FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Once the Syrian War is Over, Qatar Could Become an Empire Again

Fresh back from Damascus, I was taking my coffee on the Beirut Corniche this week when a neat little Greek warship hove into sight. I picked up my French mandate binoculars – they must have travelled in and out of Beirut many times between 1922 and 1946 – and espied that “F465” was the frigate’s hull number, of which more later. It was stooging along the Lebanese coastline on an utterly useless task and was supposed – along with other naval vessels of the UN force – to be preventing Hezbollah from shipping weapons into Lebanon. That was the whole idea conceived by the UN back in 2006 after the latest Hezbollah-Israeli war which Hezbollah did not win and which Israel definitely lost – and which also finally did for Tony Blair the following year, we might remind ourselves – and which brought yet more international troops to Lebanon.

But for some strange reason, it was assumed back in 2006 that Iran was sending weapons to the Hezbollah across the Mediterranean, even though everyone in Lebanon knows that Iran is to the east of Lebanon and that its weapons have always reached Lebanon via Syria – which, since it is also to the east of Lebanon, makes sense. In any event, now that Syria is playing the civil war role that Lebanon played between 1975 and 1990 – with the Russians, the Americans, the Iranians, the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Iraqis, Afghan militiamen, Isis, Al-Nusrah, Kurds, Turks and Uncle Tom Cobbly all playing their various roles – it might surprise readers to know that it is to yet another country that the Syrians have recently been paying attention.

For some days ago, Bashar al-Assad held a private meeting of Syrian journalists in Damascus and informed them that relations had resumed – at a very low and humble level – between Qatar and Syria. They were not under any circumstances to quote him as saying this, nor to give any presidential credence to the story. But they could mention it in passing, stressing that this was not a resumption of relations, merely two nations maintaining contact. But it makes an intriguing story.

For years ago, nearer the start of the Syrian war, a clutch of nuns were released by their kidnappers in Syria through the joint intervention of Assad, the Emir of Qatar and General Abbas Ibrahim, the doyen of the Lebanese intelligence service. Indeed, the said nuns actually expressed their appreciation to both Assad and the Emir. Rumour had it that a lot of money was paid for their release – so much that, as I have reported before, they must have been the most expensive nuns in the world.

But it is Qatar which we should be thinking about. Qatar is great because it has oil and liquid gas and the al-Jazeera television channel. But it is alone, praying that the Saudis and the Emiratis don’t invade it, a tiny peninsula containing a huge American military base but much abused by Donald Trump himself. Its royal families might be emperors but they have no empire; imagine Britain without India. But if Qatar was to rescue Syria when the war there is over – if its vast wealth could rebuild that ancient land – then Qatar would have an empire for its emperors. Not that Qatar would ever own Syria – far from it, Syrians would fight to stop that – but it would have, as we say in the Middle East, “considerable influence”. It would have power. And a power – with a Mediterranean coastline – that even Saudi Arabia doesn’t have.

Is that what we are seeing the start of right now? Of course, the Russians would also be involved – and let’s remember that the Saudi king was a guest of Putin not that long ago – and perhaps the Iranians, in a marginal way. The idea, by the way, that the Iranians dominate Syria is a myth, much repeated by Benjamin Netanyahu. Nor, I might add, are they terribly popular. On all my travels, I haven’t seen an Iranian on the Syrian front lines for more than a year. Hezbollah, yes. And of course, the Syrian army would play a prominent part in the rebuilding of Syria. If Assad survives – and I’ve yet to meet anyone in Syria who thinks otherwise – then the army will survive.

Not many weeks ago, Syrian television showed troops, tanks, transporters and trucks heading south for the final battle at eastern Ghouta. It was assumed that the purpose was to frighten the remaining Islamists in Ghouta. But the real reason was quite different. The army wanted to find out how quickly it could move 25,000 troops from Aleppo and the north to Damascus and the south. It took just 48 hours. In other words, this is not just a fighting army which has survived. It is a mobile one. Which brings us to another little point that bothers Syria.

Along its border with Israeli-occupied Golan, there are a variety of militias – some of them Islamists – who have a marginally good relationship with Israel. The Israelis have even taken some of their wounded to Israeli hospitals. The Israelis have never bombed them. They have only bombed the Syrians and the Iranians and Hezbollah. So what, if the war ended, would the Israelis do with this little cul-de sac below Golan? Watch Assad’s soldiers take it back? Or try to set up a Syrian version of the occupation zone which Israel controlled in southern Lebanon from 1982 till 2000?

In other words, would Israel try to take some Syrian territory in the aftermath of the war – and claim that it was necessary to do so to keep the Iranians, the mythic Persian hordes, from the Israeli border? Now there’s a thought, albeit that the wiser generals in the Israeli army would not wish to take on the most ruthless and battle-hardened army in the Middle East – which is the Syrian army.

An interesting thought to ponder as I finished my coffee on the Beirut Corniche this week and padded to my office to look up the name of Greece’s frigate in the Mediterranean. Hull Number F465, it transpires, is a ship named “Themistocles”. So that was the chap I was looking at. Ancient Athenian. Conqueror of the Persians, wasn’t he?

 

More articles by:

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

February 21, 2019
Nick Pemberton
Israel, Venezuela and Nationalism In The Neoliberal Era
Chris Orlet
The Bill and Melinda Gates’ Fair Taxation Scaremongering Tour
Bruce E. Levine
“Heavy Drinking” and the NYT’s Offensive Obit on Herbert Fingarette
Lisi Krall
This Historical Moment Demands Transformation of Our Institutions. The Green New Deal Won’t Do That
Stephanie Savell
Mapping the American War on Terror: Now in 80 Countries
Daniel Warner
New York, New York: a Resounding Victory for New York Over Amazon
Russell Mokhiber
With Monsanto and Glyphosate on the Run AAAS Revokes Award to Scientists Whose Studies Led to Ban on Weedkiller in Sri Lanka and Other Countries
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Fake National Emergency Moves America Closer to an Autocracy
Alex Campbell
Tracing the Threads in Venezuela: Humanitarian Aid
Jonah Raskin
Mitchel Cohen Takes on Global and Local Goliaths: Profile of a Lifelong Multi-Movement Organizer
Binoy Kampmark
Size Matters: the Demise of the Airbus A380
February 20, 2019
Anthony DiMaggio
Withdrawal Pains and Syrian Civil War: An Analysis of U.S. Media Discourse
Charles Pierson
When Saudi Arabia Gets the Bomb
Doug Johnson Hatlem
“Electability” is Real (Unless Married with the Junk Science of Ideological Spectrum Analysis)
Kenneth Surin
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Another Boondoggle in Virginia
John Feffer
The Psychology of the Wall
Dean Baker
Modern Monetary Theory and Taxing the Rich
Russell Mokhiber
Citizens Arrested Calling Out Manchin on Rockwool
George Ochenski
Unconstitutional Power Grabs
Michael T. Klare
War With China? It’s Already Under Way
Thomas Knapp
The Real Emergency Isn’t About the Wall, It’s About the Separation of Powers
Manuel García, Jr.
Two Worlds
Daniel Warner
The Martin Ennals and Victorian Prize Winners Contrast with Australia’s Policies against Human Dignity
Norman Solomon
What the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign Means for Progressives
Dan Corjescu
2020 Vision: A Strategy of Courage
Matthew Johnson
Why Protest Trump When We Can Impeach Him?
William A. Cohn
Something New and Something Old: a Story Still Being Told
Bill Martin
The Fourth Hypothesis: the Present Juncture of the Trump Clarification and the Watershed Moment on the Washington Mall
February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail