Israel Still Angling for Attack on Syria and Iran


Jonathan Cook

President Barack Obama may have drawn his seemingly regretted “red line” around Syria’s chemical weapons, but it was neither he nor the international community that turned the spotlight on their use. That task fell to Israel.

It was an Israeli general who claimed in April that Damascus had used chemical weapons, forcing Obama into an embarrassing demurral on his stated commitment to intervene should that happen.

According to the Israeli media, it was also Israel that provided the intelligence that blamed the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, for the latest chemical weapons attack, near Damascus on August 21, triggering the clamour for a US military response.

It is worth remembering that Obama’s supposed “dithering” on the question of military action has only been accentuated by Israel’s “daring” strikes on Syria – at least three since the start of the year.

It looks as though Israel, while remaining largely mute about its interests in the civil war raging there, has been doing a great deal to pressure the White House into direct involvement in Syria.

That momentum appears to have been halted, for the time being at least, by the deal agreed at the weekend by the US and Russia to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

To understand the respective views of the White House and Israel on attacking Syria, one needs to revisit the US-led invasion of Iraq a decade ago.

Israel and its ideological twin in Washington, the neoconservatives, rallied to the cause of toppling Saddam Hussein, believing that it should be the prelude to an equally devastating blow against Iran.

Israel was keen to see its two chief regional enemies weakened simultaneously. Saddam’s Iraq had been the chief sponsor of Palestinian resistance against Israel. Iran, meanwhile, had begun developing a civilian nuclear programme that Israel feared could pave the way to an Iranian bomb, ending Israel’s regional monopoly on nuclear weapons.

The neocons carried out the first phase of the plan, destroying Iraq, but then ran up against domestic opposition that blocked implementation of the second stage: the break-up of Iran.

The consequences are well known. As Iraq imploded into sectarian violence, Iran’s fortunes rose. Tehran strengthened its role as regional sponsor of resistance against Israel – or what became Washington’s new “axis of evil” – that included Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Israel and the US both regard Syria as the geographical “keystone” of that axis, as Israel’s outgoing ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, told the Jerusalem Post this week, and one that needs to be removed if Iran is to be isolated, weakened or attacked.

But Israel and the US drew different lessons from Iraq. Washington is now wary of its ground forces becoming bogged down again, as well as fearful of reviving a cold war confrontation with Moscow. It prefers instead to rely on proxies to contain and exhaust the Syrian regime.

Israel, on the other hand, understands the danger of manoeuvring its patron into a showdown with Damascus without ensuring this time that Iran is tied into the plan. Toppling Assad alone would simply add emboldened jihadists to the troubles on its doorstep.

Given these assessments, Israel and the US have struggled to envision a realistic endgame that would satisfy them both. Obama fears setting the region, and possibly the world, ablaze with a direct attack on Iran; Israel is worried about stretching its patron’s patience by openly pushing it into another catastrophic venture to guarantee its regional hegemony.

In his interview published yesterday by the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren claimed that Israel had in fact been trying to oust Assad since the civil war erupted more than two years ago. He said Israel “always preferred the bad guys [jihadist groups] who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys [the Assad regime] who were backed by Iran.”

That seems improbable. Although the Sunni jihadist groups, some with links to al-Qaeda, are not natural allies for either the Shia leaders of Iran or Hizbollah, they would be strongly hostile to Israel. Oren’s comments, however, do indicate the degree to which Israel’s strategic priorities are obsessively viewed through the prism of an attack on Iran.

More likely, Israel has focused on using the civil war as a way to box Assad into his heartlands. That way, he becomes a less useful ally to Hizbollah, Iran and Russia, while the civil war keeps both his regime and the opposition weak.

Israel would have preferred a US strike on Syria, a goal its lobbyists in Washington were briefly mobilised to achieve. But the intention was not to remove Assad but to assert what Danny Ayalon, a former deputy Israeli foreign minister, referred to as “American and Israeli deterrence” – code for signalling to Tehran that it was being lined up as the next target.

That threat now looks empty. As Silvan Shalom, a senior government minister, observed: “If it is impossible to do anything against little Syria, then certainly it’s not possible against big Iran.”

But the new US-Russian deal to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons can probably be turned to Israel’s advantage, so long as Israel prevents attention shifting to its own likely stockpiles.

