Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Struggle for Influence in Syria

This week’s resignation of Ghassan Hitto, the so-called “Prime Minister in waiting” of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, coupled with the July 6th election of Ahmed Assi al-Jarba to head the umbrella coalition of US-supported proxy groups attempting to topple the Assad government, has revealed further cracks in the edifice of the imperialist assault on Syria.

Qatar’s Man in the Middle

Ghassan Hitto, the Syrian expatriate and technocrat from Texas, was seen by most informed observers as the darling of the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar. As noted by AFP shortly after Hitto’s election:

Some coalition members described Hitto as a consensus candidate pleasing both the opposition’s Islamist and liberal factions. But some of the 70-odd Coalition members withdrew from the consultations before the vote could take place, accusing opposition heavyweight Muslim Brotherhood of imposing Hitto as a candidate.

Indeed, the imposition of Hitto as the political face of the foreign-backed opposition was seen by many inside the opposition and around the world as a power-play by Qatar to control the direction of the conflict in Syria and establish Doha as the real center of power in a post-Assad Syria.

This connection between Hitto, the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar was the source of much tension within the opposition. The NY Times reported that:

[Hitto] faced several challenges: he was seen by some rebels and activists as out of touch with the country, and some members of the often-squabbling coalition complained that he was a favorite of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and of its main foreign backer Qatar. Many in the opposition say Qatar wields too much influence in the movement.

What became clear during the course of Hitto’s short tenure as the public face of the foreign-backed opposition was that he was less a political leader than a proxy of Qatar and the United States. This despite what can only be called competition between its allies in Doha and Riyadh who at times collaborate and at other times compete for power and influence among the extremist jihadi elements throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Essentially then, Hitto must be understood as a placeholder, a man whose responsibility was not to lead, but simply to act as a foothold for the al-Thani regime and the Muslim Brotherhood within the leadership of the opposition. The goal was of course to have Hitto in place for the potential fall of Assad, so that Qatar could immediately secure its control over the country in a post-Assad scenario.

Saudis Reclaiming Dominant Role?

Hitto’s resignation places even more significance on last week’s election of Ahmed Assi al-Jarba as head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Whereas Hitto was understood to be a proxy of Qatar, Jarba can be correctly characterized as a proxy of Saudi Arabia. As McClatchy News explains:

Jarba is a chief of the Shammar tribe, one of the Arab world’s most powerful clans with members stretching from southern Turkey to Saudi Arabia…He was jailed early in the revolt against Assad…After being released from prison in August 2012, he fled to Saudi Arabia where his tribal connections put him into close touch with senior members of the Saudi intelligence services.

It should be noted that the innocuous-sounding phrase “close touch with senior members of Saudi intelligence” is a euphemism for Saudi agent, which is precisely what Jarba is. Note the fact that, like Hitto, Jarba has already stated publicly his opposition to peace talks with the Assad government, thereby perpetuating the cycle of violence that benefits Riyadh and Doha and costs more innocent Syrians their lives.

Jarba has said that “Geneva in these circumstances is impossible.” However, one must consider precisely which “circumstances” he was referring to. Keen political observers who have been following events in Syria for some time understand the “circumstances” to be the continued military defeats of the foreign-backed rebels and jihadis by the forces of the Assad government. Jarba and his Saudi handlers understand quite clearly that they must first achieve substantive military victories on the ground before they can even pay lip service to peace talks.

It is precisely this desperate need for tactical victories by the rebels that has driven Saudi Arabia to become even more involved in fomenting this war. Using Jarba as their proxy, the Saudis have attempted to launch a new and perhaps even deadlier phase of the war against Syria. In his first two days as head of the coalition, Jarba has already announced that the rebels will soon receive “a new shipment of sophisticated weapons from Saudi Arabia” as well as proposing a truce during Ramadan.

However, these announcements should be interpreted as cynical ploys designed to buy time for Saudi arms to reach their destination and for the rebels to train in their use. Jarba said as much when he proclaimed to Reuters, “I will not rest until I procure the advanced weapons needed to hit back at Assad and his allies. I give myself one month to achieve what I am intent to do.” So, while proposing a one-month truce under the cover of religious piety in the observance of Ramadan, Jarba gives himself exactly that same one month window to procure advanced weapons. The hypocrisy and duplicity needs no further explanation.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have a complicated relationship, at times friendly and at other times acrimonious. Throughout the course of the destabilization and subversion of Syria, the two countries have collaborated in the funding, arming, and importation of jihadi elements from throughout the Muslim world. They have both been linked to intelligence agencies of the imperial Western powers while maintaining close contact with terror networks foreign and domestic. As such, both countries have played the indispensable role of intermediary between these disparate forces. However, now that the threat to their terrorist proxies in Syria is an existential one, and Assad victories become ever more decisive, it seems the bond between the monarchies is fraying. The recent changes in the political leadership of the so-called opposition merely reflect this.

Eric Draitser is the founder of StopImperialism.com. He is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City. You can reach him at ericdraitser@gmail.com.

More articles by:

Eric Draitser is the founder of StopImperialism.org and host of CounterPunch Radio. He is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City. You can reach him at ericdraitser@gmail.com.

October 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall
Ipek S. Burnett
The Assault on The New Colossus: Trump’s Threat to Close the U.S.-Mexican Border
Mary Troy Johnston
The War on Terror is the Reign of Terror
Maximilian Werner
The Rhetoric and Reality of Death by Grizzly
David Macaray
Teamsters, Hells Angels, and Self-Determination
Jeffrey Sommers
“No People, Big Problem”: Democracy and Its Discontents In Latvia
Dean Baker
Looking for the Next Crisis: the Not Very Scary World of CLOs
Binoy Kampmark
Leaking for Change: ASIO, Jakarta, and Australia’s Jerusalem Problem
Chris Wright
The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting
Muhammad Othman
Daunting Challenge for Activists: The Cook Customer “Connection”
Don Fitz
A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say
October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail