Pt 2. Israel’s Ambassador Admits Toppling Assad a Longtime Goal
Robert Parry: Israeli Ambassador’s omission points to Israel backing Syrian jihadist, making Saudi Arabia and Israel strange bedfellows in the Syrian conflict
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
We’re continuing our conversation with Robert Parry about Israel, Syria, the United States, and the whole geopolitical battle that’s being waged in the region.
So, Robert, thank you for joining us.
ROBERT PARRY, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Thanks, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So let’s talk about the U.S. and how they’re pressuring Syria to surrender their chemical weapons stockpile. But Israel is actually one of the only countries which has refused to ratify the convention against chemical weapons. Do you think this suggests a double standard by the U.S.?
PARRY: Well, the United States has long had a double standard as it relates to Israel. Israel also, perhaps even more importantly than its chemical weapons stockpile, has one of the most sophisticated nuclear weapons stockpiles in the world. It’s undeclared and it’s not under any of the conventions relating to nuclear weapons, but it exists, and everyone knows it exists. The United States, however, goes out of its way not to officially acknowledged that it exists. Occasionally it’ll pop out in some congressional testimony, including when Robert Gates was up for defense secretary some years ago, but it’s not officially acknowledged.
So you have the U.S., which has been very aggressive in going after other countries for just the possibility of having nuclear weapons. That is, in the case of Iraq, the United States invaded because of very dubious and ultimately false suggestions that the Hussein regime might be planning to develop nuclear weapons. And similarly, there have been threats against Iran for not having a nuclear weapon but possibly moving in the direction of getting a nuclear weapon.
So, yes, of course they’re double standards, and we’re seeing them applied again here, where Israel is allowed to have a very–I’m told, a very sophisticated stockpile of chemical weapons, yet Syria is expected to give theirs up.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Does that fact really play into this idea that the U.S. and Israel have to be the main players in the region and any sort of threat to that hegemony will then be challenged?
PARRY: Well, that seems to be the case. I mean, the United States has long had a strong interest in the oil from the region, going back especially, say, to the ’70s when OPEC was formed and there were embargoes on Arab oil coming to the United States, touching off major political and economic troubles. It was at that point made pretty clear that the United States would trade security in the region, whether for the Saudi royal family or for other of the oil states, for a ready access to the region’s oil. And Israel has a special place as well because of its position as the Jewish state that the United States has vowed to protect. So these are major interests for the United States, both economically and, in the case of Israel, more politically. But certainly it is how the United States has approached the region in a fairly heavy-handed way.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Our final question for you, Robert. I know that you covered the U.S.-backed opposition in Central America, the wars in the ’80s. Do you see any parallels in Syria as far as proxy wars and the importance of covert observations when open military strikes are politically unpopular? Basically, is the Obama administration backing away from military strikes but continuing to covertly fund Syrian rebels?
PARRY: Well, one of the similarities between what we saw in the 1980s in Central America and what we’re seeing in Syria today–and you can also throw in the Iraq situation a decade ago–is that you have these very fractious insurgent groups or opposition groups that have their own interests and are fairly hard to control. Some are more pliable in the hands of whoever gives them the money than others. In Central America, the Nicaraguan Contras, for instance, were very hard for the Reagan Administration to get a particularly good hold of. Mostly that was done through sending money and weapons to some groups, cutting off others, engaging in even political attacks or propaganda attacks against some groups that got in the way. And you’re seeing something similar in Syria, where you have divergent sets of insurgent organizations, some of them extremely hardline jihadist, some allied with al-Qaeda, and others of a more moderate persuasion. What’s happened, though, is that it appears that the harder line jihadist factions are the ones most dedicated to fighting and therefore are gaining the upper hand within the rebel movement.
You’re also seeing–and this is a bit of a difference from Central America, where–the Contras in Nicaragua were more clients in a very profound way of the United States. These insurgent groups have other backers of great significance, particularly Saudi Arabia, some of the Persian Gulf oil states, to some degree Turkey, possibly even indirectly Israel now. So they are less dependent on the United States. And they’re also more willing to defy the United States.
This is–one of the points lost in much of the mainstream coverage of Syria is that the Syrian government, despite all its many, many abuses and flaws, has agreed to take part in peace talks in Geneva in May and over the–in the late spring and summer, there were efforts to have those peace talks, to get a ceasefire going, to talk about how to get a political settlement. The Assad regime agreed, under Russian auspices, to send representatives to that negotiation. It was the rebels, the U.S.-backed rebels who refused. And they continue to refuse. They’ve set up a whole bunch of preconditions. They want more sophisticated weapons first. They want to get the upper hand in the fighting first. They want Assad to step down first.
So the real problem here, in terms of settling this conflict right now, is: how do you get the rebels, who have many different aspects to them and have many different differences inside them, how do you get them to go to the peace talks and take part responsibly? Right now the Assad regime is not the obstacle there. It’s been the rebels.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Robert.
PARRY: Thank you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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