— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for September, 2013

Al-Shabab: Media-Savvy Terrorists

The recent terrorist attack in Nairobi has led to a flurry of media attention, but not by accident as explained by Al Jazeera: ‘Can journalists cover a story like the Kenya siege without giving free publicity to extremist groups? (29 September 2013)’.

Hot Planet: A BBC Documentary from 2009

At the time, The Scotsman’s TV Review stated that this BBC documentary constituted “a rare example of valid scaremongering designed to educate viewers about the reality of our endangered environment. Scheduled to coincide with the Copenhagen summit, Hot Planet admittedly often felt like a hectoring lecture on global warming aimed at the studiously dense (“below the Earth’s surface it is incredibly hot”), and wasted valuable time trawling through the well-known basics”. Nevertheless, the reviewer concluded that “I cannot deny the importance of its message, the occasional insights it provided nor the sincerity with which it was delivered”.[1]  Without further ado, here are scientists-cum-presenters Iain Stewart and Kathy Sykes talking about our Hot Planet.

As for COP15 or the above-cited Copenhagen summit: the ‘Copenhagen climate conference COP15 resulted in a document called the Copenhagen Accord. It was hammered out by a small group of countries – including the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas polluters, China and the US. The conference as a whole did not adopt the accord, but voted to “take note” of it’, as related by the BBC.[2]

[1] “TV review: Hot Planet” The Scotsman (09 December 2009). http://www.scotsman.com/news/tv-review-hot-planet-1-771489.

[2] “Q&A: The Copenhagen climate summit” BBC News (21 December 2009). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8278973.stm.

The War in Syria: The Oil Angle

‘Nafeez Ahmed: US and its regional partners have long term interest in region’s oil and are using gas attacks as pretext for military action (9 September 2013)’.

Already at the end of last month, Nafeez Ahmed published his insights in The Guardian: ‘The 2011 uprisings [in Syria], it would seem – triggered by a confluence of domestic energy shortages and climate-induced droughts which led to massive food price hikes – came at an opportune moment that was quickly exploited. Leaked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor including notes from a meeting with Pentagon officials confirmed US-UK training of Syrian opposition forces since 2011 aimed at eliciting “collapse” of Assad’s regime “from within.” So what was this unfolding strategy to undermine Syria and Iran all about? According to retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark, a memo from the Office of the US Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to “attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years”, starting with Iraq and moving on to “Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.” In a subsequent interview, Clark argues that this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region’s vast oil and gas resources. Much of the strategy currently at play was candidly described in a 2008 US Army-funded RAND report, Unfolding the Future of the Long War. The report noted that “the economies of the industrialized states will continue to rely heavily on oil, thus making it a strategically important resource.” As most oil will be produced in the Middle East, the US has “motive for maintaining stability in and good relations with Middle Eastern states”: “The geographic area of proven oil reserves coincides with the power base of much of the Salafi-jihadist network. This creates a linkage between oil supplies and the long war that is not easily broken or simply characterized. For the foreseeable future, world oil production growth and total output will be dominated by Persian Gulf resources. The region will therefore remain a strategic priority, and this priority will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war.” In this context, the report identified several potential trajectories for regional policy focused on protecting access to Gulf oil supplies, among which the following are most salient: “Divide and Rule focuses on exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts. This strategy relies heavily on covert action, information operations (IO), unconventional warfare, and support to indigenous security forces. the United States and its local allies could use the nationalist jihadists to launch proxy IO campaigns to discredit the transnational jihadists in the eyes of the local populace. US leaders could also choose to capitalize on the ‘Sustained Shia-Sunni Conflict’ trajectory by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes against Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world. possibly supporting authoritative Sunni governments against a continuingly hostile Iran.” Exploring different scenarios for this trajectory, the report speculated that the US may concentrate “on shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan as a way of containing Iranian power and influence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.” Noting that this could actually empower al-Qaeda jihadists, the report concluded that doing so might work in western interests by bogging down jihadi activity with internal sectarian rivalry rather than targeting the US: “One of the oddities of this long war trajectory is that it may actually reduce the al-Qaeda threat to US interests in the short term. The upsurge in Shia identity and confidence seen here would certainly cause serious concern in the Salafi-jihadist community in the Muslim world, including the senior leadership of al-Qaeda. As a result, it is very likely that al-Qaeda might focus its efforts on targeting Iranian interests throughout the Middle East and Persian Gulf while simultaneously cutting back on anti-American and anti-Western operations.” The RAND document contextualised this disturbing strategy with surprisingly prescient recognition of the increasing vulnerability of the US’s key allies and enemies – Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt, Syria, Iran – to a range of converging crises: rapidly rising populations, a ‘youth bulge’, internal economic inequalities, political frustrations, sectarian tensions, and environmentally-linked water shortages, all of which could destabilise these countries from within or exacerbate inter-state conflicts. The report noted especially that Syria is among several “downstream countries that are becoming increasingly water scarce as their populations grow”, increasing a risk of conflict. Thus, although the RAND document fell far short of recognising the prospect of an ‘Arab Spring’, it illustrates that three years before the 2011 uprisings, US defence officials were alive to the region’s growing instabilities, and concerned by the potential consequences for stability of Gulf oil. These strategic concerns, motivated by fear of expanding Iranian influence, impacted Syria primarily in relation to pipeline geopolitics. In 2009 – the same year former French foreign minister Dumas alleges the British began planning operations in Syria – Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets – albeit crucially bypassing Russia. Assad’s rationale was “to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas.” Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012 – just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo – and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines. The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a “direct slap in the face” to Qatar’s plans. No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladmir Putin that “whatever regime comes after” Assad, it will be “completely” in Saudi Arabia’s hands and will “not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports”, according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action. It would seem that contradictory self-serving Saudi and Qatari oil interests are pulling the strings of an equally self-serving oil-focused US policy in Syria, if not the wider region. It is this – the problem of establishing a pliable opposition which the US and its oil allies feel confident will play ball, pipeline-style, in a post-Assad Syria – that will determine the nature of any prospective intervention: not concern for Syrian life. What is beyond doubt is that Assad is a war criminal whose government deserves to be overthrown. The question is by whom, and for what interests?’.[1]

