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. 

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail