. They already provide military assistance and publicly press the US administration to increase its involvement. They want the European Union to relax its arms embargo so they can arm the insurgents legitimately. Britain is now also demanding the EU designates Hezbollah’s armed forces as a ‘terrorist organisation’, because it is assisting Syria counter the armed offensive.

The West’s client opposition

The various efforts of the US and Gulf states to put together a credible political opposition are still thwart with difficulties. Recent divisions within the Syrian opposition coalition – which meets this week – reflect the different tactical priorities of the US and some Gulf states, particularly Qatar which backs a stronger role for the Muslim Brotherhood. Even supporters of imperialism’s campaign to overthrow the government accept at present there is no stable political opposition.

Chemical Weapons

Western states particularly the US, Britain and Israel have made use of chemical weapons, particularly against civilian populations; examples include Britain in Iraq, the US in Vietnam and recently in Iraq, plus Israeli use of white phosphorus against Gaza. As such weapons are banned under various conventions these uses are not generally admitted to.

The same states are also notorious for the false charges they make about their opponents weaponry, most famously in 2003 fabricating the complex web of claims that Iraq has so called ‘weapons of mass destruction’ – which proved entirely baseless.

Now Israel and Britain are pushing similarly dubious claims about Syria. Given the propaganda offensive taking place, including the one-sided reporting of most Western media, it is wise to be sceptical.

False flags

In January the Daily Mail (in an article since removed from its website) reported on leaked emails indicating the White House had agreed to a support a chemical weapons attack inside Syria to be blamed on Assad’s regime. It would be a ‘false flag’ operation – designed to conceal the identity of perpetrator.

The campaign attributing Sarin gas use to the Syrian government may be just such a deceptive operation as several reports indicate the opposition has deployed chemical agents – which even Carla Del Ponte (Commissioner of the UN’s ‘Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria’) indicated should be taken seriously.

Similarly claims that Syria was responsible for two car bombs in a Turkish border town two weeks ago, need to be treated with caution. Responsibility is more likely to lie with forces that would gain from Turkey becoming more involved in the conflict rather than the Syrian government that wants Turkey to stay out of it. Immediately after being bombed by Israel, it is unlikely that Assad was seeking another opponent to fight.

Opposing imperialism’s intervention

Responding to the Israeli aggression Russia has indicated it will provide Syria with more powerful means of defence from aerial and sea launched attacks. It is also sending a strong diplomatic signal by expanding its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean. Both Iran and Hezbollah are providing military advice and the latter is defending Lebanese communities in Syria from opposition attacks.

The renewed international peace initiative, represented by the Russia-US agreement for a conference on Syria, should be supported. There is a present no date set and some Western states want to exclude Iran from the discussions.

Any such framework that seeks a political transition instead of war faces huge challenges. The principal forces behind the opposition combatants – the US, Israel and Gulf States – militarised the situation as their objective is not achievable without the use of outside force. The Syrian government, backed by a significant part of its population, will not concede to Syria becoming a pure client of imperialism. The goal is not to change the top personnel of the government, but eliminate a somewhat independent regime.

The understanding that such a counter-revolution requires external force is why the opposition consistently blocks negotiations, insisting on pre-conditions such as a guarantee that Assad is excluded in advance from playing any role in a transition.

The only genuine route to a peaceful solution is to place no preconditions on either side. The imperialists and the opposition claim it is an internal conflict between Syrians, so Russia is right to call for the dialogue to include all Syrian forces without external interventions.


The fundamental issue at stake in this conflict remains whether there will be a victory or defeat for imperialism and its allied opposition. If imperialism succeeds, the aim will be to put a puppet Syrian regime in place that will be silent while the imperialist offensive is extended against the remaining forces that stand up to it: Iran and the resistance movements Hezbollah and Hamas.

In Britain socialists, working alongside pacifists and others who oppose Western involvement in this conflict, need to popularise the demand for a peaceful solution. The Stop the War Coalition is leading this campaign. The protest against intervention in Syria on 15 June at the US Embassy should be widely promoted.

Protest: Stop Western Military Intervention in Syria

1pm Saturday 15 June

US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 2LQ

Called by the Stop the War Coalition