In the short term, Israel has reason to fear Assad’s loss of control of his chemical weapons, with the danger that they pass either to the jihadists or to Hizbollah. The timetable for the weapons destruction should help to minimise those risks – in the words of one Israeli commentator, it is like Israel “winning the lottery”.

But Israel also suspects that Damascus is likely to procrastinate on disarmament. In any case, efforts to locate and destroy its chemical weapons in the midst of a civil war will be lengthy and difficult.

And that may provide Israel with a way back in. Soon, as Israeli analysts are already pointing out, Syria will be hosting international inspectors searching for WMD, not unlike the situation in Iraq shortly before the US-led invasion of 2003. Israel, it can safely be assumed, will quietly meddle, trying to persuade the West that Assad is not cooperating and that Hizbullah and Iran are implicated.

In a vein Israel may mine later, a Syrian opposition leader, Selim Idris, claimed at the weekend that Damascus was seeking to conceal the extent of its stockpiles by passing them to Lebanon and Iraq.

Obama is not the only one to have set a red line. Last year, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, drew one on a cartoon bomb at the United Nations as he warned that the world faced an imminent existential threat from an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Israel still desperately wants its chief foe, Iran, crushed. And if it can find a way to lever the US into doing its dirty work, it will exploit the opening – regardless of whether such action ramps up the suffering in Syria.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is


Assata Shakur is a Hero, not a Terrorist

Eugene Puryear

On May 2, the Federal Bureau of Investigation suddenly announced that they had placed Assata Shakur on its “Most Wanted Terrorists” list, making her the first woman to be so designated. The state of New Jersey also raised the bounty on her head to $2 million. These government actions came on the 40th anniversary of the shoot-out in which police allege that Shakur killed an officer.

It is clear that these are the vindictive attempts of the Empire still outraged that a rebel could escape, survive outside its reach, and continue to expose its long history of exploitation and oppression. The recent provocations are part of a long-term smear campaign by the U.S. government to erase her revolutionary legacy.

The FBI’s accusations target Shakur as an individual, but the labeling of her as a terrorist is an attack on all revolutionaries.

Shakur has been living in exile in Cuba for the last 29 years. So what changed in the recent days and weeks to now put her on the “Most Wanted Terrorists” list? The FBI presented no evidence against her and revealed no terrorist plots. Assata’s real crime, FBI spokesman Aaron Ford said, was that from Cuba she continues to “maintain and promote her … ideology” and “provides anti-U.S. government speeches espousing the Black Liberation Army message”—an ideology and message that the U.S. government has declared “terrorism.”

In other words, President Obama’s and Eric Holder’s FBI is charging Shakur with a political crime, the advocacy of revolutionary politics and Black liberation as “terroristic” and “criminal.” According to the outrageous “War on Terror” legal doctrines currently employed in Washington, she could be targeted for assassination. In addition, the designation of Shakur as a terrorist helps them justify the targeting of socialist Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

The defense of Assata Shakur is therefore part and parcel of a general defense of the right to espouse revolutionary politics, of Black liberation and of free speech more generally.

‘I wanted a name that had something to do with struggle’

Assata Shakur was born JoAnne Chesimard, and her change in name was reflective of her desire to fully identify with the revolutionary struggles of her African heritage. Assata means “she who struggles,” her middle name Olugbala means “love for the people,“ and her last name Shakur was taken in honor of her comrade Zayd Shakur.

It is no surprise that the U.S. government now seeks to further criminalize Shakur. In fact, it is just the latest extension of the government’s counter-revolutionary COINTELPRO initiative waged against the Black liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, the U.S. government was so fearful of the growth of revolutionary movements that J. Edgar Hoover even declared the Black Panther Party, of which Shakur was a member, the “greatest internal threat” facing the ruling class. It used a wide range of tactics, all the way up to assassinations of leaders, to disrupt this radical movement.

It must be recalled that the government described much of the political activity of the era—in the anti-war movement, the Black freedom movement, the fight for independence of Puerto Rico, and solidarity with revolutionary Cuba, among others struggles—as explicitly criminal.

