The terrorist bogeyman de jour is nowadays of course the so-called “Islamic State”. Do you remember back in the decade or so following the 9/11 attacks on the US? Back then it was all al-Qaeda, all the time. We were all meant to fear and quake in our boots over them. Ironically, the group is probably more of a threat now than they were then, and the actions taken by western governments back then helped to birth the creation of something of the ven more horrific “Islamic State.”
Al-Qaeda were a conveniently ghoulish enemy which tabloid newspapers could use to whip up fear and loathing and which western governments used to build public support for ever-increasing powers for their various domestic spy agencies.
Even though the British media and government constantly obsessed about al-Qaeda and the threat it posed, it was greatly exaggerated. This was especially the case in the aftermath to 9/11 and the build-up to the invasion of Iraq. The so-called War on Terrorism was envisaged as a sort of endless war, in large part for the benefits of western capital, especially the arms firms, and for control of Middle Eastern oil.
Dick Cheney, George W. Bush’s vice president (and himself a former CEO of oil and construction corporation Halliburton, which went on to make immense profits from the invasion of Iraq) spelled it out bluntly in October 2001: “it may never end. At least, not in our lifetime.”
We were told that al-Qaeda was a threat, that Saddam Hussein was building “weapons of mass destruction” and had to be stopped and that he was even working in alliance with al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Of course, as is now widely know, there was no al-Qaeda operating in Iraq until after in the invasion. In fact, the invasion was the primary factor that caused the creation and rise of the horrific group once known as al-Qaeda in Iraq – which was ultimately the forerunner of “Islamic State.” Even Tony Blair himself (the co-architect of the invasion of Iraq) now admits the invasion was a “principle cause” of the creation of Islamic State.
But we did not need to Blair to tell us that; it has long been evident. As I have previously shown, the 2003 invasion (and especially the very consciously sectarian policy of divide and rule that the occupation regime enforced) created the swamp in which al-Qaeda in Iraq was born (the group renamed itself several times: it became “Islamic State in Iraq,” then the “Islamic State of Iraq and Sham” when it expanded into Syria and now calls itself simply the “Islamic State”).
Furthermore, in May, a declassified Pentagon report showed that western spy agencies (active in Syria at the time, as they are still now) were aware as far back as August 2012 that something resembling “Islamic State” could arise – and in fact they even wanted it to do so “in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”
By now, that strategy could be said to have backfired on the West: a very similar story to what happened in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Iraq after 2003.
Another aspect to all this mess is the continued involvement of the Israelis in Syria, both their spy agencies and their military actively aiding and (probably) arming rebel groups in Syria that are certainly allied to al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and almost certainly even the aiding that affiliate directly: the Nusra Front.
This is probably the most under-reported story in the entire Syrian civil war, one I have done my best in this column over the course of 2015 to gather together some of the scraps and fragments of reports that have slowly seeped out in the media.
In the spring, there were signs of Israel’s sensitivity to this issue being exposed and gaining wider attention in mainstream media (something which has yet to happen). It is fairly often talked about on social media though (of course, with the typical exaggerations and rumours that social media is prone to). But in April, one Syrian Druze resident in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was imprisoned by Israel merely for talking about the issue on his Facebook page, and reporting that the Israeli military had met with “terrorist” rebels in the Golan. It let to some violent backlash by local Druze on both sides of the ceasefire line.
Earlier this week there was another sign of what a sensitive issue this is for the Israelis. Australian journalist Sharri Markson went on a press junket to Israel organized by the Australian Israel lobby. Markson can hardly be described as anti-Israel – in fact she came under fire for neglecting to mention in her reports filed from the trip who her little jaunt to occupied Palestine was funded by.
But even Markson came under attack from Israeli security over the issue of Israel’s aid for Syrian rebels.
During an arranged trip to a hospital in the north of Israel used to treat injured rebels, Markson was detained by “security officials” at the hospital after she dared ask the injured rebels basic journalistic questions like their names and contact details. (Which only confirms that the trip was a PR exercise meant to show Israel’s supposed humanitarian side.) The Israelis demanded she delete the details – but she apparently managed to hold on to them.
On Twitter later, Markson described the fighters as “at war with Assad and Daesh” [aka Islamic State] in Syria. This could mean the men were members of al-Qaeda in Syria, or it could meant the men were members of one of the other Syrian rebel groups, almost all of whom are allied to al-Qaeda in one way or another (apart from Islamic State, which fell out with and split from al-Qaeda, and is at war with).
However, despite al-Qaeda in Syria’s turf war with Islamic State, and some tactical differences, the two groups share similar methods and ideology: the group recently praised the horrific attack on Paris, even expressing the wish that it had been Nusra that had carried it out instead of the “deviant sect”.
If these are the details about Israel’s involvement in fuelling the civil war in Syria that have managed to leak out to the press, who knows what else they are doing there under the cover of secrecy.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.