Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Refugee Factory

"A few weeks ago I was in Amman, the capital of Transjordan, and spent an evening driving round the town with an official of the Ministry of the Interior. The town was packed with these refugee Arabs [from Palestine], crouching in doorways, lying in the gutters, sleeping in the provincial buses, in schools, in hospitals, in the fields - even in the graveyards. Many of their faces were already gaunt with hunger. For years there has been no begging in this town, but at this time one could not walk ten yards down the street without being acosted for alms." (Letter from 'Middle East Observer' in The Spectator, August 6, 1948)

To revisit the bleeding obvious, Israel is a state built squarely on the foundation and maintenance of a massive 6-decades old Palestinian Arab refugee problem. After first driving out the mass of Palestinians from their ancestral homeland in 1948, Israel proceeded to write them off as 'absentees', settle Jewish immigrants in their homes and on their lands, and, in one of history's most breathtaking displays of historical chutzpah and revisionism, has played the sweet innocent ever since.

I was prompted to reflect thus on Israel's historical role as a refugee-producing nation when I read the following sentence: "Iraq will set up camps at two of its three border crossings with Syria to provide support for Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict in their homeland, a government spokesman said on Tuesday." (Iraq to set up camps for Syrian refugees, AFP, 24/7/12)

Who could've imagined, prior to the glory days of GW Bush and his Ziocon urgers, that within the space of a decade Iraqi refugees would be flooding into Syria and Syrian refugees into Iraq? The question then arises: if the war on Iraq (which resulted in a huge refugee exodus, now largely abandoned and barely remembered) was primarily about rearranging the Middle East to suit Israel, then what about the war in Syria? Is Israel, a nation which may well have produced, directly or indirectly, more refugees than any other on the planet, really just the innocent, even fearful, bystander its propagandists make it out to be?

The evidence, I'm afraid, suggests otherwise.

There's the documentary evidence:

In a recent post (22/7/12), Syria's 'Alawis: A Corrective, I quoted the words of Israeli analyst Oded Yinon to the effect that Israel's "targets" in Syria should be a) "the dissolution of [its] military power," and b) "its dissolution into ethnically and religiously unique areas." That was written in 1982 as Israel was cutting a swathe through Lebanon.

In 1996, US Ziocon strategists advising Netanyahu asserted in their infamous document, 'A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm' that "Israel can shape its strategic environment... by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria," a strategy closely tied to the idea of regime change in Iraq: "This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq - an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right - as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions." Following the fall of Baghdad in April, 2003, the same crowd, from their redoubts in the Bush administration, turned their sights on Syria, with Paul Wolfowitz declaring that there has "got to be regime change in Syria," and Richard Perle telling the Syrians: "You're next." (See The Israel Lobby & US Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007, p 274.)

And in 2012 we've got the US State Department-funded US Institute of Peace (USIP) and its blueprint for regime change in Syria, The Day After: Supporting a democratic transition in Syria. (So you know where USIP's coming from, its president, US congressman Jim Marshall, voted to restrict UN funding in 2005, co-sponsored the Syria Accountability & Liberation Act in 2007, and signed a 2010 letter to Secretary of State Clinton, along with 326 other congressmen, affirming the US's "unbreakable bond" with Israel. Its leading light on the Syrian front is academic and Syria 'expert' Steven Heydemann, who had this to say of his pet 'project': "We have very purposely stayed away from contributing to the direct overthrow of the Assad regime... Our project is called 'the day after'. There are other groups working on the day before."* Oh, and cui bono? "We should hope for the best, Steven Heydemann says - democracy, secularism, maybe even peace with Israel - but not rule out the worst."**)

There are the links between the key personnel of the two external Syrian opposition groups, the Syrian National Council and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on the one hand, and assorted Ziocon groups and individuals on the other.(See The Syrian opposition: who's doing the talking?, Charlie Skelton, The Guardian, 12/7/12)

Finally, there are those devastating explosions targeting the key structures and personnel of the Asad regime. Sure, they could have been the handiwork of the Free Syrian Army - anything's possible. But frankly, if educated guesses are more to your liking, you'd probably be on safer ground fingering the folk who brought down Jerusalem's King David Hotel in 1946 and enriched our store of euphemisms with the term 'targeted killings'.

So the question arises: are we today seeing Yinon's wet-dream unfolding?

The scenario sketched by political scientist Virginia Tilley sounds as plausible as any: "[The Syrian] opposition is a mixed bag, with sharp disagreements, particularly about external intervention, as well as whether, when and how to negotiate with the government. These disagreements are certainly sincere and most are principled. Left alone, consensus could gel. But Israel's interests, which weave through them like a fog, run in a different direction: to steer Syrian events away from any process that will generate a representative, stable and strong country in the long run. Far preferable for Israel is to keep things polarised to ensure a catastrophic internal crisis that will dismantle Syria's security forces, permanently fragment its political elite and paralyse domestic politics in bitter internecine squabbles (with rival foreign supporters), which as a package will ensure that a strong state can't be rebuilt. Thus Syria's independent role in the region would evaporate and Israel's foreign policy prerogatives will be secured. Even more perfect would be a Syrian collapse defined by sectarian bigotry, a game at which Israel enjoys grand mastery. Of course, Israel bases its whole existence ideologically on the premise that the Middle East and the world at large are entirely steered by bigotry, but this worldview has also proved useful as realist foreign policy. It's always easy to turn idle biases into rabid racism. The Mossad is also brilliant at infiltrating Arab movements, as Palestinians will bitterly attest, and has been sending agents across the Syrian border to gather intelligence and stoke 'tribal' divisions for decades. It can certainly do this with much greater facility now that the country is in such upheaval. Hence it's only sensible to assume that Israeli plants are all over the Syrian movement, among and within factions, playing off arguments about best ways forward. And as Israel's best outcome is crisis, polarisation and violence that will generate a weak Syria in the end, those arguing about negotiating with the regime must consider which of the voices rejecting negotiations are sincere and which are Israeli hand-puppets." (Crying wolf, foreign agendas & Israel's role in destabilising Syria, Al-Jazeera, 1/2/12)

But back to those Arab refugees - whether they've fled from Palestine to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan; from Iraq to Syria and Jordan; or from Syria to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey - one thing's certain, they are all products of the refugee factory that is Israel.

[*Steven Heydemann on the 'Family Business' in Syria, Christopher Lydon,, 12/5/11;**Inside the quiet effort to plan for a post-Assad Syria, Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, 20/7/12]

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