Of course, while they were locking up and killing activists and revolutionaries within the country, the U.S. government was engaged in a wide-ranging brutal and murderous campaign in Southeast Asia. They were dealing cosmetically with the terrible conditions of poverty and class oppression inside the United States, while deploying troops to suppress growing rebellions among oppressed Black, Latino and Native peoples. They were launching coups in multiple nations. They were attempting—and sometimes succeeding—in assassinating revolutionary leaders. They were backing apartheid and Portuguese colonialism in Africa.

When Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that the U.S. government was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” he laid bare the essence of the “American Century.”

It was in this world context, which in its core features is unchanged today, that Assata Shakur grew up. Millions took part in the growing movements against the injustices of the U.S. government and Shakur was one of those millions. As a college student, Shakur did not use her degree as an “escape valve” to distance herself from the mass of poor, oppressed and exploited people. Instead, she joined—body and soul—in the fight for their collective liberation.

Out of the mass movement in the United States, a wing emerged that advocated for various forms of armed struggle as a way to expedite the revolutionary movement and give solidarity to peoples of the Third World. Assata was part of this trend—and she and her comrades were targeted for severe repression, often framed and incarcerated under false pretenses.

Assata Shakur is not guilty

Shakur was falsely convicted of having killed an officer on May 2, 1973. While driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, Assata, Zayd Shakur, and Sundiata Acoli were stopped by state troopers, allegedly for having a “faulty taillight.” A shootout ensued where one state trooper killed Zayd Shakur, and another trooper, Werner Foerster, ended up dead. Shakur was charged with both murders, despite the fact that the other trooper, James Harper, admitted he killed Zayd Shakur.

Assata had been, following police instructions, standing with her hands in the air, when she was shot by Trooper Harper more than once, including a bullet to the back. Trooper Harper lied and said he had seen Shakur reach for a gun, a claim he later recanted. He also claimed she had been in a firing position, something a surgeon who examined her said was “anatomically impossible.” The same surgeon said it was “anatomically necessary” for her arms to have been raised for her to receive the bullet wounds she did. Tests done by the police found that Shakur had not fired a gun, and no physical or medical evidence was presented by the prosecution to back up their claim that she had fired a gun at Trooper Harper.

While she was in trial proceedings, the state attempted to pin six other serious crimes on her, alleging she had carried out bank robberies, kidnappings and attempted killings. She was acquitted three times, two were dismissed and one resulted in a hung jury.

Shukur was put on trial in a county where because of pre-trial publicity 70 percent of people thought she was guilty, and she was judged by an all-white jury. Without any physical evidence to present, the prosecution had to rely totally on false statements and innuendo aimed at playing on the prejudices of the jury pool against Black people, political radicals, and Black revolutionaries in particular. Finally, after years behind bars, the state secured her conviction for the Turnpike shooting.

Terrorism double-standard and potential of assassination

Being placed on this Most Wanted Terrorist list means that hypothetically Shakur could be targeted for assassination. The legal white paper released by the Obama administration around the confirmation of CIA Director John Brennan stated that the United States would pay no attention to another nation’s sovereignty in choosing targets who they deem to be “terrorists.” The massive expansion of the security powers and the methods used in the “War on Terror” are being fashioned to target revolutionary militants.

Placing Shakur on the Most Wanted Terrorists list is also a significant attack on Cuba. On May 1, 2013, the United States refused to remove Cuba from the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. The next day, Assata became a “Most Wanted Terrorist.” By claiming that Cuba supports “terrorism” and is harboring a “terrorist,” the government provides itself with a pretext to continue the illegal blockade of Cuba and starve the revolution of trade.

Further, the United States does absolutely nothing to apprehend, convict or punish in any way the violent anti-Cuba groups who routinely and openly boast from U.S. soil of planning terrorist attacks on Cuba. Despite having killed thousands of Cubans, none of these organizations or individuals have ever been placed on America’s list of “Most Wanted Terrorists.”

For instance, Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative who currently walks free in Miami, publicly admitted to The New York Times that he had engaged in a campaign of fatal hotel bombings in Cuba. In 1976, Posada was a key figure in the bombing of a Cuban airliner where 73 people perished. In 2000, Posada was caught attempting to set up a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro as he spoke to university students in Panama. If successful, the attack would have killed hundreds.