[1] Nafeez Ahmed, “Syria intervention plan fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern” The Guardian (30 August 2013). http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/aug/30/syria-chemical-attack-war-intervention-oil-gas-energy-pipelines.

Breaking the Set: The War in Syria and Chemical Weapons’ Use

‘Abby Martin speaks about the blatant hypocrisy regarding Obama’s “red line” of chemical attacks as the motivating factor to intervene militarily in Syria, citing the top four chemical weapons attacks that the US military does not want you to know about. (9 September 2013)’.

Limited Intervention in Syria???

While the world’s leaders are in Russia, plans to attack Syria appear bigger and brighter than had been suggested previously . . . at least, that is what ABC News reports.

The Associated Press, for its part, still reports that the ‘NATO’s chief [Rasmussen] says a U.S. strike on Syria would not require deeper NATO involvement because it would be a limited operation’. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday, 5 September that the Syria intervention will be “a short, targeted, tailored military operation. And for that you don’t need the NATO command and control system”.[1]  Does this now mean that the U.S. is really going it alone and that President Obama’s understanding of the words “targeted’ and  “tailored” is as confused (or precise) as Bill Clinton’s appreciation of the verb “is” . . .

[i] “Syria Attack Would Not Have to Draw in NATO” AP (5 September 2013). http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/syria-attack-draw-nato-20166322.

The Syria Deception: The Obama Speech Deconstructed


The ever- imaginative Dennis Trainor states that ‘[w]hile the United States has presented a “powerful case”, to borrow the phrase from President Obama, that the Syrian government is responsible for gassing their own people to death, the power in its case does not lie in truth and transparency, but in arm-twisting, deceit and obfuscation. The administration also stands at the ready to flout international law in its open disregard for UN authorization for force and the US constitution, for Obama, while prepared to give congress a voice, is also prepared to wage war on his own (3 September 2013)’.

Fukushima Today: A Clear and Present Danger???


A few days ago, the Chinese broadcaster posted the following on its website: ‘Japan’s nuclear regulator has officially raised the severity rating of the latest radioactive water leak at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. It says the crisis is now at Level 3, or a “serious incident”, up from a Level 1 “anomaly”, in consultations with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, said last week that 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank at the facility. The utility still does not know how long the water may have been leaking, and says it was possible the contaminated water may have reached the Pacific Ocean. Originally the leak was caused by reactor meltdowns at the plant in March 2011, which were triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami’.[1]

[1] “Japan raises Fukushima leak severity rating” CCTV (28 August 2013). http://english.cntv.cn/program/newsupdate/20130828/103297.shtml.

Chemical Weapons in Syria: The Saudi Angle

Dennis Trainor explains that “It is growing increasingly possible that public outcry might make the Imperial force of American Exceptionalism, with its humanitarian war sights set on Syria, back down- or at the very least delay. New evidence is surfacing about just who might be behind the chemical attacks, the latest view being that the Saudis could have supplied the Rebel forces with chemical weapons and, in the untrained hands of the rebels, they detonated in a tragic accident. This, of course, flies in the face of the thesis put forward by Obama, who claims that the Assad regime was so brazenly violating international norms that he needed to be dethroned, or at the very least, sent a very strong message visa vie hellfire missiles reigning down from a US lead coalition of the willing. That the drone commander in chief does not see drone strikes in countries that have not declared war on US to be something with the set of acceptable international norms should be an impeachable offense in and of itself, but I know I fighting an uphill battle there. Especially considering the US has such an influential coalition of the willing standing at the ready to march in lock step with whatever our next move on the Armageddon chessboard that is the Middle East might be”.

Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh, writing for the ‘independent online news organization providing in-depth, thought-provoking analysis’ Mint Press News, indicate that “[r]ebels and local residents in Ghouta accuse Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan of providing chemical weapons to an al-Qaida linked rebel group” and that, as a result. “the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit”. Could it be true that the rhetoric employed by leaders like Obama, Biden and Cameron is nothing but a ruse to seduce global public opinion into supporting a military intervention, the scope of which seems uncertain and its goal unclear??? The British public and parliament have decided that they will not be led astray by a gung-ho Prime Minister this time around. After losing the vote in the House of Commons, David Cameron said placidly that “It is clear to me that the British parliament . . . does not want to see British military action”. Tony Blair’s example ten years ago was apparently enough to persuade British MP’s that some measure of scepticism was in order in 2013. And, according to the Minneapolis-based MPN, the fact that Assad did not act in such a rash and irrational fashion, particularly keeping Obama’s oft-pronounced “red line in the sand” argument in mind, appears to be plain and obvious. As I suggested some two years ago, the war in Syria could very well be seen as a new chapter in the never-ending Cold War, pitting the U.S. and the West against Russia, China, and Iran with each side supporting their own champions. According to the interviews cited by Gavlak and Ababneh, the Saudi Prince Bandar has been supporting the “rebels” and also provided the chemical weapons, which led to the massacre reported in the global media. But rather than a government-orchestrated killing spree, hapless civilians were killed because the “rebels” were not really aware of the kind of weapons they were handling which led to a deadly accident, a deadly accident that is now being used to bolster the case against Assad. The MPN piece quotes a female fighter named ‘K’, who said that “They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them . . . We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons”, adding that “When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them”. The MPN piece also states that ‘[m]ore than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government’. Gavlak and Ababneh then note that in “a recent article for Business Insider, reporter Geoffrey Ingersoll highlighted Saudi Prince Bandar’s role in the two-and-a-half year Syrian civil war. Many observers believe Bandar, with his close ties to Washington, has been at the very heart of the push for war by the U.S. against Assad. Ingersoll referred to an article in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph about secret Russian-Saudi talks alleging that Bandar offered Russian President Vladimir Putin cheap oil in exchange for dumping Assad. “Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” Ingersoll wrote. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” Bandar allegedly told the Russians. “Along with Saudi officials, the U.S. allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise,” Ingersoll wrote. “Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the CIA totally loves this guy,” he added. According to U.K.’s Independent newspaper, it was Prince Bandar’s intelligence agency that first brought allegations of the use of sarin gas by the regime to the attention of Western allies in February. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the CIA realized Saudi Arabia was “serious” about toppling Assad when the Saudi king named Prince Bandar to lead the effort. “They believed that Prince Bandar, a veteran of the diplomatic intrigues of Washington and the Arab world, could deliver what the CIA couldn’t: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for under-the-table clout,” it said. Bandar has been advancing Saudi Arabia’s top foreign policy goal, WSJ reported, of defeating Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies. To that aim, Bandar worked Washington to back a program to arm and train rebels out of a planned military base in Jordan”.

Prince Bandar is also a good friend of George W. Bush . . . and his role in the U.S. decision to invade Iraq remains nothing but an open mystery. Whereas now, ‘Saudi National Security Council Secretary and Intelligence Chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan has spent tens of millions of dollars to persuade the US political and security officials to launch a military strike on Syria, [an unnamed] source said. Prince Bandar has spent a sum of $70 million to encourage the American officials to attack Syria, a Saudi security source, who asked to remain unnamed due to the sensitivity of his information, told FNA in Riyadh on Wednesday [, 28 August]. The US and Saudi Arabia are considered as among the main actors in the Middle East and many strategic regional parameters are formed by them and their interactions in the region. Prince Bandar has recently played an increasing role in the security developments in the region. Prince Bandar who was appointed by Saudi King Abdullah as the National Security Council and intelligence chief after 8 years of ambassadorial job in Washington has played a key role in Washington-Riyadh relations over the past decades’, as reported by Iran’s IRIB World Service.

Now President Obama is talking about a limited and precise intervention in Syria: “In no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign, but we are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act that would help make sure that not only Syria but others around the world understand that the international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons ban and norm”. With already more than 100,000 Syrians dead as a result of the ongoing civil war, it seems somewhat hypocritical to now invoke the moral high ground on account of the “use” of immoral weapons like Chemical agents . . . Writing in the Telegraph, Peter Oborne tells us to “[c]onsider this: the only beneficiaries from the atrocity were the rebels, previously losing the war, who now have Britain and America ready to intervene on their side. While there seems to be little doubt that chemical weapons were used, there is doubt about who deployed them. It is important to remember that Assad has been accused of using poison gas against civilians before. But on that occasion, Carla del Ponte, a UN commissioner on Syria, concluded that the rebels, not Assad, were probably responsible”.

PS: Sadly, my footnotes did not make it into the main body this time around . . .