Threat to political prisoner solidarity work

Ominously, by criminalizing Assata Shakur, the government has also taken a step towards criminalizing the broader movement in support of political prisoners. Many political prisoners in this country have also been alleged to be members of the Black Liberation Army. If Shakur is a terrorist simply for giving speeches in support of the BLA, what about those convicted of crimes alleged to have taken place while they were members? Will political prisoner support groups now be targeted as “supporters of terrorism” or “terrorists” themselves?

The new attacks on Shakur aim to have a chilling effect on those who seek to express their support for political prisoners. This is especially true when one considers that drone strikes and indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay are the typical U.S. responses to those accused of terrorism.

The placement of Assata Shakur on the Most Wanted Terrorist list is another example that the U.S. government, and the capitalist class it represents, will go to any length to intimidate, repress and defeat potential threats.

Because Shakur remains a symbol of resistance, and is unrepentant in her politics, the government will never stop their attempts to smear, kidnap or kill her. But millions of people know the truth. Her legacy cannot be whitewashed or dismissed; it cannot be distorted. So even though she is in Cuba, the government remains afraid of her example. They know that while decades have passed, the conditions still exist to give birth to a million Assata Shakurs.

West Responsible for Syria Assassinations

New Worker

Syria has vowed to crush the imperialist-backed rebel gangs who killed the Defence Minister and other senior government officials in a bomb attack in central Damascus on Wednesday. The attack came on the eve of a meeting of the United Nations Security Council set to discuss renewing the UN observer mission in Syria amid Russian threats to again veto any imperialist resolution that could pave the way to Nato intervention.

Defence Minister General Daoud Rajiha and his deputy, Assef Shawkat, were attending a meeting of senior officials at the national intelligence headquarters when an explosion ripped through the building killing them and assistant vice-president General Hassan Turkmani and injuring a number of others including the national security chief and the interior minister.

A statement by the Syrian Armed Forces read out on TV said Syria was “more determined than ever” to fight terrorism and wipe out the “criminal gangs”. The statement added: “Whoever thinks that killing top commanders can twist Syria’s arm… is delusional.”

“A Dangerous Pattern Has Emerged”

The “Free Syrian Army” and a shadowy Islamic fundamentalist group have both claimed responsibility for the bombing and waves of their gunmen have poured into Damascus spreading chaos and destruction throughout the Syrian capital to give the impression that the Assad government is on its last legs.

The rebel offensive was clearly timed to coincide with the Security Council session — a fact noted by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov who said: “A dangerous pattern [has emerged]: when the UN Security Council debates for resolving the crisis in Syria, militants launch attacks, tearing down all attempts [at a peaceful settlement].”

At UN HQ in New York the Russians say the NATO powers are trying to blackmail Russia into supporting their draft of the Syrian resolution, threatening to end the UN observer mission if a deal is not reached.

“We Will Hold Them Accountable”

The British-proposed resolution calls on the Syrian government to take its troops and heavy weapons off the streets within 10 days or face non-military sanctions. But the resolution has been tabled under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which would allow it to be imposed militarily. Russia and People’s China are, on the other hand, continuing to back the mediation efforts of UN envoy Kofi Annan and the extension of the UN Supervision Mission for another three months.

After the bombing Information Minister Omran al Zoubi told Syrian TV that the terrorist explosion which targeted the National Security headquarters in Damascus expressed the feeling of weakness and frustration by Syria’s enemies at the strength and firmness of the Syrian Arab Army and the terrorists’ failure to undermine the Army’s unity.

Al Zoubi held the Qatari, Saudi, Turkish and Israeli intelligence agencies accountable for the terrorist bombing.

He said that certain Arab and western intelligence services and their agents who were funding and arming the terrorists were legally, politically and morally responsible for the killing, assassination and sabotage acts taking place in Syria and that they will be punished for their crimes.

He said: “We are a real state, a real people and a real army…we have always been able to defend ourselves against any aggression and conspiracies…we will hold them accountable.”

The Minister said that this cowardly terrorist act, which came a few days after successful military manoeuvres that proved the Syrian army’s firmness and ability to confront any foreign attack, showed the weakness and the frustration of Syria’s enemies and pushed those who supply the terrorists with money and arms to target the leaders of this army.

Al-Zoubi said that what happened today is “the last chapter of the US-Western-Israeli conspiracy against Syria”, stressing that the morale of the Syrian people and army is high and at their best and that Syria’s enemies are mistaken in their assessment of the strength of the people, army and the country.